Sunday, September 25, 2011

'Happy Feet' Penguin Tracker Goes Silent

An Emperor penguin nicknamed 'Happy Feet' waits in its crate on the New Zealand research ship Tangaroa moments before its release in the Southern Ocean near Campbell Island, New Zealand September 4, 2011.

Scientists tracking Happy Feet, the wayward penguin who became a worldwide celebrity after washing up on a New Zealand beach, said Monday they had lost contact with the giant bird.

Researchers said they had received no transmissions since last Friday from a satellite tracking device that was attached to the penguin after he was released into the icy Southern Ocean on September 4.

Happy Feet may have been eaten by predators, or the tracking transmitter may have failed or fallen off as the penguin swam in the sub-Antarctic waters where a New Zealand research vessel dropped him off, researchers said.

Colin Miskelly, an animal expert from Wellington's Te Papa museum who advised on Happy Feet's two-month rehabilitation when he was found emaciated and near death in late June, said efforts would continue to relocate the bird.

"It is unlikely that we will ever know what caused the transmissions to cease, but it is time to harden up to the reality that the penguin has returned to the anonymity from which he emerged," he said.

Happy Feet, was released into the water from the New Zealand fisheries vessel Tangaroa near Campbell Island, about 700 kilometres (435 miles) south of New Zealand's South Island.

The three-and-a-half year old male's home in Antarctica was about 2,000 kilometres further south and the hope was that he would join up with other emperor penguins on the long voyage.

Miskelly said in his blog about the bird at that he had not given up hope of a happy ending for Happy Feet.

"Maybe, just maybe, he will surprise us all by turning up at a monitored emperor penguin colony, where the transponder inserted under the skin on his thigh will remind us all that once upon a time, a long time ago, he was more than just another penguin," he said.

Happy Feet was only the second emperor penguin ever recorded in New Zealand.

He was close to death and needed surgery to remove sand and sticks from his stomach before he could be fattened up at Wellington Zoo on a diet of fish milkshakes, attracting international attention during his New Zealand sojourn.

Attendance at the zoo almost doubled during his stay and there are plans for a book and documentary recounting his story.

How Penguins Identify Mates and Family Members

Humboldt Penguins in their zoo enclosure

Penguins can sniff out the odor of lifelong mates, helping them reunite in crowded colonies, and also can identify the scent of close kin to avoid inbreeding, scientists said on Wednesday.

Some seabirds have previously been known to use their sense of smell to find food or locate nesting sites but the experiments with captive Humboldt Penguins at Brookfield Zoo near Chicago proved, for the first time, that the birds use scent to discriminate between close relatives and strangers.

"Other animals do it, we do it, so why can't birds?" said Jill Mateo, a biopsychologist at the University of Chicago, who worked with graduate student Heather Coffin on the research published in the journal PLoS ONE.

"Their sense of smell can help them find their mates and perhaps choose their mates," Mateo said.

"Seafaring birds that travel long distances in the ocean use odors to find food and use odors to recognize nests but we didn't know what odors or the extent to which they could use odors to recognize kin," Mateo said.

"This was the first study to show they can use odor to recognize genetic differences," she said.

Researchers worked with two groups of endangered Humboldt Penguins raised at the zoo, totaling 22 birds. Their behavior was recorded as the birds examined scents emitted by oil from the birds' preening glands. The gland near the bird's tail excretes oil used to keep them clean but also has an olfactory purpose.

In one experiment, penguins with mates preferred the comfort of their mates' scent over the scents of unfamiliar penguins. In another, penguins without mates spent twice as long investigating unfamiliar penguins' scents than those belonging to their close relatives.

"In all sorts of animals that we study, including human babies, novel odors, novel cues, are investigated longer than less-novel cues," Mateo said.

Scent is used by many species to attract mates, or to avoid mating with relatives, she said.

For Humboldt penguins, which nest on Peruvian cliffs and spend long periods foraging at sea, odor acts as an identifier when they return to colonies crowded with thousands of birds nesting in cracks and crevices.

"It's important for birds that live in large groups in the wild, like penguins, to know who their neighbors are so that they can find their nesting areas and also, through experience, know how to get along with the birds nearby," said animal behavior expert Dr. Jason Watters of the Chicago Zoological Society, which operates Brookfield Zoo.

"It could also be true that birds may be able to help zoo matchmakers in determining potential mates," Watters said.

"You could imagine that if (naturalists) were trying to reintroduce birds to an area, you could first treat the area with an odor the birds were familiar with. That would make them more likely to stay," he said.

Read more:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rare Crocodile Found

Alligators are a common sight in parts of Florida, but residents of a gated community were shocked to spot one of the animal's reptilian cousins: An endangered American crocodile.

Crocodiles — which number about 1,500 in the state — are typically found some 300 miles (500 kilometers) south in the warmer Florida Keys. But the shy and reclusive animals are so rare in places like St. Petersburg that a wildlife official didn't initially believe Shondra Farner when she called to report the crocodile.

"He said, 'No, ma'am, you have an alligator,' and I said, 'No, I know the difference,'" she said.

Farner spotted the croc over the weekend in her backyard by the community pond. By Thursday, experts hired by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had set a cage trap filled with beef loin in hopes of capturing the giant reptile. Unlike alligators, the endangered crocodile can't be killed. But officials will release it into Tampa Bay and could implant a magnet meant to disorient the animal and prevent it from returning to neighborhoods.

"That big boy was just about 8 feet (2.5 meters) from our patio," said Farner, who snapped photos of the croc with its mouth open. "It's terribly scary looking. And fast. When he turned to leave, I couldn't believe how quick he was."

The reptile's gender is unclear.

Lindsey Hord, the crocodile response coordinator for the wildlife commission, said it's possible that this is the same reptile spotted south of St. Petersburg in 2008. Hord said the crocodile is living on the ducks that swim in the water.

Farner had recently seen crocodiles on a trip to Costa Rica and recognized the animal's narrower, more triangular snout. Alligators not only have wider, more rounded snouts, but they also don't like the brackish and salt waters that crocs can live in.

Hord said that despite their ferocious reputation, the state has never documented a crocodile bite, though people are occasionally bitten by gators. Still, she urged people to not feed or touch alligators or crocodiles and to keep pets away from them.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Giant Croc Captured in the Philippines

ANILA, Philippines (AP) — Villagers and veteran hunters have captured a one-ton saltwater crocodile which they plan to make the star of a planned ecotourism park in a southern Philippine town, an official said Monday.

Mayor Edwin Cox Elorde said dozens of villagers and experts ensnared the 21-foot (6.4-meter) male crocodile along a creek in Bunawan township in Agusan del Sur province after a three-week hunt. It could be one of the largest crocodiles to be captured alive in recent years, he said, quoting local crocodile experts.

Elorde said the crocodile killed a water buffalo in an attack witnessed by villagers last month and was also suspected of having attacked a fisherman who went missing in July.

He said he sought the help of experts at a crocodile farm in western Palawan province.

"We were nervous but it's our duty to deal with a threat to the villagers," Elorde told The Associated Press by telephone. "When I finally stood before it, I couldn't believe my eyes."

After initial sightings at a creek, the hunters set four traps, which the crocodile destroyed. They then used sturdier traps using steel cables, one of which finally caught the enormous reptile late Saturday, he said.

About 100 people had to pull the crocodile, which weighs about 2,370 pounds (1,075 kilograms), from the creek to a clearing where a crane lifted it into a truck, he said.

The crocodile was placed in a fenced cage in an area where the town plans to build an ecotourism park for species found in a vast marshland in Agusan, an impoverished region about 515 miles (830 kilometers) southeast of Manila, Elorde said.

"It will be the biggest star of the park," Elorde said, adding that villagers were happy that they would be able to turn the dangerous crocodile "from a threat into an asset."

Despite the catch, villagers remain wary because several crocodiles still roam the outskirts of the farming town of about 37,000 people.

They have been told to avoid venturing into marshy areas alone at night, Elorde said.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Amazon Expedition Discovers New Monkey

A possible new species of monkey has been discovered during an expedition in an unexplored part of the Amazon in mid-western Brazil.

A specimen, which scientists know is a type of Callicebus, or titi, monkey has been turned over to experts at the Emílio Goeldi Museum in the Brazilian state of Para, where it will be studied and formally described. [Amazon Expedition: An Album]

"This primate has features on its head and tail that have never been observed before in other titi monkey species found in the same area," said Julio Dalpone, the biologist who discovered the monkey during the World Wide Fund for Nature-backed expedition.

The expedition found the monkey between the Guariba River and the Roosevelt River in the northwestern part of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

The 20-day expedition undertaken in December of 2010 explored four protected areas of the Guariba-Roosevelt Extractive Reserve, the Tucumã State Park and the Roosevelt River and Madeirinha River. It was intended to gather information to improve the management of these areas.

The team found 48 species of mammal, including armadillos, anteaters, deer and monkeys, as well as 313 species of birds, including some that had only previously been seen in other South American countries. Their survey of fish turned up possible new species, including a catfish, a small, brightly colored tetra, and very small fish known locally as 'piaus.' [In Amazon, New Species Discovered Every Three Days]

They also found threatened species, including a giant anteater, giant armadillo, giant otter, jaguar and ocelot.

The area explored faces a litany of environmental and social problems, including illegal logging and fishing, pollution, the expansion of agriculture, violent conflicts over land, a lack of health or education services and electricity, plus a lack of oversight by state and federal authorities, according to the WWF.

New Zealand's lost penguin sets sail for home

A wayward penguin that became a worldwide celebrity after washing up lost on a New Zealand beach left Wellington on Monday aboard a research ship bound for his frigid home waters in Antarctica.

The giant bird, dubbed Happy Feet, set sail on the New Zealand fisheries vessel Tangaroa in a custom-made insulated crate with his own veterinary team in attendance and a contingent of media to bid him farewell at the dock.

The relatively quiet departure was in contrast to the scenes at Wellington Zoo on Sunday, when thousands of well-wishers turned out to bid him farewell at the animal hospital where he has spent two months recuperating.

Happy Feet was found on a beach just outside Wellington in mid-June -- weak, emaciated and more than 3,000 kilometres (1,900 miles) from the Antarctic colony where he hatched about three-and-a-half years ago.

Only the second emperor penguin ever recorded in New Zealand, he was close to death and needed surgery to remove sand and sticks from his stomach before he could be fattened up on a diet of fish milkshakes.

The bird, which now weighs about 27.5 kilograms (60.5 pounds), attracted international attention during New Zealand sojourn and there are plans for a book and documentary recounting his story.

The juvenile male will be released into the Southern Ocean four days into the Tangaroa's voyage, where the hope is he will rejoin other emperor penguins and eventually make his way back to Antarctica.

Wellington Zoo's veterinary manager Lisa Argilla said she was nervous but excited about Happy Feet's return to the wild and had grown fond of the bird during his stay.

"There's always apprehension because you do get attached to them but it's very exciting," she told TVNZ Monday.

"It's one of the favourite parts of my job, when you can rehabilitate them, so I'm actually looking forward to it."

Argilla, assisted by two staff from the research vessel, will look after the penguin before he is lowered into the icy Southern Ocean, and she will then spend another three weeks aboard the Tangaroa before it returns to Wellington.

She told AFP last week that she expected the penguin to handle the notoriously rough seas better than her.

"I get very seasick... he won't mind about 10-metre (33-foot) swells, this guy's used to harsh conditions," she said.

"He'll probably be pretty excited actually and just dive away and that'll be the last we see of him.

"He'll hopefully bump into some penguins that he recognises, fingers crossed. Otherwise, he'll just go and probably establish himself in another colony."

Attendances at Wellington Zoo almost doubled during Happy Feet's stay, even though he was rarely on display. His fans include New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and actor Stephen Fry, who is in Wellington to film "The Hobbit".

For those suffering Happy Feet withdrawal, the bird will be fitted with a GPS tracker so researchers and the public can monitor his progress in the wild at

Rainbow Bridge

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Animals on the Move Thanks to Global Warming

American Pica

WASHINGTON (AP) — Animals across the world are fleeing global warming by heading north much faster than they were less than a decade ago, a new study says.

About 2,000 species examined are moving away from the equator at an average rate of more than 15 feet per day, about a mile per year, according to new research published Thursday in the journal Science which analyzed previous studies. Species are also moving up mountains to escape the heat, but more slowly, averaging about 4 feet a year.

The species — mostly from the Northern Hemisphere and including plants — moved in fits and starts, but over several decades it averages to about 8 inches an hour away from the equator.

"The speed is an important issue," said study main author Chris Thomas of the University of York. "It is faster than we thought."

Included in the analysis was a 2003 study that found species moving north at a rate of just more than a third of a mile per year and up at a rate of 2 feet a year. Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas, who conducted that study, said the new research makes sense because her data ended around the late 1990s and the 2000s were far hotter.

Federal weather data show the last decade was the hottest on record, and 2010 tied with 2005 for the hottest year on record. Gases from the burning of fossil fuel, especially carbon dioxide, are trapping heat in the atmosphere, warming the Earth and changing the climate in several ways, according to the overwhelming majority of scientists and the world's top scientific organizations.

As the temperatures soared in the 2000s, the species studied moved faster to cooler places, Parmesan said. She pointed specifically to the city copper butterfly in Europe and the purple emperor butterfly in Sweden. The comma butterfly in Great Britain has moved more than 135 miles in 21 years, Thomas said.

It's "independent confirmation that the climate is changing," Parmesan said.

One of the faster moving species is the British spider silometopus, Thomas said. In 25 years, the small spider has moved its home range more than 200 miles north, averaging 8 miles a year, he said.

Stanford University biologist Terry Root, who wasn't part of this study but praised it as clever and conservative, points to another species, the American pika, a rabbitlike creature that has been studied in Yellowstone National Park for more than a century. The pika didn't go higher than 7,800 feet in 1900, but in 2004 they were seen at 9,500 feet, she said.

For Thomas, this is something he notices every time he returns to his childhood home in southern England. The 51-year-old biologist didn't see the egret, a rather warm climate bird, in the Cuckmere Valley while growing up. But now, he said, "All the ditches have little egrets. It was just a bizarre sight."

Thomas plotted the movement of the species and compared it to how much they would move based on temperature changes. It was a near perfect match, showing that temperature changes explain what's happening to the critters and plants, Thomas said. The match wasn't quite as exact with the movement up mountains and Thomas thinks that's because species went north instead or they were blocked from going up.

Thomas found that the further north the species live, the faster they moved their home base. That makes sense because in general northern regions are warming more than those closer to the equator..

Conservation biologist Mike Dombeck, a former U.S. Forest Service chief, said changes in where species live — especially movements up mountains — is a problem for many threatened species.

Thomas said what he's studied isn't about some far off problem.

"It's already affected the entire planet's wildlife," Thomas said in a phone interview. "It's not a matter that might happen in the lifetime of our children and our grandchildren. If you look in your garden you can see the effects of climate change already."

Sad Day for Globally Followed Sea Turtle

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Andre, a sea turtle who survived catastrophic injuries and underwent a year of rehabilitation and innovative surgeries, has been found dead, three weeks after he was released off the Florida coast.

Loggerhead Marinelife Center, which had cared for the turtle, said he was found Wednesday on Hutchinson Island. David McClymont, the center's president, said staffers were able to identify the turtle from a tag that had been placed on him, but he was in such bad condition they couldn't determine what killed him.

"The staff and the entire volunteer base are deeply saddened," he said Thursday.

Just three weeks ago, a raucous crowd of hundreds gathered to watch Andre crawl into the sea and swim away. Onlookers hugged, wiped away tears and talked of the inspiration the reptile gave them.

Amid the disappointment over the sea turtle's death, his caretakers said the herculean efforts they took to save Andre — including several procedures considered animal firsts — were already helping others.

"The scientific advancements we made while rehabilitating Andre are already being applied in the treatment of other threatened and endangered sea turtles," the center said in a statement.

When Andre was found stranded on a sandbar on June 15, 2010, he had gaping holes in his shell, the result of two apparent boat strikes. More than three pounds of sand were inside him, along with at least a couple of crabs, a raging infection and a collapsed lung. His spinal cord was exposed, pneumonia was plaguing him and death seemed certain.

Any one of those injuries could have killed him, but his flippers were working and his neurological function appeared normal. So after beachgoers pulled him ashore on a boogie board, veterinarians began what became a yearlong effort to save him.

To help remove fluid and other materials and close his wounds, doctors used a vacuum therapy system. To help close gashes in the shell, a local orthodontist installed braces similar to those used on humans. And to fill in the gaping holes, doctors employed a procedure typically used to help regrow breast tissue in mastectomy patients and abdominal tissue in hernia patients.

The turtle's story was followed by many of the 225,000 annual visitors to the center and through a round-the-clock webcam. Children flooded him with mail and checks flowed in from around the world to support his care.

Green sea turtles have persisted since prehistoric times, but are endangered today. Only a small fraction of hatchlings survive and even fewer go on to reach adulthood and reproduce.

At 177 pounds when he was released, Andre was believed to be about 25 years old.

Dolphins and Their Fish-Catching Trick

PERTH, Australia (Reuters) - Dolphins in one western Australian population have been observed holding a large conch shell in their beaks and using it to shake a fish into their mouths -- and the behavior may be spreading.

Researchers from Murdoch University in Perth were not quite sure what they were seeing when they first photographed the activity, in 2007, in which dolphins would shake conch shells at the surface of the ocean.

"It's a fleeting glimpse -- you look at it and think, that's kind of weird," said Simon Allen, a researcher at the university's Cetacean Research Unit.

"Maybe they're playing, maybe they're socializing, maybe males are presenting a gift to a female or something like that, maybe the animals are actually eating the animal inside."

But researchers were more intrigued when they studied the photos and found the back of a fish hanging out of the shell, realizing that the shaking drained the water out of the shells and caused the fish that was sheltering inside to fall into the dolphins' mouths.

A search through records for dolphins in the eastern part of Shark Bay, a population that has been studied for nearly 30 years, found roughly half a dozen sightings of similar behavior over some two decades.

Then researchers saw it at least seven times during the four-month research period starting this May, Allen said.

"There's a possibility here -- and it's speculation at this stage -- that this sort of change from seeing it six or seven times in 21 years to seeing it six or seven times in three months gives us that tantalizing possibility that it might be spreading before our very eyes," he added.

"It's too early to say definitively yet, but we'll be watching very closely over the next couple of field seasons."

The Shark Bay dolphin population is already unusual for having developed two foraging techniques, one of which involves the dolphin briefly beaching itself to grab fish after driving them up onto the shore.

The other is "sponging" -- in which the dolphins break off a conical bit of sponge and fit it over their heads like a cap, shielding them as they forage for food on the sea floor.

But both of these spread "vertically," mainly through the female dolphin population, from mother to daughter. The intriguing thing about this new behavior with the conch shells is that it might be spreading "horizontally," Allen said.

"If it spreads horizontally, then we would expect to see it more often and we'd expect to see it between 'friends'," he added, noting that dolphins are known for having preferences in terms of companions and whom they spend time with.

"Most of the sightings from this year are in the same habitat where we first saw it in 2007, and a couple of the individuals this year are known to associate with the ones that we saw doing it a year or two ago."

The next step would be not only to observe the behavior again in another season but also to try and gather evidence Of deliberate actions on the part of the dolphins.

"If we could put some shells in a row or put them facing down or something like that and then come back the next day, if we don't actually see them do it but find evidence that they've turned the shell over or make it into an appealing refuge for a fish, then that implies significant forward planning on the dolphins' parts," Allen said.

"The nice idea is that there is this intriguing possibility that they might manipulate the object beforehand. Then that might change using the shell as just a convenient object into actual tool use," he added.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Rare Sand Cat Born

Renana, a 3-week-old Sand Cat, is seen at the Ramat Gan Safari near Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, August 9, 2011. Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz said its the first successful birth of a Sand Cat at the Israeli zoo.

Israel -- Zoo Borns reported today “a rare Sand Cat Kitten was born at Israel's Safari Zoo.” This three-week-old kitten marks Safari Zoo’s first successful sand cat birth. Officials hope the kitten will join the country’s sand cat Breeding Program and help reintroduce sand cats to the wild.

Three weeks ago Rotem, the kitten’s mother, chose to remain outside instead of going into her night chamber at the end of the day. The following night, she gave birth to the tiny kitten in the den’s outdoor enclosure.

Sand cats are listed as near threatened by the IUCN. These small wild cats were once plentiful in the dunes of Israel but are now extinct in the region. They can be found in other areas of the Asian and African deserts. While sand cats will drink water if available, they can survive for months on the water provided from their food.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Young Chimp Feeds Tiger Cubs

They are humans' closest relative, sharing a similar genetic make-up and displaying behaviour not unlike our own.

Now this little chimpanzee is showing off a motherly instinct to rival even the most maternal of mankind.

These adorable images reveal the close bond that has formed between a two-year-old chimpanzee called Do Do and a two-month-old tiger cub called Aorn.

Completely at ease in each other's company, the ape's motherly instincts take over as she attentively bottle feeds the baby tiger.

Aorn gratefully laps up the milk as Do Do tenderly holds the tiger in her arms.

At one point, Do Do puts the bottle in her own mouth - almost mimicking the actions of a human mother checking to see if the milk is suitable for her offspring to consume.

For some unexplained reason Do Do is wearing a pair of denim shorts - perhaps to protect her thighs from Aorn's claws.

They were photographed at Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand.

The crocodile farm, used as a tourist attraction, houses some 80,000 crocodiles and is the largest in Thailand.

Its owners claim to hold the largest captive crocodile, measuring an astonishing six metres long and weighing 2,465lbs.

Regular crocodile shows are staged during which zookeepers place their heads inside the reptiles' mouths.

However, the farm doesn't just contain crocodiles.

As you'd expect from these pictures, monkeys and tigers also live there, alongside elephants, lions, horses and hippopotamuses.

South African Soldiers Battle Rhino Poachers

The soldiers sleep in tents, hidden from roaming lions by a blind, and protected by high-powered rifles that also ward off the even more dangerous threat of poachers.

In April, South African soldiers were deployed in Kruger National Park to safeguard the border with Mozambique, where heavily armed and highly organised poachers have driven the slaughter of rhinos to record levels to feed an Asian black market for traditional medicine.

"It's not just a poacher coming in and he's hunting for meat, or he comes in with his snares or he comes in with his darts to hunt with a hunting rifle," said Ken Maggs, a top environmental crimes investigator in the park.

"He's coming prepared to fight. Hence the tactics that we deploy on the ground are military, paramilitary."

The poachers slip across the Mozambican border with night-vision goggles, AK-47s, hunting rifles, and in one case, a grenade. Moving in the dark, they scrawl warnings to rangers in the sand.

The army patrols are the first line of defence. Working with a park ranger, they walk through the bush in the early hours of morning, alert to the threat of both predators and poachers.

One evening, a group of lions lounged just 100 metres (100 yards) from their camp. But the poachers pose a deadlier threat, and haven't hesitated to open fire on the patrols.

Fifteen poachers have been killed in shoot-outs so far this year in Kruger, nine wounded and 64 arrested.

The deterrent seems to be working.

March was the deadliest month for rhinos in Kruger's recorded history, with 40 animals killed for their horns, according to the military. Since the army deployment, the number has steadily dropped, to 30 in April, 15 in May and just two in June.

It's the first, and still cautious, sign of improvement since 2007, when just 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa -- compared to 333 last year.

But success in the park will solve only one part of the problem, with surging demand in Asia, particularly China and Vietnam, to use rhino horns in traditional medicines to treat everything from nosebleeds to fevers.

"The recent poaching crisis has been attributed to an increase in demand in Vietnam, where a new purported use of rhino horn has appeared as a treatment for cancer," said Alona Rivord, spokeswoman for environmental group WWF.

Rhino horns are made of keratin, like human fingernails, and have no scientific medicinal value, but that's done little to curb the black market demand. China has outlawed the use of rhinos in medicine, but enforcement is lax, conservation activists say.

High prices in Asia have led to a more complicated problem: manipulation of South Africa's legal trophy hunts to export rhino horns that end up on the black market.

Black rhino are critically endangered, meaning they're at risk of extinction with only 4,838 left in the world, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

White rhinos are more numerous at 17,480. They are legally hunted in South Africa, with a permit that costs just 50 rand ($7.50, five euros), said Rynette Coetzee, project executive in the law and policy programme of the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

"There's hunting taking place, and it's legal because permits are being issued," she said.

Each hunter is allowed to kill only one rhino each year, but police earlier this month arrested Thai national Chumlong Lemtongthai, accusing him of working with a syndicate to smuggle 40 horns obtained with hunting permits.

He reportedly paid friends and even prostitutes to pose as hunters, and worked with a South African wildlife trader who bought rhinos at auctions, but then killed them soon after they arrived on his farm.

Chumlong reportedly sold the horns for $55,000 per kilo, literally worth their weight in gold.

"They are battling to enforce the legislation" on trophy hunting because wildlife authorities lack the staff and vehicles to do the job, Coetzee said.

Maggs calls corruption within the wildlife business "khaki collar" crime, a problem highlighted when a Kruger ranger was arrested Monday in connection with poaching.

"The involvement of some of the professional people in the industry is of great concern," Maggs said, including professional hunters, veterinarians and game farm owners who "are taking advantage of the high prices being paid for rhino horn and the illegal smuggling of it."

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Rare Gibbons Found

A male northern white-cheeked gibbon (left) and a mother carrying her baby hang out in a treetop in Vietnam's Pu Mat National Park in a recent picture.

The animals are part of a newfound population of more than 400 of the gibbons, which are deemed critically endangered in Vietnam and Laos by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The gibbons, which have declined due to widespread hunting and logging of their habitat, are likely extinct in China.

Conservation International had been searching for the rare primates since 2008, finding only a few scattered groups—until now. New auditory sampling surveys—during which researchers record the calls of gibbon "families"—have revealed that Pu Mat is home to 130 gibbon groups, for an overall population of roughly 455 individuals.

The discovery of such a large gibbon population may mean the species has a better chance of long-term survival, the scientists say.

On the Prowl - Snow Leopard Population Thriving!

A snow leopard recently photographed prowling the mountains of Afghanistan has plenty of company, as revealed by the first camera-trap pictures of the big cats in the war-torn country.

The pictures, taken by a team led by the Wildlife Conservation Society, show that a surprisingly robust population of possibly a hundred animals is prowling the remote Wakhan Corridor (see map).

Previous estimates have suggested that perhaps only 4,500 to 7,500 snow leopards—considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature—live throughout the mountain ranges of Central Asia.

"Afghanistan has been devastated by 30 years of conflict, so you might not expect there to be a lot of large wildlife left. But there does appear to be a fairly large population of snow leopards, and that's wonderful," said Peter Zahler, who launched the Wildlife Conservation Society's Afghanistan program in 2006.

"Wakhan Corridor is a very isolated area of high-elevation mountains, so it has probably been less affected by conflict than other parts of Afghanistan." (Related: "Afghanistan Bright Spot: Wildlife Surviving in War Zones.")

Longest Polar Bear Swim Recorded—426 Miles Straight

Anne Casselman

for National Geographic News

Published July 20, 2011

A female polar bear swam for a record-breaking nine days straight, traversing 426 miles (687 kilometers) of water—equivalent to the distance between Washington, D.C., and Boston, a new study says.

The predator made her epic journey in the Beaufort Sea (see map), where sea ice is shrinking due to global warming, forcing mother bears to swim greater and greater distances to reach land—to the peril of their cubs.

The cub of the record-setting bear, for instance, died at some point between starting the swim and when the researchers next observed the mother on land. She also lost 22 percent of her body weight.

"We're pretty sure that these animals didn't have to do these long swims before, because 687-kilometer stretches of open water didn't occur very often in the evolutionary history of the polar bear," said study co-author Steven Amstrup, chief scientist for the conservation group Polar Bears International. Amstrup is also the former project leader of polar bear research for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), which led the new study.

Another female bear in the study swam for more than 12 days, but appears to have found places to rest during her journey.

(Related "Polar Bears Turning to Goose Eggs to Survive Warming?")

Long Swims Deadly for Polar Bear Cubs

Biologists collared 68 female polar bears between 2004 and 2009 to study their movements. Thanks to what study co-author and WWF polar bear biologist Geoff York calls an "accident of technology and design," the researchers noticed data gaps in the bears' whereabouts. The researchers were later able to link the gaps to periods when the bears were at sea. (See polar bear pictures.)

The scientists examined GPS data for more than 50 female polar bears' long-distance swimming events, defined as swims longer than 30 miles (50 kilometers). This data was then correlated to rates of cub survival.

"Bears that engaged in long-distance swimming were more likely to experience cub loss," said study co-author George Durner, a USGS research zoologist in Anchorage, Alaska.

Five of the 11 mothers that had cubs before they began their lengthy swims lost their young by the time the researchers observed them again on land, according to the research, presented July 19 at the International Bear Association Conference in Ottawa, Canada. The study is not yet published in a journal.

Sea Ice Loss to Continue

Until 1995, summer sea ice usually remained over along the continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, a critical habitat for polar bears due to its rich seal population. Now the sea ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is retreating from the coast by hundreds of kilometers, Durner said.

In 2010, Arctic sea ice extent was the third lowest on record, part of a long-term trend of ice loss that will continue for decades to come, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

"So the sort of conditions that contribute to long-distance swimming are likely going to persist in the future, and if cub mortality is directly related to this, then it would have a negative impact on the population," Durner said.

It's unknown whether the cubs are drowning at sea or whether the metabolically costly act of swimming long distances in nearly freezing water kills them after they reach land.

Poached Baby Gorillas Rescued!

LOVE when this happens!!

Six endangered mountain gorillas were returned home to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday after being rescued from poachers who smuggled them into neighboring Rwanda.
The gorillas, who range in age from 5 to 8 years old, were victims of what's become a widespread issue in Africa: animal trafficking. According to Rwandan and Congolese authorities, poachers are thought to have killed the gorillas' parents in order to steal their babies and smuggle them across the border.
Rwandan officials told Reuters that it's likely the poachers were planning to either sell the gorillas on the illegal wildlife market or slaughter them for their bushmeat, which is considered a delicacy in some areas of the continent. But because of a renewed collaboration between the Rwandan and Congolese governments, these gorillas were among the very few poached animals that are lucky enough to be rescued.

"Because the countries are working together, we managed to reduce that [poaching]," Rica Rugambwa, Rwanda's director general of tourism and parks, told Reuters. "We are able to minimize that but it is still a challenge."
It's estimated that only 680 mountain gorillas live in the forests of Central Africa. The species has been listed as critically endangered, and many are protected within the confines of a Ugandan national park. Others live in the Virunga Volcano Region, which stands on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo - a dangerous area that has been overcome by civil war in recent years.
The six rescued orphans stayed in Rwanda briefly before being airlifted back to Congo, with help from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the conservation groups that sponsored the trip. The gorillas are now being cared for at a rescue center until they are eventually able to be released into the wild.