Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Poverty, Human Development, and Basic Biology

GO to the PLOSbiology website for the article
by Liza Gross
Citation: Gross L (2007) Poverty, Human Development, and Basic Biology. PLoS Biol 5(11): e295 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050295

Nearly half of the world's 6.6 billion people exist on less than US$2 a day [1]. Over 1 billion live in “extreme poverty,” defined by the World Bank as US$1 a day or less. As of 2001, nearly 60% of the poorest people inhabit fragile, vulnerable landscapes—many of which are the highest priorities for biodiversity conservation—and most depend on these natural resources for survival [2]. Yet environmental resources are rapidly deteriorating. Human activity has destroyed biodiversity at an unprecedented rate, at least two to four orders of magnitude above background extinction rates inferred from the fossil record [3]. With global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, and 95% of that increase occurring in the developing world [4], poverty and ecosystem health have become increasingly linked.

Today, PLoS Biology is publishing two new articles, an Essay and a Community Page, that fall outside the normal scope of our journal. Both address the impacts of growing disparities in social status, but from entirely different perspectives. The Community Page “The Costs of Exclusion: Recognizing a Role for Local Communities in Biodiversity Conservation” (doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050289) highlights the consequences of ignoring desperate poverty in the fight to protect the world's most endangered species; the Essay “Biology and Health Inequality” (doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050267) explores the health costs of social stratification from a basic biological framework. A primary research journal like PLoS Biology does not typically publish articles relating to poverty and human development, but tends to feature the work of basic researchers, who investigate fundamental questions about natural processes to gain knowledge for its own sake—to understand the nature and structure of living systems. Such insights in turn lay the foundation for applied research, which is designed to solve practical, albeit serious, problems. Even articles like Essays and Primers, which do not report new research findings, often highlight efforts to understand fundamental principles or components of biological processes, such as why cetaceans evolved large brains (doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139) or how neurons alter their gene expression in response to their experience (doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050055).

We have taken a slight departure from this tradition to participate in the Council of Science Editors' Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development, along with 230 other medical and scientific journals in developed and developing countries, including PLoS Medicine and PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases. (View a special collection of the new poverty-related content from these PLoS journals, along with a selected collection of older articles on this theme from all the PLoS journals, at The global theme issue was inspired by the 2000 United Nations Millennium Summit (, which outlined an ambitious initiative to eradicate poverty and ensure environmental sustainability. The Council of Science Editors, arguing that achieving the Millennium goals requires the synthesis of scientific knowledge across disciplines, has urged all participating journals to make their poverty theme issues freely available. (As always, all of the PLoS articles are published under our open-access Creative Commons Attribution License: anyone can download, reuse, reprint, modify, distribute, and/or copy any PLoS articles, as long as the original source and authors are properly cited.) While there is no official tally of journals that have agreed to make their content universally available, if all 231 journals comply, they would be contributing to an unprecedented collection of publicly accessible materials (available at

The link between unequal social status and ill health was explored in a study of more than 17,000 civil servants in London nearly 30 years ago. In the landmark Whitehall study, Sir Michael Marmot and his colleagues found a surprising correlation between employment grade and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, with those in the lowest grade experiencing the highest risk of mortality [5]. Subsequent work showed that controlling for conventional coronary risk factors (including smoking, serum cholesterol, and blood pressure) explained only one-third of the social gradient. The biological mechanisms underlying the connection between social status and health have remained obscure, but new hypotheses have emerged from the Whitehall II study, which has followed a second cohort of civil servants for over 20 years. In the new essay “Biology and Health Inequality,” Eric Brunner, who collaborated with Marmot on the second study, describes intriguing parallels in status-related health inequalities between civil servants and nonhuman primate hierarchies and points to evidence suggesting a role for stress-induced neuroendocrine pathways.

Conservation scientists are increasingly finding themselves trying to protect species and ecosystems in places that are inhabited, often by some of the world's poorest people. There is considerable debate about whether species and ecosystem preservation is incompatible with human habitation. In the new article “The Costs of Exclusion: Recognizing a Role for Local Communities in Biodiversity Conservation,” Marc Ancrenaz, Lisa Tabek, and Susan O'Neil describe their efforts to incorporate poverty eradication into two cross-cultural community-based conservation projects: the Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Project in Borneo and the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program in Papua New Guinea. Ancrenaz and colleagues argue that addressing poverty eradication and biodiversity conservation simultaneously “remains one of our best hopes for achieving tangible and durable results.” In both cases, this strategy has yielded significant conservation gains, including a reduction in nonsustainable timber harvest, fewer wildlife–human conflicts, and a return of wildlife species not seen locally for generations.

Although PLoS Biology does not often publish articles that grapple with issues like poverty and human development, we chose to do so here because we believe that the collective output of scientific research can advance the public good. Who knows what connections researchers working in widely disparate disciplines—from evolutionary ecologists to agricultural economists—might make if they had access to the millions of research papers published in the past five years? We applaud the Council of Science Editors' call to make this special collection freely available. Imagine the progress we might see if all the world's scientific literature were truly a public resource.

1. United Nations Population Fund (2007) State of the world population. Available: Accessed 20 September 2007.
2. Hines D (1998) Strategy and policy division UN WFP. Improving food security in marginal, low-potential areas. Available: Accessed 20 September 2007.
3. The World Conservation Union (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, (2004) IUCN red list of threatened species, a global species assessment. Baillio JeM, Hilton-Taylor C, Stuart SN Eds. Available: Accessed 20 September 2007.
4. United Nations (2004) World population prospects: The 2004 revision. Highlights New York: United Nations. Available: Accessed 20 September 2007.
5. Marmot MG, Rose G, Shipley M, Hamilton PJS (1978) Employment grade and coronary heart disease in British civil servants. J Epidemiol Comm Health 32: 244–249

CLICK HERE TO READ The Costs of Exclusion: Recognizing a Role for Local Communities in Biodiversity Conservation

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bushmeat in America

A Taste of Baboon and Monkey Meat, and Maybe of Prison, Too
from the New York Times
Published: November 17, 2007

It takes strategic thinking to find monkey meat in New York. Best to avoid the word “monkey,” for one thing — start with something innocuous-sounding, like “dry meat,” or common, like “grass cutter,” a rodent similar to the guinea pig. Seek out the proprietors of tiny West African restaurants, or the “bushmeat market queens” who do business out of their homes.

That is, if you can find them. And if they trust you enough to sell it to you.

The market in the United States for bushmeat — that is, the meat of African wild game — is obscured to outsiders and virtually impossible to measure. But most everyone agrees it has grown exponentially in recent decades along with immigration from West Africa, thriving in destination cities like Minneapolis and Atlanta.

A case that came before a federal judge in Brooklyn this week may — some believe for the first time — send someone to prison for importing bushmeat — in this case, pieces of baboon, green monkey and warthog.

No law specifically bans their importation, but Mamie Manneh, 39, of Staten Island, an immigrant from Liberia, is accused of falsely labeling her delivery and failing to obtain proper permits, charges that could bring a maximum prison sentence of five years. Her lawyer has made a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that bushmeat has spiritual significance and Ms. Manneh’s actions were protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The case has attracted attention from an array of interested parties. Wildlife conservationists see trade in bushmeat as a grave threat to dwindling species; epidemiologists view it as a dangerous vector of disease.

And many African immigrants, who eat bushmeat cubed and cooked in a stew of onions, garlic, tomatoes and chili pepper, see it as a referendum on a cultural practice. This, anyway, is what brought Frances Yalartai to court in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

“They’re coming to catch people for dry meat,” said Ms. Yalartai, 63, who is a member of the same small church as Ms. Manneh. Its members, she said, are so nervous about the case that they no longer attend services.

“People are scared,” she said.

African expatriates like Edward Lama Wonkeryor, a lecturer at Temple University, have long turned to bushmeat as a home comfort: During his earliest trips from Liberia to this country, in the 1970s, his mother would wrap parcels of bushmeat — monkey, bush hog or lion, smoked so it would keep — and slip them into his suitcase. He would save them for events like weddings and christenings, or when he wanted to feel smarter.

“If I were going to take the Graduate Record Examination or the Law School Admissions Test, definitely I would” eat bushmeat beforehand, said Dr. Wonkeryor, who wrote a letter in Ms. Manneh’s defense. “I am really surprised that they are making a big issue out of this.”

Only a tiny percentage of the bushmeat market goes to America. But there is little doubt wild game is flowing between continents in growing quantities, with few controls in place.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by, but Heather E. Eves, director of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, estimated that more than 15,000 pounds of bushmeat come to market in the United States every month, of which only a tiny fraction is intercepted.

As a result, she said, the outcome of Ms. Manneh’s case could set a crucial precedent. “It may sound extreme, but I think we are facing a shift in wildlife populations that has never been seen before,” she said. “That’s why I think this case is so important. Because I think it sends a message.”

Epidemiologists have shown that ebola can be contracted by butchering chimpanzees, and the first human case of H.I.V. probably originated through similar exposure, said Nathan Wolfe, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California in Los Angeles. The growth in global demand for wild game, he said, increases the potential for spreading agents “that could represent serious threats to humanity,” he said.

When Ms. Manneh took the stand on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, with her extended family packing the courtroom, she did not present herself as a global entrepreneur. Though she acknowledged importing dried fish for resale, she stared blankly at the assistant United States attorney, Jonathan E. Green, when he asked if she recognized customs declarations and other documentation.
“Have in mind, Mr. Green, I don’t know how to read or write, and I never went to school,” said Ms. Manneh, who immigrated at 16 and worked for years as a home health aide. She said her daughter and husband generally filled out forms for her, and she appeared confused when he claimed to have a letter from one of her sisters.

“I have 30 brothers and sisters,” she said. “I can barely remember some of their names.”

Later, as he continued his cross-examination, she broke down. “Mr. Green, what do you want from me?” she said. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m at the point of committing suicide.”

Ms. Manneh was identified in January 2006 by customs agents at Kennedy Airport who opened a shipment marked “12 ctn African dresses and smoked fish.” Mixed with those items they discovered 65 animal parts: “skulls, limbs and torsos of nonhuman primate species” as well as a hoof and leg “belonging to a small ungulate, possibly a duiker,” according to the criminal complaint against her. A duiker is a small antelope.

More primate parts were found during a search of her garage.

The case took on a new dimension in February, when Ms. Manneh’s lawyer, Jan Rostal of Federal Defenders of New York, filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the meat provides “spiritual sustenance” similar to the bitter herbs served at a Passover Seder. Though legal methods of importing bushmeat do exist, she argued, most African immigrants are not aware of them, and they are so complex that they amount to a de facto ban.

“Unfortunately for the government,” she wrote, the bushmeat case “represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the ‘melting pot’ that is America.”

Prosecutors, meanwhile, cast Ms. Manneh as a thriving businesswoman, “selling traditional African foods to immigrants who undoubtedly miss home,” as Mr. Green put it in his response. He compared the meat to ham, reasoning that the tradition of serving ham on Easter “does not render ham a sacred, religious food.”

Ms. Manneh is currently serving a two-year sentence for second-degree assault, stemming from an episode in which she hit a woman with a vehicle in a movie theater parking lot. In court, she said the woman was her husband’s girlfriend. She has nine biological and two adopted children, among them 10-year-old twins named Cauzious and Corinthian and an 11-month-old boy, Cecret.

She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder in 2006, according to Ms. Rostal.

Outside the courtroom on Tuesday, Corinthian was fuming. She said she has eaten dried monkey meat, which has the ropy consistency of beef jerky, and does not understand why government objects to it.

Until fairly recently, bushmeat was sold openly in immigrant neighborhoods, said Dr. Wonkeryor, who teaches in the African-American studies department at Temple University. He said the case against Ms. Manneh has made it more expensive and hard to find.

Several immigrants acknowledged interest in the case but were loath to comment on what has become a sensitive issue. One man noted only that a small amount of bushmeat can change the character of a stew, adding a spiciness that is hard to describe.

The Rev. Philip Saywrayne, pastor of Christ Assembly Lutheran Church on Staten Island, said many people in the community are accustomed to carrying small amounts of bushmeat back from Africa. They remain puzzled about what American law allows, he said, and worried for Ms. Manneh.

“What we do is pray,” he said, “and then go along with the lawyers.”

Monkey spit coffee brew

Monkey business yields gourmet Taiwan coffee
Wed Nov 14

YUNLIN, Taiwan (Reuters Life!) - Coffee connoisseurs are going ape for a rare brew that Taiwanese farmers are producing with the help of monkeys.

Formosan rock monkeys have long been a scourge to coffee farmers in Taiwan's mountains because they eat the ripe berries and spit out the seeds.

But now, the farmers are collecting these half-chewed seeds and roasting them to produce a coffee that is being brewed all over the island.

"The monkeys pick the reddest fruits to eat, and spit out the seeds. They cannot swallow them because that may cause indigestion," said Liao Ching-tung, a coffee farmer for 30 years who has recently taken up roasting the regurgitated seeds.

"For other crops it may cause serious loss, but if they eat coffee in this area, then it saves me the trouble of peeling the fruits," he added.

Liao says the discarded seeds yield a sweeter coffee with a vanilla-like scent, which sells for about $56 a pound (450 grams).

For coffee lovers like Wang Chih-ming, price is no object.

"I like coffee it's got a nice aftertaste, that's really good," said Wang.

Coffee beans excreted by native civet cats in Indonesia and painstakingly extracted by hand from the animals' forest droppings reputedly produce the world's rarest and most expensive coffee, which sells for around $1,000 a kg ($450 a pound)

(Reporting by Christine Lu; editing by Miral Fahmy and Doug Young)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Welcome to Club P.A.N.

Visit the club P.A.N. site here

Club P.A.N. is part of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation's (WCF) conservation education program currently operating around the Tai National Park in Ivory Coast.

The Tai National Park is the largest undisturbed forest block in all of West Africa and home to a large number of western chimpanzees, hence our name P.A.N (the genus name for chimpanzees). P.A.N. also stands for Personnes, Animaux, Nature (People, Animals Nature) as educating people is a crucial part of nature conservation.

Club P.A.N. was conceived by the Conservation Group at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology's Department of Primatology. The Conservation Group is made up entirely of graduate students from the department who want to participate in conservation activities in addition to their doctoral studies.

The Conservation Group approached the WCF with the club P.A.N. concept, in order to use their framework, solid infrastructure and strong ties with the Ivorian school system (Ministère de l’éducation National: Inspection de l’enseignement Primaire de Soubré1 (CPE)) to plan and organize the activities of the education program.

Please take the time to read through our site and support the WCF by buying some club P.A.N. merchandise!

The video below is from the first workshop of club P.A.N. in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The goal of the workshop was to introduce the teachers from the schools around the Tai National Park to the lessons and activities of club P.A.N. In the clip you will see the teachers acting as if they are students learning the lessons.

Visit the club P.A.N. site here

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

Our paper on a Fatal Chimpanzee Attack in Loango National Park, Gabon came out today in the International Journal of primatology

Fatal Chimpanzee Attack in Loango National Park, Gabon
Christophe Boesch, Josephine Head, Nikki Tagg, Mimi Arandjelovic, Linda Vigilant and Martha M. Robbins
International Journal of Primatology
Online first - Saturday, October 27, 2007

In some populations, chimpanzees engage in lethal aggression within and between social units. We report a fatal attack on an adult male chimpanzee at a new research site in Loango National Park, Gabon. We found a fresh corpse of an adult male chimpanzee only a few hundred meters from the research camp, after noting numerous vocalizations and chimpanzee movements the previous evening. Previous contacts with chimpanzees and fresh tracks in the area around the corpse suggest that 2 communities of chimpanzees range where the attack occurred and that members of the neighboring community killed the chimpanzee. To support the conclusion, we conducted genetic analysis for 13 Y-chromosome loci and 9 microsatellite loci of fecal samples from the dead individual, 5 possible attackers, and 2 members of the other community Though we cannot exclude the possibility of an intracommunity killing, the combined observational and genetic evidence suggest an intercommunity attack. The case study adds to the growing evidence that intercommunity killings are a rare but widespread phenomenon among chimpanzees and not an artifact of human provisioning or habituation.
Keywords chimpanzees - fatal attack - gabon - intergroup conflict