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'

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Climate Change "Controversy"

Article from (the CRU hack)

As many of you will be aware, a large number of emails from the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia webmail server were hacked recently (Despite some confusion generated by Anthony Watts, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Hadley Centre which is a completely separate institution). As people are also no doubt aware the breaking into of computers and releasing private information is illegal, and regardless of how they were obtained, posting private correspondence without permission is unethical. We therefore aren’t going to post any of the emails here. We were made aware of the existence of this archive last Tuesday morning when the hackers attempted to upload it to RealClimate, and we notified CRU of their possible security breach later that day.
Nonetheless, these emails (a presumably careful selection of (possibly edited?) correspondence dating back to 1996 and as recently as Nov 12) are being widely circulated, and therefore require some comment. Some of them involve people here (and the archive includes the first RealClimate email we ever sent out to colleagues) and include discussions we’ve had with the CRU folk on topics related to the surface temperature record and some paleo-related issues, mainly to ensure that posting were accurate.

Since emails are normally intended to be private, people writing them are, shall we say, somewhat freer in expressing themselves than they would in a public statement. For instance, we are sure it comes as no shock to know that many scientists do not hold Steve McIntyre in high regard. Nor that a large group of them thought that the Soon and Baliunas (2003), Douglass et al (2008) or McClean et al (2009) papers were not very good (to say the least) and should not have been published. These sentiments have been made abundantly clear in the literature (though possibly less bluntly).
More interesting is what is not contained in the emails. There is no evidence of any worldwide conspiracy, no mention of George Soros nefariously funding climate research, no grand plan to ‘get rid of the MWP’, no admission that global warming is a hoax, no evidence of the falsifying of data, and no ‘marching orders’ from our socialist/communist/vegetarian overlords. The truly paranoid will put this down to the hackers also being in on the plot though.
Instead, there is a peek into how scientists actually interact and the conflicts show that the community is a far cry from the monolith that is sometimes imagined. People working constructively to improve joint publications; scientists who are friendly and agree on many of the big picture issues, disagreeing at times about details and engaging in ‘robust’ discussions; Scientists expressing frustration at the misrepresentation of their work in politicized arenas and complaining when media reports get it wrong; Scientists resenting the time they have to take out of their research to deal with over-hyped nonsense. None of this should be shocking.
It’s obvious that the noise-generating components of the blogosphere will generate a lot of noise about this. but it’s important to remember that science doesn’t work because people are polite at all times. Gravity isn’t a useful theory because Newton was a nice person. QED isn’t powerful because Feynman was respectful of other people around him. Science works because different groups go about trying to find the best approximations of the truth, and are generally very competitive about that. That the same scientists can still all agree on the wording of an IPCC chapter for instance is thus even more remarkable.
No doubt, instances of cherry-picked and poorly-worded “gotcha” phrases will be pulled out of context. One example is worth mentioning quickly. Phil Jones in discussing the presentation of temperature reconstructions stated that “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.” The paper in question is the Mann, Bradley and Hughes (1998) Nature paper on the original multiproxy temperature reconstruction, and the ‘trick’ is just to plot the instrumental records along with reconstruction so that the context of the recent warming is clear. Scientists often use the term “trick” to refer to a “a good way to deal with a problem”, rather than something that is “secret”, and so there is nothing problematic in this at all. As for the ‘decline’, it is well known that Keith Briffa’s maximum latewood tree ring density proxy diverges from the temperature records after 1960 (this is more commonly known as the “divergence problem”–see e.g. the recent discussion in this paper) and has been discussed in the literature since Briffa et al in Nature in 1998 (Nature, 391, 678-682). Those authors have always recommend not using the post 1960 part of their reconstruction, and so while ‘hiding’ is probably a poor choice of words (since it is ‘hidden’ in plain sight), not using the data in the plot is completely appropriate, as is further research to understand why this happens.
The timing of this particular episode is probably not coincidental. But if cherry-picked out-of-context phrases from stolen personal emails is the only response to the weight of the scientific evidence for the human influence on climate change, then there probably isn’t much to it.
There are of course lessons to be learned. Clearly no-one would have gone to this trouble if the academic object of study was the mating habits of European butterflies. That community’s internal discussions are probably safe from the public eye. But it is important to remember that emails do seem to exist forever, and that there is always a chance that they will be inadvertently released. Most people do not act as if this is true, but they probably should.
It is tempting to point fingers and declare that people should not have been so open with their thoughts, but who amongst us would really be happy to have all of their email made public?
Let he who is without PIN cast the the first stone.
Update: The official UEA statement is as follows:
“We are aware that information from a server used for research information
in one area of the university has been made available on public websites,”
the spokesman stated.
“Because of the volume of this information we cannot currently confirm
that all of this material is genuine.”
“This information has been obtained and published without our permission
and we took immediate action to remove the server in question from
“We are undertaking a thorough internal investigation and we have involved
the police in this enquiry.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chimps use cleavers to chop food

By Matt Walker
From BBC Earth News

For the first time, chimpanzees have been seen using tools to chop up and reduce food into smaller bite-sized portions. Chimps in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea, Africa, use both stone and wooden cleavers, as well as stone anvils, to process Treculia fruits.The apes are not simply cracking into the Treculia to get to otherwise unobtainable food, say researchers.Instead, they are actively chopping up the food into more manageable portions. Observations of the behaviour are published in the journal Primates.
PhD student Kathelijne Koops and Professor William McGrew of the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, University of Cambridge, UK, studied a group of chimps living wild in the Nimba Mountains. Ms Koops research is focused on the use by the chimps of elementary technology, such as the use of tools while foraging. "Chimpanzees across Africa vary greatly in the types of tools they use to obtain food. Some groups use stones as hammers and anvils to crack open nuts, whereas others use twigs to fish for termites," she says. The apes' use of such tools can be surprisingly sophisticated. "For example, nut-cracking in the Bossou chimpanzee community in Guinea involves the use of a movable hammer and anvil, and sometimes the additional use of stabilising wedges to make the anvil more level and so more efficient," explains Ms Koops. "Termite fishing in some chimpanzee communities in the Republic of Congo involves the use of a tool set, i.e. different tool components used sequentially to achieve the same goal. "These chimpanzees were found to deliberately modify termite fishing probes by creating a brush-end, before using them to fish for termites."

But together with Prof McGrew and Prof Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan, Ms Koops has discovered another startling use of tools not previously recorded. During a monthly survey of chimps ( Pan troglodytes ) living in the mountain forests, she came across stone and rocks that had clearly be used by the apes to process Treculia fruits. These fruits, which can be the size of a volleyball and weigh up to 8.5kg, are hard and fibrous.But despite lacking a hard outer shell, they are too big for a chimpanzee to get its jaws around and bite into. So, instead, the chimps use a range of tools to chop them into smaller pieces.

Ms Koops found stone and wooden cleavers, as well as stone anvils used to fracture the large fruits.All were covered by the remains of smashed fruit and seeds.The cleavers were clearly used to pound the fruit, rather than the fruit pounded upon the stones.And the anvils were made from immoveable rocky outcrops.

This is the first account of chimpanzees using a pounding tool technology to break down large food items into bite-sized chunks rather than just extract it from other unobtainable sources such as baobab nuts, Ms Koops told the BBC. "And it's the first time wild chimpanzees have been found to use two distinct types of percussive technology, i.e. movable cleavers versus a non-movable anvil, to achieve the same goal." Surprisingly, neighbouring chimps living in the nearby region of Seringbara do not process their food in this way, reinforcing how tool use among apes is culturally learnt.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gorilla Reintroduction

Gorillas: still wild at heart
from the
A pioneering project to reintroduce traumatised gorillas to their natural habitat is bringing extraordinary success. Chris Green reports on how British conservationists are achieving what few thought was possible

The two terrified baby gorillas, both female, were brought to the Lesio-Louna reserve in the Congo Basin shortly after witnessing the brutal slaughter of the rest of their family group at the hands of some poachers. They were so traumatised by what they had seen that they clung to each other in fear and bared their teeth at anything or anyone who ventured close.

At the time, few thought it possible that the two sisters, named Likendze and Matoko, would ever be successfully reintroduced into the wild. But seven years later they have been, and something even more extraordinary has happened: the two have given birth within three weeks of each other, producing the ninth and tenth babies born to "rewilded" gorillas.

The births are viewed as a milestone for the Aspinall Foundation, a British charity which for more than 20 years has managed two gorilla rescue and rehabilitation projects, one in Congo-Brazzaville and another in the neighbouring state of Gabon, where wild populations were almost hunted to extinction in the 1950s. "We are delighted by the news of the birth of Matoko's infant, and indeed Likendze's before that," said James Osborne, chairman of the Aspinall Foundation.

"A mere seven years ago, the infants were so traumatised that they refused to move. Now they have both given birth. Each birth reinforces the success of the reintroduction, and we now have three viable groups of gorillas within the Lesio-Louna reserve."

The success of the foundation has gone some way towards reversing the slide of the Western Lowland gorilla towards extinction, an assault which has seen their numbers dwindle from millions to as few as 150,000. If the decline continues at its present rate, it is likely that the animal will be extinct by 2020, zoologists say.

The fall in numbers has been fuelled by deforestation, the deadly Ebola virus and the bush meat trade, with gorillas being captured by poachers before being slaughtered and their meat sold at markets in the capital, Brazzaville – a fate which befell Likendze and Matoko's family. The sisters were rescued by local ministry officials and handed to the Aspinall Foundation's reserve.

When the project's director, Amos Courage, saw the condition of the two young gorillas, his first thought was that they would never reach the stage of being able to go back to the wild, because they were too traumatised by what they had experienced.

The two were immediately assigned a dedicated human carer each, to look after them 24 hours a day with the aim of teaching them how to trust again – a process Mr Courage describes as having been "invaluable" to their survival. "They really do respond to devoted surrogate love," he said.

"Without it, they would just die, because they go into a spiral of depression and illness. And when they get into the forest, and see other orphans who have been in a similar situation to them, they join a sort of nursery group – which forces them to interact and gets them to stop thinking about the horror of their capture."

In 2006, The Independent reported the story of Massabi and Koto after those two apes became only the second and third gorillas to produce offspring after being carefully restored to their natural habitat. Three years down the line, the charity has successfully reintroduced to the wild more than 50 gorillas, 43 of which were orphans whose parents had been killed for bush meat. The latest birth is the third in 2009.

The project initially focused on providing shelter and care to young orphans, but over the years it has grown to include rehabilitation, ecosystem management, tourism and local community development.

The Lesio-Louna Gorilla Reserve is 170,000 hectares in size and enclosed by three rivers, which are natural barriers that prevent the animals escaping the reserve and coming into contact with nearby villages. Outside the main site is a nursery area where the young orphans learn the basics of foraging. Each night they are placed in an enclosed dormitory until they start trying to break down the door – a sure sign they are ready to be reintroduced to the wild. "Inevitably they'll meet up with other reintroduced gorillas in the reserve, and there'll be a lot of swapping of females. It's a very fluid situation between the groups, and although we've been doing this for more than 20 years we're still amazed at what happens – it's like a constant soap opera every day, said Mr Courage.

"The fact that the mothers are now raising these babies is fascinating because they're all orphans – we don't know how much experience of mothering they would have remembered from their early memories."

In 2005, an international treaty outlining a strategy to save the world's great apes was signed by the 23 states that have primate populations within their borders, as well as donor countries led by Britain.

The deal, which was billed as the last chance to save humanity's nearest relatives, set the target of significantly slowing the loss of great apes and their habitat by 2010, and securing the future in the wild of all this endangered species by 2015. The birth of Likendzé and Matoko's babies has, in one small way, helped towards this goal.

Wild chimps can predict movement of wildfires

From the Iowa State University website
Wild chimps have near human understanding of fire, says study by ISU's Pruetz

AMES, Iowa -- The use and control of fire are behavioral characteristics that distinguish humans from other animals. Now, a new study by Iowa State University anthropologist Jill Pruetz reports that savanna chimpanzees in Senegal have a near human understanding of wildfires and change their behavior in anticipation of the fire's movement.

An ISU associate professor of anthropology, Pruetz and Thomas LaDuke, an associate professor of biological sciences at East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University, co-authored the paper, which will be posted online Friday by the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. It will be published in a 2010 edition of the journal.

Data on the chimps' behavior with seasonal fires was collected by Pruetz during two specific encounters in March and April 2006. She reports that wildfires are set yearly by humans for land clearing and hunting, and most areas within the chimpanzees' home range experience burning to some degree.
Chimps have calm understanding of wildfires

The researchers interpret the chimpanzees' behavior to the wildfires as being predictive, rather than responsive, in that they showed no signals of stress or fear -- other than avoiding the fire as it approached them.

"It was the end of the dry season, so the fires burn so hot and burn up trees really fast, and they [the chimps] were so calm about it. They were a lot better than I was, that's for sure," said Pruetz, who was selected a 2008 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for her previous research on the savanna chimpanzees at the Fongoli research site in Senegal.

"They [the chimps] were experts at predicting where it was going to go," she continued. "I could predict it, sort of, but if it were just me, I would have left. At one time, I actually had to push through them because I could feel the heat from the fire that was on the side of me and I just wasn't that comfortable with it."

Pruetz says it was hard to find previous research on how other animals interacted with fire. But the few examples that she and LaDuke found -- such as elephants' encounters with similar wildfires -- reported that those animals were highly stressed and experienced high mortality rates.

In their paper, the researchers wrote that the control of fire by humans involves the acquisition of these three cognitive stages:
1. Conceptualization of fire. An understanding of the behavior under varying conditions that would allow one to predict its movement, thus permitting activity in close proximity to the fire.
2. The ability to control fire. Involving containment, providing or depriving the fire of fuel and perhaps the ability to put it out.
3. The ability to start a fire.

According to Pruetz, the Fongoli chimpanzees have mastered the first stage, which is the prerequisite to the other two. But she doesn't see them figuring out how to start a fire anytime soon -- at least, not without help.

"I think they could learn. It might be difficult only because of their dexterity, since they're less dexterous than us," she said. "But naturally, I can't ever see them making fire. I think cognitively they are able to control it (stage 2)."
Displaying a new "fire dance"

Yet they are very aware of fire and its power. In fact, Pruetz reports that the chimps have developed a unique "fire dance."

"Chimps everywhere have what is called a 'rain dance' -- Jane Goodall (a famed primatologist) coined that term -- and it's just a big male display (to show dominance)," she said. "Males display all the time for a number of different reasons, but when there's a big thunderstorm approaching, they do this real exaggerated display -- it's almost like slow motion. And when I was with this one party of chimps, the dominant male did the same sort of thing, but it was towards the fire, so I call it the fire dance.

"The other interesting thing was that I heard a vocalization that I never heard before [the fire dance] and I've never heard since," Pruetz continued.

She says the study provides insight into how the earliest human ancestors first developed the ability to control fire.

"If chimps can understand and predict the movement of fire, then maybe that's the thing that allowed some of the very earliest bipedal apes [human ancestors] to eventually be able to control fire," she said.

Pruetz will be continuing her research in Senegal during the spring semester. It is sponsored, in part, by the National Geographic Society, in addition to Iowa State.

Jill Pruetz, an ISU associate professor of anthropology, has been studying savanna chimpanzees at her Fongoli research site in Senegal since 2001. Her new study documents how the chimps understand the fire they encounter in the region. For contact info please visit the iowa state news website

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Media doesn't get scientist's X-mas joke, hilarity ensues...

Santa's a Health Menace? Media Everywhere Are Falling for It—But the Study Was Meant as a Joke
by Ashley Merryman

Around the world, news outlets have been reporting on a new study in BMJ, the U.K.'s leading medical journal. In the article, titled "Santa Claus: A Public Health Pariah?," Australian epidemiologist Nathan Grills meticulously lays out the reasons why Santa Claus is a terrible role model—a danger to children everywhere.

For instance, Grills writes, "Epidemiologically there is a correlation between countries that venerate Santa Claus and those that have high levels of childhood obesity." The researcher warns that the British tradition of leaving brandy along with the cookies means that Santa would be drunk-driving his sleigh. Santa's behind-the-reindeer malfeasance also includes "speeding, disregard for road rules, and extreme sports such as roof surfing and chimney jumping. Despite the risks of high speed air travel Santa is never depicted wearing a seatbelt or a helmet." (Grills somehow forgot to include that Santa is constantly breaking into people's houses—an obvious invitation for children to become burglars.)

Alerted to the article through a journal press release, news outlets everywhere immediately started reporting on Grills's article. Headlines proclaimed: "Santa Should Get Off His Sleigh, Jog to Trim Image, Doctor Says"; "Santa Promotes Obesity and Drink-Driving, Claims Health Expert"; and, of course, "Bad Santa."

Every wire service carried a version of the report. The international wire services AFP and AP wrote that Grills had established a relationship between Santa belief and obesity, and that he also warned against sitting on Santa's lap: it would lead to the spread of infectious disease. The wire stories were in turn picked up by major news networks and other venues.

Since then, people haven't been just reporting on Grills's work: he's being eviscerated for it.

A reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution blasted him with "Sometimes Scrooge has a medical degree and an Aussie accent." Another editorial proclaimed that the report was "wasted science" and "downright Grinch-like."

Around the world, Grills has been attacked as a mean-spirited Christmas killjoy. His e-mail inbox is filled with condemnations. He's so besieged by angry calls that he won't answer the telephone, so I couldn't talk to him for an interview. We had to correspond via e-mail.

Here's the thing. The entire "study" was a joke. It was satire. You've heard of Christmas in July? Well, this was April Fool's Day in December.

"It's supposed to be spreading a bit of Christmas cheer," explains Grills. He wonders if the sense of humor was lost because maybe some of the reporters read the press release but never read the actual article.

I don't know if that is the explanation or not, but the reason he asks the question is that it's clear his piece is a satire just from looking at it. The "study" byline includes a coauthorship by Brendan Halyday, an illustrator. Prestigious medical journals do not use illustrators; their graphics are dry charts and bar graphs. The cartoons at the top of this post are the illustrations included in Grills's "report."

While describing his article as "lighthearted," AP in all seriousness reported on Grills's supposed correlation between Santa and obesity. But there is no research to support the existence of that correlation—or any other claim made in the piece—whatsoever. It was just fiction.

In fact, in the "study," Grills never reported an exact numerical r correlation for that obesity/Santa-belief claim, nor did he claim to have done any real research on the relationship. Instead, he credited other sources as having made that finding—but two Internet clicks reveal that those cited articles don't have any data on that, either. And when I asked Grills to tell me about the specifics of the correlation, he instantly replied that there was no research on point; it was just a joke.

Similarly, the cited "research" relating to the complaint about a drunk-driving Santa is a single Yahoo-user question and answer.

And the article clearly states that there was no peer review of the piece—in a peer-reviewed journal.

If the article's text wasn't enough of a clue, the essay was published in a section of the journal called "Christmas Fayre"—that being the British description for a Christmas street carnival. One of the other articles in the Fayre section was a "quiz" for readers to test their ability to identify microscopic images. For one slide, the answer was "Macroscopic description: Two legs, two wings, weight 3 kg. Microscopic description: Abundant skeletal muscle fibres with their peripherally placed nuclei. Diagnosis: Christmas turkey."

Yet another article in that section asked readers to discuss the ethical implications of bringing a group of children on a trip to Lapland to visit an obese, hirsute, elderly white male dressed in a red costume.

All in all, the Fayre section is not a sendup of Christmas, but instead a good-natured parody of scientific journals. With a laugh at the gravitas of journal writing, the scholars ask us to reflect on the seriousness, and occasional inanity, of their work.

AFP has since filed a subsequent piece, reporting that Grills now says the article was a spoof. The wire service should have admitted that its previous report was in error. Instead, the piece intimates that Grills is backpedaling because of the condemnation he's received. Even in that second piece, AFP repeated the nonexistent correlation between obesity and belief in Santa.

Like all good satire, Grills's article contains kernels of truth. As he correctly points out, Santa is used by companies to sell, sell, sell—arguably defeating the whole idea of a kind and giving saint. Maybe we should insist that marketers stop using Santa's image to sell products that harm kids. And we should occasionally think about the messages we unwittingly convey to our children: even our most treasured icons may not always be setting the best of examples.

Does that mean Grills is Scrooge?

No. In fact, Grills is a Santa himself—he's repeatedly dressed up in the elf costume for kids in Australian schools.

As he wrote to me: "I am a Santa lover not hater! But I believe in the true meaning of Santa. The true Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a very generous man who gave of all his wealth to bless others who were in need. This was a reflection of one of the greatest gifts given to humanity: the baby Jesus. We need to reclaim Christmas for the beauty of giving and loving."

In the meantime, just to be clear: Grills does not consider Santa to be an actual public-health menace. He isn't a Grinch. And he isn't trying to kill anyone's belief in Santa.

He's just bewildered—and a bit angry—that his Christmas mischief has gotten more publicity than he has ever received for his real job. When he's not beating up on mythical creatures, Grills spends his time in rural India, studying the transmission of HIV through the region; his expertise is in determining how charities can most effectively help victims of the disease. In other words, he's trying to help people become real-life Saint Nicks, when it counts the most.

Ultimately, Grills's essay does offer a real, potent warning for us all. But it has nothing to do with Santa's weight or occasional misbehavior.

Instead, what we learn is that kids' fervent belief in Santa is nothing in comparison to some reporters' belief in a press release.

Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill Threatens Human Rights

Please visit the care2 petition site and consider signing the petition against Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill.
The site states:
There is a dangerous proposal that threatens the human rights of LGBT people in Uganda.

If passed, Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill would start a witch-hunt for homosexuals in the country. Its punishments include:
  • A 7 year jail sentence for consenting adults who have LGBT sex
  • A life sentence for people in same-sex marriages
  • Extradition and prosecution of LGBT Ugandans living abroad
  • The death penalty for adults who have LGBT sex with minors or who communicate HIV via LGBT sex, regardless of condom usage
  • Jail for anyone who doesn't report suspected LGBT activity within 24 hours
The bill also endangers HIV/AIDS programs, and may be exploited by those wanting to abolish these programs.

This proposed legislation is anti-ethical, anti-equality and anti-human rights. Tell Uganda's President Museveni that this bill is unacceptable, and that people should not be criminalized for sexual orientation or gender identity.
For a good overview of the issue please see TIME magazine's article "Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill: Inspired by the U.S."

Please go the petition site and consider signing!

Friday, December 18, 2009


Elusive Cross River gorilla caught on film

For a better quality video visit the BBC website (video courtesy of NDR Naturfilm)

Rare Cross River gorilla filmed
By Matt Walker
from BBC news

Rare footage has been taken of an elusive and critically endangered type of gorilla.
Film of the formerly camera-shy Cross River gorilla was captured in the forests of Cameroon by a team from Hamburg-based NDR Naturfilm. The team says it is the first professionally shot film of the gorilla taken, and the animal has only once before been caught on camera. Fewer than 300 Cross River gorillas, a western gorilla subspecies, remain. According to the World Conservation Society (WCS), which supported the expedition to film the ape, the only previous footage available of Cross River gorillas was taken by a field researcher using a shaky, hand-held camera and from a long distance in 2005.

"These gorillas are extremely wary of humans and are very difficult to photograph or film," says Dr. Roger Fotso, Director of WCS-Cameroon. "Eventually, we identified and staked out some of the gorillas' favourite fig trees, which is where we finally achieved our goal." Cross River gorillas live in roughly 11 subgroups, dispersed among highland areas along the border between Nigeria and Cameroon. They are one of a number of subspecies of gorilla. Cross River gorillas belong to the same species as western lowland gorillas, but differ in the dimensions of their skulls and teeth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Conservation Song

Octopus Tool Use

Octopus snatches coconut and runs
By Rebecca Morelle
from BBC News 
(for more video visit BBC site

An octopus and its coconut-carrying antics have surprised scientists.
Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, the team says it is the first example of tool use in octopuses.
One of the researchers, Dr Julian Finn from Australia's Museum Victoria, told BBC News: "I almost drowned laughing when I saw this the first time."
He added: "I could tell it was going to do something, but I didn't expect this - I didn't expect it would pick up the shell and run away with it."

Quick getaway
The veined octopuses (Amphioctopus marginatus ) were filmed between 1999 and 2008 off the coasts of Northern Sulawesi and Bali in Indonesia. The bizarre behaviour was spotted on four occasions.
The eight-armed beasts used halved coconuts that had been discarded by humans and had eventually settled in the ocean.
Dr Mark Norman, head of science at Museum Victoria, Melbourne, and one of the authors of the paper, said: "It is amazing watching them excavate one of these shells. They probe their arms down to loosen the mud, then they rotate them out."
After turning the shells so the open side faces upwards, the octopuses blow jets of mud out of the bowl before extending their arms around the shell - or if they have two halves, stacking them first, one inside the other - before stiffening their legs and tip-toeing away.
Dr Norman said: "I think it is amazing that those arms of pure muscle get turned into rigid rods so that they can run along a bit like a high-speed spider.
"It comes down to amazing dexterity and co-ordination of eight arms and several hundred suckers."

Home, sweet home
The octopuses were filmed moving up to 20m with the shells.
And their awkward gait, which the scientists describe as "stilt-walking", is surprisingly speedy, possibly because the creatures are left vulnerable to attack from predators while they scuttle away with their prized coconuts.
The octopuses eventually use the shells as a protective shelter. If they just have one half, they simply turn it over and hide underneath. But if they are lucky enough to have retrieved two halves, they assemble them back into the original closed coconut form and sneak inside.
The shells provide important protection for the octopuses in a patch of seabed where there are few places to hide.
Dr Norman explained: "This is an incredibly dangerous habitat for these animals - soft sediment and mud couldn't be worse.
"If they are buried loose in mud without a shell, any predator coming along can just scoop them up. And they are pure rump steak, a terrific meat supply for any predator."
The researchers think that the creatures would initially have used large bivalve shells as their haven, but later swapped to coconuts after our insatiable appetite for them meant their discarded shells became a regular feature on the sea bed.

Surprisingly smart
Tool use was once thought to be an exclusively human skill, but this behaviour has now been observed in a growing list of primates, mammals and birds.
The researchers say their study suggests that these coconut-grabbing octopuses should now be added to these ranks.
Professor Tom Tregenza, an evolutionary ecologist from the University of Exeter, UK, and another author of the paper, said: "A tool is something an animal carries around and then uses on a particular occasion for a particular purpose.
"While the octopus carries the coconut around there is no use to it - no more use than an umbrella is to you when you have it folded up and you are carrying it about. The umbrella only becomes useful when you lift it above your head and open it up.
"And just in the same way, the coconut becomes useful to this octopus when it stops and turns it the other way up and climbs inside it."
He added that octopuses already have a reputation for being an intelligent invertebrate.
He explained: "They've been shown to be able to solve simple puzzles, there is the mimic octopus, which has a range of different species that it can mimic, and now there is this tool use.
"They do things which, normally, you'd only expect vertebrates to do."

Thanks to Chrissie E. for the link

Monday, December 14, 2009

Campbell's monkeys use syntax

Image from
Monkey calls give clues to language origins
By Rebecca Morelle
from BBC News
(to hear clips of the monkey calls visit:

Scientists may be a step closer to understanding the origins of human language.
Two studies suggest that the ability to combine sounds and words to alter meaning may be rooted in a species of monkey.
A team found the Campbell's monkey can add a simple sound to its alarm calls to create new ones and then combine them to convey even more information.
The research is published in the journals Plos One and PNAS.

Human language is incredibly complex, but one commonly used feature is the process of adding another unit - a prefix or suffix - to a word to change its meaning. For example, adding "hood" to the word "brother" to form "brotherhood".
A team looking at Campbell's monkeys ( Cercopithecus campbelli campbelli ) in the Ivory Coast's Tai National Park found that these primates do a similar thing.
The researchers studied alpha males in six wild groups. These monkeys do not play a very social role but are alert to potential threats and disturbances and use their calls to highlight them.
The researchers discovered that the monkeys made several distinct alarm cries, among them calls described as "boom", "krak" and "hok".
The team found that booms were sounded when a falling branch had been spotted or to initiate group travel.
Kraks were only given after a leopard had been sighted.
While hoks were almost exclusively sounded when a crowned eagle swooped above the canopy.
But further analysis revealed that while booms were always unaltered, the monkeys sometimes added an "oo" to their kraks and hoks - and this transformed the information they were conveying.
Klaus Zuberbuehler, an author of the paper from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, said: "If you add this subtle additional oo unit to turn krak into krak-oo, then that call can be given to a whole range of other contexts. If you take the suffix away then it is almost exclusively a leopard alarm call."
While krak-oo appeared to be a general alarm call given to almost any disturbance, hok-oo was used for commotion specifically in the canopy, from the presence of neighbouring groups of monkeys to a glimpse of other flying animals.
Professor Zuberbuehler added: "What is interesting is that the same acoustic modifier is being used for these calls and that is really analogous to using a suffix in human language."

'Boom, boom'
A second study focused on how Campbell monkeys combined their alarm calls, as they were more likely to use a longer sequence of calls than voice individual ones.
Professor Zuberbuehler said: "Sometimes the monkey can give 10, 15 or even 20 calls, and typically different types of calls can appear in these sequences... So we tried to understand what particular context would trigger these sequences."
The scientists found that a sequence made up only of booms was used to prompt the group to travel.
If a pair of booms was followed by some krak-oos, it was almost exclusively given when falling trees or branches had been seen.
But if two booms were followed by a mix of krak-oos and hok-oos, then that seemed to signal the presence of a neighbouring group of Campbell's monkeys or another lone male.
Professor Zuberbuehler said: "These are three different events that are nothing to do with each other, but they are basically made of the same call types."
He added: "This is the first time that we can demonstrate that these sequences convey something about the environment or an event the monkey has witnessed."
The researchers say that while the monkey's linguistic talents may be unique amongst primate species, if the findings prove to be more widespread then they could help to reveal more about the origins of language.
Professor Zuberbueler said: "Campbell's monkeys and humans separated from a common ancestor about 30 million years ago.
"This set of papers shows that in terms of the call morphology, there seem to be ancestral traits floating around the primate lineage that haven't been known before."


Monday, December 7, 2009

Protecting Ontario & the Globe

For more info head to the wildlands league website

Thanks to Chrissie E. for the link

Good News for Cote d'Ivoire's farmers (lets hope for the wildlife as well)

Have a break - have an ethical Kit Kat
from the Independant
By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Nestlé are to convert the cocoa supply for its iconic bar to fairtrade producers

Nestlé, the world's biggest food company, is to pay poor cocoa farmers more for their beans by switching its best-selling Kit Kat chocolate bar to Fairtrade.

Emrbarking on what its UK chocolate boss described as an ethical "long journey", the four-finger Kit Kat will carry the Fairtrade logo from next month. Over the next two years the two-finger and other versions of the £183m-a-year bar will make the switch.

More than 8,000 cocoa farmers in Côte d'Ivoire (formerly Ivory Coast) will benefit from the decision, receiving an extra $150 a tonne, 4 per cent above the $3,384 world price.

They will also be able to sell their cocoa more directly to Nestlé and receive advice from the Swiss giant on raising yields and quality, which will further increase returns.

Nestlé said the extra money would fund education and healthcare in the West African state, which is recovering from the 2002-2007 civil war.

For the coffee-to-cereals multinational, the deal will help boost the supply of cocoa. Prices have spiralled to a 26-year high because of investor speculation and the failure of benighted producers such as those in Côte d'Ivoire to meet rising global demand.

Nestlé's decision will also help it improve its chequered reputation for ethics. In the 1970s and 1980s consumers boycotted the company, which makes Nescafe, Perrier and Cheerios, over its promotion of baby milk formula in Africa. The protests have fallen away in recent years with the adoption of a marketing code of conduct.

Kit Kat is the latest example of Fairtrade being "mainstreamed" following Starbucks' decision to convert its espresso beans, Tate & Lyle its retail sugar, and Cadbury its Dairy Milk, the UK's best-selling chocolate bar.

It came about after Nestlé Confectionery UK's managing director, David Rennie, visited Côte d'Ivoire in October. Asked to describe life for cocoa farmers there, he said: "They're not going hungry and they're not going thirsty but they live in a way in which the crops they produce are very important.

"The nearest school could be 20 or 30 miles away and they have no transport, so getting local village schools where kids can get literacy and numeracy skills without embarking on massive treks is really important.

"And the fact that we can go in and help them build schools and can give help on the ground was enlightening and heartening for me."

Only Kit Kats sold in the UK and Ireland will go Fairtrade, but Mr Rennie would not rule out other Nestlé chocolate brands following.

"In the UK we have started with as much of the Fairtrade cocoa from our co-operatives as we can get. And every single year we hope to get more of that and get it moving across all of Kit Kat," he said.

"We're putting no end point on this. As the cocoa supply develops, we want to continue our work on the Ivory Coast to support those farmers." Harriet Lamb, director of the UK-based Fairtrade Foundation, said the higher prices would "give a break" to the farmers of Côte d'Ivoire. "If any farmers need this kind of break, it's the farmers in Côte d'Ivoire," she added.

Nestlé sells one billion KitKat bars in the British Isles each year, which makes up 23 per cent of its UK confectionery sales. It and other leading chocolate bars will still contain palm oil, which is linked to human-rights abuses, deforestation and the loss of wildlife in South-east Asia. In October, Nestlé committed itself to buying only supplies certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil by 2015. "The commitment is the company moves by 2015 and I think for the whole company to get there by 2015, markets and product categories will get there quicker.

"So that's the end point, it's not the beginning point," said Mr Rennie, who described the Fairtrade commitment as part of a "long journey".

Thanks to Chrissie E. for the link

Protecting wild elephants with their trained counterparts in indonesia

A handler washes an elephant, whose calf is beside them, at Tesso Nilo National Park. At least once a month, wild herds from the park attack one of the nearby settlements. (Photo: Luis Sinco, LA Times)
A handler washes an elephant, whose calf is beside them, at Tesso Nilo National Park. At least once a month, wild herds from the park attack one of the nearby settlements.
(Photo: Luis Sinco, LA Times)

On Flying Squad Patrol With Elephants in Indonesia's Sumatra
from the Jakarta Globe
by John M. Glionna

The wild bull elephant stood menacingly in the clearing, trumpeting in annoyance and anger, its brain racing with a chemical that unleashes a throbbing headache. It was mating season, and the bull was desperate for a partner. Was this a good moment to be sitting atop another elephant just a few hundred feet away?

Syamsuardi, a native of the Sumatran forest, had his strategy: He would pit his own elephant against the amorous intruder. The compact 37-year-old manages the Flying Squad, a herd of tame elephants that patrols the more-than-80,000-hectare Tesso Nilo National Park.

In many nations, dwindling forests have brought deadly conflicts between man and animal. In Sumatra, rampaging elephants have been shot or poisoned by officials or vengeful property owners. Syamsuardi’s team is the brainchild of the World Wildlife Fund, which borrowed the idea from India. The goal: persuade the errant elephants to return to their sanctuary, where lethal run-ins with humans are less likely. For the Flying Squad, brute force isn’t the only option. The team sometimes dispatches a female to mate with a male aggressor, a tactic that has defused tension and produced two offspring: Tesso and Nella.

Confronting the latest angry bull, Syamsuardi sensed this showdown wouldn’t end easily. Perched atop Rachman, the Flying Squad leader, he and the other mahouts, or handlers, positioned two males and two females side by side. They moved slowly forward, with each handler atop an elephant, awaiting the wild bull’s charge.

Syamsuardi recalled the terror of knowing he’d be exposed to piercing tusks and collisions of gigantic bodies. Caught in the middle, he might be crushed like an insect. “It’s tense, but you must be calm and stay quiet,” he said. “I have to be ready to think quickly, because when the time comes, my elephants are waiting for my command.”

The forests that once covered Sumatra’s Riau province — home to the largest elephant population in Indonesia — are disappearing.

In the past 20 years, the paper and palm oil industries have cut down 60 percent of the pachyderm habitat. Just 10 percent of the remaining forest land is suitable for elephants. Since 1985, the province’s elephant population has plummeted to 350 from 1,600. About 80 elephants live within Tesso Nilo National Park.

At least once a month, wild herds from the park attack one of the nearby settlements, activists say. Since 2007, 13 elephants and several residents have been killed in Riau. “If given a choice, elephants would prefer never to see humans,” Syamsuardi said. “But the problem is that humans continue to invade their territory. There’s not enough jungle left.”

In 2004, after a rash of rampages, Syamsuardi began his monumental task: shape a team of animals into an obedient police force. A World Wildlife Fund outreach worker at the time, he knew little about elephants. So he began reading up on the animals and working with them in the field. Now he and his staff of eight handlers foster a bond with their elephant wards. For mahouts such as Adrianto, 26, it means a soothing voice interspersed with strict commands.

One day, Adrianto took 26-year-old Ria and her 2-year-old calf, Tesso, for a bath in a watering hole. Ria trudged though the jungle, grabbing leaves with her trunk, her feet leaving large craters in the soft dirt. At the murky pond, she waded into the water like a four-legged sumo wrestler, with Adrianto on her back. As the animals luxuriated in the cool water, their trunks shooting quick bursts of water, Adrianto scrubbed their backs, talking softly in Indonesian. “Don’t be naughty,” he told Tesso, who nudged him with a forehead sprouting unruly black hairs. Then he pushed the baby’s head underwater and scrubbed behind the ears. “Ria is an actress,” he said later, perched comfortably on her neck as if riding a big, movable easy chair. “She pouts unless she gets what she wants.”

The mahouts treat obedient animals to brownies. But there are sticks that come with such carrots. When Ria resists, Adrianto whacks her on the head with a small metal-tipped stick for discipline. Tesso gets a stick shoved in his ear when he gets too frisky. Before a routine patrol, Syamsuardi showered affection on Ria, rubbing her cheek and neck. He has grown to love the animals, and he fears for their future.

“They’re incredibly loyal,” he said. “When a mahout falls during a fight with a wild bull, the herd will surround him in protection.” They are also immensely powerful. An elephant can topple a pickup truck with one nudge of its forehead. In villages, the animals are referred to as datu , or mister, a term of respect given no other jungle creature.

Syamsuardi has seen the results of the animals’ fury. Every few weeks, they rampage through settlements looking for food or venting anger or frustration. “The male pierces victims with its tusks and then throws them with its trunk. If they are still moving, he’ll stomp them,” he said. “Females mostly kick. Either way, it’s a tragic way to die.”

Syamsuardi uses elephant face-offs as a last resort. His methods have worked: So far, none of the mahouts has been hurt. The team first tries to scare away aggressive herds by setting off carbide cannons. At night, rangers use car lights and blasts of the car horn. If the mating option is used, the team finds a secure spot for the ritual, which can last a week. If the team decides it’s better to make war, not love, fights between the Flying Squad and aggressors can last hours.

As the bull stomped in warning, the Flying Squad approached. The lineup, designed to confuse the invader so it can’t tell which elephant is pack leader, came within a few feet. Finally, the bull lunged at Rachman. Tusks flashing, the two animals collided. Syamsuardi hung on as the other elephants closed in around the intruder, like a gang tackle on the football field. The fight lasted a tense and sweaty 35 minutes, during which the big animals swung their heads, wielding their tusks like swords, their bodies like battering rams. Finally, the bull moved off into the brush.

For now, Syamsuardi knew, the big animal was safe.

“I was so satisfied. We didn’t have to kill that bull,” he said.

“We just gave him a message: Go back to the forest with your own kind. You’ll live longer that way.”

Thanks to Chrissie E. for the link

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Will Big Business Save the Earth?

Really really great op-ed column by eminent ecologist Jared Diamond on the positive interplay between business and the environment.-MA

From the

THERE is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know — because I used to share that view.

But today I have more nuanced feelings. Over the years I’ve joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

As part of my board work, I have been asked to assess the environments in oil fields, and have had frank discussions with oil company employees at all levels. I’ve also worked with executives of mining, retail, logging and financial services companies. I’ve discovered that while some businesses are indeed as destructive as many suspect, others are among the world’s strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability.

The embrace of environmental concerns by chief executives has accelerated recently for several reasons. Lower consumption of environmental resources saves money in the short run. Maintaining sustainable resource levels and not polluting saves money in the long run. And a clean image — one attained by, say, avoiding oil spills and other environmental disasters — reduces criticism from employees, consumers and government.

What’s my evidence for this? Here are a few examples involving three corporations — Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola and Chevron — that many critics of business love to hate, in my opinion, unjustly.

Let’s start with Wal-Mart. Obviously, a business can save money by finding ways to spend less while maintaining sales. This is what Wal-Mart did with fuel costs, which the company reduced by $26 million per year simply by changing the way it managed its enormous truck fleet. Instead of running a truck’s engine all night to heat or cool the cab during mandatory 10-hour rest stops, the company installed small auxiliary power units to do the job. In addition to lowering fuel costs, the move eliminated the carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 18,300 passenger vehicles off the road.

Wal-Mart is also working to double the fuel efficiency of its truck fleet by 2015, thereby saving more than $200 million a year at the pump. Among the efficient prototypes now being tested are trucks that burn biofuels generated from waste grease at Wal-Mart’s delis. Similarly, as the country’s biggest private user of electricity, Wal-Mart is saving money by decreasing store energy use.

Another Wal-Mart example involves lowering costs associated with packaging materials. Wal-Mart now sells only concentrated liquid laundry detergents in North America, which has reduced the size of packaging by up to 50 percent. Wal-Mart stores also have machines called bailers that recycle plastics that once would have been discarded. Wal-Mart’s eventual goal is to end up with no packaging waste.

One last Wal-Mart example shows how a company can save money in the long run by buying from sustainably managed sources. Because most wild fisheries are managed unsustainably, prices for Chilean sea bass and Atlantic tuna have been soaring. To my pleasant astonishment, in 2006 Wal-Mart decided to switch, within five years, all its purchases of wild-caught seafood to fisheries certified as sustainable.

Coca-Cola’s problems are different from Wal-Mart’s in that they are largely long-term. The key ingredient in Coke products is water. The company produces its beverages in about 200 countries through local franchises, all of which require a reliable local supply of clean fresh water.

But water supplies are under severe pressure around the world, with most already allocated for human use. The little remaining unallocated fresh water is in remote areas unsuitable for beverage factories, like Arctic Russia and northwestern Australia.

Coca-Cola can’t meet its water needs just by desalinizing seawater, because that requires energy, which is also increasingly expensive. Global climate change is making water scarcer, especially in the densely populated temperate-zone countries, like the United States, that are Coca-Cola’s main customers. Most competing water use around the world is for agriculture, which presents sustainability problems of its own.

Hence Coca-Cola’s survival compels it to be deeply concerned with problems of water scarcity, energy, climate change and agriculture. One company goal is to make its plants water-neutral, returning to the environment water in quantities equal to the amount used in beverages and their production. Another goal is to work on the conservation of seven of the world’s river basins, including the Rio Grande, Yangtze, Mekong and Danube — all of them sites of major environmental concerns besides supplying water for Coca-Cola.

These long-term goals are in addition to Coca-Cola’s short-term cost-saving environmental practices, like recycling plastic bottles, replacing petroleum-based plastic in bottles with organic material, reducing energy consumption and increasing sales volume while decreasing water use.

The third company is Chevron. Not even in any national park have I seen such rigorous environmental protection as I encountered in five visits to new Chevron-managed oil fields in Papua New Guinea. (Chevron has since sold its stake in these properties to a New Guinea-based oil company.) When I asked how a publicly traded company could justify to its shareholders its expenditures on the environment, Chevron employees and executives gave me at least five reasons.

First, oil spills can be horribly expensive: it is far cheaper to prevent them than to clean them up. Second, clean practices reduce the risk that New Guinean landowners become angry, sue for damages and close the fields. (The company has been sued for problems in Ecuador that Chevron inherited when it merged with Texaco in 2001.) Next, environmental standards are becoming stricter around the world, so building clean facilities now minimizes having to do expensive retrofitting later.

Also, clean operations in one country give a company an advantage in bidding on leases in other countries. Finally, environmental practices of which employees are proud improve morale, help with recruitment and increase the length of time employees are likely to remain at the company.

In view of all those advantages that businesses gain from environmentally sustainable policies, why do such policies face resistance from some businesses and many politicians? The objections often take the form of one-liners.

We have to balance the environment against the economy. The assumption underlying this statement is that measures promoting environmental sustainability inevitably yield a net economic cost rather than a profit. This line of thinking turns the truth upside down. Economic reasons furnish the strongest motives for sustainability, because in the long run (and often in the short run as well) it is much more expensive and difficult to try to fix problems, environmental or otherwise, than to avoid them at the outset.

Americans learned that lesson from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, when, as a result of government agencies balking for a decade at spending several hundred million dollars to fix New Orleans’s defenses, we suffered hundreds of billions of dollars in damage — not to mention thousands of dead Americans. Likewise, John Holdren, the top White House science adviser, estimates that solving problems of climate change would cost the United States 2 percent of our gross domestic product by the year 2050, but that not solving those problems would damage the economy by 20 percent to 30 percent of G.D.P.

Technology will solve our problems. Yes, technology can contribute to solving problems. But major technological advances require years to develop and put in place, and regularly turn out to have unanticipated side effects — consider the destruction of the atmosphere’s ozone layer by the nontoxic, nonflammable chlorofluorocarbons initially hailed for replacing poisonous refrigerant gases.

World population growth is leveling off and won’t be the problem that we used to fear. It’s true that the rate of world population growth has been decreasing. However, the real problem isn’t people themselves, but the resources that people consume and the waste that they produce. Per-person average consumption rates and waste production rates, now 32 times higher in rich countries than in poor ones, are rising steeply around the world, as developing countries emulate industrialized nations’ lifestyles.

It’s futile to preach to us Americans about lowering our standard of living: we will never sacrifice just so other people can raise their standard of living. This conflates consumption rates with standards of living: they are only loosely correlated, because so much of our consumption is wasteful and doesn’t contribute to our quality of life. Once basic needs are met, increasing consumption often doesn’t increase happiness.

Replacing a car that gets 15 miles per gallon with a more efficient model wouldn’t lower one’s standard of living, but would help improve all of our lives by reducing the political and military consequences of our dependence on imported oil. Western Europeans have lower per-capita consumption rates than Americans, but enjoy a higher standard of living as measured by access to medical care, financial security after retirement, infant mortality, life expectancy, literacy and public transport.

NOT surprisingly, the problem of climate change has attracted its own particular crop of objections.

Even experts disagree about the reality of climate change. That was true 30 years ago, and some experts still disagreed a decade ago. Today, virtually every climatologist agrees that average global temperatures, warming rates and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are higher than at any time in the earth’s recent past, and that the main cause is greenhouse gas emissions by humans. Instead, the questions still being debated concern whether average global temperatures will increase by 13 degrees or “only” by 4 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, and whether humans account for 90 percent or “only” 85 percent of the global warming trend.

The magnitude and cause of global climate change are uncertain. We shouldn’t adopt expensive countermeasures until we have certainty. In other spheres of life — picking a spouse, educating our children, buying life insurance and stocks, avoiding cancer and so on — we admit that certainty is unattainable, and that we must decide as best we can on the basis of available evidence. Why should the impossible quest for certainty paralyze us solely about acting on climate change? As Mr. Holdren, the White House adviser, expressed it, not acting on climate change would be like being “in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog.”

• Global warming will be good for us, by letting us grow crops in places formerly too cold for agriculture. The term “global warming” is a misnomer; we should instead talk about global climate change, which isn’t uniform. The global average temperature is indeed rising, but many areas are becoming drier, and frequencies of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events are increasing. Some areas will be winners, while others will be losers. Most of us will be losers, because the temperate zones where most people live are becoming drier.

It’s useless for the United States to act on climate change, when we don’t know what China will do. Actually, China will arrive at this week’s Copenhagen climate change negotiations with a whole package of measures to reduce its “carbon intensity.”

While the United States is dithering about long-distance energy transmission from our rural areas with the highest potential for wind energy generation to our urban areas with the highest need for energy, China is far ahead of us. It is developing ultra-high-voltage transmission lines from wind and solar generation sites in rural western China to cities in eastern China. If America doesn’t act to develop innovative energy technology, we will lose the green jobs competition not only to Finland and Germany (as we are now) but also to China.

On each of these issues, American businesses are going to play as much or more of a role in our progress as the government. And this isn’t a bad thing, as corporations know they have a lot to gain by establishing environmentally friendly business practices.

My friends in the business world keep telling me that Washington can help on two fronts: by investing in green research, offering tax incentives and passing cap-and-trade legislation; and by setting and enforcing tough standards to ensure that companies with cheap, dirty standards don’t have a competitive advantage over those businesses protecting the environment. As for the rest of us, we should get over the misimpression that American business cares only about immediate profits, and we should reward companies that work to keep the planet healthy.

Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles, is the author of “Guns, Germs and Steel” and “Collapse.”

thanks to Josh L for the link

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gropenhagen Conference

Image from F!#@ for forest (site is very NSFW!)

Prostitutes Offer Free Climate Summit Sex
from Spiegel online
By Politiken Staff & Edited by Julian Isherwood

Copenhagen Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards to city hotels warning summit guests not to patronize Danish sex workers during the upcoming conference. Now, the prostitutes have struck back, offering free sex to anyone who produces one of the warnings.

Copenhagen's city council in conjunction with Lord Mayor Ritt Bjerregaard sent postcards out to 160 Copenhagen hotels urging COP15 guests and delegates to 'Be sustainable - don't buy sex'.

"Dear hotel owner, we would like to urge you not to arrange contacts between hotel guests and prostitutes," the approach to hotels says.

Now, Copenhagen prostitutes are up in arms, saying that the council has no business meddling in their affairs. They have now offered free sex to anyone who can produce one of the offending postcards and their COP15 identity card, according to the Web site

According to the report, the move has been organized by the Sex Workers Interest Group (SIO).

"This is sheer discrimination. Ritt Bjerregaard is abusing her position as Lord Mayor in using her power to prevent us carrying out our perfectly legal job. I don't understand how she can be allowed to contact people in this way," SIO Spokeswoman Susanne Møller tells

Møller adds that it is reprehensible and unfair that Copenhagen politicians have chosen to use the UN Climate Summit as a platform for a hetz against sex workers.

"But they've done it and we have to defend ourselves," Møller says.

More on In Vitro Meat

by Andrew Schneider

Scientists Create Lab-Grown Pork; Bacon Industry Unmoved
Scientists in the Netherlands have created pig in a test tube. Debate has already started on whether it will save the world, or just throw vegetarians into a quandary.

In the meantime, the researchers may be in line for a celebratory feast: They could be the new front-runners for a million-dollar prize offered by a major animal rights group.

The research team, funded by a major sausage maker and the Dutch government, used cells from a live pig to grow pork muscle tissue in a Petri dish. After extracting cells called myoblasts from the muscle of a live pig, the scientists then incubated the myoblasts in a nutrient solution, which allowed the cells to multiply and create muscle.

The implications of this breakthrough in "in vitro meat," as it's sometimes called, are potentially enormous.

Physiology professor Mark Post of Eindhoven University, who led the research team, believes it could make it possible to end world hunger. "You could take the meat from one animal and create the volume of meat previously provided by a million animals," he told the media in the United Kingdom.

Making meat in a laboratory instead of a feed lot could also reduce climate change by eliminating billions of tons of methane and other greenhouse gases emitted each year by farm animals across the globe.

Dutchman Mark Post, a professor of physiology and expert in biomedical engineering, is working on generating meat in his lab at the Eindhoven University of Technology. Of course, all these potential boons depend on whether consumers think the man-made meat is tasty enough to eat. And even the scientists had to admit to reporters that they don't know if their creation is flavorsome, because laboratory regulations forbid them from tasting anything they create.

It certainly doesn't sound very appetizing. It's hard to imagine ordering up eggs and "wasted muscle tissue," which is how Post described his creation.

Nonetheless, the professor believes that steps can be taken to give the lab-grown meat a more marketable, steak-like consistency.

"We need to find ways of improving it by training it and stretching it, but we will get there," Post told reporters. "This product will be good for the environment and will reduce animal suffering. If it feels and tastes like meat, people will buy it." He and his colleagues predict that within five years, sausages and other pig products made from laboratory meat could be on the market.

At this point, the U.S. pork industry doesn't sound too alarmed at the prospect of being rendered obsolete by a lab beaker.
Cindy Cunningham, an officer of the National Pork Council, called the Dutch research "very interesting." But she noted that beyond the need to take the technology to a commercial level capable of supplying enough product to replace traditionally grown meat, USDA and FDA labeling issues would have to be worked out.

"The question of consumer demand would then be the driving factor," Cunningham said.

On that end, greater marketing savvy would help. (First order of business: come up with a better label than "in vitro meat.")

But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is also doing its part to create additional financial incentives for researchers. Last year, the group announced it would pay $1 million to anyone who came up with a way to produce large quantities of test-tube-spawned meat at competitive prices by 2012.

"Cells are capable of multiplying so many times in culture that, in theory, a single cell could be used to produce enough meat to feed the global population for a year," says New Harvest, a nonprofit research organization working to develop new meat substitutes.

The group's Web site predicts that the resulting cells will then be harvested, seasoned, cooked and consumed as a boneless, processed meat, such as sausage, hamburger or chicken nuggets.

Today, pig. Can foie gras be far behind?

See previous post on the topic: Eight ways in vitro meat will change our lives

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Singing gorillas at Rwandan MGVP orphanage

The gorillas at the mountain gorilla veterinary project (MGVP) orphanage sing while fed (singing is a natural gorilla behaviour, although its function is not entirely understood)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Annual monkey feast in Lopburi.

Its not the greatest example of human/wildlife interactions, but at least its not polar bear canabalism

Canadian polar bears turning to cannibalism in Hudson Bay

Image from Zareen's blog
From the WWF-Canada blog
by Peter J. Ewins, D.Phil.
Senior Officer, Species
Arctic Program

In the last few days the polar bears in western Hudson Bay, Canada, the best-studied subpopulation among the 19 across their Arctic range, have been giving us a dramatic and stunning new signal of population stress - at least 10 reported cases now of cannibalism.

In the last few days the polar bears in western Hudson Bay, Canada, the best-studied subpopulation among the 19 across their Arctic range, have been giving us a dramatic and stunning new signal of population stress - at least 10 reported cases now of cannibalism.

I was born in a coal-mining town in England, and was trained as a scientist, especially in marine animal ecology. The well-worn references to, and use of, the "canary in the coalmine" reflected very hard-learned lessons from past generations of miners in my birth-town. Better to read the signs in the canary in its cage 100 ft underground than to keel over yourself as carbon monoxide or other gases built up then poisoned you and your fellow miners.

In the last few days the polar bears in western Hudson Bay, Canada, the best-studied subpopulation among the 19 across their Arctic range, have been giving us a dramatic and stunning new signal of population stress - at least 10 reported cases now of cannibalism. Three decades of intensive polar bear studies here have hardly ever recorded such cannibalism. This is very new, and dramatic. The Nobel prize-winning IPCC team of 3000 world class scientists used this polar bear subpopulation and its responses to declining sea-ice coverage as an important signal in their assessments and modeling of the impacts and projections of/for rapid climate change. As an ecologist, I know that these are great studies over the past 30 years, and that the trends of key population parameters (cub survival, recruitment, adult survival, body condition, and eventually total population estimate) are familiar to any animal population experiencing major stress. It’s not specific to polar bears; most species when experiencing major habitat or population stresses respond in just these ways. That is the forces of nature at work. That's why the miners used the little canary in its cage.

It's December now, and to the amazement of local people and polar bears, and even cautious Arctic scientists, the sea ice has not yet returned to Hudson Bay! It’s late, very late, and so the polar bears who have spent the past five months or so along the coastline without significant fat-rich food , waiting for their sea-ice platform to return, are forced to wait even longer. It's likely that the hungriest, skinniest individuals are starving and desperate.... probably killing the weak and the young. That sea-ice used to be back in early November, then the bears all headed out quickly to catch ringed seals. Polar bears cannot survive on seaweed, berries or dried grass. They are top carnivores, evolved on a high fat diet. They have no option but to catch marine mammals from a stable sea-ice platform. No ice means no bears; it’s as simple as that. And our inattention to the GHG problem is thinning and shrinking the sea-ice at unprecedented rates.

The big question now is whether Canada's leaders are reading these signs, and whether these urgent alarm bells rung by the polar bear will be heeded as heads of state gather in Copenhagen to make decisions that will take care of GHG emissions, and hence the future of not only polar bears and sea-ice, but also the stability of our planet's climate patterns and economies. Perhaps the coal-miners could teach some of the world's leaders a few fundamental lessons about the need to pay serious attention to such biological signs, and then to take very quick actions in response!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rhino poaching surges in Asia, Africa

From the WWF facebook page

Rhino poaching worldwide is on the rise, according to a new report by TRAFFIC and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The trade is being driven by Asian demand for horns and is made worse by increasingly sophisticated poachers, who now are using veterinary drugs, poison, cross bows and high caliber weapons to kill rhinos, the report states.

Since 2006 the majority (95 percent) of the poaching in Africa has occurred in Zimbabwe and South Africa, according to new data.

“These two nations collectively form the epicentre of an unrelenting poaching crisis in southern Africa,” said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC.

The report, which was submitted to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ahead of its 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15) in March, documents a decline in law enforcement effectiveness and an increase in poaching intensity in Africa. The situation is most serious in Zimbabwe where rhino numbers are now declining and the conviction rate for rhino crimes in Zimbabwe is only three percent. Despite the introduction of a number of new measures, poaching and illicit horn trade in South Africa has also increased.

“Concerted action at the highest level is needed to stop this global crisis of rampant rhino poaching,” said Amanda Nickson, Director of the Species Programme at WWF International. “We call on the countries of concern to come to COP 15 in March with specific actions they have undertaken to show their commitment to stopping this poaching and protecting rhinos in the wild.”

The report also raises concerns regarding the low and declining numbers as well as the uncertain status of some of the Sumatran and Javan rhino populations in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.

“Sumatran and Javan rhino range countries need to increase efforts to better assess the current status of many of their rhino populations - to enhance field law enforcement efforts - prevent further encroachment and land transformation in rhino areas - and improve biological management of remaining rhinos to ensure the few remaining Sumatran and Javan Rhino numbers increase,” said Dr. Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group

Most rhino horns leaving southern Africa are destined for medicinal markets in southeast and east Asia, especially Vietnam, and also China. The report highlights Vietnam as a country of particular concern – noting that Vietnamese nationals operating in South Africa have recently been identified in rhino crime investigations. In addition, concern has been expressed about the status of Vietnam’s single Javan rhino population.

However, the report does note that in some areas populations of rhinos are increasing.

“Where there is political will, dedicated conservation programs and good law enforcement, rhino numbers have increased in both Africa and Asia,” said Dr Richard Emslie, Scientific Officer of IUCN’s African Rhino Specialist Group.

IUCN’s Rhino Specialist Groups and TRAFFIC were mandated to produce the report by CITES. The data collection and report writing for the report was partially funded by WWF and partners.