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'

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dr. Matsuzawa spearheads reforestation project between Bossou and Nimba Mountains (Guinea)

Scientists building Green Corridor to connect fading chimps colony to nearby mountains
By Elizabeth Weise

The chimpanzees in the Bossou, Guinea community described in today's article face dangers other than simple respiratory epidemics -- though the one that killed the two infants described in a paper in this week's edition of the journal Current Biology did wipe out five of them, more than a quarter of the population.

Dora Biro, one of the Oxford University zoologists who does field work watching the group, says their concern is that it is so small that the group will eventually die out. There are only 13 chimpanzees in the community today, she says.

Their numbers are so small because "the core range of this community consists of three hills and everywhere around it is savanna." Chimps don't like to cross open savanna, so they're effectively penned in on their little 'island' of trees.

But just three and a half miles away is "a huge mountain range full of chimpanzees." Chimps naturally move out of their birth group and into others as they mature, so it would be normal for the Bossou group to continually get an influx of new members from other troupes. But the distance, and the danger, is too great.

However, the Japanese team of biologists who originally established the observation site have now begun to plant a corridor of trees across the savanna to try to connect the Bossou 'island' of hills to the nearby Nimba mountain range where the other chimpanzees live.

"The trees still need to grow before they're at all passable for chimps," says Biro. "The idea is if this corridor does work, if the trees survive, it will give chimps access both in and out, and that could save the community."

It's called The Green Corridor Project and it's being spearheaded by Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who helped establish the site.

For more information visit

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wildlife Forensics

From WWF Canada
Wildlife forensics experts meet
By Ernie Cooper, Director, TRAFFIC and Wildlife Trade
I got my start working on wildlife trade issues back in 1988 when I was given a contract to identify wildlife products detained by Canada Customs for CITES enforcement. I didn’t realize at the time that I was being initiated into the world of wildlife forensics: the use of science to help solve wildlife crimes.

Although the field of wildlife forensics includes pathology and other disciplines, most of the focus is on identification of wildlife, parts and derivatives. It was a pretty lonely field back then. Reference materials for identifying exotic species were scarce and there were few experts to consult with.

How times have changed! Last week I had the pleasure of attending the inaugural meeting of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science, which took place April 18-23, 2010 in Ashland, Oregon. This was the largest gathering of international wildlife forensic scientists ever held, with 129 individuals coming from ten countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Society for Wildlife Forensic Sciences was formed in November 2009. Its mission is to develop wildlife forensic science into a comprehensive, integrated and mature discipline.

The meeting included three workshops on Hair Identification, Statistical Genetics for DNA Identification, and Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) [PCR is a technique to make millions of copies of a particular DNA sequence]; followed by 2 ½ days of poster and oral plenary presentations. Two posters were co-authored by the TRAFFIC & Wildlife Trade team in collaboration with Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Forensic Research and Ancient DNA Laboratory:

• The Use of Hydrogen Peroxide to Alter Black Coral (Antipatharia) for the Purpose of Imitating Gold Coral (Gerardia sp.), (Angela Leung, Ernest W.T. Cooper, Tanya Shadbolt, Mark Skinner, PhD).
• Ancient DNA Analysis of Dried Coral Samples: An Accurate DNA-based Identification of Threatened Species of Support of Wildlife Trade Law Enforcement (Ursula Arndt, MA., Camilla Speller, Ernest W.T. Cooper, Angela Leung, Mark Skinner, PhD., Dongya Yang, PhD.).

The best part of the meeting was of course the opportunity to see old friends and make new contacts. We are developing quite a shopping list of wildlife forensic research topics we intend to explore in the next couple of years. The next meeting of the Society will be in 2012 in Vancouver, British Columbia. We will have plenty to talk about.

Follow Ernie on Twitter for more updates.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Club P.A.N. blog cross-posting - snails saving apes

This is a topic very dear to my heart since the MPI-EVA Conservation Group (of which I am a member) in collaboration with the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation (WCF), Office Ivorien des Parcs and Reserves (OIPR) and the Ministère de l’éducation National - Inspection de l’enseignement Primaire de Soubré1 (CPE) started a similar project but with school children instead of hunters this year. Visit our Club P.A.N. blog for more information on our project! - MA

From Discovery News
Snails Are Saving Endangered Gorillas
by Jennifer Viegas

Humble snails are helping to prevent Cross River gorilla poaching in Nigeria, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The WCS has just launched a new program that promotes snail farming, which helps local people generate income, provides an alternative source of animal protein, and hopefully will eliminate illegal hunting of what is Africa’s rarest and most endangered great ape.

Eight former gorilla hunters were selected from four villages to participate in the new initiative. With help from the WCS, they've constructed snail pens, each of which was stocked with 230 African giant snails. Because of the snail’s high protein content, coupled with low maintenance costs, quick results, and easy replication, snail farming is expected to catch on quickly.

Just as French chefs prize snails, locals there view these gastropods as a delicacy and the high demand for them in villages and larger communities makes the prospect of farming viable.

“People living near Cross River gorillas have trouble finding alternative sources of income and food and that’s why they poach,” said James Deutsch, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Africa program. “We are working with them to test many livelihood alternatives, but perhaps the most promising, not to mention novel, is snail farming.”

Once thought to be extinct, Cross River gorillas were rediscovered in the 1980s. The most endangered of the African apes, Cross River gorillas now number less than 300. Even if just a handful are taken as bushmeat, the killings can really put a dent in the gorilla's already weakened population.

Get this: The operation cost per year for each snail farmer, after necessary replacement of nets and cement and labor costs, is estimated at only $87. The profit, after expenses, with the sale of an average of 1500 snails per bi-annual harvest, is estimated at $413 per year. The meat of one gorilla, on the other hand, fetches about $70.

“Cross-River gorillas depend on law enforcement and conservation efforts to survive,” says Andrew Dunn, WCS Nigeria Country Director. “The work of WCS and our dedicated field-staff to develop alternate livelihoods for local poachers is just one step on the road to recovery for these incredible animals.”

Brain shuts off in response to healer's prayer

by Andy Coghlan

WHEN we fall under the spell of a charismatic figure, areas of the brain responsible for scepticism and vigilance become less active. That's the finding of a study which looked at people's response to prayers spoken by someone purportedly possessing divine healing powers.

To identify the brain processes underlying the influence of charismatic individuals, Uffe Schjødt of Aarhus University in Denmark and colleagues turned to Pentecostal Christians, who believe that some people have divinely inspired powers of healing, wisdom and prophecy.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Schjødt and his colleagues scanned the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers while playing them recorded prayers. The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.

Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity monitored by the researchers change in response to the prayers. Parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices, which play key roles in vigilance and scepticism when judging the truth and importance of what people say, were deactivated when the subjects listened to a supposed healer. Activity diminished to a lesser extent when the speaker was supposedly a normal Christian (Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsq023).

Schjødt says that this explains why certain individuals can gain influence over others, and concludes that their ability to do so depends heavily on preconceived notions of their authority and trustworthiness.

It's not clear whether the results extend beyond religious leaders, but Schjødt speculates that brain regions may be deactivated in a similar way in response to doctors, parents and politicians.

Thanks to Dieter L for the link

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What will zoos be in the future?

I have been on the fence about zoos at times, but tend to lean towards pro-zoo - this article makes a lot of good arguments and some not so good ones (eg: "gorillas are expensive" isnt really why we shouldn't have gorillas in zoos in my opinion. Some animals should simply not be in captivity, they stress easily and can't carry out their normal lives in an enclosure designed for people to view them 8 hrs of the day) but i do like the following emphasis: "...he believes that contemporary zoos should be in the business of conservation as much as entertainment, helping preserve animals in the wild as well as at home.... “If you take away the conservation part, I’m not sure there would be a good reason to have zoos.”..." -MA
(full disclosure: the article features one of my good friends and colleagues Dr. Tara Harris)

from Minnesota Monthly
New Zoo
The Minnesota Zoo has never had gorillas, lions, elephants, or rhinos—and still won’t after its first permanent African exhibit opens this month. But does that matter anymore?
By Tim Gihring

At a recent meet-and-greet held by the Minnesota Zoo, a host of its most monied backers mingled at the Minneapolis Club—far from the animals in Apple Valley. They breakfasted on eggs and sausage amid dark-paneled walls and oil paintings, looking up now and then at a PowerPoint presentation led by the zoo’s director, Lee Ehmke. Eventually, Ehmke paused on a slide depicting lions, gorillas, and the quarterback Brett Favre. What did the animals and the aging athlete have in common? Ehmke explained that they were all large, crowd-pleasing animals, or—in zookeeper’s parlance—“charismatic mega-vertebrates.”

Since the zoo opened, in 1978, it has often been faulted for its distinct lack of such beasts, the sort that visitors to many other zoos take for granted: elephants, rhinoceroses, and yes, lions and gorillas. The Minnesota Zoo has even been accused of not “being complete,” as one legislator put it years ago, raising questions of what a contemporary zoo should look like.

At the meet-and-greet, Ehmke, who has run the zoo since 2000, offered a simple explanation for the big animals’ absence: They’re expensive, both to acquire and to keep, especially African animals and particularly in Minnesota’s climate. The zoo has an annual operating budget of only about $19 million, supplied in part by a fickle state legislature—much less than the budget of other Midwestern zoos, such as those in St. Louis and Milwaukee. “We’re a small-market group,” Ehmke told the zoo’s backers.

But what if the zoo could become more than the sum of its smallish parts? Continuing the slide show, Ehmke flipped to images of the species that will be showcased in “Faces of the African Forest,” opening this month as the zoo’s first permanent exhibit of African animals. Zoo officials say the attraction will be a model, in some ways, for future zoo exhibits and could goose attendance this summer to a record high. The animals include two species of monkeys, fruit bats, rock hyrax (gopher-like creatures), dwarf crocodiles, and Ehmke’s favorite—red river hogs.

From his office at the zoo, Lee Ehmke can see the facility’s empty and crumbling whale tank, a reminder of the zoo’s controversial relationship with big animals. The zoo opened in what many zoo directors now refer to as the “utopian period” of zoo-building, characterized by wide-open, natural spaces—“500 acres and a monorail,” Ehmke muses. It was a reaction to the tile-and-bars aesthetic of many zoo exhibits at the time, such as the Milwaukee Zoo’s quarters for Samson, the largest gorilla ever in captivity: a linoleum cell with a glass wall that he would vigorously assault with all of his 650 pounds. The Minnesota Zoo was conceived as the area’s “new zoo,” in contrast to St. Paul’s Como Zoo, which was smaller and more old-fashioned at the time. It was designed to be, at 485 acres, the most spacious, modern exhibition in the country and planners estimated that the concept would easily draw 2.5 million visitors annually—4 million by the year 2000—and become self-sustaining within a few years.

The execution was less impressive. Only a third of the proposed exhibits were ever built. The contemporary concrete architecture was beyond stark—“Brutalist,” Ehmke calls it—and visitors had difficulty spotting the animals, lounging deep in their pens. Moreover, the creatures were largely unexotic: deer, raccoons, and the like. The zoo’s most charismatic animals, introduced at the opening, were two beluga whales. After they were shipped to the San Diego Zoo in 1987 for health reasons, attendance—which had never topped 1 million visitors—went into a free fall.

In a 1987 report, zoo officials argued that within the “conservation-minded framework” of progressive zoos, “the absence of some of the charismatic mega-vertebrates will no longer be perceived as a deficiency.” Whales, gorillas, rhinos—“All real big, exciting animals,” an official clarified—wouldn’t be missed. But legislators felt duped. When the zoo instead proposed an exhibit of insects, lawmakers declared that the institution had succumbed to “academic elitism.” Governor Rudy Perpich called for the zoo to be spun off as a nonprofit business.

Ehmke can empathize: “No one wants to walk a mile to maybe see a deer,” he says. He was hired a decade ago to add some “wow appeal,” as he put it at the time, to the zoo’s exhibits. Laid-back, with a wry sense of humor, he comes across as more intellectual than idealist. And it was clear he had nothing against charismatic mega-vertebrates: As an exhibit designer at the Bronx Zoo, he’d created its signature attraction, the Congo Gorilla Forest, featuring, well, gorillas—lots of them.

Ehmke is now slowly reversing the Minnesota Zoo’s old layout, creating so-called “immersive exhibits” that draw animals closer to visitors by means of food, heated rocks, and other enticements. For “Russia’s Grizzly Coast,” a $24 million fantasia that opened in 2008, he brought in Amur leopards and grizzly bears, luring them so close to the viewing glass that the bears’ massive heads are occasionally pressed against it. Last year, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums declared “Russia’s Grizzly Coast” the best new exhibit in the country, and attendance spiked by 15 percent over 2008 to a record 1.35 million visitors. Attendance has now increased 40 percent in the last five years, and legislators are pleased: Over the last several years, they’ve awarded the zoo some $66 million, including $21 million this year.

But Ehmke can’t afford to stock every new exhibit with bears or equally large equivalents. Nor does he believe it’s always necessary. “It’s not just about having the crowd pleasers,” he says, echoing the zoo’s former insect proponents. Like them, he believes that contemporary zoos should be in the business of conservation as much as entertainment, helping preserve animals in the wild as well as at home. “All great zoos are committed to taking on the bigger conservation issues of the world,” says Ehmke, “and we want to be perceived as a great zoo.” Going a step further, he says, “If you take away the conservation part, I’m not sure there would be a good reason to have zoos.”

Ehmke now has a simple requirement for all new or remodeled exhibits: “We want to link everything we do here at the zoo to some conservation effort in the place where the animals are from.” In 2008, as the zoo’s designers conceived “Faces of the African Forest,” Ehmke hired Tara Harris, a young conservation biologist who, when she’s not monitoring the zoo’s sustainability measures, studies mountain zebras in Namibia. The next year, the zoo hired Jeff Muntifering, a conservation biologist based in Namibia. In his early thirties, Muntifering tracks black rhinoceroses—a species poached to the brink of extinction—from a base so remote that locals call it World’s End. The two hires tripled the zoo’s conservation department and staked the organization in Africa, the world’s most prominent conservation battleground. The stage for displaying African animals was set.

This emphasis on conservation isn’t expected to draw additional visitors to the Africa exhibit, Ehmke says. (As one zoo director has put it, no one goes to zoos “to eat their vitamins.”) But if it’s not a pull, it might just be a push. In his office, Ehmke keeps a paper written by former Bronx Zoo director Bill Conway, revered in zoo circles as the father of modern zoo exhibitions, called “How to Exhibit a Bullfrog: A Bedtime Story for Zoo Men.” (“The gender reference tells you how long ago we’re talking,” Ehmke notes.) In the paper, Conway imagines an amazing exhibit centered around the common bullfrog—or rather, its engaging environment: a periscope shows a small-mouth bass fanning its eggs, cutaway tunnels reveal amphibians. Conway suggests that well-designed displays open the door to exhibits about habitats, rather than any particular species, much less large ones. “The idea was that any animal could be interesting if exhibited and interpreted creatively,” Ehmke says.

Among Ehmke’s favorite zoos is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, in Tucson, which encompasses just 21 acres and displays no animals larger than black bears (the smallest are ants). The evocative settings, approximating the Sonora Desert, steal the show. The Santa Barbara Zoo, in southern California, recently opened a similar exhibit called Rattlesnake Canyon, which uses reptiles and amphibians to represent the habitat of the nearby Los Padres National Forest. “There’s a lot you can do with small things,” says Rich Block, the zoo’s chief executive officer.

If the Minnesota Zoo’s original designers had the right idea about conservation highlighting the importance of humble creatures—and vice versa—they may have been wrong about the presentation. “What’s changed,” says Ehmke, “is that we’ve realized we’re not re-creating nature. We’re not giving the animals a natural existence—they live at the zoo. They’re being managed by people, which in many cases doesn’t mean turning them loose on five acres and calling it a day.” In other words, you don’t put the bullfrog in a swamp. You put it in a nightclub.

Faces of the african Forest” is located on the zoo’s Tropics Trail, a balmy indoor garden the size of one-and-a-half football fields. The space is among the zoo’s signature attractions and a popular spot for weddings (vows are typically exchanged under a thatched hut), although no marriages will be consecrated there this summer. It’s being remodeled with a stronger conservation focus to house animals from five so-called hot spots, habitats with high biodiversity that are also highly threatened.

Ehmke stands inside the Africa exhibit amid artisans shaping concrete into ersatz trees and vines. “Naturalistic,” Ehmke calls the exhibit, not natural. The space is long and tall but not deep, like a diorama. The animals will be up front—the crocodiles lounging in pools, the monkeys in the trees—and Ehmke’s signature tricks will showcase even the least charismatic species in unusual ways. “Crocs are immobile except maybe twice a day,” Ehmke explains, so he’s designed an overhead pool that allows views of the reptiles from below. A zookeeper hidden inside a hollow “tree” can unleash food through a tubelike “branch” into a clearing in the exhibit, drawing the monkeys into the open. Kids can get closer looks by crawling into a log that juts into the exhibit, surreptitiously surveying the action through viewing portholes. “It’s like set design,” Ehmke says.

In this artificial environment, the animals become “ambassadors,” Ehmke says, for their embattled brethren in the real world. As such, they have the potential to deliver a conservation message to an immense audience—about 180 million people annually visit the 221 zoos accredited by the AZA (by contrast, the Sierra Club and World Wildlife Federation each have just over 1 million members). “The Nature Conservancy and groups like that are great,” says Rick Barongi, head of the Houston Zoo and one of the field’s most vocal proponents of conservation. “But zoos attract more people. They’re probably the best billboard advertisement that animals can have.”

Animals also deliver the message in an almost personal way, argues Block of the Santa Barbara Zoo. “People develop a relationship with the animals they love at the zoo,” he says. “So when they are approached by a World Wildlife Federation, or any other conservation group, they are that much more in tune with the message—and more willing to part with the dollars. I’ve never formed a relationship with any conservation group because of Animal Planet.”

Block is quick to add, though, that people are more likely to bond with, say, gorillas than hyrax—no matter how well they’re presented. “Those big charismatic vertebrates,” he muses. “The fact is, having those icons at the forefront raises visibility.” Tigers and pandas are popular. “Whales do well, too,” he adds.

Zoos may have changed immensely over the years—“About the only thing that resembles zoos of the past is that we have animals on exhibit,” says Block—but the public’s perception of them hasn’t changed as much. “The public has a certain expectation to see gorillas,” says AZA executive director Jim Maddy. “The exotic animals.” In later years, even Bill Conway conceded the limits of his bullfrog theory. As Ehmke wanders through the African exhibit, he clarifies that the zoo would love to have more charismatic animals and says it plans to build a penguin exhibit soon. “I would love to have gorillas,” he says. But they need to be in large social groups, they need more stimulus, and the cost of care is high. “We are constantly trying to balance the natural attractiveness of those charismatic mega-vertebrates,” he says, “with what works at our zoo.”

Ehmke notes that initial concepts for what later became “Russia’s Grizzly Coast” did not include grizzly bears. Zoo officials debated the value of displaying a large animal versus the cost, and concluded that in order to make the splash it was looking for, it needed a heavyweight—a species, frankly, that would look good on posters. Otters weren’t enough. Nor were leopards. “Not all animals,” Ehmke says, “are created equal.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"They’re a reminder that talent is universal, although opportunity is not"

picture from village of Tai, Cote d'Ivoire
Young Superheroes in a Hut
From the

Why is Africa poor?

Is it a legacy of colonial exploitation? Tropical diseases and parasites? Or is it that local mammals, like the zebra and the African elephant, were difficult to domesticate and harness in agriculture?

There’s truth in each of these explanations. But a visit to Zimbabwe highlights perhaps the main reason: bad governance. The tyrannical, incompetent and corrupt rule of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, has turned one of Africa’s most advanced countries into a shambles.

In a village less than a day’s drive from Victoria Falls, I stumbled across a hut that to me captured the country’s heartbreak — and also its resilience and hope. The only people living in the hut are five children, orphans from two families. The kids, ages 8 to 17, moved in together after their four parents died of AIDS and other causes.

The head of the household is the oldest boy, Abel, a gangly 10th grader with a perpetual grin. He has been in charge since he was 15.

At one time, the two families reflected Zimbabwe’s relative prosperity. One mother was a businesswoman who traveled abroad regularly. A solar panel that she brought back from Zambia lies in the courtyard.

One of the fathers was a soccer coach who named his son Diego Maradona. Diego may have inherited some of his father’s talent, but he has no soccer ball and no soccer shoes — indeed, no shoes at all. And here, as in much of Zimbabwe, a once-impressive system of schools and clinics has pretty much collapsed, along with tourism, agricultural production and the economy itself.

The household stirs to life each morning when Abel rises at 4 and sets off barefoot on a nine-mile hike to the nearest high school. He has no watch or clock, so he judges the time from the sun, knowing that it will take three hours to get to school.

Abel and the other children have no money to pay school fees or buy notebooks. But the teachers allow them to attend class anyway, because they are brilliant students who earn top grades. They’re a reminder that talent is universal, although opportunity is not.

After Abel leaves for school, responsibility shifts to Diego Maradona, who is 11. He wakes the three younger children, feeds them cold cornmeal mush left over from the previous night’s dinner, and walks with them to the elementary school they all attend a few miles away.

When Diego and the younger children return in the afternoon, they gather firewood, fetch water, tend the chickens and sometimes search for edible wild plants. Abel returns by about 7 p.m. and cooks more cornmeal mush for dinner. He dispenses orders and affection, nurses the younger ones when they are sick, comforts them when they miss their parents, spanks them when they are naughty, coaches them with their schoolwork, begs food from neighbors, fixes the thatch roof when it leaks, and rules the household with tenderness and efficiency.

Abel’s goal is to graduate from high school and become a policeman, because the job will provide a steady salary to support his siblings. He does not know how he will come up with the modest fees to take graduation exams.

I asked Abel what he dreams of. “A bicycle,” he said. Then he would be able to get home from school more quickly and manage the household better.

“Life was a lot better when I was younger,” he said, a bit wistfully. “From what my parents used to tell me, life was a lot better under white rule. There was a lot more food and clothes, and you could afford to buy things.” But Abel insisted that he was optimistic that life would eventually get better again.

Westerners sometimes think that Africa’s problem is a lack of initiative or hard work. Nobody could think that after talking to Abel and Diego Maradona — or so many other Zimbabweans who display a resilience and courage that left me inspired.

I found Zimbabwean superheroes like Abel often in my week of surreptitious reporting in Zimbabwe. (Mr. Mugabe subjects journalists to imprisonment, so it seemed best not to advertise my presence.) Parents sacrifice meals to keep their children in wretched schools (one teacher showed me his two textbooks for a class of 50). And a growing number of Zimbabweans risk crocodiles, drowning and violence to sneak into South Africa in search of work.

So Zimbabwe’s tragedy isn’t its people, but its leader. Likewise, Africa’s failure has been, above all, one of leadership. It is telling that Africa’s greatest success story, Botswana, is adjacent to one of its greatest failures, Zimbabwe. The difference is that for decades Botswana has been exceptionally well and honestly managed, and Zimbabwe pillaged.

For more musings by Mr. Kristoff, read his blog, On the Ground, watch his YouTube videos and join him on Facebook.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Gorilla numbers still declining

Try to ignore the sensationalist title of the article (below) and consider that all consumer nations are to blame for the decline in ape numbers. Also, Western Lowland gorillas still have strongholds (at the moment) in central africa (R-Congo, C.A.R. and Gabon), consider supporting/donating to some of the areas where we know gorillas are numerous and have huge potential for being protected (e.g. The Goualougo Triangle) -MA

Is Chinese Economic Demand Killing Africa's Gorillas?
by Nick Wadhams
from Time magazine online

Perhaps the worst misfortune to befall the world's gorillas is that they live in some of the most resource-rich and lawless parts of the planet. Their forest homes in Africa are rich in timber, gold, diamonds and coltan, the mineral used in electronics like cell phones, and the scramble to get at those minerals has been joined by ragtag militias, national armies, multinationals and governments alike.

That means it is an unusually bad time to be a gorilla. A new U.N. report warns that most of the remaining gorillas in Africa could go extinct within 10 to 15 years in the Greater Congo Basin, the swath of forest and savanna that stretches from Africa's Atlantic coast across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Rwanda and Uganda in the east.

The races for timber, gold and coltan are largely to blame for habitat loss, said the report. Militias sell their goods to middlemen and corporations that ignore the destruction caused by the resource trade, and they must be held accountable for the loss of biodiversity in the region. "Companies involved, also multinationals, have shown little or no concern regarding the origins of the resources obtained," says the report, co-authored by the U.N. Environment Program and Interpol. Militia groups that control mining in parts of Congo keep afloat with "an influx of arms in exchange for minerals and timber through neighboring countries, including the continued involvement of corrupt officials and subsidiaries of many multinational companies."

Along with habitat loss, the apes face threats from human population growth and a surge in the bush-meat trade — locals and organized traders killing wildlife to eat and sell — along with the spread of the Ebola virus, estimated to have killed about a third of the world's gorillas in the past 15 years. (Read why Ebola is killing gorillas.)

A similar report in 2002 estimated that only 10% of the gorillas' habitat would remain by 2032. But the authors say even that dire prediction was optimistic. At the time, researchers did not predict the rise in Chinese demand for timber or the extent of mining in Congo. "Ten years ago, when we did the other report, China and the rest of Asia were not major players in Africa, and now China has up to 40% of the wood-and-mineral trade," Christian Nellemann, a U.N. Environment Program official and the report's lead author, tells TIME. "We have new satellite imagery, new scientific evidence. We have new alarming reports on Ebola and transnational crime taking place in eastern DRC."

Local people have shed taboos about eating gorilla meat, so the bush-meat trade is on the rise. Mining and logging camps hire professional poachers to feed their workers and the refugees who have fled nearby conflict. Though gorillas still make up a tiny percentage of the trade, losses can be devastating, because the gorilla numbers are so low and their communities are so tightly knit.

There are two species of gorilla in the Greater Congo Basin: the western and eastern gorilla. Each species has two subspecies. Nellemann says the most threatened of those is the eastern lowland gorilla, which lives mostly in eastern Congo's North and South Kivu regions. Those areas have seen some of the worst of the fighting between the Congolese army and various rebel groups in recent years, as well as mining for metals such as gold and coltan. In 2009, scientists found a previously unknown group of 750 eastern lowland gorillas, but their numbers are still down from about 17,000 in the mid 1990s to 5,000 today.

The report does point to one hopeful recovery: that of the iconic mountain gorilla in eastern Congo's Virunga National Park. Mountain-gorilla numbers rose from about 250 in the 1950s to some 380, thanks mostly to stepped-up ranger patrols that target poachers and loggers who cut down wood for charcoal. "It has been a success story, but it doesn't make them any less vulnerable," says Emmanuel de Merode, director of Virunga National Park. "We're dealing with an unusual situation, where we have very low numbers in a single location. It's like having all your eggs in one basket, and that makes them very vulnerable beyond the success we've been having these last few years."

The case of the mountain gorilla is unique, in part because Virunga is a highly visible flagship park that has no trouble getting money or attention. At the same time, conservationists say it may provide a lesson: De Merode and his team essentially decided to do everything themselves, relying on the park rangers rather than the government to go after the rebels threatening the apes. Given that government troops sometimes trade with rebels or take part in the mineral and charcoal trades, they could actually be part of the problem.

The report focuses on the iconic gorillas of eastern Congo. But researchers say the western gorillas, though greater in number, are dying at a much faster rate. That's because they don't attract nearly the attention that Virunga's mountain gorillas do and live in areas where poachers escape punishment easily. "The most critical challenge that we face in central Africa is undoubtedly a lack of law enforcement," says David Greer, coordinator of the African Great Apes Program at the World Wildlife Fund. "In no uncertain terms, it's the ubiquitous impunity in this region. Nobody is held accountable, and there's no deterrent for killing protected species."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oh Snap! NYT doesn't even mention homosexual bonobos....Vanessa Woods sets 'em straight.

g-g rubbing

by Vanessa Woods
Can animals be gay? - are you serious NYT?
An article about sex with no bonobos is like a brownie with no sugar.

Having a story about same sex sex in animals then leaving out bonobos is like writing an article about big ears without mentioning elephants.

The science of homosexuality in animals (or socio-sexual behavior) and then you talk about albatrosses?? that don't even have a clitoris?? Or do they? the point is, even if they do have them, it's not like you would ever notice. I know the albatrosses are the latest thing, and I love albatross and think it's really cool the female raise babies together, but does that really compete with two females rubbing their clitorises together with ever increasing frenzy until they orgasm - which by the way helps them reduce social tension and live in a world without violence??

I can only think that the journalist

a. doesn't know what bonobos are

b. got scared by the 2007 New Yorker article saying bonobos don't even have that much sex

c. is a lesbian albatross doing her own PR campaign.

And not that I want to be mean to the photographer, but how do I even know all those animals were same sex?

And how could he not want something like graduate student Jingzhi tan took at Lola last month [see photo above]. Now that is two females. Look at Noki's face and tell me she's not having a fine lesbian experience. Sorry, but compared to that, the two chickens in NYT look BOR-ing.

If you're going to talk about the 'science behind homosexuality' don't leave out bonobos. The use of sex to reduce conflict in a social group across gender is one of the most fascinating leads we have to follow. Why don't you offer me a cake with no sugar? Or a brownie with no fat.

Or as King Lear would say, fresh meat with no salt? That Cordelia. She was a bonobo for sure.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Imagine a world where "sequencing conservation accomplishments ahead of economic development" exists!

from the WWF Canada blog
“Conservation first” and the Mackenzie Gas Project
by Monte Hummel

WWF carefully chose the $16 billion Mackenzie Gas Project – the largest project proposed so far for the Canadian Arctic – as a test case for our “conservation first” principle. This means sequencing conservation measures up-front, as a condition of economic development. For example, we argued that the people most affected by this project must be given the opportunity to identify and reserve areas they want to protect in a natural state, before the project proceeds. This was also supported by the majority of northerners who testified before the Joint Review Panel (JRP) hearings.

In its published report of 176 recommendations, the JRP strongly supported our view. In fact, some of their recommendations were almost word-for-word what WWF had said. So far, so good. Getting just this far has taken a number of years.

However, the Panel only makes recommendations, not decisions. It is now up to the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Government of Canada to decide whether they will actually implement what the JRP has urged them to do. Therefore the action has shifted to the final arguments before the NEB in Yellowknife and Inuvik this month, between April 5-23.

The stakes for this precedent-setting project are high–in effect, whether sequencing conservation accomplishments ahead of economic development will become accepted as a way of doing business in Canada’s North, and elsewhere.

Monte Hummel from WWF Canada will be presenting WWF’s final argument in Inuvik and will be keep supporters posted on how WWF does on the WWF Canada blog

Immortal jellyfish

'Immortal' jellyfish swarming across the world
An 'immortal' jellyfish is swarming through the world's oceans, according to scientists.

The Turritopsis Nutricula is able to revert back to a juvenile form once it mates after becoming sexually mature. Marine biologists say the jellyfish numbers are rocketing because they need not die. Dr Maria Miglietta of the Smithsonian Tropical Marine Institute said: "We are looking at a worldwide silent invasion."

The jellyfish are originally from the Caribbean but have spread all over the world. Turritopsis Nutricula is technically known as a hydrozoan and is the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self. It does this through the cell development process of transdifferentiation. Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

While most members of the jellyfish family usually die after propagating, the Turritopsis nutricula has developed the unique ability to return to a polyp state.

Having stumbled upon the font of eternal youth, this tiny creature which is just 5mm long is the focus of many intricate studies by marine biologists and geneticists to see exactly how it manages to literally reverse its aging process.