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'

Monday, May 31, 2010

12,000 critically endagered saiga antelope mysteriously die in Kazakhstan

From WWF
12,000 saiga antelope dead in Kazakhstan

Nearly 12,000 Critically Endangered saiga antelopes have been found dead over the last week in the Ural population in western Kazakhstan.

“This is a tragic and shocking event. It's particularly unfortunate that the population was just emerging from an unusually harsh winter, and that those struck down are mostly females and this year's calves,” said Prof. E.J. Milner-Gulland, Chair of the Saiga Conservation Alliance and a member of IUCN Species Survival Commission Antelope Specialist Group.

The official 2009 estimate of the size of the Ural population was 26,000 animals. The saiga is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to a 95% decline in its population size since 1995, caused by uncontrolled poaching in the aftermath of the break-up of the Soviet Union. It has only five populations, which are found in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. In the last few years it has been showing some recovery, thanks to conservation efforts. However, the Ural population is the only group of saiga without an internationally-supported conservation programme.

The cause of the deaths is still unclear and under investigation.

Although the deaths are currently being ascribed to pasteurellosis, the underlying trigger remains to be identified. Pasteurellosis is caused by a bacterium that lives naturally in healthy individuals, but can cause acute illness and rapid death if the animal’s immune system is compromised, either by another infection, poisoning, stress or malnutrition. Any of these explanations are possible.

“The Ural population has been relatively neglected by international conservation until now, but hopefully this event will bring government, national and international conservationists together to mount a coordinated response to save this remote population,” said Milner-Gulland.

The Committee on Forestry and Hunting of the Kazakhstan within the Ministry of Agriculture has mounted a rapid response. These efforts are now being aided by local NGO, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity in Kazakhstan, with the support of the Saiga Conservation Alliance, who are helping the government to investigate the cause of death. In addition, IUCN’s Antelope Specialist Group members have been active in advising these organizations.

via IUCN

Donkey Abuse.

The Greek Cycladic Islands are my happy place. I love absolutely everything about them, the people, the food, the culture, the architecture, the nature, the parties, the beach, the weather, its all perfection! I would say most Greeks are animal lovers and treat the local animals quite well, but sometimes the animal welfare standards are a bit... dated. Luckily there are FANTASTIC animal protection organizations on many of the islands (one of my favorite's is NAWS on Naxos). Even if you don't sign this petition, please do not use the donkeys as a means of transport on the islands until at least the standards are truly brought up to snuff. - MA

Petition to stop the abuse of Donkey Taxis in Santorini
from the donkey sanctuary

After working for many years with the Municipality of Santorini and the donkey owners themselves, The Donkey Sanctuary is sad to announce that because of their continued lack of effort to improve working conditions for the donkey taxis, we can no longer support them.

Having helped the Municipality to set up a code of practice which governed the use of the donkeys on Santorini and providing the owners with free veterinary care and advice for their animals, we recently discovered that the whole operation was a sham and that the procedures were only being adhered to when we were visiting the island! This tied in with reports from tourists who gave a completely different account to the situation we were being shown during our visits...

...Unless the Municipality and the donkey owners make major improvements to the working conditions for the donkey taxis and their terrible refuge, we plan to escalate this major campaign further.

Please support our campaign to STOP THE ABUSE IN SANTORINI

Monday Smile :) Ali G learns about farms, animals and veterinary care

The 3:35 mark KILLS ME! - MA

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lego Artisan Creates Endangered Species for Zoo

by Stephen Messenger

For more pictures see the slideshow! or go to

With the precarious state of ecosystems throughout the world today, it is difficult to know for certain which threatened species will continue to be around for future generations - and which will have gone the way of the Dodo. But as sobering of a legacy that may be, it is increasingly important to raise awareness of these fading animals early and often to the children of today, whose attitudes and actions as adults may determine the fate of the planet's biodiversity. So, with that in mind, one zoo is educating its young visitors about the importance of preservation in an imaginative way--with an exhibition of endangered animals constructed out of Legos.

Opened yesterday, the Philadelphia Zoo's Lego-made exhibit, called ''Creatures of Habitat: A Gazillion-Piece Animal Adventure," features the work of world-renowned Lego artist Sean Kenney. According to Kenney, the 34 animals he created for the zoo took him over one year to complete--the largest project he's undertaken. Included in the exhibit are sculptures of endangered birds, frogs, tamarins, and a polar bear made with 95,000 Lego pieces.

"I love being able to explain serious problems in ways that kids can understand them," says Kenney.

In addition to the Lego sculptures, each exhibit features a description of how the animals' habitat is under threat, and simple ways that everyone can help aid in its protection. Visitors are encouraged to recycle, avoid environmentally irresponsible products, and bicycle instead of drive when they can.

Zoo officials are hoping that folks who may have been drawn in by the impressive sculptures will walk away with a better understanding of threatened ecosystems and what they can do to lower their impact.

Vikram Dewan, the zoo's president:
Every child -- and adult, for that matter -- can relate to the universal desire to protect our planet, this place we call home. A key principle of our new exhibit is showing how our world fits together and how we all connect with it.
Similar exhibits are scheduled throughout the year with five more Lego-certified professionals on board to present their creations of more species that could benefit from raised awareness about their condition. After all, unless future generations move forward with more mindfulness of the world's most threatened animals, their Lego-built counterparts may be all that remain.

consider joining the TreeHugger facebook page.

WANT! giant inflatable arrow pointing at you, for when you get lost in the forest

From Yanko Design
Designer: Jaeseok Han

From the website:
You’re Not Mowgli...And you’re lost in the jungles…deep forest where GPS doesn’t work and you are stupid enough to leave your satellite phone at home! Aren’t you glad that you packed the “Rescue Balloon Kit” in your backpack? The handy kit contains a helium gas cylinder and a long string balloon. Fill it, seal and send it skywards. When you’re missing and rescue mission is on, hopefully this red tube will get spotted, hovering above the dense foliage.

Read more and see more images on the Yanko Design website

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Much success!: INTERPOL's 'Operation Mogatle' seizes 400 kilo of ivory and rhino horn

Ivory seized during Operation Mogatle

llegal ivory and rhino horn trade target of INTERPOL co-ordinated operation across southern Africa

A transnational operation co-ordinated by INTERPOL targeting wildlife crime across southern Africa has resulted in the location and closure of an illegal ivory factory, the seizure of nearly 400 kilos of ivory and rhino horn with a market value of more than one million dollars, as well as the arrest of 41 people.

The two-day operation (13-14 May), codenamed Mogatle, involved nearly 200 officers from police, national wildlife, customs and national intelligence agencies across six countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe – who carried out inspections and raids on markets and shops.

Checks were also made on suspect vehicles at border crossing points where for the first time in a wildlife crime operation, sniffer dogs provided by South African and Swaziland police were used at check points at the Mozambique/Swaziland border.

“The success of Operation Mogatle is not only in relation to the seizures and arrests which have been made, but is a demonstration of the commitment of national and international law enforcement and other involved agencies to working together to combat wildlife crime,” said Peter Younger, manager of INTERPOL’s OASIS (Operational Assistance, Services and Infrastructure Support) Africa wildlife crime programme.

“Taking these illegal items off the market is just the first step,” added Mr Younger. “Information gathered as part of this operation will also enable law enforcement, both in Africa and abroad, to identify smuggling routes and eventually to further arrests of other individuals involved in these crimes.

“The impact of wildlife crime is wide-ranging. People are threatened with violence, law enforcement officers have been killed while carrying out their duties, and there is the wider economic impact on a country and therefore the livelihoods of ordinary people.”

Supported by INTERPOL’s National Central Bureaus and INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in Harare, Operation Mogatle was co-ordinated by INTERPOL’s OASIS Africa initiative, which is funded by the German Federal Government. Additional support and funding was also provided for the operation by the Humane Society of Canada and the Born Free Foundation.

INTERPOL’s OASIS programme helps countries in Africa develop a global and integrated approach to fighting 21st century crime by building operational capacities for policing in the region and enhancing the ability of INTERPOL member countries to tackle crime threats nationally, regionally and globally.

Operation Mogatle - named in honour of the late Professor Keitirangi Mogatle, assistant director of the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks and principle motivator behind effective wildlife law enforcement in Botswana – was the third multi-agency wildlife operation co-ordinated by INTERPOL.

The first, Operation Baba (November 2008) resulted in the arrests of nearly 60 people and the seizure of one ton of illegal elephant ivory following co-ordinated actions in Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia.

The second, Operation Costa (November 2009) across Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, led to the arrest of more than100 people and the recovery of 1.5 tons of ivory and hundreds of other illegal wildlife items.

Thanks to Boo M. for the link!

More on the amazing stray Moscovite dog population

Related post: Moscow's stray dogs well adapted to Russian metropolitan life

Thanks to Jojo B for the link!

Friday, May 28, 2010

The anti-aging revolution

From CNNmoney
By David Stipp

In early 1934, Depression-weary Americans were beginning to see tendrils of hope poking out of the bleak landscape. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was bringing the economy back from the dead. Galvanized by the sight of elderly women scrounging for food from garbage, California physician Francis Townsend had launched a crusade for government-funded pensions that would soon spur the creation of Social Security. Things were even looking up for the long-suffering Washington Senators, who had made it to the World Series the previous fall.

But one of the new year's most promising developments passed almost unnoticed. According to a brief article in the Jan. 13 Science News Letter, Cornell University researcher Clive McCay was nearing the end of a four-year study that showed that rats' life spans were greatly extended when they were put on near-starvation diets.

To many of his scientific peers, McCay's data made no sense at all. A glorious new chapter in nutrition science had been opened not long before by the discovery of dietary deficiencies behind scourges such as rickets, pellagra, and beriberi. In the wake of such progress, it seemed almost subversive to suggest that a bunch of rodent Oliver Twists, raised on such short rations that their growth was stunted, could live radically longer than well-fed ones. McCay sheepishly acknowledged in his initial report that his results seemed "little short of heresy."

Over the next several decades, his discovery was all but forgotten outside of the back halls of science -- a laboratory curiosity that didn't actually spark much curiosity. Most scientists were reluctant to risk wasting time probing an anomaly that seemed as baffling as aging itself.

Calorie restriction (CR), as it's now called, eventually was shown to extend many species' life spans by a third or more. Now that anti-aging research is hot, it seems bizarre that CR spent decades on science's back shelf. Simply put, McCay showed that the rate of aging is incredibly plastic, and that it's supremely simple to brake it in animals whose inner workings aren't all that different from ours. No biomedical discovery of the past century was more astonishing or significant.

So here's a prediction: McCay will someday be recognized as one of the last century's most important discoverers. He wasn't a genius with a capital G. But his skinny rats had made history with a capital H.

The idea of mimicking CR with drugs -- and without the hunger pangs that discourage most people from trying it -- finally got traction in the late 1990s when scientists began getting hints on the kinds of compounds that might work. (It had always been clear that such medicines were needed to make CR's broad health- and longevity-enhancing effects available to the masses, but before then researchers knew too little to get started.) Around 2000 several biotech startups were formed to pursue CR mimetics, including LifeGen Technologies of Madison, BioMarker Pharmaceuticals of San Jose, and GeroScience of Pylesville, Md. This first wave of CR-mimetic companies have been low-profile affairs compared with Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, the Cambridge, Mass., biotech juggernaut formed a few years later to develop drugs based on resveratrol, the famous red-wine compound shown to induce CR-like effects in animals. (Sirtris was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline in 2008.) They haven't been idle, though. GeroScience has worked with Procter & Gamble's (PG, Fortune 500) pet food unit, for example, on CR mimetics for pets, including a sugar in avocados called mannoheptulose. I wouldn't be surprised to see Fido and Muffy launch the era of effective anti-aging medicines.

The startups also deserve credit for beginning to transform the anti-aging quest from a guessing game into a fairly routine exercise in drug development. Before the pursuit of CR mimetics took off, most anti-aging investigators were like blind magicians trying to pull rabbits from a barrel of snakes. Not surprisingly, even the serious scientists among them often wound up covered in snake oil, promoting "breakthroughs" such as monkey-testicle implants and radium-laced elixirs.

CR-mimetic developers don't have to solve the monster problem of how aging happens in order to devise interventions that oppose it. Evolution has solved the problem for them. It did so while fashioning CR's machinery, which is poised to carry out all the intricate metabolic adjustments necessary to brake aging when activated by a true CR mimetic. Such drugs will be designed to switch on an ancient, enormously complex mechanism embedded in our genomes to postpone, and possibly attenuate, a myriad of ills brought on by aging: dementia, heart disease, cancer, as well as wrinkles, arthritis, age-related loss of muscle and bone, and the onset of senior moments. In effect, they'll represent the biggest free lunch in medical history. And given that compounds capable of emulating key effects of CR in rodents have already come to light, it's arguable that the Great Free Lunch's appetizers are now on the table.

Just a few weeks before his death in 1996 at age 100, George Burns was still enjoying life, cracking wise at a Christmas party thrown by Frank Sinatra. France's Jeanne Calment, who holds the record for longevity (she died in 1997 at 122), was similarly droll and unsinkable. When a reporter at an annual party in her honor departed with the words "Until next year, perhaps?" she shot back, "I don't see why not! You don't look so bad to me."

Very old people with such élan are obviously rare. But I suspect that many who retain mental clarity in late life make their way toward something like Burns' and Calment's radiant rapprochement with old age. Surveys show that self-reported happiness among older people in reasonably good health is generally higher than among younger groups. I don't want to sugarcoat old age -- it isn't for sissies, as they say. But I'd love to see more well-tempered sages like Burns in the world. Call it the George Burns scenario.

Some critics argue that developing anti-aging drugs is likely to engender a disastrous surfeit of needy oldsters gripped by greed and ennui. Leon Kass, a University of Chicago professor who chaired the President's Council on Bioethics under George W. Bush, has asserted, for instance, that "the desire to prolong youthfulness [is] an expression of a childish and narcissistic wish incompatible with devotion to posterity." Some naysayers add that "greedy geezers" will rack up ruinous Medicare and Social Security bills. Worse, they argue, the drugs may simply drag out late-life morbidity, recreating en masse something like the Greek myth of Tithonus, who was granted eternal life but not everlasting youth and wound up miserably withered forever.

I regard such visions as ill-founded. For one thing, there's evidence that CR mimetics would buy us quality time, not prolong misery. A study of CR's effects in rhesus monkeys has shown that it reduces age-related diseases by about a third in the primates during their later lives -- the calorie-restricted monkeys have greater lean muscle mass, significantly less age-related brain atrophy, half as much cancer, and half as much cardiovascular disease as do peers on normal diets. The world's longest-lived human population, natives of Japan's Okinawa prefecture, whose scant traditional diets are regarded as tantamount to mild CR, have 80% less breast and prostate cancer at advanced ages than North Americans do, suffer about 40% fewer hip fractures, and experience half the rate of dementia between 85 and 90.

It's possible that anti-aging drugs would compress late-life misery, letting us reach a ripe old age in good shape before a speedy demise. That could have huge economic and social payoffs -- much greater, for instance, than a miracle cure for all cancers.

Even if the medicines only postponed aging's deterioration, boosting life expectancy by, say, a decade, the benefits would be monumental. As Richard Miller, a University of Michigan gerontologist, says, "When you ask people, 'Would you like to live to 100?' they picture what today's elderly, infirm person looks and feels like. But the proper question is a different one: 'Would you like to add another 10 or 20 years to the middle of your life, so you reach 80 or 90 in the same condition that people generally are today at around 60 or 70?' "

A drug that increases healthy life-years would deliver large benefits across many sectors of the economy. Healthier, longer-living people can stay in the workforce longer, preserving skilled human capital that might otherwise be lost. Healthier workers are physically and mentally more robust, making them more productive. They're motivated to invest more in developing their skills, because they expect to reap the benefits of such investments for longer periods. They save more for retirement, boosting capital formation that fuels economic growth. They pose lighter burdens on federal entitlement programs and contribute more in federal and state tax revenue. Such factors probably explain why per-capita incomes of nations around the world have long risen in tandem with their populations' life expectancies.

Anti-aging drugs may well have downsides too. For instance, nest eggs that once seemed adequate may prove too small in an era of extended life spans. But the drugs should also help with that problem by keeping us vibrant enough to work after 62, the average age at which U.S. workers have retired in recent years. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the economy will support demand for older workers' services. Still, surveys show many baby boomers expect to work at least part-time in retirement for both fiscal and personal-fulfillment reasons -- they apparently agree with a piece of wisdom George Burns expressed late in life: "As long as you're working, you stay young."

Where does the anti-aging quest stand? As always with cutting-edge science, the quest has had ups and downs. In 2008, Harvard's David Sinclair and colleagues reported that resveratrol failed to extend the life spans of mice on normal diets, suggesting that it is at best a partial CR mimetic -- the group had earlier made a splash by showing that the compound induces CR-like effects in mice on high-fat diets. But last year a major turning point was reached: Researchers showed for the first time that a drug could convincingly extend life span in mammals.

The drug was rapamycin, a medicine long prescribed to help prevent rejection of transplanted organs. In parallel mouse experiments in three different labs, scientists funded by the National Institute on Aging found that rapamycin dramatically boosted longevity in mice on normal diets in a way reminiscent of CR's effects. Stunningly, the study showed that when rodents were first put on the drug at 20 months of age, roughly equivalent to 60 years in humans, the life expectancies of males were boosted by 28%, and that of females by 38%. Even CR itself hasn't been shown to exert such large effects on animals so close to the end of their lives. Former perma-bears about the anti-aging quest are now sounding upbeat.

Unfortunately, the drug industry has shown little interest in trying to translate such breakthroughs into anti-aging medicines. Both drug regulators and the medical establishment still essentially view aging as totally mysterious, inexorable, and intractable -- they wouldn't dream of adding it to the official list of drug indications. Thus, drug companies have no way to develop anti-aging compounds as high-margin prescription drugs. And that means that spending many hundreds of millions of dollars on clinical trials of the drugs' efficacy just doesn't compute. (The relatively small proceeds from marketing them as low-margin dietary supplements can't justify such costly, high-risk trials either.)

Besides, vetting the drugs would require first developing reliable biomarkers of aging, telltale signs of normal bodily decline over time that could be used to register how fast people are going downhill. Such biomarkers would enable the vetting of CR mimetics' efficacy in trials that last only a few years, rather than the impossibly long time it would take to assess their longevity-boosting effects in humans.

In short, the hugely promising anti-aging quest is now stuck between the R and the D stages, and I fear it will stay there until the federal government greatly steps up funding in the area. I, for one, don't plan to take purported CR mimetics until there's some reasonably rigorous clinical trial data showing that they're safe and effective. And until such data are available, the anti-aging revolution is likely to remain little more than the enthusiastic pursuit of placebo effects by wishful thinkers.

All this is terribly ironic. In effect, it means that authorities charged with promoting public health are fatalistically standing and watching the "silver tsunami" of population aging -- with its huge economic and human costs -- bearing down on us as if there were no way to shelter ourselves from its full force. Meanwhile, the authorities are perfectly willing to devote many billions of dollars annually to the pursuit of ever costlier palliatives for diseases of aging, which are typically applied when it's too late to do much good -- the federal government now annually spends less than 0.04% as much on research about the biology of aging as it does on Medicare.

So here's the moral of the story: The George Burns scenario is within our grasp if we collectively recognize what has happened in aging science and seize the day. And while anti-aging drugs may not enable all of us to live as long as Burns, they promise to let many of us age as gracefully as he did and thus aspire to our own version of his timelessness. As Burns once quipped, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old." Words to remember from a wise guy to the end.

REDD (Reducing carbon Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) in action - 4 billion fund for Indonesian forest protection

from via the Greenpeace International facebook page
Govs show Indonesian forests the money: 4 billion fund for forest protection
by Laura K

Indonesian forests got some love and some money this week.

The money came in the form of a 4 billion USD fund contributed to by seven wealthy countries - US, UK, Norway, Germany, Australia, Japan and France - to be used for forest protection globally as part of REDD (reducing carbon emissions from deforestation and degradation). A program where developed countries provide funds to help developing ones protect their forests. (Deforestation contributes up to a fifth of global carbon emissions - so this money doesn't just protect trees it protects our climate too!) In addition to the global fund, Indonesia will also receive 1 billion directly from Norway.

The love was an announcement by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of a two year ban on handing over new pieces of Indonesian forest and carbon-rich peatlands to companies for logging and deforestation.

This two year ban was a requirement of the money put forward by Norway - but it does not include the millions of hectares of forests already on the chopping block.

Real love would be an official decree by the Indonesian President making the ban effective immediately (not months from now) and also extending it to cover all of Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands - including those areas already owned by companies like Sinar Mas and in imminent danger of being deforested and degraded, like this:

Now that Indonesian forests are starting to see the money - will the President show them some real love?

Following on the success of the Kit Kat campaign in convincing Nestlé to give Indonesia's rainforests and peatlands a break - it would be amazing for the President to announce a complete ban on the decimation of these areas immediately.

Let's put the question out there. Will the Indonesian President declare true love for rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands by banning deforestation and degradation completely?

Double-post: Genetic evidence of illegal whaling linking US, Korea and Japan & Australia takes Japan to court over whaling

Dr. C Scott Baker has many amazing publications on using genetics to identify corruption in the reporting of whales and whale bycatch, his most recent is below but there are many more here (one of my most favorite conservation genetics papers ever), here, here and here -MA

Genetic evidence of illegal trade in protected whales links Japan with the US and South Korea

Baker CS, Steel D, Choi Y, Lee H, Kim KS, Choi SK, Ma Y-U, Hamleton C, Psihoyos L, Brownell RL, Funahashi N (2010) Genetic evidence of illegal trade in protected whales links Japan with the US and South Korea. Biology letters doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2010.0239

We report on genetic identification of ‘whale meat’ purchased in sushi restaurants in Los Angeles, CA (USA) in October 2009 and in Seoul, South Korea in June and September 2009. Phylogenetic analyses of mtDNA cytochrome b sequences confirmed that the products included three species of whale currently killed in the controversial scientific whaling programme of Japan, but which are protected from international trade: the fin, sei and Antarctic minke. The DNA profile of the fin whale sold in Seoul established a match to products purchased previously in Japan in September 2007, confirming unauthorized trade between these two countries. Following species identification, these products were handed over to the appropriate national or local authorities for further investigation. The illegal trade of products from protected species of whales, presumably taken under a national permit for scientific research, is a timely reminder of the need for independent, transparent and robust monitoring of any future whaling.

From Sign on San Diego
Australia takes Japan to court over whaling
By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
(Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Malcolm J. Foster in Tokyo contributed to this report)

Australia said Friday it will challenge Japan's whale hunting in the Antarctic at the International Court of Justice, a major legal escalation in its campaign to ban the practice despite Tokyo's insistence on the right to so-called scientific whaling.

Japan's Foreign Ministry called the action regrettable at a time when 88 member-nations of the International Whaling Commission were discussing a proposal that could allow some limited whaling for the first time in 25 years.

"We will continue to explain that the scientific whaling that we are conducting is lawful in accordance with Article 8 of the international convention for the regulation of whaling," said Japan's Foreign Ministry Deputy Press Secretary Hidenobu Sobashima. "If it goes to the court, we are prepared to explain that."

Japan, Norway and Iceland, which harpoon around 2,000 whales annually, argue that many species are abundant enough to continue hunting them. They are backed by around half of the whaling commission's members.

Australia has declared the southern seas a whale sanctuary and has long lobbied for an end to whaling there. The government says Japan's hunt is in breach of international obligations, but has declined to release any details of how it will argue its case before the court in The Hague.

The whaling commission has proposed a plan that would allow hunting without specifying whether it is for commercial or other purposes - but under strict quotas that are lower than the current number of hunted whales.

Commission Chairman Cristian Maquieira expressed optimism Thursday in Washington that the issue could be resolved at a meeting next month in Morocco. But senior U.S. official Monica Medina said the current proposal would allow the hunting of too many whales, signaling difficult negotiations ahead.

Australia could argue that Japan is abusing its rights under the whaling commission's 1946 Convention, which allows scientific whaling, said Don Anton, an international law professor at The Australian National University in Canberra. It could claim that the number of whales Japan kills each year is far more than necessary, that nonlethal research alternatives exist and that there is a commercial aspect to the scientific program.

Australia could also argue that Japan has failed to conduct an adequate environmental impact assessment before engaging in whaling, Anton said.

A panel of lawyers and conservationists reported to the Australian and New Zealand governments last year that Japanese whaling in the Antarctic could be stopped if Japan were held accountable for dumping waste and for undertaking hazardous refueling at sea. The Canberra Panel claims that activity violates the 46-member Antarctic Treaty System, to which Japan belongs.

Australia will lodge its claim with the court next week. It is likely then to seek an international injunction to stop any Japanese whaling during the 2010-2011 whaling season, said Don Rothwell, an international law professor at ANU who chaired the Canberra Panel. An injunction ruling could take three to six months, and it could be another four to seven years before the case is settled, he said.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said his government will decide within weeks whether it will also file a case against Japan.

Sobashima and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said the dispute should not jeopardize the countries' overall good relations, with both governments treating the matter as an independent legal arbitration.

Australia's move also fulfills a 2007 campaign promise by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's center-left Labor Party.

Behavioural change and its applications to conservation

via the RARE facebook page, article on
Best-selling author Dan Heath speaking on behavior change

In his new book, SWITCH, New York Times bestselling author Dan Heath shows that successful changes follow a pattern, a pattern you can use to make the changes that matter to you, whether your interest is in changing the world, changing your bottom line, or changing your waistline.

On June 10 in Washington, DC, Dan will share insights into the art and science of behavior change, as well as stories of people using the same successful formula to get results.

Dan will be joined by Brett Jenks, CEO of Rare, an environmental organization training community change agents in 50 countries. Rare has been named one of Fast Company magazine’s Top Social Entrepreneurs four years running.

Rare trains local conservation leaders to work at the community level to change destructive behaviors — behaviors such as overfishing, illegal logging, unsustainable agricultural practices and more. Behavior change isn’t easy but both Dan and Brett know what it takes to change hard-to-change behaviors.

Change often seems complex, threatening, and just plain difficult. Dan offers a simple, but powerful framework for thinking about change, and a litany of stories that inspire the belief that you can succeed. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or realign your organization, Dan will make it easier for you to begin.

The Washington Post wrote about Switch, Rare and the power of behavior change in a story earlier this year:

In “Switch,” the authors tell a story about the St. Lucia parrot — a magnificent, colorful creature that lives only on that Caribbean island. Biologists were writing the species’ eulogy when conservation activist Paul Butler found himself charged with figuring out how to save the parrot. Butler had ideas: create a bird sanctuary, license eco-tourism and muscle up the punishments for harming the parrot. But he also had a problem. Most people on St. Lucia didn’t know about the parrot, let alone care, and some people even ate the poor bird. What to do?

Instead of making an analytical case, Butler went for the emotional. He appealed to St. Lucians’ national character. The message: We are the kind of people who take care of our own. This bird is ours alone, and we must protect it. He built popular support for new laws, and today, there are seven times as many parrots happily squawking on the island.

Dan and Brett will leave the audience with some inspiring reasons to believe that people CAN really change to save the world.

For more info on where to see Dan Heath speak go to the

Praise for SWITCH:

“The one book to read if you’re trying to change the world.” – Katya Andresen, The Non-Profit Marketing Blog

“An entertaining and educational must-read for executives and for ordinary citizens looking to get out of a rut.” – Publisher’s Weekly

Thursday, May 27, 2010

DNApes is now on facebook!


Promote Your Page Too

DNApes is now on facebook - I will be cross posting all the DNApes posts onto the new DNApes facebook page, so if you click on "like" then you should get all the DNApes posts directly on your facebook news feed.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Alaotra grebe confirmed extinct

An artist's impression of the rarely seen and now extinct Alaotra grebe
From BBC
By Matt Walker

The Alaotra grebe is extinct, according to the latest assessment of the world's rarest birds.

The last known sighting of the bird was in 1985 and experts have now confirmed its demise, killed off by a combination of poaching and predatory fish. The Malagasy species, which lived in Lake Alaotra, is the first confirmed bird extinction since 2008. However, fortunes have improved for rare birds such as the Azores bullfinch and Colombian yellow-eared parrot.

The Alaotra grebe (Tachybaptus rufolavatus) was a medium-sized bird with small wings that inhabited Lake Alaotra and surrounding areas in Madagascar. Due to its tiny wings, the bird was thought incapable of flying long distances, living a mainly sedentary lifestyle on the lake and in surrounding ponds and highland lakes. Twelve Alaotran grebes were sighted at Lake Alaotra in December 1982, and two near Andreba on Lake Alaotra in September 1985. Some birds with characteristics of the grebe were seen in 1985, 1986 and 1988, but these are thought to be hybrids with another grebe species. Surveys in 1999 and a visit by experts in 2000 found no individuals, or any grebes belong to the same genus Tachybaptus. No direct observations of the species have been made since and hopes that the bird might survive were dashed after a recent expedition to nearby Lake Amparihinandriamabavy failed to find any grebes.

Officials have now declared the bird extinct in the latest update to the IUCN Red List of endangered and threatened birds. The Red List, regarded as the most authoritative assessment of the state of the planet's species, draws on the work of scientists around the globe.

"No hope now remains for this species. It is another example of how human actions can have unforeseen consequences," says Dr Leon Bennun of Birdlife International, which evaluates the status of rare birds for the IUCN Red List.

The grebe is thought to have been driven to extinction by a combination of factors. The bird, usually found in pairs, fed almost exclusively on fish in Lake Alaotra, a large brackish lake which had shores once covered in dense papyrus and reeds. But in recent years, fishermen have covered much of the lake with monofilament nylon gill-nets which can kill diving waterbirds. These nets were introduced after the grebe had already significantly declined, though they may have killed remaining birds. Carnivorous fish (Micropterus and Ophiocephalus) introduced into the lake are also thought to have significantly contributed to the grebe's extinction, while the introduction of other invasive mammals, fish and plants likely depleted the grebe's food sources. Poaching also reduced its numbers.

Knowing exactly when a species has gone extinct is extremely difficult, as records of sightings can be patchy or unsubstantiated. Also, comprehensive surveys must be completed to ensure a species does not survive in previously unexplored habitats. For those reasons, species are often declared extinct many years after they have last been seen.

The last bird species to be confirmed extinct is the Liverpool pigeon (Caloenas maculata), declared extinct in 2008. However, this Pacific species is known from just two specimens, one of which has been lost. It likely went extinct before Europeans colonised the Pacific. In 2005, the Thick-billed Ground-dove (Gallicolumba salamonis) was declared extinct, it too known from two specimens, the last caught in 1927. Other birds declared extinct in the 21st Century include the Hawkins's Rail (Diaphorapteryx hawkinsi), Reunion Shelduck (Alopochen kervazoi) and Kamao (Myadestes myadestinus) among others. Modern species thought to be extinct, but not yet confirmed, include the Po'ouli (Melamprosops phaeosoma). The last known survivor of this honeycreeper species died in captivity in 2004, despite huge efforts to rescue it. Surveys have yet to be done to confirm it no longer survives on the remote highland slopes of Hawaii. Another species suffering from the impacts of invasive species is the Zapata Rail (Cyanolimnas cerverai) from Cuba. It has been updated to "Critically Endangered" on the latest Red List, under threat from introduced mongooses and exotic catfish. Only one nest has ever been found of this species.

However the new Red List does highlight some conservation success stories. The Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina) has been downlisted from "Critically Endangered" to "Endangered" after efforts to restore its habitat. In Colombia, the Yellow-eared parrot (Ognorrhynchus icterotis) has also benefited from protection of its nest sites and education programmes, leading to its status being downgraded to "Endangered". Around 190 bird species out of more than 10,000 known are thought to have gone extinct since modern records began.

Thanks to Jessica G-S for the link

*updated*: Not Conservation (per se) and NOT Science and NOT funny

*updated* one of the abusers has been arrested (see below)- i am so proud of social media, for the small vistories and the big ones! Sadly, "Unfortunately, Ohio’s anti-cruelty law does not allow for felony-level charges for farm animal abuse, no matter how malicious the act. This is due to the lobbying influence of Ohio agribusiness interests."-MA

Sorry readers, but this was so shocking to me I had to post it, although its more animal rights then i general like to get on this blog. I am not even a supporter of PETA since I think they go overboard and often do more harm than good for animals with many of their campaigns. But if you consume dairy you should watch this video, because the cruelty involved is inconceivable. - MA

In the video, which was recorded over the past few weeks by Mercy For Animals, workers at Conklin Dairy Farms are seen beating cows with crowbars and stabbing them with pitchforks. One worker wires a cow's nose to a metal bar and then repeatedly beats the cow with another bar as she bleeds.

These findings are similar to what PETA revealed when we went undercover at a Land O'Lakes supplier in Pennsylvania. Over the course of several months, PETA's investigation documented that cows who had trouble standing were kicked and electro-shocked. One cow's gangrenous, infected teat ruptured while she was being milked by a machine. Another cow collapsed in a deep pool of liquid manure and was left to languish there for hours as the urine and manure covered her body and coated her eyes, nose, and mouth.

from the humane society of america
by Wayne Pacell
Disturbing Abuse Uncovered At Ohio Dairy Farm

I have been traveling around Ohio the past few days with a half-dozen livestock farmers, who had assembled to speak out in favor of the ballot measure to ban some of the most inhumane and reckless practices in industrialized agribusiness. But the big news on the farm animal front in Ohio during the last 24 hours was the release of graphic and sickening video of dairy cow abuse at Conklin Dairy in Plain City.

An investigator with Mercy For Animals was hired by Conklin Dairy and recorded hidden camera video during a four-week undercover operation. The video shows several employees, including farm owner Gary Conklin, abusing cows for no apparent reason. A well-known farmer in central Ohio, Conklin is seen on the video repeatedly kicking a downer cow in the face. The most malicious acts in the video were conducted by Conklin Dairy employee Billy Joe Gregg, 25. Gregg not only body slammed and repeatedly and forcefully punched cows, but stabbed confined animals with pitchforks and ruthlessly struck them in the face with a metal bar. Gregg was seen on the video telling the investigator how much he loved beating the animals.

Gregg was taken into custody yesterday and arraigned this morning, facing 12 counts of animal cruelty. No charges have been brought as yet against the farm owner or the other employees, and presumably the farm is still operating. Gary Conklin issued a statement yesterday after the video came to light. "Our family takes the care of our cows and calves very seriously," Conklin said. "The video shows animal care that is clearly inconsistent with the high standards we set for our farm and its workers, and we find the specific mistreatment shown on the video to be reprehensible and unacceptable." Conklin did not address his own apparent misconduct in the video.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture inspected the facility three times within the last year, according to the Columbus Dispatch. Officials said they did not witness any abuse and approved it as a “Grade A” facility, meaning that the milk can be sold commercially for any purpose.
Union County Sheriff Rocky Nelson told the Dispatch that the behavior he saw on the videotape was "vile and disgusting." "If there was a way this could be a felony charge, I would push for that," Nelson said.

Unfortunately, Ohio’s anti-cruelty law does not allow for felony-level charges for farm animal abuse, no matter how malicious the act. This is due to the lobbying influence of Ohio agribusiness interests.

Those same interests are fighting the Ohio ballot initiative to halt the abuse of downer cows, the strangulation of animals on the farm, and life-long confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens in cages and crates barely larger than the animals’ bodies. Volunteers are now circulating the petition and have until June 29 to gather 402,000 signatures of registered voters in Ohio.

The farmers on the tour with me expressed their disgust for the abuses documented at Conklin Dairy. But they also spoke out against other forms of more routine cruelty within agribusiness, and called on the good people of Ohio to support this reform and return some level of responsible care and husbandry to the practice of animal agriculture.

Thanks to Jessica G-S for the link

[insert tongue in cheek] and help pick India's new national animal

India's tiger is extremley close to extinction (or at least extirpation from the wild) with 1400 animals left. The petition at will cheekily count your vote for India's next national animal and send a letter of protest to the Indian government to take action to protect the tiger.

Thanks to Jojo B for the link

Morning rush hour in Utrecht, Netherlands

From the youtube page:
Morning rush hour in the 4th largest city in the Netherlands. Streets look like this when 33% of ALL trips are made by bicycle!

This is an ordinary Wednesday morning in April 2010 at around 8.30 am. Original time was 8 minutes that were compressed into 2 minutes, so everything is 4 times faster than in reality. The sound is original.

This is one of the busiest junctions in Utrecht a city with a population of 300,000. No less than 18,000 bicycles and 2,500 buses pass here every day. And yet Google Street View missed it. Because private motorized traffic is restricted here.

These cyclists cross a one way bus lane (also used by taxis and municipal vehicles), two light rail tracks and then a one way street that can be used by private vehicles.

Behind the camera is a railway (you can hear the squeaking sounds of the trains passing) and the main railway station is very close too. A number of rental bikes from the station pass and many of the cyclists will have come by train for the first part of their commute.

For those who frown upon the total absence of bike helmets in this video, consider these findings from a US study:

"Cycling in the Netherlands is much safer than in the USA. The Netherlands has the lowest non-fatal injury rate as well as the lowest fatality rate, while the USA has the highest non-fatal injury rate as well as the highest fatality rate. Indeed, the non-fatal injury rate for the USA is about 30 times higher than for the Netherlands.

Injury rate per million km cycled: USA 37.5; NL 1.4
Fatality rate per 100 million km cycled: USA 5.8; NL 1.1"

From: Pucher, John and Buehler, Ralph (2008) 'Making Cycling Irresistible: Lessons from The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany'.

Introducing the Grolar Bear. Let's discuss implications.

Let's discuss this - if the grolar bear persists and the polar bear goes extinct, could we maybe be happy about that? In the same way that people seem thrilled that neanderthals "live on" as part of some of us? Hybridization is a natural phenomenon and part of species evolution, I think its sad if the polar bear goes extinct but this maybe the silver lining as the ice melts....well of course, provided that people stop poaching them and selling their pelts to the highest bidder-MA

From Scientific American
Polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in Canada
By John Platt

An extremely rare "grolar bear"—a polar-grizzly bear hybrid—was shot and killed by an Inuit hunter in Canada's Northwest Territories last month.

Global warming has reportedly been driving grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) farther north in search of food, bringing them into polar bear (U. maritimus) territory. Polar bears, meanwhile, are finding themselves stranded on land instead of their usual sea ice, bringing them into contact with the grizzlies.

This is only the second time that a grolar bear has been encountered in the wild and confirmed, but even with its rarity, it is more distinctive than expected. DNA tests released by the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department reveal that this was actually a second-generation grolar bear—meaning one of its parents (its mother) was already a polar-grizzly hybrid. The father was a purebred grizzly, the tests found.

The hunter knew he had something unusual, which is why he asked to have it identified. The bear had the polar bear's white fur but a bigger head, brown paws and longer claws more typical of a grizzly bear.

The first grolar bear confirmed in the wild was killed by a hunter in 2006. A few others have been born in zoos.


Bear shot in N.W.T. was grizzly-polar hybrid, could be first 2nd generation hybrid found in wild

Biologists in the Northwest Territories have confirmed that an unusual-looking bear shot earlier this month near Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., was a rare hybrid grizzly-polar bear.

The unusual-looking bear caught the attention of biologists after David Kuptana, an Inuvialuit hunter, shot and killed it on April 8 on the sea ice just west of the Arctic community, formerly known as Holman. The bear had thick white fur like a polar bear, but it also had a wide head, brown legs and brown paws like a grizzly. Kuptana said he shot the bear from a distance after it scavenged through five unoccupied cabins near Ulukhaktok, then tried running toward the community.

Wildlife DNA analysis shows the bear was a second-generation hybrid, officials with the N.W.T. Environment and Natural Resources Department said in a news release Friday. The bear was the result of a female grizzly-polar hybrid mating with a male grizzly bear, according to the department. "This confirms the existence of at least one female polar-grizzly hybrid near Banks Island," the release said. "This may be the first recorded second-generation polar-grizzly bear hybrid found in the wild."

Kuptana told CBC News he is currently selling the bear pelt to the highest bidder and has received calls from across Canada for the unique pelt. "Right now, we're already at $15,000, and we're going to see how far we can go," Kuptana said Friday. "If we can do better, we'll be happy."

The N.W.T.'s first confirmed "grolar bear" was shot by a U.S. hunter in Sachs Harbour, N.W.T., located on Banks Island, in April 2006. More DNA tests are planned to determine whether the bear shot this month was related to the one from 2006.

Hybrid bears will likely become more common in the North, as the direct consequence of climate change, predicts Brendan Kelly, a marine biologist with the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In the absence of summer Arctic sea ice, polar bears are stranded on land and come into more contact with grizzly bears, he said. "We're taking this continent-sized barrier to animal movement, and in a few generations, it's going to disappear, at least in summer months," Kelly said. "That's going to give a lot of organisms — a lot of marine mammals in particular — who've been separated for at least 10,000 years the opportunity to interbreed again, and we're predicting we're going to see a lot more of that." Kelly said he has seen reports of harp seals and hooded seals interbreeding, as well as beluga whales and narwhal. Interbreeding helps species adapt to major shifts in their environments, he said.

more info: Grolar Bear/Pizzly Bear/Prizzly Bear on Wikipedia

Thanks to Chrissie E for the link

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Review: Vanessa Woods' Bonobo Handshake

What We're Reading: Bonobo Handshake
By Susan K Lewis

The beautiful woman on the book jacket cavorting with a baby bonobo might make Bonobo Handshake look like family-friendly fare. But primatologist Vanessa Woods' powerful new memoir is no Curious George (unless you can imagine The Man in the Yellow Hat swept up in a passionate romance and living with endangered apes in war-torn Congo).

I came across Woods' book in the course of doing research for an upcoming NOVA scienceNOW website on animal cognition, and it is indeed a window into the emotions and psychology of our nearest primate relatives, bonobos and chimps. But more than that it's a revealing look into the mind and heart of a young woman finding her way as a scientist and a conservationist.

The book is an appealing read even for people not usually drawn to science (hardcore science fans might, in fact, be turned off by the personal drama) and an eye-opening reality check for anyone interested in doing research with primates. I would love for my own young daughters to read it someday, but not much about this book is G-rated.

Let's start with the title. What, exactly, is a "bonobo handshake"? Here's a hint: "Kikongo ... sticks his penis through the bars, waving it wildly at the bonobos outside munching on papaya and manioc leaves, begging for a bonobo handshake." It turns out that when bonobos greet one another--even strangers from another troop--they are as likely to rub each other's genitals as we humans are to shake hands. (In contrast, when chimps encounter unfamiliar chimps, they often react with murderous rage.) As the primatologist Frans de Waal famously puts it, bonobos are the "make-love-not-war" primate.

Sex among bonobos is less about procreation than recreation--it's the means for resolving conflicts when tensions flare; it's the glue that holds social groups together. And while bonobo sex resembles a hippie lovefest, the sex life of chimps is more like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. What makes chimps and bonobos so different? And which of our primate cousins are we humans more like?
Woods offers a personal glimpse into the studies exploring the cognitive differences between chimps and bonobos (some of which are covered in NOVA's "Ape Genius.") She got involved in the research after visiting a chimp sanctuary in Uganda in 2005, where she fell in love with a charming post-doc fresh out of Harvard named Brian Hare. Hare is now an assistant professor at Duke as well as Woods' husband.

Woods' book raises but wisely doesn't attempt to definitively answer the question of whether we are more bonobo than chimp. The backdrop of her love affair--both with Hare and with the orphan bonobos of the Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary--is a country wracked by a war in which children are recruited to take up machetes and rape is a favorite weapon.

Unlike our simian cousins, however, we humans may have more control over which of our emotional sides to favor--the altruistic or the vicious. And many of the resilient characters Woods encounters in the Congo give us reason to hope: Through her, we meet a remarkable man named Mugwagu, who has survived the squalor of refugee camps with dreams of becoming a doctor, and a gutsy conservationist named Claudine Andre, who has turned the former weekend retreat of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko into a refuge for bonobos and people alike.

Social media can help save the planet, says Greenpeace boss

Sometimes I think that the world is divided into people that feel that "1 person can make a difference" and those that don't. Social media gives us an opportunity to change the world according to our ideals by giving us a forum in which we can be heard. This is for anyone who has felt powerless against corruption and the general direction in which our society and planet are headed. One person certainly can make a difference, our collective voice can change the world. -MA

From CNN

Greenpeace is well-known for taking direct action in the name of saving the environment, but key to its campaigning now is the collective power of the Internet and social media, says Greenpeace's executive director, Kumi Naidoo. Naidoo was talking to CNN about a recent campaign to stop Nestlé using palm oil sourced from plantations that it says are responsible for deforestation, primarily in Indonesia. Palm oil is used in a variety of consumer products, from chocolate to washing powder, and is used by numerous companies across the world, not just Nestlé. According to Greenpeace and other activist groups, rising demand for it has led to virgin rainforests being cleared to make way for new plantations.

Central to the Greenpeace campaign was an online video posted in March -- a mock Kit Kat chocolate bar advert that shows an office worker biting into a bloody orangutan's finger instead of a piece of chocolate. The video got more than a million hits, drawing attention to the issue and public scrutiny of Nestlé policy. Naidoo says the attention was in part because the company at first tried to ban the video for copyright infringement. The Swiss multi-national subsequently received numerous complaints about its palm oil policy on its Facebook and Twitter pages. Less than a month after the video was first shown, Nestlé stopped all purchase of palm oil from Sinar Mas, one company Greenpeace claimed was causing deforestation in Indonesia.

Nestlé made the announcement in an April letter addressed to Greenpeace, and also reiterated its existing green credentials: a commitment to a moratorium on the deforestation of rainforests, its commitment to use only certified sustainably sourced palm oil by 2015 and a pledge not to use suppliers that provide blends of palm oil from non-sustainable sources.

Read the letter in full here.

Naidoo says in future Greenpeace will continue to work with companies, not just chastise and shame them through public campaigns. "We've got lots of dialogue going on with a range of companies. Even with Nestlé we had been talking with them, but if talk does not deliver the results, we have to create the possibility for millions of people who care about the environment to send a clear message," said Naidoo. "Those [companies] that don't have products that are sold to the public, the challenge there is slightly different, but when you have a company that sells a product directly to the global public you have a greater ability to leverage things more quickly."

My name is DarWIN Not DarLOSE

Thanks to Cleve H. for the link

Monday, May 24, 2010

Non-Predator Prey Interspecies Interactions

There is something about interspecies interaction (in a non-predator-prey context) that I find incredible. This is also adorable. -MA

Facebook group 'Boycot the Movie - Water for Elephants"

Please consider joining the facebook group 'Boycot the Movie: Water for Elephants"

From the group:
How can you best turn an amazingly touching, fictional book about the exploitation of people & animals in a circus into a farce? Make a movie using a real, abused elephant named Tai from Have Trunk Will Travel! Please join and bombard their website with comments- Thank you for speaking up and out against this further abuse of elephants.

Pat Derby, Joyce Poole, Catherine Doyle, (three elephant experts), and I wrote to the producers and director, asking them to refrain from using living elephants for the filming of this movie. We educated them about the the common capture and abusive training techniques, the fear and use of the bullhook, the intense confinement, and the deprivation and unnatural life and ill health of captive, performing elephants.We suggested the humane way- computer technology- that would send the true message of the book- that abuse and exploitation are wrong for humans and animals.
From elephant voices:
Elephants in TV and film

Many leading authorities on elephants, including scientists, conservationists, welfare experts and veterinarians, agree that elephants have no place in entertainment. Elephants are socially complex, keenly intelligent and vigorous animals who, by their very size and nature, are illsuited to life in captivity. In the wild, they are on the move for 20 hours a day, exploring their environment, foraging, socializing, caring for their young, and searching for mates and distant friends and relations. Elephants live in an extensive social network that radiates out from the mother-offspring bond to include family, extended family, bond groups, clans, the entire population, including adult males, and even beyond to strangers. At the core of this network is the family in which females remain for life.

The conditions forced upon elephants used in entertainment are inherently detrimental to individual welfare, since physical and social needs are always secondary to performance. Calves are torn from their mothers to be broken and intensively trained. By long tradition and often by necessity elephants are held in small pens or on chains and transported around in semi-trucks. On location they are often even further restricted. These conditions bear no semblance to an elephant’s natural lifestyle. Lack of space and companions, and physical and mental inactivity all have enormous consequences for the individual’s health and well-being over the course of a lifetime.

Training is a violent affair that begins when elephants are still babies; it is life-long and unrelenting, meant to break them and force them to be compliant and obedient. In the performance industry there can be no room for error with an animal as powerful and as intelligent as an elephant. To ensure that elephants perform consistently they are kept under the constant control of a handler. At the core of this control is the bullhook, a steel-tipped device similar to a fireplace poker that is used to prod, hook, jab (so-called “guiding”) and strike elephants. Even when not in use, the bullhook is a constant reminder of the pain and punishment that can be meted out at any time, for any reason. So powerful is the negative association with the bullhook that an elephant who has not even seen the device in years will respond immediately to its mere presence.

Training of elephants for the film industry is always secretive, performed at animal training compounds away from the main production to assure the total control and consistent performance that the handler needs once on the set. This also circumvents on-set monitoring by humane inspectors and scrutiny by actors and crew who might object to training practices.

The depth of knowledge we have as a society about elephants and their natural lives and needs, in concert with what we know about their suffering in captivity, should compel anyone in the film industry to use alternatives to live animals on the set. Surely, in this time of advanced film and computer-based technologies, including animatronics and VFX, there is no reason to do otherwise. The amazing strides made in this area allow films to be realized without the cruelty or harm that exists, though it may not be seen on the set.

In May 2010 ElephantVoices, PAWS and Los Angeles Alliance for Elephants wrote a joint letter (439.96 kB) to President Elisabeth Gabler and two others responsible for the film, "Water for Elephants," explaining why they should not use live elephants in the production. The book exposes the abuse of people and animals by the circus, yet by using live animals in the production, the film condones such ill treatment. Perhaps we wrote too late for them to change their plans, or perhaps they don't care or disagree - we did not receive an answer and shooting started a couple of weeks afterwards with live animals.

Turtle Conservation Success in Seychelles

Conservation success: Eight-fold increase of turtle nesting on Cousin Island
from Nature Seychelles

“These findings are a validation of the important work carried out on Cousin.” Says Nirmal Shah Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles – BirdLife’s partner in the Seychelles, which manages the island. “It is long awaited proof that conservation works even for long lived and critically endangered species like marine turtles.”

The evidence shows that Cousin Island, an Important Bird Area (IBA) known for saving birds like the Seychelles warbler from the brink of extinction, is also a sanctuary for other endangered species. “At 29 ha, it is one of the smaller islands within the granitic Seychelles yet one of the most important nesting grounds within this region” the paper says.

Turtle populations are notoriously difficult to census, relying upon long-term monitoring of females at their nesting beaches. This makes the monitoring on Cousin a mean feat.

Turtle monitoring commences each season when wardens observe the first evidence of a turtle emerging onto the beach to lay her nest. This generally occurs around late August, and turtles continue to emerge until late February *or* early March. Beaches are periodically patrolled. A complete patrol involves a full circuit of each of the four beaches on the island and varies in duration from 30 minutes to three hours, depending on the number of turtles and tracks encountered. Females emerging on Cousin are individually tagged, and nesting data collected from nesting attempts observed through tracks and actual turtle sightings.

“Survey effort varied over the years for a variety of reasons, but the underlying trends over time are considered robust,” the authors say.

Tag returns also show inter-island nesting occurs between Cousin and other islands within the Seychelles.

The archipelago provides key nesting and feeding areas for the hawksbill. Seychelles accounts for breeding populations estimated to be in the thousands and is home to the largest remaining populations of hawksbill within the western Indian Ocean.

Hawskbill turtles have been protected by law since 1994 when a total legal ban on turtle harvest was implemented. But populations had already declined due to widespread harvesting of nesting females during the 30 years prior to that, with the exception of Cousin. Some poaching still occurs and there have been several arrests and legal cases.

A worldwide trade in turtle shells had also significantly depleted this species globally. In 1996 a total international ban on trade in this species was instituted. Problems of by-catch and habitat destruction still remain in some countries. In the same year the World Conservation Union listed hawksbill turtles as ‘Critically Endangered’.

Paper: Allen et al. 2010. Hawksbill turtle monitoring in Cousin Island Special Reserve, Seychelles: an eight-fold increase in annual nesting numbers. Endang Species Res 11:, 2010 available for download at: Scientific Papers

Source: Nature Seychelles

Saturday, May 22, 2010

looking at uncomfortable truths for poverty alleviation

From the
Moonshine or the Kids?

There’s an ugly secret of global poverty, one rarely acknowledged by aid groups or U.N. reports. It’s a blunt truth that is politically incorrect, heartbreaking, frustrating and ubiquitous:

It’s that if the poorest families spent as much money educating their children as they do on wine, cigarettes and prostitutes, their children’s prospects would be transformed. Much suffering is caused not only by low incomes, but also by shortsighted private spending decisions by heads of households.

That probably sounds sanctimonious, haughty and callous, but it’s been on my mind while traveling through central Africa with a college student on my annual win-a-trip journey. Here in this Congolese village of Mont-Belo, we met a bright fourth grader, Jovali Obamza, who is about to be expelled from school because his family is three months behind in paying fees. (In theory, public school is free in the Congo Republic. In fact, every single school we visited charges fees.)

We asked to see Jovali’s parents. The dad, Georges Obamza, who weaves straw stools that he sells for $1 each, is unmistakably very poor. He said that the family is eight months behind on its $6-a-month rent and is in danger of being evicted, with nowhere to go.

The Obamzas have no mosquito net, even though they have already lost two of their eight children to malaria. They say they just can’t afford the $6 cost of a net. Nor can they afford the $2.50-a-month tuition for each of their three school-age kids.

“It’s hard to get the money to send the kids to school,” Mr. Obamza explained, a bit embarrassed.

But Mr. Obamza and his wife, Valerie, do have cellphones and say they spend a combined $10 a month on call time.

In addition, Mr. Obamza goes drinking several times a week at a village bar, spending about $1 an evening on moonshine. By his calculation, that adds up to about $12 a month — almost as much as the family rent and school fees combined.

I asked Mr. Obamza why he prioritizes alcohol over educating his kids. He looked pained.

Other villagers said that Mr. Obamza drinks less than the average man in the village (women drink far less). Many other men drink every evening, they said, and also spend money on cigarettes.

“If possible, I drink every day,” Fulbert Mfouna, a 43-year-old whose children have also had to drop out or repeat grades for lack of school fees, said forthrightly. His eldest son, Jude, is still in first grade after repeating for five years because of nonpayment of fees. Meanwhile, Mr. Mfouna acknowledged spending $2 a day on alcohol and cigarettes.

Traditionally, a young man here might have paid his wife’s family a “bride price” of a pair of goats. Now the “bride price” starts with oversized jugs of wine and two bottles of whiskey.

Two M.I.T. economists, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, found that the world’s poor typically spend about 2 percent of their income educating their children, and often larger percentages on alcohol and tobacco: 4 percent in rural Papua New Guinea, 6 percent in Indonesia, 8 percent in Mexico. The indigent also spend significant sums on soft drinks, prostitution and extravagant festivals.

Look, I don’t want to be an unctuous party-pooper. But I’ve seen too many children dying of malaria for want of a bed net that the father tells me is unaffordable, even as he spends larger sums on liquor. If we want Mr. Obamza’s children to get an education and sleep under a bed net — well, the simplest option is for their dad to spend fewer evenings in the bar.

Because there’s mounting evidence that mothers are more likely than fathers to spend money educating their kids, one solution is to give women more control over purse strings and more legal title to assets. Some aid groups and U.N. agencies are working on that.

Another approach is microsavings, helping poor people save money when banks aren’t interested in them. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the most powerful part of microfinance isn’t microlending but microsavings.

Microsavings programs, organized by CARE and other organizations, work to turn a consumption culture into a savings culture. The programs often keep household savings in the women’s names, to give mothers more say in spending decisions, and I’ve seen them work in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Well-meaning humanitarians sometimes burnish suffering to make it seem more virtuous and noble than it often is. If we’re going to make more progress, and get kids like the Obamza children in school and under bed nets, we need to look unflinchingly at uncomfortable truths — and then try to redirect the family money now spent on wine and prostitution.

Seriously disturbing - Live camera of Gulf oil "spill"

You are watching a live video feed of the BP Oil Spill from the Gulf of Mexico floor, 5000 feet below the surface of the water from

WTF of the week: Wild animals from Zimbabwe being sent to North Korean Zoos.

from Mail & Guardian Online
Mugabe’s Ark sets sail for N Korea

Despite raging controversy over the sale of game to North Korea, Zimbabwe says it is exporting more wildlife to at least five more countries. Zimbabwe has begun rounding up wildlife destined for North Korea and would have completed the sale to Kim Jong Il's isolated dictatorship by the end of this month, a senior parks official said on Wednesday. North Korea is importing species of elephant, giraffe, jackal, zebra, catfish, civet, blue monkey and spotted hyena. The animals will be kept at a Pyongyang zoo, said Vitalis Chadenga, head of Zimbabwe's National Parks and Wildlife. The shipment, dubbed "Mugabe's Noah's Ark" by critics, has angered conservationists, who see it as a gift from one dictator to another. But there appears to be no stopping the deal, the financial details of which are being kept under wraps.

Chadenga said more applications from other countries are now being processed. "We have five applications which we are considering, from Mozambique, Japan and three other countries," he said. He dismissed the protests of conservationists, who charge that most of the wildlife will likely die en route to North Korea and that the Asian country does not have the facilities to provide proper care. "Zimbabwe is allowed to export animals throughout the world to appropriate destinations. Appropriate destinations must be examined by ourselves; we must be satisfied that the destination to which the animals are going will be safe and that the animals will not die. And we have satisfied ourselves in terms of [North Korea's] application," Chadenga said. He added that this was "a business arrangement we are happy to embrace", dismissing claims the live game is a gift from Robert Mugabe to his longtime ally Kim.

Chadenga said Zimbabwe had sent two experts to North Korea to assess if the country is fit to keep the animals. And despite protests from animal rights groups, it looks Kim will soon have his way. "We are satisfied that the recipients of the animals are suitably equipped to house and care for them. Therefore, Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has duly conducted non-detriment findings for all species being exported."

Chadenga dismissed charges of Mugabe's personal involvement in the export of the game to Kim. "This is a purely business arrangement with no directive from government. The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] is paying for the animals as well as meeting the capture and translocation costs." Apart from the elephants, the animals Kim is after are not on the list of endangered species. But existing international animal trade laws allow Zimbabwe to sell elephants to "acceptable destinations", Chadenga said.

Opponents of the Korean deal said Zimbabwe cannot afford to let go of any more of its game, with poaching on the increase. But conservationists now claim that the North Korean involvement in game goes even further. They said teams of North Korean and Chinese hunters are being given carte blanche to mow down big game in the western Hwange National Park, the country's largest game reserve.

Conservationists working in Hwange report that authorities have closed off sections of the park from the groups that are helping to run it. And they fear that, out of sight, game is being decimated. Conservationists have told the Mail & Guardian that poaching in Zimbabwe is driven by organised syndicates, some of them involving prominent figures - including foreign diplomats in Harare.

A report released in February by Willem Wijnstekers, secretary general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, claimed the involvement of Zimbabwean security forces in the killing of 200 rhinos in the past two years. His report, however, did not name those he alleges to be involved. One animal rights activist said Zimbabwe had lost more than 30% of its rhino population in a surge of poaching in the past three years. Heavily armed gangs of poachers often clash with game rangers, but even when they are caught, the conviction rate remains low.

From Elephant Voices
Zimbabwe captures elephants and creates an angry storm

During the last week the international media has published a number of negative reports about the "ghoulish" capture and imminent shipment from Zimbabwe to North Korea of wild species of animals captured in Hwange National Park. In a press conference in Harare on Wednesday 19 May, Director General of Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority, Vitalis Chadenga, reiterated that the impending export of elephants and five other species (giraffes, zebras, warthog, spotted hyenas and rock hyrax) is a “business arrangement” following an application by North Korea for these animals. He concluded that his authority is satisfied with conditions in the receiving country, and that Zimbabwe has similar applications from Mozambique, Japan and three other countries.

Front page letter Mr. ChadengaIn a collaborative, global effort on behalf of ElephantVoices and over 40 other organisations and elephant experts from around the world, Joyce Poole has sent an open letter (180.02 kB) to Mr. Chadenga, listing some of the many arguments for Zimbabwe not to go through with this gruesome "business arrangement". We point out that the deal with North Korea is in breach of criteria defined by CITES, and the practises involved are inhumane and totally unacceptable. The question of who initiated this arrangement, and why, is for us irrelevant. Our concern is for the animals, both short and long term. North Korea does not have a good reputation for the humane treatment of animals. Still in Zimbabwe, some of the captured individuals have already died and there is little chance of survival for the 18 month old baby elephants.

In the letter we remind Mr. Chadenga that Zimbabwe's continuing practice of the capture and shipment of young elephants is bound to lead to public petitions, campaigns, and increased negative publicity for Zimbabwe. We urge him not to underestimate the impact on world opinion of the distressing sounds and imagery of elephant calves and juveniles being forcibly separated from their families, captured and then undergoing inhumane taming and training methods, and a lifetime of incarceration in zoos and circuses.

We will continue to provide the international media with our views, and we urge those of you with media contacts to spread the letter and the word. And please show that you condemn the live export of elephants and other wild animals from their natural habitats by cross posting this page and signing on to Born Free's pledge.

From Nehanda Radio
Official defends Noah’s Ark gift to North Korea

Officials in Zimbabwe’s National Parks and Wildlife Department have moved to defend President Robert Mugabe from a directive to send a ‘Noah’s Ark’ collection of wild animals to North Korean dictator Kim Jong II as a special gift. Last week it was reported Mugabe ordered that two of every animal species in the Hwange National Park be sent to North Korea.

However Vitalis Chadenga, the Director General for National Parks told the weekly Zimbabwe Standard newspaper that Mugabe was not involved in the controversial export.

“I can tell you that the president or even the minister is not involved in this, there is nothing like a presidential decree here at parks. But I can confirm that we received an application from the Democratic Republic of North Korea and we are still processing the application,” he said on Friday.

Chadenga insisted exports of wild animals to any country were governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) regulations.

“Of the animals which were requested only two elephants are endangered, the others like giraffes, zebras, warthogs are not endangered according to Cites,” he said. Chadenga said experts had been sent to the communist country to assess the new home for the animals and a report was being compiled.

Witnesses reported seeing capture and spotting teams, government vehicles towing cages and armed men at key watering holes with radios to call in the capture teams. The animals including two 18 month old baby elephants were being kept in quarantine in holding pens at Umtshibi camp in the park.

Elephant experts do not think the young animals will survive the trip separated from their mothers, and if they do survive they are likely to die in substandard North Korean zoos. Previously, two rhinos, a male known as Zimbo and a female called Zimba, given to the North Korean leader in the 1980s by Mugabe, died only a few months after relocation.

Sorry, I have to post this awesome Mugabe parody:

Thanks to Jen F. for bringing this story to my attention and to Jessi J. for the Bob Mugabe's farm videos