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, April 23, 2012

"Chimpanzee" Movie

Disney's Chimpanzee has come out in theaters! The movie was primarily filmed in Ivory Coast with the habituated chimps from the Tai Chimpanzee Project and partially with the chimpanzees from the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project and the story is about the orphan adoption by an unrelated male in Tai's East Group :)

I am so proud of so many of my colleagues from the MPI (Tai Chimpanzee and Ngogo Chimpanzee Projects) that helped make the movie 'Chimpanzee' possible. (& thanks to Carly O for the screen snap from the movie :) )

Also, I LOVE Jane Goodall and here is an interview she did about the movie 'Chimpanzee' on the Daily Show. It was a little disappointing she didn't promote the chimpanzees actually featured in the movie (the chimpanzees of the Tai (Ivory Coast) and Kibale (Uganda) forests) or the NGOs that represent them, but if you want to help wild chimpanzee conservation please consider donating to the WILD CHIMPANZEE FOUNDATION or the NGOGO CHIMPANZEE PROJECTs.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Close a Deadly Loophole, Protect Chimpanzees

Thanks to Jim F for the link

go HERE to sign the petition

Target: Division of Policy and Directives - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services
Sponsored by: Center for Biological Diversity
Please speak up to protect chimpanzees who can't defend themselves. The worldwide population of wild chimpanzees has fallen by nearly 70 percent in the past 30 years -- take action now to save these animals.

Wild chimpanzees have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1976, but a special rule exempts captive chimpanzees from protection. This loophole in the Act is preventing the recovery of the species in the wild by encouraging their illegal trade.

Chimpanzees are endangered due to habitat loss, poaching and illegal trafficking -- wild chimpanzees are captured and sold for use as entertainment, as pets and as test subjects.

We have a critical moment right now to help captive and wild chimpanzees: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to protect captive chimpanzees under the Endangered Species Act. Send your comments today in support of protecting every chimpanzee as endangered.

quote of the day

From I Am in Science's facebook page

One way of dealing with errors is to have friends who are willing to spend the time necessary to carry out a critical examination of the experimental design beforehand and the results after the experiments have been completed. An even better way is to have an enemy. An enemy is willing to devote a vast amount of time and brain power to ferreting out errors both large and small, and this without any compensation. The trouble is that really capable enemies are scarce; most of them are only ordinary. Another trouble with enemies is that they sometimes develop into friends and lose a great deal of their zeal. It was in this way the writer lost his three best enemies. Everyone, not just scientists, needs a good few enemies.

~ Georg von Békésy who received the 1961 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

Snoring Doormouse

cuteness alert from Caro D

The Power of Social media - Kenyan Orphanage attack leads to over 50,000 dollars being raised by redditors

Thanks to Jesse D for the link!

Read this amazing Reddit thread of how one man's tragic attack at a Kenyan orphange lead to major funds being raised for the children under his care.

it all started with this plea:
Meet Omari. Two days ago he returned from the hospital after being hacked in the face by a machete defending an orphanage of 35 children by himself. Think we could raise the $2,000 needed for the remainder of the cement/barbed wire wall to keep both him and the children safe?

This is the best part:
As of now, the best way to donate is through We will assume that any donation made between now and next week was meant for the Faraja Orphanage in Ngong, Kenya.
Also, remember her? The construction date is scheduled for February 15th!
Edit: In the process of uploading more pictures of the orphanage, but my modem is being very slow. I would also like to add that this orphanage is unlike any I have seen before. The mother of Omari, the sole caretaker of the children (with the help of volunteers), has made multiple efforts to keep the orphanage sustainable. There are dozens of chickens and a small garden which helps feed the 35 children between the ages of 2 and 17. As you can imagine, these efforts are great but not enough to support 35 children everyday.
Edit 2: The wooden fence next to the concrete section of the wall. The goal is to construct a wall the same height as the existing structure, with three feet of barbed wire (three coiled stacked on top of each other) on top.
Edit 3: Omari explained to me that many of the kids are very scared to re-enter the home; scared that the attackers are still inside "waiting with knives". So it was nice to see them playing (and eating oranges) outside in the yard.
Edit 4: I figure the story is worth sharing: After two previous invasions during the week, Omari was relatively certain another would occur. He woke up to the sound of footsteps outside his door, he figured it was his mother taking a few of the boys outside to go to the bathroom. He quickly realized that the footsteps were heavy, and that of more than one person; he then saw a flashlight shine beneath the crack of his door. Being the third time this happened that week, he had already stashed a hammer beside his bed. He grabbed it, and threw it at the first person who entered his room. He hit the person square in the head, and chased the rest out. The following night, the three thugs returned, presumably to avenge their friend. Omari put up a fight but was outnumbered. The last thing he remembers was being struck in the face by the machete. He has been in and out of the hospital since, yet remains positive and confident that the suspects will one day see justice. Until then, I only hope that is courage and strength is felt by all of you. Speaking with him was a very humbling and special experience that I will never forget. I told him I would try my best to help, so this is my effort: Reddit, already donations are pouring in, and I can't thank you enough.
Edit 5: Another picture of a few kids playing with one of their favorite toys. Reddit, twice now, you have nearly brought me to tears. I have never felt so encouraged in my life. Donations are coming in too fast to keep track, so I will update as soon as they seem to slow down. If the donations reach over $2,000, the rest will go towards food and supplies for the children. I will ABSOLUTELY keep all of you updated with the progress.
Edit 6: Many people are asking for proof, the mods have contacted me and I'm working on it. It's 5:03am right now, I haven't slept all night (nor do I plan to), I've been messaging my friends on facebook left and right trying to get the word out, but I never, NEVER, could have imagined the night ending this way. In just a few short hours I will return to the orphanage with by far the BEST news I could ever tell anyone. There will be pictures!
Edit 7: I've sent the mod a picture of myself, reddit name, date, PSU id, and the expired Kenyan residency card I received in 2010 when I first studied abroad. I am literally waiting for the sun to come up so I can run to the orphanage and tell them the INCREDIBLE news. I will take a picture with everyone (Omari will absolutely be present) and return as soon as I can.
Edit 8: Over $9,000 and I'm in a state of shock. I...... Just.....................Thank you.
Edit 9: Over $11,000. It's 6am. In 45 minutes I will RUN to the orphanage. I should be back with pictures in just a few hours. This is the best news I have ever had to privilege to tell anyone, and you are all to thank for it. Also, I am too overwhelmed at the moment, but I will do my best to reply to as many comments/messages/questions as I can.
Edit 10: $44,000!!!!!!!!! REDDIT!!!!! I can hardly breathe. I refreshed the page at least twice to make sure it was real. I cannot believe this. I just came back from the orphanage..... Let's just say many tears were shed, and many hugs were shared. The children were all leaving to school as I arrived, but I will return around 6pm to take a group picture. I am about to upload the picture and video of Omari's thanks. He's been reading all of your comments, he said he'll read every one if it takes him all day. $44,000. Reddit, thank you.
Edit 11: $48,000! This is surreal. Thank you for the $10,000 donation in addition to upgrading our website to Weebly Pro for two free years. Of course, thank you all so much. I must sleep for a bit, but I'll be back!
Edit 12: Who am I kidding I couldn't sleep if I tried. We hit the $50,000 mark! I know by now I sound like a broken record, but thank you Reddit, sincerely.

Ancient Domesticated Dog Skull Found in Siberian Cave: 33,000 Years Old

thanks to Caro D for the link!
from ScienceDaily

A 33,000-year-old dog skull unearthed in a Siberian mountain cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with an equally ancient find in a cave in Belgium, indicates that modern dogs may be descended from multiple ancestors.

If you think a Chihuahua doesn't have much in common with a Rottweiler, you might be on to something.
An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.
In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated.
"Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find.
"Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."
The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs."
The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull.
Radioactive carbon, or carbon-14, is one of three carbon isotopes. Along with naturally occurring carbon dioxide, carbon-14 reaches the surface of Earth by atmospheric circulation, where plants absorb it into their tissues through photosynthesis.
Animals and humans take in carbon-14 by ingesting plants or other animals that have eaten plants. "Carbon-14 makes it into all organic molecules," said Hodgins. "It's in all living things."
"We believe that carbon-14 production is essentially constant over time," said Hodgins. "So the amount of carbon-14 present in living organisms in the past was similar to the levels in living organisms today. When an animal or plant dies, the amount of carbon-14 in its remains drops at a predictable rate, called the radioactive half-life. The half-life of radiocarbon is 5,730 years."
"People from all over the world send our laboratory samples of organic material that they have dug out of the ground and we measure how much carbon-14 is left in them. Based on that measurement, and knowing the radiocarbon half-life, we calculate how much time must have passed since the samples had the same amount of carbon-14 as plants and animals living today."
The researchers use a machine called an accelerator mass spectrometer to measure the amount of radioactive carbon remaining in a sample. The machine works in a manner analogous to what happens when a beam of white light passes through a prism: White light separates into the colors of the rainbow.
The accelerator mass spectrometer generates a beam of carbon from the sample and passes it through a powerful magnet, which functions like a prism. "What emerges from it are three beams, one each of the three carbon isotopes," said Hodgins. "The lightest carbon beam, carbon-12, bends the most, and then carbon-13 bends slightly less and carbon-14 bends slightly less than that."
The relative intensities of the three beams represent the sample's carbon mass spectrum. Researchers compare the mass spectrum of an unknown sample to the mass spectra of known-age controls and from this comparison, calculate the sample's radiocarbon age.
At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.
However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor.
"In terms of human history, before the last glacial maximum people were living with wolves or canid species in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had been living with them long enough that they were actually changing evolutionarily," said Hodgins. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed and those relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive."
"The interesting thing is that typically we think of domestication as being cows, sheep and goats, things that produce food through meat or secondary agricultural products such as milk, cheese and wool and things like that," said Hodgins.
"Those are different relationships than humans may have with dogs. The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat. They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt. And it's really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals."

Ottawa to reintroduce iconic bison to Banff National Park

from the calgary herald

Banff could be the next home where the buffalo roam.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Kent is scheduled to make an announcement Friday with details about reintroducing “an iconic Canadian animal” to Banff National Park, which government officials have confirmed is bison.

Kent, minister responsible for Parks Canada, is expected to provide details on a public consultation process for the animal’s reintroduction to Banff.

While officials have not specified the breed of bison, the most recent Banff park management plan, from 2010, includes details on the reintroduction of the plains bison, described in the document as “a keystone species that has been absent from the park since its establishment.”

Last year the Eleanor Luxton Historical Foundation held a public meeting on its own plan to reintroduce plains bison to the park. The plan indicated that the Bow Valley and Red Deer Valley could support modest bison herds.

Harvey Locke, a Luxton foundation director, said Wednesday he’d be thrilled to see bison make a return.

Bison were hunted to near-extinction in the 1800s, during European settlement of the West.

“It’s a species that speaks to a terrible mismanagement of nature in the 19th century,” Locke said.

Since then the species has made a managed comeback, and is not widely distributed in the wild, he said.

Reintroduction of bison has been discussed since 1997, when the park’s buffalo paddock was closed following the Banff-Bow Valley study, which looked at maintaining the park’s ecological integrity while providing appropriate access to visitors.

“Bison is a native species to the Canadian Rockies,” Locke said. “For the park to be complete, it needs wild bison.”

Dave Ealey, spokesman with Alberta Sustainable Resource Development, said his department encourages efforts to re-establish the ecological balance of the park.

But the department, which is not involved with Friday’s announcement, is also interested in seeing what Parks Canada’s plans are for keeping the animals within park confines.

“These are large animals and the consequences of large, free-roaming bison in parts of the province, if they expand outside the national park boundaries, could be significant,” Ealey said.

There are ranchers not too far from the borders of Banff who could come into close contact with the large animals. Bison could also end up on public land frequented by industrial and recreational users.

And the animals could be a road hazard, depending on where they are released in the park, Ealey said, adding bison lingering on the roadways has been a problem for motorists at Elk Island National Park, east of Edmonton.

Alberta Sustainable Resource Development has extensive experience with bison re-establishment programs, specifically in the Hay-Zama area in northwestern Alberta, Ealey said.

“We’ve been doing ongoing work to try to manage the numbers of that particular population effectively because they just blossomed as a population success story,” he said. “Those are the sort of things we’re aware of when it comes to wildlife management and those types of reintroductions. So we’d like to know a little more about how that’s being approached (in Banff).”

Dogs Face Blown Off By Fireworks

sign the peitiotn here

Joel Satore's The Biodiversity Project

gorgeous photos of endangered species click here to find our more:

The Biodiversity Project

Goualogo Triangle officially integrated into Nouabale Ndoki National Park, Congo


Ouvrant la séance, le Président de la République a réitéré les priorités de cette année 2012 : la santé, l’électricité, l’assainissement de nos villes, l’agriculture ou encore la consolidation de notre politique visant à doter le pays des infrastructures de base. Il a, de la sorte, appelé le gouvernement à traduire dans les faits ces orientations. Pour ce qui concerne la tenue des jeux africains au Congo, en 2015, le Président de la République a rappelé la nécessité de commencer notre préparation et de procéder à des inscriptions budgétaires pour que cette manifestation ait lieu dans les conditions les meilleures.
Il a , enfin, tenu à ce que le gouvernement s’assure de l’effectivité des mesures prises portant gratuité d’un certain nombre de services administratifs.
Huit affaires ont été inscrites à l’ordre du jour de ce Conseil des Ministres, concernant des projets de décrets pris à l’initiative de cinq départements ministériels.
En premier lieu, le Ministre de l’Economie forestière et de l’environnement, Monsieur Henri DJOMBO, a soumis à l’attention du Conseil des Ministres deux projets de décrets :
• Un projet de décret portant création, attributions et organisation de ‘’l’autorité nationale désignée’’ du mécanisme pour un développement propre ;
• Un deuxième, modifiant et complétant certaines dispositions du décret n°93-727 du 31 décembre 1993 portant création du parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki dans les départements de la Likouala et de la Sangha.
S’agissant du premier projet de décret, il convient de rappeler que le Congo a ratifié le protocole de Kyoto par la loi n°24-2006 du 12 septembre 2006, relative à la convention-cadre des Nations Unies sur les changements climatiques.
Le protocole de Kyoto prévoit un Mécanisme dit de ‘‘développement propre’’, qui est en fait un mécanisme de financement pour le soutien à des projets relevant de la réduction des gaz à effet de serre. Dans ce cadre là, le Secrétariat de la Convention-cadre des Nations Unies sur le changement climatique recommande aux Etats membres de mettre en place une « Autorité Nationale Désignée » dont les missions visent à travailler sur la réduction des émissions de gaz à effet de serre, dans les conditions définies par l’article 3 du titre I dudit projet de décret. Selon les termes de ce décret, l’Autorité Nationale Désignée comprendra :
Un coordonnateur, et cinq experts nationaux chargés des questions techniques et promotionnelles.
• Aux termes du deuxième projet de décret, qui modifie et complète certaines dispositions antérieures concernant le parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki situé entre les districts de Dongou dans la Likouala, et de Mokéko dans la Sangha, le site de Goualougo qui compte une population de chimpanzés supérieure à 120 unités, présente une opportunité unique dans le territoire, pour étudier leur comportement. C’est ainsi qu’en intégrant le site de Goualougo au parc national de Nouabalé-Ndoki, celui-ci passera d’une superficie de 386 592 hectares, à une superficie de 423 870 hectares.
Les deux projets de décrets ont obtenu l’approbation du Conseil des Ministres.
Poursuivant l’examen des affaires inscrites à l’ordre du jour, le Conseil des Ministres s’est ensuite attelé à étudier le projet de décret portant suppression des épreuves orales du baccalauréat, sur proposition conjointe de Madame Rosalie KAMA-NIAMAYOUA, Ministre de l’Enseignement primaire, secondaire et de l’alphabétisation et de Monsieur André OKOMBI SALISSA, Ministre de l’Enseignement technique, professionnel, de la formation qualifiante et de l’emploi.
Il en résulte que le baccalauréat de l’enseignement général se déroulera dorénavant en un seul tour, comprenant de la sorte les épreuves écrites, d’un côté, et les épreuves d’éducation physique et sportive, de l’autre.
Le baccalauréat de l’enseignement technique comprend : les épreuves écrites, les épreuves pratiques et les épreuves d’éducation physique et sportive.
Ce projet de décret a également reçu l’approbation du Conseil des Ministres.
Le Ministre de la Pêche et de l’aquaculture, Monsieur Hellot Matson MAMPOUYA, a quant à lui, présenté trois projets de décrets.
• Le premier projet de décret, portant statut de l’observateur à bord d’un navire de pêche, vise à améliorer le dispositif de surveillance contre les risques d’une pêche non conforme à la règlementation, en l’absence d’un système d’observation par satellite. Ce décret fixe les missions assignées à l’observateur, ainsi que les obligations du capitaine du navire.
• Le second projet de décret porte organisation et fonctionnement du Comité consultatif de la pêche et de l’aquaculture. Dans l’esprit du décret, le Comité consultatif de la pêche et de l’aquaculture a pour mission principale de donner des avis sur les plans d’aménagement des pêcheries et des systèmes aquacoles, les plans d’aménagement de la pêche étant l’ensemble des mesures et des actions techniques, financières, législatives et règlementaires nécessaires à une exploitation rationnelle et durable des ressources halieutiques.
• Le troisième projet de décret soumis au Conseil des Ministres par le Ministre de la Pêche et de l’aquaculture, se rapporte à la réorganisation et au fonctionnement du fonds d’aménagement halieutique.
Le fonds d’aménagement halieutique, ainsi que cela ressort des articles 2 et 3 du projet de décret, est un établissement public administratif doté de la personnalité morale et jouissant d’une autonomie financière, qui a pour missions :
- d’assurer le financement des travaux, études, projets et micro-projets d’initiative communautaire…
- De financer l’assistance dans le cadre d’un appui technique aux pêcheurs et aquaculteurs,
- De financer les programmes de développement de la pêche et de l’aquaculture,
- Etc.
L’avis du Conseil des Ministres, sollicité sur ces trois projets, a été favorable.
Le Ministre de la Santé et de la population, Monsieur Georges MOYEN, a présenté au Conseil des Ministres un projet de décret portant statut particulier des agents de la santé et affaires sociales, sous secteur de la santé. Il a pour objet de mettre en place un cadre juridique favorable aux conditions de vie et de travail des agents de la santé. Ce texte concourt, en fait, à assurer la motivation et la fidélisation des agents du service public de santé en revalorisant leur métier.
On retiendra, pour ce qui concerne la rémunération, que le premier point indiciaire passe de 200 à 300, soit une augmentation de 50%. Les indemnités relatives aux différentes primes seront fixées par arrêté conjoint du Ministre de la Santé et des finances.
Ce projet de décret a reçu l’avis favorable du Conseil des Ministres.
Le Ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur, Monsieur Ange-Antoine ABENA, a présenté un projet de décret fixant le taux des différentes catégories de bourses accordées aux étudiants congolais inscrits dans les établissements d’enseignement supérieur à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur du Congo. Il a été retenu, conformément au discours de fin d’année du Président de la République, le principe général d’une hausse des bourses selon les modalités suivantes :
- A l’intérieur de la République du Congo, l’augmentation est de 15.000 frs CFA pour toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Afrique, l’augmentation est de 20.000 frs CFA pour les catégories de bourses E, F, G.
- En Europe occidentale, aux Etats-Unis et au Canada, l’augmentation est de 50.000 frs CFA sur toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Europe de l’Est, elle est de 25.000 frs CFA sur toutes les catégories de bourses.
- En Amérique latine, notamment à Cuba, elle est de 50.000 frs CFA.
Ce projet de décret venant du Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, a été adopté par les membres du Conseil des Ministres.
Débutée à 10h00, la réunion du Conseil des Ministres de ce vendredi 20 janvier 2012 s’est achevée à 13h20. »

Science Bulletins: Whales Give Dolphins a Lift

thanks to deb m for the link!

Atheist faces jail after facebook comments


AN Indonesian civil servant who declared himself an atheist on Facebook was arrested and is now facing jail for blasphemy after being attacked by an angry mob, police said today.
Alexander An, 30, who wrote "God doesn't exist" on his Facebook page, was beaten by a mob of dozens on Wednesday in his hometown in Pulau Punjung, West Sumatra province.
"He is suspected of having blasphemed against Islam," local police chief Chairul Aziz told AFP.
"The man told police investigators that if God really exists and has absolute power, why didn't he prevent bad things from happening in this world."
An said on his Facebook page that he was brought up as a Muslim, like the vast majority in Indonesia, where blasphemy is a punishable crime carrying a maximum five-year prison term.
Dozens of locals stormed into his office after a heated debate with them on Facebook over religion, police said.
An was also an administrator of a Facebook group promoting atheism with 1243 followers. His postings no longer appeared online following his arrest.

Moose falling on face

i have to include Strombo's comment on this "Miraculously the moose isn't even the best part of this video... "

via the George Stroumboulopoulos facebook page

Almost 1/4 of Changes in Intelligence May Be in the Genes

via the George Stroumboulopoulos facebook page

from the CBC

Nature versus nurture: it's one of the great debates in human society. Are we the product of our environment, or does our genetic make-up determine how we turn out? A new study published in the journal 'Nature' suggests that nearly a quarter of the changes in a person's intelligence level over the course of a lifetime may be due to genes, rather than environmental factors.

According to S. Duke Han, an assistant professor in the department of behavioural sciences and a clinical neuropsychologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, the study is unique and revealing: "What this is saying is something many researchers have accepted for a long time, that intelligence seems to be very much influenced by genetic makeup but also environmental factors," Han said.

Usually studies like this have to rely on comparisons between people who are related, such as identical or fraternal twins. This study is different. It uses information from a Scottish database containing intelligence tests from a group of unrelated people, first at age 11, then at 65, 70 or 79, and therefore allows the researchers to compare people who are not related by blood at early and late stages in their lives. Participants also shared DNA samples so that researchers could examine their genetics.

The findings were interesting: people with similar DNA tended to have similar changes in intelligence from youth to age. Also, many people who scored high on the test at age 11 also did so when they re-took the test later in life - although not everyone. Ian Deary, lead author of the study, told the Wall Street Journal that although it lacks statistical power in some crucial aspects, the study is valuable because "it is very rare to have an estimate of the genetic contribution to lifetime cognitive change." He also clarified, "these results suggest that genes contribute to our understanding of why some people's brains have aged better than others, but the environment is probably the larger influence on lifetime changes," Deary said.

Other studies have found that a person's intelligence level, as measured by an IQ test, isn't fixed at birth. In fact, a person's IQ can rise or fall as the person ages - a teenagers IQ can increase or decline by as many as 20 points in only a few years. And scientists have made progress in figuring out which environmental factors may affect intelligence. Some cognitive training has shown to increase IQ scores after just a few weeks, although the increases are small and tend to fade after a few months.

Worth all the sweat

Thanks to Gioia A for the link - deals with calorie restriction and exercise, longevity and health.

From the economist

Worth all the sweat
Just why exercise is so good for people is, at last, being understood

ONE sure giveaway of quack medicine is the claim that a product can treat any ailment. There are, sadly, no panaceas. But some things come close, and exercise is one of them. As doctors never tire of reminding people, exercise protects against a host of illnesses, from heart attacks and dementia to diabetes and infection.

How it does so, however, remains surprisingly mysterious. But a paper just published in Nature by Beth Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and her colleagues sheds some light on the matter.

Dr Levine and her team were testing a theory that exercise works its magic, at least in part, by promoting autophagy. This process, whose name is derived from the Greek for “self-eating”, is a mechanism by which surplus, worn-out or malformed proteins and other cellular components are broken up for scrap and recycled.

To carry out the test, Dr Levine turned to those stalwarts of medical research, genetically modified mice. Her first batch of rodents were tweaked so that their autophagosomes—structures that form around components which have been marked for recycling—glowed green. After these mice had spent half an hour on a treadmill, she found that the number of autophagosomes in their muscles had increased, and it went on increasing until they had been running for 80 minutes.

To find out what, if anything, this exercise-boosted autophagy was doing for mice, the team engineered a second strain that was unable to respond this way. Exercise, in other words, failed to stimulate their recycling mechanism. When this second group of modified mice were tested alongside ordinary ones, they showed less endurance and had less ability to take up sugar from their bloodstreams.

There were longer-term effects, too. In mice, as in people, regular exercise helps prevent diabetes. But when the team fed their second group of modified mice a diet designed to induce diabetes, they found that exercise gave no protection at all.

Dr Levine and her team reckon their results suggest that manipulating autophagy may offer a new approach to treating diabetes. And their research is also suggestive in other ways. Autophagy is a hot topic in medicine, as biologists have come to realise that it helps protect the body from all kinds of ailments.

The virtues of recycling

Autophagy is an ancient mechanism, shared by all eukaryotic organisms (those which, unlike bacteria, keep their DNA in a membrane-bound nucleus within their cells). It probably arose as an adaptation to scarcity of nutrients. Critters that can recycle parts of themselves for fuel are better able to cope with lean times than those that cannot. But over the past couple of decades, autophagy has also been shown to be involved in things as diverse as fighting bacterial infections and slowing the onset of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

Most intriguingly of all, it seems that it can slow the process of ageing. Biologists have known for decades that feeding animals near-starvation diets can boost their lifespans dramatically. Dr Levine was a member of the team which showed that an increased level of autophagy, brought on by the stress of living in a constant state of near-starvation, was the mechanism responsible for this life extension.

The theory is that what are being disposed of in particular are worn-out mitochondria. These structures are a cell’s power-packs. They are where glucose and oxygen react together to release energy. Such reactions, though, often create damaging oxygen-rich molecules called free radicals, which are thought to be one of the driving forces of ageing. Getting rid of wonky mitochondria would reduce free-radical production and might thus slow down ageing.

A few anti-ageing zealots already subsist on near-starvation diets, but Dr Levine’s results suggest a similar effect might be gained in a much more agreeable way, via vigorous exercise. The team’s next step is to test whether boosted autophagy can indeed explain the life-extending effects of exercise. That will take a while. Even in animals as short-lived as mice, she points out, studying ageing is a long-winded process. But she is sufficiently confident about the outcome that she has, in the meantime, bought herself a treadmill.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Escaping baby pandas at the Panda breeding center in Chengdu China

Aye-aye lemur 'heats up' its special foraging finger

from BBC nature
By Ella Davies

Madagascar's mysterious aye-aye warms up its extra-long finger when searching for dinner, scientists have found.

The lemur, the world's largest nocturnal primate, taps its specialised middle finger on tree trunks to find nutritious beetle larvae.

Studying thermal images, researchers found that the digit was colder than the others but warmed by up to 6C during foraging.

Scientists suggest that the aye-aye saves energy by keeping the digit cool.

The findings are published in the International Journal of Primatology.

The team from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, US, wanted to investigate the surface temperature of sensitive structures.

The aye-aye's unusual middle finger has already been found to be super-sensitive to vibrations, so provided the perfect subject for their study.

"It was striking to see how much cooler the third digit was while not in use and how quickly it warmed to [match] the other digits when engaged in an active foraging task," said graduate student Gillian Moritz, who carried out the study under the guidance of her supervisor, Dr Nathaniel Dominy.

Black and white
When not in use, the finger appeared black on thermal images. This indicated a large difference in temperature between it and the white (hot) ears and eyes.

But when the animal was looking for food, the finger rose in temperature by up to 6C.
"We think the relatively cooler temperatures of the digit when not in use could be related to its [long, thin] form," said Ms Moritz.

"This form results in a relatively high surface-to-volume ratio [but] such a ratio is bad for retaining heat."

In order to sense the vibrations of beetle larvae through the bark of a tree, the finger is "packed with sensitive nerve endings", the scientist explained.

Because of its specialist sense receptors, using this tapping tool is very costly in terms of energy.
"Like any delicate instrument, it is probably best deactivated when not in use," Ms Moritz told BBC Nature.

Kink in the flow
The question of how the lemur controls the heat of a single digit remains unclear.
Ms Moritz suggested two explanations. The first was simply that the blood vessels that supplied the digit could be constricted or dilated.

The second more unusual possibility, she said, was that the creature might employ temperature control method that was linked to the flexibility of its finger.

Ms Moritz explained: "Because the finger is fragile and vulnerable to injury, it is often extended back and out of the way during locomotion and periods of inactivity," she said.

This extension could cause a "kink" in the artery that supplies warm blood to the digit.

In the same way a bent garden hose supplies less water, the artery could supply less blood, keeping the finger much colder than its fully supplied neighbouring digits.

Aye-ayes are the only primates known to have this strange adaptation.

The species is listed as Near Threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), mainly because of threats to its habitat.

But the odd-looking primate also suffers direct persecution. Superstition in Madagascar describes the species as a bad omen. Those that are pointed at by the creature's mysterious finger are said to meet their death.

Is Primatology an Equal-Opportunity Discipline?

food for thought. thanks to Caro D for the link!

my own 2 cents: I think that women generally become more preoccupied with conservation then evolutionary biology when studying endangered species (most primates). This then pulls them towards NGOs and field-based work over academic positions. This is compounded by the fact that most primatologists feel they cannot get positions in zoology/biology departments and must stay in anthropology streams, which means that really don't have the potential to do conservation science if they stay in academia. -MA

Addessi E, Borgi M, Palagi E (2012) Is Primatology an Equal-Opportunity Discipline? PLoS ONE 7(1): e30458. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030458

The proportion of women occupying academic positions in biological sciences has increased in the past few decades, but women are still under-represented in senior academic ranks compared to their male colleagues. Primatology has been often singled out as a model of “equal-opportunity” discipline because of the common perception that women are more represented in Primatology than in similar fields. But is this indeed true? Here we show that, although in the past 15 years the proportion of female primatologists increased from the 38% of the early 1990s to the 57% of 2008, Primatology is far from being an “equal-opportunity” discipline, and suffers the phenomenon of “glass ceiling” as all the other scientific disciplines examined so far. In fact, even if Primatology does attract more female students than males, at the full professor level male members significantly outnumber females. Moreover, regardless of position, IPS male members publish significantly more than their female colleagues. Furthermore, when analyzing gender difference in scientific productivity in relation to the name order in the publications, it emerged that the scientific achievements of female primatologists (in terms of number and type of publications) do not always match their professional achievements (in terms of academic position). However, the gender difference in the IPS members' number of publications does not correspond to a similar difference in their scientific impact (as measured by their H index), which may indicate that female primatologists' fewer articles are of higher impact than those of their male colleagues.

Chimp ‘culture’ paper retracted after authors spot errors, now has home at another journal

thanks to Geraldine F for the link!
from retraction watch

The authors of a 2011 paper claiming that chimp “culture” has more to do with local habitats than with where the chimps live have retracted it after finding mistakes in their work.

Here’s the notice for the paper, “Variation in chimpanzee ‘culture’ is predicted by local ecology, not geography:”

Shortly after our above paper was published in Biology Letters, we discovered several coding errors in the dataset we analysed. After re-analysing a corrected dataset, we did not find the same results as in our publication. In contrast, we found that no ecological variable was a statistically significant predictor of behavioural variation. Consequently, we do not feel that the main result of our publication is valid and have requested retraction of this manuscript.
So how did the errors come to light? Corresponding author Jason Kamilar, formerly of Yale and now at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, tells Retraction Watch:

A colleague contacted me about a week after the paper appeared on Biology Letters’ Early View to request the dataset. We originally used a couple of different methods to code the data and we conducted the analyses about 2 years ago. After looking at the datasets in more detail I noticed several errors that likely was likely due to coding the data from a separately coded dataset instead of the original dataset. I confirmed the problem by re-analyzing the correct dataset and I obtained different results. I contacted the editors of Biology Letters and we agreed that retracting the paper was the best course of action.
We wanted to know whether the retraction would have a significant effect on the field.

I think the impact will be quite minor. The retraction occurred less than 2 months after the paper appeared online, and it was never actually published in an issue. In addition, I submitted a new version of the manuscript that contained the correct dataset and analysis, which is now in press in Journal of Human Evolution.

Not surprisingly, the new paper found the opposite of the original results:

…geography, and longitude in particular, was the best predictor of behavioral variation.
The authors were also transparent in the new paper, which includes a line noting the retraction:

Our paper also serves as correction to our recently retracted study (Kamilar and Marshack, 2011), which contained several coding errors in the dataset.

Kamilar, we should note, is as critical of others’ work as he is of his own. Late last year, he was a co-author of a Comment in Science alleging flaws in a May 2011 report on whether dinosaurs were nocturnal. Its abstract:

Schmitz and Motani (Reports, 6 May 2011, p. 705) claimed to definitively reconstruct activity patterns of Mesozoic archosaurs using the anatomy of the orbit and scleral ring. However, we find serious flaws in the data, methods, and interpretations of this study. Accordingly, it is not yet possible to reconstruct the activity patterns of most fossil archosaurs with a high degree of confidence.
The response from the original paper’s authors wasn’t anything like a retraction; it was more like doubling down:
Hall et al. claim that it is not yet possible to infer the diel activity patterns of fossil archosaurs with high confidence. We demonstrate here that this assertion is founded on unscreened data, untenable assumptions, and inappropriate methods. Our approach follows ecomorphological and phylogenetic principles in a probabilistic framework, resulting in statistically well-supported reconstructions of diel activity patterns in Mesozoic archosaurs.
See no evil, hear no evil?

Attenborough "sings": Symphony of Science - The Greatest Show on Earth!

via the Max Planck Society Facebook Page

re-coloured picture of Darwin

"Orangutan" Song by Bali Rock Band "Navicula"

thanks to caro D for the link and for some background info go to :

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Vegetarian orang-utans eat world's cutest animal

by Michael Marshall
from the New Scientist
Thanks to Tracy K for the link!

When fruit is scarce, try chomping on a slow loris. That seems to be the strategy adopted by the normally vegetarian orang-utans, which have been spotted knocking the small primates out of trees and killing them with a bite to the head.

Sumatran orang-utans (Pongo abelii) get almost all their nutrients from fruit and other plant products, but there are a few isolated reports of them eating meat (American Journal of Primatology, vol 43, p 159). Madeleine Hardus of the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands and colleagues have now observed three more cases, bringing the total to nine.

In 2007 Hardus was tracking two orangs in the canopy above her – a female called Yet and her infant Yeni – when Yet abruptly changed direction and approached a slow loris (Nycticebus coucang). She knocked it out of the tree, crashed down to the ground, bit the stunned loris's head, then carried the body back into the tree to eat it. When Yeni begged, she was allowed to share the meat. The great apes each chomped on opposite ends of the dead primate, sharing it between them like lovers might a strand of spaghetti.

Searching through the scientific literature, Hardus found detailed studies of six orang-utan hunts. All stunned their prey before eating it, which Hardus thinks may be to avoid being bitten. Slow lorises are unique among primates in that their saliva is toxic.

All the documented hunts took place when there was little fruit available, which may push the apes to meat-eating, says Hardus.

By contrast, chimpanzees hunt more when fruit is abundant, perhaps because it doesn't matter if they waste energy on a failed hunt.

The sample is unavoidably small, but the data have been thoughtfully analysed, says Richard Wrangham of Harvard University.

Only five individual orang-utans have been observed hunting. Yet has so far been caught in the act four times – three times by Hardus, and once by another researcher – making her the best documented hunter.

In other accounts, the apes stumbled upon their prey, but Yet systematically changed direction and headed straight for the loris, which Hardus says may be because she has learned to smell them. Because a few cases have been documented within a 40-kilometre range, all using the same killing method, she thinks it may be a cultural behaviour, passed from orang-utan to orang-utan.

Madeleine E. Hardus, Adriano R. Lameira, Astri Zulfa, S. Suci Utami Atmoko Han de Vries, Serge A Wich (2012) Behavioral, Ecological, and Evolutionary Aspects of Meat-Eating by Sumatran Orangutans (Pongo abelii). International Journal of Primatology, DOI: 10.1007/s10764-011-9574-z

Meat-eating is an important aspect of human evolution, but how meat became a substantial component of the human diet is still poorly understood. Meat-eating in our closest relatives, the great apes, may provide insight into the emergence of this trait, but most existing data are for chimpanzees. We report 3 rare cases of meat-eating of slow lorises, Nycticebus coucang, by 1 Sumatran orangutan mother–infant dyad in Ketambe, Indonesia, to examine how orangutans find slow lorises and share meat. We combine these 3 cases with 2 previous ones to test the hypothesis that slow loris captures by orangutans are seasonal and dependent on fruit availability. We also provide the first (to our knowledge) quantitative data and high-definition video recordings of meat chewing rates by great apes, which we use to estimate the minimum time necessary for a female Australopithecus africanus to reach its daily energy requirements when feeding partially on raw meat. Captures seemed to be opportunistic but orangutans may have used olfactory cues to detect the prey. The mother often rejected meat sharing requests and only the infant initiated meat sharing. Slow loris captures occurred only during low ripe fruit availability, suggesting that meat may represent a filler fallback food for orangutans. Orangutans ate meat more than twice as slowly as chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), suggesting that group living may function as a meat intake accelerator in hominoids. Using orangutan data as a model, time spent chewing per day would not require an excessive amount of time for our social ancestors (australopithecines and hominids), as long as meat represented no more than a quarter of their diet.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The long, slow sexual revolution

PLOS Blogs has a LONG blog series about the LONG SLOW SEXUAL REVOLUTION (with video too)

The long, slow sexual revolution (part 1) with nsfw video
from PLOSblogs

A while back, Bora Zivkovic directed me (well, …all his Facebook followers) to the word, ‘sapiosexuality’: the tendency to become ‘attracted to or aroused by intelligence and its use’ (thanks, Bora!).

Ironically, although the term may be a bit of a joke, the idea that intelligence is a species-specific aphrodisiac has more than a shred of evolutionary plausibility. Moreover, ‘sapiosexuality’ is a crucial point of reference in the contemporary discussion of human sexual selection, especially to break the stranglehold that Victorian social mores and sexist assumptions have on popular understandings of human sexual evolution.

I was reminded of the term ‘sapiosexuality’ after teaching my annual introductory course on human evolution. Student evaluations are in, and over and over again, student comments lead me to think that, in order to change popular understandings of evolution, we need not simply better data, but also better stories. Especially when tired, old tropes are repeatedly trotted out again in a popular discussion of how ‘evolution’ has shaped ‘human nature,’ even when the data is showing the opposite, we should wonder if evidence alone can ever overturn rusted on bad interpretations.

Jason Antrosio makes a similar point about the need for new metaphors in his post, The Tangled Bank: Old metaphors for new evolutionary understandings. I believe Jason is right. Pernicious evolutionary narratives cannot be displaced by facts alone: to replace a story, you need a competing story. Specifically, in this series of columns, I’ll discuss a contender that might displace the man-the-promiscuous-horny-hunter/woman-the-choosy-chaste-gatherer chestnut (if for no other reason, to try to head off too many more Ed Rybicki short ‘comedy’ pieces like ‘Womanspace’).

I believe that a story we might title, ‘the long, slow sexual revolution,’ does a better job of foregrounding the most important salient facts about human sexual selection and evolution. The opportunity I’m taking to discuss this alternative narrative is a documentary series that you can watch most of online where I got to try out this framing, and it seemed to work (as it also worked in my evolution class).

To read more go here!

Bootylicious! Horse fly with bling named after Beyonce

Australian insect with golden butt reminded researcher of pop-music diva
By Jennifer Welsh
Thanks to Erin W for the link!

Beyonce may be one of the biggest pop divas out there, but she isn't the only diva with that name. A previously unnamed species of horse fly with a glamorous golden rear end has been named Beyonce because it is the "all-time diva of flies," researchers say.
Bryan Lessard, a researcher from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is responsible for officially describing the fly and naming it Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae, according to the Australian National Insect Collection.

Beyonce isn't the first celebrity to be honored with her own species. Traditionally named after scientists involved in their discovery, organisms have also been linked to the likes of Harrison Ford, Matt Groening (creator of "The Simpsons"), Mick Jagger and other celebrities, including a beetle named after Roy Orbison.

Gold and bold
The rare Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae species of horse fly was collected in 1981 (the year that Beyonce was born) together with two other previously unknown specimens from northeast Queensland's Atherton Tablelands.

The singer Beyonce, on the other hand, was a member of the group Destiny’s Child, which recorded the 2001 hit single "Bootylicious." The fly got its booty-ful name from its extreme diva feature: a big gold butt.

"It was the unique dense golden hairs on the fly's abdomen that led me to name this fly in honor of the performer Beyonce as well as giving me the chance to demonstrate the fun side of taxonomy — the naming of species," Lessard said in a statement.
Horse flies like the newly named one play an important role in ecology by pollinating plants. "Horse flies act like hummingbirds during the day, drinking nectar from their favorite varieties of grevillea, tea trees and eucalypts," Lessard said.

Lying in wait
The Beyonce fly is one of five detailed in Lessard's paper, published in the online version of the Australian Journal of Entomology in August and announced on Friday. This discovery has doubled the number of known species within the Scaptia (Plinthina) subgenus and extended the known distribution of Scaptia into the Northern Territory and northwestern Australia, where they were not previously thought to exist.
"Most Australian Scaptia species have been described, however, these five 'new' species of a subgroup (Plinthina) have been housed in Australian collections since the group was last studied in the 1960s," Lessard said.

Apparently, the singer hasn't had a chance to respond to the news. The CSIRO blog post reads: "News@CSIRO has sought a response from Beyonce about the great honor bestowed upon her but is yet to receive a response. ... Beyonce has recently had her first larva, sorry, child, and may be too busy to respond."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bath Time for Baby Sloths

this is to counter balance the post about death today. -MA

Crow roof snow-boarding

OK, tool use people - explain it :)

Thanks to Caro D!

How fast does the Grim Reaper walk?

By correlating average walking speed and mortality rate over 5 years for men over 70, the authors conclude:
The Grim Reaper’s preferred walking speed is 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour) under working conditions. As none of the men in the study with walking speeds of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or greater had contact with Death, this seems to be the Grim Reaper’s most likely maximum speed
via neatorama

Fiona F Stanaway,Danijela Gnjidic, Fiona M Blyth, David G Le Couteur, Vasi Naganathan, Louise Waite, Markus J Seibel, David J Handelsman, Philip N Sambrook, Robert G Cumming,How fast does the Grim Reaper walk? Receiver operating characteristics curve analysis in healthy men aged 70 and over (2011) BMJ 2011; 343 doi: 10.1136/bmj.d7679


To determine the speed at which the Grim Reaper (or Death) walks.

Design: Population based prospective study.

Setting: Older community dwelling men living in Sydney, Australia.

Participants: 1705 men aged 70 or more participating in CHAMP (Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project).

Main outcome measures: Walking speed (m/s) and mortality. Receiver operating characteristics curve analysis was used to calculate the area under the curve for walking speed and determine the walking speed of the Grim Reaper. The optimal walking speed was estimated using the Youden index (sensitivity+specificity−1), a common summary measure of the receiver operating characteristics curve, and represents the maximum potential effectiveness of a marker.

Results: The mean walking speed was 0.88 (range 0.15-1.60) m/s. The highest Youden index (0.293) was observed at a walking speed of 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour), corresponding to a sensitivity of 63% and a specificity of 70% for mortality. Survival analysis showed that older men who walked faster than 0.82 m/s were 1.23 times less likely to die (95% confidence interval 1.10 to 1.37) than those who walked slower (P=0.0003). A sensitivity of 1.0 was obtained when a walking speed of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or greater was used, indicating that no men with walking speeds of 1.36 m/s or greater had contact with Death.

Conclusion: The Grim Reaper’s preferred walking speed is 0.82 m/s (2 miles (about 3 km) per hour) under working conditions. As none of the men in the study with walking speeds of 1.36 m/s (3 miles (about 5 km) per hour) or greater had contact with Death, this seems to be the Grim Reaper’s most likely maximum speed; for those wishing to avoid their allotted fate, this would be the advised walking speed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Nate Hallinan - "real life" smurf

from Nate

from Nate
"The Smurf is actually the result of a symbiotic relationship between two organisms. We believe that Smurfs put their 'embryos' in the button of a developing mushroom. From a
distance, Smurfs seem like they are wearing a hat and pants but as you can see this is a fallacy. The fungus provides camouflage and protective epidermal layers for the creature, while the creature provides nutrients and mobility for the spreading of spores.

Smurfs are believed to be a hunter gatherer society. As you can see, this little guy is returning from a successful venture. It is generally difficult to spot a Smurf; they
are very apprehensive and cunning. Sadly though, it is rumored that they are hunted for their medicinal properties. It's hard to determine but it is thought that there are
not many colonies of Smurf left."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

*UPDATED* Gorillas at Bwindi (?) play with photographer

*UPDATE* I really should have made a comment when I originally posted this about how this is really not the greatest situation with humans and wildlife coming into contact, especially apes. Liz W posted this great article outlining the issues with these interactions, its important reading (I've posted it below the video link as well) -MA

thanks to josh L for the link (best watched with volume off)
Go to the site to watch


Katie Frohardt wrote about her impulse to touch a mountain gorilla in her reflection of her time with IGCP in the 1990s, “At one point when the snare had been removed, I found myself quite near to the right foot of the female gorilla. I remember looking at that foot, and being transfixed. Without even really realizing that I was doing it, I had reached out my hand towards her foot, and was just inches away from touching her. At that point, I remember José very gently touching my hand, and shaking his head. Of course, I had no gloves on, and he was preventing my misstep, and protecting the mountain gorilla. I remember him doing this with real kindness, and with a look that made me know that he understood what I had just experienced. That was my first real day with IGCP.”

So, while the video that has gone viral is quite mesmerizing, it raises a lot of fears in the conservation community. It certainly isn’t the first time that mountain gorillas have interacted with people outside of the park, and it won’t be the last. And there is no blame to be placed. The fact is that habituated gorillas leave park boundaries, having overcome their natural fear of humans.

The mountain gorillas of Buhoma, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, are now quite notorious for it, roaming through the tourist lodges like they themselves are guests. And tourists to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda are surprised to find that they might be visiting mountain gorillas outside of the park, in a farmer’s field or in a eucalyptus plantation.

A few months ago, gorilla groups monitored for research in Volcanoes National Park even spent the night outside of the park, forcing rangers to camp alongside them to protect and monitor them. And there are gorilla groups as well as a lone silverback that are also occasionally range outside of Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo, causing neighboring farmers grief and crop loss.

There are several other facts to keep in mind: Tourism is vital to the conservation of mountain gorillas, allowing for regular monitoring of mountain gorilla groups and allowing for veterinary intervention when necessary. Tourism also brings in much-needed revenue to fund park operations and community conservation activities as well as contribute to the national and local economies.

Here are the hard facts: Humans can spread diseases to mountain gorillas and disease outbreaks among mountain gorillas have been recorded in the past, including scabies and respiratory disease. Although it is hard to believe it when seeing the ease at which mountain gorillas can include humans in their social families, mountain gorillas are wild, even those in habituated groups. So now you see the delicate balance that must be struck in tourism as a means for wildlife conservation. Tourist guidelines are in place within the region, a pivotal initiative for IGCP as an advocate for responsible mountain gorilla tourism. We advocate for managing, to the very best of our collective abilities, tourism that carries the smallest risk to people and mountain gorillas.

This is a phenomenon that won’t go away. It will take a constant effort on behalf of conservation organizations like IGCP, park rangers and managers, lodge employees and managers, as well as tourists to take the steps necessary to protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Behind the scenes, continued efforts are underway.

Camera Traps FTW: first photographs of the recently discovered Myanmar snub-nosed monkey.

Myanmar snub-nosed monkey with infants. Credit: FFI/BANCA/PRCF

From PhysOrg

Announced today in Yangon, Myanmar, a joint team from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), Biodiversity And Nature Conservation Association (BANCA) and People Resour and Conservation Foundation (PRCF), caught pictures of the monkey on camera traps placed in the high, forested mountains of Kachin state, bordering China.

“The Myanmar snub-nosed monkey was described scientifically in 2010 from a dead specimen collected from a local hunter,” said Frank Momberg of FFI, who organised the initial expeditions that led to the monkey’s discovery. “As yet, no scientist has seen a live individual,” he added.

“These images are the first record of the animal in its natural habitat,” said Ngwe Lwin, the Burmese national who first recognized the monkey as a possible new species. “It is great to finally have photographs because they show us something about how and where it actually lives,” he added.

Heavy snows in January and constant rain in April made expeditions to set the camera traps difficult. “We were dealing with very tough conditions in a remote and rugged area that contained perhaps fewer than 200 monkeys,” said Jeremy Holden, who led the camera trapping team. “We didn’t know exactly where they lived, and I didn’t hold out much hope of short term success with this work.” But in May a small group of snub-nosed monkeys walked past one of the cameras and into history. “We were very surprised to get these pictures,” said Saw Soe Aung, a field biologist who set the cameras. “It was exciting to see that some of the females were carrying babies – a new generation of our rarest primate.”

As with most of Asia’s rare mammals, the snub-nosed monkey is threatened by habitat loss and hunting. The team is now working together with the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forest (MOECAF), local authorities and communities to help safeguard the future of the species. In February this year, FFI and MOECAF will hold an international workshop in Yangon aiming to create a conservation action plan for the Myanmar snub-nosed monkey.

In addition to the world’s first images of the snub-nosed monkey, the camera trapping also caught photos of other globally threatened species including red panda, takin, marbled cat, Malayan sun bear and rare pheasants such as Temminick’s tragopan, documenting the importance of this area for biodiversity conservation.

more info:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One joint a week easier on lungs then daily habitual cigarette smoking

from NPR
Study: A Joint May Be Easier On Lungs Than A Cigarette
by Nancy Shute

Smoking marijuana has just got to be bad for the lungs, since it's been made abundantly clear that cigarettes wreak havoc. Or so it would seem.

But the record on marijuana and lung health has been confusing at best. The latest study is typical: It shows that pot smokers' lung function actually improves, at least if they're not smoking a lot.

Smoking a joint a week for up to seven years doesn't hurt lung function, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. They came up with that number after following more than 5,000 people for 20 years. The results were just published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, those occasional pot smokers actually had improvements in some measurements of lung function. That may be due in part to the stretching involved in the deep tokes typical of marijuana use. By contrast, both past and present cigarette smokers had impaired lung function.

But the pot smokers didn't get a completely clean bill of health. Heavy marijuana users, which the study defined as smoking more than 20 times a month, did see a decline in lung capacity. But that's after exposure to more than 10 "joint-years," which the scientists calculated as a joint a day for a decade. That's a fair amount of weed.

Cigarette use and marijuana use was self-reported, leading some Shots contributors to wonder just how how reliable those pothead reminiscences could be. Indeed, the scientists said that previous studies have shown that people's recollection of cigarettes smoked generally squares with nicotine levels in the blood. But they didn't test pot smokers' blood to see if that was true for them, too.

The lack of ill effect for occasional pot smokers may be good news for people considering marijuana for pain control or other medical purposes, the researchers conclude. But "our findings do suggest an accelerated decline in pulmonary function with heavy use," the scientists wrote, "and a resulting need for caution and moderation."

JOB!!!! seeking new assistant director of the Semliki chimpanzee project

Caro D posted today that "The Semliki chimpanzee project is seeking a new assistant director asap! If you are interested in habituating chimps and running a small camp at this awesome site in Uganda, send me a message! Please pass this on to fellow primatologists or interested students. Former field experience appreciated!" You can contact her at ""

Riusuke Fukahori Paints Three-Dimensional Goldfish Embedded in Layers of Resin

First: watch the video. Japanese artist Riusuke Fukahori paints three-dimensional goldfish using a complex process of poured resin. The fish are painted meticulously, layer by layer, the sandwiched slices revealing slightly more about each creature, similar to the function of a 3D printer. I really enjoy the rich depth of the pieces and the optical illusion aspect, it’s such an odd process that results in something that’s both a painting and sculptural. Wonderful.

for more images go to this is

Angelique Todd, the gorillas' friend

Congrats to Angelique!

From the Telegraph
Angelique Todd left Tunbridge Wells for the central African rainforest to study western lowland gorillas. Now she is on speaking terms with a male called Makumba

Angelique Todd, a 43-year-old mother from Tunbridge Wells, has been called the 'gorilla whisperer' for the effect she has on Makumba. This is misleading because when she sees Makumba she doesn't actually whisper, she makes a soothing sighing noise, accompanied by clucking. It's like an invisible barrier between her and the gorilla. He may come close – really close – but Todd stays calm, no matter what. And Makumba, 400lb of alpha male, turns away.

We are deep in the African rainforest, in the Central African Republic (CAR) near the border with Congo-Brazzaville. The air is thick with sweat bees. Makumba is a few yards from where we are standing, eating termites, popping them in like snacks, and I am close enough to see some escape down his chin. A hundred feet above our heads, in the tangled vines up a tree, is another gorilla.

The thing about being so close to wild gorillas is that you must not run if they come at you. You are supposed to stand still and look at the sky. I ask Todd if Makumba has ever charged her. 'Oh yes, many times,' she replies. 'All silverbacks have different ways of being scary. Makumba charges really close to you, and then he jumps even closer. It's rather shocking.'

Todd has achieved something remarkable. As the head of the Primate Habituation Programme (PHP) in the Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve in the CAR, she has accomplished what had eluded scientists for decades – habituated western lowland gorillas for both tourism and research. Habituation means gaining the trust of wild gorillas so they don't run away. And this is significant because although western lowland gorillas are the sort most commonly found in zoos, little is known about them in the wild.

Todd is not the first to win the trust of this subspecies, but few have matched her success (or can claim, as she does, to manage a staff of 46 BaAka pygmies). Her achievement derives partly from persistence. To say it took her a long time is an understatement. She joined the World Wildlife Fund's gorilla habituation programme in the CAR as a young research assistant in 2000. She first spotted Makumba and his family later that year – he has three 'wives' and 10 children. His initial response was to disappear; for two years she hardly saw him at all. Every day she trekked for hours into the forest and only saw 'fleeing backsides'. By the time the job was finally done in 2007, Todd was 38, had been promoted to head of the programme – and Makumba had become her life.

The next day I meet Todd in her office near Bayanga, a dusty village. The capital, Bangui, is a 10-hour drive away. Outside in the trees, monkeys squawk. Inside, exposed wires hang from the plaster above my head. Todd, a girlish woman with round cheeks and wide blue eyes, is drinking tea from a plastic cup with a lid to keep the bugs out and smoking a cigarette. She likes to do both, very regularly, throughout the day.

She is tough: her job combines sweaty treks – she spends about three days a week in the field with the gorillas – with three days doing admin in the office (Sunday is her day off). She has had malaria 25 times, dengue fever and a bot fly infestation. 'They burrow into your skin. They were all over my body, just hundreds.' Almost every day she is bitten or scratched by something – driver ants, thorny vines, leeches. Her forearms and ankles are covered in scars and scabs. 'We've had researchers who have always wanted to study gorillas and they come here and walk straight back out again. They can't cope.'

Home for her and her partner Nestor and their daughter Poppy, nearly two, is a house near Bayanga which is equipped with In the Night Garden DVDs, Sainsbury's Gold Leaf tea and the music from Fiddler on the Roof – reminding you that she is a creature as much of Tunbridge Wells as of the African rainforest. 'My mum is very concerned about ballet lessons for Poppy,' she says.

This is a woman who, aged 25, had her thumb, a finger and a large part of her right forearm bitten off by a chimpanzee when she was working as a keeper in Port Lympne Wild Animal Park, Kent. She was standing outside the chimp's cage when it grabbed her arm, pulling it through the bars. Now the arm is fully functioning but badly scarred.

This proved the making of her. 'It made me more determined to come to Africa and do what I really wanted to do.' Working for WWF, her aim is to locate main groups, learn about their habits and biology, and get them used to humans so she (and her guides) can introduce the gorillas to other visitors – tourists, wildlife photographers, researchers. To this end she has spent the past 10 years living in a country not everyone has heard of ('I said to friends, I'm going to the Central African Republic, and they said, "Yeah, but where in central Africa?" '), doing a job many thought too difficult. 'No one wanted to work in the conditions of the lowlands,' says Dr Richard Carroll, a vice-president of WWF. 'It's tough out there.' Now Todd has been named a WWF 'true conservation hero'.

When Carroll first visited the Dzanga Sangha region as a PhD student and researcher for WWF-US in the early 1980s he was appalled by what he found – 'Lots of gorillas and elephants, but also poachers' camps on every stream.' The rainforest had been impenetrable for thousands of years, but new roads, built largely by logging companies, had created another kind of opportunity.

Bushmeat, the common term for tropical wild game, which includes monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, cane rats and other animals, is a popular and potent source of protein in this part of Africa. The carcases of slaughtered apes are sent, for huge profit, to markets in Kinshasa and Yaounde, and for that matter, on aircraft to Paris and New York.

'I was very worried,' Carroll continues. 'There were carcases of elephants everywhere. The hunting would have led to an empty forest.' Carroll had planned to habituate gorillas as research for his PhD. 'But I couldn't justify it if the next person they saw came along with a gun.'

So he shelved that idea and along with Michael Fay, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, spearheaded a conservation drive focusing on an area of rainforest straddling the south-west of the CAR, Congo-Brazzaville and Cameroon. The Dzanga-Sangha Forest Reserve and the Dzanga-Nodki National Park were created in 1990. Dzanga-Nodki is supposedly free of chainsaws, hunters, poachers and miners – the Congo basin has diamonds, gold and coltan (used in mobile phones) – while the Dzanga-Sangha reserve is designated as the place for locals to hunt for food.

There was another part of the strategic plan. Carroll argued that the way to save the lives of hundreds of apes and elephants, to stop trees from being chopped down and to help locals and marginalised groups – in this instance, the BaAka pygmies, traditional hunter-gatherers who depend on the forest for food – was 'responsible' tourism. Which means sharing, not exploitation.

Joining forces with the CAR government, 'We established a legal framework so all [wildlife] tourism revenue that came into the area would be shared with the local community to emphasise that wild animals are more valuable than dead ones,' Carroll explains. The split was 40 per cent for community associations; 50 per cent for salaries for local people working in the park; 10 per cent for national-level conservation programmes.

In addition, the BaAka pygmies were recruited as gorilla trackers. 'No gorilla would be habituated if it wasn't for their skills,' Carroll says. Adult BaAka males are 4ft tall and weigh about 90lb, and it's only when you watch them at work that you realise how superior they are. Walking a mile through the forest takes us the best part of an hour.
A BaAka does it in no more than 20 minutes (in flip-flops). Their heightened senses can even pinpoint individuals from footprints left in mud.

Not everyone is persuaded by gorilla tourism. Some believe it makes gorillas vulnerable to human diseases. A common cold, for example, can be life-threatening to a wild gorilla. But Carroll remains upbeat. 'This isn't tourism for tourism's sake,' he stresses. 'It's tourism for conservation's sake, for cultural survival's sake – for the BaAka people – and to keep the forest intact.'

Angelique Todd was an independent, strong-minded child in a musical family. But she and her older brother Sean preferred the outdoors. Their love of nature was shaped by family holidays in Pembrokeshire, walking the coastal path. (Sean is now a professor of marine mammal physiology and behaviour at Maine University.) Born in Surrey, Todd went to the independent Sutton High School and achieved the Queen's Guide Award, the ultimate honour in guiding.

She read zoology at Aberystwyth, where she became interested in parasites and spent a year of her four-year course studying faeces, firstly of wildcats at Kilverstone Wildlife Park (now Banham Zoo) in Norfolk. 'But as much as I love cats, when you study them in the wild, you don't see them at all. They are such elusive animals, it gets a little bit frustrating. And I was studying cat poo, basically.'

She became fascinated with primates after befriending a spider monkey called Eric at Kilverstone and working with PhD students studying howler monkeys in Costa Rica. She returned to Aberystwyth to finish her degree, then did a masters in primate conservation biology at Manchester University while volunteering at Port Lympne, owned (with its sister park, Howlett) by John Aspinall, the late millionaire conservationist and gambler. In April 1994 Todd was outside a cage feeding chimpanzees when Bustah, a 33-year-old chimp, made a sudden grab at her sleeve. 'He bit my thumb first, then my finger and then started on the rest of my arm.' Eventually a member of the public managed to distract the chimp long enough for Todd to make her escape.

The first thing she said after a five-hour operation to repair her arm was, 'Don't let them touch Bustah,' recalls her mother, Isabella, who lives near Tunbridge Wells. 'Angelique was afraid it would have repercussions for the chimp. But Aspinall was too fond of his animals to put them down. Bustah was sent to a wildlife park in South Africa.'

Todd says Aspinall was 'very sorry and said, "Sue me for all you can". And he invited me and my family around for cream tea and cucumber sandwiches. So I did sue him, because it was a simple health and safety issue – there was a huge gap in the cage.' She was awarded £75,000 damages. After repaying debts – a student loan and £26,000 to the government for sickness and housing benefit while she was off work – she spent £25,000 on a deposit for a house.

Her father died two years after the accident. 'There were a few problems with finances. We lost our family home, so I bought a house with my mum near Tunbridge Wells.' The remaining £7,000 funded her early years in the CAR.

Gorilla tourism is not new in Africa. Since 1970, when the American zoologist Dian Fossey became internationally renowned for her work with mountain gorillas (the hairier type that live in the Virunga Mountains where Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda meet), some 40 groups have been habituated. The 'mountain gorilla tourism model' is generally accepted as the main reason why mountain gorillas survive today.

But tourism built around western lowland gorillas is another matter. 'Mountain gorillas live in hills and you get those long-distance views so the gorillas can see you and see that you are not threatening to them, and that is a really important component of habituation,' Carroll explains. 'In the lowlands, where you can't see forest for the trees, you can come upon a gorilla a yard away before either of you knows it, which is dangerous.'

Even walking in tropical forest is a job in itself. There is hardly a path that does not require a machete, and nowhere outside the main track where anybody over 5ft tall can stand upright. You not only have to bend double, but you must also keep your head up, looking out for elephants.

The other hurdle is that unlike mountain gorillas, western lowland gorillas don't live in stable families. So one day you could see individuals A, B and C, and the next day individuals D, E and F, and ABC are off somewhere else. You can't guarantee you will see the same individuals over and over again. The upshot has been many attempts to habituate lowland gorillas, but few successes.

Dr Diane Doran-Sheehy, an associate professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, New York, habituated two groups at the Mondika Research Centre, along the border of the CAR and Congo-Brazzaville, in 2004 as part of a research project. And one of the leading experts on western lowland gorillas, Magdalena Bermejo of the University of Barcelona, habituated the first group of lowland gorillas in central Africa, at the Lossi Gorilla Sanctuary in Congo-Brazzaville, in 2001, with JD Rodriguez-Teijeiro. She studied eight families (two for responsible tourism). But they went on to lose more than 90 per cent of their gorillas to an Ebola virus outbreak.

Some years earlier, in 1997, Bai Hokou, a profoundly remote camp in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, became the HQ for WWF's Primate Habituation Programme. Originally built by Dr Carroll in the mid-1980s, and now Todd's home in the field, Bai Hokou is a collection of wooden cabins and very basic facilities – the shower, for example, is a waterfall. The nearest shops are a two-hour drive through the wilderness, so staff live off a diet of tinned sardines and Laughing Cow cheese.

In 1998 the PHP came under the direction of Chloe Cipoletta, a primatologist who had previously habituated chimpanzees off the Ivory Coast. Later that year, Cipoletta started working with a small group of gorillas close to the camp. But in 1999 the group's silverback was attacked, probably by a leopard. Half of his forehead was ripped off and his back badly scratched. He recovered (although he was killed in 2004 by a male gorilla in a fight over a female), but the group of four females and their offspring started disintegrating.

In 2000 Todd, by now studying for a PhD, joined Bai Hokou as a research assistant. The deal was that she could collect data in exchange for habituating a second group of gorillas. She first spotted Makumba in November that year. The silverback was asleep in a clearing in dense forest and his daughter was playing with some oleander. Todd remembers the scene in almost mystical terms: 'I thought, oh my God, this is paradise.'

For gorillas, habituation comes in stages: fear; avoidance; aggression; and finally, indifference. By 2003 Todd and her pygmy trackers had worked through the fear and running away stage. It was at this time that Makumba's behaviour changed. 'He started being aggressive,' Todd recalls, 'but I didn't feel particularly worried. It wasn't until around March that he became highly aggressive. We work as a team and the other guides were getting some rather bad charges and I was thinking, it's fine, it's fine, and then one day he gave me a really, really bad charge and it was very scary.'

She says she can normally stop him from charging by talking. 'Not that he understands what I'm saying, it just makes him forget what he's doing – that's my theory, anyway. So yes, he knows my voice. I'm the only one who talks to him. All the trackers think I'm absolutely dippy.' By 2007 she had built a rapport with all of Makumba's family. 'The females are the most elusive,' Todd says. 'They take up to seven years to habituate.'

Todd has since habituated another gorilla group and trained other guides, who help her fulfil the original plan of gorilla tourism. The way it works is that three tourists at a time are taken into the forest to observe the wild gorillas for an hour or so, from a distance of about 20ft, at a cost of about $300 per person. The maximum is 12 tourists a day. 'We've had people cry with joy at seeing such a fabulous sight,' she says. 'Others are so petrified they don't say a thing.'

It is very labour-intensive. A staff of 50 (excluding the BaAka) work from two camps: Bai Hokou and Mongambe. Trackers are required to monitor the gorillas 24 hours a day, 'because if we lose them we spend days finding them again'. Guides are needed for the tourists. And the PHP has become a magnet for scientists, documentary filmmakers and wildlife photographers. 'Each camp costs $100,000 to run, and gorilla revenue last year was around $80,000 – that is why we're so reliant on donor funding. But we've doubled the size of the programme to the point where we can see it could be sustainable and bring in revenue.'

One evening, I walk up a dirt track to Todd's house, an airy, modern building that is anomalous in its size and amenities – fridge, electric lights – but is still surrounded by deep forest and wild elephants. This has been her home since having Poppy. She met Nestor, 37, an administrative assistant for WWF, in the late 1990s. Their relationship started in 2007. Nestor is from the Bantu tribe, and hadn't seen snow before the day he landed at Heathrow in January last year to attend the birth of his daughter.

Nestor works in Bangui, which is 300 miles away. They see each other once a month; otherwise they use Skype. Once a fortnight he sends a car with vegetables and nicer cheese than Laughing Cow.

Todd is frank about how motherhood has changed her. 'For me the ideal life is to be in the forest, but now I have a more village-based lifestyle, which is hard. For the first three months after having Poppy, I tried to live on the camp [at Bai Hokou] but it turned out to be too difficult. We had some elephants push their trunks through our windows, and then of course we had scorpions, cockroaches and centipedes, and I hadn't counted on that panicky feeling of protective mum.'

But there are still difficulties in raising a child here: fear of conjunctivitis and intestinal worms, malaria and TB. And there are constraints from spending her time among Bantu people. 'There's a belief that you must not carry a child on your shoulders after four o'clock because it makes them vulnerable to spirits in the air. I respect it.'

She works six days a week, nine hours a day (she has a nanny with a giant smile, Mama Ange, a local mother of five). She started today by distributing pay to the BaAka (£2 a day: above the national average), then drove to Bai Hokou in her Toyota pickup, led a seven-mile trek to Makumba, and will soon be writing a PowerPoint presentation for a group of German donors arriving tomorrow, before replying to emails for tourist requests. Right now Poppy is 'playing' with Pinky the kitten, and during moments of high tension, Todd leaps from her seat to intervene. She is feeling tired and thoughtful as she drinks her beer. 'There are definitely tough times,' she says. 'But to gain the confidence of a gorilla family in the wild is a real honour.' She smiles, showing a rare willingness to acknowledge her achievement.

And the future? 'If it was just me, I'd stay here for the rest of my life, but Poppy will need schooling and at some point I will have to move on.' But not just yet. Makumba is 31 and all the books say wild gorillas live to about 35 years. 'My plan is to stay here. It will be very difficult when Makumba dies. I want to be here while he's around.'