Wednesday, March 30, 2005

"Green Monkey" disease kills 126 in Angola

An epidemic caused by the Marburg virus has claimed at least 126 lives in Angola where doctors are in serious shortage, hospital officials said Monday.

"We have not only asked the military for help, but also from around the world, national and international, in the fight against Marburg," said Luanda's provincial health director Vita Mvemba.

Mvemba said Angola now faces serious shortages of medical workers to fight the epidemic with some provinces having only several doctors.

The disease kills around one in four who contract it, while effective treatment is yet unknown.

Angola's northern province of Uige was worst hit by the epidemic, registering the bulk of the total death toll. In the capital Lunada, two have died, including an Italian doctor.

Marburg has been identified as the infectious viral agent behind the strange epidemic hitting Angola since last October, Deputy Health Minister Jose Van-Dunem said on March 22.

The Marburg disease is a viral infection originated from the green monkey, which clinically manifested by a hemorrhagic fever syndrome, the minister told a press conference.

The transmission occurs through the contact with animals, infected human beings or through the semen during unprotected sex, as well as by way of body fluids handling.

Strong headaches, muscle pains, fever, vomits and diarrhea, among others, are the first symptoms of the disease, and after seven days patients can present hemorrhage through vomits, through the vagina, skin and eyes.

The disease first broke out in 1967 in laboratories in former Yugoslavia and Germany during the handling of infected tissues from monkeys. Several African countries including South Africa have also experienced the epidemic.

Three-quarters of the deaths have been children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization.

Story here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

World's oldest monkey in captivity dies in Aichi

Buenos, a black spider monkey, is pictured in its cage in 2004 looking for his teeth

The world's oldest monkey in captivity has died of a heart ailment, officials from the Japan Monkey Center said on Monday.

In human terms, Buenos, a female black spider monkey believed to be at least 52 years old, would be the equivalent of 140 to 150 years old. The center had been considering applying to have Buenos registered in the Guineas Book of Records as the world's oldest monkey in captivity belonging to the "Suborder Anthropidea" group.

Buenos came to the Japan Monkey Center in Inuyama in September 1961. She was popular with visitors because she could skillfully use her 90-centimeter-long tail to pick and feed herself peanuts.

She had been getting along well with a young male monkey before suffering a heart attack on Feb. 12, center officials said. Buenos died on Saturday.

The average life span of black spider monkeys is around 33 years. Black spider monkeys, which mainly inhabit tropical rain forests in Brazil and other areas, belong to the "Suborder Anthropidea," a group of advanced species of monkeys including Japanese monkeys and orangutans. The brains and eyes of such monkeys are more advanced than primitive species.

Story here.

Zoo Gorilla Gets Second Pacemaker

Babec, the older of the Birmingham Zoo gorillas, had a second heart pacemaker inserted Saturday to replace another apparently damaged in a fight.

The 400-pound silverback gorilla made history last September with his first pacemaker.

Assistant zoo director Jeff Cook said he had been doing well, but got into a tussle a week ago.

It appeared initially that his fight with fellow gorilla Jamie had resulted in only a few cuts. But coughing, a loss of appetite and lethargic behavior later suggested that the pacemaker may have been damaged.

Babec was the first gorilla to ever have a cardiac resynchronization therapy device implanted. That device was replaced in a procedure that took a little over five hours at the zoo's Animal Health Center.

Doctors and zoo director Bill Foster said Saturday's surgery went well. Babec's recovery will be at the primate house rather than the health center.

Story here.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Monkey army scares villagers of Sirthala

Visit village Sirthala near Khanna, and you find monkeys sitting on the roof of almost every house here. With about 150 monkeys camping here for about nine months now, a monkey scare has gripped the village and its neighbouring areas. Villagers say they have now become a nightmare, and routinely attack for food, hurt them, tear clothes and cause other damage. Fortunately, residents have been saved from monkey bites till now.

Villagers assert that they had filed a complaint at the local police station against the monkeys, but no action was taken. ‘‘We had learned to live with their threat, but their increasing nuisance is worrying us all,’’ says Kaur Chand, a retired government official.

Adds Baljinder Kaur, another villager, ‘‘We have piled thorns on the roof, so that they do not come down. We can’t even leave the clothes outside for drying, since the monkeys run away with them.’’

Says resident Mohinder Kaur, ‘‘My grandson had to jump from the first floor when a group of monkeys attacked him.’’

The Newsline team today saw scores of monkeys in the village. ‘‘Many others have gone to take rest and come out in large numbers in the evening,’’ says Gagandeep, a village lad.

Amrit Kaur, a village woman, says that a 26-year-old woman had a very harrowing experience about a month ago when monkeys attacked her. Rajinder Singh, a villager, says that in winter all used to sleep inside. ‘‘But as summer sets in, it will be difficult to sleep outside, even though there is no electricity.’’

Story here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

UK Study will debate the future of monkey experimentation

There are strict regulations controlling the use of monkeys as blunt instruments

A major study will examine what limits should be put on the continued use of non-human primates in UK experiments.
The review is being undertaken by four of Britain's leading medical and scientific organisations.

It follows the fractious arguments between the research community and the animal welfare lobby over the need for new testing centres in the country.

Some 3,000 primates - mostly marmoset and macaque monkeys - are used in British labs each year.

Three-quarters of them are employed in toxicology tests - checking to see if new drug compounds are likely to be harmful if carried forward into human trials.

Mainstream science has taken the view that monkeys' physiological similarities to humans - we are also primates - make them powerful tools to investigate the diseases and fundamental biology of people.

But that closeness also raises an acute ethical dilemma - and there is growing pressure for the relatively small numbers of non-human primates used in tests to be reduced still further.

Now, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust are setting up a working group to examine the recent, current and future scientific basis for biological and medical research involving non-human primates.

Members of the working group, which will be chaired by Sir David Weatherall, will be drawn from outside the non-human primate research community. The group will include a broad range of scientific expertise, in addition to ethical and lay representation.

Sir David said: "We hope to establish areas where alternatives, such as genetically modified mice or computer modelling, might be an appropriate option.

"Equally, the study will examine areas of research where there is likely to be continuing need. The working group also hope to outline what, if any, new ethical, welfare or regulatory questions emerge from the conclusions of the scientific review."

Story here.

Anthrax kills 2 chimps, 2 gorillas in Cameroon


Anthrax has killed at least two gorillas and two chimpanzees in southeastern Cameroon, prompting fears that the highly infectious disease could spread to humans living nearby, government officials said on Tuesday.

"Analysis of samples taken from the dead animals indicates that the principal cause of their death is anthrax, a highly contagious disease to humans," the central African country's Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife said in a statement.

It was the first time that a gorilla had been reported to have died from anthrax, which occurs when animals absorb bacterial spores that can live for decades in dry soil while they eat remnants of vegetation, officials said.

The wildlife ministry warned people living in the northern belt of the Dja nature reserve not to touch or eat any dead monkeys but rather to burn or bury them immediately.

Anthrax can kill humans if the bacteria enters through a cut on the skin, is inhaled, or ingested through contaminated meat. If ground into fine particles, anthrax spores can cause respiratory failure and death when inhaled.

A wildlife ministry official said the primates had probably died between November and December last year but authorities had had to send samples to Germany to determine the cause of death.

Story here.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Gratuitous Photo: Snow Monkey Stage

Night stage : A big snow monkey appears in the center of the pond during a night stage produced by American modem dance artist Robert Wilson at a press preview for the 2005 World Exposition in Nagakute, Aichi prefecture. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

Photo found here.

An army of marauding monkeys is plundering Puerto Rico

junk monkey

An army of marauding monkeys is plundering Puerto Rico, skulking the island in packs of 20 to 30, tormenting farmers and homeowners, endangering rare birds and attacking household pets.

They're a clever lot, too, sneaking around so humans can't get too close, and rotating their feeding areas so their food supply can't be contaminated.

"You should see when they cross the road: One of them will stand in the middle of the street and let all the others pass," said Freddie Cruz, who directs the Lajas Civil Defense Agency. "I get calls all the time from homeowners wanting me to come over and get these things out of their yards."

Frustrated farmers, fed up with the loss of their crops, have responded by shooting the pesky primates.

And their actions, predictably, have outraged animal-rights groups, which are insisting that the monkeys be trapped and returned to their native homelands on the other side of the world.

On this much everyone agrees: A solution must be found because these animals -- descendants of the patas and rhesus monkeys that escaped from a medical-research lab years ago -- are a fertile, aggressive bunch.

The population stands at 1,000 to 2,000 and is growing every day.

"We recognize there's a big problem," said José Chabert, a director of Puerto Rico's Department of Environmental & Natural Resources. "If we don't get a handle on this problem soon, we are going to see these populations of aggressive monkeys all over the island."

In a few weeks, Chabert's organization will convene a series of public hearings to look for solutions.

So far, shooting the animals, trapping them, sterilizing them and baiting them with poison are all on the table.

Story here.

Twenty-one-year-old gorilla dies at Cleveland Zoo

Brooks, a 21-year-old lowland gorilla at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, died after he was anesthetized for an examination.

Veterinarians had anesthetized the gorilla so they could check him for a persistently swollen tongue that was making it difficult for him to swallow. The 380-pound gorilla had trouble breathing soon after he was injected, and then his heart stopped beating on Thursday, zoo officials said.

Results of an examination to determine the cause of death should be available in about two weeks, said zoo spokeswoman Sue Allen.

Brooks was one of three male gorillas that came to the zoo in 1994 from Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. The trio was among the country's first "bachelor groups," bands of all-male gorillas designed to better manage the growing captive gorilla population.

Gorillas operate in harems with one sexually mature male and a group of females. As more gorillas were born in captivity, zoos created all-male groupings to handle additional adult males.

Brooks was the dominant male in the trio that included Bebac and Mokolo.

"He used to like to sit around and look regal," said Tara Turner, who manages donor programs for the Cleveland Zoological Society.

Brooks had been in relatively good health until recently, when his tongue began to swell and he had trouble breathing. Zoo veterinarians gave him antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications, but the swelling began again when they took him off the medication.

Story here.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Baby Orang-Utan Born at UK Ape Centre

Hsiao-Quai gave birth on Tuesday, let the bear hugs commence.

An orang-utan saved from an amusement park in Taiwan has given birth at a Dorset ape rescue centre.

Mother Hsiao-Quai, 11, gave birth on Tuesday at Monkey World in Wool.

Keepers were worried if she would know how to take care of the baby, as she was orphaned at a young age when her parents were shot by poachers.

But the centre's owner Alison Cronin said: "She has been attentive from the moment he was born. She cleaned him up and has cuddled him and kept him warm."

The apes are one of the world's most endangered species, with biologists estimating they could become extinct in the wild within the next 20 years.

The baby's father, 16-year-old Tuan, was also rescued from Taiwan.

He was found wandering the streets after he became too big for his owners to care for, Mrs Cronin said.

She said he acted strangely on the day his son was born.

"I don't know how he knew, but he knew something was going on and on that day he stayed glued to that window and wouldn't move."

Story here.

Vet loses license over bizarre zoo incident

little joe poses for the cameras

A Framingham veterinarian who lied to police at the Franklin Park Zoo that she was there to help deal with an escaped gorilla, then rammed her car through a zoo gate, has surrendered her license to practice, the state Division of Professional Licensure said yesterday.

The vet, Vanessa Iglesias Shoemaker, demanded that Boston Police let her into Franklin Park, claiming she was a consulting veterinarian responding to an emergency involving an escaped gorilla, the board said.

When police would not let her into the zoo, which was closed for the day, she drove her car through a service gate and was arrested for breaking and entering, the board and zoo officials said.

"She does not and did not at the time have any affiliation whatsoever with Zoo New England," which operates Franklin Park Zoo, said Jo-Anne Baxter, the group's director of marketing.

Shoemaker's zoo crashing occurred last August, nearly a year after the much-publicized escape of Little Joe, an 11-year-old runaway gorilla who attacked a 2-year-old girl and an off-duty zoo employee before being recaptured. The toddler received a gash on her right temple and 18-year-old woman received scrapes.

But there was no escaped gorilla the night Shoemaker was arrested, officials said.

"Everything was secure on that evening. There was no emergency," Baxter said. Police arrived on the scene after being called by security guards, she said.

Shoemaker caused a couple of hundred dollars worth of damage to the gate, but did not harm any animals, she said.

Shoemaker does not have a listed phone number and there was no contact information about her in the report.

Shoemaker gave up her veterinary license for at least three years under an agreement with state officials that took effect last week. She can get her license back in 2008 if she demonstrates to the Board of Registration in Veterinary Medicine that she is mentally competent to practice veterinary medicine.

Story here.

Dallas Zoo reveals new plans to deal with escaped animals

uh, anybody seen a gorilla around here?

The Dallas Zoo has revised its policy to deal with escaped animals, a year after a gorilla leapt 14-foot wall and went on a rampage before being fatally shot by police.

The four-page policy released Wednesday puts police in charge of containing escaped animals, reversing a plan where Dallas Zoo officials were in command of animal escapes within the zoo´s perimeter.

"The Dallas Police Department _ with public safety being our No. 1 function _ is in charge on or off grounds of an escape," Lt. Todd Thomasson said. "The zoo agreed with us that once we get there, we will take tactical control of the situation."

Jabari, a 13-year-old, 340-pound gorilla, escaped from the zoo March 18, 2004, when he leapt over a habitat wall. During a 40-minute rampage, Jabari snatched up a toddler with his teeth and injured three other people before being shot to death by officers.

Police and the zoo were criticized for communication breakdowns and a confused response to the emergency. A police department commander was faulted for rushing out of the office to an off-duty job instead of going to the scene of the escape.

The revised policy authorizes officers to kill an animal that has escaped the zoo´s perimeter or is a threat to people. According to the policy, officers can kill the animal if it is threatening to escape the zoo´s boundaries, even if there is no immediate danger to humans.

The new policy includes training sessions for police officers and zoo employees on how to deal with animal escapes.

Previously, officers were expected to watch a 10-minute training video on what to do when an animal gets loose, but few officers saw the tape.

Story here.

Chimpanzee mauling speeds new bill limiting primate trade

two goats for one monkey, are you nuts?

The mauling of a West Covina couple by two chimpanzees helped speed up the introduction of a bill in Congress on Wednesday banning the interstate transport of primates for the pet trade.

The bill had been in the works, but the March 3 attack on LaDonna Davis, 64, and St. James Davis, 62, at a chimp refuge in Caliente triggered the earlier introduction to Congress.

"This gruesome incident highlights the dangers of private citizens interacting with powerful primates,' said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the The Humane Society of the United States, the organization spearheading the bill.

U.S Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, and Rob Simmons, R-Conn. introduced the bill in Congress.

The proposed bill prohibits monkeys, marmosets, lemurs, chimpanzees and orangutans from being shipped across state lines for the pet trade. It has no impact on zoos and federally licensed sanctuaries.

LaDonna Davis and her attorney, Gloria Allred, could not be reached for comment.

But West Covina police Chief Frank Wills says the proposed bill is needed.

"This is a timely and prudent move by Congress,' he said. "(The pet trade) is virtually unregulated. Primates are treated like personal property, like a sack of potatoes, and this legislation elevates their status.'

In 2000, the West Covina City Council banned all wild and potentially dangerous animals within its city borders. This was prompted by the August 1998 escape of the Davises' 39- year-old Chimp, Moe, who during his getaway bit two police officers and an animal control officer.

A year later, Moe was removed from the Davises' West Covina home.

While California bans primates as pets, the bill outlaws shipping them out of the state for exotic animal traders to sell.

"California is a significant supply line for the captive primates in the pet trade,' said Richard Farinato of the humane society.

The film industry is step one in a conduit that ships out primates who are are too old, too big or too hard to handle on a set, Farinato said.

Trainers ship them out of state and into the hands of exotic pet dealers, known as "wildlife pimps,' who sell them as pets.

Story here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Surprisingly complex behaviors appear to be ‘hard-wired’ in the primate brain

An illustration of the human brain showing the location of the posterior phish cortex, the primary moody complex (M1), and the pre-mantra areas (SMA, PMd and PMv).

When you grab a piece of food and put it in your mouth, when you smile in response to the smile of a passerby or squint and grimace in anger, the complex pattern of movements that you make may be hard-wired into your brain.

Scientists have long known that many of the behaviors of lower organisms are innate. In the insect world, for example, instinctive behaviors predominate. Birds have a larger repertoire of fixed behaviors than dogs.

In primates, voluntary or learned behavior predominates, so neuroscientists have assumed that the hard-wiring in primate brains is limited to simple movements, and complex behaviors are all learned.

Now, however, studies are finding that a number of surprisingly complex behaviors appear to be built into the brains of primates as well. These are “biologically significant” behaviors that appear likely to improve the primate’s ability to survive and reproduce. They include aggressive facial patterns, defensive forelimb movements, and hand-to-mouth and reaching-and-grasping movements.

Vanderbilt researchers, writing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, report that they can elicit these complex behaviors by stimulating specific areas in the brain of a small nocturnal primate called the Galago or bush baby (Otolemur garnetti). Their results provide significant new support for the proposition that all primate brains, including our own, contain such a repertoire of innate complex behaviors.

“We have now seen this feature in the brain of an Old World monkey and New World prosimian. The fact that it appears in the brains of two such divergent primates suggests that this form of organization evolved very early in the development of primates. That, in turn, suggests that it is characteristic of all primate brains, including the human brain,” says Jon Kaas, the head of the research group, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Vanderbilt University and investigator at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

"These results explain why certain behaviors – such as defensive and aggressive movements, smiling and grasping food – are so similar around the world. It is because the instructions for these movements are built-in and not learned," he adds.

Over the last 20 years, neuroscientists have identified an area called the primary motor cortex, which, when stimulated, triggers simple muscle movements. The fact that they were able to produce only motions by single muscles and other simple movements reinforced the idea that only simple movements were hard-wired into primate brain circuitry.

Then, last year Michael Graziano at Princeton University pointed out that previous stimulation experiments in the motor cortex – the area that controls bodily motions – had been done using very short electrical pulses that last less than a half-second. He further suggested that longer pulses might stimulate more complicated motions. Working with alert macaques, he and his colleagues found that applying such long-duration signals did in fact elicit several of these complex behaviors, much as they had predicted.

Kaas and his colleagues, research assistant professor Iwona Stepniewska and doctoral student Pei-Chun Fang, decided to follow the Princeton researchers’ lead and try long-duration stimuli in the simpler brain of the Galago. When they did, they also found that this type of stimuli triggered complex behaviors. In fact, they were able to stimulate a larger number of complex movements than the Princeton group had reported, including aggressive facial patterns, defensive forelimb movements, and hand-to-mouth and reaching-and-grasping movements.

Story here.

Marmoset Dads Don't Stray

Marmoset monkeys play with and plot indescretions in a marmoset monkey colony display in the lobby of the National Primate Research Center.

A squirrel-sized primate with white hair dancing out of its ears, the common marmoset finally may dispel tired stereotypes about promiscuous fathers in the animal kingdom.

When psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison exposed marmoset males to the scent of ovulating females, the researchers expected hormone levels to spike in every male as a result of heightened sexual arousal.

But in an unanticipated twist, testosterone levels in marmoset fathers barely wavered in response to the female odor, even as hormones surged in all other non-parents, reported UW-Madison endocrinologist and lead author Toni Ziegler in the January issue of the journal Hormones and Behavior.

"Marmosets like sex, so we expected all males to be responsive to the scent of a sexually receptive female," says Ziegler, who is a senior scientist at UW-Madison's National Primate Research Center, where the marmosets reside. "Instead, we were surprised to find a muted physiological response in fathers."

"This is the first time that scientists have used a primate to demonstrate an immediate testosterone response to a social situation," says senior author Charles Snowdon, chair of the UW-Madison psychology department. "It is a common notion that males are always interested in sex, regardless of their social status. But this study counters what has been seen in all other primates."

Story here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Man convicted of killing Dian Fossey loses Nebraska job offer

Wayne Richard McGuire is shown during a news conference in Los Angeles, in this Aug. 29, 1986, file photo plotting his gorilla world domination scheme.

The State of Nebraska has retracted its job offer to a man convicted by a Rwandan court of murdering American gorilla researcher Dian Fossey.

Richard McGuire had been hired to oversee a mental health office called the Behavioral Health Office of Consumer Affairs, the state announced Monday. Then, on the same day, it withdrew its offer without explanation.

Fossey, who was the subject of the movie Gorillas in the Mist, was hacked to death in Rwanda in 1985.

McGuire was her American research assistant. The court convicted him in absentia, but he remained in the U.S., which does not have an extradition treaty with Rwanda.

Spokesperson for the state agency had said they were aware of the conviction but were not concerned about it.

McGuire has denied any involvement in the murder and recently worked for a mental health agency in Oklahoma.

McGuire said his conviction did not come up during the interview process.

Fossey was 53 when she was killed at her jungle camp on the slopes of Rwanda's Mount Visoke, where she lived among the endangered mountain gorillas.

McGuire was the only other foreigner at the Karisoke Research Center.

One other person, a local tracker whom Fossey had fired months earlier, was charged in the murder. He died in jail in Rwanda.

A three-judge panel in Rwanda ruled that McGuire killed Fossey to get materials she was preparing for a sequel to her 1983 book, Gorillas in the Mist.

They said the manuscript was the only thing missing from Fossey's home.

Story here.

Defendant denies holding up store in monkey costume

'I didn't do anything. I didn't go to the store either'

A 31-year-old man accused of trying to rob a convenience store while disguised in a monkey costume denied a charge of attempted theft as his trial opened in the Yokkaichi branch of the Tsu District Court on Monday.

Speaking against the charge, the man, Takashi Ishimitsu, said he hadn't even visited the store in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture.

"I didn't do anything. I didn't go to the store either," he said.

In their opening statement at the court, prosecutors alleged that Ishimitsu entered the convenience store at about 2:15 a.m. on Jan. 25 while wearing a monkey costume. He allegedly tried to take money from the store's cash register, but failed.

The would-be robber fled empty-handed when a store employee went to contact the head of the store.

Story here.

Marmoset Babies Surprise Experts

Proud father Zag the marmoset hauls his two surviving triplets for a piggyback deathwatch.

Cudgee Wildlife Park operators have the experts wondering what monkey tricks they've got up their sleeves after they were able to hand-rear a baby marmoset triplet for three weeks.

According to Cudgee Wildlife Park's Helen Altmann it is very rare for marmosets to give birth to triplets and even rarer that the third one survives.

"There's only two other places in Australia that have these monkeys - Canberra and Darwin Ð and they've only ever been able to hand-rear one for 24 hours," Mrs Altmann said.

Underdeveloped lungs meant Tuppence didn't make it past the three-week mark.

It was a long three weeks of late nights and little sleep for Mrs Altmann.

"You don't get any sleep when you're hand-rearing things," she said.

"Unfortunately they don't shut down and go to sleep like human babies."

During the intensive three weeks Tuppence had to be kept in a humidicrib, fed via a teat on the end of a syringe every one-and-a-half hours, and given extra nourishment through multi-vitamins and protein supplements.

Mrs Altmann said she expected the two remaining babies, now four weeks old, would be named Pip and Pop once their sex was determined.

Story here.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Neanderthals Sang at High Pitch?

Neanderthal Alto Skull

Neanderthals possessed strong, yet high-pitched, voices that the stocky hominins used for both singing and speaking, according to recent British news reports.

The theory suggests that Neanderthals, who once lived in Europe from around 200,000 to 35,000 B.C., were intelligent and socially complex. It also indicates that although Neanderthals likely represented a unique species, they had more in common with modern humans than previously thought.

Stephen Mithen, a professor of archaeology at Reading University, made the determination after studying the skeletal remains of Neanderthals. His work coincides with last week's release of the first complete, articulated Neanderthal skeleton.

Information about the new skeleton is published in the current issue of the journal The Anatomical Record Part B: The New Anatomist.

Mithen compared related skeletal Neanderthal data with that of monkeys and other members of the ape family, including modern humans. In a recent University College London seminar, Mithen explained that Neanderthal anatomy suggests the early hominins had the physical ability to communicate with pitch and melody. He believes they probably utilized these abilities in a form of communication that was half spoken and half sung.

Mithen told Discovery News that he was "pleased" by the recent media attention, but he hopes people who are interested in his research will read his upcoming book, "The Singing Neanderthal: The Origin of Language, Music Body and Mind," which will be published in June.

Jeffrey Laitman, professor and director of anatomy and functional morphology, as well as otolaryngology (the study of the ear, nose, and throat) at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, is a leading expert on Neanderthals, particularly in terms of analyzing their head and neck regions.

"My curiosity is peaked by Mithen's theory that Neanderthals sang and had feminine-toned voices, but I think these attributes would be difficult to prove even with the recent Neanderthal reconstruction," Laitman told Discovery News.

He explained, "No Neanderthal larynx exists because the tissue does not fossilize. We have to reconstruct it."

Laitman said he and other researchers often use existing portions of Neanderthal, and other early hominin, skulls to build the voice box area. Through such work, he has learned that Neanderthals, Australopithecines and other prehistoric hominins possessed larynxes that were positioned high in the throat.

"The structure is comparable to what we see in monkeys and apes today," Laitman said. "Apes do have language and culture, but the sounds they make are more limited than those produced by humans."

Story here.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Oldest lowland gorilla in captivity dies

A gorilla believed to be the longest living of its kind in captivity has died of old age. He was 49.

Rudy died in his sleep Tuesday at the Erie Zoo, said zoo spokesman Scott Mitchell.

Captive gorillas can begin to have health problems in their late 20s to early 30s, Mitchell said. Rudy's appetite had been declining recently, he said.

"Forty is an older gorilla, so 49, he's really up there," Mitchell said.

Rudy was captured in Africa as a baby. He arrived at the Erie Zoo in 1987 after living at zoos in St. Louis, Los Angeles and Cleveland.

Rudy was believed by the International Species Information System, which keeps records on captive animals, to be the oldest captive lowland gorilla in the world.

Story here.

New Human Ancestor Fossil Discovery In Afar Region Of Ethiopia

A team of researchers digging in Ethiopia has unearthed hominid fossils are likely between 3.8 to 4 million years old -- earlier than the famous "Lucy" skeleton.

The team, led by Drs. Yohannes Haile-Selassie and Bruce Latimer of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, Ohio, has been conducting a paleoanthropological survey in the Mille-Chifra-Kasa Gita area of the Afar Region. The survey was conducted under a permit from the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) of the Ministry of Youth, Sports, and Culture and was financially supported by the Leakey Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation of the United States of America. The team located new hominid-bearing localities in the Burtele Kebele of Mille district in Zone One of the Afar Regional State.

The survey team collected a number of fossils that were exposed on the ground’s surface. In their exposed position, these specimens could be subjected to erosional forces and had to be collected before they were seriously damaged or destroyed. A total of 12 early hominid fossil specimens were discovered, including parts of one individual's skeleton. Portions recovered thus far include a complete tibia, parts of a femur, ribs, vertebrae, clavicle, pelvis, and a complete scapula of an adult whose sex and stature are yet to be determined, although it is already clear that the individual was larger than Lucy. In addition to this discovery, skeletal parts of other individuals were found in different localities in the area. These discoveries include isolated teeth, and elements from below the neck (arm bones, leg bones, phalanges). The non-hominid fossil assemblage includes animals such as monkeys, horses, large and small carnivores, a variety of antelopes multiple species of pigs, giraffes, rhinoceros, elephants, and deinotheres. Among small mammals, porcupines, cane rats, and other species of rats were discovered. The faunal assemblage also includes crocodiles, fish, and hippopotamus.

Story here.

Rhesus monkeys can assess the visual perspective of others when stealing food

Researchers Jonathan Flombaum and Dr. Laurie Santos, both from Yale University, have found that rhesus monkeys consider whether a competitor can or cannot see them when trying to steal food.

Working with semi-free-ranging rhesus monkeys on the island of Cayo Santiago in Puerto Rico, Flombaum and Santos set up a food competition game: Lone monkeys were approached by two human "competitors." Each competitor had a grape affixed to a platform by his feet. In each experiment, one of the competitors could see the monkey in front of them, but the other could not. For example, in Experiment 1, one of the competitors stood with his back to the monkey subject, while the other stood facing the subject. Monkeys in this experiment spontaneously chose to approach and steal a grape from only the competitor with his back toward the monkey. In five more experiments, the monkeys revealed similar preferences for an experimenter who could not see them, rather than one who could. Most notably, they reliably stole food from a competitor with only his eyes averted, rather than one facing perfectly forward, as well as an experimenter with a piece of cardboard over his eyes rather than one with cardboard over his mouth. Together, these results reveal not only that rhesus monkeys prefer to steal food from a competitor who cannot see them, but also that they know exactly how blocking or averting one's eyes can render one unable to see. Thus, even without any training, these monkeys were able to accurately consider the visual perspective of others when deciding from whom to steal.

Story here.

Friday, March 04, 2005

'Hobbit' fossil likely represents new branch on human family tree

Research on Homo floresiensis suggests differences between the brain of the 'Hobbit' and that of humans mostly focusing on the irrational fascination with round metal objects.

A fossil of a diminutive human nicknamed "the Hobbit" likely represents a previously unrecognized species of early humans, according to the results of a detailed comparison of the fossil's brain case with those of humans, apes and other human ancestors.

Skeptics had argued that the Hobbit, discovered in Indonesia and first announced last fall, could have been an individual who suffered from a disorder that limited brain growth known as microcephaly. The fossils' discoverers had suggested that the Hobbit was either a pygmy form of a known species or a previously undiscovered species of early humans.

The new data on the Hobbit reveal little similarity to microcephalics and pygmies and support the theory that the fossil is a member of a unique ancestral species, according to researchers who publish their results online this week in Science. Scientists at Florida State University; Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis; the University of New England, Australia; and the Indonesian Centre for Archaeology, Jakarta authored the new paper.

Australian and Indonesian archaeologists began to unearth the Hobbit in 2003 in a cave on the Indonesian island of Flores. Tooth wear on the fossil, which appears likely to have been a female, indicated that she was a full-grown adult at the time of death. But she stood only about 3 feet tall and had a brain approximately one-third the size of modern adult humans. Evidence suggests she may have lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.

The specimen came to be known as the Hobbit because her small size evoked the undersized protagonists known as Hobbits in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Story here.

"Skunk Ape" documentary makes its debut

oh yeah.

Make no mistake about it, Nate Martin wants to get it right. The young filmmaker is making sure by picking brains, asking questions, and seeking suggestions for his pet project, a 59-minute documentary entitled The Ochopee Skunk Ape.

In that quest, the native Marco Island resident invited a select audience of about a dozen friends into his home recently for a private screening of the film. He wasn't necessarily looking for kudos and applause - although he did receive those - rather he was seeking constructive ideas and recommendations to improve his product.

"This screening is more of a learning situation for me rather than a presentation," Martin said. "Anything that my audience can suggest in order to make the documentary even more professional I'll listen to. Believe me, I'm showing it this evening to feed my ego. I know there's still work to be done, and I welcome any input I receive tonight to achieve that goal."

Filmed in the heart of the lush Florida Everglades, the documentary centers around Dave Shealy, who has spent nearly his whole life looking for a creature akin to the Jersey Devil, The Abominable Snowman or Bigfoot which has its home in the Big Cypress Swamp. The film essentially enables the viewer to explore Shealy's evidence on the creature along with listening to eyewitness testimony.

Shealy, who also doubles as the Acting Mayor of Ochopee (pop. 11) has appeared on such national television shows as Unsolved Mysteries, The Daily Show, The Pulse, and Inside Edition. He has also written about his skunk ape adventures in The Enquirer, The Sun, Miami New Times, and Reader's Digest.

Story here.

Chimps critically injure sanctuary visitor

St. James Davis was critically injured when attacked by a flaming mountain of chimps waving torches and pitchforks.

A couple's plans for a birthday party for their former pet chimpanzee turned tragic when two other chimps at an animal sanctuary escaped from their cage and attacked. The man was critically injured with massive wounds to his face, body and limbs, and the attacking animals were shot dead.

St. James and LaDonna Davis were at the Animal Haven Ranch in Caliente to celebrate the birthday of Moe, a 39-year-old chimpanzee who was taken from their suburban Los Angeles home in 1999 after biting off part of a woman's finger.

Moe was not involved in Thursday's attack, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game.

The couple had brought Moe a cake and were standing outside his cage when Buddy and Ollie, two of four chimpanzees in the adjoining cage, attacked St. James Davis, Martarano said. Officials have not determined how the chimps got out of their enclosure, he said.

LaDonna Davis, 64, suffered a bite wound to the hand while trying to help her 62-year-old husband, Martarano said.

The son-in-law of the sanctuary's owner killed the attacking animals, Martarano said.

"He saw what was happening and had one kind of weapon with him and then got another he felt would be more substantial and shot them," Martarano said. "He pretty much saved a life."

St. James Davis had severe facial injuries and would require extensive surgery in an attempt to reattach his nose, Dr. Maureen Martin of Kern Medical Center told KGET-TV of Bakersfield. His testicles and a foot also were severed, Kern County Sheriff's Cmdr. Hal Chealander told The Bakersfield Californian.

Story here.

And The Winner Is...

The Wildlife Conservation Society Auction to name a species of monkey has come to a close, with the anonymous winning bid netting $650,000! Congratulations to the Madidi National Park for raising some needed funds.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Rare monkey suffers as protection is withdrawn

what me worry?

The fate of the critically endangered Tonkin snub-nosed monkey just got more desperate. With little notice and less explanation, two German conservation organizations have decided to stop funding anti-poaching patrols at two locations that are home to half the world's remaining population of between 100 and 300 individuals.

The monkey, Rhinopithecus avunculus, is one of the world's 10 most critically endangered primates. It is protected at two locations in northern Vietnam - Na Hang nature reserve and a proposed reserve called Cham Chu - by 30 wardens paid for by Münster Zoo and the Zoological Society for the Conservation of Species and Populations in Munich.

But with just one month's notice the organizations have pulled the funding, and money scraped together by Vietnamese local authorities to pay for the patrols will run out this month. A spokeswoman for Jörg Adler, the director of Münster Zoo, says, "The lack of interest and cooperation of local authorities gave conservation efforts in this region no reasonable chance."

Story here.

DeBarge claims Michael Jackson was up to some inappropriate monkey business with Bubbles

poor bubbles

The sex charges against Michael Jackson grow more bestial by the day.

Just when you thought the King of Pop's reputation couldn't sink any lower, it turns out Jackson's former brother-in-law James DeBarge has claimed the singer was up to some inappropriate monkey business with his chimp, Bubbles.

DeBarge, whose marriage to Janet Jackson was annulled in 1985, alleges that back when he was living with the Jackson family, he came upon an eye-popping sight.

"He was changing Bubbles' diapers and just got carried away," DeBarge said in a 1993 interview, which we've obtained. DeBarge added that during the alleged incident, Bubbles, who was "just a baby," "had a smile on his face."

The musician said, "Michael would call the trainer and have him bring Bubbles over to spend the night once in a while when he wanted some company."

Bubbles dropped out of sight several years ago, prompting rumors that Jackson's father, Joe Jackson, shot the chimp after he caught him in bed with his son.

But yesterday, California animal trainer Bob Dunn confirmed to us that the chimp was in his care.

"He's in his 20s," said Dunn, who still works with Jackson. "He's doing fine."

Story here.

Monkey Auction Update

Currently the high bid is at $110,000. With 7 hours left to permanently leave your moniker on the monkey world, and apparently Ellen Degeneres is about to jump into the monkey mayhem.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Gorilla Foundation Responds

It's only natural for a gorilla to be curious about human breasts, said Malinda Zeilinger, a retired Gorilla Foundation employee.

The Woodside-based nonprofit foundation, home to Koko, the 33-year-old gorilla famous for her sign-language skills, is being sued by three former employees claiming they were pressured by research director Francine "Penny" Patterson to expose their breasts to indulge Koko's fascination with nipples.

Nancy Alperin, 47, Kendra Keller, 48, and Iris Rivera, 39, are asking for about $1.5 million in damages.

The foundation denies the allegations, and in a telephone conversation Tuesday, Zeilinger dismissed the lawsuits as "laughable."

Zeilinger, who recently retired as the foundation's evening monitor, said the plaintiffs "weren't good employees" and overreacted to Koko's childlike curiosity.

"Sometimes I'd come to work with glitter on (my blouse), and she'd want to see what's under that," Zeilinger said. "If a little child comes up and looks under your skirt, you don't find that disgusting.

"It's not like anything gets filmed. It's not like there's a lot of men around," she added. "Most mature adults would just think, 'ho-hum.'"

Koko, who has displayed a maternal instinct with pet kittens, might also wonder if women are nursing under certain types of shirts, Zeilinger said.

Winnie Green, a San Mateo resident who volunteered at the foundation from 1987 to 1997 and continues to donate money, said she played racing and tug-of-war games with Koko but was never asked to bare her breasts. Nevertheless, she agreed the request indicated a healthy curiosity in the female gorilla.

"She's curious about why humans cover their chest when gorillas don't," she said. "There are no sexual implications whatsoever."

Green's primary concern is that the money raised for a 70-acre gorilla sanctuary in Maui will now be spent on fighting the lawsuits. According to tax reports, the Gorilla Foundation raises about $2 million a year.

Hertha Harrington, a Woodside resident who met Koko twice in the early 1990s during a campaign to halt logging near the 6-acre preserve, said she became disturbed by the gorilla's familiarity with humans and childish habits.

"This is not a gorilla anymore," she said. "She has lost whatever connection she had with being a wild animal."

Although the foundation has long nursed hopes that Koko will breed, her refusal to mate with two male companions by age 33 — four years younger than the oldest gorilla to give birth in captivity — indicates an identity crisis, Harrington said.

Koko's alleged interest in breasts could be the result of Patterson's efforts to "get Koko to think of herself as a sexual animal," she speculated. But the last time Harrington saw Koko, the gorilla's fascination was with two different areas of the human body. "She loved seeing pregnant women's bellies, and she was nuts for gold teeth," Harrington said.

Around town, Woodside residents who have never met their friendly neighborhood ape are scratching their heads over the "nipple fetish" allegations that have turned their exclusive suburb into an international punchline.

Jamis MacNiven, owner of Buck's Restaurant, said he had previously heard rumors of "disgruntled employees" at the Gorilla Foundation, but has only heard jokes about the latest news.

"Once you teach a gorilla to talk, they're going to ask for whatever they can get," he said, laughing. "I'm always inspired to get naked in front of a gorilla, but that's just probably me."

Story here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Monkey Auction Update

Currently the high bid is at $65,000. 2 Days and 8 hours left to permanently leave your moniker on the monkey world.

Retrovirus struck ancestors of chimps and gorillas millions of years ago, but not ancestral humans

The ancestors of chimpanzees and gorillas were infected with a deadly retrovirus about three to four million years ago, but there is no evidence it infected ancestors of modern-day humans, according to research by genome scientists. The virus struck after humans had split off the evolutionary tree from primates, researchers said. The infection may have played a role in the evolution of such great apes as chimps and gorillas. The research appears in the April issue of the journal Public Library of Science-Biology, which is available online on March 1.

Researchers studying portions of the genome containing 'retroelements,' also known as junk DNA, found many copies of a gene sequence in the chimp and gorilla genome that didn't appear anywhere in the human genome. They translated that genome sequence into its corresponding protein, and discovered that it was the remnant of a retrovirus, a type of virus that copies its genetic information into the host's genome. Evidence suggests that the 'retroelement' originated from an external retrovirus that actively infected ape species in the past.

"The reason retroviruses are so deadly, at the genetic level, is that they have a tremendous potential to mess up a gene and interfere with its expression," explained Dr. Evan Eichler, UW associate professor of genome sciences and co-author of the study. "That can have negative effects. It's a double-whammy: the virus infected and possibly killed off some of the population, but also caused genetic errors in survivors. Those errors would have later eliminated more of the population."

Story here.