Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Missing Circus Monkey Found

A missing circus monkey dressed in blue pants has been reunited with his owner.

A friend of trainer Philip Hendricks spotted two-foot-tall Dillion yesterday huddled in the roof area of a picnic pavilion at a park in Springdale, near Cincinnati.

Hendricks is part of the Hendricks Brothers Circus. He was concerned he wouldn't find his missing monkey before the circus leaves town Thursday.

Dillion fled into a nearby woods Monday after being frightened by a train whistle from tracks near where the circus was performing.

Hendricks says the monkey was damp and hungry when found, and seemed happy to see him.

Story here.

New baby Siamang for zoo

Life's laid back for a furry four-week-old - apart from the occasional upside down dangle from a five metre-high rope.

Western Plains Zoo's newest arrival - a tiny Siamang ape - swung into the world on July 30 and has been clinging tight to its mum's belly ever since.

A group of early morning walkers were the first to catch a glimpse of the baby Siamang, who has been named Chanee meaning 'Gibbon' in Thai.

Zookeeper Kia Bailey said the zoo had taken a "hands-off" approach with the baby because the parents - Puteri and Saudara - did such a good job in rearing their young.

"What's so distinct about these animals is how closely they are related to humans," she said.

"The mum will teach the youngster to walk when it becomes less dependent on mum - it's only just started to look around a bit now."

Story here.

The chimpanzee genome is unveiled

The genome of our closest living relative – the chimpanzee – has been released by an international consortium of scientists.

The chimp genome sequence, which consists of 2.8 billion pairs of DNA letters, will not only tell us much about chimps but a comparison with the human genome will also teach us a great deal about ourselves.

“The major accomplishment is that we now have a catalogue of the genetic differences between humans and chimps,” says lead author, Tarjei Mikkelsen of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US.

In keeping with previous studies comparing much smaller portions of the chimp and human genomes, the new comparison shows incredible similarity between the genomes. The average number of protein-changing mutations per gene is just two, and 29% of human genes are absolutely identical. What is more, only a handful of genes present in humans are absent or partially deleted in chimps.

But the degree of genome similarity alone is far from the whole story. For example, the mouse species Mus musculus and Mus spretus have genomes that differ from each other to a similar degree and yet they appear far more similar than chimps and humans.

Domestic dogs, however, vary wildly in appearance as a result of selective breeding and yet their genome sequences are 99.85% similar. So most of the differences between chimp and human genomes will turn out to be neither beneficial nor detrimental, in evolutionary terms.

Story here.

Plan Developed To Save Ape Population In Africa

A $30 million plan is being implemented by conservationists hoping to save the great apes of Africa under threat of extinction by man and disease.

According to conservationists, the western lowland gorilla and the central African chimpanzee are close to extinction due to the threats of poaching for the "bushmeat" trade, rampant logging, and the Ebola virus.

Experts are unable to formulate precise estimates for remaining ape numbers, but the consensus among conservationists is that they decline quickly.

The $30 million plan, drawn up by more than 70 experts and government officials, designates 12 sites in five countries: Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Central African Republic, and Equatorial Guinea.

Seven "exceptional sites" have ape populations exceeding 2,000 in a large area while five "important sites" have populations of 500 to 2000 in areas covering 1,219 to 9,011 square kilometers.

The plan will be executed over five years and target these sites for emergency programs intended to increase security against illegal hunting and logging and slow the spread of the Ebola virus.

Story here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Missing: 2 ft., 8 lb., monkey wearing blue pants

The bulletin issued by police in the southwest Ohio town of Springdale describes the subject as two feet tall, weighing eight pounds, clad only in blue pants and prone to sleeping in trees.

Dillion, a circus monkey, fled into a nearby woods early on Monday after being frightened by a train whistle from tracks near where the circus was performing in Springdale, in northern Hamilton County.

Trainer Philip Hendricks, who is part of the Hendricks Brothers Circus, says Dillion, who has a white face, brown body and is wearing a leash, is usually confident in new surroundings but the train whistle sent him scurrying.

The circus is leaving town Thursday morning and Hendricks is worried that his monkey won't be found before then.

Hendricks suggests that anyone who spots Dillion try to lure him with food. He's fond of apples, oranges, nuts, berries -- and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Story here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Monkey meat sold in city

KAMPALA City residents fond of eating game meat face the risk of catching deadly diseases including ebola.

In a press statement, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) warned that the game meat being sold in Kampala was a mixture of baboon, monkey meat and other game such as antelopes and buffaloes.

UWA’s head Moses Mapesa warned that diseases such as ebola were likely to crop up if people continued feasting on the bush meat.

He said a recent survey carried out by UWA officials against illegal hunting in the Kafu basin showed that baboon and monkey meat is mixed with that of antelopes and sold in areas as far as Kampala.

Kafu basin runs along river Kafu and goes through Masindi, Nakasongola, Luweero, Kiboga and Mubende districts.

Mapesa said because poaching, trade and consumption of game meat is illegal, most of the activities are done at night in slums or unlicensed places. He said consequently, registered veterinarians do not inspect the meat.

“UWA therefore warns the public against consumption of any wild animal meat. It is illegal, it is a health hazard and robs the country of foreign exchange through tourism,’’ the statement said.

Baboons are closely related to humans because they share over 90% of the genetic material. This close genetic relation increases the risk of spreading certain diseases.

“Baboons are closely related to humans and the cultural and ethical norms in Uganda do not
permit us to feast on our close relatives. It is therefore an abominable act,’’ Mapesa said.

Story here.

Monkeys escape massacre

Wildlife custodians in Himachal Pradesh had proposed an action plan to tackle the monkey menace by electrocuting, poisoning, shooting the simians, injecting lethal germs into them and subjecting females to hysterectomies.

The Union ministry for environment and forests has rejected the plan submitted by the wildlife wing of the state government and proposed its own alternative action plan. A senior ministry official described Himachal’s proposals as “outrageous and inhuman”.

The Supreme Court had last week directed states to reply to the ministry’s revised action plan for the control of stray animals, including monkeys, dogs, cattle and pigs, within four weeks.

A bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal, B.N. Srikrishna and P.P. Naolekar, hearing a batch of two public interest litigations, took on record the 46-page action-plan document to control monkeys first.

The document reveals that the Himachal wildlife wing’s plan called for sterilisation of male monkeys, surgical removal of the uterus of females, injecting lethal viruses and bacteria into the animals, poisoning them, injecting chemicals into them to render them infertile and permitting the shooting of monkeys.

The monkey population in Himachal is estimated to range from 60,000 to 200,000. The wildlife wing said orchards and farms should have electrified fences. It also proposed “export of monkeys” which, as a senior ministry official pointed out, is banned.

Story here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Barbary apes: threatened in Africa, flourishing in Europe

Barbary apes are threatened with extinction in their native habitat in north Africa, scientists say, but the species is doing well in Europe, and some have even been repatriated.

The challenge now, says Ellen Merz, a Swiss ethnologist who has been studying them since 1972, "is to protect them in their native countries and save the forests where they live there from felling and over-grazing".

"I hope we'll be able to save them," she said, "but it's not guaranteed."

Barbary apes, which in fact are monkeys, also roam Gibraltar, the British island off Spain.

In France, they have been living for 36 years at the Kintzheim reserve deep in the forest on the northeast border with Germany.

There are now 298 of them in the park, known as "Monkey Mountain," which covers 24 hectares (60 acres) of pines, firs, and oak and beech trees, and overlooks the half-timbered houses of the village of Kintzheim.

Story here.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Chimpanzees ape their peers when it comes to skills

Chimpanzees copy their peers just like humans, scientists have found.

Tests reveal that chimps not only ape each other, but surrender to peer pressure.

The research shows social conformity is common in chimp culture, as it is in human society.

Experts already knew chimpanzees lead a rich cultural life with different traditions unique to each community.

Some chimp populations, for instance, are adept at using sticks to capture tasty ants. Others have worked out how to crack open nuts with stone tools.

Until now it has not been clear how the apes pass on these behavioural traits.

British and United States scientists studied two chimpanzee groups at a primate research centre in the US.

First, a high-ranking female from each group was separately taught a different way to use a stick to retrieve food from behind a system of tubes dubbed "pan-pipes".

One female, Ericka, was taught to use the stick to lift an obstacle so the food fell towards her.

The other, Georgia, was instead trained to poke the "pan-pipes" so the food fell backwards and rolled into her hand.

Ericka and Georgia were then reunited with their respective groups, where they demonstrated their new skills to an appreciative audience.

Before long, the other chimpanzees were copying their two role models.

The problem proved too much for a third set of chimpanzees given the pan-pipes test without any tuition.

Story here.

City's mystery mammal not a monkey corpse

A dead animal found in a shipping container in Brockville last week is not a monkey as first believed.

Exactly what it is, however, remains unknown after tests taken at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.

"It's 18 inches long and it had a fur coat," said Dr. Robert Bourdeau, medical officer of health for Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, who is filling in locally while Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit MOH Dr. Charles Gardner is on holiday.

"We do not know what we are dealing with. It's not been identified species-wise. It's about the size of a small ferret."

In spite of that uncertainty, Bourdeau said the gruesome discovery at Black and Decker's distribution centre last Wednesday poses no threat to the population's health. He said merchandise held in the container since the discovery has been released because there are no reasonable grounds to suspect a risk.

"This animal left southeast Asia about two months ago. It was in a confined environment all the time so it probably died soon after. Three, four, five days, it's totally irrelevant."

He said the temperature of the 40-foot metal container being shipped overseas reaches more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) and the protracted heat would have killed any micro-organisms on the body.

"It doesn't matter if it's on the top or bottom of the pile. In the summer time it gets damn hot in those things."

Story here.

New treatment reduces severity of SARS in monkeys

An experimental treatment has reduced the severity of SARS in infected monkeys, according to the Maryland-based biotech company Intradigm Corp.

The treatment prevents SARS from infecting cells, and perhaps also from spreading, Intradigm researchers reported in the September issue of the journal Nature Medicine.

The first case of SARS appeared in November 2002. It infected more than 8,000 people around the world and killed about 800, including 44 in Canada and 350 in China. They died of pneumonia and lung failure, caused by the virus. The major symptoms included a very high fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath or breathing difficulties.

SARS was contained using quarantine and isolation. But experts fear another outbreak, and researchers have been steadily working towards vaccines to prevent it, and drugs to treat it.

Intradigm Corp., in Rockville, Md., set up business a year ago to start developing experimental treatments using what are known as "small interfering RNAs," or siRNAs.

These are short stretches of RNA - the genetic counterpart of DNA that actually functions in cells - specifically designed to interfere with certain genes.

Intradigm developed two siRNAs in an attempt to counteract two key genes in the SARS virus.

Then, working with colleagues in China, they put the siRNAs into the noses of 10 monkeys - some already SARS-infected, and some SARS-free. The researchers then infected the SARS-free monkeys. Another group of monkeys was treated with a placebo siRNA that had no activity against SARS, and other monkeys were untreated.

All the monkeys became sick, but those treated developed lower temperatures than untreated or placebo-treated monkeys. And only 25 per cent had detectable virus in their throats, less than the untreated or placebo-treated monkeys.

After the monkeys were killed and their lungs examined, the treated monkeys had fewer infected lung cells.

Story here.

Worldwide Call For Primate Testing Ban

Animal protection organisations from around the world, including the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, (BUAV), Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, (RSPCA), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, (PeTA), the Humane Society US, (HSUS) and the German Animal Welfare society have signed a pledge calling for Governments and regulatory bodies to develop an international strategy to end experiments on primates.

It was signed by all animal protection groups who attended the Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, in Berlin yesterday. It adds weight to the BUAV's Next of Kin primates campaign launched at the start of August, that aims to achieve a ban on primate testing across the Europian Union, (EU) and has the support of celebrities Heather Small, Alexei Sayle, sports presenter Helen Chamberlain, actress Jenny Seagrove and Norman Baker MP.

Around 10,000 primates are used every year for scientific experiments in the EU, and the UK is one of the largest users. At the last official count over 3,000 primates were used here (a rise of 20% on the previous year).
Story here.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Delhi goes ape over monkey menace

An unusually large group of Rhesus macaque monkeys, who seem to share the space with ministers and bureaucrats in New Delhi, are causing havoc at government offices.

The increasingly aggressive animals swing effortlessly between the offices of the defence, finance and external affairs ministries, and have even been spotted in the Prime Minister's office, government officials say.

The monkeys, who barge into government offices, stealing food, threatening bureaucrats, and even ripping apart valuable documents, are virtually unstoppable.

"My uncle was eating food in his car and had opened his window. It became so difficult for him and took him 45 minutes to finish his food. He was sweating so much while eating because the monkeys were climbing his car, sitting near his window and trying to extract food. Often they sit on seats of motorcycles and tear the seats away. It is a real nuisance for those who commute here daily," said Anand Kumar, a government employee.

According to rough estimates, there are at least 1500 monkeys scampering in and around the stately red sandstone buildings just a stone's throw from the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

But officials say there is little they can do to deal with the monkey menace at the North Block and the South Block.

Some years ago, former External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh had taken the lead to ward off the simian terror invading these offices and took on the services of the black faced "langur", an ape the monkeys seem to be mortally afraid of.

Other offices too have picked up the service since then. Langur keepers were hired as government employees and paid a sum of 5000 rupees per month for the apes' services.

"This is a simple and easy way out of the problem and it does not involve any bloodshed also. They run away at the mere sight of him," said Shyam who owns two Langurs.

The langur, monkey trainers say, scares the day light out of the smaller simian cousins like a neighbourhood bully.

A permanent solution, however, is still a long way to come, it seems.

Story here.

University of Wisconsin Records Show High Monkey Deaths

A study at the University of Wisconsin led to an unusual number of deaths and illnesses of rhesus monkeys in 2001 and 2002, internal school records show.

The UW memos were released Monday by the Primate Freedom Project, a group critical of animal research, which obtained them through an open records request.

The records show one monkey died while an attendant went to lunch during an experiment, and others were given drugs that had not been approved by a review committee at UW-Madison's National Primate Research Center.

University officials said the school took action against Ei Terasawa, a professor of pediatrics, after problems with her research surfaced. She was suspended from work on animals for two years, and the experiment in question, which was to study how monkeys' brains develop during menopause, was halted.

"It's one of the most severe actions that the committee has ever taken," said Eric Sandgren, chair of a university committee that oversees animal projects.

The school's primate research center is one of eight such federally funded centers.

The documents show an unusual number of monkeys died or were injured in 2001 and 2002 after being subjected to experiments in which needles were used to inject chemicals into their brains while they were confined in chairs. The precise number of monkeys that died was not disclosed in the records released Monday.

The most serious violation of protocol involved leaving the animals without supervision at least four times during the experiments, Sandgren said. The rules called for someone to be present at all times, and one of the animals died while the supervisor was at lunch, the documents show.

Another serious infraction involved injecting drugs into the animals that had not been approved, Sandgren said. Other violations included giving larger-than-approved doses of drugs, records show.

Story here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chimps show left hand preference

Wild chimpanzees can be left or right-handed just as humans are, researchers reported on Monday in a study that sheds light on the evolution of "handedness".

A study of 17 wild chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania shows that most preferred to use their left hands when fishing for termites, although they used their right hands for other tasks such as cracking nuts.

"Handedness runs in families of wild chimpanzees, with offspring hand use resembling the hand preferences of their mother," Elizabeth Lonsdorf and William Hopkins of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta wrote in their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Chimpanzees in captivity show a right-handed preference for some tasks, but researchers have wondered if this because they are raised by humans, who are mostly right-handed.

So Lonsdorf and Hopkins watched chimpanzees to see what happened in the wild.

"Termite fishing involves precision movements that require the chimpanzees to insert small sticks into holes in dirt mounds that contain the termites," they wrote.

They said their findings suggest that the beginnings of left-brain/right-brain splits associated with hand preference had already evolved 5 million years ago, before early humans separated from the ancestors of chimpanzees.

Story here.

UW Memos Describe Projects That Harmed Monkeys

Critics of animal research released internal records Monday detailing a questionable study at the University of Wisconsin.

Primate Freedom Project said the study led to an "unusual number" of deaths and illnesses of rhesus monkeys in 2001 and 2002.

The UW memos uncovered by the group show one of the monkeys died while an attendant went out to lunch during an experiment, and others were given drugs that had not been approved by a review committee.

Critics said such cruel and sloppy research methods must be stopped at UW Madison's National Primate Research Center, one of eight federally funded centers to study primates.

University officials said the memos show that the school took punitive action against Ei Terasawa, a professor of pediatrics, after problems with her research on monkeys' brains surfaced in 2003.

Story here.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Money-hungry capuchins are helping explain human behaviors

In recent studies, scientists tracked the behaviors of shoppers and investors as they spent money snapping up things on sale or investing in low-risk transactions.

And when these same consumers noticed that one shopper was getting a special deal, they reacted in a very human way: by flinging their money back in the seller's face in a righteous show of anger.

But these study subjects weren't human -- they were a troop of capuchin monkeys, native to the jungles of South America.

Scientists say the capuchins' "animal behavioral economics" are bringing new insights to everything from the stock market to the tit-for-tat reciprocity of daily human life.

"You can't explain everything that happens in economics by market forces -- you have to look at the human animal. And as soon as you look at the human animal, you notice that we have a lot in common with other animals, too," said Frans de Waal, a professor of psychology at Emory University and director of the Living Links Center at Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

Until fairly recently, economists believed the marketplace worked on a simple principle: everyone was out to maximize their own personal gain. But that theory doesn't quite fit with reality, according to Yale University primate researcher and professor of psychology Laurie Santos.

"For example, there's the curious problem of why humans don't put as much money into stocks as they do into bonds," she said. Over the long-term, stocks always outperform bonds, even though short-term dips in an individual stock's value are common. With stocks "you're more likely to look in your portfolio and say 'Oh, I lost $1,000 this month' -- even though you still make more money over the course of a year than you would with bonds," Santos said.

So why don't humans make the rational choice and play the stock market more?

The answer lies in the "reference point" -- an irrational habit that humans have of gauging economic performance against what happened yesterday or last month, or by the type of success or failure a neighbor might be having. Many economists have suggested that this illogical tendency is simply a product of human society, easily changed.

"Is this really the case?" Santos wondered. "Or is it something that's much more deeply ingrained?"

She turned to our primate cousins for help.

Working with a group of capuchins in her Yale lab, Santos and her colleagues first spent a few weeks training them to the concept of "money" -- in this case aluminum tokens that were exchangeable for food. "Even though we trained them, the monkeys spontaneously understood on their own that the market was 'fungible' -- that they could buy anything with the token -- grapes, apples, whatever was offered," she noted.

What's more, they also spontaneously latched on to the simple rules that drive the human marketplace. For example, if the researchers started swapping a token for one piece of apple but two grapes (essentially a "50 Percent Off All Grapes!" sale) the monkeys immediately chose to spend their money where it bought the most -- grapes. "It's what an economist calls a 'shift in consumption,'" Santos said.

The capuchins were also in tune with the "reference point." In one experiment, monkeys were given two options in spending their token: one researcher who offered just one piece of apple but sometimes rewarded the monkey with a "bonus" second piece; or a second researcher who initially showed the monkey two pieces but sometimes delivered just one apple slice in exchange for the token.

Either way, it was a gamble: the monkey was guaranteed at least one slice -- but might get two.

However, the capuchins overwhelmingly rejected transacting with the researcher who presented them with the two apple slices. The reason? "If they think they are going to get two pieces of apple, one piece just doesn't seem that great," Santos said. "But if they think they are going to get one piece, then getting two pieces seems really awesome."

This behavior -- a disproportionate fear of loss versus gain -- is exactly the reason humans prefer bonds to more lucrative stocks, she said. Her team plans to publish the study results soon.

Story here.

Use of apes in ads worries scientists

Scientists at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa have teamed with colleagues at several major zoos to oppose the use of apes and monkeys in advertisements and entertainment, because they say the animals often are abused.

Animal welfare groups have documented apes being shocked with prods and beaten with broom handles, tire irons, fists and hammers. For years, they have fought to expose and stop abuse. Now, with a growing contingent of scientists fighting the same battle, the issue is getting more attention.

"Many animals are kept in disastrous conditions," said Philippe Cousteau, president of EarthEcho International, a nonprofit conservation group. "It definitely elevates the debate to have respected scientists involved."

At the same time, ads featuring apes abound, and were among the most popular during last year's Super Bowl, according to several industry surveys. The Taco John's ads featuring Whiplash the Cowboy Monkey, which have run since May 2004, have been hugely popular, said Erin Fifield, who represents Taco John's at the Kerker ad agency in Minneapolis.

"People love him," Fifield said. "Whiplash has a fan base worldwide. He's just a lovable character who, even before he joined Taco John's campaign, was appearing at rodeos riding around on his dog. Since he joined Taco John's, sales are up and visibility is up."

Fifield said Whiplash's owners, a family in Dallas, treat the monkey as a family member. "This little monkey is treated better than most people," she said. "He has his own trailer. He's like another kid."

The Whiplash appearances on behalf of Taco John's are expected to continue another two years or more, Fifield added. "Someone will always find a reason to complain, but he is not abused," she said.

Private ape owners and trainers in the entertainment industry argue that their animals perform tricks for rewards and affection, not because of abuse.

But some scientists say even apes that are not beaten suffer harm, and they say ads featuring funny chimps and monkeys are increasing in popularity.

Story here.

Dead monkey sent to city lab for tests

A monkey corpse found in a container at a local plant in Brockville Wednesday is heading to Ottawa for testing.

Brockville police Insp. Adrian Geraghty said the corpse was discovered at the Black and Decker plant by an employee opening a container shipped from Thailand.

The worker called police, who picked up the carcass, sealed it and refrigerated it overnight.

"The chap who found it kept his wits about him. He called us to ask what he should do with it," said Geraghty.

Susan Healey, communications co-ordinator with the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit, said the corpse was then shipped to a lab in Ottawa.

"We've never experienced this before," Healey said, noting some tests will have to be done in the U.S. and will take some time.

Story here.

West Tennessee man offers $1000 to get his monkey back

A West Tennessee man is trying to get his monkey back and is willing to pay $1,000 for help in finding him.

A middle-aged monkey named "Ernie" left to a tree at a campsite in the Cherokee National Forest.

Markus Chady says he thinks someone stole Ernie and dumped him in south Knoxville, about 40 miles away.

Around 3 a.m. Thursday, a police officer reported seeing the monkey around the Mouse's Ear strip club on Alcoa Highway near John Sevier Highway.

That's where Chady and his friends are concentrating their search and posting fliers.

Story here.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Spider Monkey Photo Zen

A day-old female Red-Faced Black Spider monkey whose mother died after giving birth, is shown at the Estoril Zoo in Sao Bernardo do Campo, 30 Km (20 miles) south of Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2005. A contest will be held to name her.

From here.

Worst behaved at the Kabul Zoo - the humans

Inside a cage, a pair of mangy wolves rest on a bed of straw. Outside the cage, an Afghan amputee tries to stir up the action a bit, tossing stones at the animals. A crowd of Afghans gathers, and the amputee tries poking his crutch through the chain-link fence to see if one of the animals takes a bite.

A wolf sniffs the crutch and walks back to a cool spot in the straw. The crowd moves off to the next cage.

Afghanistan is a wounded country, after two decades of war, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise that the Kabul Zoo is wounded too. In fact, the only surprise should be that Kabul has a zoo at all.

Aziz Gul Saqib, the zoo director, walks around the zoo that he has managed for three months and shakes his head.

"The big problem with our country is that no one knows what to do with animals. The war has damaged their minds," he says, passing by an open pen for macaques, surrounded by a moat of filthy water filled with trash. "They stand here and throw stones, shoes, and even their hats at the animals. They fight with the animals, they don't come to just see the animals."

Generally speaking, the Kabul Zoo manages to struggle along quietly, attracting hundreds of visitors on weekdays and up to 5,000 on an average weekend. It's one of the few sources of entertainment, and a minor miracle in a country with many problems - an ongoing insurgency, opium trafficking, corruption, high infant mortality, lack of clean drinking water, just to mention a few.

But the Kabul Zoo came into the headlines recently when one of the zoo's primary donor of animals - the Chinese government - recently announced concerns about the safety of the animals it has already donated to Afghanistan. In the past year, one male bear and one deer have died, apparently from diseases and improper nutrition. Chinese authorities say they will not donate any more animals to Kabul until conditions improve.

Most of the zoo's 100 or so animals are native to Afghanistan. Foreign animal donations add some welcome diversity.

The death of the male bear has been a particular problem, says Dr. Saqib. Recently, the departed male's mate, Cece, went on a rampage, breaking out of her cage and killing a pig in a nearby open pen. Somehow zookeepers managed to coax her back in her pen without further incident. This was fortunate: The zoo has no tranquilizer guns to control larger animals.

Indeed, the zoo grounds, which span approximately two city blocks, don't even have a proper perimeter to keep out wandering herds of sheep and goats.

Saqib ticks off his list of things to do. He wants to:

• Refurbish the snake house and add large aquariums full of tropical fish.

• Reconstruct the elephant pen and replace the elephant that was killed by mujahideen.

• Rebuild the perimeter wall.

• And get another male bear for Cece before she breaks out again.

But the zoo has few funds for such projects. The admission fee is little more than a dime. Donations help. Last year, the North Carolina Zoo raised $500,000.

Saqib walks up to a low wall and peers down at an open pen where two Afghan bears are lounging in the sun. One big honey-colored bear is chewing on a piece of cardboard tossed into the pen by a visitor.

"Please see the water in the moat," Saqib says. "We change this water every two days, but people throw trash into the pen."

Saqib and other zookeepers have tried putting up signs to discourage bad behavior by zoo visitors, largely to no avail. One reads: "Dear citizens: The animals are creatures of God. While watching them, please avoid annoying or bothering them."

Just a few feet away, a crowd has gathered as an Afghan dangles a bag of peanuts in front of the waiting paw of a very chubby macaque. The monkey reaches, and the man pulls the bag back, but not fast enough. The monkey saunters away with his peanuts. Another monkey in the cage chews on a cigarette stub.

Story here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Madagascar reveals two new species of lemur

Madagascar, nicknamed the “8th Continent” because of its diversity of species, continues to reveal new secrets - and they do not get much cuter than this. Biologists have discovered two new species of lemur, endangered primates that are ancestral to monkeys and apes, and that exist now only on the island. The finds bring the total number of known lemur species to 49.

The first discovery was made when scientists analysed morphological, genetic and behavioural data from distinct populations of what they thought was the giant mouse lemur. Peter Kappeler, of the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, found that the populations were actually different species and named the new one Mirza zaza.

The second new species (pictured) is a mouse lemur, identified by morphological and genetic analyses by Robert Zingg of Zoo Zürich in Switzerland. It has been named Microcebus lehilahytsara. Surprisingly, it was discovered in Andasibe, a protected area on the east of the island that is considered one of the biologically best-known sites in Madagascar.

Story here.

Virus jumps from primate to man

The monkey temples on the resort island of Bali are a perfect photo op for tourists feeding bananas to man's closest relative, but most visitors are likely unaware they're at risk of contracting a little-known retrovirus recently found to jump from primates to people in Asia.

Simian foamy virus, called SFV, has not been known to cause disease, but a recent study triggers questions about its potential to possibly sicken people in the future just as scientists believe the HIV virus evolved decades after it jumped species.

In a study conducted at a popular monkey temple in Bali, lead researcher Lisa Jones-Engel of the University of Washington's National Primate Research Center in Seattle sampled 82 people working in or near the Sangeh temple just north of Denpasar. One farmer, who was bitten and scratched by macaques, tested positive for SFV, becoming Asia's first known case.

"This is really a marker," Jones-Engel said in a telephone interview. "The virus itself doesn't give us complications right now, but it speaks to the context and the mechanisms for transmission."

She said SFV is commonly found in many primates -- 89.5 percent of the 38 macaques tested at the monkey temple were positive -- but has not been known to cause disease in animals. However, little research has been conducted on how widespread it is among humans or its long-term effects. So far, only about 40 people are known to carry the virus, including African bushmeat hunters and zoo and lab workers in North America.

Story here.

Gorilla attack spurs 3 suits

The escape of a 350-pound gorilla at the Dallas Zoo last year may cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars as it defends itself against three lawsuits.

The lawsuits all claim that the city was negligent because it made little attempt to sedate or recapture the gorilla quickly and did not have a tranquilizer gun ready. They also say the city created an "unreasonable risk of escape" by "providing an inadequate enclosure to confine wild and dangerous gorillas."

The plaintiffs say the rampage has not only cost them tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills but also has caused long-lasting emotional trauma for them and their families.

"My son, Rivers, has regressed a lot," said Amos Heard, whose 3-year-old son and wife were injured in the March 2004 incident. "Before, he was all boy. He loved to wrestle, just to run, throw rocks, climb trees. Outgoing, you know. Shortly after, he just wasn't himself. He cried a lot. He slept with us every night."

Story here.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Elgin Monkey Hunt Continues

Police in Elgin continue their hunt for an elusive monkey reported to be roaming in wooded areas in the far west suburbs.

A 4-foot-tall monkey or chimpanzee has been sighted more than once in recent days, NBC5's Lisa Tutman reported Thursday.

Tatiana Williams, 15, was still a bit unnerved Thursday morning by what she saw at around 11 p.m. Sunday near her home.

"It was a monkey," she told Tutman. "(It was) brown, or like tan. It was a monkey sitting on the slide."

Williams said the monkey did not appear to see her and just sat quiet and stil on the playground equipment. The teenager, on the other hand, moved quickly, running from the scene to tell her mother what she had seen.

"I thought she was playing, because me and a couple of my friends were sitting out here, and she was like, 'Mom, I just seen a monkey,'" Jennifer Williams said. "She said it was a monkey and I was like, 'Are you sure?'"

Police say that they've received several similar reports since Sunday, including one Thursday morning three miles from the playground where Williams spotted the primate.

There have been at least six police searches through wooded areas in Elgin since Sunday, Tutman said.

"Last night, our animal control officers and a couple of other officers were actually out in nightvision gear walking through the woods to see if they could find this animal, mostly because the information we had received indicated that the animal was mostly seen late night, late hours," said Lt. Cecil Smith, with the Elgin Police Department.

"So, they were out in the woods late last night until 2 o'clock this morning," he added.

Tutman pressed Smith.

"Have you given any thought to the possibility that this may just be a really short, hairy guy?" she asked.

"Well," he replied, "anything's possible, but we're going on the premise that it's a chimpanzee or a monkey."

Story here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Hong Kong monkeys seen rescuing injured companion

A monkey knocked down by a motorcyclist in Hong Kong was bravely rescued by fellow simians, press reports said on Thursday.

A group of monkeys ran out and retrieved the injured creature moments after it was run down Wednesday by the 45-year female rider, the South China Morning Post and Chinese newspapers reported.

The monkeys pulled their companion, apparently still alive, into undergrowth at the side of the country road.

The rescue bid appeared to be in vain, however, as a dead monkey was later found nearby, the reports said.

The motorcyclist, who was thrown from her bike in the collision, needed medical treatment for injuries to her right wrist and elbow.

About 20 monkeys are killed every year in traffic accidents in the southern Chinese territory, the report said, citing agriculture chiefs. However, it is not uncommon for them to take injured or dead companions away from danger due to the tight-knit nature of their living groups, it added.

Story here.

Monkey Cloning Next?

“There seems to be an end to animal cloning in sight. Only monkeys are left to go.”

A team led by Professor Hwang Woo-suk succeeded in cloning dogs for the first time in the world. Other than humans, monkeys have become the only animal left to be cloned.

Since the birth of the cloned sheep Dolly in 1996, scientists around the world have competed in cloning livestock useful to humans, pets, and laboratory animals. Until now, a total of 12 kinds of species including 11 kinds of mammals, and one kind of fish have been cloned.

Professor Lee Byeong-cheon of the team that experimented to clone dogs said, “The cloned animals in the early stages of cloning include animals whose basic information such as mating season and ovulation period are acquired in abundance by people. Among the animals that are worth cloning but have yet to be cloned are dogs and monkeys that are useful as human disease models.”

Professor Gerald Schatten at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine announced in October last year that he successfully planted 135 cloned embryos in the wombs of 25 female monkeys with the help of Professor Hwang, but failed to impregnate them.

Before the success of Professor Hwang, it was considered impossible to clone dogs as well as monkeys.

Story here.

Primate sightings in Chicago area

Some suburban Chicago residents believe there's some monkeying around going on in their community.

Police in Elgin say there have been at least three reported sightings of what callers said they believed was a monkey or primate of some kind.

Lieutenant Cecil Smith says police have conducted searches in the area themselves but have so far found no signs of a monkey.

Police received the first call reporting the alleged mystery animal on Sunday from a resident of the Buena Vista Apartments on Elgin's southwest side.

Later reports described the same three- to four-foot tall brown and black animal.

Police say they're continuing their search.

Story here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Petition calls for total ban on primate experiments

Campaigners dressed as monkeys in pinstripe suits were at Downing Street yesterday to hand in a petition calling for a total ban on primate testing in Britain.

Carrying briefcases and umbrellas, and wearing bowler hats on top of huge monkey heads, they delivered 163,000 signatures to Tony Blair.

The cumbersome outfits proved too much of a security risk and police made the protesters wait outside the gates to Downing St, leaving the task of delivering boxes of signatures to the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

"It is profoundly sad in the 21st century that we are still conducting these experiments on highly intelligent creatures," said Mr Baker, MP for Lewes, east Sussex. "There are alternatives that are both more humane and reliable. You can't extrapolate from experiments on primates to humans, it is simply bad science."

The Next of Kin campaign was organised by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, which claims many primate experiments are liable to cause "pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm".

Home Office figures for 2003 show that more than 3,000 non-human primates were used in experiments in the UK. Studies suggest some toxicology procedures lead to nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy, unsteady gait and death.

Story here.

Mojo finds new home in the sun.

Mojo, the monkey who became a celebrity after escaping from Belfast Zoo, is to be sent to a new home in South Africa.

The Colobus monkey fled after an "argument" with his dad in June but returned to his enclosure a week later.

After his return, it was decided that the fall out with his father, Tommy, could not be reconciled.

Mojo and his six brothers will now join the large monkey colony at South Africa's Induna Primate and Parrot Park.

Belfast Zoo manager Mark Challis said it was time for the young male monkey to "strike out on his own and form his own troop".

Story here.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Escaped monkeys threaten San Juan

When hordes of monkeys began invading Puerto Rico's agricultural fields, devastating crops and eluding capture, the major concern was trapping them before they reached urban areas, where they would pose a public health hazard and be nearly impossible to round up.

Fear is turning to outrage. Authorities recently acknowledged a clan of these pesky moneys, escapees from defunct medical research laboratories along Puerto Rico's southern coast, has turned up just 20 minutes outside metropolitan San Juan — home to 1.5 million residents and a virtually unlimited number of hiding places.

"It would be very bad if these monkeys got to San Juan," said Jose Chalbert, director of Puerto Rico's Department of Natural Resources, an agency that recently proposed capturing the wild monkeys because they carry diseases.

"I don't even want to think about having to trap monkeys there," Chalbert said, adding that funding for his $3 million effort to trap the monkeys is being held up amid all the fighting going on in the legislature.

Primates are not native to Puerto Rico. But the island has been home to a species of monkey dating back to the 1950s when scientists brought them here for medical experiments. The animals — descendants of the patas and rhesus monkeys that escaped from medical-research labs — are known to be fertile and aggressive. Mature monkeys can weigh up to 50 pounds, and it's estimated the monkey population in southeast Puerto Rico stands at between 1,000 to 2,000 — and it's growing every day.

Story here.

European database planned after spate of zoo thefts

European zoo authorities say they plan to set up an international database to register animals that are being stolen in growing numbers to feed demand from private collectors and unscrupulous dealers in the exotic pet trade.

The call for a Europe-wide computerised inventory follows a spate of thefts of animals in France over the last year including flamingoes, parrots, wallabies, monkeys, birds of prey and even penguins.

In 2004 several British zoos were targeted by thieves looking for small monkeys such as marmosets and tamarinds. Some 40 animals were taken before the break-ins abruptly stopped -- giving rise to speculation that the criminals were filling an order from an anonymous mastermind.

Story here.