Monday, October 31, 2005

Chimp Haven Opens To Eager Public

After 10 years and $10 million, the general public got its first look at Chimp Haven.

Friday's invitation only ribbon cutting ceremony gave way to the public today for the 200 acre sanctuary in south Caddo Parish.

Chimp Haven is a permanent home for 31 chimpanzees retired from biomedical research, entertainment, or no longer wanted as pets.

Folks got to see how the chimps live and interact in their new habitat. "It's just neat to watch them, they're just like us," said visitor Paulette Lorance. "One of them gathered all the food she could, she eats a lot, she's very big. It was just neat to watch them interact and just watch their mannerisms."

The group of 31 will be joined by more than 100 chimpanzees in the coming year, pending completion of the second phase of construction.

Ultimately, the sanctuary will host a total of 200.

Story here.

Orangutan urine collector voted #10 of the worst jobs in science

"Have I been pissed on? Yes," says anthropologist Cheryl Knott of Harvard University. Knott is a pioneer of "noninvasive monitoring of steroids through urine sampling." Translation: Look out below! For the past 11 years, Knott and her colleagues have trekked into Gunung Palung National Park in Borneo, Indonesia, in search of the endangered primates. Once a subject is spotted, they deploy plastic sheets like a firemen's rescue trampoline and wait for the tree-swinging apes to go see a man about a mule. For more pee-catching precision, they attach bags to poles and follow beneath the animals. "It's kind of gross when you get hit, but this is the best way to figure out what's going on in their bodies," Knott says.

Knott analyzes fertility through estrogen and progesterone levels, and weight gain or loss through ketone measurements. DNA is extracted from the orangu-dookie, and stress levels can be measured by cortisol in the urine. The goal is to understand great-ape reproduction, and because of her unique urine-collection method, Knott isn't limited to visual observations, as previous researchers have been. She has documented, for example, that female orangutans' reproductive-hormone levels surge during periods when they are eating more. That timing is critical for the apes, which reproduce only around every eight years. It's also highlighted how vulnerable the animals are to extinction, and that's why, when she's not sampling urine, Knott is working to conserve the rain forest.

Story here.

Monkeys show vaginal gel may provide a new approach to HIV prevention

Research with female monkeys at the Tulane National Primate Research Center has for the first time shown that three different anti-viral agents in a vaginal gel protect the animals against an HIV-like virus. The research suggests that a microbicide using compounds that inhibit the processes by which HIV attaches to and enters target cells could potentially provide a safe, effective and practical way to prevent HIV transmission in women, according to study investigators. The study, published online October 30 in the journal Nature was funded principally by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health.


To test the microbicides, the Tulane team first gave the monkeys a long-acting hormonal form of birth control (Depo-Provera) to synchronize their menstrual cycles and thin the vaginal membrane, which increases susceptibility to virus infection, Veazey says. During testing, researchers placed the experimental gels in the animals' vaginas. Thirty minutes later, the animals were exposed to high-dose SHIV.

The three inhibitors were each effective when used alone and also when tested in combination. Of 20 monkeys given the BMS and Merck microbicides in combination, 16 were protected from infection. All three monkeys given the triple combination of microbicides remained virus-free. None of the monkeys experienced vaginal irritation or inflammation from the experimental gels.

"We felt these inhibitors were likely to be pretty safe. Compounds similar to them have a good safety record in humans, at least so far," Veazey says.

"This study demonstrates that combination microbicides are feasible," says NIAID Director Anthony Fauci. "We need to build on these promising animal studies and move toward establishing the safety and effectiveness of combination microbicides in women."

Story here.

Ebola Threatens Apes In Africa

Because it causes massive internal bleeding, Ebola Haemorrhagic Fever has reached iconic status as a particularly devastating illness. The mystery surrounding Ebola has grown in part beacause the disease often fails to appear for years, or even decades, and then suddenly breaks out in seemingly arbitrary locations.

A new study by researchers from the Max Planck Insitute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Emory University in the United States, published in the journal PLoS Biology (November 2005), has shown that the outbreaks of the highly virulent Ebola Zaire virus are in no way random.

They are part of a wave of infection which has spread gradually across central Africa over the last three decades. This discovery offers new optimism about the possibility of controlling the effects of the Ebola virus on humans, as well as in highly endangered gorillas and chimpanzees.

In the study, genetic data from the virus were used to plot the spread of the Zaire strain across central Africa over the last three decades. Ebola Zaire has not only killed about 80 percent of human patients, but also tens of thousands of western lowland gorillas. It has thus become a major threat to the survival of apes in Africa.

Story here.

Orang-utans Go Ape in Tesco

Two life-size orang-utans will go shopping in Tesco today (Saturday 29th October 2005) to highlight how the UK supermarket is threatening the survival of their species. The action will be just one of 90 protests against Tesco around the country to raise awareness of the plight of the orang-utan.

The apes are at risk because rainforests in South East Asia are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, with palm oil now found in one in ten supermarket products in the UK.

Friends of the Earth wrote to Tesco, Britain's biggest supermarket, at the beginning of 2005 and asked them to trace their palm oil and adopt minimum production standards. But Tesco refused. Their failure to act means that Tesco shoppers are unwittingly contributing to rainforest destruction and the extinction of Asia's only great ape.

The orang-utans be supported by Friends of the Earth campaigners around the country talking to shoppers about the threat posed to the orang-utan by Tesco [1]. Research published by Friends of the Earth last month found that the species could face extinction within just 12 years unless urgent action is taken to prevent their habitat being destroyed [2].

Story here.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scientist makes monkey of Hobbit

Proving she still stirs scientific minds, the tiny new human unearthed in Indonesia has been accused of walking on all fours and swinging through the trees.

According to Dutch palaeontologist Gert van den Bergh, the long arm bones and oddly oriented shoulders of homo floresiensis mean the "Hobbit" and her kind moved more like macaque monkeys and gibbon apes than the modern people with whom they shared their island as recently as 12,000 years ago.

"This could be an adaptation to the inhospitable and rugged island of Flores, where the largest coastal plain is just 15km wide. The larger part of the island consists of very steep mountain sides," said Dr van den Bergh, an expert on ancient animals from Southeast Asia, based at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research at Texel.

But Australian palaeoanthropologist Peter Brown dismissed the Dutchman's theory. "Gert would get a fail grade in first year anthropology," he snapped.

"This is complete nonsense," claimed Professor Brown of the University of New England in Armidale. Professor Brown analysed the first 18,000-year-old remains discovered by an Australian and Indonesian team in December 2003, reporting the find in the journal Nature last October.

Dr van den Bergh's view is also ruffling scientific feathers because he made the case in a popular Dutch science magazine, Natuurwetenschap & Techniek, not a peer-reviewed journal.

And Dr van den Bergh is the fossil animal expert for the Hobbit discovery team, co-led by UNE archeologist Mike Morwood.

Professor Morwood was unimpressed: "It's unfortunate such speculation has been made before detailed studies are complete."

Story here.

Suit Settled Over Chimpanzee Bite

A lawsuit has been settled between a woman who claims a chimpanzee bit off two of her fingers last fall and the Wild Wilderness Drive Thru Safari in Gentry.

The settlement amount was not disclosed.

Carol Baker filed the suit in Benton County Circuit Court, saying she suffered permanent injuries, disfigurement and scarring, medical bills, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life and earning capacity.

According to the suit, Baker was being paid to feed the wild animals. On Oct. 9, 2004, she was getting ready to feed a chimpanzee when the animal reached through the bars of its cage, grabbed her clothing and pulled her inside. It grabbed her left arm and hand and "bit off much of her hand, including two fingers," the suit stated.

The safari failed to warn of a known hazard, failed to reasonably protect "third-party business invitees" from a known and foreseeable hazard, and failed to maintain a wild and dangerous animal in a manner that would protect innocent third parties from injury, the suit stated.

The suit sought compensatory damages, costs and attorneys' fees, and was filed by attorney G. Chadd Mason of Fayetteville.

In its answer, the safari admitted Baker was bitten by the chimp -- but said the injuries were caused by her own contributory negligence.

"A chimp can be a wild animal, but it is denied that this particular chimp was a wild animal," the safari responded through its attorney, James Crouch of Springdale.

Story here.

NSPCA to euthanase primates

The lives of hundreds of baboons and vervet monkeys hang in the balance. This after the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) decided to euthanase primates handed in by the public for care because of injury, disease or because they are simply regarded as pests. Conservationists are condemning the option of euthanasia.

According to Nema (National Environmental Management Act 10 of Dec 2004), baboons and vervet monkeys are recognised as protected species. Both species share the same threatened status as the white rhino.

"It takes a very long time for these primates to be released, finding places where these people can take these primates is problematic," said Rick Allan, a manager of the National Wildlife Unit.

Rehabilitation centres overpopulated
Annually, close to 200 sick and injured primates are admitted countrywide. The NSPCA says Limpopo's three rehabilitation centres are over-populated, with some 3 000 primate species.

Bob Venter, a primatologist at the Riverside Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Limpopo, says there is no record of primate overpopulation, and the SPCA is ill-informed about conservation laws. It is believed that the primates might be extinct within ten years.

Story here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Chimps fall short on friendship study says

You can tell a lot about someone from how they treat their friends. As the results of a study of captive chimpanzees seem to show, our ape cousins are only in it for themselves.

The study, led by Joan Silk of the University of California, Los Angeles, looked for evidence that chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) will help other members of their group. But the apes seem to be indifferent at best to the welfare of their fellows.

Silk and her colleagues presented captive chimps with an apparatus that allowed them to get food by pulling on one of two ropes. Choosing one of the ropes meant that the chimp could haul in a tasty titbit. Selecting the other yielded exactly the same reward, but another chimp in an adjacent cage also received a morsel to eat.

Given that the chimp in charge got the same food reward regardless of which rope was selected, one might expect them to have shown some compassion and chosen the one that gave food to their companion too. "All they had to do was be nice," Silk says.

But the 29 chimps tested were no more likely to choose the generous option than the selfish one, Silk and her colleagues report in this week's Nature1. This shows that the apes are not motivated to help others as a matter of course, they conclude.

Story here.

Patience Takes Different Forms, Shaped By Ecology

Across the animal kingdom, individuals face choices between patience and impulsivity. A classic case, confronted by all animals--humans included--is that between a small, immediate food reward and a delayed, but larger, reward. In such cases, impulsivity typically trumps patience as individuals fail to delay gratification. But what factors influence these decisions? Researchers have gained new insight into this question by showing that the particular ways in which animals exhibit patience and impulsivity differ from one context to another and may be closely related to the animals' ecological niches and their everyday interactions with the natural world.

Comparing two monkey species with very different food-gathering strategies, the researchers show that the species exhibit differing propensities toward patience and impulsivity, depending on the context of the choice being made--for example, whether the trade-off for reward is temporal (waiting for a reward) or spatial (traveling for a reward). The work is reported by Jeffrey Stevens, Marc Hauser, and colleagues at Harvard University.

Earlier work by others had demonstrated that two species of New World monkeys--cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus) and common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)--behave impulsively, only waiting between eight and twenty seconds to receive a threefold increase in food reward. Those results also showed a significant species difference: Marmosets waited almost twice as long as tamarins for the larger reward. This pattern is consistent with each species' foraging adaptations: Marmosets primarily feed on tree exudates, a food that requires the patience to wait for sap to exude, whereas tamarins feed on insects, a food that requires quick, impulsive action. Yet it had been unclear whether this impulsivity depended on context.

In the new work, the researchers tested whether these same two monkey species act impulsively "over space" as well as over time. The scientists found that when faced with a choice between a smaller, nearby reward and a larger, more distant reward, tamarins were willing to travel farther than marmosets--therefore, tamarins act more impulsively over time, but marmosets act more impulsively over space. Like the temporal impulsivity data, the new findings parallel details of each species' ecology. Tamarins range over large distances to feed on insects, whereas marmosets range over shorter distances to feed on tree exudates, a clumped resource. These results show that impulsivity is context specific, shaped by a history of ecological pressures.

Story here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Monkey-brain section scans provided by

We are providing for free use a high resolution histological atlas of the rhesus monkey brain. The first generation atlas has been prepared from three, celloidin-embedded rhesus (Macaca mulatta) brains, serially sectioned at a thickness of 40 microns in the frontal (coronal), sagittal or horizontal planes and stained by the Nissl stain.

For the first iteration of the atlas, we have uploaded images of the series of frontal sections, scanned at 2,666 D.P.I., and presented at approximately 800 micron intervals through the brain. The sections contain fiduciary marks obtained by inserting electrodes into the brain at defined stereotaxic coordinates before perfusing the animal. Two horizontal tracks were made at Horsley-Clarke coordinates: horizontal 0.0 and +10.0 mm, both at lateral 5.0mm; two vertical tracks made at AP +25.0mm and AP 0.0mm, both at lateral 10.0mm.

The images are best opened in Photoshop® in order to preserve the capacity to turn the layers on or off. Each consists of four layers: a layer containing the image of the histological section, registered to its neighbors on the basis of the fiduciary marks; a layer consisting of one vertical line at lateral 5mm, and two horizontal lines at horizontal 0mm and +10mm; a layer of type showing the AP position of the section and labeling of key structures using a standard abbreviation system; a template layer giving the outlines of the section and of the larger grey and white matter components.

From Via Boing Boing

Primate group files suit

A special-interest group committed to ending primate testing for scientific research filed a lawsuit with a Madison property owner Oct. 18.

The Primate Freedom Project is taking legal action against Roger Charly — owner of Budget Bicycles — after he agreed to sell the land between two University of Wisconsin campus facilities collectively known as the “The Primate Buildings” and then withdrew from the agreement in favor of a larger offer from a university-affiliated development company.

PFP is seeking to use the land to build a primate-research exhibit “illuminating the inhumane practice of using primates in scientific research” on the property. The land is situated between the National Institutes of Health’s Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and the University of Wisconsin Harlow Primate Laboratory.

Story here.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Hospital team tries to save a chimp - from human flu

He was just a kid and even the best medicine couldn't save him.

Despite a heroic rescue effort by off-duty Wellington Hospital intensive care staff, Wellington Zoo's youngest chimp, Bahati, has died of pneumonia after a human flu outbreak.

The mischievous four-year-old was one of several chimps struck down by flu, but was much worse off than the rest. By last Tuesday, he was lying down, struggling to breathe, zoo vet Kerri Morgan said.

A chest X-ray revealed their worst fears – he had pneumonia.

"There was a whole lot of pus and mucous stuff in the airways. We knew we were in a bit of trouble."

That night his heart stopped. But the zoo staff fought to keep him going, using cardiac massage and injecting adrenaline into his heart.

But by the Wednesday morning it was clear they were out of their depth. "It was pretty scary. We decided we needed help."

They had to insert a tube into Bahati's airway and needed a ventilator to help him breathe.

Enter Wellington Hospital intensive care staff.

Responding to the pleas for help, ICU head Peter Hicks and two senior nurses assessed Bahati and ferreted around the hospital for old intensive care gear.

Dr Hicks and seven ICU nurses gave up off-duty time to care for the sick chimp. Even the smallest things were a challenge – finding a power and oxygen supply and a table the right height for the patient.

Though it was surprisingly like caring for a sick child, there were some important differences, Dr Hicks said. "We had an interesting conversation over how you wake up a chimp. They said: 'You get the equipment out of the room, take the tube out, run out and wait.' That's not quite the same as people."

Chimpanzees are up to 10 times as strong as humans, and the most dangerous animals in the zoo.

Though the ventilation and antibiotics cleared Bahati's lungs, it became apparent when he was waking up on Friday that he had severe brain damage from the period when his heart stopped. The vets decided to put him down.

Story here.

Hindu monkey god Hanuman stars in India's first animated feature film

While movie stars often achieve mythical status in film-crazy India, Hanuman, the star of India's first animation feature film, is a genuine deity drawn from the Hindu pantheon.

Over the years, India's burgeoning animation and special effects industry has cut its teeth working for foreign production houses drawn to South Asia by lower costs. But "Hanuman" is its first full-length, homegrown animation feature.

In promotional clips being aired on Indian TV, Hanuman - in an orange loincloth, gold armlets and anklets, with his long hair held in place with gold beads - wields a mace as he battles fire-breathing dragons and ferocious demons.

"Hanuman is like a super-superhero. We have tried to go beyond Superman," director V.G. Samant said on Thursday. "Which superhero can leap up and touch the sun or move mountains with one hand?"

Samant, along with about 60 animators and researchers, studied Hindu scriptures for more than two years to adapt them to celluloid for the 90-minute film, being released on Friday in India in Hindi- and English-language versions.

Story here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Federal probe clears Sequoia Park Zoo of wrongdoing for Bill's escape

Following an investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture into Bill the chimpanzee’s escape from the Sequoia Park Zoo last week, the zoo was cleared of any wrongdoing.

On Oct. 7 Bill’s cage was opened. At approximately 10:45 p.m. a resident approximately one-and-a-half blocks from the zoo phoned police to alert them that Bill was in his backyard.

Although police and zoo officials will not release exactly how 59-year-old Bill was freed, they confirmed that it was as a result of vandalism.

Shortly after he escaped, Eureka police officers and three zoo officials responded.

“He came right up to me and I knelt down and he … sniffed (me) and put his arms around me and we just sat there,” said Jan Roletto, Bill’s primary keeper. “He groomed me and he (made) some vocalizations.”

After spending a few minutes calming him down, Roletto lead him back to the zoo, stopping with him when he wanted to look around.

“They didn’t find us at fault at all,” said Gretchen Ziegler, the zoo’s curator and supervisor.

She said the USDA was also “complimentary regarding the zoo’s successful recovery efforts.”

During its investigation, USDA investigators also looked into complaints made by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regarding the zoo’s security precautions and why Bill lives in “isolation.”

“They just shared the complaint with us and then they investigated those two complaints and we discussed all those issues with (them),” Ziegler said.

The USDA is aware of Bill’s housing situation and has been in multiple discussions with the zoo about it.

“Bill is a retired circus chimp and as a result of that environment has had very little social interaction with other chimps,” a USDA report stated. “He has demonstrated social aggression toward conspecifics in the past but interacts with zoo personnel and zoo visitors on a daily basis. His social needs are not being taken lightly by the zoo staff and discussions of what and how to provide Bill with needed socialization are ongoing. Enrichment is provided and changed regularly to provide mental stimulation.”

Story here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

New Insight Into Kanzi and How a Great Ape Acquired Language

A new book authored by scientists at Great Ape Trust of Iowa delivers additional insight into the acquisition of language by the most famous bonobo chimpanzee in the world, Kanzi. Kanzi's Primal Language: The Cultural Initiation of Primates into Language was written by William Fields and Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh of Great Ape Trust and Dr. Par Segerdahl of Uppsala University of Sweden.

Kanzi's Primal Language offers important new knowledge into how culture and language interlace in early childhood by showing how Kanzi originally acquired language when he was a young ape -- spontaneously in a culture he shared with humans.

"Kanzi's language acquisition overthrows the theoretical framework in which people have tried to imagine what it means for a child to develop language -- it is neither innate nor learned through training or imitation," says Fields. "Language is a spontaneous companion to how one tangibly lives and serves as a reflection of the ideational system that emerges as an aspect of cultural ontogeny and development. You don't teach the brain language any more than you teach the brain to think."

Published by Palgrave Macmillan, Kanzi's Primal Language will help the scientific community, and the general public, better understand the similarity between humans and apes -- similarities that extend even to language.

"We should never think in limiting terms what anyone can do, whether it's an ape or a human," says Fields. "If you provide apes every opportunity to fully express themselves, and early enough in their lives, they will do things you thought they wouldn't or couldn't do."

Story here.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Monkey tail bounty pays Shs2,000 in Koome, Uganda

LOCAL authorities in Koome sub-county have started buying monkey tails at Shs2,000 each. The move is geared at getting rid of monkeys, which have destroyed people's crops in the area.

The area Chairperson, Mr Patrick Mukasa Nagambye, told journalists on Thursday that following the government's failure to assist them in fighting the monkeys, the council had put aside Shs2 million to be given to residents who kill them.

"We give out Shs2,000 to each person who kills a monkey and brings us its tail and people are doing a very good job. We receive at least three tails per day," Nagambye said. He said monkeys had failed the government's National Agricultural Advisory Services (Naads) programme in the area.

"They have destroyed our Naads model garden. These monkeys have greatly hindered the government's plans to uplift the living standards of our people through Naads," Nagambye said.

Nagambye said the money to be used in this exercise was secured from the government's programme of Plan for the Modernisation of Agriculture.

Story here.

Monkey study shows your brain may remember even if you don't

We often make unwise choices although we should know better. Thunderstorm clouds ominously darken the horizon. We nonetheless go out without an umbrella because we are distracted and forget. But do we? Neurobiologists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies carried out experiments that prove for the first time that the brain remembers, even if we don't and the umbrella stays behind. They report their findings in the Oct. 20th issue of Neuron.

"For the first time, we can a look at the brain activity of a rhesus monkey and infer what the animal knows," says lead investigator Thomas D. Albright, director of the Vision Center Laboratory.

First author Adam Messinger, a former graduate student in Albright's lab and now a post-doctoral researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. compares it to subliminal knowledge. It is there, even if doesn't enter our consciousness.

"You know you've met the wife of your work colleague but you can't recall her face," he gives as an example.

Human memory relies mostly on association; when we try to retrieve information, one thing reminds us of another, which reminds us of yet another, and so on. Naturally, neurobiologists are putting a lot of effort into trying to understand how associative memory works.

One way to study associative memory is to train rhesus monkeys to remember arbitrary pairs of symbols. After being shown the first symbol (i.e. dark clouds) they are presented with two symbols, from which they have to pick the one that has been associated with the initial cue (i.e. umbrella). The reward is a sip of their favorite fruit juice.

"We want the monkeys to behave perfectly on these tests, but one of them made a lot of errors," recalls Albright. "We wondered what happened in the brain when the monkeys made the wrong choice, although they had apparently learned the right pairing of the symbols."

So, while the monkeys tried to remember the associations and made their error-prone choices, the scientists observed signals from the nerve cells in a special area of the brain called the "inferior temporal cortex" (ITC). This area is known to be critical for visual pattern recognition and for storage of this type of memory.

When Albright and his team analyzed the activity patterns of brain cells in the ITC, they could trace about a quarter of the activity to the monkey's behavioral choice. But more than 50 percent of active nerve cells belonged to a novel class of nerve cells or neurons, which the researchers believe represents the memory of the correct pairing of cue and associated symbol. Surprisingly, these brain cells kept firing even when the monkeys picked the wrong symbol.

"In this sense, the cells 'knew' more than the monkeys let on in their behavior," says Albright.

Story here.

Scientists scratch heads over tool-using gorillas

An infant gorilla in a Democratic Republic of Congo sanctuary is smashing palm nuts between two rocks to extract oil, surprising and intriguing scientists who say they have much to learn about what gorillas can do -- and about what that says about evolution.

It had been thought that the premeditated use of stones and sticks to accomplish a task like cracking nuts was restricted to humans and the smaller, more agile chimpanzees.

Then in late September, keepers at a Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International sanctuary in this eastern Congo city saw two-and-a-half-year-old female gorilla Itebero smashing palm nuts between rocks in the "hammer and anvil" technique, considered among the most complex tool use behaviours.

"This is a surprising finding, given what we know about tool use in gorillas," Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund primatologist Patrick Mehlman said earlier this month at his Goma office.

Mehlman said that the finding indicates that complex tool use may not be a trait developed only by humans and chimpanzees, and could have its origins earlier in the evolutionary chain, among ancestors common to both humans and our closest relatives the great apes.

Story here.

Japan returns monkey fossils to Bolivia

Eight rare fossils of an extinct monkey considered the oldest ever found in South America, have been returned to Bolivia by Japan.

The fossils, borrowed by a Japanese researcher 10 years ago, have been in storage at Kyoto University.

The monkey was a small tree-borne primate, Branisella Boliviana, which lived in South America roughly 26.5 million years ago, and grew to just 14 centimetres.

The fossils were found in 1967 at the Salla site about 90 kilometres southeast of La Paz by Yugoslav palaeontologist Leonardo Branisea.

They were returned to Bolivian authorities in a ceremony at Bolivia's foreign ministry.

Story here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

PETA can show video, but can't infiltrate one firm's lab

An animal-welfare group that accused a New Jersey-based biomedical company of abusing monkeys after a spy shot videos at a company lab has agreed to not infiltrate the company's operations for five years.

In deal made public Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will continue to be allowed to show a video of what the organization claims is mistreatment of monkeys in the Vienna, Va., lab of Covance Co.

Mary Beth Sweetland, director of research and investigation for Norfolk, Va.-based PETA, called the Oct. 5 deal "a complete victory."

"Covance tried to stifle the video that we took in the laboratory showing monkeys being choked and strangled in its labs and failed," she said.

The video is posted at a PETA Web site.

"This resolution achieves our key goals of the lawsuit: to obtain a ban on infiltration and to demonstrate that Covance will not tolerate such unlawful acts by those who seek to block important biomedical research," James Lovett, a Covance lawyer, said in a written statement. "The strength of our case enable us to achieve these goals quickly via this settlement."

In a lawsuit filed in June, Covance attempted to force PETA to hand over all copies of notes and videos made by spy Lisa Leitten. PETA has agreed to hand over the notes and footage but was allowed to keep showing the video now on the Web site.

Covance had accused PETA and Leitten of committing fraud, conspiring to harm its business and violating a nondisclosure agreement Leitten signed when she began her 11-month stint as a primate technician at the Virginia lab in April 2004. The company said PETA had launched "vile disinformation campaigns against pharmaceutical research companies."

As part of the agreement, Leitten also agreed not to infiltrate any commercial animal research firms. Sweetland said that part will be easy: Leitten does not want to spy again.

Story here.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Dead body, monkey intestines seized by border officials

Monkey intestines and an embalmed body are among items seized by New Zealand border officials, costing guilty travellers millions of dollars in fines.

The instant $200 fines have added more than $6 million to Crown coffers since being introduced in 2001 as the country's biosecurity authorities react to increasing pressure on New Zealand ports, a Christchurch daily newspaper reported today.

Biosecurity has been thrown into the spotlight in recent months as the country unwillingly becomes host to more exotic pests.

The latest invader, the didymo alga or "rock snot", has spread through pristine waterways, threatening New Zealand's reputation as a prime fishing destination.

Biosecurity New Zealand figures show about a third of travellers nabbed were Kiwis returning home. Europeans were caught almost as often, comprising about 20 per cent, while Asia and the Middle East, North America and Australia each contributed about 10 per cent of total fines.

Biosecurity NZ spokesman Phil Barclay said after inspection the embalmed body was allowed to enter the country.

But the 47kg of plant material packed into the coffin was destroyed. Monkey intestines were a delicacy in some Asian countries, he said.

Since 2001, the number caught has dropped from 9198 to 8618 travellers annually.

Story here.

Chimps are More Hostile in Groups

There does appear to be strength in numbers, including among chimpanzees. New research has found that chimps in the wild tend to be more aggressive when they travel in large groups.

Chimps live in societies made up of groups of affiliated cliques. Periodically, some members of these groupings, mostly males, silently gather together and leave in an orderly, single-file line to patrol the boundary of their territory. These chimp patrols have long been known to attack, beat and sometimes even kill neighboring chimps they encounter. But the reasons for the attacks are unclear.

John C. Mitani of the University of Michigan and David P. Watts of Yale University collected data about a community of about 150 chimps in Ngogo, Kibale National Park, in Uganda between 1999 and 2003. On patrol days, researchers found that a larger number of males gathered together than on non-patrol days. The addition of each individual to the group increased the odds of a patrol by 17 percent, the researchers reported in an upcoming issue of the journal Animal Behavior.

"The take-home of all of this is that male numbers seem to matter, they find strength in numbers in doing this behavior, and they find strength in making these attacks," Mitani said.

Chimps are humans' closest living relatives, and it's rare for other mammals to attack their neighbors. But Mitani said he was hesitant to draw any analogies between human and chimp behavior:

"I think it is difficult to make any general conclusions about what this says about human behavior."

Story here.

Cameroon bids to win back apes from S.Africa zoo

Cameroon is launching a bid to negotiate the return of four endangered gorillas whose fate has infuriated wildlife protection groups since the animals were smuggled via Malaysia to a South African zoo.

A Cameroon government delegation was travelling from the Central African country to South Africa on Monday to try to win the release of the young Western Lowland gorillas, dubbed the "Taipeng Four" and smuggled out three years ago.

The gorillas were smuggled via Nigeria to Malaysia's Taipeng Zoo in July 2002, then shipped to South Africa's Pretoria National Zoological Gardens two years later.

Cameroon says the move violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"As a member of CITES, South Africa is required to ensure that illegally confiscated animals are returned to their country of origin," Mary Fosi, senior adviser to Cameroon's Environment Ministry, told Reuters at the weekend.

"South Africa feels the Cameroon government has never really requested the repatriation of the gorillas officially," she said.

"This is why a delegation is travelling to South Africa to stress that these gorillas belong to Cameroon and they need to come back to their natural habitat."

Story here.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Ancient anthropoid origins discovered in Africa

The fossil teeth and jawbones of two new species of tiny monkey-like creatures that lived 37 million years ago have been sifted from ancient sediments in the Egyptian desert, researchers have reported.
They said their findings firmly establish that the common ancestor of living anthropoids -- including monkeys, apes and humans -- arose in Africa and that the group had already begun branching into many species by that time. Also, they said, one of the creatures appears to have been nocturnal, the first example of a nocturnal early anthropoid.

The researchers published their discovery of the two new species -- named Biretia fayumensis and Biretia megalopsis -- in an article in the October 14, 2005, issue of the journal Science. First author on the paper was Erik Seiffert of the University of Oxford and Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Other co-authors were Elwyn Simons and Prithijit Chatrath of Duke University, William Clyde of the University of New Hampshire, James Rossie of Stony Brook University, Yousry Attia of the Egyptian Geological Museum, Thomas Bown of Erathem-Vanir Geological in Boulder, Colo., and Mark Mathison of Iowa State University. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation. Field work in Egypt was facilitated by the Egyptian Mineral Resources Authority and the Egyptian Geological Museum.

The researchers discovered the fossils over the course of the last few years at a site called Birket Qarun Locality 2 (BQ-2) about 60 miles southwest of Cairo in the Fayum desert. BQ-2 has only been systematically excavated for about four years, said Seiffert, in contrast to a much younger Fayum site, called L-41, which has been explored for the last 22 years by Simons and his colleagues.

"BQ-2 and surrounding localities have tremendous potential, which is exciting because they are so much older than other Fayum sites," said Seiffert. "There will certainly be much more information about early anthropoid evolution coming out of BQ-2 over the next few years." The sediments at BQ-2 lie nearly 750 feet below those of L-41 and were dated at around 37 million years old by measuring telltale variations in magnetic fields in the sediments due to ancient fluctuations in the earth's magnetic fields. According to Simons, other anthropoids exist at BQ-2 and will soon be described,

The latest fossils of the new species consist of tiny teeth and jaws, whose shapes yield critical clues about the species whose mouths they once occupied. For example, a tooth root from the species Biretia megalopsis is truncated, indicating that it had to make room for the larger eyesocket of a nocturnal animal.

"These finds seem to indicate that Biretia megalopsis must have had very large eyes, and so was likely nocturnal," said Seiffert. "This has never been documented in an early anthropoid. The simplest explanation is that Biretia's nocturnality represents an evolutionary reversal from a diurnal ancestor, but that conclusion is based solely on the probable pattern of relationships. If down the road we find out that our phylogeny was wrong, Biretia could end up being very significant for our understanding of the origin of anthropoid activity patterns."

Story here.

Chimps talk to each other while eating

Chimpanzees may not talk like humans, but they understand the language of lunch.

Researchers have found that chimps make different calls when given different kinds of food.

High grunts denote a highly prized treat, such as bread, and low grunts food of low value, like apples.

Other chimps seem to know exactly what the calls mean.

When scientists played recordings of the noises to a chimpanzee at Edinburgh Zoo, he searched in the appropriate places for the food in question.

Researcher Katie Slocombe, from the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said: “This is the first demonstration that chimpanzee calls function to refer to the nature of discovered food and these calls are meaningful to fellow animals.

“It shows that, by simply listening to each other’s calls, chimpanzees can infer what kind of food the caller has found.

“Our focal animal adjusted his foraging behaviour on the basis of the calls he heard.”

The scientists are planning further studies to test how specific the calls are - whether they refer to “bread” and “apples”, or merely high and low value foods.

Story here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

PETA questions Bill the chimp's well-being, files complaint with USDA

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Agriculture regarding the welfare of Bill the chimpanzee.

On Thursday night Bill’s cage was opened. At approximately 10:45 p.m. a resident who lives approximately one-and-a-half blocks from the zoo phoned police to alert them that Bill was in his backyard.

Although police and zoo officials will not release exactly how 59-year-old Bill was freed, they confirmed that it was as a result of vandalism.

The complaint sent to Robert M. Gibbens, Western Region director of the USDA’s animal care program and animal and plant inspection service, questions the zoo’s security precautions as well as why Bill lives in “isolation.”

Although the complaint was sent to the USDA and local media, Gretchen Ziegler, curator and supervisor of the Sequoia Park Zoo, said the zoo has not been notified.

“That’s kind of typical of this organization that they don’t tend to communicate with the object of their dissatisfaction,” she said.

Lisa Wathne, captive exotic animal specialist and author of the letter, said PETA has no reason to alert the zoo of its complaint.

“We wouldn’t see any point in doing that,” she said.

“It seems apparent that the zoo’s perimeter fence did not prevent the alleged entry of vandals onto zoo grounds, nor did it prevent Bill from leaving zoo grounds once he was out of his cage,” the letter stated. “Also, it is unclear why Bill is allowed to be kept isolated when the Animal Welfare Act recognizes that primates are highly social and require companionship of conspecifics.

“It seems apparent in this case that the zoo failed on both accounts,” Wathne said. “The fact that his keeper was able to lead him back to his cage is obviously a good thing. (But) the fact of the matter remains he was out, and by being out, his life was put at serious risk … and certainly the public safety was put at risk because no one knew how he was going to react to that situation.”

Story here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

More Flores 'Hobbits' fossils found

Scientists have discovered more remains of the strange, small people that once lived on Flores island, Indonesia.
The announcement last year detailing a single, partial skeleton caused a sensation when it was claimed to be a human species new to science.

Homo floresiensis, as it was called, was little more than a metre tall and lived 18,000 years ago.

Now, the same team tells Nature journal it has skeletal remains from at least nine of the "Hobbit-like" individuals.

The new discoveries include missing parts of the old skeleton - designated LB1 after the caved dig site at Liang Bua - and a collection of other bones, such as jaw and cranial fragments, a vertebra, arm and leg bones, toes and fingers.

The team, led by Michael Morwood from the University of New England, Armidale, Australia, says the specimens have helped build a more rounded picture of LB1, with additional evidence of the little people's hunting and fire-making abilities.

The researchers say they are now more convinced than ever that Homo floresiensis represents a distinct species and not some diseased individual of modern human (Homo sapiens)as some sceptics have suggested.

Story here.

Monkey house needed for baboons

Eight monkeys rescued from a Portuguese zoo which closed 12 years ago, have secured a place in a primate sanctuary in the Swansea valley.

The Olive Baboons and Green Monkey have been kept in a temporary enclosure in Portugal since the zoo closed.

But the conditions are not ideal for the primates and exotic animal specialist Peter Heathcote from Newport is working to bring them to the UK.

He is trying to raise money for a new enclosure to be built for the monkeys.

"The sooner we can get the money, the sooner we can build the enclosure and get them into much better conditions," he explained.

He said that the primates are currently in an enclosure which is cramped and does not offer them enough stimulation.

Story here.

Mojo's dad has two new babies

The father of Belfast Zoo's famous monkey escapee, Mojo, has added two more babies to his family.

Tommy, who came to Belfast from Krefeld Zoo in Germany eight years ago, is now the proud father of 21 monkeys - following the birth of two new Colobus monkeys in the last few months.

The keepers haven't been able to catch the energetic newcomers - who like to play with the rest of the family - to find out what sex they are, so they have not been named yet.

Both the two mothers and babies are doing well.

Tommy, who is 11 years of age, made the headlines recently when one of his sons, Mojo, escaped from Belfast Zoo in June.

He was on the loose for about a week.

Story here.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Bill the chimp escapes, scares neighbohood watch

An escaped chimpanzee is back at the Sequoia Park Zoo after a jaunt through a residential area that provided quite a sight for the Neighborhood Watch.

Bill wandered off Thursday night after vandals cut a hole in his cage, officials said.

The Eureka Police Department received a call about 10:45 p.m. from a neighbor who said the chimp was in a backyard on Glatt Street. Zoo staffers arrived with police to take Bill home.

"He was extremely stressed and excited," said zoo supervisor Gretchen Ziegler. She said changes to zoo security would be made immediately.

The 59-year-old chimp came to the Sequoia Park Zoo from a European circus in July 1957.

Story here.

Scientists offered animal research haven in Africa

Scientists intimidated by the growing wave of animal rights extremism across Europe are being offered a home in Africa.

Researchers in Britain, in particular, have warned that vital medical research is being dropped in the face of firebombs, intimidation and day-to-day harassment.

But the Institute of Primate Research in Nairobi is opening its doors to an expected research exodus. The move angered animal welfare groups, which warn that western scientists must not be allowed to escape the ethical standards of their countries.

Professor Emmanuel Wango, director of the institute, believes his country can offer world-class facilities free from the intimidation that exists in Europe and the United States.

However, Jean Gilchrist, of the Kenya Society for the Protection and Care of Animals, said:

"We are not happy with this proposal.

"If animal experiments are to be done - and we believe that alternatives should be used when possible - then these should be very, very strictly controlled."

Story here.

Baby chimp dies at Honolulu Zoo

Baby chimp dies at Honolulu Zoo HONOLULU (AP) - A chimpanzee at the Honolulu Zoo died shortly before her first birthday after contracting pneumonia.

Zoo officials says Anuhea was born October 14th, 2004 -- the sixth child of her 34-year-old mother, Boo.

Anuhea didn't develop at a normal rate, but appeared to be healthy.

She was separated from her mother about two weeks ago, after Boo showed little interest in her.

The chimp was found to have rickets and was being spoon fed, but became weaker and showed little interest in food. She deteriorated and died Monday.

Story here.

Shock the Monkey!

The famed National Institute for Training in Industrial Engineering (NITIE) at Powai had an unusual visitor on Friday morning. An injured female monkey that got the 'shock' of it's life when it got entangled in the wires of a transformer in the NITIE campus.

This is the second such incident in the same place. Around eight months ago, another monkey was killed following electrocution at the very same place in the NITIE campus.
However, this monkey was luckier than it's predecessor, for NITIE staff immediately alerted a volunteer from Karuna, an NGO working for animals.

"Earlier, Karuna had helped us treat an injured cow that had strayed into our campus. So, I called them for help again," said T N Lingayat, a driver in NITIE's transport department, and an animal lover.

"When the monkey got trapped in the wires, there was a short circuit. As a result, the monkey received a high-voltage shock and fell down unconscious," said Bipin Dedhia, a Powai resident and a volunteer for Karuna, who rushed to the spot with an ambulance.

"The adult female monkey was separated from its family. The electric shock has caused some nerve damage, as a result of which it is unable to move its right paw and right hind leg. But the damage is temporary, it will recover in three days," said Dr Mangesh Mate, Karuna's veterinary specialist. And after that, volunteers from Karuna plan to release the monkey at Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai's green solution to 'concrete' problems.

Story here.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Scopes Monkey Trial PLAY to Be Performed in Nashville

What would it have been like to have been in the Rhea County, Tenn., courtroom during the summer of 1925 to witness William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow argue Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes? Theatergoers will have the opportunity to experience it for themselves when Great Performances at Vanderbilt presents The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial on Oct. 19 and 20.

“The trial of the century” took place 150 miles from Nashville in Dayton, Tenn., and 80 years later it is still the subject of intense debate as school systems across the country argue what can be taught about the origins of life.

The first court case broadcast on American radio, it prompted discussion in living rooms around the nation about whether evolution was scientific fact or only a theory. A recent resurgence of interest in the case has resulted from the debate over the teaching of “intelligent design” in public schools.

Great Performances will bring the national tour of this play by Peter Goodchild to Nashville, with a professional troupe featuring Ed Asner, John de Lancie and Alley Mills. Goodchild’s docudrama is adapted from the actual transcripts of the trial that transfixed the nation in 1925. Joining the cast for the Nashville dates is Jason Scott Dechert, a Vanderbilt theater major, who will play a student called to testify in the trial. Nashville is the first stop outside California for the tour of this production by L.A. Theatre Works, renowned for its radio plays.

The play anchors a three-day arts residency program at Vanderbilt, which also features an “Actors’ Talk Back” event with members of the cast who will discuss their craft and a forum about the enduring Scopes trial controversy. Both are free and open to the public.

Story here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

A Moment of Monkey Painting Zen

From here.

Monkey studies show how depth motion is tracked

When you jaywalk, your ability to keep track of that oncoming truck despite your constantly changing position can be a lifesaver. But scientists do not understand how such constant updating of depth and distance takes place, suspecting that the brain receives information not just from the eye but also from the motion-detecting vestibular system in the middle ear.
In studies with monkeys reported in the October 6, 2005, issue of Neuron, Nuo Li and Dora Angelaki of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have demonstrated how such depth motion is updated and strongly implicated the vestibular system in that process.

In their experiments, the researchers trained the monkeys to perform memory-guided eye movements. The animals were first shown a light a fixed distance away from their head. Then the researchers flashed one of eight other, closer "world-fixed" target lights. Next, with the room lights turned off, the monkeys were moved either forward or backward and the fixed-distance light flashed, signaling the monkeys that they should look at where they remembered the world-fixed light had flashed. Finally, the room lights and target light were turned on, so the monkey could make any corrective eye movement to the re-lit target. For comparison, the researchers also conducted experiments in which the monkeys were not moved.

Such an experimental design using passive motion enabled the researchers to study depth-tracking in the absence of any clues the monkeys might have gleaned from their own motor movements--leaving vestibular system as the most likely source of information.

Story here.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Chain-smoking chimp kicks the habit

A chimpanzee in a Chinese zoo has successfully kicked a 16-year smoking habit after becoming hooked when two spouses died and her daughter left, state press said on Monday.

Ai Ai, a 27-year-old chimp at the Qinling Safari Park in northern China's Shaanxi province, ended her tobacco dependency when zoo keepers put her on a strict regime that included walking, music therapy and exercise sessions, Xinhua news agency said.

"In the first few days, she squealed for cigarettes every now and then, but as her life became more colourful, she gradually forgot about them altogether," one zookeeper was quoted as saying.

"She's served fried dishes and dumplings at every meal, alongside her usual diet of milk, banana and rice," he said, "I also put earphones on her so that she could enjoy some pop music from my Walkman."

According to the report, Ai Ai became a smoker in 1989, shortly after her first spouse died.

She started demanding more and more cigarettes after her second spouse died in 1997 and her daughter departed to another zoo, it said.

The report did not say why zookeepers started giving the animal cigarettes, or whether they faced punishment.

China is the world's largest cigarette consumer, with education about the dangers of tobacco not widely known. China has lax laws protecting the rights of animals.

Story here.