Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Monkey gene chip may help researchers

University of Nebraska Medical Center researchers have helped to develop a new tool - based on the genes of a monkey - that could accelerate the work of researchers studying AIDS, brain diseases and fertility.

The tool is a gene chip, a kind of genetic decoder ring that can help researchers more quickly and efficiently decipher when and where genes are expressed, or turned on, in the rhesus macaque.

That's important because the monkey is a close genetic relative of humans and one commonly used in the study of human disease and development. By studying the monkey's genes, researchers can determine how diseases work and devise new ways to treat them.

"This will make important research go faster," said Robert Norgren, an associate professor in UNMC's department of genetics, cell biology and anatomy and the project's lead researcher.

Norgren and his team worked with colleagues in Oregon to put together the genetic information needed for the chip. The final product, a thin cartridge about the size of Apple's Ipod Nano, was developed by Affymetrix, a Santa Clara, Calif., gene technology firm.

The research was funded through $2.25 million grant from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Similar chips already are available for humans and rodents. But until now, Norgren said, researchers studying macaques had to look at one gene at a time, a process that could take hundreds - even thousands - of experiments to complete.

The gene chips contain "probes" for all 20,000 of the monkey's genes; probes are small pieces of DNA that can detect individual genes.

The chips allow researchers to analyze samples and determine which genes are turned on or off under certain conditions and how much they're on or off.

Story here.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Women drop sexual harassment suit against gorilla's caretaker

Two women who claimed they were pressured to show their breasts to Koko, the famous gorilla who communicates with humans through sign language, have dropped their sexual harassment lawsuit after reaching a settlement agreement earlier this week.

Former gorilla caretakers Nancy Alperin and Kendra Keller asked for more than $1 million in damages in their sexual discrimination and wrongful termination suit filed in February against the Gorilla Foundation — the Woodside, Calif. nonprofit charged with Koko's care — and Dr. Francine Patterson, the foundation's president and Koko's primary caretaker.

Attorneys on both sides declined to comment on the terms of the settlement agreement.

Story here.

Vietnam Birdlife survey team finds rare primate

During a recent survey to prepare for the establishment of Bac Huong Hoa Nature Reserve in Vietnam's Quang Tri province, a team from the BirdLife in Indochina Programme and the local forest department proved how important this kind of work can be for all types of biodiversity – when they discovered a new population of globally threatened primate.

Twelve Hatinh Langurs Trachypithecus francoisi hatinhensis were discovered living on a limestone cliff in the survey area. The local Van Kieu minority people call the species 'Con Cung', which roughly translates as "black, cliff-dwelling monkey with a long tail".

The actual number of Hatinh Langurs present in the area is thought to be considerably higher than twelve, as inclement weather and a lack of time prevented more intensive searching.

Story here.

Like humans, monkeys speak with accents

To the untrained ear monkeys of a certain species may all sound the same, but Japanese researchers have found that, like human beings, they actually have an accent depending on where they live.

The finding, the first of its kind, will appear in the December edition of a German scientific journal Ethology to be published on December 5, the primate researchers said on Tuesday.

"Differences between chattering by monkeys are like dialects of human beings," said Nobuo Masataka, professor of ethology at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute.

The research team analysed voice tones of two groups of the same species of primates, the Japanese Yakushima macaque also known as Macaca fuscata yakui, between 1990 and 2000.

One group was formed by 23 monkeys living on the southern Japanese island of Yakushima, and the other group comprised 30 descendants from the same tribe moved from the island to Mount Ohira, central Japan, in 1956.

The result showed that the island group had a tone about 110 hertz higher on average than the one taken to central Japan.

Monkeys on Yakushima Island have an accent with a higher tone because tall trees on the island tend to block their voice, Masataka said.

"On the other hand, monkeys on Mount Ohira do not have to gibber with a high tone as trees there are low," he said.

"Each group adopted their own accent depending upon their environment."

This suggests differences in voice tones are not caused by genes, Masataka said, adding the results "may lead to a clue to the origin of human language."

Story here.

Neurologists say orangutan recovering well

An 11-year-old orangutan named Allie from the Denver Zoo is recovering from a viral neurological disorder in her legs at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa.

Zoo officials thought the orangutan would benefit from the equipment and social setting at Great Ape Trust, where it has shown significant progress since arriving a month ago, The Des Moines Register reported.

Trust scientist Robert Shumaker said the primate is once again showing good mobility.

"She can go anywhere, anytime," Shumaker said, adding the orangutan is scampering about the three-story building's network of suspended fire-hose "vines," ladders, platforms and grates.

Orangutans use their arms to bear most of their weight, so the animal's still-recovering legs have been enough to help her move around, he said.

Story here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Monkeys feast at the annual Lopburi monkey banquet

As a party, it was a disaster: almost all of the guests of honor were too frightened to make an appearance. Those that came ate and ran.

But the monkeys aren't known for their good manners, to the delight of hundreds of tourists who converged Sunday in Lopburi for its 17th annual monkey banquet.

The party is thrown by local hotelier Yongyuth Kitwatananuson, who is thankful for the business the monkeys bring his city, which is 70 miles (112 kilometers) north of Bangkok.

The long-tailed macaques are regarded as disciples of Chao Pho Prakarn, a four-armed deity whose likeness is enshrined in the heart of the town. With such status, they are given free rein -- often to the despair of human residents.

Story here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Chimp Dies On Way From Metrozoo To Busch Gardens

Criticism against Miami Metrozoo is increasing after reports that a chimpanzee died while en route from Metrozoo to Busch Gardens in Tampa.

According to the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, the chimpanzee died on Nov. 8 while on its way to Busch Gardens with two other chimps, which survived the trip from Miami Metrozoo.

The chimp that died, Kutosha, was 7 years old.

The ARFF alleges that the chimps were not accompanied by a caretaker, something the group insists is a violation of the animal welfare act. Metrozoo said this allegation is wrong, NBC 6's Jeff Burnside reported.

Metrozoo said the cause of Kutosha's death has not yet been determined.

Story here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

First Baby gorilla born at Busch Gardens by caesarian

There’s a new member of the gorilla family at Busch Gardens Tampa.

A baby male gorilla was born on Friday at the theme park’s zoological hospital. The baby was delivered via Caesarian after the mother, 33-year-old Kishina, was noted experiencing difficulties over several days.

The baby is being cared for by Busch Gardens’ veterinary and animal care staff until reintroduction can be made. Assisting Busch Gardens with the birth were medical professionals from the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital.

It is the first gorilla birth at the Tampa adventure park in its 46-year history. The birth brings to seven the number of gorillas in the park’s Myombe Reserve habitat, a 3-acre rainforest environment opened in 1992.

Story here.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Roman Catholic monkey blessing turns out controversial

Some well-intentioned monkey business involving a Roman Catholic church in Columbia had been called off.

St. Catherine Catholic Church had planned to bless a monkey to raise awareness for the Morrow Rainey Foundation, founded by the owner of the animal.

The Dailey Herald newspaper in Columbia reported country singer Tanya Tucker was going to attend the event, scheduled for yesterday.

Father Jim Henning and Morrow Faye Raney described what happened next in an interview on W-J-X-A F-M. They said angry calls from church members and a query from the Nashville Diocese made it impossible to carry on with the plan.

Henning said the uproar was a misunderstanding, because many of the callers thought he was going to christen or baptize the monkey, which is named Peggy Sue. In the Catholic Church only humans may be christened or baptized, but Henning says blessing animals and objects is a common practice.

Story here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Paris Hilton attacked by pet monkey

The sexy socialite was out shopping for lingerie with her new primate pet, Baby Luv, in Los Angeles on Saturday (12.11.05), when the animal went bananas.

According to reports, the monkey bit Paris and clawed at her face as she entered designer boutique Agent Provocateur with the simian on her shoulder.

Luckily, the 'Simple Life' star managed to pull the monkey away before hooking Baby Luv's leash onto a cabinet so she could shop in peace.

Paris then spent over $4,000 on designer bras, panties and a kinky bullwhip, according to America's New York Post newspaper.

Story here.

11/16 Note: News reports have been wrongly identifying it as a monkey, Monkey News has found that it is in fact a kinkajou, more closely related to raccoons.

Delhi looks to states for help for captured monkeys

Nobody wants the Capital’s monkeys. A crisis is brewing as the Delhi government cannot find any takers for the monkeys caught and kept in its custody.

Following no response from any of the states, the government is now planning to approach Delhi High Court to direct one of the state governments to take these monkeys.

‘‘Last year, the Madhya Pradesh government was asked to take about 225 monkeys and Rs.25 lakh was given by the Centre — through Delhi — to spend on their feed,’’ said an official.

Officials say, at present, there are 270 monkeys kept in the government-run shelter at Rajokri which is considerably more than its capacity of 200.

Environment Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan said: ‘‘We had written to all the state governments to take these monkeys. But none of them is willing to do so.’’

Environment department officials said civic bodies have been plagued with complaints from several areas about the monkey menace.

Story here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lulu's baby gorilla dies at Atlanta zoo

A baby gorilla at Zoo Atlanta has died less than a week after being born.
Zoo officials say the unnamed baby died Saturday morning. While not premature, the baby was born with a below-average weight of about three pounds.

The baby was the first grandson of the late Willie B., Atlanta's most famous gorilla.

The baby was born last Monday to Willie B.'s six-year-old daughter, Lulu. But Lulu showed no interest in caring for the baby, prompting zoo staff to put the baby in an incubator and begin looking for a surrogate mother.

But the baby's grandmother, Kuchi, who had recently given birth to twins herself, picked up the baby soon after it was born and began caring for him. After a few days, staff at the zoo gave in and allowed Kuchi to nurse the baby along with her own twins.

Doctor Maria Crane, vice president of veterinary services at the zoo, says the infant's death was not caused by a lack of maternal care. He says Kuchi was taking excellent care of the baby.

Story here.

Chimpanzee dies at Grand Rapids zoo following routine dental surgery

A 26-year-old chimpanzee has died at the John Ball Zoo after having a tooth pulled.

The male chimp _ named Jo Mendi _ stopped breathing yesterday while he was recovering from the removal of a chipped canine tooth that was bothering him. Staff spent at least a half hour trying to revive him.

Jo Mendi was the dominant male among a group of six chimps the John Ball Zoo acquired from the Detroit Zoo in 2001. The others visited Jo Mendi's body before it was taken to Michigan State University for a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

Story here.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lemur named for Monty Python's John Cleese

Monty Python star John Cleese has had a newly discovered species of lemur named after him.

The small woolly Avahi cleesei lives on leaves in a remote part of Madagascar.

The name is a tribute to 66-year-old Cleese's conservation work, including a documentary about the plight of endangered woolly lemurs.

Its long legs are the only physical similarity to the actor, famous for his Silly Walks sketch.

Urs Thalmann, of the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, who discovered the species, joked: "Woolly lemurs can't really walk, but they do enjoy silly jumps."

Mr Thalmann speaking to New Scientist magazine, added: "I though surely he must be a lemur fancier."

Story here.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Koome's new strategy, invite monkey eaters

Local authorities in Koome Islands, Mukono district, are planning to invite Congolese from their neighbourhood to help them fight monkeys which have caused havoc in the area.

The sub-county recently put aside Shs2 million to pay people who would hunt down the monkeys.

The primates have destroyed crops and caused fear over a likely famine on the Islands. Koome sub-county LC3 chairman, Mr Patrick Nagambye, told Daily Monitor at the weekend that other than killing the monkeys and throwing them away, they had found it wise to call in Congolese to hunt, kill and eat them.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, monkey meat is a delicacy. Any person able to hunt and kill a monkey and presents its tail is paid Shs2000.

Nagambye said in the last three months, they had managed to receive about 80 tails of monkeys, “but this is still very small. That is why we have decided to invite our friends the Congolese to help us out of this problem.”

Story here.
Previous Koome post here.
And here.

Ape-napping attempt by twins' mom foiled at Zoo Atlanta

Maybe eight is enough, but twins apparently are not — at least not for Kuchi, the 21-year-old gorilla at Zoo Atlanta who gave birth to a rare pair on Halloween night.

On Tuesday, Kuchi, seemingly flush with maternal ambition, hijacked another newborn primate. If zoo staff had not intervened, it would have gone down as a historic ape-napping.

The newest gorilla, it turns out, was born to Lulu, the 6-year-old offspring of Willie B., the famous zoo mascot who died in 2000 at age 42.

Thus, the baby Kuchi briefly "adopted" is the beloved icon's first grandchild.

And now it's back with its rightful mother. Zoo staffers gave Kuchi a knockout shot at about 1 p.m. Tuesday and, while she snoozed, returned the new male gorilla to Lulu.

In the process, they also took the twins from Kuchi to check on their health. At that point, they were able to determine the twins' gender, which had been impossible while Kuchi was nursing them.

It's a boy and a girl.

The decision to intervene was not made hastily, but rather a few hours after Kuchi grabbed Lulu's baby, which was born Monday night.

"Two's enough and there's no way Kuchi could feed all three," zoo spokeswoman Susan Elliott said.

All the gorillas are fine, Elliott added.

Story here.

Marsupial Startles Passengers On Hawaii-Bound Flight

Passengers on board an Omni Air flight from Las Vegas to Honolulu Monday morning were startled when they saw what they thought was a monkey running loose in the cabin.

It turned out to be a marsupial known as a sugar glider that is native to Australia and New Guinea.

The little critters can actually jump and then glide dozens of feet. It was jumping all over the airplane, officials said.

"In flight, one of the passengers was able to the capture animal and it was secured by a flight attendant. Our staff members went on board upon arrival and interviewed passengers trying to ascertain where this animal could have come from," said Domingo Carvalho, of the state's animal quarantine facility.

No one admitted to bringing this animal on board the plane. Sugar gliders are popular pets in some parts of the mainland. They are illegal in Hawaii.

Story here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Largest primate that ever lived lived alongside humans

A gigantic ape, measuring about 10 feet tall and weighing up to 1,200 pounds, co-existed alongside humans, a geochronologist at McMaster University has discovered.

Using a high-precision absolute-dating method (techniques involving electron spin resonance and uranium series), Jack Rink, associate professor of geography and earth sciences at McMaster, has determined that Gigantopithecus blackii, the largest primate that ever lived, roamed southeast Asia for nearly a million years before the species died out 100,000 years ago. This was known as the Pleistocene period, by which time humans had already existed for a million years.

"A missing piece of the puzzle has always focused on pin-pointing when Gigantopithecus existed," explains Rink. "This is a primate that co-existed with humans at a time when humans were undergoing a major evolutionary change. Guangxi province in southern China, where the Gigantopithecus fossils were found, is the same region where some believe the modern human race originated."

Research into Gigantopithecus blackii began in 1935, when the Dutch paleontologist G.H. von Koenigswald discovered a yellowish molar among the "dragon bones" for sale in a Hong Kong pharmacy. Traditional Chinese medicine maintains that dragon bones, basically fossil bones and teeth, possess curative powers when the fossils are ground into a fine powder, and ingested.

For nearly 80 years, Gigantopithecus blackii has intrigued scientists, who have pieced together a description using nothing more than a handful of teeth and a set of jawbones.

"The size of these specimens - the crown of the molar, for instance, measures about an inch across - helped us understand the extraordinary size of the primate," says Rink. Sample studies further revealed that Gigantopithecus was an herbivore, feasting mainly on bamboo. Some believe that the primate's voracious appetite for bamboo ultimately placed him at the losing end of the evolutionary scale against his more nimble human competition.

Story here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Prehistoric skull found in dump may be missing ancestor

Palaeontologists excavating a dump outside Barcelona have found a skull dating back 14m years that could belong to a common ancestor of apes and humans.
The nearly intact skull, which has a flat face, jaw and teeth, may belong to a previously unknown species of great ape, said Salvador Moya, the chief palaeontologist on the dig. "We could find a cradle of humanity in the Mediterranean," he said.

A routine land survey for a planned expansion of the Can Mata dump in Els Hostalets de Pierola turned up the first surprise in 2002: a primate's tooth.

Since then, scientists from the Miquel Crusafont Institute of Palaeontology in Sabadell have unearthed nearly 12,000 fossils of primates and other animals that lived during the Middle Miocene era - between 14m and 8m years ago - when the area was covered by tropical rainforest and populated by the precursors of today's elephants, antelopes and monkeys.

Last year, the team found a 13m-year-old partial skeleton, also believed to be a common ancestor of apes and humans - a male fruit-eater, nicknamed Pau.

"If there is a place in the world where it is possible to find an entire skeleton of a common ancestor to the great apes and humans, it is Hostalets de Pierola," Mr Moya told El PaĆ­s newspaper. "In few places [will] you uncover so many connected vertebrae in such good condition."

The Can Mata dump sits above clay soil in which animal remains became trapped and well-preserved.

Story here.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Monkey King for possible 2008 Olympic mascot?

A Monkey King figure, one of a number of contenders for the mascot for the 2008 Olympic Games, is seen in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005. The city of Lianyungang has lobbied Beijing to make the Monkey King, a figure from Chinese folklore, the mascot of the 2008 Olympics. Some of China's poorer places are competing to see their candidates selected, hoping that a victory will raise name recognition and tourism revenues. (AP Photo)

Story here.

Max the gorilla shooter's death riddle

Isaac Mofokeng, a housebreaker who became infamous after shooting Max the gorilla while trying to escape arrest, has died.

Mofokeng, 38, who had been a patient at Weskoppies psychiatric hospital in Pretoria for the past two years, died after swallowing pills he took while nursing staff were tending to other patients.

But his family are suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his death, and want an explanation.

Police had been searching for Mofokeng regarding several house robberies and a rape case when he was finally caught on July 18 1997, pinned down by the 180kg lowland gorilla.

That morning, Mofokeng is alleged to have been accosted by a Saxonwold homeowner who caught him on his property.

Mofokeng pulled out a gun, prompting the man to sound the alarm and call the police.

Parktown officers responded quickly and chased Mofokeng, who headed into the Johannesburg Zoo and jumped over a wall to hide.

But he had unintentionally picked the gorilla enclosure, where he encountered Max - who was angered by the intrusion.

Mofokeng fought back when Max bit him, and shot the raging animal in the chest and neck.

Three police officers barrelled into the enclosure, and all three were injured by Max. During the scuffle, Mofokeng was shot in the groin.

Max eventually calmed down after being shot with a tranquilliser dart. He was then taken to Milpark Hospital, where he underwent surgery. He made a full recovery.

Mofokeng went on trial and was sentenced to 40 years in jail for a number of crimes, including rape. Five years related to his shooting Max.

Story here.

NSPCA in hot water for monkey death sentences

The National Council of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) has come under fire from two animal welfare groups for a new policy decision to destroy all injured, sick or orphaned vervet monkeys and baboons - except in KwaZulu-Natal.

However, the society has also received some support from Durban's Centre for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (Crow) for confronting the fact that several wildlife centres are overcrowded with primates which have no chance of ever returning to the wild.

Some estimates suggest there are up to 3 000 vervet monkeys in captivity nationwide, with one Limpopo primate centre holding up to 700.

The decision to euthanase all vervet monkeys and baboons taken to SPCA centres (except in KwaZulu-Natal) was taken at a recent national council meeting on the basis that wild primate rehabilitation centres in most parts of the country had too many monkeys and not enough suitable sites to release them.

The NSPCA said it supported rehabilitation projects as it believed wild animals belonged in the wild.

However, it did not want to perpetuate prolonged physical or psychological stress for captive wild animals.

Story here.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Monkeys aid in a new method to speed avian flu vaccine production

The world's vaccine manufacturers will be in a race against time to forestall calamity in the event of an influenza pandemic.

But now, life-saving inoculations may be available more readily than before, thanks to a new technique to more efficiently produce the disarmed viruses that are the seed stock for making flu vaccine in large quantities.

The work is especially important as governments worldwide prepare for a predicted pandemic of avian influenza.

Writing in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS) , a team of researchers from UW-Madison and the University of Tokyo report a new way to generate genetically altered influenza virus.

The lab-made virus — whose genes are manipulated to disarm its virulent nature — can be seeded into chicken eggs to generate the vaccine used in inoculations, which prepare the human immune system to recognise and defeat the wild viruses that spread among humans in an epidemic or pandemic.

In their report, a team led by UW-Madison virologists Yoshihiro Kawaoka and Gabriele Neumann, describes an improved `reverse genetics' technique that makes it easier to make a seed virus in monkey kidney cells, which, like tiny factories, churn out millions of copies of the disarmed virus to be used to make vaccines.

In nature, viruses commandeer a cell's reproductive machinery to make new virus particles, which go on to infect other cells and make yet more virus particles.

Non-virulent viruses that serve as the raw material for vaccines are made by vaccine makers using a monkey kidney cell line.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison press release, the technique reported by the team improves upon a previous reverse genetics method (developed by Kawaoka's group in 1999) by significantly reducing the number of plasmid vectors required to ferry viral genes into the monkey kidney cells used to produce the virus particles to make vaccines. "Compared with other types of cells, which are not approved for vaccine production, it is not always easy to introduce plasmids into the monkey kidney cells, which are approved for such use," says Kawaoka, an influenza expert and a professor of pathobiological sciences in UW-Madison's School of Veterinary Medicine.

Because they are not known to carry any unknown infectious agents and do not cause tumours, monkey kidney cells are used routinely for generation of seed strains for vaccine production.

Story here.

Biologist in bid to save rainforest’s rare monkey

Scientists at the University of Sussex are working with local communities in Ecuador to help save one of the world’s rarest species of monkey – and the endangered rainforest where it lives.

The Brown-headed Spider Monkey (Ateles fusciceps) is “critically endangered”, which means that without urgent action to protect the 50 known breeding pairs still in the wild, the species could become extinct. The spider monkey – unusual in that it is exclusively a fruit-eater – is under threat because up to 80 per cent of the dense rainforest that it depends on for food has been destroyed.

Environmental organisation Ecuador Terra Incognita, supported by partners including the University of Sussex, has now launched the PRIMENET Project to tackle the crisis. Its aim is to determine how best to protect the monkey populations, now restricted to rainforest reserves in northwest Ecuador, then educate local communities to continue the work and ensure the spider monkey’s long-term survival.

University of Sussex environmental biologist Dr Mika Peck is coordinating the project. He has secured £230,000 funding for the project over three years through the Government-sponsored Darwin Initiative to aid conservation in bio-diverse regions around the world. He will also assist, along with colleagues from the geography department, in remote sensing research. This involves analysing satellite data to see where rainforest is at risk from development or logging.

Dr Peck became involved because he has worked on environmental projects in South America and has conducted research into deforestation. He also has a passion for the region where the project will be based – the Los Cedros Biological Reserve in the Ecuadorean Andes, on the doorstep of the spider monkey habitat. He says: “This is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It can only be reached by donkey, trekking for five hours. It is a fairytale setting – orchids, humming birds, big cats, tapirs, moths the size of dinner plates – and is one of the richest areas for bird species.”

Protecting all of this, says Dr Peck, is key to the spider monkey campaign: “The spider monkey is a ‘flagship’ species – if they are protected then everything else in the surrounding environment is too, and one of the rare biodiversity-rich habitats of the world is preserved.”

Story here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Monkey holds India hostel residents hostage

A monkey held residents of a school hostel in Midnapore town hostage today until fire brigade personnel rescued them.

Seven Class XII students of Vidyasagar Vidyapith, 130 km from Calcutta, who had taken it upon themselves to chase the animal away, had to be escorted out. The monkey, which sat through a lecture in Class VII and hopped into headmaster Saroj Mitra’s office during lunch earlier, entered Class III this morning and sat beside the headmistress of the primary section, Sipra Samanta. It did not harm anyone.

The Class XII boys, who followed the monkey with sticks and firecrackers, were attacked. Sandip Maity had to be given seven stitches on his hand. After that, the students retreated, but the monkey parked itself right outside the hostel gate and chased back boys venturing out.

Story here.

Zoo gets Halloween treat -- baby gorilla twins

Zoo Atlanta received a Halloween night surprise when Kuchi, a 21-year-old gorilla, delivered twins at Zoo Atlanta, either late Monday or early Tuesday.

It was only the seventh time since 1956, when gorilla births were first monitored, that a twin birth has been recorded in North America, said Dr. Tara Stoinski, a Zoo Atlanta researcher who studies the endangered species.

It is the first twin gorilla birth in North America since 1999.

"What we're seeing [is] one set of twins for every 160 births," said Dan Wharton, the director of the Central Park Zoo in New York. Wharton is coordinator of the gorilla species survival plan, a management system that aids captive populations that is administered by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. "That's roughly twice as rare as [twin] human births."

Story here.

Czech zoo apes reality TV with gorilla show

Czechs tired of watching humans monkeying around in reality shows will soon be able to witness the private primate life of gorillas as an alternative, the Prague Zoo has announced.

For the next two months, starting on November 7, live Web casts of one male gorilla, two females and a young gorilla will be shown on a public radio Internet site with scenes from the daily life of the apes also screened on public television.

"It is a meaningful alternative to "people" reality shows," the zoo said in a statement. Humans would also be given an insight into great ape behaviour, added zoo spokesperson Vit Kahle.

Viewers will be asked to vote for their favourite gorilla with money raised from text messages directed towards an existing zoo project to help save gorillas in their natural environment, most likely Cameroon.

The prize for the most liked gorilla will be 12 melons, a pun on the Czech slang substitution of melons for zeros when talking about large sums of cash.

Story here.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gorilla dies at zoo after being given drug for trip to Pennsylvania

Kuba, a 16-year-old male lowland gorilla, died Monday morning at the Topeka Zoo during a chemical immobilization.

Kuba died at about 8 a.m. as staff members from the zoo and Manhattan's Kansas State University School of Medicine prepared him to be loaded onto a vehicle and transferred to Erie Zoo in Erie, Pa., said Topeka Zoo director Mike Coker.

"We gave him the drug, and he went into cardiac arrest," he said.

Results weren't available late Monday from a necropsy being conducted at K-State to determine Kuba's cause of death. Coker said a full report would be presented when it became available.

Story here.

Teeth, rainfall linked to primate survival

U.S. and Finnish scientists say primates, except for humans, can reproduce into old age under certain conditions.

Patricia Wright of the State University of New York-Stony Brook and Jukka Jernvall of the University of Helsinki say they've determined tooth deterioration may impact the primates' nutritional status and, potentially, their reproductive success.

To discover how tooth wear might influence reproduction, Jernvall, Wright and colleagues documented tooth wear in a population of Madagascar rainforest lemurs, called sifakas, during the past 20 years.

The researchers took dental casts of the sifakas' mouths and analyzed tooth wear. The sifakas' crowns were found to wear flat by 18 years of age. But despite the tooth deterioration, some sifakas were able to survive and produce healthy offspring for another 10 years, as long as there was abundant rainfall during the nursing season.

That link between tooth wear and rainfall suggests long-lived mammals may be particularly sensitive to changing environmental conditions.

The study is detailed in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Story here.

Monkey Bounty update: Eighty Monkeys Killed in Mukono

EIGHTY monkeys have been killed and their tails collected in Koome islands in Mukono district, the sub-county chief, Patrick Mukasa, has said.

Joel Ogwang writes that about 50 residents who killed the monkeys got sh160,000 each.

Sub-county authorities recently set up a sh2m bounty for all the monkeys killed and their tails collected.

The money was secured from the government under the National Agricultural Advisory Services to kill the monkeys that were eating crops like maize.

For each monkey tail presented, one receives sh2,000.

Story here.
Bounty story here.

Monkey Math Machinery is Like Humans

Monkeys have a semantic perception of numbers that is like humans’ and which is independent of language, Duke University cognitive neuroscientists have discovered. They said their findings demonstrate that the neural mechanism underlying numerical perception is evolutionarily primitive.

Jessica Cantlon and Elizabeth Brannon described their findings with macaque monkeys in an article published online the week of Oct. 31, 2005, in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science. Cantlon is a graduate student and Brannon is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, as well as a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience. Their work was supported by the National Institute for Child Health and Development, The National Science Foundation and a John Merck Scholars Award.

In their experiments, the researchers sought to test whether monkeys show a phenomenon known as “semantic congruity” when making numerical comparisons.

“When adult humans compare any two things, such as the size of two animals, and they’re asked ‘which is smaller, an ant or a rat?’ one might think it’s the same kind of question as ‘which is larger, an ant or a rat?’” said Brannon. “But humans are faster at saying an ant is smaller than saying a rat is larger. By contrast, if the two animals are large, such as a cow or an elephant, they’re quicker at saying the elephant is larger than saying the cow is smaller. This ‘semantic congruity’ holds for all kinds of comparisons, including numbers and distances.

“It would seem that this is entirely a linguistic effect, totally dependent on language,” said Brannon. “But we sought to understand whether monkeys showed this semantic effect, even though they don’t have language.”

In their experiments, Cantlon and Brannon presented monkeys with two arrays of randomized numbers of dots displayed on a computer touch screen at randomized positions. However, instead of using language to instruct the monkeys to “choose larger” or “choose smaller” the researchers made the background blue if the monkeys were to choose the larger number and red if the smaller number. The monkeys were rewarded with a sip of a sweet drink for correct answers.

“Our results showed a very large semantic congruity effect,” said Cantlon. “For example, when the number pair was small, such as two versus three, the monkeys were much faster at choosing the smaller compared to the larger of the pair. We were also impressed at the high level of accuracy the monkeys achieved on this difficult conditional discrimination,” she said.

Story here.

Gorilla burglar caught on tape

There's a gorilla impersonator in our midst. And the Campbell police want no more of his monkey business.

On Sunday morning, a burglar in a gorilla mask smashed the window at S&C Collectibles, a store on West Hamilton Avenue that carries more than 1,500 die cast replicas of NASCAR race cars.

The ape-man perused the inventory carefully. As the police report said: ``The Gorilla is very selective in the memorabilia he selects.''

The gorilla guy fled with his ill-gotten loot -- model cars and autographed baseball caps -- and then, police say, he drove to All Tool, on Dell Avenue, and busted in and swiped some tools.

This is just the kind of behavior that can give law-abiding gorillas a bad name.

But the thing the thieving simian-impersonator doesn't know is that S&C Collectibles captured it all on video tape.

``We saw what he took, we saw him leave the store and get into a vehicle'' -- a white four-door sedan, said Steve Clark, the store's owner. ``I have so many cameras in here you can't pick your nose without me knowing it.''

Story here.