Friday, April 28, 2006

Chimp dubbed "Osama" still on the run after killing taxi driver

Osama chimp"Osama bin Laden" is still on the run in the jungles of Sierra Leone - after escaping with 20 other chimpanzees from a wildlife sanctuary where they killed a local taxi driver on Sunday.

The chimp, named by wardens after the wanted al-Qaeda leader, was among a pack of apes which mobbed and mauled four men at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary in the forested hills outside the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown.

"We hope by the middle of the coming week we will get all of them back to the sanctuary," a Tacugama spokesperson said.

"We have sent warning letters to tribal headmen in villages close to the sanctuary not to allow their children to enter into the forest in search of bush fruits or firewood."

Another of the escaped apes was called Charles Taylor, after the Liberian warlord currently awaiting trial in a cell in a UN-backed special court in Freetown, the spokesperson said.

The sanctuary, billed as one of Sierra Leone's leading eco-tourism attractions, has remained closed since Sunday's attack in which three American visitors were also injured.

It was the first incident of its kind since the sanctuary was set up in 1995 to give shelter to orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees.

Tacugama is home to nearly 70 apes living in a semi-wild environment in which they have access to fenced enclosures of rainforest as well as large cages where they spend the night.

Story here.

Monkey remains found in parcel

Quarintine officers found the remains of a monkey in a parcel bound for Melbourne's western suburbs this week.

The package, sent from Thailand to Williamstown, was detected at the city's International Mail Facility at Tullamarine.
Quarantine officer Ken Ryan first noticed the "monkey meat" inside a 25cm square package during a routine inspection.

An X-ray revealed a torso and inspectors discovered a 12cm, decaying forearm and hand.

Although almost overcome by the smell, inspectors froze the remains and destroyed them yesterday.

Story here.

Texas man tells story of fatal chimp attack

His friend's hand was a mangled mess — most of it was gone. The station wagon had stalled after the driver desperately tried to ram through a gate. And now the chimpanzee that had attacked them on an isolated mountain road in West Africa was coming at them again.

What was supposed to be a day of sightseeing Sunday at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary had turned into a moment that will forever be seared into Gary Brown's memory.

"I knew I was going to die, but I didn't want to die running," said the 51-year-old Texas man, who was working as a contractor in Sierra Leone.

Inside the Peugeot station wagon were Brown, two American co-workers, Melvin Mammah, a friend Brown had met in Freetown, and Issa Kanu, who had been driving them back and forth to work and other places during their stay. Brown was in Africa working for a telecommunications company at the American embassy, said officials with Spectrum Solutions and Caddell Construction.

Brown, who returned home Tuesday night, didn't know at the time that more than a dozen chimps had escaped from the 100-acre sanctuary on the outskirts of the capital of Freetown. And he didn't know chimps would attack people. When the chimp had appeared on the road in front of them, he had fished for his camera, eager to get a snapshot.

But Kanu seemed to know something was wrong and put the wagon in reverse.

That's when the chimp charged, Brown said.

He said it tore off the side mirror and broke through the back windshield. "It was like the glass wasn't even there," he said.

Brown, said he's 5-foot-9 and weighs more than 200 pounds, and the chimp probably outweighed him.

"He had every bit two-inch fangs, and he was screaming like a banshee . . . when he was charging us."

Mammah fought the chimp off, but not before the chimp bit off half of his hand, Brown said.

They wrapped up Mammah's hand and drove forward, trying to outrun the chimp, he said. Then they came to a steel gate. Kanu rammed it, and the gate opened, but not enough to get the car through, he said.

The car stalled, its front end crumpled. Reverse didn't work, so they got out trying to push it backward so they could turn it around, Brown said.

"He was charging again, coming up the road," Brown said. "When we turned around, we all dove in the car."

Kanu tried the key again. The wagon started, and he tried to drive through the opening in the gate, but it became wedged into the opening, Brown said.

The chimp "went across the top of the car, and that's when . . . it was just a flurry trying to get away from it. Melvin got pulled out of the car by it."

When he jumped out of the car, Brown said he heard Mammah screaming for help. Everyone else in the car had fled, Brown said.

Brown said he used to work as a telephone lineman and was used to facing down angry dogs. He spotted a large tree limb.

"I grabbed it and I just started to charge around the car to go help Melvin," he said.

"I believe it was God who got me through it, he turned my fear into anger."

The chimp charged him, he said, and he drove the end of the limb into its throat, then chased it away.

Mammah looked like he was bleeding to death but refused to allow Brown to carry him, Brown said. He said he looked for the chimp and spotted it in the jungle, watching him. He could hear chimpanzees screaming all around them.

Brown said he helped Mammah hobble down the road, where a military patrol found them and took them to a hospital.

Later, a van pulled up with Kanu's mangled body. Brown said he thought the other Americans were dead too.

"I can't get it out of my head," he said.

Mammah lost all but two fingers on one hand, but is recovering in a Freetown hospital. The two other Americans escaped safely to the American Embassy.

Story here.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Monkey bites Delhi University prof’s ear

DELHI University teachers have petitioned the Vice-Chancellor to end the “monkey menace” at staff quarters. There have been several simian attacks recently, with one teacher nearly having his ear bitten off yesterday.

Dr P K Das, who teaches linguistics and stays at the University quarters, was walking outside his house — part of a multi-storeyed block of flats — with a friend around 7 am yesterday when he was attacked by a group of monkeys. Das lives near the university sports complex.

“One has got used to seeing a whole swarm of monkeys here. Therefore, I did not pay any attention and also failed to notice a big one near my car,” said Das who is still in hospital.

After he was attacked, a profusely bleeding Das was rushed to St Stephen’s Hospital by his neighbour Dr Dilip Menon, a history teacher. “Due to the quick reaction time, the doctors did not need to perform surgery. However, more than than 36 stitches were needed to stich his ear back,” neighbour Denys Leighton, a visiting fellow in Political Science and History at the university, said.

“If you open the door of your balcony there is invariably a group of monkeys lounging outside. This means that it’s very dangerous to step out. This puts the health and even lives of our children in great danger,” Das said.

The complex is one of several pockets in the university with a big simian population.

Residents say they have made complaints and have been calling for gates to be installed.

Story here.

Monkey vaccine may treat ebola infection

A vaccine that protects monkeys against the highly deadly Marburg virus, a relative of Ebola, may also provide the first known treatment for the infection, researchers said.

Now they hope to use a similar vaccine to try to treat Ebola.
Both viruses have caused rare, but frightening and deadly, outbreaks in Africa and both are considered to be potential bioterror agents.

The vaccine was created using a harmless virus known as vesicular stomatitis virus, or VSV. The researchers took out one gene and replaced it with a key gene from Marburg virus.

When they infected monkeys with Marburg and then administered the vaccine, the monkeys were protected and stayed healthy, said Thomas Geisbert of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Unvaccinated monkeys died within 10 to 12 days.

"We were very surprised," Mr Geisbert said today.

Mr Geisbert, whose team worked with colleagues at the National Microbiology Laboratory at the Public Health Agency of Canada, published the findings in this week's issue of the Lancet medical journal.

He said it may be a while before the vaccine is tested in people but hopes it is a first step.

Marburg virus killed more than 300 people - 90 per cent of those infected - in Angola last year. Ebola is usually somewhat less deadly and killed 254 people between 2001 and 2005 in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

There is no cure for either diseases, both caused by a family of viruses known as filoviruses. They lead to a particularly nasty form of haemorrhagic fever and victims usually die of multiple organ failure and shock.

Story here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Killer chimp possibly identified, chimphunt intensifies

Et tu Bruno?The first chimpanzee to join Sierra Leone's reserve for the animals is believed to have turned killer and is still at large, rangers warned.

The 20-year-old animal, named Bruno, has been linked to the death of Sierra Leonean driver Issa Kanu, zoo officials said Tuesday.

Two US tourists were seriously injured during an attack by a pack of chimpanzees on the loose at the Tagucama Chimp Sanctuary on the outskirts of Freetown.

Sierra Leonean police and rangers continued Tuesday the hunt for Bruno and 17 other chimpanzees after only nine of the 27 that escaped from the reserve had been recovered.

According to zoo officials, citing survivors' accounts of the attack, Bruno smashed with his fist the windscreen of the car which took the men to Tacugama.

Kanu tried to drive the car away but crashed into the zoo gate and the vehicle was trapped by the iron bars.

"Bruno grabbed the driver by the neck, slammed him on the ground and chopped off all his fingers and toes," one official who asked not to be identified said.

"He then ate up the entire face of Issa leaving him dead,"

Sanctuary manager Bala Amarasekaran said, he bought Bruno when he was a few months old for 30 dollars and named him after Frank Bruno, the British heavyweight boxer who fought Mike Tyson the day of the transaction.

According to the Tacugama official website, for a year Bruno lived in the Amarasekaran house but "got up to lots of mischief".

Described as the "alpha male", Bruno "is a large, powerful chimp."

"He is wary of visitors and is painfully accurate at hurling rocks and stones at anyone he doesn't like the look of."

He was only moved into a cage when a second chimpanzee was acquired.

"One of the most wanted chimps is still at large, we are hoping that he could be caught quickly," a zoo keeper told AFP Tuesday.

Sama Banya, president of the Sierra Leone Conservation Society which runs Tacugama, said the weekend attack was the first of its kind in the 10-year history of the sanctuary.

He said the primates "are not wild but their behaviour was highly unusual" at the time.

The names of the injured Americans have not been officially released but media named the three people in the group besides Issa as Alan Robertson, Gary Brown and Richie Goodie.

They were all American sub-contractors working at the site of the new US embassy under construction at Leicester Peak Junction some three kilometres (about two miles) from the zoo.

A nurse at the hospital told AFP: "The men are recovering gradually from shock and their wounds are no longer life-threatening."

Story here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Spain may give apes human rights

The Spanish Socialist Party will introduce a bill in the Congress of Deputies calling for "the immediate inclusion of (simians) in the category of persons, and that they be given the moral and legal protection that currently are only enjoyed by human beings." The PSOE's justification is that humans share 98.4% of our genes with chimpanzees, 97.7% with gorillas, and 96.4% with orangutans.

The party will announce its Great Ape Project at a press conference tomorrow. An organization with the same name is seeking a UN declaration on simian rights which would defend ape interests "the same as those of minors and the mentally handicapped of our species."

According to the Project, "Today only members of the species Homo sapiens are considered part of the community of equals. The chimpanzee, the gorilla, and the orangutan are our species's closest relatives. They possess sufficient mental faculties and emotional life to justify their inclusion in the community of equals."

Story here.

Shimla monkeys to be sterilized

Tired by the tantrums of rogue monkeys at this popular hill resort, authorities are now hitting back - by sterilizing them.

A major sterilization drive is to start in May. The wildlife department has received the first installment of Rs.2.5 million of the Rs.8.3 million allotted for the statewide operation.

This will be the first time sterilization of monkeys will take place in such a large scale, wildlife officials said here.

There are around 350,000 monkeys in Himachal Pradesh. This includes 2,200 in Shimla alone, even after about 1,900 of them were shifted to other parts of the state from this resort town last year.

Troupes of monkeys roam around Shimla, once the summer capital of the British raj, often launching attacks on tourists and locals carrying edibles. At Jakhu, the highest point in Shimla where a temple of Hindu monkey god Hanuman is located, monkeys often snatch worshippers of their 'prasad' (holy offerings).

In the first phase, the sterilization will take place in Shimla and then spread to other heavily monkey-infested regions, including the busy Kalka-Shimla highway.

An official said a mobile van would go around Shimla in search of dominant male monkeys to sterilize them on the spot - inside the vehicle.

'One of the two sterilization machines ordered by the wildlife department has arrived,' said K.K. Gupta, a wildlife department official. 'sterilization could be the best way to control the growing numbers of monkeys.'

Some years ago the Himachal Pradesh High Court, in response to public interest litigation, rapped the government for not doing enough to contain the monkey menace.

This led civic officials to translocate around 3,400 monkeys from Shimla, the Kalka-Shimla highway and Rampur Bushahr town.

Barely had the residents and tourists heaved a sigh of relief when anguished farmers raised an outcry saying the urban monkeys, shifted to the countryside, were damaging their crops.

And animal rights activists complained that the monkeys were mindlessly shifted to places that were often not suitable as their habitat. Besides, they expressed fears that the urban simians could spread their diseases to the wild monkeys living in the forests.

Consequently, the government decided to limit their numbers by sterilizing them and has earmarked Rs.8.3 million for this unique step.

Story here.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sanctuary chimps kill driver, injure three others

A group of chimpanzees attacked and killed a Sierra Leonean driver overnight and injured two American visitors and one Canadian at a wildlife sanctuary in the West African nation, a police spokesman said.

Paramilitary police and forest rangers were searching dense jungle to see if they could capture the chimpanzees after the attack at the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary on the outskirts of Sierra Leone's capital Freetown.

"The driver was killed on the spot while the three surviving victims, the Americans and the Canadian, sustained serious wounds," Sergeant John Kamara, an officer at the Regent Police Post near the Tacugama reserve, said.

No immediate reason for the attack was given but police said the large group of chimpanzees suddenly turned on the visitors to the sanctuary, biting and tearing at their clothes.

The driver killed was employed by the Tacugama reserve. The injured survivors, who worked for a construction company in Sierra Leone, were taken to a hospital in Freetown.

The Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary was set up in 1995 to give shelter to orphaned and abandoned chimpanzees.

It houses nearly 70 apes living in a semi-wild environment in which they have access to fenced enclosures of rainforest as well as large cages where they spend the night.

Police said they were anxious to capture the chimpanzees to stop them attacking local villagers or motorists using the nearby Regent-Hasting road.

Story here.

Second chimp from Ohio dies in San Antonio

A second chimpanzee moved to a Texas animal sanctuary after Ohio State University decided to close a research center has died, the university said Friday.

The 16-year-old male, named Bobby, was found dead in his enclosure Thursday. No cause of death was immediately determined, and the results of an examination of the body won't be available for about two weeks, the university said in a release.

Bobby was one of nine chimps moved to Primarily Primates in San Antonio after Ohio State decided to close the center where the animals were taught basic counting and letters.

In March, a 35-year-old male named Kermit died of a heart attack a day after arriving at the sanctuary.

Caretakers noticed Bobby seemed unwell Wednesday and had scheduled a visit with a veterinarian for Thursday, the university said. The remaining chimpanzees appear healthy.

The primates were moved after Ohio State officials said the campus chimpanzee center was closing due to a lack of funds. The university is paying $324,000 to build a facility at Primarily Primates and will provide an endowment for the chimps' care.

Story here.

Friday, April 21, 2006

A moment of chimp porn zen...

monkey porn
A chimp love story plays to a captive audience in an attempt to heat things up between Sai Mi and Ma Ya, a pair of chimps who have had trouble mating for the past two years in a zoo in Nanjing, E. Jiangsu Province on April 19, 2006. Zoo workers hope the film will teach the pair a little bit about the birds and the bees.

(Would anyone like to explain the subtitling?)

Story here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Malaysia denies finding baby Bigfoot

Malaysian wildlife officials denied capturing a baby "Bigfoot" Thursday, amid fevered speculation over the existence of the mythical creature in the nation's southern jungles.

The Berita Harian newspaper reported that a young Bigfoot was caught by a group of men thought to be from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) near the southern town of Kota Tinggi two weeks ago.

The paper quoted local residents as saying they had spoken to men who described shooting the creature with tranquiliser darts. The locals then peeked into the back of the their truck to see a large, hairy creature.

But the department's director-general Datuk Musa Nordin denied the report.

"During the period reported, Perhilitan did not mount any operation in the area," Musa said in a statement carried by the official Bernama news agency.

Freddie Long, the Tourism and Environment Committee chairperson in southern Johor state, said that if a Bigfoot had been captured, it should have been given to local authorities for research.

Bigfoot fever erupted last December when some workers claimed to have spotted three of the beasts, two adults and a youngster, on the edge of a Johor forest reserve.

The tale was given wide coverage in the national press which also carried stories of other sightings, some dating back decades, and printed photographs of supposed footprints - vague impressions in the jungle floor.

Local authorities treated the claims seriously, with plans for an official expedition to track down the mysterious beasts, and setting up a telephone hotline to report sightings.

Suggestions that the story has been cooked up to lure tourists to Johor have been denied.

Story here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

50 Boxing orangutans may return home after being seized

More than 50 orangutans which were smuggled to Thailand to perform in kickboxing matches may finally return to their home countries two years after the government seized them.

Thailand will hold talks with Malaysia and Indonesia later this week to determine where they should go, the deputy chief of Thai national parks said today.

"During the meeting we will finally decide which country the 54 orangutans will return to," Chawann Tunhikorn said.

Officials from Malaysia and Indonesia will visit the Thai capital on Friday and Saturday to decide the fate of the orangutans.

Thai officials say they were smuggled to the country to perform boxing matches at a private Bangkok zoo.

Thai authorities seized 114 orangutans in raid two years ago on the Safari World zoo in Bangkok's eastern outskirts.

The zoo owner claimed they were bred in captivity, but DNA tests proved 57 were not born in the in-house breeding program but had apparently come from outside Thailand.

The orangutans were trained to fight each other in kickboxing matches for spectators at the zoo.

The government seized the 57 and took them to the Khao Pratap Chang wildlife preserve, where three have since died.

Story here.

Teens Launch Baboon Attack on Hospital

Five Saudi teenagers recently wanted to create their own horror movie using a cell phone camera, Al-Yaum reported. Unfortunately, despite their obvious creative streak and attempt at guerrilla filmmaking, their experiment went horribly wrong. The five Saudis arrived in front of a local hospital and stormed inside with a real baboon attacking and frightening nurses. A man with a cell phone camera followed from behind filming the mayhem. Their misadventure caused a huge panic inside the hospital, but they managed to leave before the police arrived. They were later identified by their car’s license plate number and arrested.

Story here.

Hominid Fossils From Ethiopia Link Ape-men To More Distant Human Ancestors

New fossils discovered in the Afar desert of eastern Ethiopia are a missing link between our ape-man ancestors some 3.5 million years ago and more primitive hominids a million years older, according to an international team led by the University of California, Berkeley, and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The fossils are from the most primitive species of Australopithecus, known as Au. anamensis, and date from about 4.1 million years ago, said Tim White, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and one of the team's leaders. The hominid Australopithecus has often been called an ape-man because, though short-statured, small-brained and big-toothed, it walked on two legs unlike the great apes.

More primitive hominids in the genus Ardipithecus date from between 4.4 million and 7 million years ago and were much more ape-like, though they, too, walked on two legs.

"This new discovery closes the gap between the fully blown Australopithecines and earlier forms we call Ardipithecus," White said. "We now know where Australopithecus came from before 4 million years ago."

The fossil finds and an analysis of the hominid's habitat and evolutionary position are reported by White and co-authors from Ethiopia, Japan, France and the United States in the April 13 issue of Nature.

Since the first Australopithecus skull, the famous Taung child, was discovered in South Africa 82 years ago by Raymond Dart, fossils of this hominid have been found all over eastern Africa spanning a 3-million-year time period. Seven separate species have been named, including the most primitive, Au. anamensis, which dates from 4.2 million years ago, and Au. africanus, Dart's find. The most specialized species, Au. boisei, died out about 1.2 million years ago, long after the genus Homo had spread throughout the Old World.

The most famous of the Australopithecine fossils was "Lucy," a 3.5-foot adult skeleton discovered in the Afar depression in 1974. Her analytical team included White. Subsequently named Au. afarensis, this hominid, which lived between 3.6 and 3 million years ago, was also discovered in the Middle Awash study area, where the new Au. anamensis fossils were found.

Ardipithecus, on the other hand, was discovered by White and his team in 1992, based on fossils from Aramis, a village in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar rift. White and his team named the 4. 4 million-year-old fossils Ardipithecus ramidus.

The relationship between Australopithecus and Ardipithecus remained unclear, however, because of a million-year gap between these two genera. The new fossil finds, jawbones and teeth from each of two localities, bridge that gap. With Ardipithecus in older rocks and Au. afarensis in overlying rocks, the newly announced fossils are intermediate in time and anatomy.

The teeth tell a story about the organism's diet, White said. Australopithecus's large cheek teeth - anthropologists refer to the hominid as a megadont, meaning large-toothed - allowed it to subsist on a broader diet of tough, fibrous plants. The teeth of Ardipithecus were smaller, restricting it to a diet of softer, less abrasive food, White said.

Story here.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Center Offers Research Deal for Sooty Mangabey Monkeys

As monkeys go, Sooty Mangabeys aren't cute.

Big-fanged, grey and hairy, they simply stare when threatened. Few zoos stock them. Some animal rights advocates can't even spell their name.

Nevertheless, the sooties are at the centre of a precedent-setting debate about whether researchers should be allowed to experiment on an endangered species. Scientists at the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in Atlanta have nurtured a group of these primates for decades.

But after Yerkes started the colony, federal officials listed sooties as endangered.

The result: Yerkes has the world's largest collection of captive sooties, but with little hope of scientific benefit.

"We don't need them around just to look at them. We're not a zoo," said Thomas Gordon, Yerkes' associate director for scientific programmes.

Recently, Yerkes researchers proposed a novel solution: The primate centre will help conserve sooties in the wild in exchange for permission to do Aids-related research on them here. Such a trade-off has never before been permitted, said Timothy Van Norman, chief of the international permits branch at the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

"This is new territory," he said.

But animal rights activists are horrified.

"It's a deal with the devil," said Rachel Weiss, president of Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group, a Georgia-based animal rights organisation.

Yerkes - part of Emory University - is one of eight federally funded national primate research centres. Its scientific contributions include new understanding of monkey and chimp behavior and development of an experimental Aids vaccine.

In the 1990s, researchers learned sooties are natural carriers of a monkey-form of the Aids virus. Other types of monkeys get sick from the virus. Sooties don't. Researchers say if they can learn why sooties stay healthy, it may lead to new weapons against human HIV.

In July, the centre wrote Fish & Wildlife seeking the right to conduct research on the Yerkes sooties in exchange for preserving them in the wild.

The request is under review, Fish & Wildlife officials said. But animal rights advocates are uncomfortable.

"It's a tough call when you talk about conservation of a species versus protecting individuals. But we have to remember individuals comprise a species," Weiss said.

Story here.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cheeta, the world's oldest chimp, turns 74

It's his party, and he'll throw feces if he wants to.

Cheeta the chimpanzee is turning 74 today and will be celebrating with a birthday bash.

No word yet on whether the cake will be banana-flavored.

"Oh, he likes anything, as long as there's a lot of it," keeper Dan Westfall said.

The partying primate starred in 12 Tarzan movies during the '30s and '40s.

He has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest chimp. The animals rarely live past the age of 40 in the wild, but can reach 60 in captivity.

Cheeta now enjoys the retired life at the CHEETA (Creative Habitats and Enrichment for Endangered and Threatened Apes) Primate Sanctuary in Palm Springs, run by Westfall.

Representatives from a Spanish film festival will also swing by to present Cheeta with the very first award of his career.

The presentation from the International Comedy Film Festival of Peñíscola (Spain) will be the first award of Cheeta's career.

Story here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Monkey-dung study offers clues about land-use, wildlife ecology

Fecal matter of red colobus monkeys collected in western Uganda has yielded a wealth of knowledge about human land-use change and wildlife health and conservation. The main lesson, researchers say, is that the intensity of tree removal translates directly to parasite populations and the risk of infection of their hosts.

In an effort to glean predictive power out of years of research on the effects of forest fragmentation on various species and ecological processes, researchers looked at nine differently fragmented regions of forests located in what is now agricultural landscape just west of Kibale National Park, in the foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains. Within these regions, they focused on populations of red colobus (Piliocolobus tephrosceles) monkeys and the presence of strongyle and rhabditoid nematodes.

For two years, Thomas R. Gillespie, a professor of pathobiology in the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, and Colin A. Chapman, an anthropologist at McGill University in Canada, surveyed the monkeys and determined nematode levels by examining 536 colobus fecal samples. Their study appears in the April issue of the journal Conservation Biology.

Gillespie is co-director with Illinois pathobiology colleague Tony Goldberg of the Kibale EcoHealth Project, a flagship program of the multidisciplinary U. of I. Earth and Society Initiative on Emerging Disease & Ecosystem Health.

Red colobus are one of the most endangered African colobine species. The two groups of nematodes have been documented to infect red colobus and have the capacity to cause gastrointestinal problems that can be fatal.

Gillespie and Chapman sorted through nine potential factors, including physical and biological attributes. They concluded that the degradation of the forest and human presence, as measured in stump density, strongly influenced the prevalence of parasitic nematodes. Infection risk, they reported also was higher in the fragment with the highest stump density than in the fragment with the lowest stump density.

"Our results provide evidence that an easily measured index such as the number of stumps in a given area can be used to predict the degree to which a fundamental ecological process -- host-parasite dynamics -- can be altered by human disturbance," Gillespie said. "We think that this pattern is likely to be common in disturbed areas and may represent an unrecognized threat for the conservation and management of various habitats."

Story here.

Lisa the gorilla fails to survive cancer operation

Lisa, the “widowed” mate of the late gorilla Max, has died, the Johannesburg Zoo announced yesterday.

“We regret to announce that she passed away today (Wednesday) while under anaesthetic at 3.30pm,” the zoo said in a statement.

Lisa had been undergoing surgery to examine a lump next to her breast.

The zoo said surgery of this nature was high risk to a gorilla aged 35. A postmortem would be conducted.

Lisa came to the Johannesburg Zoo from Moscow Zoo, and was the life-long partner of “crime-fighter” Max.

Max made headlines by helping to catch an armed robber who jumped into the primates’ enclosure in the late 1990s.

Story here.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

China's golden monkey baby goes on public display

A golden monkey holds her one-month-old baby in the arms while eating a strawberry at a zoo in Jinan, East China's Shandong Province, April 5, 2006. The monkey baby went on public display for the first time on Wednesday. Unique to the country, the golden monkey is under top state protection in China.

Story here.

Monkeys May Help Scientists Understand Human Depression

Depressed monkeys not only look and act like depressed people, but their central nervous systems have the same characteristics, a finding that could lead to more effective testing of depression treatments.

“Brain scans of depressed female monkeys revealed the same underlying neurobiological changes that are found in the brains of depressed people,” said Carol A. Shively, Ph.D., from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “This is further evidence that these animal models can help researchers understand depression, develop new treatments and test their effectiveness.”

This study is reported in the April issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

The brain scans looked at a specific type of receptor (called the 5-HT1a receptor) that binds serotonin, a brain chemical that controls mood. Serotonin binding is lower in depressed people.

Positron emission tomography (PET), a test that produces three-dimensional views of the brain, was used to scan 11 areas of the brain. A tracer that binds to this serotonin receptor was injected into a vein of each subject.

The areas in which the tracer binds in the brain light up bright yellow during the PET scan. The depressed monkeys had lower serotonin receptor binding in all areas of the brain examined, just like previous studies have shown in depressed people.

This supports earlier studies showing that depressed female monkeys have similar physical characteristics to women who are depressed, including low activity levels, disruptions in hormones and higher heart rates.

“Even though women are twice as likely as men to experience clinical depression and are at increased risk for depression during premenstrual, postpartum and perimenopausal times in their lives, we have never had any female animal models of depression,” said Shively, a professor of comparative medicine. “Monkeys offer a special opportunity for research because they are among the few animals that have menstrual cycles and complex cognitive function.”

In addition, these animals have “pure” systems when it comes to medicine. They have no experience with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft, that are often used to treat depression and can alter neurotransmissions, nor have they taken analgesics, alcohol, tobacco or illegal drugs, Shively said.

Story here.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Cancer op scheduled for Joburg Zoo gorilla

An emergency operation for Lisa, life-long mate of Max the gorilla, was planned for Wednesday to remove a possible cancerous growth, the Johannesburg Zoo said.

A few weeks ago, a keeper noticed a lump next to Lisa's breast which veterinarians suspected may be cancer, the zoo said in a statement on Tuesday.

Due to the worsening condition of the lump, the zoo's vets decided to schedule an emergency operation for Lisa for Wednesday, to be performed by senior veterinarian Michelle Barrows assisted by two top Gauteng human specialist doctors.

Results of the operation were expected next week.

The 35-year-old Lisa was the mate of Max the gorilla, who came to the public's attention after helping to foil an armed robber who jumped into the primates' enclosure in the late nineties.

Max attacked the armed man who jumped into the enclosure while he was being pursued by police. Max is said to have interpreted the man's presence as a threat to Lisa.

The man shot Max twice and both the attacker and gorilla were hospitalised after the encounter.

Max died of natural causes aged 33 in May 2004.

Story here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A moment of Nukak-Maku monkey zen...

Nukak-Maku monkeyAn indigenous Nukak-Maku child plays with a monkey at a makeshift camp near the village of Agua Bonita, in the southern state of Guaviare, in the southern state of Guaviare, Colombia, Friday, March 31, 2006. More than 80 Nukak-Makus say they were displaced from the jungle by rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Since time immemorial, the Nukak-Maku roamed the jungles of southeast Colombia, hunting game with blow guns and gathering berries, oblivious of the modern world and it of them. Now, experts say, Colombia's last nomadic tribe has been pushed to the brink of extinction. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

Scandinavia's First Baby Gorilla Is Born

swedish gorillaA baby gorilla was born at Sweden's largest zoo Saturday, becoming the first gorilla born in Scandinavia, officials said.

The gender of the baby ape was unknown, as keepers at the Kolmarden zoo had yet to approach its mother, Naomi.

"Naomi is acting just like she is supposed to; she is keeping the baby close and the little gorilla baby appears to be doing fine," said animal keeper Lena Mellqvist.

Only about five to 10 gorillas are born in captivity around the world each year, the park said. The Kolmarden zoo has housed gorillas for more than 40 years, but none has given birth before.

Park officials said they will hold a contest to name the baby.

Story here.

Experts investigating mysterious monkey deaths in Costa Rica

Biologists and veterinarians are baffled by the death of more than 3,000 monkeys of various species at a remote national park in southwestern Costa Rica.

The deaths of the spider, white-faced capuchin, howler and squirrel monkeys occurred over several weeks late last year in Corcovado National Park, prompting Costa Rican and U.S. scientists to launch an investigation.

Eduardo Carrillo, a scientist at the National University of Costa Rica, told the press that between 30 and 40 percent of the monkey population at the park - home to some 10,000 primates - had died, probably from a disease, though the nature of the illness remains a mystery.

He said the deaths of the monkeys "are a warning signal for all of us, so we take into account that some protected areas are isolated," adding that it was necessary to increase economic support and bolster research efforts in those areas.

Carrillo and Grace Wong, another researcher, last week collected blood samples from monkeys in different sections of the park, which will be sent on to the University of Texas for analysis by colleagues there.

The most accepted hypothesis is that an illness that entered the country from outside is responsible for the deaths, although it will take a couple of weeks for the results of the blood tests to be ready.

For his part, Corcovado National Park director Eliecer Arce said that another hypothesis being considered is that lack of food brought on by excessive rainfall during the 2005 rainy season caused the deaths.

Story here.