Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Monkey strangles girl to death in India

A 16-year-old girl was strangled by a monkey in a village in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, a news report said Saturday.

The ape attacked the girl called Mamta in the Gorakhpur district located about 300 kilometres east of state capital Lucknow on Wednesday, after she tried to chase it away when it was eating corn kernels, the Asian Age daily reported.

Mamta's father Deep Chand said family members rushed out hearing her cries for help but found the girl lying on the floor and the monkey sitting nearby.

"There were marks around her neck which means she was strangled to death," he told the paper.

Local police has refused to catch the animal. "How do we register a case against a monkey and under what rules do we arrest a simian?" a policeman asked.

Meanwhile, fear has gripped the village as the monkey was roaming free.

"We now keep our children indoors and advised women not to interfere if the monkey is around," a villager, Rajesh Kumar was quoted by the paper as saying.

"If it could kill a 16-year-old girl, it can kill anyone."

Story here.

Joseph Made says monkey sabotaged farming season

The Zimbabwe government on Monday finally fingered the cause of the dramatic collapse of the country's agricultural sector -- a monkey.

While the world has been fixated with a state-sanctioned land grab of commercial farms by veterans of the country's liberation war, the Zimbabwe government has nailed what it believes to be the main saboteur of the country's agricultural production -- a vervet monkey.

Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told parliament that damage caused by a monkey to a transformer at the country's largest fertiliser supplier had effectively crippled the country's production capacity, creating a food deficit.

Made said "investigations" revealed that a monkey was responsible for the extensive damage caused to one of the only two transformers at fertiliser manufacturer, Sables Chemicals. The company is based in the Midlands.

Made told MPs: “Our investigations have shown that a monkey caused damage to a transformer thereby sabotaging our preparations for the coming season. If it was not for that monkey, the situation was not going to be as bad.

"We now have to import a huge chunk of our fertiliser requirements from neighbouring South Africa. Repairs to the transformer take about six months.”

Made told MPs that the monkey "tampered" with the transformer and was electrocuted in the process.

Story here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Lucy's Baby" World's Oldest Child Found by Fossil Hunters

lucys baby oldest fossilThe world's oldest known child has been discovered in East Africa in an area known appropriately as the Cradle of Humanity.

The 3.3-million-year-old fossilized toddler was uncovered in north Ethiopia's badlands along the Great Rift Valley.

The skeleton, belonging to the primitive human species Australopithecus afarensis, is remarkable for its age and completeness, even for a region spectacularly rich in fossils of our ancient ancestors, experts say.

The new find may even trump the superstar fossil of the same species: "Lucy," a 3.2-million-year-old adult female discovered nearby in 1974 that reshaped theories of human evolution. (Related: "Fossil Find Is Missing Link in Human Evolution, Scientists Say" [April 2006].)

Some experts have taken to calling the baby skeleton "Lucy's baby" because of the proximity of the discoveries, despite the fact that the baby is tens of thousands of years older.

"This is something you find once in a lifetime," said Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who led the team that made the discovery.

The child was probably female and about three years old when she died, according to the researchers.

Found in sandstone in the Dikika area, the remains include a remarkably well preserved skull, milk teeth, tiny fingers, a torso, a foot, and a kneecap no bigger than a dried pea.

Archaeologists hope that the baby skeleton, because of its completeness, can provide a wealth of details that Lucy and similar fossils couldn't.

The age of death makes the find especially useful, scientists say, providing insights into the growth and development of human ancestors.

"Visually speaking, the Dikika child is definitely more complete [than Lucy]," team member Fred Spoor of University College London (UCL) said.

Story here.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo looks for new home for baby gorilla

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is looking for a new home and surrogate mother for a gorilla whose own mother rejected him.

Zoo employees and volunteers have been caring for seven-month-old Umande, but he will need a parent until he's about three or four years old.

Zoo officials say other female gorillas at the zoo are also refusing to look after Umande, and he hasn't bonded with his father.

The zoo plans to send Umande to another zoo in a surrogacy program. That zoo hasn't been chosen yet.

Story here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

4 Smuggled Gorillas Will Go Back to Cameroon

The Pretoria Zoo has belatedly agreed to return four smuggled western lowland gorillas to their birthplace in Cameroon, ending a 28-month South African stopover that had been assailed by wildlife experts as flouting international conservation accords. The gorillas, known as the Taiping Four, had been smuggled out of Cameroon and sold to the Taiping Zoo in Malaysia in 2002, but the zoo agreed to give them up after conservationists exposed the deal. Although an annex to the international endangered species treaty specifies that smuggled animals be returned to their original home, Malaysia shipped the gorillas to Pretoria, which opened a state-of-the-art gorilla exhibit for them in May 2005. The zoo’s director, Willie Labuschagne, argued that the gorillas would be slaughtered and sold for meat should they be returned to Cameroon, but relented, citing “the political protocol involved in this case.” The four will be repatriated to Cameroon’s Limbe Animal Orphanage.

Story here.

Study uncovers 'chimp cross code'

chimps crossing roadExperts studying chimpanzees while investigating the evolution of human social behaviour have uncovered their ability to safely cross roads.
They said the discovery has shown chimps' ability to cope with the risk of man-made situations.

The University of Stirling research was carried out with a small chimp community in West Africa.

It found the dominant adult males took up protective positions in the group when it was tasked with crossing roads.

The study at Bossou, Guinea observed the chimpanzees crossing two roads - one large and busy with traffic and the other smaller and used mostly by pedestrians.

The less fearful and physically larger adult males took up forward and rear positions, with the adult females and young occupying the protected middle space.

The study has built on prior research showing that adult male monkeys took similar action to reduce the risk of being attacked by predators when travelling towards potentially unsafe areas, such as waterholes.

Kimberley Hockings, who worked on the study, said: "Road-crossing, a human-created challenge, presents a new situation that calls for flexibility of responses by chimpanzees to variations in perceived risk, helping to improve our understanding about the evolution of human social organisation.

"Dominant individuals act cooperatively with a high level of flexibility to maximise group protection."

Story here.

Zoo Plans Renovation to Allow Public to See Gorilla That Escaped

little joe gorillaZoo officials plan to build a glass-walled cage to display Little Joe, a gorilla who escaped three years ago and mauled a 2-year-old girl.

The new cage, with a mesh cap of woven steel and triple-layer glass walls, is part of $2.3 million renovation of the exhibition space inside the Franklin Park Zoo's Tropical Forest building.

The renovation will display all seven of the zoo's gorillas, including Little Joe and another male, Okpara, who have been kept out of the public eye to prevent another escape.

In September 2003, Joe leapt out of the exhibit in his second escape in two months. Joe reached the zoo pavilion and attacked 2-year-old Nia Scott and an off-duty zoo employee, Courtney Roberson, 18. They suffered cuts and bruises after Joe threw both to the ground and dragged them.

Joe was loose in the neighborhood for more than two hours before police subdued him with tranquilizer darts.

Lawsuits filed by Scott's mother and Roberson against the zoo are pending. On Friday, the lawyer representing both families told The Boston Globe that the zoo's improvements are too late.

"Why did it take two escapes and gorilla attacks on two innocent girls before Zoo New England finally decided to make the necessary modifications to the exhibit to contain this gorilla?" Donald Gibson asked.

Story here.

Social imitation found in rhesus monkeys

Monkeys “imitate with a purpose”, matching their behaviour to others’ as a form of social learning, researchers report.

Such mimicry has previously been seen only in great apes – including humans and chimps – but now Italian researchers have recorded wonderful footage of the phenomenon in newborn rhesus macaques.

Human newborns have a known capacity to mimic certain specific adult facial expressions, including mouth opening and tongue protrusion. The so-called imitation period lasts up to three months in human infants and two months in chimps.

Since newborns cannot see their own faces, they rely on watching adults to learn facial expressions, and mimicry is thought to be crucial to the development of a mother-infant relationship.

Particular brain cells – called “mirror neurons” – fire in a human infant when it watches an adult expression and copies it. Similar mirror neurons "light up" when rhesus monkeys watch another animal perform an action and when they copy that action. This similarity suggests a common brain pathway for imitation in humans and monkeys.

Pier Ferrari at the University of Parma, Italy, and colleagues tested 21 newborn macaques by holding each in front of a researcher who made various facial expressions.

At one day old, none of the infants showed any imitation. By day three, however, infants started to copy the researchers’ expressions, including tongue protrusions, mouth opening and lip smacking – all typical macaque expressions. Watch footage of macaques copying tongue poking and mouth opening (each 3.5MB, avi format).

By two weeks, all imitative behaviour had ceased, showing the imitation period in the monkeys is far shorter than for great apes. However, the researchers note that macaques may copy other macaques for longer.

The study shows the capacity for imitation occurred earlier in the primate evolutionary tree than previously thought, the researchers argue, and before the rhesus monkey ancestor split from the human lineage, about 25 million years ago.

Story here.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Endangered monkey found in Ireland housing estate

A tamarin monkey from South America has been been recovered from a house in County Armagh.
The black and white monkey, which is on a list of endangered animals, was recovered by the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It was discovered in the Legahory estate, Craigavon.

Stephen Philpott from the USPCA said the government needed to apply legislation surrounding the import of animals.

"The USPCA have being saying for a long time now that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act needs to be applied to Northern Ireland as a matter of extreme urgency," he said.

"It's not just from a public safety point of view, it's an animal welfare point of view as well.

"You need a £5 licence to keep a dog in Northern Ireland, but you can keep a tiger, a puma or a tamarin monkey and answer to nobody."

Story here.