Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Captive chimpanzees "talk" differently to humans

talking chimpCaptive chimpanzees use specific vocalizations to communicate with humans according to new research published in the current issue of the journal Animal Behaviour. The researchers, lead by Dr. William Hopkins of Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, say these sounds are not used in other contexts -- only to elicit attention from humans. The researchers say the findings may help explain the evolution of language in primates.

Studying chimp behavior at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center the researchers found that chimps commonly produce a vocal signal, dubbed the ‘raspberry’ or 'Bronx cheer', to function as an attention-getting device. The researchers compare the vocal signal to tool use among great apes.

"Wild and captive chimpanzees are well known for their tool-using abilities... Within this framework, the chimpanzees have a goal, to obtain a food item that they cannot otherwise attain. In this context, the chimpanzees use their communicative behaviours to manipulate a human (the tool) to attain a food item (goal)," write the researchers. "Moreover, their communicative behaviour is flexible in this context because the chimpanzees alter the modality of their communicative signals in accordance with the attentional state of the human. Specifically, when a human is facing them, they are more likely to use visual signals such as manual gestures, but when a human is facing away from them, they are more likely to use auditory signals, including vocalizations... Thus, both chimpanzees and humans can tactically deploy their communicative signals towards immediate ends, presumably using homologous problem-solving capacities."

The researchers say the findings may be significant in furthering the understand of the language evolutionin that chimps generate "novel communicative signals" depending on their circumstances.

"What may distinguish the great apes from other anthropoids is the motivation for this creative or generative signal development. Chimpanzee signals lack the recursive qualities that truly set human languages apart, nevertheless, as far as we know, few other primates invent as wide a range of signals in such diverse modalities as do chimpanzees... the capacity not merely to discriminate but to generate novel communicative signals, which is a hallmark of human linguistic communication, may have relatively ancient roots in the signalling characteristics of our ape ancestors."

Story here.

"Hobbit" Was Own Species, Not Diseased Human, Brain Study Says

hobbit skullThe three-foot human "flores hobbit" who lived on the Indonesian island of Flores more than 13,000 years ago had a sophisticated brain which was rewired internally to compensate for its small size, a study has found.

An internal cast of the brain case shows that the hobbit possessed rare cranial features that would probably have conferred unusual intelligence on such a small creature, scientists said.

The findings pour cold water on the idea that the hobbit was not a new species of human but an ordinary person suffering from microcephaly, a disease that causes stunted growth and small brain size.

Ever since scientists announced in 2004 that they had discovered the skull and partial skeleton of a tiny human female on Flores, experts have argued about whether she belonged to new species of human or was just someone born with microcephaly.

The latest study confirms beyond any reasonable doubt that the Flores skull belongs to a new species who was probably intelligent enough to make and use the tiny stone tools found alongside the bones, said Professor Dean Falk of Florida State University in Tallahassee. "It's as definitive as it can be. We feel that we've answered the questions raised by the people who contend that the hobbit is a microcephalic," Professor Falk said. "People refused to believe that someone with a brain that small could make the tools. How could it be a sophisticated new species?"

The volume of the hobbit's brain is only 417 cubic centimetres, about a third of the size of a normal adult. Some scientists said that such a small brain would not be able to carry out the tasks of tool making and tool using associated with being human.

However, a team of scientists led by Professor Falk compared the internal cast of the hobbit's braincase with similar "endocasts" of 10 normal, healthy people and nine people with microcephaly.

A computer reconstruction of her brain, and measurements of its internal dimensions, placed it clearly within the normal range of brains and not within the range of microcephalics, Professor Falk said.

The scientists also found that the brain case has four unusual features - which left endocast impressions - that distinguishes it from the brain cases of Homo sapiens. These features, they argue, justify its classification as a separate species, named Homo floresiensis.

"It has a combination of features that I've not seen before in any other primate endocasts. They had a little brain that had been globally reorganised and which didn't get bigger - it got more complex. It got rewired and reorganised and that's very interesting," Professor Falk said.

Other scientists had previously criticised Professor Falk and her colleagues for a similar study which relied heavily on the endocast of just one microcephalic.

However, this time the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used nine endocasts of microcephalics ranging in age and ethnicity to counter suggestions of biased data.

"We feel that we've answered the criticisms. If people still want to insist that the hobbit is a microcephalic, then they must bring us a microcephalic skull that looks like the hobbit," Professor Falk said.

Dating suggests that the hobbit lived on Flores for many tens of thousands of years and probably died out about 13,000 years ago following a massive volcanic eruption. If so, it would mean that a diminutive species of human being was living alongside "ordinary" humans at a time when it was thought that we were the only ones on Earth.

Story here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Severely Disfigured Chimp Attack Victim Awarded $32K

chimp attackA West Covina couple who kept a pet chimp at their home for years but were forced to give it up in 1999 will be paid about $32,000 in a settlement with the city, which broke a deal to find a place to house the ape.

St. James Davis, who was nearly killed in March 2005 when he was attacked by two other chimps when he went to visit his pet, Moe, on the chimp’s 39th birthday at a Kern County facility, and his wife La Donna, will also get about $300 per month to house the chimp, according to published and broadcast reports.

The Superior Court ruling was finalized Friday.

The couple had kept Moe at their home since 1960, but after couple of run-ins with the law -- he tangled with a police officer and later bit a visitor -- city officials declared Moe a dangerous animal and banned him.

The Davises sued, and the city agreed to house the chimp in next door in Baldwin Park. But that city was reluctant to accept Moe, who was sent to a Kern County facility, where some other chimps were kept.

In the attack, Davis' lost several fingers and toes, and his face was severely disfigured. He was kept in an induced coma for weeks and has since undergone more than a dozen surgeries.

His wife lost a thumb in the attack.

Story here.

Escaped Japanese snow monkey lured into cage on Air Force base

escaped monkeyShe eluded Goldsboro and Wayne authorities for more than a month -- sneaking through neighborhoods and backyards.

But this morning, the Japanese snow monkey that made its way onto Seymour Johnson Air Force Base late last week learned that you can't escape the 4th Fighter Wing so easily.

The elusive monkey has been caught.

After escaping from its owner, Frankie Piscopo of Nahunta, in early December, she had wandered neighborhoods around Goldsboro for weeks, giving residents a glimpse now and then.

Fourth Fighter Wing Safety Director Tim Edwards said the monkey, a female, had been lured to a trap baited with fruit. Base officials had said they hoped the free meal would encourage the monkey to drop her guard and eventually grow comfortable around the trap.

Edwards said the monkey entered the trap once this morning but failed to trigger it closure. Officials then re-set the trap with a lighter trigger and when the monkey returned, the trap closed.

Base officials had considered asking the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro to send an expert with a tranquilizer gun to help capture the elusive primate.

The monkey had been spotted in several areas around Goldsboro in recent weeks, with some residents getting close enough to take photographs. It was reported on the base late last week.

The base command had issued a warning to airmen and their families to avoid contact with the monkey and not to feed it.

It is still unclear what will happen to the animal now that it has been trapped.

Base officials said last week that it would either be returned to Piscopo or sent to a sanctuary.

Story here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Congo Rebels Agree to End Gorilla Slaughter

dead gorillasRebel troops blamed for the recent slaughter of critically endangered mountain gorillas in Central Africa have agreed to end the killing, conservation workers have announced.

Earlier this month the dismembered remains of two mountain gorillas eaten within ten days of each other were discovered in the Virunga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), raising fears of further deaths.

Now the rebels held responsible have vowed to stop further ape killings. The rebels made the pledge during talks with wildlife rangers mediated by the United Nations and the Congolese army, according to the conservation group WildlifeDirect, based in Kenya and the DRC.

The meeting took place near a rebel camp at Bikenge, where the remains of the second gorilla killed were found floating in a pit latrine last week in Virunga National Park.

The agreement was made between senior Virunga park warden Paulin Ngobobo and rebel force leader Colonel Makenga, WildlifeDirect says.

"We weren't expecting to succeed given the overwhelming odds against [it]," Ngobobo said in a statement.

"However, this is just another small step," he added. "We must keep up international pressure to ensure that this does not happen again next week, next month, or next year."

Only around 700 mountain gorillas remain worldwide. More than half live in the Virunga volcanic mountains region shared by DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda (see Africa map).

The two eaten gorillas were adult males known as silverbacks. News of their deaths provoked international outrage.

Story here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Baby monkey rejected because of hiccups

baby monkey hiccupsA cute baby monkey has been rejected by its mother - because of her chronic hiccups.

The tiny Colobus monkey has been called Sokojoo - the word for hiccup in her natural habitat in Gambia.

Within days of being born on December 30th, Sokojoo was gulping down milk too quickly, causing her diaphragm to spasm and make a 'hic' sound after every feed.

The noise was so bad that her mother Sierra refused to feed her and the baby had to taken away from their enclosure at Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

Now 27 day old Sokojoo is being hand reared by staff and bottle fed.

Zoo spokeswoman Michelle Turton said: "She hiccups after feeding which is very cute and it makes her seem so human.

"She loves her milk and it will soon be time to move her on to solids. We are hoping that will help with the hiccups."

Story here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Paleontologists discover most primitive primate skeleton

primative fossilThe origins and earliest branches of primate evolution are clearer and more ancient by 10 million years than previous studies estimated, according to a study featured on the cover of the Jan. 23 print edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper by researchers at Yale, the University of Winnipeg, Stony Brook University, and led by University of Florida paleontologist Jonathan Bloch reconstructs the base of the primate family tree by comparing skeletal and fossil specimens representing more than 85 modern and extinct species. The team also discovered two 56-million-year-old fossils, including the most primitive primate skeleton ever described.

In the two-part study, an extensive evaluation of skeletal structures provides evidence that plesiadapiforms, a group of archaic mammals once thought to be more closely related to flying lemurs, are the most primitive primates. The team analyzed 173 characteristics of modern primates, tree shrews, flying lemurs with plesiadapiform skeletons to determine their evolutionary relationships. High-resolution CT scanning made fine resolution of inaccessible structures inside the skulls possible.

"This is the first study to bring it all together," said co-author Eric Sargis, associate professor of anthropology at Yale University and Assistant Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at Yale's Peabody Museum of Natural History. "The extensive dataset, the number and type of characteristics we were able to compare, and the availability of full skeletons, let us test far more than any previous study."

At least five major features characterize modern primates: relatively large brains, enhanced vision and eyes that face forward, a specialized ability to leap, nails instead of claws on at least the first toes, and specialized grasping hands and feet. Plesiadapiforms have some but not all of these traits. The article argues that these early primates may have acquired the traits over 10 million years in incremental changes to exploit their environment.

While the study did not include a molecular evaluation of the samples, according to Sargis, these results are consistent with molecular studies on related living groups. Compatibility with the independent molecular data increases the researchers' confidence in their own results.

Bloch discovered the new plesiadapiform species, Ignacius clarkforkensis and Dryomomys szalayi, just outside Yellowstone National Park in the Bighorn Basin with co-author Doug Boyer, a graduate student in anatomical sciences at Stony Brook. Previously, based only on skulls and isolated bones, scientists proposed that Ignacius was not an archaic primate, but instead a gliding mammal related to flying lemurs. However, analysis of a more complete and well-preserved skeleton by Bloch and his team altered this idea.

"These fossil finds from Wyoming show that our earliest primate ancestors were the size of a mouse, ate fruit and lived in the trees," said study leader Jonathan Bloch, a vertebrate paleontology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It is remarkable to think we are still discovering new fossil species in an area studied by paleontologists for over 100 years."

Researchers previously hypothesized plesiadapiforms as the ancestors of modern primates, but the idea generated strong debate within the primatology community. This study places the origins of Plesiadapiforms in the Paleocene, about 65 (million) to 55 million years ago in the period between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the first appearance of a number of undisputed members of the modern orders of mammals.

"Plesiadapiforms have long been one of the most controversial groups in mammalian phylogeny," said Michael J. Novacek, curator of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. "First, they are somewhere near primates and us. Second, historically they have offered tantalizing, but very often incomplete, fossil evidence. But the specimens in their study are beautifully and spectacularly preserved."

"The results of this study suggest that plesiadapiforms are the critical taxa to study in understanding the earliest phases of human evolution. As such, they should be of very broad interest to biologists, paleontologists, and anthropologists," said co-author Mary Silcox, professor of anthropology at the University of Winnipeg.

"This collaboration is the first to bring together evidence from all regions of the skeleton, and offers a well-supported perspective on the structure of the earliest part of the primate family tree," Bloch said.

Story here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Prodded by court, Delhi government plans 2 more monkey shelters

With the Delhi High Court's order to contain the monkey menace in the Capital, the Delhi Government has decided to build two more shelters to house the simians. While this will provide room for a total of 1000 animals, no relief is yet in sight as the monkey population in the city run to thousands.

The government has also formed a committee seeking people's views to address the problem. The committee has to submit its report to the court. But the brainstorming doesn't seem to have yielded much result. Government officials said the suggestions they received so far range from sterilisation, captivity and awareness drives telling people not to feed them - apart from the regularly used technique of using langoor to chase them away.

Delhi Environment Minister Raj Kumar Chauhan said the new shelters will be built in Outer Delhi after consultations with experts. One of the areas identified is Bhatti Mines. Rajokri already has a captive house, where 300 monkeys have been lodged.

The government of Madhya Pradesh has recently refused to accept 300 monkeys sent from Delhi. For every consignment of 300 monkeys sent out, the Delhi government has to pay Rs 25 lakh for upkeep.

According to wildlife experts, the monkey population in the city has gone up because people feed them out of religious sentiments. But not all monkeys are dangerous - especially those moving around in groups.

Story here.

Zoo Monkey Gives Birth In Front of TV Crew

monkey birthA big surprise at a surprise birthday party at the Pittsburgh Zoo this week. Margaret, a howler monkey and her brood of thirteen offspring were helping a fellow primate celebrate her first birthday.

But it was Margaret, who gave birth during the party right there in front of everyone. Her handlers say they weren't even sure she was pregnant.

Pittsburgh Zoo officials say Margaret is their oldest howler monkey that is still reproducing. Margaret still hasn't given zoo handlers permission to inspect the baby.

Story here.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gorilla birth in Prague zoo to be broadcast live on internet

The birth of the second gorilla offspring in the Prague zoological garden will be broadcast live on the internet on www.rozhlas.cz/odhaleni these days, Petra Hanzelkova from Czech Radio told CTK today.

Female Kamba is to give birth in front of the cameras.

The life of the gorilla family from Prague zoo, including also male Richard, females Shinda and Kijivu and two-year-old baby Moja, has been continuously monitored by the cameras since autumn 2005 when "the slightly different reality show" was launched.

Within the "Discovery" project the primates from Prague´s zoo were monitored by 15 cameras all day long for two months. The shots were presented on the websites of the CRo internet radio station Leonardo and on the public Czech Television (CT), and viewers of the show could vote via SMSs for their favourite contestant.

The winner, male Richard, received the main prize of 12 melons, a delicacy for gorillas.

Last year, the project won one of the main awards at the Wildscreen international competition of documentaries on wildlife in Bristol, Britain.

Kamba, the oldest member of Prague´s gorilla family, was born in Africa in 1972. She is one of the few last gorillas in European zoos who were born in the wild. This is why she is extremely important for breeding, experts say.

Male Richard first did not show much interest in Kamba first, but after she was given supportive hormonal products, his behaviour changed and he started to court her. She conceived last May.

Prague zoo is expecting another gorilla baby in May when Kijivu is to give birth to her second offspring.

Story here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Second rare gorilla killed by Congo rebels, mass slaughter feared

dead gorillaRebels in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have killed another highly endangered mountain gorilla -- the second this month -- sparking fears of mass slaughter, conservationists have warned.

Fighters loyal to dissident DRC general Laurent Nkunda killed, dismembered and ate the lone silverback in volatile eastern Congo's Virunga National Park on January 11, following the previous killing on January 5, they said.

"The animal's remains, including the head, feet, and skin, were found dumped in human excrement in a drop pit latrine," the British-based Africa Conservation Fund said, adding that the discovery was made on Tuesday.

"The stench was terrible, a mixture of rotting flesh and human excrement," said Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society who was in the area, near a rebel camp, and was among those to find the remains.

Nkunda's men, blamed for sowing insecurity throughout eastern Congo, killed the latest silverback, a solitary male known as Karema, close to the site of the earlier killing near a former wildlife patrol post abandoned by rangers due to rebel attacks, he said.

"We need to impress on Nkunda and his men that it is inexcusable to destroy national and world heritage of such critical importance," Muir said. "Now that we know that the slaughtered gorilla was eaten, the gorillas habituated for tourism are at extreme risk and we are worried that more have been killed."

Only about 700 mountain gorillas remain in the wild, all of them living in the mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and the eastern DRC, where Nkunda's rebels and other armed groups are accused of poaching and encroaching on their habitat.

"The survival of these last remaining mountain gorillas should be one of humanity's greatest priorities," said Richard Leakey, the famed Kenyan conservationist and founder of the group Wildlife Direct that trains park rangers in Virunga.

Story here.

Chimp With Sterile Mates Turns Up Pregnant

pregnant chimpStaff at a rest home for retired chimpanzees are perplexed by the surprise pregnancy of one of their female chimps – because all the male chimps at the home have had vasectomies.

The pregnancy was first discovered when the chimpess in question, Teresa, was reported missing during the morning check on the chimps at Caddo Parish's Chimp Haven. Teresa turned up a while later – cradling a newborn baby chimp.

While there are seven male chimpanzees at Chimp Haven, they have all had surgery to render them incapable of baby-making.

Chimp Haven's Linda Brent admitted: 'Well, we were all just a little bit surprised when we heard the news.'

The culprit remains unknown, but Brent added: ''We're going to be doing a paternity test, just like you would do on people.'

To that end, hair samples are being collected from all the male chimps, to find out who done it. And once the perpetrator is identified, they'll get the bonus prize of another trip to the surgeon, to makes absolutely sure that Chimp Haven doesn't see any more mysterious births in future.

Of course, if the DNA tests produce no result, then Metro's own favoured theories – chimp virgin birth, outlaw chimp of love breaking in at night, or a keeper with a dark secret – will be back in play.

Story here.

Escaped Chimp Gets Snack, Cleans Toilet

escaped chimpAn escaped chimpanzee at the Little Rock Zoo raided a kitchen cupboard and did a little cleaning with a toilet brush before sedatives knocked her out on top of a refrigerator.

The 120-pound primate, Judy, escaped Tuesday into a service area when a zookeeper opened a door to her sleeping quarters, unaware the animal was still inside.

As keepers tried to woo Judy back into her cage, she rummaged through a refrigerator where chimp snacks are stored. She opened kitchen cupboards, pulled out juice and soft drinks and took a swig from bottles she managed to open.

Keeper Ann Rademacher says Judy went into the bathroom, picked up a toilet brush and cleaned the toilet. Rademacher says the 37-year-old Judy was a house pet before the zoo acquired her in 1988, so she may have been familiar with housekeeping chores. Judy wrung out a sponge and scrubbed down the fridge.

It took a couple of tries, but the zoo sedated the chimp, who fell asleep on top of the refrigerator with half a loaf of cinnamon-raisin bread she had pulled out of the freezer.

The zoo veterinarian gave Judy a drug to bring her around. Rademacher says Judy was groggy but fine after the episode.

Story here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Monkey made famous in Sony headphone commercial dies of old age

sony monkeyA monkey made famous 20 years ago in a Sony headphone commercial died of old age in Kumamoto Prefecture on Sunday. The monkey, named "Choromatsu," was 29.

After retiring from entertainment activities in 1990, Choromatsu often enjoyed his favorite past-time of basking in the sun, according to a group of monkey showmen in Yamaguchi Prefecture, which kept Choromatsu.

In the famous TV commercial, Choromatsu listened to music while closing his eyes. Sources said that Choromatsu closed his eyes during the filming of the commercial because he was tired and happened to doze off.

His age is equivalent to about 100 years old for humans.

Story here.

Primates may have come along earlier than thought

Primates that eventually gave rise to human beings came on the scene shortly after the extinction of dinosaurs, a full 10 million years earlier than the fossil record has ever conclusively illustrated, according to a new paper co-authored by a University of Florida faculty member.

Jonathan Bloch, curator of paleontology at UF's Florida Museum of Natural History, says his team's paper gives the first conclusive evidence that modern-day primates find their roots in mammals that lived 65 million years ago. Prior to this paper, the fossil record has only conclusively shown primates appearing 55 million years ago; what happened before then has been a matter of educated conjecture, Bloch said.

"The question (about primates) has been, where did they come from? What did they evolve from?" he said.

According to Bloch's conclusions, primates evolved from a mammal about the size of a small mouse with a skull no bigger than a grape. Other scientists have previously suggested these tiny archaic primates, called plesiadapiforms, could have been the earliest predecessors of primates. But Bloch was able to add new credibility to that hunch with a fossil discovery he made near Yellowstone National Park.

Accompanied by Doug Boyer, a graduate student in anatomical science at Stony Brook University and a co-author of the paper, Bloch ventured east of Yellowstone to Big Horn Basin near Cody, Wyo. By carefully dissolving freshwater limestone with acid, the crew uncovered the complete skeletons of two new species of plesiadapiforms, giving a holistic picture of the bodies of these animals and their primate features. Before that fossil discovery, scientists had been limited to fossil fragments like teeth, which didn't provide enough evidence for a scientifically acceptable conclusion about whether they were primates, Bloch said.

"(The new fossil) allows us to say these things are much more like primates than you could ever say looking at their teeth," Bloch said.

One of the species, called the Dryomomys szalayi, is the most primitive primate skeleton ever discovered, Bloch said, providing a picture of life tens of millions of years ago.

Bloch's paper, which will be the cover story in the Jan. 23 edition of "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences," helps to form a picture about exactly what happened on Earth after the dinosaurs went extinct. Mammals that had formerly kept a "low profile" in order to avoid the tenacious dinosaur literally began to branch out, moving farther along tree limbs to access food.

During a period of some 10 million years after dinosaurs went extinct, the emboldened and evolving plesiadapiforms became more like primates we know today, Bloch said. The early fossils suggest these animals would have initially only been capable of rudimentary grasping like a squirrel. But over time they would take on the characteristics of modern primates, which have grasping hands and feet, nails instead of claws, relatively large brains and an ability to jump from tree to tree, Bloch said.

Bloch's research wouldn't have been possible without the fossil discoveries of the two new species of plesiadapiforms he found in Big Horn Basin. What's fascinating about one of these fossils, Bloch says, is that it so closely resembles a tree shrew. That observation may not mean much at a cocktail party, but for paleontologists it demonstrates something rather remarkable. The tree shrew is a close relative of the primate, and this fossil - not surprisingly - illustrates a common ancestor between tree shrews and primates further down the evolutionary chain.

Story here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Chimps Killed in Uganda Kibaale Park

Two chimpanzees have been killed in Kibaale National Park.

Encroachers speared a female chimpanzee to death on Tuesday and seriously injured her baby, which died two days later.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority acting executive director, Damian akankwasa, said the encroachers were reportedly trying to smuggle the baby chimpanzee.

He said a boy, who was carrying the injured baby chimp, was arrested.

The boy claimed he was hired by some men who reportedly escaped when he was netted.

Akankwasa said this is a big loss, adding that the culprits would be arrested.

Meanwhile, security has been beefed up in national parks with the acquisition of marine equipment.

The wildlife authority received two outboard engines, 24 backpacks, six geographical positioning systems, tents and a sh8.8m cheque from a donor, Transboundary Collaboration Project.

Akankwasa believes the donation will boost their patrols.

Story here.

Primate Lab Violations End Project At UConn

The University of Connecticut Health Center has stopped a controversial neuroscience project involving monkeys and reprimanded the researcher after U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections found about a dozen violations in the primate lab.

The researcher, David Waitzman, voluntarily stopped the research on rhesus monkeys in August, two days after a USDA inspector cited him for incorrect drug dosages and failure to follow approved research procedures, including unapproved injections into a monkey's brain that temporarily resulted in a severe head tilt to the left, an inability to look left and other problems.

The developments, which came to light this week, follow protests and petitions by UConn student and animal activist Justin Goodman to stop the research and free the monkeys. Last winter, Goodman chained himself to a railing and staged a raucous protest outside a gala hosted by UConn President Philip E. Austin after learning that two of the three monkeys involved in the project - Cornelius and Lips - had died.

"As far as I'm concerned, the monkeys who died at UConn did not die in vain," Goodman said Wednesday. "People know their names. People know what they went through."

Four USDA inspections conducted from November 2005 through October 2006 found violations, including a failure to provide alternatives to potentially painful or distressful procedures, failure to provide adequate water, failure to provide adequate veterinary care and failure to adequately train handlers. Inspection reports also cited the researchers for causing bruises around a monkey's eye, face and neck by using a metal collar and pole to train the animal.

The project allowed researchers to drill holes into the monkeys' skulls and to implant steel coils in their brains to record eye movements.

The research, which studied the coordinated control of the eyes by the brain to direct the center of gaze, was designed to help clinicians diagnose and treat stroke, progressive supranuclear palsy and other diseases, Peter J. Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs at the Health Center, has said.

USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said Thursday that the agency has not taken any enforcement action against the Health Center. "It is our policy not to comment on open investigations," he said.

He added, "The USDA takes seriously any non-compliant items in an inspection report."

Health Center officials declined to comment on the findings and simply reproduced a press release written last year to defend the research.

Story here.

Pitt's cloned monkey embryos are abnormal, not yet usable

University of Pittsburgh researchers are on the right track in their quest to create usable stem cells from cloned monkey embryos, a federal official who reviewed Pitt's research said Thursday.

"They're close, but no cigar," said John Dahlberg, director of the division of investigative oversight in the Office of Research Integrity.

Federal reviewers this week completed an analysis of a Pitt manuscript intended for publication in the journal Nature that outlines the university's attempt to create the embryonic cell line -- a scientific first that would elevate Pitt's stature to a world cloning authority.

Scientists believe that similarities in the biology of monkeys and humans could make these experiments in monkeys a prelude to similar research in people, possibly leading to cures for diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson's.

Pitt officials earlier this week said a team of researchers led by reproductive biologist Gerald Schatten is confident it has generated the cell lines, a feat no other group of scientists has accomplished.

Dahlberg, however, said the stem cell line was abnormal because it had twice the normal number of chromosomes.

"Even if different tissue types could be obtained from it, they would be of no therapeutic value with respect to treating damaged monkey tissues," Dahlberg said.

Dahlberg's office reviewed the manuscript only after being alerted by Schatten that a former collaborator, Jong Hyuk Park, falsified some images that were part of the work, according to Pitt and federal reviewers.

"There is no question that they had been successful," Dahlberg said. "The cell line existed, but the pictures (Park) used were not from the stem cell line. They were from a different one."

As a result, the Pitt team halted the project and began the experiments from scratch, according to Pitt spokeswoman Lisa Rossi.

Rossi said yesterday that Park's misconduct did not affect the researchers' findings, but they chose to redo the experiments without Park's involvement.

She would not say if top-level administrators at Pitt, including medical school dean Dr. Arthur Levine, are confident the researchers will achieve their goal.

"The jury is out until the work is completed and peer-reviewed," Rossi said.

She would not say if the new research has been completed, or when it would be submitted for review by independent scientists, a necessary step to authenticate the findings.

Results of the prior experiments, conducted in 2005, never made it to the hands of independent scientists, but Dahlberg called them "very publishable."

Park, who left Pitt in February 2006 to return to his native South Korea, has had eight stem cell papers retracted by leading scientific journals.

They include a fraudulent 2005 Science paper co-written by Schatten that claimed to have derived stem cells from cloned human embryos.

Since that fraud was uncovered last winter, Schatten, who heads the Pittsburgh Development Center at the Magee-Womens Research Institute, has refused to comment publicly.

Story here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Monkey Manuel stolen from caravan

A monkey called Manuel has been stolen in a raid on a caravan.

The common marmoset was taken from the Ropewalk caravan site on Tolney Lane, Newark, between 2100 and 2210 GMT on Friday 5 January.

Manuel's owner and her children are said to be extremely upset and are concerned for Manuel's wellbeing as he has special dietary requirements.

Police say the monkey is likely to be very frightened and may become aggressive if handled by strangers.

Manuel has two white tufts of hair at the sides of his head, and a white blaze on his forehead.

He has greyish fur with darker stripes and his tail has darker coloured rings. He is between eight and 10 inches long (20 to 25cm) and he weights about 14oz (397 grams).

Nothing else was taken in the burglary.

Police are appealing for the public's help to trace the monkey.

Story here.

Congo rebels accused of slaughtering highly endangered mountain gorilla

congo gorillaCongolese rebels have shot and butchered a rare mountain gorilla, raising fears for a tiny population that has clung on through years of warfare in central Africa, conservationists said on Wednesday.

Just 700 mountain gorillas survive, more than half of them in Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. The east of the country bore the brunt of a 1998-2003 war and humanitarian disaster that has killed some 4 million people.

"In a population this small, every individual counts -- and the loss of a trusting young silverback is tragic on many levels," Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the United Nations Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP), said in a statement.

Adult male gorillas are known as silverbacks because of their grey colouring.

The statement was issued by Nairobi-based conservation group Wildlife Direct which supports gorilla protection efforts in Virunga, Africa's oldest national park and a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Wildlife Direct accused fighters loyal to renegade Congolese general Laurent Nkunda of shooting the silverback last week, and said they ordered a local farmer to help butcher it. Primates and other mammals are prized in parts of Africa as "bush meat".

"The future survival of this species is now under threat, and I fear that this recent attack on the gorillas could signal a wave of such killings if immediate action is not taken to remove Nkunda's and his troops from their habitat," Robert Muir, of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, said in the statement.

Wildlife Direct said the gorilla had been one of a group which were used to humans because of regular trips by tourists before the war broke out. Congo held landmark elections last year, but militia violence continues in eastern areas.

Conservation efforts have helped the mountain gorilla population grow by 14 percent since the war began.

Wildlife Direct said the gorilla was killed just 600 metres (yards) from one of several patrol posts which rangers abandoned in November due to attacks and looting by Nkunda's fighters.

Some 97 rangers have been killed since 1997 protecting Virunga from poachers, it said. The park spans Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and is home to 380 mountain gorillas.

The other population, of 320, is in the nearby Bwindi National Park in Uganda.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

South Korean scientists to try monkey cloning

A team led by a South Korean scientist said it would soon attempt to perform the world's first cloning of a monkey.

"We are working on the mechanism of stimulating female monkey ovulation to gain eggs en masse, the minimal-must for cloning," team leader Chang Kyu-tae, of the Korea National Primate Research Center, said Wednesday. "After related regulations are set, we will begin cloning attempts with monkeys next year."

Chang said the team hopes to be successful in 2008, the Korea Times said.

The scientist said his team was cautious about its attempt because monkey cloning is important for developing an animal model that parallels human biology and can be used for preclinical tests in a number of areas.

Scientists have cloned domestic animals, including sheep and dogs, Chang said, but the reproductive cloning of monkeys has not been achieved.

In 2004, a U.S. scientist was reportedly close to cloning a monkey when his team cultured embryos to the blastocyst stage.

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Pneumonia strikes Columbus Zoo’s ape troop, killing one

A 15-year-old bonobo died Christmas Eve at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, the victim of a severe respiratory infection that has moved through the troop in the past week and a half.

Jerry Borin, executive director of the zoo, said a post-mortem examination showed that Mambo had pneumonia. A young female bonobo is being treated in the zoo hospital, and all the bonobos are being treated with antibiotics and extra fluids, he said.

Borin said he thinks that the infection is under control and that, so far, it has not spread to the zoo's other apes, including the gorillas and gibbons. The infection appears to be viral. The bonobos have shown flu symptoms such as coughing and runny noses, he said.

"Unfortunately, these guys can't tell you when they hurt," Borin said.

It's possible that the infection spread from humans to the apes, although the zoo won't know for sure until pathology reports are back.

All the great apes get flu shots annually.

Dr. Michael Barrie, director of animal health at the zoo, said the troop is making a strong recovery, including the one that is hospitalized.

The zoo is receiving assistance from Dr. Thomas Boes, a pulmonologist at Riverside Hospital, and Dr. Vicki Clyde, the veterinary species survival plan adviser for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Mambo came to the Columbus Zoo about three years ago for mating. His death leaves the zoo with 12 bonobos: six males and six females.

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Gorilla on Fertility Drug Gives Birth

fertility gorillaThe baby gorilla was born at Bristol Zoo Gardens on Dec. 15, the zoo's deputy director Dr. Bryan Carroll said.

The newborn, which has not been named, has started suckling and is doing well, the zoo's senior primate expert Mel Gage said. Its sex has yet to be determined.

It is the second baby for the 30-year-old mother, Salome, who first gave birth almost 20 years ago.

"The new baby is incredibly cute and Salome is being a very attentive mom and her father Jock is being very protective of his family troop - we couldn't have hoped for more," Gage said.

Veterinarians had diagnosed Salome with a diminished ovarian reserve, meaning she was not producing ova, Carroll said.

After consulting gynecologist David Hill, a senior lecturer at the University of Bristol, zoo veterinarians gave Salome a fertility drug called clomifene to stimulate ovulation, Carroll said.

Salome became pregnant three months after first receiving the treatments, he said.

"Female gorillas, like their human counterparts, find conceiving more difficult as they get older, so zoos may now be able to give some of their important breeders a helping hand," Caroll said. "Being able to treat female gorillas with human fertility drugs is potentially a very important breakthrough."

Carroll said the treatment was likely to be replicated worldwide.

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