Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tiger and orangutan babies become playmates at Indonesian zoo

tigers and orangutan babies playingA pair of month-old Sumatran tiger twins have become inseparable playmates with a set of young orangutans, an unthinkable match in their natural jungle habitat in Indonesia’s tropical rainforests.

The friendship between 5-month-old female baby primates Nia and Irma, and cubs Dema and Manis, has blossomed at the Taman Safari zoo where they share a room in the nursery.

After being abandoned by their mothers shortly after birth, the four play fight, nipping and teasing each other, and cuddling up for a shared nap when they are worn out.

”This is unusual and would never happen in the wild,” said zoo keeper Sri Suwarni, bottle-feeding a baby chimp on Wednesday. ”Like human babies, they only want to play.”

The four have lived side-by-side for a month without a single act of hostility, she said.

Indonesian tigers and orangutans are both endangered species, threatened by rapidly shrinking habitats.

The exceptional friendship will likely be short-lived, said veterinarian Retno Sudarwati, because as the animals grow up their natural survival instincts will kick in.

”When the time comes, they will have to be separated. It’s sad, but we cant’ change their natural behavior,” she said. ”Tigers start eating meat when they are three months old.”

Story here.

A tossed coin at the zoo sickens a siamang mom

coin in monkey x-rayIf you want to offer zoo animals a penny for their thoughts, Fresno Chaffee Zoo officials say to think again.

Lottie, the zoo's lone female siamang, became ill about two weeks ago after zoo officials say she swallowed a coin.

Siamangs are known for whooping jungle noises along with their climbing and jumping abilities, and 25-year-old Lottie is no exception. So when Lottie started acting lethargic, having diarrhea and losing weight, zoo officials knew there was a problem.

After running blood, urine and fecal tests, and taking X-rays, a zoo veterinarian discovered a small sphere at the bottom of Lottie's pelvis. Zoo officials say it's a coin, probably tossed into the siamangs' and orangutans' enclosure by a zoo patron who wanted to see the primates move around more.

Lottie may be among the smaller members of the ape family, but her significance to Fresno Chaffee Zoo is heightened because she gave birth to a son, Bahasa, six months ago. Her staying healthy is important to her offspring, since siamangs don't reach maturity until they are about 7 years old. She also has a 3-year-old son, Jambi.

Her mate, Biong, is active with the young siamangs, but the younger the baby is, the larger the mother's role, said Lyn Myers, a senior zookeeper, and there was concern that losing her could lead to serious problems -- possibly death -- for Bahasa.

"A week ago she would hardly move at all," Myers said. "She would just lie there."

Myers said Lottie rarely gets sick but "crashes quickly" when she does.

The coin is believed to have raised toxin levels in Lottie's blood, leading to her loss of appetite and other problems, said veterinarian Lewis Wright. It caused Lottie, a 20-pound Siamang, to lose four pounds, about 20% of her body weight.

Wright said if toxicity in her blood rises, it allows other infections or problems to occur more easily.

People tossing items into animal enclosures have been known to kill animals. This week, a hippo at a zoo in Lufkin, Texas, died after swallowing a child's ball. The ball obstructed its intestines.

As for Lottie, she has started to regain lost weight, and her health continues to improve thanks in part to a liquid diet that includes banana cream Pedialyte. She has been returned to her enclosure and is eating, climbing and swinging. She will be back on her regular diet of fruits and vegetables in about two weeks, Myers said.

"I am sure nobody was trying to hurt her, but this is something that was totally preventable," she said.

Zoo officials have not found any evidence that Lottie has passed the coin, so they believe it may still be in her colon. She has been known to swallow and pass coins before but never became so ill.

While infections and bacteria are difficult to control in a zoo setting, zoo officials can warn people about the dangers of throwing things into animal enclosures, said Lewis Greene, the zoo's director.

"This is really something that can kill our animals," he said. "If people don't do it, there is one less thing we have to combat."

Story here.

A moment of Tokyo zoo escaped orangutan terror drill zen...

escaped monkey drill
tokyo zoo drill
monkey drill

A zoo in western Tokyo has carried out an animal escape drill with an employee wearing an orangutan costume. Small children were terrified by the fearsome renegade ape.

Except the runaway ape was in fact a zoo keeper in an animal costume. The escape bid was actually part of an elaborate drill to train for real animal break outs.

Zoo workers practiced surrounding the escapee with nets before pretending to shoot it with a tranquilizer dart. The renegade primate was then "returned" to its enclosure.

Not everybody was able to tell the simulation from reality, however. Several small children were terrified by the "orangutan" and burst into tears.

Story here.

Study shows monkeys become increasingly motivated to obtain nicotine

nicotine monkeyNicotine use is highly addictive in primates, say researchers who conducted an unusual study of squirrel monkeys.

The study by researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto and the U.S. National Institutes of Health examined the reinforcing effects of nicotine. It found that squirrel monkeys who could give themselves nicotine by pressing a lever initially used it very little - but over time developed a "high motivation" for using it.

"The number of the lever presses that the monkey had to perform to get a single injection of nicotine progressively increased," said Dr. Bernard Le Foll, a CAMH scientist and associate professor at the University of Toronto.

"We were able to measure the motivation to take nicotine ... This revealed a high motivation to take nicotine, with monkeys pressing up to 600 times to get a single injection of nicotine."

A catheter was implanted into a vein of the animals. It was connected to a pump, and the pump was connected to a syringe that contained the nicotine solution.

Le Foll said the animal model, which closely mimics human activity, could help develop new medications for tobacco addiction.

"I was surprised to get such high level of responding by the monkeys, because previous investigators had lots of difficulties to obtain significant self-administration behaviour with nicotine in primates," he said in an interview Tuesday.

"That is an indication that nicotine is a critical component of tobacco smoke and that it is the desire to obtain nicotine that is an important drive of smoking behaviour."

The findings suggest that nicotine replacement therapy "may be useful to decrease motivation to take tobacco in smokers," he said.

Story here.

Endangered monkey twins are born at Hampshire zoo

tamarin twinsA Hampshire zoo has successfully bred a set of twins of one of the world's most endangered species of monkey.

The cotton-top tamarin twins were born as part of a breeding programme at Marwell Zoo, near Winchester.

They have been named Zambrono and Tol after places near the Las Coloradas Sanctuary in their native Colombia, South America.

The twins are being nursed and cared for by their mother Magdalena, while dad also shares responsibilities.

Shelly Parkes, the zoo's head keeper and section manager for the cotton-tops, said: "We are extremely proud that more than 50 cotton-tops have been born at Marwell.

"Magdalena and her partner Cauca are particularly successful - the latest arrivals are their fourth set of twins.

"We are all really pleased that the twins are healthy, and hopefully will one day also contribute to our successful breeding programme to safeguard the continued survival of these fascinating little monkeys."

Story here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Authorities Seize Monkey, Piranhas From Suburban Dallas Home

seixed monkeyAuthorities have taken a monkey, an alligator, a tarantula and six piranhas from a man's suburban Dallas home after showing up on his doorstep to investigate a hit-and-run fender bender.

Animal control officials last week cited Bobby Crawford Jr. on misdemeanor charges for his illegal collection of exotic animals.

Crawford, 42, cried Friday when discussing Darwin, an 8-year-old rhesus macaque monkey he said he has raised since it was little.

"I live for nothing else," Crawford said. "I just can't believe he is gone."

Police came to Crawford's house Feb. 7 to investigate a car accident.

Crawford invited them in, where Darwin was in plain view, according to court records.

"I asked Mr. Crawford if he had any other animals he could show me and he replied, 'No,' " the officer said in court records.

But the officer immediately noticed a 50-gallon aquarium, prompting Crawford to curse and admit the six fish were piranhas.

Crawford also said he owned three American alligators named Godzilla, Blondie and Relentless. A 4-foot gator caught in December in a creek near a residential neighborhood was Blondie, Crawford said. One of the gators was confiscated Wednesday. The third has escaped, and Crawford said he does not know where it is.

Animal control cited Crawford for the gator and the monkey. A report has been filed with the state wildlife department regarding the piranhas.

Story here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Chimps Observed Using Spears to Hunt Bushbabies

chimp spearResearchers have witnessed a chimpanzee skewering a lemur-like creature for supper, but it's unclear whether the spectacle was a bit of luck or an indication that chimps have a more advanced ability to hunt than was thought.

A team led by Iowa State University anthropology professor Jill Pruetz witnessed the spearing of a bushbaby in Fongoli, Senegal, during an observation of chimpanzees from March 2005 to July 2006. In a study being released Thursday in the online version of the journal Current Biology, Pruetz documents 22 cases of chimps using spear-like tools to hunt bushbabies _ a small primate that lives in hollow branches or tree trunks.

"It's not uncommon to have chimps use tools. But to use them in the context of hunting" is nearly unheard of, she said.

Pruetz said the practice is most common among adolescent females, ages 10 to 13, which must compete against physically superior males.

"It's a way of accessing protein or meat that is a creative solution to this problem," she said.

Pruetz said the chimpanzees stripped leaves from tree branches and modified the tip with their incisors, "effectively making a point." Then the chimpanzees jabbed the tool into a cavity to snag a bushbaby.

Only once did researchers observe a chimpanzee extracting a bushbaby by using a spear, and that has some scientists questioning whether the chimp was actually hunting. Chimpanzees commonly use sticks to fish for food, such as termites, said Ian Gilby, a postdoctoral fellow who studies chimpanzee hunting at Harvard University.

"You frequently see chimps sticking sticks into holes or trees, so they can make the hole bigger so they can put their arm in," said Gilby, who hadn't read the study.

Gilby said he's seen this tactic used to get honey and small birds from holes in his work in Gombe, Tanzania.

"If it's clear they're making a point" on a branch tip, he said, then that "does appear to be slightly different from what we see at other sites."

Story here.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A world first: Great Ape trial in Austria

In a groundbreaking case at the Mödling district court, just southwest of Vienna, Austria, a judge is to rule whether a chimp deserves a legal guardian. The chimpanzee in question is called Hiasl. But is he actually a chimp or a human, biologically speaking? This is one of the questions that will be addressed during the trial.

Hiasl was only a year old in 1982 when a poacher shot his mother and sold him to an animal trader. He was taken from his home in the Sierra Leone jungle in West Africa, then crated and shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab 30 km East of Vienna. But by 1982, the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement already forbade the import of wild caught chimps, and so Hiasl and 7 other chimps were taken in by customs officers and handed over to an animal sanctuary.

The vivisection lab paid their fine and 4 years later, successfully sued the sanctuary to get Hiasl back as a research tool. 200 animal rights activists intervened to prevent his seizure, and Hiasl has remained safely at the sanctuary ever since. Now, courts are being asked to rule whether he is not just an endangered ape, but a person, entitled by law to a legal guardian.

The trial has been many years in preparation. Austria's best-known primatologist, (who is in charge of the rehabilitation of 44 ex-laboratory chimps released in 2002 by US pharmaceutical company, Baxter, from their biomedical lab in Orth an der Donau), agreed to write an expert report supporting the demand for legal guardianship. Similarly, the world-renowned expert on wild chimps, London University’s Prof. Volker Sommer, dictated a statement by phone directly from the African jungle in support of Great Ape rights. In his view, chimps are not just one of the genus homo; he believes they should be considered as being of the same species as contemporary humans.

Surprisingly, 2 Professors at Vienna University also argued that in their expert opinion, a chimp could be considered a person before the law and, if not, would at least deserve a legal guardian to safeguard his/her interests. This work has even been published in a magazine on contemporary legal issues.

A few weeks ago, the sanctuary, which has been Hiasl’s home for so many years, went bankrupt. In order to ensure that he would not be sold to a zoo, a benefactor donated 5000€ to Hiasl and another named person, on the proviso that they both agree on how the money should be spent. This trick provided Hiasl’s co-beneficiary with the legal loophole to exercise his right to demand a legal guardian for Hiasl. How otherwise could one evaluate how the legacy should be spent?

In an unprecedented move, the unnamed individual applied to the Mödling district court (which has jurisdiction over the area where Hiasl’s home is located), to have a legal guardian appointed. In a 50-page statement, their solicitor summarized the arguments and quoted from the 4 expert statements, which argued on behalf of Hiasl's personhood.

The initial response from the head of the district court was to file for the solicitor’s dismissal from the solicitor registry. Apparently, the attempt to scare him into withdrawing the case did not have the desired effect as the solicitor remained resolute.

On the 20th February, the judge - herself a member of the animal rights group VGT in Austria since 1998 - called the first hearing. She has halted proceedings until documents to prove Hiasl’s identity can be provided. But since Hiasl was abducted illegally from West Africa at a very early age, and seeking asylum in Austria, any such documents cannot be provided. The solicitor running the case is stressing that the law does not see such documents as a necessary prerequisite for a legal guardian to be appointed. The coming weeks will show how this historic case is proceeding. If Hiasl is granted human status, the long-term implications could be far reaching for all other primate species.

Story here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A moment of albino howler monkey zen...

albino howler monkey
A zookeeper holds a six-months old howler monkey (Aluoatta palliata) named 'Nieve' (the Spanish word for 'Snow') at the Nicaraguan National Zoo in Managua February 20,2007.The howler Monkey is a rare albino specimen and was found in a forest in the country's Caribbean lowlands.

Story here.

Not ape's foot but bear's paw in dump

Authorities said yesterday that the foot found in a Spotsylvania County landfill belonged to a bear.

Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith said the state laboratory in Richmond made the determination after further investigation, including consulting an anthropologist, of the mystery.

Officials initially had thought the appendage, about 8 inches long and hairless, found Feb. 10 by landfill workers might be a human foot and evidence of a homicide. They searched half of a 127-ton load of fresh garbage but halted the search because, Smith said, the medical examiner had determined the foot belonged to an apelike species.

Several outside observers, including anthropologists, primatologists and even Bigfoot enthusiasts, had said they believed the foot was the skinned hind foot of a bear.

Smith, laughing, would not comment on initial speculation about a Spotsylvania Sasquatch but said he was relieved that the mystery was solved. "I'm glad we were able to identify what type of animal it was," he said.

The sheriff had previously said he planned to send the specimen away for further testing, but he said yesterday that he will not. "This foot will be kept at the state lab for training purposes," he said.

Idaho State University professor Jeff Meldrum, one of the world's foremost Bigfoot experts, applauded the decision to use the foot as an instructional aide. Meldrum said he has a forensic anthropology textbook that includes a section on the similarities between human and bear feet.

"It's probably more common than people realize," he said, referring to confusing a human foot with a skinned bear paw.

Smith said he considers the case closed and will not investigate further because of the cost and the relatively minor nature of the offense. It is a misdemeanor under the county's ordinances to dispose of animal parts in such a manner.

"I don't know that there would be any way of finding out" how it got there, Smith said. He said he suspects the animal was killed during bear-hunting season and then skinned by a taxidermist. The foot appeared to have been sawed off above the ankle.

Meanwhile, Bigfoot researchers say the episode is just another example of how each possible Bigfoot find must be scientifically eliminated. "You never know when the real evidence of these creatures may surface," said William Dranginis of Manassas, who heads the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization.

"I don't consider this a waste of time," he said, "because I know they're out there."

Story here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New monkey species designated in Uganda

Uganda may soon have a new species of monkey according to a report published in Kampala's New Vision newspaper.

Dr. Colin Groves of the Australian National University told New Vision that the local population of the gray-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus albigena) will soon be designated as a unique species, the Ugandan gray-cheeked mangabey (Lophocebus ugandae).

The decision is based on "new methods of analysis" that distinguish the monkey population from gray-cheeked mangabey living in Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo (DRC).

"My taxonomic revision is based on new analyses, mainly multivariate analysis of skull measurements," Dr. Groves said in an email exchange with "Multivariate analyses showed clearly that there is a sharp separation between Lophocebus in Uganda and those in DRC. At the same time, I intend to upgrade the other putative subspecies of Lophocebus albigena to species level (osmani, johnstoni). This makes, with aterrimus and opdenboschi, six species in the genus, and with the recently described kipunji, seven (as many as there are in the other mangabey genus, Cercocebus)."

The timing of the decision is noteworthy as the species' habitat has recently been targeted for clearing. Against the wishes of the National Forest Authority (NFA), Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni granted a 7,000 hectare concession in Mabira forest, a reserve since 1932, to the owners of a Uganda-based sugar firm. Museveni's decision was widely criticized by conservationists, parliament, and citizens of Uganda who said the sugar plantation would damage the tourism industry and impact local water supplies.

Dr. Groves said that his 3ork has new urgency given the threat to Mariba.

"I presented the analyses in the International Primatological Society Congress in Entebbe last year," said Dr. Groves. "I had not thought it a priority to publish it – I have so many other things to be getting on with – but now the threat to Mabira Forest has emerged, and this makes it more urgent. Although L. ugandae is widespread in the western and lakeshore forests of Uganda, it is apparently very abundant in Mabira, and the loss of this population would probably mean the loss of about a quarter of the total population of what now turns out to be an endemic species."

Lophocebus ugandae would be Uganda's its first endemic species of primate and its 19th primate species overall. It would likely be added to the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

Story here.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chimp born at Albuquerque zoo

chimp bornA new chimpanzee has been born at Albuquerque's Rio Grande Zoo.

The chimp was born Feb. 5.

That brings the total number of chimpanzees at the zoo to eleven.

The baby chimp's gender isn't known yet.

The chimp's mother is a 30-year-old named Elaine. The father is a 19-year-old chimp named Alf.

It's the first chimpanzee birth at the Albuquerque zoo since the zoo opened its Adventure Africa exhibit in 2004.

Story here.

Why Do Humans And Primates Get More Stress-related Diseases Than Other Animals?

Why do humans and their primate cousins get more stress-related diseases than any other member of the animal kingdom? The answer, says Stanford University neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, is that people, apes and monkeys are highly intelligent, social creatures with far too much spare time on their hands.

"Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out," he said. "But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you're going to compromise your health. So, essentially, we've evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick."

A professor of biological sciences and of neurology and neurological sciences, Sapolsky has spent more than three decades studying the physiological effects of stress on health. His pioneering work includes ongoing studies of laboratory rats and wild baboons in the African wilderness.

He discussed the biological and sociological implications of stress Feb. 17 in a lecture titled "Stress, Health and Coping" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Francisco.

All vertebrates respond to stressful situations by releasing hormones, such as adrenalin and glucocorticoids, which instantaneously increase the animal's heart rate and energy level. "The stress response is incredibly ancient evolutionarily," Sapolsky said. "Fish, birds and reptiles secrete the same stress hormones we do, yet their metabolism doesn't get messed up the way it does in people and other primates."

To understand why, he said, "just look at the dichotomy between what your body does during real stress--for example, something is intent on eating you and you're running for your life--versus what your body does when you're turning on the same stress response for months on end for purely psychosocial reasons."

In the short term, he explained, stress hormones are "brilliantly adapted" to help you survive an unexpected threat. "You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and you turn off everything that's not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth and reproduction," he said. "You think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced. All of that is spectacularly adapted if you're dealing with an acute physical stressor--a real one."

But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health, he said: "If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you're chronically shutting down the digestive system, there's a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you're more at risk for as well."

In children, the continual release of glucocorticoids can suppress the secretion of normal growth hormones. "There's actually a syndrome called stress dwarfism in kids who are so psychologically stressed that growth is markedly impaired," Sapolsky said.

Studies show that long-term stress also suppresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to infectious diseases, and can even shut down reproduction by causing erectile dysfunction and disrupting menstrual cycles.

"Furthermore, if you're chronically stressed, all sorts of aspects of brain function are impaired, including, at an extreme, making it harder for some neurons to survive neurological insults," Sapolsky added. "Also, neurons in the parts of the brain relating to learning, memory and judgment don't function as well under stress. That particular piece is what my lab has spent the last 20 years on."

The bottom line, according to Sapolsky: "If you plan to get stressed like a normal mammal, you had better turn on the stress response or else you're dead. But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, like a Westernized human, then you are more at risk for heart disease and some of the other leading causes of death in Westernized life."

In addition to numerous scientific papers about stress, Sapolsky has written four popular books on the subject--Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, The Trouble with Testosterone, A Primate's Memoir and Monkeyluv. Many of his insights are based on his 30-year field study of wild African baboons, highly social primates that are close relatives of Homo sapiens. Each year, he and his assistants follow troops of baboons in Kenya to gather behavioral and physiological data on individual members, including blood samples, tissue biopsies and electrocardiograms.

"We've found that baboons have diseases that other social mammals generally don't have," Sapolsky said. "If you're a gazelle, you don't have a very complex emotional life, despite being a social species. But primates are just smart enough that they can think their bodies into working differently. It's not until you get to primates that you get things that look like depression."

The same may be true for elephants, whales and other highly intelligent mammals that have complex emotional lives, he added.

"The reason baboons are such good models is, like us, they don't have real stressors," he said. "If you live in a baboon troop in the Serengeti, you only have to work three hours a day for your calories, and predators don't mess with you much. What that means is you've got nine hours of free time every day to devote to generating psychological stress toward other animals in your troop. So the baboon is a wonderful model for living well enough and long enough to pay the price for all the social-stressor nonsense that they create for each other. They're just like us: They're not getting done in by predators and famines, they're getting done in by each other."

It turns out that unhealthy baboons, like unhealthy people, often have elevated resting levels of stress hormones. "Their reproductive system doesn't work as well, their wounds heal more slowly, they have elevated blood pressure and the anti-anxiety chemicals in their brain, which have a structural similarity to Valium, work differently," Sapolsky said. "So they're not in great shape."

Among the most susceptible to stress are low-ranking baboons and type A individuals. "Type A baboons are the ones who see stressors that other animals don't," Sapolsky said. "For example, having your worst rival taking a nap 100 yards away gets you agitated."

But when it comes to stress-related diseases, social isolation may play an even more significant role than social rank or personality. "Up until 15 years ago, the most striking thing we found was that, if you're a baboon, you don't want to be low ranking, because your health is going to be lousy," he explained. "But what has become far clearer, and probably took a decade's worth of data, is the recognition that protection from stress-related disease is most powerfully grounded in social connectedness, and that's far more important than rank."

What can baboons teach humans about coping with all the stress-inducing psychosocial nonsense we encounter in our daily lives?

"Ideally, we have a lot more behavioral flexibility than the baboon," Sapolsky said, adding that, unlike baboons, humans can overcome their low social status and isolation by belonging to multiple hierarchies.

"We are capable of social supports that no other primate can even dream of," he said. "For example, I might say, 'This job, where I'm a lowly mailroom clerk, really doesn't matter. What really matters is that I'm the captain of my softball team or deacon of my church'--that sort of thing. It's not just somebody sitting here, grooming you with their own hands. We can actually feel comfort from the discovery that somebody on the other side of the planet is going through the same experience we are and feel, I'm not alone. We can even take comfort reading about a fictional character, and there's no primate out there that can feel better in life just by listening to Beethoven. So the range of supports that we're capable of is extraordinary."

But many of the qualities that make us human also can induce stress, he noted. "We can be pained or empathetic about somebody in Darfur," he said. "We can be pained by some movie character that something terrible happens to that doesn't even exist. We could be made to feel inadequate by seeing Bill Gates on the news at night, and we've never even been in the same village as him or seen our goats next to his. So the realm of space and time that we can extend our emotions means that there are a whole lot more abstract things that can make us feel stressed."

Story here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Leftover food of troops becoming death trap for monkeys in India

The leftover food of the troops is becoming a death trap for the monkeys around Nandini on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway. Despite written warnings of the Wildlife department on the route at various places, 'Don't feed monkeys here', troops are seen violating all instructions.

Troops in the convoys on the highway keep feeding the monkeys with the leftover food of their community kitchens (langars), resulting in overrunning of these creatures by speeding vehicles while they collect the food stuff thrown to them.

Regional Wildlife Warden Nisar Ahmad Kitchloo told Hindustan Times that the department was going to take some concrete steps about this. He informed that the violators can be booked under Section 51 of J&K Wildlife Protection Act amendment 2002 and the detention could range from six months upto seven years depending upon the gravity of the Crime.

Besides, the violators have to pay a fine of no less than Rs. 25,000. Kitchloo said that the department had already identified some feeding points for the monkeys and that the people should strictly adhere to feeding the monkeys only in those zones on the highway.

Quoting Shakespeare, 'What flies to wanton boys, are we to gods, they kill us for their sport,' an environmentalist of the state Altaf Hussain said, that the monkeys not only for the troops but also for all the people have been years-old playing creatures just because they ape humans. "People are not concerned whether they live or die. They just want to have fun with them," he said.

Speaking to HT, Public Relations Officer Defence Jammu Lt Col S D Goswami said instructions had already been passed to the troops about the serious issue, which concerns the lives of the poor wild creatures. "Furthermore, we'll look into it again. We'll certainly pass on the message and view it seriously," he said.

Story here.

Gibbon genome one step closer to being mapped

The arboreal, branch-swinging antics of the gibbon are nothing compared to the acrobatics its genome has undergone during evolution. While the genomes of humans and other primates still resemble that of their common ancestor, the massive genomic scrambling of the gibbon genome has rendered it a complex puzzle. Solving that puzzle, scientists believe, could help reveal how evolution experiments with genomic rearrangement, as well as how chromosomes can become unstable in cancer and other genetic diseases.

Now, a research team has mapped in the finest detail yet the many chromosomal breaks and rearrangements that have reshaped the white-cheeked gibbon's genome as it evolved. The research team was led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator Evan Eichler at the University of Washington and Mariano Rocchi of the University of Bari in Italy. The joint first authors of their research paper, published in the February 2007 issue of the journal Genome Research, were Roberta Roberto and Oronzo Capozzi, both in Rocchi's laboratory. Other co-authors were from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Gibbon Conservation Center in Santa Clarita, California.

“One of the big questions in genome evolution for at least 30 years has been why certain karyotypes seem to evolve much more rapidly,” said Eichler. A karyotype is a particular arrangement of chromosomes. “Why do some lineages show excessive rearrangements, while sibling species do not? In the primate line, the amount of rearrangement between species is relatively minor, but the gibbon has always been an outlier, with a rapidly evolving genome.

“Part of the motivation for studying the gibbon genome has been that—because we have such a high-quality reference human genome—it should be possible to identify not only the rearrangements that have occurred, but the breakpoints and the sequences in those areas,” he said. “With that information, we should begin to understand the mechanism by which such breakages occur.”

Rocchi, Eichler, and their colleagues used two complementary techniques to compare in detail the gibbon and human genomes, so they could zero in on where rearrangements have occurred in the gibbon genome. Using a technique called fluorescence in-situ hybridization (FISH), Rocchi's group attached fluorescent tags to hundreds of pieces of human DNA and watched as those snippets of DNA sought out and attached to similar DNA sequences on gibbon chromosomes. This enabled the scientists to locate corresponding, or “syntenic,” genomic blocks between the two species. The location of the syntenic blocks gave the researchers a low-resolution map of breakpoints between the human and gibbon genomes.

In a complementary analysis, Eichler and his colleagues used computational techniques to construct a map that compares known gibbon DNA sequences to the known sequence of the human genome. The approach identified several hundred sites of potential rearrangement. They then combined the data from the two approaches and performed additional FISH experiments to refine their analyses and narrow down the location of the breakpoints.

The combination of the techniques yielded the first detailed map of the gibbon genome's basic framework. The researchers identified and narrowed down 86 evolutionary breakpoints at high resolution, and a dozen more at lower resolution. Additionally, they isolated 49 DNA segments that span breakpoints.

According to Eichler, this detailed map of the breakpoints could help scientists understand why the gibbon's chromosome structure has been so unstable in evolutionary terms. The implications of the studies, however, go far beyond what researchers may learn about the genetic makeup of this particular ape. By permitting researchers to identify properties characteristic of regions of the genome that are predisposed to break, Eichler said the new data could help scientists understand why some genomic regions in general are unstable during evolution. Chromosomal instability and breakages are also frequently associated with cancer and other genetic diseases, he pointed out.

Eichler said the detailed map of genomic rearrangements could offer insight into how gibbons evolved into such successful, specialized arboreal primates.

“In terms of primate evolution, gibbons show some remarkable adaptations,” he said. “Their morphology is very different from other apes, with their extremely long limbs giving them an extraordinary ability to brachiate [swing from branch to branch]. It may be—and this is very speculative—that these large-scale genomic rearrangements altered the expression pattern of genes that relate to these adaptive characteristics.” Particularly intriguing, noted the researchers, is that several of the genes found in regions of chromosomes that have undergone rearrangement are associated with skeletal development.

Eichler said the framework map will aid in sequencing the entire gibbon genome. “Part of the problem with the gibbon genome is that it is so rearranged that you really can't use the human chromosome organization to build a large-scale assembly,” he said. “So we would like to use this framework to help direct the assembly of the gibbon genome.”

Story here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Displaced Foot Still A Mystery

sawed off footAuthorities now say that the foot found at a Spotsylvania County landfill is not human, but it's unclear exactly what species it is.

The Virginia medical examiner's office X-rayed the left foot found Saturday at the Livingston Landfill and determined that the 8-inch foot was that of an "apelike species," said Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith.

The medical examiner's office reported those findings early yesterday morning, ending search efforts at the Massey Road landfill. About 35 Spotsylvania fire, rescue and sheriff's personnel were at the site sifting through 127 tons of trash to find more of the body.

That search began Sunday after the foot was found by landfill workers cleaning the treads of a bulldozer used to spread and cover garbage.

The foot appeared to have been cleanly sawed off and resembled that of a human, Smith said. An employee with the Virginia medical examiner's concurred, and the foot was sent to Richmond for forensic testing.

The Free Lance-Star sent photos of the foot to several people who study primates. All disagreed with the state medical examiner's office's conclusions.

Experts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said it looks more like a human foot than that of an apelike species, according to Jordana Lenon, a spokeswoman for the primate center on campus. She said it's difficult to tell without handling it. A colleague of Lenon's said it looked like the skinned-out hind-foot of a bear.

April D. Truitt of the Primate Rescue Center in Kentucky, also said the foot looks more human. She said it's too big to be a monkey; it's more the size of a gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo or orangutan. She said its bone structure leaves the chimp as the only possibility.

"This certainly doesn't resemble the foot of any chimp I've ever met, and I've encountered hundreds in the past two decades," Truitt added.

William Dranginis of Manassas has a more unusual opinion--he believes the foot could be that of Bigfoot. He heads the Virginia Bigfoot Research Organization and has been passionately studying the elusive creature for more than 10 years.

It's also unclear how the foot got to the landfill. Theories have included that it was dumped by a hunter, a taxidermist or a traveling animal exhibitor putting on shows for a fee.

Sheriff Smith said his office's investigation essentially ended when they were told it wasn't a human foot. But he noted that it's against county law to have a pet primate or to dump animal carcasses. It also could be an animal cruelty case.

Mary Beth Sweetland, director of research and investigations at PETA in Norfolk, said she hopes there is further investigation.

"But cruelty-to-animal cases often are given short shrift," Sweetland said.

Smith said his office will open the investigation if someone comes forward with more information. For now, he's thankful the foot isn't that of a human.

Story here.

University of Washington on probation for animal lab violations

The University of Washington has been put on probation for widespread violations in its animal laboratory facilities, which include its Washington Primate Research Center and several other sites for other animal research.

A routine inspection by the Council on Accreditation of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care produced a list of violations, ranging from peeling paint and dirty cages to more serious infractions, including three rooms where temperatures reached 104 degrees in July 2005, killing more than 500 laboratory mice.

Unsanitary conditions jeopardized the health of lab workers as well as lab animals, according to the report.

The university houses about 100,000 mice and rats, 700 primates and various other animals including dogs, cats and fish, all used for research.

The council characterized the violations as "serious but correctable." It said it was "concerned that the types of deficiencies observed during the recent site visit are an indication that there is a lack of sufficient institutional support for the program."

The private, non-profit organization conducts voluntary accreditation and assessment programs every three years. The accreditation is seen as a seal of approval for facilities.

Not complying with the mandatory corrections means a loss of accreditation and ultimately a loss of federal research money.

"We've had our ups and downs, but we've never been where we are now," said John Coulter, executive director of health sciences administration at the UW.

"We believe we have some serious issues to fix."

Among other findings in the report:

# Only a taped line on a hallway floor separated HIV-infected primates and dirty primate cages from workers carrying their lunches to a break room, which "created the potential for humans to be exposed to the health risks associated with non-human primates."

# There was no pre-employment medical evaluation or ongoing medical evaluations of lab workers who were routinely exposed to allergens.

# On one floor of the Health Sciences Building, "the odor and level of dust in many of the rooms was intense."

# The majority of rooms on that floor were "significantly overcrowded, creating the potential for worker injury and inconsistencies in environmental conditions for the animals."

Story here.

Chimps Learned Tool Use Long Ago Without Copying Humans

chimp hammer toolsChimpanzees learned to make and use stone tools on their own, rather than copying humans, new evidence suggests.

And this means that chimps and humans likely inherited some of their sophisticated stone tool-use behaviors from a common ancestor, a report on the evidence claims.

The handheld hammers were found at a chimpanzee settlement in the Ivory Coast and date back 4,300 years. Chimpanzees have been observed using similar tools for the past few centuries, but scientists assumed the intelligent apes were simply copying local people cutting open fruit nearby.

"The thinking until now was that if modern day chimpanzees use hammers, it was only because they're imitating neighboring farmers," said Julio Mercader, archaeologist at the University of Calgary and co-author of the study. "But what we've found predates farming in the area."

Since the ancient chimpanzees likely didn't learn the behavior from their contemporary man, humans and chimps may have "inherited" the ability from a common ancestor, researchers speculate.

Though there were no chimpanzee remains at the settlement, testing by archaeologists revealed the tool-laden camp was most likely used by the Great Ape. The stones were much bigger than anything a human could use comfortably and bore the residue of nuts that modern chimpanzees like to snack on.

"This is the only case of any prehistoric, non-human Great Ape tool use ever discovered," Mercader told LiveScience

Chimpanzees alive in the wild today are often seen using hammer tools to crack nuts, much like what our ancient ancestors did a few million years ago. The technology is transmitted socially—or taught, rather than instinctive from birth—and can take up to seven years for a young chimp to master, many scientists have found.

"What makes our find different is that we can demonstrate a prehistoric context for this, and that opens many doors," Mercader said. "Social transmission was the only way for this to happen."

It suggests that there is a "culture" link between chimps today and their ancient ancestors, one that could go back even further than a few thousand years, he said. Since human stone tool use was learned the same way, it's possible that both lines were taught by a single source, perhaps even millions of years ago.

The transition from millions of years ago to the chimpanzees that lived at the ancient settlement would not have been smooth, said Mercader. Other apes in nearby areas may not have used the nut-smashing technique at all, he said, and the find asks many questions about why and how this particular group in the Ivory Coast was able to grasp the concept.

It does dispel the notion, however, that humans were the only forest-dwellers with any brains.

"We used to think that culture and, above anything else, technology was the exclusive domain of humans," Mercader said, "but this is not the case."

Story here.

Rare monkey born at wildlife park after op to save mother's sight

tolkein monkeyThis remarkable photograph is something that keepers at Port Lympne thought they would never see.

Until recently this proud mother was totally blind – completely dependant on her keepers for her needs. There was little hope that she would ever see her own hand – let alone her own baby.

Tolkein the six-year-old howler monkey developed cataracts in both eyes as a juvenile.

Eighteen months ago, staff at Port Lympne wildlife park near Hythe, decided to try an operation in an effort to restore her sight.

The procedure was a success and after a period of recuperation she was introduced to Clyde, a male who had recently arrived from Singapore Zoo.

It was literally love at first sight for Tolkein and the pair are now parents of this beautiful, as yet unnamed baby.

Headkeeper Simon Jeffery: “We are all delighted and excited by this birth.

“Tolkein is a kind and gentle character and a real favourite with all of us.

“At just a week old the baby seems strong and healthy and is very interested in its surroundings and so far Tolkein is being a perfect mum.”

Story here.

'Little Joe' Returns To Franklin Park Zoo

little joe escapeLittle Joe, the gorilla who made a daring escape from the Franklin Park Zoo in 2003, is making his return to public display.

Little Joe escaped from the gorilla exhibit in September 2003, attacking a 2 year-old girl and a zoo employee. Both suffered cuts and bruises when they were thrown to the ground and dragged.

Little Joe was loose in the neighborhood around the zoo for nearly two hours before he was subdued with a tranquilizer. Since then, he has been kept in seclusion at the zoo.

Tuesday, the Franklin Park Zoo unveiled a new home for all seven of their gorillas. The new Tropical Forest will give the animals more room to climb and play. The public will also have a better view of the gorillas and other animals.

Most importantly, Little Joe will not be able to escape the new $2.3 million exhibit. It has triple-layer glass walls and a woven steel top.

Story here.

LA Zoo gives feng shui expert $4,500 for Chinese monkey readiness

The Los Angeles Zoo paid $4,500 to an expert in the ancient Chinese art of feng shui to ensure three endangered golden monkeys on loan from China can have a strong life force.

Consulting the feng shui expert was part of the cost for a $7.4 million enclosure for the golden monkeys debuting at the zoo later his year. Feng shui focuses on balance in design to promote health and happiness.

Feng shui is in demand among high-end architects and interior designers, but Beverly Hills-based feng shui expert Simona Mainini said the Los Angeles Zoo's effort may be a first in animal enclosure design.

"It's very experimental," Mainini said. "We don't have any books on feng shui for monkeys. We just have to assume that Darwin is correct and that there is a connection and what is good for humans is good for monkeys."

The exhibit for the male and two female golden monkeys is nearing completion and they are expected to arrive by the end of the year, once China approves the export permit.

Exhibit designers from the Seattle-based Portico Group said the enclosure was designed to re-create the feel of a rural Chinese village.

"The viewing building has a Chinese character," said principal architect Charles Mays, who hire Mainini. "We thought it would be more authentic if we went that extra step and made sure it was done with good feng shui."

Mainini said she tweaked the plans to maximize the good qi (pronounced chee). For example, she recommended moving a door on the observation tower or adding a fountain or water feature to "soften, with moisture, the harsh energy" in that area of the tower.

The city will pay the Chinese government $100,000 a year for the period of the 10-year loan of the simians.

"The idea is to get people beyond just looking at the animals so they experience how the animals and people live," zoo General Manager John Lewis said. "So when people see that a species is endangered, maybe they'll feel motivated to do something to save them."

Story here.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A moment of howler monkey toilet zen...

howler monkey toilet

Foot found in landfill identified as ape, manhunt called off

A foot fished from a landfill was not the human variety.

Cleaned and X-rayed, the appendage was determined to be apelike, authorities said Monday.

The discovery Saturday prompted a search through 127 tons of garbage, which ended following the medical analysis of the foot at the state forensics lab in Richmond.

"The good news is that we don't have a homicide," Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith said.

About 35 fire, rescue and sheriff's employees had been looking through the garbage for about an hour Monday and all day Sunday.

Smith said they will not look for the remainder of the apelike species.

The foot appeared to have been cleanly sawed off above the ankle, and Smith said there was just skin and bone, no hair.

Story here.

Inflatable monkey Seymore stolen and ransomed

seymore inflatable monkey stolenGreg Giles opened his Grease Monkey auto lubrication franchise in Durango just more than a month ago.

But on Saturday, Giles said he could never have suspected that it would involve him in a ransom scheme.

The company's huge inflatable monkey was stolen from Giles' business Friday night or Saturday morning.

"I'm a new member of the community here, and I love it, but I can honestly say I never expected anything like this," Giles said.

The case exceeded routine mischief when Giles found a ransom note in a cutout-letter style where his 20-foot monkey, Seymore, used to sit on the roof at his business on River Road, south of Home Depot. The note instructed Giles to deliver $1,500 to the Durango Harley-Davidson dealership at 750 South Camino del Rio, and implied the police would be of no help. The note is now evidence and the exact wording is being withheld while the investigation continues.

"The strangest part of it all is the time it must've taken to plan this," Giles said.

He said officers from the Durango Police Department surmised that the thieves used a ladder to access the roof, had to fold the huge monkey and its accompanying compressor/inflator into a manageable size and load it into a truck. That doesn't even address the time it took to create the ransom note, which was comprised of letters cut from newspapers and magazines.

Durango Police Officer Travis Carpenter responded to the larceny call, and quickly eliminated the Harley-Davidson business and its employees as suspects.

"I checked it out because we have to look at everything, but they were very cooperative. It was obvious they knew nothing about it," Carpenter said. "They were eager to assist, and needless to say, they were as amused as the rest of us."

Giles said he doesn't know anyone at the dealership and believes those employed there are blameless in the caper. He said he had no idea why the ransom note would mention the dealership by name.

Giles doesn't expect the theft of Seymore to rank high on the priority list, but he wanted the authorities to realize the case is more serious than it seems on the surface. The inflatable monkey is owned by Grease Monkey's corporate headquarters and is valued at more than $5,000. That makes the crime a Class 4 felony, which could result in a two- to six-year prison term and thousands of dollars in fines, Carpenter said.

"It is a felony case, and as humorous as some of the aspects may be, we still have the duty to pursue it fully. Someone took his property, and someone needs to be held responsible for it," Carpenter said.

Giles agreed, knowing full well that the monkey-napping will be a highly discussed matter at coffee shops and bars around town.

"I think it's entertaining news, too, and let's get a good laugh out of it, but then let's get serious and just bring Seymore back - please," he said.

Story here.

A moment of monkey goat highwire zen...

monkey goat highwire
A goat carrying a monkey on its back performs as it stands on a wire rope at a zoo in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region in southern China.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Man calls for statue honoring the Hartlepool Monkey

hartlepool monkey statueA Man is hoping to bring Hartlepool's most famous legend home to an ancient part of town.

Hartlepool resident representative John Cambridge says he would like to see a statue paying tribute to the Hartlepool Monkey on the Headland.

The famous monkey, which was said to be hanged by Headland fishermen in Napoleonic times who thought it was a French spy, is a world-renowned emblem of the town.

There is already a monkey monument which acts as a coin fountain at Hartlepool Marina, but Mr Cambridge says he wants the monkey to be "brought home to the Headland".

He added: "I've always wanted to see a statue of the monkey - it's our heritage.

"But a few people don't want it because they say it ridicules us Headlanders."

Mr Cambridge said he had not made any formal plans for the monkey, but it was something he would be looking into.

The 62-year-old former councillor, from Sea View Terrace, added that he wasn't sure of a specific Headland location for the tribute, but said: "We started fighting for an Andy Capp statue down here in 1999 and recently got it - that shows how long these things can take."

Story here.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

University of Toledo monkey deaths stir rights organization

monkey testingLast Friday, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an animal-rights group, announced that two squirrel monkeys died prematurely during research in May 2005 at UT's Health Science Campus.

"The animals were anesthetized throughout the duration of the experiment, they were never intended to, nor did they awaken from anesthesia and at no time did they experience any pain or suffering," said a statement released by UT.

According to a USDA inspection report, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which oversees UT's animal research, failed to notice how researchers weren't following protocol.

One of the monkeys received a tracheotomy, an incision in the windpipe, which was a breach in procedure, the inspection report said.

"The monkeys were supposed to be intubated," said Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN.

Budkie said that the primates died under questionable circumstances.

According to the UT statement, John Wall, a neuroscience professor, "deviated slightly" from approved protocol during an experiment.

Wall declined to comment.

According to The University of Toledo Web site, Wall is interested in "how normal and abnormal feelings of the body are generated by somatosensory circuits [or sensory receptors] in the brain."

"The goal of the [2005] research involving squirrel monkeys was to better understand how the brain responds and reorganizes itself following arm and leg injuries," the UT statement said. "Valuable knowledge was gained during the experiments."

"This research falls into [neural information processing] - it's one of the most duplicated types of research," Budkie said. "This type of research is being funded over and over again [by the National Institutes of Health], sometimes simultaneously."

Wall's research, officially tilted "Mechanisms & Substrates of Somatosensory Plasticity," was funded at $198,450.

Budkie also doubts the credibility of the research.

"If protocol wasn't followed, was the research even valid?" Budkie said.

The UT statement said that the researcher deviated from protocol to minimize harm to the primates.

UT failed to comment on how the deviation would have lessened danger to the animals.

The UT statement did say that there are no monkeys on either campus now.

As reported in the Nov. 30, 2006 issue of The Independent Collegian, "More than 300 mice and rats live in the basement of Wolfe and at least 6,000 mice and rats and one pig live in the basement of the Health Education Building [on the Health Science Campus]."

Director of UT animal labs Brent Martin was unavailable for comment.

Story here.

Endangered primates shown to harbour fewer parasites, weakens natural resistance

Primates threatened with extinction harbour fewer parasites than their non-threatened counterparts, a new study shows. It could leave the most vulnerable more susceptible to infectious disease, the researchers say.

Many primate species around the world are in danger of disappearing. Conservation efforts typically focus on habitat loss and poaching, but disease can also pose a danger, especially to populations already in trouble. In particular, outbreaks of Ebola virus are pushing Africa’s remaining gorillas and chimps to the brink of extinction.

Ecologist Sonia Altizer at the University of Georgia in Athens, US, and colleagues wondered if there was a correlation between the diversity of parasites that a species hosts and its status on the Red List of threatened species published by the World Conservation Union.

The team surveyed the data from hundreds of studies with documented cases of primate infection with viruses, bacteria, protozoa, worms and insects.
Natural resistance

In total, the researchers recorded 386 species of parasites from 117 populations of primates. Threatened species hosted fewer species of parasites, probably because disease spreads less readily when animals are scarce, and their populations become geographically isolated, the researchers say.

“People have debated whether endangered species experience higher or lower risk from infectious disease,” says Altizer. “This study suggests it might be lower.”

But she warns that the overall lack of parasite species diversity in threatened primates could lower the animals’ natural resistance, because their immune system will not recognise new pathogens, making them more susceptible to diseases. She hopes her database will inspire field workers to gather more data on what diseases are out there and how they affect primate conservation. “We know depressingly little,” she says.

Story here.

Harvard accused of abuse in research, monkeys asphyxiated

A watchdog group accused Harvard’s research laboratories of being one of the country’s worst violators of animal rights in a report released this week.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW! (SAEN) cited 32 federal violations by Harvard in a nine-month period. The violations included cases in which a “researcher strangled a primate through negligence, monkeys are deprived of water, rabbits and wallaby’s receive improper anesthesia.”

A Harvard Medical School spokesman, Don L. Gibbons, contested the validity of the report, claiming that all but one of the violations were reported because of clerical errors, and did not actually involve animal abuse.

The one exception was the incident of the asphyxiated primate, which Gibbons called “an unfortunate accident.”

In the experiment, a monkey was drinking grape juice through a hose and “loved the grape juice so much, it stuffed the tube down its throat,” Gibbons said.

The researcher could only see the back of the monkey’s head and didn’t realize the monkey was suffocating until it was too late, according to Gibbons.

But reports of other violations were the result of procedural failures, he said.

SAEN cited a Harvard lab for depriving monkeys of water, part of an experiment that involved giving monkeys grape juice as an incentive. To make the monkeys crave the juice, they were not given water—normally a legal practice, Gibbons said.

Gibbons said the lab received a violation because researchers did not file the proper paperwork for the experiment which would have allowed the monkeys to not be given water.

In another violation which SAEN referred to in its report, researchers did not note they had anesthetized animals such as wallabies during operations in their procedural reports, Gibbons said. The use of anesthetics or other implements to reduce pain during certain procedures is part of the Animal Welfare Act.

Michael A. Budkie, executive director of SAEN, defended the report.

“We’re very careful to base everything we say off government documents,” Budkie said. “This is not even a new situation. Harvard has a pattern of violations.”

Harvard came in second to the University of Pennsylvania. Penn topped SAEN’s list with 77 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, a set of federal regulations enacted in 1966 and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Budkie said that other institutions with more registered lab animals than Harvard received fewer violations, such as the University of Wisconsin.

SAEN has cited Harvard in the past for its federal violations.

With research institutions taking in millions of dollars, Budkie said the penalties are “just a part of doing business.”

Fines are set in the four- to five-figure range, according to the Animal Welfare Act.

“When they know they are not going to be penalized, what motivation do they have to pay attention to regulation?” Budkie asked.

Story here.

China Holds Monkey Version of 'Big Brother' In Zoo

big brother zoo contestants monkeyA Chinese zoo is running its own version of the reality show 'Big Brother' where contestants live in a monkey enclosure. Last one in wins 11,888 yuan.

Given the choice of being locked in an enclosure for several days with Jade Goody or a bunch of monkeys, which would you prefer?

Six people in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi have chosen the latter. They will live in a monkey enclosure in Qinling zoo in Xi'an with the normal primate inhabitants. The last one in will win 11,888 yuan (€1,182) and the title of honorary animal lover, the newspaper China Daily reported Thursday.

The idea behind the contest is apparently to allow contestants to "experience the lack of freedom the animals have," the paper said. Critics of Chinese state censorship and human rights abuses might be tempted to ask if citizens really need to enter a zoo to experience restricted freedom, however.

"It is the first such activity in China," the newspaper reports, stipulating that "any Chinese from 18 to 60 years old, in good psychological condition" was eligible to take part. It added, somewhat ominously, that "survival knowledge" was a further prerequisite.

The six contestants, who are reported to be three couples, will live in the enclosure for up to four days in tents. It is not clear what they will eat, although photographs appeared to show them eating the same carrots as their monkey housemates.

The contest, which uses the standard monkey enclosure instead of a purpose-built house equipped with television cameras, is a low-budget affair compared with the media frenzy that is the Western version of 'Big Brother.' Even though the €1,182 prize money is not to be sniffed at in a country where the GDP per capita is estimated to be $7,600 (€5,850), it's significantly less than the £100,000 (€151,480) that Big Brother contestants in the United Kingdom can win.

Story here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Tokyo zoo gorillas get good luck bean shower

gorilla bean showerPiko the gorilla didn't know what hit her when crowds of humans gathered around the ape cage at Tokyo's zoo to shout incantations and throw beans.

She soon figured out that while the people were loud and frightening, the roasted soya beans were very tasty.

Piko was subjected to a traditional Japanese blessing over the weekend that seeks to bring in good fortune.

The ritual is usually reserved for humans but zoo authorities through the apes could do with a bit of luck.

"We threw beans at the gorillas so they can live healthy and long lives and that the females and males get along better in order that they produce more gorillas," gorilla handler Ryo Imanishi told Reuters.

There are currently seven gorillas at Tokyo's zoo. Poaching, the destruction of their natural habitat in central Africa, commercial hunting and the Ebola virus are believed to have severely affected the ape population in the wild.

"I really hope this helps the gorillas species increase," said 19-year old zoo visitor Akiko Ishikawa.

Throwing roasted beans is part of the traditional festival of Setsubun and it is believed to have purifying qualities.

Setsubun was originally performed on what would have been the Chinese New Year eve, but since Japan now celebrates the New Year according to the western calendar, it is marked every February.

Story here.

Study shows chimps thrash cheating mates

Love is not a pretty thing in the chimpanzee world. Male chimps frequently and brutally beat females, sometimes using branches as weapons. According to a new study, the belligerent behaviour is meant to police girls' wandering eyes.

Chimps don't believe in monogamy. Instead, they live in a free-love commune where anyone can mate with anyone else. Only a few females are in estrus and capable of conception at any given time; the rest are suckling infants.

As a result, competition for the available ladies is intense. The leading explanation for male-on-female chimp aggression is that it is a form of sexual coercion: It's in a male's interest to punish female promiscuity to increase the chance that her babies will be his.

But the evidence for this theory has been lacking. Male-onfemale violence could simply be the result of disputes over food resources, for example, or it may just be a spillover from male-male aggression.

To get behind the bullying behaviour, a team led by Martin Muller, a biological anthropologist at Boston University pooled seven years of observations of a group of wild chimps in Uganda.

The researchers meticulously recorded every push and slap, along with every tryst and pregnancy. Swabbing urine from leaves allowed them to measure glucocorticoid hormones, an indicator of stress.

Those that bore the worst of the attacks not only had far more sex—and most often with the males that beat them—but were also the most fecund, with twice the average odds of a sexual encounter resulting in pregnancy. "Males are basically trying to force females into exclusive mating relationships," says Muller.

But tough love comes at a price: High cortisol levels in the urine of persecuted females revealed intense stress, which can result in gastric ulcers and immune suppression. The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

"This is not a good thing for females who are victims of aggression," notes John Mitani, a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is curious about the kinds of strategies females might use to avoid the abuse—or at least counteract its negative consequences.

Story here.

Lovelorn orang-utan puts out lonely hearts ad

orangutan love adKeepers at a British zoo have sent a lonely hearts advert to animal parks worldwide in a bid to find a mate for their lovelorn orang-utan.

Chinta is feeling gloomy after the latest deal to bring her a partner fell through at the last minute.

She has been without a mate for more than a year after her previous partner, Nakal, was taken to a Spanish zoo to breed with another female.

Staff at Paignton Zoo in Devon are now scouring the world looking for a replacement to keep the 16-year-old ape company on her island enclosure.

But numerous deals have fallen through, leaving the 6ft 5in orang-utan distinctly forlorn and broody.

Her frustration appeared to be at an end this week when officials brokered a deal to bring a male from Germany - but talks broke down at the last minute.

The lonely hearts ad calls for a "big, hairy, ginger male with terrific cheek pads with a view to starting a family and help save the species".

It has been sent to scores of animal parks in the hope that a suitable partner will sweep the "thoughtful and methodical" orang-utan off her hairy feet.

Phil Knowling, a spokesman for the zoo, said: "It's fair to say she hasn't had a fella for a while.

"Orang-utans aren't the most expressive of creatures because they don't have many face muscles.

"But even by their standards she looks down in the dumps. We have been looking for over a year now but the deals keep going wrong. We thought we had a signed contract with a German zoo but it isn't happening.

"She's the perfect breeding age and could live for another 20 years yet. But at the moment she has a whole island and only two females to share it with. A year without is enough to get to anybody and she's clearly not happy about it."

Story here.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Student wants monkey released from UMC

A monkey that was once part of a research project that was shut down last year amid federal inspections into animal welfare issues is now at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

"The monkey is in excellent health," UMC said in a written statement. "Like all animals owned by the Medical Center, he receives daily care by a well-trained veterinary staff."

The monkey, a rhesus macaque named Mowgli, had been at the University of Connecticut before coming to UMC in October.

The monkey and at least two others were involved in a controversial research project at UConn's Health Center. The other monkeys are dead.

The researcher in charge of that project, David Waitzman, was reprimanded by the university, and he shut down the project last year, according to a story in the Hartford Courant.

Those actions came as the U.S. Department of Agriculture found violations in the lab.

Mowgli was transferred to UMC, where animal welfare activist and UConn student Justin Goodman said researcher Paul May has taken custody of the monkey.

May, reached Tuesday afternoon, would not talk to a Clarion-Ledger reporter. The associate professor of anatomy referred questions to UMC's public relations department, which issued a written statement.

Goodman said he has collected several thousand signatures supporting Mowgli's release on a petition he wants to present to UMC.

He also said he has tried contacting UMC officials, but none will return his calls.

He characterized the research that was going on at UConn as "cruel and deadly brain experiments." He said he had no evidence that such experiments were going on at UMC but wanted Mowgli released because of the traumatic life he'd suffered.

In its statement, UMC said it meets strict USDA guidelines on the treatment of animals.

Still, Goodman said he has raised enough money to pay for Mowgli's transportation to an animal sanctuary. "It doesn't cost anything to let him go," he said.

Story here.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

New baby gorilla at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

baby gorilla bornAsha,a 13-year-old Western lowland gorilla at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, gave birth at 3:57 a.m. today. Little is known about her baby, though. Not wanting to disturb the first-time mom or the father, Rafiki, zoo staff did not immediately attempt to photograph or inspect the newborn up close.

The gorilla birth comes nearly a year after the birth of Umande, a boy born to Kwisha on Feb. 18, 2006. Zoo staff hand-reared Umande after Kwisha failed to care for him. In October, Umande was sent to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, where Lulu, a member of that zoo�s gorilla troop, is acting as a surrogate mom.

Asha is showing more maternal instincts and quickly picked up her baby. Keepers are confident they have seen the newborn nurse, primate supervisor Dina Bredahl said. Mom and baby were being observed through television cameras and monitors, the same system used to keep Asha under constant baby watch starting in late December.

Visitors will not be able to see the baby right away. The Primate World building will be closed for an unknown length of time while the gorillas and the zoo staff adjust to the new arrival.

Story here.