Thursday, May 31, 2007

Capuchin monkey gives birth at zoo

baby capuchin monkeyAmanda, one of 13 capuchin monkeys at the Alameda Park Zoo, gave birth late Saturday night.

The baby, whom zoo staff have named "A.J.," will spend the first several months of its life clinging to mom as she moves about the enclosure she shares with 12 others of her kind, including a male named Amos.

Native to the rainforests of South America, capuchins normally live in colonies which may consist of up to 30 individuals.

The capuchin uses its opposable thumbs and prehensile tail to assist in reaching fruits, seeds and leaves that make up the vast majority of its diet in the wild.

The lifespan of a capuchin monkey is 35 to 40 years in captivity and probably ten years less in the wild because of predators and potential illnesses.

"Amanda is approximately 20 years old," zoo director Steven Diehl said.

Story here.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Gorilla is born at the Prague Zoo

Another gorilla was born at the Prague zoological garden shortly after midnight, the zoo's director Petr Fejk told.

The baby gorilla was born to Kijivu, mother of now two-year-old Moja who has been the first gorilla born in the Czech Republic.

Fejk said the delivery was very fast and smooth. It lasted about 15 seconds. He said the baby gorilla seemed completely healthy.

The birth of the previous gorilla offspring in the Prague zoo was broadcast live on the Internet in April. Unfortunately, Kamba, 35, gave birth to a dead baby. Kamba is one of the last gorillas in European zoos who were born in the wild.

The life of the gorilla family from Prague zoo has been monitored by cameras since autumn 2005 and shown on the Internet as a "slightly different reality show" within a project called Discovery.

Story here.

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Another rare Western Lowland gorilla dies at the Calgary Zoo

Another critically endangered gorilla has died at the Calgary Zoo.

Officials say Julia, a 37-year-old Western Lowland gorilla, suffered from severe liver disease.

Julia was one of the few remaining gorillas in captivity that was actually born in the wild.

Zoo officials say the remaining gorillas at the Calgary facility - Kakinga, Donge, Zuri and Barika - were given the opportunity to be with Julia's body to mourn.

Tabitha, another Western Lowland gorilla, died last month at the zoo of complications from an abscess on her brain.

During her life Julia gave birth to four offspring as part of the Species Survival Program.

Story here.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Feds exit the chimp breeding business

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, which supports a variety of biomedical studies using animals, will stop breeding government-owned chimpanzees for medical research – a step animal rights advocates lauded.

The NIH's National Center for Research Resources cited financial reasons for its decision this week to permanently cease breeding of government-owned chimpanzees for research. A breeding moratorium on NCRR-owned and supported chimpanzees had been in place since 1995.

The Humane Society of the United States said it suspects that ethical reasons also were involved in the decision. The group, which opposes the use of these apes as lab animals, said the decision on ending breeding likely also means NIH no longer will be acquiring new chimpanzees through other means.

Because chimpanzees are physiologically and genetically similar to people, they have been used in medical research defended by many scientists but scorned by animals rights advocates on ethical grounds.

"This decision is a huge step towards a day when chimpanzees are no longer used in invasive biomedical research and testing," said Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society.

"This will spare some chimpanzees a life of up to 60 years in a laboratory. While it doesn't help chimpanzees already living in laboratories, it is a monumental decision," Conlee added. "Our ultimate goal is to put an end (to) the use of chimpanzees in research and retire those chimpanzees to permanent and appropriate sanctuary."

The Humane Society said the NCRR's chimpanzee population includes about 500 in laboratories and 90 more in a federal sanctuary for those deemed no longer needed for research.

In a statement on its Web site, NCRR said it acknowledges the continuing importance of chimpanzees to biomedical research, but cited "fiduciary responsibilities" to maintain the health and well-being of chimpanzees already in its care.

The center said chimpanzees can live at least 50 years in captivity, and that high-quality care for a single animal over its lifespan can cost up to $500,000. It said it also must meet budget responsibilities to other programs and resources.

The advocacy group Project R&R: Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories said about 1,300 chimpanzees are currently in U.S. laboratories. It said some were caught in the wild as babies in Africa while others were born in laboratories or sent from zoos, circuses and animal trainers.

Story here.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Congolese Ranger Killed While Protecting Gorillas

One wildlife ranger was killed and four were left wounded Sunday by rebel soldiers who shot up patrol posts at Mount Tshiaberimu, a remote part of Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. The rangers were protecting a tiny population of endangered gorillas.

In the early morning hours, the attackers hit two patrol posts of the DRC Parks Authority, the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature. The patrol posts at Mount Tshiaberimu protect a population of just 21 gorillas that may be a smaller sub-species of the Eastern lowland gorilla.

The Gorilla Organization, based in London, which supports community conservation in this area, says these animals are "currently classified as Eastern lowland gorillas, Gorilla beringei graueri, but some believe that they are a unique sub-species and exist nowhere else in the world."

The attackers are alleged to be involved in the slaughter of thousands of hippos for illegal bushmeat, says the Gorilla Organization. The gunmen have threatened to kill gorillas if the rangers retaliate for the shootings.

Hostages who were taken by the rebel soldiers were later released unharmed and the four wounded men are reported to be out of danger.

But another death was indirectly caused by the shooting when the wife of one of the Gorilla Organization’s rangers, died during premature labor brought on by the stress in the incident.

The Gorilla Organization helped saved this population from extinction when it initiated a conservation program in the surrounding communities 10 years ago. The conservationists have seen the gorilla population grow from just 16 individuals to 21 in that time.

Greg Cummings, executive director of the Gorilla Organization expressed his condolences at the loss of life and concern over the escalation of violence.

"We support the idea of a mediation forum to focus on conflict resolution," Cummings said. "If we are to continue to save this very special gorilla population from extinction we need to act now."

Ian Redmond, chief consultant for the UN's Great Apes Survival Project, GRASP, and a Gorilla Organization trustee, said, "The brave rangers and their families who make sacrifices daily to protect the world’s endangered gorillas, deserve a better deal."

Director of Conservation for Virunga National Park Norbert Mushenzi says he has seen more than 100 rangers killed in the line of duty during a decade of civil wars and humanitarian crises in DRC.

The Gorilla Organization has launched an emergency appeal for £50,000 (US$99,000) to give immediate aid to those affected by this incident.

Story here.

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Color Vision Drove Primates To Develop Red Skin And Hair, Study Finds

red hairYou might call it a tale of “monkey see, monkey do.” Researchers at Ohio University have found that after primates evolved the ability to see red, they began to develop red and orange skin and hair.

Humans, apes and Old World monkeys, such as macaques and leaf monkeys, all have trichromatic vision, which allows these primates to distinguish between blue, green and red colors. Primatologists have disagreed about whether this type of color vision initially evolved to help early primates forage for ripe fruit and young, red leaves among green foliage or evolved to help them select mates.

Now a new study published online in American Naturalist by Ohio University researchers André Fernandez and Molly Morris rules out an initial advantage for mating and suggests that red-color vision evolved for non-social purposes, possibly foraging. But once developed, trichromaticism drove the evolution of red skin and hair through sexual selection.

Fernandez, the study’s lead author, first began to question the strict correlation of food choice and color vision while studying howler monkeys in Costa Rica. He recently compiled data on the color vision, social and sexual habits and red skin and pelage of 203 different primate species.

The researchers then used a phylogenetic tree representing the evolutionary relationships among all the primate species under study to test hypotheses about the order in which the traits of red color vision, gregariousness (highly social behavior) and red coloring evolved. By comparing the traits of individual species in this evolutionary context, Fernandez and Morris could statistically deduce the probability of their ancestors having the same traits, as well if any of the traits were correlated with one another.

They found that the species that could discern red and orange hues were more likely to develop red and orange skin and hair, as well as highly social habits that make it easier to visually compare mates. In fact, the more social the trichromats are, the more red coloring they show.

“Neuroscience research has found some evidence of a perceptual bias for more brilliant colors,” said Fernandez, an Ohio University doctoral student. “So, it is reasonable for primates with trichromatic color vision to respond more when they see bright colors.”

So while foraging may have initially sparked red color vision, the new ability was likely “recruited” for social purposes.

“It looks like red skin and hair became a sexual preference,” said Morris, a fish biologist who studies how physical traits such as coloring evolve through sexual selection. “So while the benefits in terms of eating may not apply anymore, the (red-color) vision in some groups is now relevant in social terms.”

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Orangutan Escape Video

There are some interesting videos of the latest orangutan escape available here:

and here:

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Orangutan escapes and goes on 3-hour rampage

orangutan tranquilizerAn orangutan chewed through her cage and went on a three-hour rampage at a Taiwan entertainment park until authorities subdued it with a stun gun, a park employee said on Thursday.

The 19-year-old primate, named "Little Blackie," turned over iceboxes, garbage cans and motor scooters near the ticketing gates of Santao Mountain Entertainment Area in Kaohsiung County after her escape on Wednesday, said a park worker surnamed Hsu.

"She just turned everything upside down," Hsu said.

About two hours later, a county agricultural team shot the orang-utan with a stun gun, she said. No human or beast was injured.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Study says male baboons assess mating possibilities through eavesdropping

A new study has found that male baboons take advantage of the din created by other baboons to eavesdrop on mating couples to determine the status of relationships.

With the male grunting and the female emitting loud and long operatic calls, mating Chacma baboons produce an incredible amount of noise.

If the couple quarrels or parts, for even just a brief moment, the snooping male then takes advantage of the situation by mating with the female, himself.

"For male baboons, copulation calls are the most interesting vocalizations because they are only given by females and are clearly associated with females mating," lead author Catherine Crockford told Discovery News.

Crockford, a researcher in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology, explained that eavesdropping sometimes provides low-status male baboons with such mating opportunities, since higher-ranked, more dominant males otherwise monopolize high-ranked females.

High-status baboons form what are known as consortships, which can last for a few hours up to a week. During this mini marriage-like period, the male follows a female closely and guards her against other approaching males.

When the couple begins to noisily mate, Crockford said the eavesdropping males "must make deductions from the calls they hear about who is doing what with whom."

The study was carried out in the Moremi Game Reserve of Botswana. The researchers observed lower-ranked males and waited until the animals were minding their own business, such as resting or nibbling on a palm nut or some sausage fruit.

The scientists then played a male grunt out of a loudspeaker followed by a female copulation call played out of another speaker placed over 131 miles away. Since females will continue to call when they possess sexual swellings linked to ovulation, the speaker setup mimicked what would happen if a mating consort pair separated.

The noises prompted the lower-ranked males to literally drop what they were doing and to rivet themselves towards the speaker emitting the female copulation call.

The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Animal Behavior.

Crockford believes the study, combined with prior research, proves baboons can simultaneously classify others according to rank and kinship, recognize transient relationships and understand whether or not calls are directed to them or someone else.

Julia Fischer, a scientist at the German Primate Center in Goettingen, believes Crockford's study gives an insight into how acutely aware baboons are of rapid changes of others' relationships."

Story here.

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Monkey recovering from fishing lure injury

ebony monkeyA spider monkey named Ebony is recovering from wounds he received from a fishing lure that someone tossed on the Citrus County island that Ebony and his compatriots live on.

The island is part of the Riverside Resort in the middle of the Homosassa River in Homosassa.

The fishing lure with its with three-barbed treble hooks got caught on the monkey's tail and face and as the monkeys tried to pull it out it tore Ebony's skin.

"There's not much we can do trying to put a bandage on an animal like that," said veterinarian Dr. Mark Lowe. "They would immediately rip it off, so we just had them spray it with a dilute iodine solution."

Gail Oakes, who owns the Riverside Resort and Monkey Island, says the person who tossed the lure on the island bragged about it around town, but nobody saw the person committing the act.

Monkey Island has been home to primates for almost 50 years. The monkeys are not pets and are considered wild animals.

The resort has permits for the primates, and they are fed and cared for by employees. The monkeys never leave the island because they don't know how to swim.

Story here.

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Indian monkey captured after injuring thirty-five people

After injuring nearly 35 people during one month, a monkey, which went mad, was finally captured today by the forest officials, much to the relief of the Narendrapur villagers in Ganjam district.

The experts from Nandankanan Zoo were finally requisitioned by the district authority to capture the monkey as it had caused panic among the villagers.

Narendrapur Gram Panchayat Sarapanch Subash Chandra Behera said the monkey which was leading an isolated life and never lived in groups, continued to trouble the villagers of Narendrapur in Ganjam district since April 25 last.

A team from the Nandankanan Zoo comprising seven members fired three rounds from the tranquilizer gun on the monkey when he was resting inside the Narendrapur College campus.

After climbing a rooftop few minutes later it fell unconscious.

The Forest Department officials said the monkey would be released in the nearby jungles after proper treatment.

Forest officials had already sought permission from Ganjam Collector V K Pandian to shoot the monkey and declare it ''dangerous to human life'' because of its erratic and violent behaviour.

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Orangutan cataract surgery declared a success

cataract orangutanVolunteers on Real Gap’s Orangutan Experience volunteer programme in Malaysia had an unexpected treat last week when they witnessed the world’s first ever cataract operation performed on an orangutan.

19yr old Aman, a dominant male, is the first orangutan in the world to undergo bilateral cataract surgery. He had been virtually blind for 10 years after developing cataracts in both eyes.

After the three hour long surgery last week (undertaken by the local coalition conservation initiative, the Great Orangutan Project), Aman's operation was pronounced a success and has brought his rehabilitation into the wild a step closer. He will now be able to see his children for the first time. Specialist animal ophthalmologist Dr Izak Venter from South Africa declared “Aman has clearly regained the use of his sight and will be suitable for return to his usual activities.” Aman is now enjoying post- operative animal care at the Matang Wildlife Centre in Sarawak, Malaysia.

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Woman Fights County Over Pet Monkey

pet monkeyA Rockville women is distraught after authorities seized her pet monkey.

Elyse Gazewitz treated Armani like any other baby. She fed him from a bottle, wheeled him around in a stroller and diapered him. She even built a $4,000 addition on her house for the 4-pound capuchin monkey and outfitted it with tire swings, toys and a small hammock.

But Montgomery County animal control officials said Armani is an illegal resident under Maryland law. They seized him last week.

A new state law forbids anyone from importing, selling, breeding or having a "non-human primate," including monkeys. The law made an exception for animals that were owned before May 31, 2006, but officials said Armani wasn't even born until December.

Gazewitz said officials are wrong, and she's fighting to get her monkey back. She said she can prove Armani was born and purchased in May of last year.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bubonic Plague Kills Monkey At Denver Zoo

bubonic plague monkey deathA Denver Zoo monkey has died of bubonic plague, apparently after eating a squirrel stricken with the disease, Colorado health and zoo officials said on Monday.

Five squirrels and a rabbit found dead on zoo grounds tested positive for the flea-borne disease in recent weeks, Denver Zoo spokeswoman Ana Bowie said.

Zookeepers on May 15 noticed the 8-year-old hooded capuchin monkey was lethargic, and the next day it was found dead in its enclosure. Zoo veterinarians sent tissue samples to a state laboratory where it was determined the animal died of the plague. The death was announced on Monday.

Zoo veterinarian Dave Kenny said that the risk of plague spreading to humans was extremely low but that visitors were being urged to avoid squirrels and rabbits.

"There are species in the zoo collection, especially monkeys, that could be susceptible to the plague," said John Pape, an epidemiologist with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Bowie said none of the 17 other capuchin monkeys in the exhibit -- or any other animals at the zoo -- have shown plague symptoms. But as a precaution, all the capuchin monkeys have been moved to an inside enclosure and are being treated with a regimen of antibiotics, she said.

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Monday, May 21, 2007

Escaped gorilla was teased before the attack

gorilla escapeThe 180 kilo gorilla Bokito, who jumped over a 3.5 metre ditch on Friday and attacked a woman at Rotterdam's Blijdorp zoo, had probably been provoked into making his escape, zoo officials said at the weekend.

The preliminary investigation showed that shortly before the attack, children had been throwing stones at the gorilla, officials said. In addition, the behaviour of his victim may have contributed.

Fifty-seven year old Petronella Yvonne de Horde was a frequent visitor to the gorilla enclosure and according to her daughter believed she had a 'special relationship' with Bokito. One keeper said the gorilla may not have found De Horde submissive enough when she sought eye contact with him.

'I know Bokito targeted my wife. We were looking at him and as we walked away we heard a splash and there he was behind us,' the victim's husband Gerrit de Horde told the Volkskrant.

The gorilla grabbed the woman and dragged her several metres before making for the restaurant where he was eventually recaptured.

Bokito's keeper Fred Rueb told the paper the gorilla's behaviour had changed in recent weeks, since another gorilla group with a dominant male had been moved to Shanghai.

Bokito, who was raised by hand in Germany, was sent to Blijdorp in 2005 because he was too used to humans and did not show the 'desired group behaviour', the Volkskrant said.

His victim underwent a second round of operations on Sunday. She has a broken wrist and lower arm, a crushed hand and dozens of bites. Husband De Horde said surgeons told him his wife's hand may never recover.

'There will be a hefty damages claim,' he told the Volkskrant. 'They knew he was an escape-risk. He'd done it before.' Nevertheless, he said his wife did not bear Bokito, 11, any malice.

Story here.

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Stolen Monkey Reunited With Its Autistic Owner

A stolen monkey was reunited Thursday with its Putnam County owner about two weeks after the primate was taken from a pet store.

Police reunited Destiny, the marmoset monkey, with owner Joan Newberger after someone spotted the animal and led police to the house.

Newberger, who works at the pet store, is autistic and suffers from seizures. She told Channel 4 that the monkey was more than just a pet but was trained to keep her calm and safe.

"If I'm having a seizure, he'll get me out of it," Newberger said last week.

Newberger said she is just glad to get Destiny back and will not press charges.

Story here.

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Fifi, Sydney's tea drinking chimp, turns 60

fifi chimpBefore Fifi the chimpanzee could do anything on her 60th birthday today, she had to have her morning cuppa.

She couldn't bear to even look at the special birthday treats -- vegetable cake, watermelon and extra coconuts -- until she'd sipped, in typically ladylike fashion, a hot chamomile tea.

Her keepers at Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo believe Fifi, a matriarchal figure in the zoo's 19-member family, is one of the oldest chimpanzees alive.

Senior primate keeper Louise Grossfeldt said chimpanzees typically lived up to 45 years in the wild, but in zoos they had been known survive into their 60s.

In her prime, Fifi was one of the group's highest ranked females.

"I believe she is the backbone of the group and she's always the peacemaker when there are arguments among families," Ms Grossfeldt said.

"Fifi continues to enjoy her life to the fullest with the rest of the group, and hopefully for many more years to come."

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Gorilla Injures 4 in Zoo in Brief Escape

A 400-pound gorilla escaped from his enclosure and ran amok in a Rotterdam zoo Friday, biting one woman, dragging her around, and causing panic among dozens of visitors before he was finally subdued, officials and a witness said.

The Diergaarde Blijdorp zoo was evacuated and the 11-year-old gorilla, named Bokito, was eventually contained in a restaurant within the park, police spokeswoman Yvette de Rave said.

Four people were injured, including the woman who was bitten, zoo director Ton Dorrestijn said.

Bokito was shot with a sedative dart and recaptured, said zoo spokeswoman Lilian Jonkers, but she couldn't say what his condition was. It was not immediately clear how he managed to climb the high stone walls surrounding his enclosure.

"He got over the moat, which in itself is remarkable, because gorillas can't swim," Dorrestijn said. "He got onto a path for visitors and started running and went at full speed through tables and diners at the Oranje restaurant."

A witness, Robert de Jonge, told NOS radio that he didn't see the gorilla escape but began following it and tried to help after he saw people running and screaming that the animal had grabbed a woman.

"I saw the beast running through the park with a woman behind him, him grabbing her forearm," De Jonge said.

At a distance of around 30 yards, he saw the gorilla lie down near the woman and then heard her scream.

"He bit her, or I think he bit her, because when he stood up his mouth was covered in blood," De Jonge said.

He said he then stopped to tell arriving police what had happened and ran with them as they traced the gorilla to a nearby restaurant terrace.

The zoo was packed with visitors as many Dutch took advantage of a national holiday Thursday to make a long weekend.

"Everyone was in panic, running away, screaming, wailing, screaming kids running around, I don't know what all, kids without parents , it was a total drama," De Jonge said.

Children cowered in their parents' arms as the gorilla loped past.

People tried to hide inside the restaurant and were trying to bar the door, but fled as the gorilla approached, De Jonge said. Bokito then punched through the glass door and ran inside.

"They were all in panic , the animal, too, I mean , and all the people ran outside the restaurant, and zoo personnel were running up and they were able to keep the animal inside by barricading the doors with garden furniture and things," he said.

De Jonge said he later saw the woman "covered in blood," but walking unaided.

Story here.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Indian legislators seek protection from monkey 'battalions'

monkey menaceIndian MPs demanded protection on Wednesday from hordes of monkeys which have invaded the parliament building, ministries and departments in New Delhi.

The debate coincided with court orders on Wednesday to transport captured monkeys from New Delhi to a nearby wildlife sanctuary.

Opposition parliamentarian K. Malaisamy said the creatures were creating havoc in the heart of the capital.

"Monkeys come in battalions, break cables, mock at passers-by and harass them and even decamp with belongings of children from playgrounds," he said as other MPs in parliament's upper house joined the emotionally charged debate.

"In the name of environmental protection, we cannot afford to remain silent spectators to this monkey menace in South Avenue, where several government offices and flats of MPs are located," Malaisamy said.

"The monkeys are even invading kitchens in MPs' apartments," shouted Ramdeo Bhandary of the regional RJD party, which backs India's ruling Congress government.

Parliamentarians from various groupings urged Environment Minister T. Baalu to capture the monkeys, which roam free in ministry lobbies and often break into the fortified office of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The defence ministry has, however, recruited bands of ferocious langurs trained to attack the smaller breed of simians inside military facilities in New Delhi.

While MPs wanted action, the Delhi High Court Wednesday warned the New Delhi administration to avoid scandals in transporting captured monkeys to a nearby sanctuary.

"The same set of monkeys may be caught and transported several times on record for making the process a money-making business," judges Tirath Singh Thakur and S. N. Aggarwal told the city government in an order.

Several city residential districts petitioned the court in 2001 to initiate steps to make New Delhi "monkey-free".

Story here.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chimp Test Signals Hepatitis Vaccine Progress

hepatitus c vaccineScientists have created a vaccine for hepatitis C that can induce an immune response in chimpanzees.

The hepatitis C virus is spread through contaminated blood. Infection can lead to permanent scarring of the liver, chronic liver infection and liver failure.

There is currently no vaccine available, and treatment ― costing US$1600–2300 a month for 6 to 12 months ― is beyond the means of most people in the developing world.

Researchers at the US-based National Institutes of Health have shown that a candidate vaccine made up of molecules that resemble parts of the hepatitis C virus can induce an immune response to the virus in animals.

These are attractive as a candidate vaccine because they can induce an immune response, but are not infectious.

Previous attempts to create a hepatitis C vaccine using virus-like particles have resulted in only partial protection from infection.

Immunisation of four chimpanzees with the candidate vaccine resulted in a detectable and sustained immune response for at least six months. When they were inoculated with the hepatitis C virus, they quickly controlled the infection.

In contrast, three out of the four unvaccinated animals became chronically infected with the virus when inoculated.

The researchers also found that the viral levels in the vaccinated animals were five to tenfold lower than those of the control chimpanzees, demonstrating the vaccine's efficacy.

Yet the immune response in the vaccinated animals was still weak. The next stage, according to lead researcher T. Jake Liang, will be to improve the efficacy of the candidate vaccine through genetic modification to induce a stronger immune response against the virus.

Daniel Okenu, a Nigerian scientist at the US-based Morehouse School of Medicine, welcomed the new development and told SciDev.Net that a vaccine would benefit developing countries, as they have limited resources to pay for costly treatment regimes.

He remains sceptical, however, about whether patent regulations will allow this technology to be available to low-income countries.

According to the World Health Organization, most of the estimated 170 million people with hepatitis C worldwide are in developing countries.

Okenu highlighted the need to encourage local production of such vaccines at affordable prices.

Story here.

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'Aman' Has Cataract Removed, First-ever For Orang Utan

An orangutan is expected to have improved vision after successfully undergoing cataract surgery Wednesday, the world's first ever such operation on a great ape, a wildlife official said.

The 19-year-old orangutan named Aman is gradually recovering after the two-and-a-half-hour surgery on both his eyes at the Matang Wildlife Center in Sarawak state on Borneo island, said Sarawak Forestry spokesman Zulkifli Baba Noor.

The operation was performed by animal ophthalmologist Izak Venter and anesthetist Frik Stegman, both from South Africa, and assisted by local veterinarian S. Amilan, he told The Associated Press.

Aman has been suffering from decreasing vision due to severe cataracts since 2000, he said.

The orangutan is expected to be able to see again although he may not completely regain his vision, Zulkifli said.

Cataract surgery had been performed on other animals such as dogs but never before on an orangutan, he said.

Aman, who weighs around 330 pounds, could live up to 45 years old, he added.

Aman was rescued from a market in Sarawak in 1989 and brought to an animal sanctuary before being transferred to the Matang center in 2000.

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Missing monkey found, returned to Ontario zoo

escape monkeyPicton residents cautiously unshuttered their windows and unbolted their doors after a 20-pound Japanese snow monkey was successfully sedated by police and returned to his home at a roadside zoo.

A neighbour spotted the animal, which was taken down by police with a tranquillizer dart about half a kilometer from his cage.

The Japanese macaque was first noticed missing from Bergeron's Exotic Animal Sanctuary on Sunday morning. Police immediately began an intensive monkey-hunt, with officers conducting a hard target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse, and doghouse in the area. Authorities also issued a description of the small red-faced primate so that it wouldn’t be mistaken for one of the species of monkey native to Eastern Ontario.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Female chimp infanticide might be common

chimp infanticideResearchers observing wild chimpanzees in Uganda have discovered repeated instances of a mysterious and poorly understood behavior: female-led infanticide. The findings, reported by Simon Townsend, Katie Slocombe and colleagues of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and the Budongo Forest Project, Uganda, appear in the journal Current Biology.

Infanticide is known to occur in many primate species, but is generally thought of as a male trait. An exception in the realm of chimpanzee behavior was famously noted in the 1970s by Jane Goodall in her observations of Passion and Pom, a mother-daughter duo who cooperated in the killing and cannibalization of at least two infant offspring of other females. In the absence of significant additional evidence for such behavior among female chimpanzees, speculation had been that female-led infanticide represented pathological behavior, or was a means of obtaining nutritional advantage under some circumstances.

As the result of new field work involving the Sonso chimpanzee community in Budongo Forest in Uganda, the St. Andrews researchers now report instances of three female-led infanticidal attacks. Alerted to the killings by sounds of chimpanzee screams, the researchers directly observed one infanticide, and found strong circumstantial evidence for two others. Evidence suggested that in two of the cases, the killings were perpetrated by groups of resident females against "stranger" females from outside the resident group. Infants were taken from the mothers, who were injured in at least two of the attacks; in at least one case, adult males in the area exhibited displaying behavior, with one old male unsuccessfully attempting to separate the females.

The authors point out that these new observations indicate that such female-led infanticides are neither the result of isolated, pathological behaviors nor the by-product of male aggression, but instead appear to represent part of the female behavior repertoire in chimpanzees.

What drives the behavior is not yet clear, but may stem from demographic shifts that alter sex ratios and put increased pressure on females competing for foraging areas. In their report, the authors note that the Sonso community had experienced a significant population increase in the ten years prior to the infanticide observations (42 individuals in 1996 to 75 in 2006), and that there had been an influx of at least 13 females with dependent offspring since 2001. The population changes resulted in a highly skewed male:female sex ratio of 1:3, with relatively few males available to increase the home range.

According to the authors, the new findings indicate that although low-level aggression between female chimpanzees is more commonly seen, the observed instances of infanticide indicate that deadly aggression is not a gender-specific trait in this species.

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29 million-year-old fossilised skull unearthed in Egypt brings surprises

monkey skullA surprisingly complete fossil skull of an ancient relative of humans, apes and monkeys bears striking evidence that our remote ancestor was less mentally advanced than expected by about 29 million years ago.

The second and most intact cranium found of Aegyptopithecus zeuxis was identified by Duke University primatologist Elwyn Simons, who is announcing the find at this time with several colleagues. Because of the new specimen's remarkable wholeness, Simons and his colleagues were able to subject it to micro CT scanning, a computerized X-ray technique that can be used to calculate the approximate dimensions of the brain the cranium once encased.

Based on previous fossils collected at the same dig site in a quarry outside Cairo, scientists had hypothesized that this early monkey already would have had a relatively large brain, said Simons, a professor of biological anthropology and anatomy.

But the researchers' new report, which displays the computer-reconstructed brain as a false-color red mass within the grey skull case, suggests that the species "had a brain that might have been even smaller than that of a modern lemur's," Simons said. "This means the big-brained monkeys and apes developed their large brains at a later point in time." Simons named this creature Aegyptopithecus zeuxis -- or "linking Egyptian ape" -- after his team found the first skull in 1966.

Sufficiently tiny to rest in Simons' palm, the new 29-million-year-old skull is less than half the size of the 1966 skull. Simons said he and his collaborators first thought it might represent a new species.

But having confirmed that the skull is from the same species, the new skull's strikingly small size suggests the animal may have been mentally robust enough to distinguish the numerous members of a fairly large social group.

After comparing the two skulls, which are of the same age, Simons and his collaborators concluded that the new one came from a female that might have weighed about five and a half pounds, while the first one was from a male of more than twice that size. This size difference between the Aegyptopithecus genders is comparable to that of gorillas, which genetically are humans' second-closest relatives.

Modern-day primates with significant gender size differences usually form multimale and multifemale troops, he said. "When you are in a large troop, that means maybe 15 or 20 individuals. So if we infer that an Aegyptopithecus had a large social group, that suggests it had enough sense to tell all of those members apart from nonmembers."

Simons said he originally overestimated Aegyptopithecus' likely brain size based on the original 1966 skull, which has a bigger snout and pronounced crests, features that he now attributes to its being male.

Aegyptopithecus' brain is smaller than once thought. "But other features in these skulls, and in many other Aegyptopithecus fossil pieces collected at the Egyptian site over four decades, suggest that this primate was already branching away from its lemurlike ancestry," he said.

"We also find that the visual cortex was large, which means that like many primates, this species likely had very acute vision," he said. "So the visual sense, which is regarded as a very important feature of anthropoids, or higher primates, had already expanded."

The shape of the animal's eye sockets also suggests Aegyptopithecus was active in the daytime, like modern and ancient higher primates. In contrast, many but not all modern prosimians -- the group that includes lemurs -- are active at night, he said.

Aegyptopithecus fossils have been found in two quarries separated by about a kilometer within Egypt's Fayum Depression. Scientific evidence suggests the location, now arid, was a tropical forest 29 million years ago.

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Japanese Snow Monkey Escapes From Ontario Wildlife Sanctuary

snow monkey
The escape of Julian the Japanese snow monkey from a wildlife sanctuary just outside Picton has renewed calls for tougher regulations on the operation of private zoos in Ontario.

Ontario Provincial Police issued an alert yesterday for the three-year-old monkey, which is described as weighing 10 kilograms and has long, brown hair and a distinct red face.

Julian, who is also known as a Japanese macaque, went missing from the Bergeron's Exotic Animal Sanctuary on Sunday. Although he was seen a few times later that day, there have been no sightings since.

Police say the owners, Pat and Joe Bergeron, have assured them the animal poses no threat to the public. But officials have warned people to keep away from the escaper because the breed can carry the herpes B virus.

The OPP yesterday were patrolling for Julian as well as visiting people living near the sanctuary, letting them know he was on the lam, Const. Kim Guthrie said in an interview.

The sanctuary is the source of much controversy. Tourism and business groups have held fundraisers in support of the facility, which takes in disabled and unwanted animals, many of them destined to be euthanized.

But the World Society for the Protection of Animals issued a scathing report in 2005 that concluded the Bergeron sanctuary failed to provide proper care for many of the 150 exotic animals on site. Audits of five animal exhibits generated concerns about dirty pens, isolated and stressed animals, inadequate space and inadequate fencing and locks.

Julian's escape "is proof that Ontario's lax zoo regulations are not working," the society said yesterday in a letter to all members of the Legislature.

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Malaysian six-year-old girl attacked by monkey in the night

A six-year-old girl received several stitches on her head after being bitten by a wild monkey while sleeping in her family home in Taman Semambu Baru here on Wednesday.

The incident happened at about 8am while Shin Wai Qi was sleeping in the living room with her twin sister, Shin Wai Wan, and their mother, Chan Yit Fah, 40.

“I had left the door open to let the air in and was sleeping with my daughters when I was awakened by Wai Qi’s screams. I saw her blood-soaked head and a monkey fleeing the house,” said Chan when met today.

Wai Qi was taken to the Kuantan Specialist Hospital where she was given several stitches for the wound on her head.

Chan, who has been staying in the neighbourhood for five years, said monkeys would roam the housing area and they had entered her house several times and stolen her food.

Semambu Assemblyman Pang Szu Meng, who visited the family today, hoped residents in the area would exercise caution to prevent a similar attack.

“I was informed that immediate action had been taken as personnel from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) had shot the monkey which attacked the girl yesterday,” he added.

He believed that the monkeys entered the neighbourhood as they had been deprived of their habitat due to development.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Rivalry affects brain matter development in primates

Brain structures in primates have developed due to different pressures on males and females to keep up with social or competitive demands, a new study suggests.

A comparison of brains from 21 primate species, including gorillas and chimps, suggests that those with greater male-on-male competition have more brain matter devoted to aggression and coordination. Whereas those species in which there is more social mixing between males and females have evolved bigger brains with higher-level thinking.

Competition for status and mates among primates might have influenced brain evolution, the researchers say. They add that contrasting brain types resulting from behavioural differences between the sexes might be a factor in other branches of mammalian brain evolution beyond anthropoid primates.

In the early 1980s, a group of researchers published information about the brain anatomy of 21 different primate species – which included gorillas, chimps and rhesus monkeys, but not humans.

The team took each brain and cut it into thin slices. They photographed each slice and marked the boundaries of the brain structures they saw. By measuring the areas of these marked regions, the scientists were able to reconstruct various brain structures and estimate their volume.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century to the new study by a different group, led by Patrik Lindenfors at Stockholm University in Sweden. They decided to find out if different types of behaviour could explain the variations in brain anatomy seen in the 21 primate species.

Lindenfors wanted specifically to know whether those species in which males competed heavily amongst themselves had any unique brain attributes. Greater male-on-male competition in primates is liked to greater disparity between male and female body size. So his team used this disparity as a proxy measure for male competition.

For example, gorillas are considered as a highly competitive because females weigh about 80 kilograms on average, whereas males weigh roughly 150 kg. "Gorillas have a big size difference, and the males compete pretty heavily because they have a sort of harem system" in which the most dominant males get the majority of the female mates, explains Lindenfors.

By comparison, female and male chimpanzees weigh about 40 and 50 kilograms, respectively, making this species appear less competitive. While dominant male chimps have more female mates, low-ranking males still have a reasonable shot at finding a mating partner.

There is almost no difference between male and female body size when it comes to gibbons, a type of small ape found in Asia. Gibbons form monogamous mating pairs, so there is very little competition among males for females.

Lindenfors conducted a complex statistical analysis comparing the volumes of the brain structures and levels of male competitiveness across the 21 species.

Even after taking into account the fact that primates with bigger bodies generally tend to have bigger brains, the analysis found a link between greater competitiveness and an increase in the size of brain regions that can trigger aggressive behaviours and coordinate movement.

Species with more competitive males tended to have larger medulla and midbrain structures – which help with coordination – relative to their overall brain size than those species with easygoing males.

The competitive species might have evolved this trait because it gave an advantage in physical confrontations, Lindenfors speculates. "You have to have body control and strength to be a dominant male," he explains.

There was a similar pattern found for a brain structure known as the amygdala, which is involved in aggression. While this made up about 0.4% of the chimpanzee brain, it constituted 0.6% of the brain in gorillas, which are more competitive.

In previous research, Lindenfors' group has shown that primate species that have groups with many females also tend to have larger neocortex brain regions, which help in higher-level thinking and emotions.

Primates with the most sociable females evolved a larger neocortex, suggesting that female social skills may yield the biggest brains for the species as a whole. Plus, social demands on females and competitive demands on males require skills handled by different brain components, Lindenfors suggests.

However, Lindenfors stresses one potential problem with his analyses: the study published in the early 1980s did not specify whether the brains came from female or male primates. So he can only make rough generalisations on a species level until another, more specific primate brain survey is conducted.

While many people would be curious to know how humans fit into the picture, Lindenfors says that comparing our brain structures to those of other primates is "too messy" because our brains are radically different from those of our primate cousins.

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Arizona couple caged for animal cruelty, 100 animals seized, 13 monkeys

Two people are in custody after authorities raided a home in Wintersburg that housed more than 100 animals.

Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies Wednesday arrested Daniel Clendenen, 49, and wife Annette, 45, on suspicion of two counts each of felony child abuse and six counts of animal cruelty for failure to provide shelter, water and medical attention.

The couple's two children - ages 5 and 16 - also were removed from the home and put in the care of Child Protective Services.

Deputies and veterinarians removed horses, tortoises, dogs, chickens and 13 monkeys. Many of the animals suffered from malnourishment and lacked water, shelter and medical care, authorities said.

Deputy Lindsey Smith said seven complaints about the property had been filed in less than a year and that deputies had visited the residence to educate the owners about caring for the animals.

"It's one of the biggest (animal cruelty cases) we've had," Smith said.

The owners said they were operating a commercial boarding or grooming operation, but Smith said deputies found no evidence of an established business.

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Primate Brains Reflect Sex Differences

When male primates tussle and females develop their social skills it leaves a permanent mark – on their brains. According to research published in the online open access journal BMC Biology, brain structures have developed due to different pressures on males and females to keep up with social or competitive demands.

An international research team consisting of Patrik Lindenfors, Charles Nunn and Robert Barton examined data on primate brain structures in relation to traits important for male competition, such as greater body mass and larger canine teeth. The researchers also took into account the typical group size of each sex for individual primate species in order to assess sex-specific sociality - the tendency to associate with others and form social groups. The researchers then studied the differences between 21 primate species, which included chimpanzees, gorillas, and rhesus monkeys, using statistical techniques that incorporate evolutionary processes.

The authors found that sexual selection had an important influence on primates’ brains. Greater male-on-male competition (sexual selection) correlated with several brain structures involved with autonomic functions, sensory-motor skills and aggression. Where sexual selection played a greater role the septum was smaller, and therefore potentially exercised less control over aggression.

In contrast, the average number of females in a social group correlates with the relative size of the telencephalon (or cerebrum), the largest part of the brain. The telencephalon includes the neocortex, which is responsible for higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands and spatial reasoning.

Primates with the most sociable females evolved a larger neocortex, suggesting that female social skills may yield the biggest brains for the species as a whole. Social demands on females and competitive demands on males require skills handled by different brain components, the authors suggest. The contrasting brain types, a result of behavioural differences between the sexes, might be a factor in other branches of mammalian brain evolution beyond anthropoid primates, too.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

A moment of monkey and capibara zen...

monkey capibara
monkey capybara
In this photo released by Tobu Zoo Thursday, May 3, 2007, a capibara carries a squirrel monkey on its back at Tobu Zoo in Minami Saitama on Sunday, April 22, 2007. Four capybaras, 29 squirrel monkeys, one white pelican and two bucerotidaes have been kept at the same site in the zoo, where visitors can see the animals interact with one another.

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Gene Mutation Linked To Cognition Is Found Only In Humans

The human and chimpanzee genomes vary by just 1.2 percent, yet there is a considerable difference in the mental and linguistic capabilities between the two species. A new study showed that a certain form of neuropsin, a protein that plays a role in learning and memory, is expressed only in the central nervous systems of humans and that it originated less than 5 million years ago. The study, which also demonstrated the molecular mechanism that creates this novel protein, will be published online in Human Mutation, the official journal of the Human Genome Variation Society.

Led by Dr. Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Kunming, China, researchers analyzed the DNA of humans and several species of apes and monkeys. Their previous work had shown that type II neuropsin, a longer form of the protein, is not expressed in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of lesser apes and Old World monkeys. In the current study, they tested the expression of type II in the PFC of two great ape species, chimpanzees and orangutans, and found that it was not present. Since these two species diverged most recently from human ancestors (about 5 and 14 million years ago respectively), this finding demonstrates that type II is a human-specific form that originated relatively recently, less than 5 million years ago.

Gene sequencing revealed a mutation specific to humans that triggers a change in the splicing pattern of the neuropsin gene, creating a new splicing site and a longer protein. Introducing this mutation into chimpanzee DNA resulted in the creation of type II neuropsin. "Hence, the human-specific mutation is not only necessary but also sufficient in creating the novel splice form," the authors state.

The results also showed a weakening effect of a different, type I-specific splicing site and a significant reduction in type I neuropsin expression in human and chimpanzee when compared with the rhesus macaque, an Old World monkey. This pattern suggests that before the emergence of the type II splice form in human, the weakening of the type I splicing site already existed in the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees, implying a multi-step process that led to the dramatic change of splicing pattern in humans, the authors note.

They identified a region of the chimpanzee sequence that has a weakening effect on the splicing site that also probably applies to humans. "It is likely that both the creation of novel splice form and the weakening of the constitutive splicing contribute to the splicing pattern changes during primate evolution, suggesting a multi-step process eventually leading to the origin of the type II form in human," the authors state.

They note that further studies should probe the biological function of type II neuropsin in humans, as the extra 45 amino acids in this form may cause protein structural and functional changes. They note that in order to understand the genetic basis that underlies the traits that set humans apart from nonhuman primates, recent studies have focused on identifying genes that have been positively selected during human evolution. They conclude, "The present results underscore the potential importance of the creation of novel splicing forms in the central nervous system in the emergence of human cognition."

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Men Steal Disabled Woman's Helper Monkey

Putnam County deputies are looking for the men who stole a companion monkey from a woman with mental disabilities.

Joan Newberger was showing the marmoset monkey to four men Friday evening at Acme Grooming and Pet Haven Adoption Service in San Mateo.

The sheriff's office reports that one of the men grabbed the monkey from Newberger and cut the animal's leash with a pair of scissors.

The men ran from the store and the $4,900 monkey was taken away in a black sport utility vehicle.

Major Keith Riddick said it was the second time in six months that this type of monkey was stolen from the business.

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