Friday, August 31, 2007

Ape Names Swans At Des Moines Research Center

ape names swansAn ape in central Iowa is showing researchers just how smart primates can be.

Panbanisha, a bonobo at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, has given names to two trumpeter swans nesting at the center. It's an achievement researchers say shows how important collaboration is to learning.

The ape trust focuses on helping primates communicate through computers and symbols.

The latest project began in the spring when the swans were released on the trust's lake. It took months of work to motivate Panbanisha to name the birds.

Researchers made references to the swans while communicating with the bonobo -- showing the ape they were interested in giving them names. They displayed pictures of the swans, played videos of them and took Panbanisha on a walk to find them.

Abstract symbols were developed to help the bonobo distinguish between the three male and female names under final consideration.

And finally this month, Panbanisha made her choices: Morgan and Olivia.

Story here.

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Gunmen Kill Ranger In East Congo Gorilla Park

gorilla attacksSuspected Rwandan Hutu rebels killed a park ranger in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in the latest attack on guards who protect rare mountain gorillas in a national park, officials said on Friday.

The attack late on Thursday on the ranger station at Kabaraza, 95 km (60 miles) north of the North Kivu provincial capital Goma, followed the killings of five of the endangered gorillas in recent weeks in the Virunga National Park.

"Around 2300 hours, a ranger on night watch heard noises coming from some of the rangers' houses. He went there to find out what was going on and was shot in the belly," Robert Muir of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which supports the protection programme for the Virunga gorillas, told Reuters.

The ranger died from his wounds, and a worker at the camp was injured by a bullet in the neck. Houses were looted.

Other rangers who drove the attackers off said they spoke Rwandan and were believed to be members of the largely Hutu Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) rebel group which operates in eastern Congo.

Several rangers have been killed in Virunga, Africa's oldest national park located near the intersection of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Conservationists are fighting to save the estimated 700 mountain gorillas who remain in central Africa.

Thursday's attack came in the same turbulent area of eastern Congo where government troops have been battling soldiers loyal to a renegade general, Laurent Nkunda.

On Thursday, thousands of civilians fled the fighting which has shattered a seven-month-old truce signed by Nkunda and dampened hopes of stabilising eastern Congo after landmark national elections held late last year.

The recent slayings of gorillas shocked conservationists, who suspect the killings are linked to a power struggle between local government agents trying to save Virunga and those engaged in the illicit trade in the charcoal made from its trees.

Under Congo's late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Virunga was a major tourist draw, but years of insecurity and the 1998-2003 war that killed an estimated 4 million people, mainly through hunger and disease, have led to a dwindling number of visitors.

Story here.

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DNA Used To Trace Origin Of Taiping Four

It has taken years for primatologists and animal-rights organizations to piece together the story of the Taiping Four gorillas.

Analysis of their DNA shows they are related to gorillas in Cameroon. It's likely that their mothers were shot by poachers and they were smuggled across the border and sold to a zoo in Ibadan in northern Nigeria. Then they were shipped to the zoo in Taiping, Malaysia, in 2001, as part of an "exchange" of zoo animals, although it was never clear what the Taiping zoo was meant to be sending to Ibadan.

In fact, according to documents unearthed by the International Primate Protection League, the gorillas were sold from Ibadan by a Nigerian trader working with Nigerians in Malaysia. The Malaysian government allowed the import of the gorillas, as captive-bred animals but - as the IPPL points out - it should have taken them just two minutes to figure out that there is no gorilla-breeding program in Nigeria and the gorillas had to have been wild, and thus their import was a violation of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.

The IPPL alerted the Malaysian government, which eventually seized the gorillas. But what to do with them?

Somehow, apparently as a result of a close friendship between a CITES official and the then-director of South Africa's National Zoological Gardens, they wound up in Pretoria. (South Africa was already complicit, because the gorillas were flown to Malaysia through Johannesburg with nary a raised eyebrow, although again, the export of live gorillas from Nigeria was clearly illegal.)

And there the gorillas have sat since 2004, while the governments of Nigeria, Cameroon, South Africa and Malaysia argue about where they should go, and when. The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been poised to ship them to a primate centre in Cameroon for years, and even got so far as to book flights and have crates made, but bureaucratic pettiness has kept the Taiping Four sitting in Pretoria.

Nigeria was the only country to take action about this smuggling case; complicit officials in Ibadan were fired and a commission of inquiry held to map out the smuggling route. The fund hopes the gorillas will finally leave Pretoria next month.

Story here.

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The Influence Of Sex And Handedness On The Brain Is Similar In Capuchin Monkeys And Humans

U.S. researchers have determined the influence of sex and handedness on the brain is similar in capuchin monkeys and in humans.

Hiram College scientists said their research shows capuchin monkeys -- known for their manual dexterity, complex social behavior and cognitive abilities -- display, as do humans, a fundamental sex difference in the organization of the brain, specifically in the corpus callosum -- the region connecting the two cerebral lobes.

In the study led by Professor Kimberley Phillips and Alayna Lilak, 13 adult capuchins underwent magnetic resonance imaging to determine the size of their corpus callosum.

The monkeys were later given a task to determine hand preference. The results led the researchers to conclude that, as in humans, male capuchins have a smaller relative size of the corpus callosum than females, and right-handed individuals have a smaller relative size of the corpus callosum than left-handed individuals.

Phillips hypothesize the findings are related to hemispheric specialization for complex foraging tasks that require the integration of motor actions and visuospatial information.

The study, which included Chet Sherwood of George Washington University, appears in the online journal PLoS One and is available at

Story here.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Monkey Man "King Kong" To Marry This Year

monkey man king kongA famous hairy man in China calls himself King Kong and is to get married at the end of this year.

Yu Zhenghuan, 30, nicknamed himself King Kong after watching the American Movie.

"I feel King Kong is a true man, strong and doing everything for the woman he loves," says Yu. "At this point, I am alike him."

Yu, who met his girlfriend at a friend's party, said: "We fell in love at the first sight."

Yu says he is enjoying the feeling of being in a relationship.

"I am like King Kong and would do everything for the woman I love. If my schedule is not too full this year, I plan to get married with her at the end of the year."

Yu says he has been expecting the day for a long time.

"I am a normal person. But when I was young, I always felt I was inferior to others, who saw me as a freak."

Yu was born at Anshan city with heavy black hair all over his body and face.

Story here.

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Chimp In Japan Tosses Rock, Hits Girl In Head

An 8-year-old girl was injured when a rock thrown by a chimpanzee hit her in the forehead at a Japanese zoo, zoo employees said Tuesday.

The girl received minor injuries in the incident in May and was given 34,000 yen (292 dollars) in compensation by the administrators of the zoo in Toyohashi in Aichi prefecture.

The 1.4-metre perpetrator is known for throwing rocks, so the zoo had earlier placed a net between its enclosure and zoo visitors, but the rock that hit the girl flew through the mesh. Now the zoo has hung a second net to prevent a similar incident.

Story here.

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ISU and Great Ape Trust To Cooperate On Primate Research

primate testingGreat Ape Trust of Iowa and Iowa State University on Monday signed an agreement to cooperate in primate studies, with bonobos watching the announcement through a pane of glass in their sprawling southeast Des Moines home.

The pact eventually is expected to lead to the development of new master’s and doctoral programs in primatology at ISU. In the short-term, it is expected to make it easier for Great Ape Trust and the university to attract grants from the federal government and elsewhere for research, officials from the trust and ISU said. And it may bring discussions of similar agreements involving the University of Northern Iowa or the University of Iowa.

The agreement has no immediate affect on either institution's budget.

The Des Moines-based ape research and conservation center called the pact with ISU “”the world’s pre-eminent collaboration for primate studies.”

“Iowa State University is one of the finest research institutions in the world, and our agreement to create the pre-eminent collaboration for primate studies solidifies Great Ape Trust for the long-term,” said ape trust founder Ted Townsend, a Des Moines businessman. “This partnership for profound science adds a unique and powerful distinction to our state.”

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy said Great Ape Trust is an educational and research resource offering “tremendous opportunities for our faculty and students and the university as a whole.”

“Together, The Trust and Iowa State make a great team in the study of primates and the environment that we share with them,” Geoffroy said. The National Institutes of Health and other grant-awarding agencies often consider applications with university affiliations more prestigious. That should help the ape trust, which opened in 2004 and still is unknown in some circles.

Story here.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

First Ever Monkey Sterilization In Andhra Pradesh

Wildlife officials, in a first ever initiative of its kind in Andhra Pradesh, have sterilised at least 10 monkeys in a forest reserve to curb the growing population of simians here.

The step has come as a measure to control the growing number of monkeys at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park here. The rise in monkeys' population has caused concern to the zoo officials, mainly due to their accommodation and arrangement of food for them.

The number of monkeys has risen to 30, though the zoo can take care of only 15 to 18 monkeys at a time.

The zoo veterinarians have also sterilised wild monkeys from a nearby forest reserve, which entered into human settlements in the city. It was complained that they attacked some residents.

M. Srinivas, park's veterinarian, said: "They are biting people or have been reported to have bitten people. So such monkeys... the forest department has taken an initiative to capture them and bring them to the zoo hospital. And after being kept in quarantine for a month, they are being vasectomised."

"After proper treatment and when the wound is healed, again they are let out in the reserve forest after taking permission or some of them that require further care are retained in the zoo hospital," he said.

After their operation, the monkeys are cared for till their wounds are healed and then freed into the forest.

Story here.

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Rogue Monkey Caught In Orissa Town

In an exercise to end the ongoing simian menace, wildlife personnel on Sunday put a rogue monkey under lock and key much to the relief of residents of this township.

As for the first time the exercise of this nature was carried out in this coastal Orissa town, there was a large assembly of curious local residents.

The wildlife officials of state forest department had a tough time in nabbing the trouble-making animal. After an hour-long hide and seek, the monkey was caged near Baniamala area of the town early this

The rowdy male monkey had literally unleashed a reign of terror in at about four to five localities in the heart of the town.

In fact, the animal had affected the normal life to a certain extent with over fifty locals including small children injured following biting spree of the male monkey.

Two government-run primary schools in these areas witnessed drop in daily attendance as it attacked the school children.

The rogue animal sneaked into government offices and banks and perpetrated nuisance. On quite a few occasions since past fortnight, it attacked pedestrians besides two-wheeler riders disrupting the vehicular traffic.

Later the civil administration had requested the Cuttack territorial forest division to cage the unruly monkey for safety of life and property.

"For about an hour, we followed the monkey as it moved from one place to the other. It was offered a bunch of bananas in form of inducement. As it came down from rooftop to eat the bananas, we sprayed
tranquiliser on it. It soon turned immobile following the impact of tranquiliser. It was caged as soon as it regained consciousness," narrated Kamal Lochan Purohit, forest range officer from wildlife wing of the forest department.

"The rowdy monkey would be kept under observation for a day. We have decided to release it in the Damijola reserve forest in Choudwar area of Cuttack district."

This coastal district, known for frequent floods and cyclone, is currently hit by another unexpected problem - the monkey menace. Attacks by monkeys in regular intervals have already made life hell for people residing in many areas of this region.

An infant was picked up by a rogue monkey from a house in Nikirai village last year and the child met a tragic end after the animal tossed up the child to the ground from the house-top.

In Laxminarayanpur, Nikirai and Kansara village areas, the farmers continue to bear the brunt of simian fury with hordes of monkeys causing intensive damage to crop fields. Vegetable growing has dropped

Story here.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Women In Kenyan Village Are Sexually Harrased By Monkey Troop

monkeys sexually harassing villageA troop of vervet monkeys is giving Kenyan villagers long days and sleepless nights, destroying crops and causing a food crisis.

Earlier this month, local MP Paul Muite urged the Kenyan Wildlife Service to help contain their aggressive behaviour.

But Mr Muite caused laughter when he told parliament that the monkeys had taken to harassing and mocking women in a village.

But this is exactly what the women in the village of Nachu, just south-west of Kikuyu, are complaining about.

They estimate there are close to 300 monkeys invading the farms at dawn. They eat the village's maize, potatoes, beans and other crops.

And because women are primarily responsible for the farms, they have borne the brunt of the problem, as they try to guard their crops.

They say the monkeys are more afraid of young men than women and children, and the bolder ones throw stones and chase the women from their farms.

Nachu's women have tried wearing their husbands' clothes in an attempt to trick the monkeys into thinking they are men - but this has failed, they say.

"When we come to chase the monkeys away, we are dressed in trousers and hats, so that we look like men," resident Lucy Njeri told the BBC News website

"But the monkeys can tell the difference and they don't run away from us and point at our breasts. They just ignore us and continue to steal the crops."

In addition to stealing their crops, the monkeys also make sexually explicit gestures at the women, they claim.

"The monkeys grab their breasts, and gesture at us while pointing at their private parts. We are afraid that they will sexually harass us," said Mrs Njeri.

The Kenyan Wildlife Service told the BBC that it was not unusual for monkeys to harass women and be less afraid of them than men, but they had not heard of monkeys in Kenya making sexually explicit gestures as a form of communication to humans.

The predominantly farming community is now having to receive famine relief food.

The residents report that the monkeys have killed livestock and guard dogs, which has also left the villagers living in fear, especially for the safety of their babies and children.

All the villagers' attempts to control the monkeys have failed - the monkeys evade traps, have lookouts to warn the others of impending attacks and snub poisoned food put out by the residents.

"The troop has scouts which keep a lookout from a vantage point, and when they see us coming, they give warning signals to the ones in the farms to get away," said another area resident, Jacinta Wandaga.

The town has been warned by the Kenya Wildlife Service not to harm or kill any of the monkeys, as it is a criminal offence.

Running out of options, residents are harvesting their crops early in an attempt to salvage what they can of this year's crop.

Unfortunately, this only invites the monkeys to break into their homes and steal the harvested crops out of their granaries.

Even the formation of a "monkey squad" to keep track of the monkeys' movements and keep them out has failed.

The area is simply too large for the few volunteers to cover, they say.

Some residents have lost hope and abandoned their homes and farms, but those who have stayed behind, like 80-year-old James Ndungu, are making a desperate plea for assistance.

"For God's sake, the government should take pity on us and move these monkeys away because we do not want to abandon our farms," he said.

"I beg you, please come and take these animals away from here so that we can farm in peace."

Story here.

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Monkeys Talk To Infants Like Humans Use Baby Talk

rhesus baby talkFemale rhesus monkeys use special vocalizations while interacting with infant monkeys, the way human adults use motherese, or "baby talk," to engage babies' attention, new research at the University of Chicago shows.

"Motherese is a high pitched and musical form of speech, which may be biological in origin," said Dario Maestripieri, an associate professor in Comparative Human Development at the university's Behavioral Biology Lab, who led the research team.

"The acoustic structure of particular monkey vocalizations called girneys may be adaptively designed to attract young infants and engage their attention, similar to how the acoustic structure of human motherese, or baby talk, allows adults to visually or socially engage with infants," he explained.

But unlike human mothers, the rhesus macaque mothers did not direct grunts or girneys toward their own offspring. It could be that the monkey mothers are familiar with their own offspring and use the vocalizations with other babies because they are excited about the novelty of seeing a new infant, Maestripieri said.

The researchers studied a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques living on an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. Dr. Melissa Gerald, a researcher at the University of Puerto Rico, was also a co-author of the study.

They studied the vocalizations exchanged between adult females and found that grunts and girneys increased when a baby was present.

They also found that when a baby wandered away from its mother, the other females looked at the baby and vocalized, suggesting that the call was intended for the baby.

"Adult females become highly aroused while observing the infants of other group members," explains lead author of the article, Jessica Whitham, a recent Ph.D. graduate of the University of Chicago, who investigated this topic as a doctoral student at the university and currently works at Brookfield Zoo near Chicago.

"While intently watching infants, females excitedly wag their tails and emit long strings of grunts and girneys," she said.

"The calls appear to be used to elicit infants' attention and encourage their behavior. They also have the effect of increasing social tolerance in the mother and facilitating the interactions between females with babies in general," Maestripieri and his colleagues write in the article, "Intended Receivers and Functional Significance of Grunt and Girney Vocalizations in Free-Ranging Rhesus Macaques" published in the current issue of the journal "Ethology."

"Thus," they write, "the attraction to other females' infants results in a relatively relaxed context of interaction where the main focus of attention is the baby."

Researchers have long been interested in the noises that non-human primates make and how they are used for communication.

Monkey vocalizations could be carrying information that the sender expects the recipient to understand, or they could be noises that the recipient can draw inferences from, but are not intended to carry information.

A human sneeze, for instance, is a noise that people understand may be associated with a cold, but it did not develop to convey information.

The study by Maestripieri's team showed that the grunts and girneys emitted by the rhesus macaques fall into the category of vocalizations not intended to convey specific information, and appear to be used to attract other individuals' attention or change their emotional states.

When females vocalize to young infants, however, the infants' mothers infer that the females simply want to play with the infants and are unlikely to harm them.

Therefore, these vocalizations may facilitate adult females' interactions not only with infants, but with the infants' mothers as well. They found, for instance, that the grunts and girneys were sometimes followed by an approach and grooming of the mothers.

Maestripieri, a native of Italy, became interested in animal behavior as a child and became interested in primates while in college, when he conducted a research experiment with them. "What I noticed was the great variation in their personalities," he said, "6just like in humans."

Story here.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Baby Gorilla Born After Congo Massacre

gorilla birthA small ray of hope has been given to conservationists in DR Congo after a baby gorilla was born to great apes in the Virunga National Park.

Wildlife Direct said the baby was born to the only female, Bilali, in the region's Munyaga Family.

The news comes after the massacre of four gorillas last month, which wildlife workers described as a "devastating tragedy".

Workers from Wildlife Direct trekked out into the forest after hearing news from guards about the baby and found the family sitting with the newborn.

Although Bilali was protective of her baby and hid in vegetation, after a few moments in the workers' company she was willing to show the workers her baby.

"It was a great sight to see, and we are even able to tell you that the newborn is a boy," they reported in the organisation's blog. "We truly hope that this is one of many infants to join the Munyaga family."

A three-month emergency action plan has been developed since July's tragedy, which includes round-the-clock monitoring of the six remaining gorilla families in the Mikeno sector.

Unesco has also launched an external investigation into the killings, pictures of which shocked the world when they were released at the end of last month.

Story here.

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New Fossil Find May Change Theory Of Evolution

ape fossilsThe finding of nine fossilized teeth by an Ethiopian-Japanese team of researchers will throw new light on evolution as these teeth happen to belong to a new species, according to a new study appearing in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Researchers have named the new species as Chororapithecus abyssinicus and estimate that the fossils are at least 10 million years old. This species could also be directly related to African great apes, which still roam the jungles on the Dark Continent.

Scientists have believed that humans and gorillas originated from a common ancestor who was alive some eight million years ago. If the new finding is substantiated, then this theory will have to be revised. The nine fossilized teeth were found in Afar in Ethiopia.

Researchers say that intensive analysis on the teeth show similarities between them and the teeth of gorillas. The teeth are eight molars and a canine and researchers said they are practically similar to the ones found in gorillas.

"It's a subtle distinction, but we've compared it with everything we could think of," said co-researcher Dr Suwa from the University of Tokyo. "And it does show some telling signs of gorilla-like molar structure. If it's not a gorilla relative, then it's something very similar to what an early gorilla must have looked like."

He added that the finding meant "that Africa was the place of origin of both humans and modern African apes."

Story here.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Emergency Gorilla-Protection Force Deployed In Congo

gorilla bonesA temporary, 30-ranger gorilla-protection force has been deployed in the troubled African park where at least five mountain gorillas were killed, execution style, in July.

The emergency measure is intended to end the attacks on endangered gorillas in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park.

A permanent gorilla-protection unit, totaling some 50 rangers, is also being established for the park.

That force is expected to be in place later this year, following several months of ranger training.

"We are currently in a situation of high risk and enormous threat since the killing of the gorillas last month," said Norbert Mushenzi, the park official now in charge of the southern sector of Virunga, where the attacks took place.

"We have now lost nine gorillas since the beginning of the year," he said. "We have not been faced with such a crisis in many years."

There was good news today, however, as the Virunga rangers announced that Bilali, the only female from the Munyaga family of gorillas, has given birth.

Gorillas live in family "troops" of up to 30 animals, which are led by a dominant male, called a silverback.

Births are rare among the gorillas, which only produce three to four babies in their lifetime.

More than half of the world's 700 endangered mountain gorillas are found in Virunga National Park, which straddles the border of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Last month four mountain gorillas from the Rugendo family were found shot dead in the park, execution style.

Last week rangers discovered the bones of a fifth victim, a female gorilla, Macibiri, that had been missing since the attack.

The rangers believe a carnivore had eaten the meat and dragged the bones away from the rest of the carcass.

Macibiri's infant, Ntaribi, is still missing and presumed dead.

"The baby was too young to survive alone when Macibiri was killed," said Innocent Mburanumwe, who is in charge of Virunga's gorilla monitoring.

"Ntaribi would have died of hunger if it was not killed by the murderers."

In the days after the attack, rangers were not able to get near the family's six surviving gorillas, some of which were injured.

"At the beginning they all just kept running away. But now they don't mind us being there," Mburanumwe said.

Among the gorillas killed was Senkwekwe, a male silverback and the group's leader.

The rangers hope that a solitary silverback will now take over the group, which includes three "blackbacks," male gorillas that are still too young to lead a family.

"But the main problem is there are no females of a reproductive age," Mburanumwe said.

"There's only one female, and she is too young to have babies. So we are very worried for the future of the family."

It is not known who massacred the gorillas, but conservationists believe the slaughter is linked to the burgeoning illegal charcoal trade in the park.

A joint team from UNESCO and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) has spent the past ten days in Congo investigating the killings.

Last week park rangers arrested some 50 women caught making charcoal inside the park. The women have since been released.

"They are victims," said Mushenzi, the park supervisor.

"We need to go up the chain where those in charge are brought to justice."

The "crisis cell" now patrolling the gorilla territory is part of an advance force normally stationed in northern Virunga, where hippo poaching is a major problem.

The upcoming permanent 50-person protection unit "is a crucial response to the emergency plan already initiated, as the problem [of the gorilla killings] may not be resolved immediately," said Lucy Fauveau, the Zoological Society of London's project manager for Congo in Goma.

Mushenzi, the park official in charge of gorilla-protection efforts, acknowledged that increasing patrols in the park may antagonize the gorilla killers.

"We have already received threats by phone in recent weeks as a result of our additional patrols, because we seek to end their illegal activities," he said.

Despite that, Mushenzi said, morale remains high among his men.

"I have the support of the rangers, and all the elements are there to succeed. We do not have a right to fail," he said.

"Would the gorillas be dead if they were not protected? Yes, they would. There are so many people who do not want this park to exist."

Story here.

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Zoo Celebrates Birth Of A Colobus Monkey

colobus monkey babyIt's just 5 days old, but Hogle Zoo's newest bundle of joy is already anxious to explore its Salt Lake home.

The newborn colobus monkey tries to wiggle away from mom Toledo, swipes mom's arm and watches big sister Macari play.

Saturday, inside her primate forest, Toledo gave birth to her fifth baby — a child she conceived with dad Henry. Zookeepers came into work that morning to find the little white fur ball clinging to mom.

Trying to make the process as natural and true to the wild as possible, zookeepers will not provide veterinary care or training for the little monkey until it is 6 months to 1 year old. They have not even gotten close enough to determine the sex.

"Right now, there's no reason to interfere with the bond mom and baby have created," said Kalyn McKenzie, a primate keeper at Hogle. "We don't have to do anything because it has a really good mom."

Adds zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite: "That's totally how it is in nature. We don't want the keepers to get in and interfere with those early moments. It's crucial for mom and baby."

Zookeepers can tell the baby, which hasn't been named, is healthy because it is nursing and holding onto Toledo's chest. Although tired, Toledo is an excellent mom. Tuesday, Toledo munched on carrots, crawled around her exhibit and seemed unfazed as her newest addition nursed.

Story here.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Fifth Rare Gorilla Found Dead After Congo Attack

Fifth gorilla found deadConservationists in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo have discovered the remains of a fifth rare mountain gorilla just weeks after four more of the endangered primates were found shot dead, U.N. officials said.

The female's 4-month-old baby is almost certainly dead too, leaving the surviving half a dozen male members of the group without females to reproduce, officials from the United Nations' cultural organisation UNESCO said.

Last month's mysterious attack, in which the carcasses were left inside Virunga National Park rather than eaten or taken to be sold as bush meat, dealt a blow to efforts to save the species from extinction.

Fewer than 700 mountain gorillas remain, all in central Africa near the intersection of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi -- an area rocked by years of wars and where armed militias still roam the forests after Congo's 1998-2003 war, which brought six foreign armies into the country.

A team of UNESCO investigators were at the Bukima ranger station, 30 km (20 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma, on Thursday when a local ranger found the remains.

"The baby that was with her was not old enough to live without its mother," Yvette Kaboza, a programme specialist with UNESCO's world heritage centre, told Reuters.

Conservationists rescued another orphaned baby, a female, just days after the attack, and took her away to a sanctuary in Goma because she was not yet weaned and too young to survive in the wild without her mother.

"Effectively, this means that not only are there six that are now dead, but there will now be a group of 12 gorillas that may not carry on into the next generation, said Gerard Collin, a consultant with the UNESCO team.

So far this year, nine mountain gorillas have been killed in North Kivu.

Two adult males, known as silverbacks because of their grey colouring, were killed and eaten by rebels living off the land.

A third, a female, was shot in the back of the head in what conservationists said was an "execution-style" killing. Rangers found her baby clinging to her body, suggesting she was not killed for bush meat or the lucrative trade in primate infants.

Some conservationists say they suspect the killings are linked to a power struggle between local government agents trying to save Virunga, Africa's oldest national park, and those engaged in the illicit trade in charcoal made from its trees.

Under Congo's late dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, Virunga was a major tourist draw, but years of insecurity and the 1998-2003 war that killed an estimated 4 million people mainly through hunger and disease, have led to a dwindling number of visitors.

Violence is rising again in the east. Some 165,000 people have fled fighting between Tutsi-led Congolese army brigades and Rwandan Hutu rebels since the beginning of the year, bring the total number of displaced in North Kivu to more than 600,000.

Story here.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Baby Gorilla Slaughter Survivor Cared For By Vets

baby gorilla slaughter survivorA baby gorilla left orphaned when four gorillas in Africa were killed is being looked after around the clock by vets.

Ndeze was left in desperate need of water and food after the attack in July, and experts are still trying to work out why the gorillas were killed.

Emergency measures have now been brought in to protect the rest of the gorillas in the Virunga National Park.

Extra patrols have been set up in the part of the park where the other gorillas live to keep them safe.

The bodies of one silverback and three female gorillas were discovered on 22 July in Virunga National Park.

It's a mystery why the gorillas - all from one family - were killed. An adult female and her six-month-old baby are still missing.

The four animals belonged to a group of 12 gorillas, known to researchers as the Rugendo family, which are often visited by tourists.

There are only around 700 mountain gorillas alive in the world, and more than half of them live in the national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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Port Elizabeth Authorities Rescue Monkey Shut Up In Parked Vehicle

Environment authorities confiscated a tiny tufted marmoset monkey found confined in a parked vehicle at the Port Elizabeth harbour yesterday.

The provincial environment department was alerted by the Port Elizabeth branch of the International Primate and Exotic Animal Association, which had in turn been tipped off by a caller.

Representatives from the department and the Animal Welfare Society then accompanied the association‘s local boss, Karen Wentworth, to the scene.

Wentworth said one window had been opened just 1cm and no food or water had been made available to the animal.

“It was a totally unacceptable situation. It was very hot inside the car and although the owner said he had only just put the animal there, our information suggests it must have been there several hours, and that this happens regularly.”

The owner of the monkey was found. He caught his pet and put it in a cage “about the size of a shoe box, but a little bit higher”, Wentworth said.

The man was not in possession of the required transport and possession permits, but argued that he had bought the monkey in good faith for R2 000 from a Greenbushes breeder.

“We are still putting the pieces together, but commonly these breeders are not legal either. These animals might seem cute when they‘re young, but they are not suitable pets. They develop very sharp teeth that can rip a human face apart.

“It is also cruel to keep one of these monkeys in a cage like a bird. They get rickets and cage paralysis, where their muscles degenerate.”

Some marmoset owners let their animals leap around the house, but this was not much better, she said.

“They need to be out in the forest. Instead, they are falling down toilets and getting trapped in washing machines. It‘s awful.

“They need a specialised diet and sun to metabolise properly, and social interaction with a troop of their own kind.”

The owner, who also lives in the Greenbushes area, has not been named because he has not been charged.

Wentworth said ignorance of the animals‘ needs was often the problem with the owners and the primary blame lay with illegal breeders. These operators were rife in Johannesburg and there were several in Port Elizabeth, she said.

Native to the rain forests of Brazil, the marmoset is “a bit thin”, but otherwise fine. It has been released into the association‘s sanctuary in Port Elizabeth, the location of which is being kept a secret to ensure the safety of its residents.

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Newly Born Lion Tamarins Babies On Display at Denver Zoo

tamarin babyIt was dad's turn by Thursday afternoon to carry the twins.

And proud papa, Simao, didn't shy away from his responsibility to carry the golden lion tamarin twins - on his back, on his front, on his side, and on his head - while the infants' mother, Rosie, took a break to exercise inside the Denver Zoo's Emerald Forest, hopping over her new family and swinging from branch to branch.

Nor was Simao, pronounced Su-mayo, bashful about showing off his 22-day-old offspring, which wrapped their primate hands and feet to his red fur and ruffled their way around their father's body, while occasionally staring through the glass window at dozens of zoo visitors who responded in kind.

The two monkeys went on public display this week.

It often took onlookers a few seconds Thursday to catch glimpses of the infants. But as soon as they spotted their pinkish faces protruding from their father's red and gold fur accompanied by their dark bulging eyes, the exhibit echoed with "cute."

Even brusque grown men couldn't help themselves from describing the monkeys as "cute."

"They're so cute, mom. They're this big," Zachary Griego, 8, told his mother, Victoria, as he widened his thumb and index finger to about 2 inches.

"They're itty-bitty. They're on (his) back. They're so cute," Isabel Vialpando, 6, told her mother, Brandy, who came to the zoo from Laramie.

"I haven't seen anything that small," Isabel's mother said.

The monkeys are an endangered species that live exclusively in the coastal forests of Brazil. About 1,000 remain in the wild. They get their name, the golden lion, because of the color of their fur and the coat and mane that form around their heads.

The last time golden lion tamarins gave birth at the Denver Zoo was in 2001. The twins are the first offspring for Simao and Rosie.

Names have not been given to the infants because zookeepers still are not sure of their genders.

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Malaysia Lifts Export Ban On Monkeys To Control Population

monkey banMalaysia announced Friday it would lift a ban on the export of long-tailed macaques in efforts to reduce the monkey's growing population in urban areas. "The cabinet has decided to lift the ban which was imposed in 1984 on the capture and export of this type of monkeys. This is because we want to reduce the number of long-tailed monkeys in urban areas," Environment Minister Azmi Khalid said.

"These monkeys create havoc in urban areas, not only stealing food from houses but also attacking people, and this is a cause for worry," the official Bernama news agency quoted Azmi saying.

He said only monkeys found in urban areas could be trapped and sent for export, adding that the lifting of the ban would not apply to the eastern Sabah and Sarawak states on Borneo island.

Azmi said studies have shown that there are currently 258,406 long-tailed macaques living in urban areas in west Malaysia, while 483,747 live in the wild.

He said the government would continue to monitor the capture and export of the animals, adding that they would remain on the list of endangered animals.

"We want to make sure that long-tailed monkeys in the wild are not disturbed. We also want to ensure that monkeys caught in urban areas are not ill-treated in the process of export," he said.

"We do not want to be accused of being cruel or abusing these primates. I'm aware that there would be some opposition to this move, not only locally, but also on the foreign front."

Azmi said the government had tried other efforts to reduce the population of the animals including sterilisation, but none of them had been successful.

The long-tailed macaque, also called the Cynomolgus Monkey, is found primarily in Southeast Asia and used extensively in medical experiments, in particular those connected with neuroscience, Bernama said.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Monkey In Russian Zoo Refuses To Pose, Snatches Cameras

monkey snatches phone camerasA Japanese macaque monkey in a Volga Region zoo insists on protecting its "family" from nuisance visitors by snatching away their cell phone cameras, a deputy zoo owner said Thursday.

In an attempt to protect his "girlfriend" and baby, the male Japanese monkey, nicknamed Samurai, has already expropriated a dozen expensive mobile phones, the spokesman said.

"Samurai never feels shy about swiping phones from an owner's hands and then hiding them in his cage," he said.

Zoo workers have managed to return some of the mobile phones intact their rightful owners, but some are in need of repair, he said.

Officials have put up a warning sign for visitors: "Dear biological relatives, we regard phones, cameras and video cameras as our property - we take and destroy them."

But the photographers, who are usually clueless as to what the strange note means, insist on taking pictures of the adorable primate, wholly unaware of its larcenous habits.

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Oliver The Monkey Is Captured, Again

oliver picking locks monkeyOliver apparently has learned to pick locks, making his second breakout from behind bars in less than a month.

On Wednesday, however, the white-faced capuchin monkey was back at the Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo, and this time his cage has been secured with triple chains and locks.

"There's one on top, one on the bottom and one in the middle," park manager Kirk Nemecheck said. "If he gets out again, someone is letting him out."

Oliver's cage was standing open Monday morning and the lock was lying on the ground. Oliver and another capuchin named Baby were still in the area, and workers easily recaptured Baby, but Oliver took off, Nemecheck said.

The 9-year-old primate was found Tuesday in a yard about four miles from the park.
"The police showed up and helped us," Nemecheck said. "We surrounded him, a guy jumped on him and got his hand bit, but we got him."

The capuchin, a species of monkey native to South and Central America, also freed himself July 31 and wasn't apprehended until Aug. 6.

This is Oliver's third escape. His first was about six years ago.

Nemecheck is getting fed up.

"I'm getting titanium locks next time," he said. "I'm tired of chasing a monkey."

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Banana Cake For Zakayo's 43rd Birthday

zakayo chimp birthdayUganda's oldest captive chimpanzee turned 43 on Wednesday with a banana cake and "regular love and grooming" from his female companions, his keepers said.

Zakayo, who was taken into captivity after being attacked by poachers, was presented with a specially baked banana cake, which he had been trained to cut with a wooden knife, but instead he chose to grab it with his hands, delighting hordes of school children.

The 67kg alpha male was brought into captivity in 1972 after his group was attacked by poachers in Uganda's south-west. When he first arrived at the centre, which at the time was the Entebbe Zoo, he was housed in a small cage along with four other chimps and visitors were able to offer him cigarettes and alcohol.

The former zoo has now been transformed into the Wildlife Education Centre - a voluntary organisation that rescues animals orphaned or confiscated by poachers - and the animals have their own small island similar to their natural forest habitat.

Graying and with deep wrinkles on his cheeks, Zakayo, who heads a group of 11 rescued chimps at the centre, has become a favourite with the centre's visitors. Over the decades, he has fathered eight children and adopted many young orphaned chimps introduced to his group.

The average life span of chimps in the wild is between 40 and 50 years, officials at the centre say.

"He gets regular love and grooming from his wives, care and food from the keepers and respect from the rest of his group," said Peace Nakitto, a conservation educator at the centre. "The guy has a stress-free life, which I think is why he's lived so long."

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Palm Oil Demand Puts Orangutans At Risk

orangutans palm oilThe growing demand for bio-diesel fuel threatens the survival of the orangutans of Borneo, the largest surviving population of the primate in the wild.

Lone Nielsen, head of Borneo Orangutan Survival, said as more forest is converted to palm plantations for palm oil the primates lose their habitat and, in many cases, are beaten by workers. A rehabilitation center run by the group is caring for 600 orangutans, most of them young orphans.

"There are broken bones, cracked skulls, burns, internal injuries," Nielsen said. "The plantation workers beat them because they want to catch them and the only way you can catch an orangutan is to knock it unconscious."

In 2003, the Indonesian government announced plans to make the country the world's largest producer of palm oil, which is essential for bio-diesel. A plan released the next year called for conversion of 40,000 square miles of Borneo to plantations by the end of the decade.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oliver The Monkey Picks His Lock And Escapes Again

oliver the monkey escapesA Mississippi monkey is on the loose again.

The capuchin monkey named Oliver has escaped from Tupelo's Buffalo Park and Zoo for the second time in two weeks.

Park employees noticed the monkey's cage open yesterday, and the lock on the ground.

Oliver and another capuchin named Baby were spotted wandering nearby. Workers easily captured Baby, but Oliver fled the park headed in the direction of the Tupelo Country Club.

Oliver freed himself on July 31st and led park staff on a chase through the park's trail system. He managed to avoid capture for almost a week.

The park's manager says he just bought $300 worth of new locks for the cage on Friday.

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Is The Traditional Values Coalition Blocking Research Into Gay Monkey Sex?

Sociologists — especially those who study sexuality — have for years done research that was considered controversial or troublesome by politicians or deans. Many scholars are proud of following their research ideas where they lead — whatever others may think. But at a session Monday at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, sociologists considered the possibility that some of their colleagues may feel enough heat right now that they are avoiding certain topics or are being forced to compromise on either the language or substance of their research.

The problems come from a variety of sources, the scholars here said: from politicians, from institutional review boards on their own campuses, and from too narrow a definition of what “good science” may be.

One paper at the session featured what may be the most eye-catching title of the meeting: “Erections, Mounting and AIDS: Incestuous Gay Monkey Sex (or seven words you can’t write in your NIH grant).” While the title drew laughter from the crowd here, the paper left many worried. Joanna Kempner, a research associate at the Princeton University Center for Health and Wellbeing, shared preliminary results of her study of the impact of having one’s sexuality-related research attacked by politicians. (In fact, the words from her paper title all come from words whose use was attacked by conservative groups.)

Kempner studied 162 researchers who in 2003 either had their research questioned by lawmakers who tried (and almost succeeded in the House of Representatives) to have their projects blocked for support from the NIH or whose work appeared on what became known as “the hit list” of projects for which the Traditional Values Coalition tried to generate opposition. The research projects — all of which had been approved through the peer review process at the NIH — involved such topics as prostitution, gay sex, unsafe sexual acts, and drug use. Kempner interviewed some of the researchers and sent an e-mail survey to all of them.

While she is still analyzing the results, early findings suggest that the experience of being a target has led some of the scholars to rethink their work or careers. Generally, she found that scholars fell into three, roughly equal groups: those who were proud of their work and who viewed being a target as “a badge of honor,” those who were scared and nervous about the future of their work and careers, and those who had a mix of reactions.

For those who had fears and concerns, there was a real impact on their subsequent decisions, Kempner said. Nearly half said that they took steps to either lower their profile or to change the language in their projects to disguise those qualities that would attract criticism. As one scholar told Kempner of the change, “I do not study sex workers. I study women at risk.” About a quarter said that they had decided to seek funds from non-federal sources in the future, seeking to avoid controversy. This choice is significant, Kempner said, because the NIH is among the better sources of funds for large projects.

Smaller numbers reported more dramatic changes. Some said that they were just making different selections from among their potential projects. A researcher who had plans to study teenagers and anal sex or to study married heterosexual couples decided on the latter. One scholar left the United States. Another left academe. All in all, Kempner said that she saw real evidence of self-censorship in various forms.

Several in the audience said that the preliminary findings rang true to them, and noted that the impact may be greater on younger scholars, who have yet to win a first NIH grant, and who don’t want controversy. One researcher in the audience described the e-mail messages that fly among social scientists advising one another on words to avoid and how to best describe topics that may raise a red flag.

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Biting Monkey Ordered Out Of Madison

A monkey that has bitten at least two people in recent months is getting its marching orders.

"We ended up declaring the monkey dangerous because of the number of bites, " said Doug Voegeli, Madison Environmental Health Services supervisor. "We have ordered it out of the city."

Suri, a 1-year-old capuchin monkey, gained a lot of attention last Wednesday after he bit a 21-year-old woman on the thumb around 1 a.m. at the State Street Brats beer garden. It took police until 2 p.m. Wednesday to corral the animal.

Suri is in quarantine at the Dane County Humane Society, where he will remain until Saturday so officials can monitor him for disease. He was earlier placed in home quarantine after biting someone on July 11, and there was another unconfirmed report of him biting someone on May 19.

Suri's owner, Hyacinth Kustin, told police that Suri was a service animal, but it was unclear what services he performed. Kustin could not be reached by phone this morning for comment.

Suri is being booted from the city under Madison regulations, Voegeli said, but he added that, if necessary, officials would likely eject him from the entire county under county ordinances.

Voegeli said Suri will have to leave town immediately upon his release from quarantine.

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Calgary Zoo Loses Another Ailing Gorilla, Controversy Ensues

Calgary zoo gorillaVeterinarians at the Calgary Zoo were forced to put down one of its most beloved gorillas last week, a death that has sparked debate over whether the animals should be held captive at all.

Donge, a 22-year-old western lowland gorilla that had been at the zoo since she was three years old, was put to sleep Friday. She had been suffering from an inflammatory intestinal disease, called diverticulitis, for years and never quite recovered from her last surgery.

"From the last surgery she had probably ten days ago now, she was not bouncing back and her condition worsened," Garth Irvine, the zoo's gorilla keeper, told CTV Calgary on Monday. "It was a struggle to get medications into her and a struggle to get food into her, she just continued to get worse."

Donge is the fourth gorilla from the troop that has died over the past year from disease. Tabitha, a 27-year-old gorilla, died after suffering a seizure in April. Then, a month later 37-year-old Julia died from severe liver disease. Last year, a baby gorilla born at the zoo died when it was just 12 days old.

Rob Laidlaw, executive director at Zoocheck Canada, said the remaining three gorillas in the troop should be released from the Calgary Zoo, as the animals generally don't do well in a zoo setting.

"I think one needs to look no further than the extremely small space, the hard surfaces, the electrified bushes and the fancy backdrops to realize just how inappropriate it is for gorillas," he told CTV Calgary.

But Irvine refuted those suggestions, and said the zoo participates in an endangered species program that helps keep healthy blood lines alive.

"She did pass along her genes to the captive North American gene pool. She has one son living at the Granby Zoo (in Quebec)," he said. "It is all part of the international endangered species program we are proud to be a part of it."

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Three Million-year-old Primate Teeth Missing From Auraria

All that's needed before anthropology professor Charles Musiba's study is ready to publish are high-resolution photos of fossilized primate teeth 3 million years old.

But there's one problem: The teeth are missing.

They were reported lost or stolen from the Auraria campus' administration building last week, and Musiba, his students and colleagues are holding off on publishing the report about primate existence in East Africa until the teeth are found.

"They're tiny little teeth," Musiba said. "They're not going to be of use to anyone else aside from scientific use."

The teeth are valued at $30,000, according to a police report, and are on loan to the campus from Tanzania. Police have no leads or suspects.

"You can't put any value on material like that," the University of Colorado at Denver professor said. "There will be no questions asked if someone can bring them back."

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Outrage Sparked By Photo Of Monkey Chained To Raging Bull

monkey chained to bullAustralian animal rights groups have expressed outrage over a photograph of a helpless monkey chained to the back of a raging bull.

RSPCA Australia's chief scientist, Dr Bidda Jones, said the image, which was taken at a festival in Nicaragua, was totally unacceptable.

"If this occurred on our soil, the RSPCA would have no hesitation in prosecuting those responsible," Dr Jones said.

"And we suggest that anyone who sees the photograph should write to the Nicaraguan Government, as well as the World Society for the Protection of Animals, to indicate their concern and outrage."

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