Friday, March 30, 2007

New primate species found in 42 million-year-old Laredo fossils

laredo primate fossilsSomething old is now something new, thanks to Lamar University researcher Jim Westgate and colleagues. The scientists' research has led to the discovery of a new genus and species of primate, one long vanished from the earth but preserved in the fossil record.

Westgate is a professor of earth and space sciences at Lamar and a research associate in the Vertebrate Paleontology Laboratory, Texas Natural Science Center, University of Texas-Austin. He and his research colleagues, Dana Cope, professor of anthropology, College of Charleston, and Chris Beard, curator, Vertebrate Paleontology Section, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, announced their discovery at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Philadelphia, Pa., today (Thursday, March 29).

Molar, pre-molar and incisor teeth from the new primate genus and three other new primate species were recovered from 42 million-year-old tropical, mangrove palm swamp deposits of the Eocene age Laredo Formation exposed in Lake Casa Blanca International State Park in Laredo.

The association of primate fossils with the skeletal remains of oysters, sharks, rays, giant aquatic snakes and crocodiles, along with mangrove palm fruits and pollen, indicates that the middle Eocene shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico lay 150 miles inland of its present position, Westgate said.

The team is preparing detailed manuscripts describing the new Omomyid primates. One of the spoils of discovering a new species is the opportunity to give it a name. The formal name of the new genus, which means "primate of the coastal lagoons", will be released at publication time, Westgate said.

Omomyids (members of the extinct taxon Omomyidae) lived 34 to 50 million years ago during the Eocene Epoch and were one of two groups of known Eocene primates. The other, adapids, were more lemur-like. Fossils of these Eocene primates have been found in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Eocene primates are the earliest known primates.

Omomyids had large eye orbits, long grasping fingers and short snouts. Tiny creatures, they weighed less than a quarter of a pound. These extinct creatures with large eyes were probably nocturnal. Like most modern primates, the omomyids used their long fingers for climbing. The tibia and fibula were fused which could mean that they were adept at leaping between tree branches. They had small mouths, and it is likely that insects were a part of their regular diet.

The presence of a diverse primate community with four species living on the Texas coast during late middle Eocene time is significant because at that time primate diversity in the northern interior of North America had diminished greatly because of global climatic cooling and uplifting of the Rocky Mountains, Westgate said. The tropical environment on the Texas coast appears to have allowed primates to thrive locally while their relatives in the continental interior faced near extinction.


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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Gorilla Kingdom Opens in London Zoo to Promote Procreation

gorilla sex islandA new enclosure is to be officially opened at London Zoo, where keepers hope gorillas will begin to breed.

Gorilla Kingdom consists of a large open island, surrounded by a moat, an indoor "gym" and a back den.

Three western lowland gorillas will live in the enclosure: Bobby, a 23-year-old male; and two females, Zaire, 32, and Effie who is 13.

The £5.3m project means that Bobby can see the sky without bars for the first time since he was captured as a baby.

Rescued from a circus in Italy in 1983, he has not yet sired any young.

Effie, who has recently arrived from Leipzig Zoo, has already had two babies. With her slim physique, her keepers have dubbed her "the Kate Moss of gorillas".

The newcomer has been introduced to Bobby and Zaire gradually. The zoo wants to recreate the social structure that exists in the wild - where a single dominant mature male - or silverback - has a harem of about five females.


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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Genetic Chimerism Found In Marmoset Study

marmoset chimera twinsIt's not easy being a marmoset mother. But the tiny New World monkeys often get babysitting help—and the key may be a bizarre interchange of DNA that can take place in the creatures' wombs, a new study says.

Marmoset moms typically give birth to fraternal twins, which develop from two separately fertilized eggs. Unlike identical twins, fraternal twins have differing DNA.

Now scientists from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln say that embryos of fraternal twins can exchange cells of practically every type of tissue—including reproductive, or germ line, cells.

It's the first evidence for genetic chimerism—the mixing of genetic lineages between siblings—in primate reproductive tissue, claims the research team.

Chimerism is rare in mammals, but it had previously been found in marmosets' blood-derived tissues, the study authors point out.

The new research, however, shows that the genetic mixing is much more extensive than was previously believed—and that the chimerism can be passed to offspring, meaning the marmoset family tree gets oddly tangled.

"The use of genotype data and genealogical data allowed us to determine that a male may be producing the sperm that fertilizes the egg, but the genetic material of that sperm is actually his [fraternal] twin brother's," said study author Corinna Ross.

Ross and her colleagues report their findings this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The head-scratching parental ambiguity caused by the chimerism could be an evolutionary driver of the marmosets' expansive system of child care.

Oftentimes, adult marmoset males will care for unrelated infants, a blessing for a tired mother whose twins may weigh as much as 20 percent of her weight, the study says. (Related story: "All-Star Animal Dads" [June 18, 2004].)

The researchers suggest that the helpful males are in fact responding not from kindness but subtle "cues of relatedness" created by the genetic chimerism.

The researchers found a "significant correlation" between males who babysat and the presence of germline chimerism: These males were found to rear chimeric infants more often than nonchimeric ones.

"Although the exact mechanisms of sociobiological change associated with chimerism have not been fully explored, we show here that chimerism alters relatedness between twins and may alter the perceived relatedness between family members, thus influencing the allocation of parental care," the study says.

Study author Ross said the findings could also cause researchers "to redefine what it means to be an individual in this species."

"This study is exciting," added David Haig, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, "because, in a genetic sense, twin marmosets could be cousins instead of siblings."


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Mentally disabled chimp offers insight at conference

knuckles mentally handicapped chimpIf chimpanzees truly followed what humans call the law of the jungle, a mentally disabled chimp named Knuckles would never stand a chance.

Yet Knuckles has found acceptance and perhaps even sympathy from his fellow chimps in Florida, making him an unlikely star of Lincoln Park Zoo's international Mind of the Chimpanzee conference.

The meeting, which runs Friday through Sunday with 300 researchers from around the world, is billed as the first major conference devoted to chimp cognition, and the first academic chimp conference at the zoo since 1991.

Although much of the meeting will examine the impressive intelligence of humanity's closest living relatives, Knuckles offers unique insight as the only known captive chimp with cerebral palsy, which immobilized one arm and left him mentally unable to follow the intricate protocols of chimp society.

Normally, older chimps would put on intimidating displays with a juvenile male such as Knuckles, screaming, grabbing and biting the youngster to put him in his place, said Devyn Carter, who has studied Knuckles and is presenting his research at the Lincoln Park Zoo conference. But even the dominant alpha male tolerates and gently grooms Knuckles.

"To my knowledge he's never received a scratch," said Carter, a research assistant at Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center. "They seem to sense somehow that he's different."

Such behavior touches on a central theme of many presentations at the Lincoln Park Zoo conference: How well do chimps understand what other chimps know, feel and perceive?

Some experts believe chimps and other higher primates have genuine empathy, the ability to imagine themselves in another animal's place. And that may be the first step in the evolution of morality.

Chimps may use their empathic skills for good, but also to manipulate others. Researchers have found that chimps have a talent for deception, which requires mental sophistication, said conference co-organizer Elizabeth Lonsdorf, director of the zoo's Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.

"Lying and deceiving means you have to know what another individual thinks is the truth, and act in such a way to work around that truth," Lonsdorf said. "It takes complex information processing."


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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Monkey owner claims sex tape allegation false

darwin monkey sex tapeThe head of a Plano school district facility that houses exotic animals said Monday he fears for his professional future there after comments he made were reported in a local newspaper.

The Plano Star Courier quoted Jim Dunlap as saying a local pet owner was having sexual relations with a rhesus macaque monkey seized last month by authorities. The head of Plano ISD's Living Materials Center said the pet owner, Bobby Crawford Jr., sent a box of toys for Darwin the monkey to play with he was kept there. In that box was an audiotape.

“After listening to the tape, Dunlap said Crawford made references to Darwin and himself engaging in mutual stimulation,” the story read.

In an interview Monday with The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Dunlap said he’s been going through “holy hell” over the story.

“I’ve been expecting any moment to get a phone call from my supervisor saying, 'You’ve been put on administrative leave,' or from somebody saying, 'I’m suing,'” Mr. Dunlap said.

Mr. Crawford said he did send Darwin a tape, but that he was probably crying when he recorded it and that it contains nothing but comforting baby-talk. He said there was nothing sexually suggestive on the tape, and called Mr. Dunlap's initial conclusion “ridiculous.”

“I don’t have sex with my monkey. That’s absolute crap,” Mr. Crawford said. “Why would I do that? I gave him an audiotape, but it didn’t have anything like that on it. It said, “I’m coming home, I’m coming to get you. Daddy’s coming, he’s coming to get you,’” Mr. Crawford said.

Mr. Dunlap added he made a “gross error” and that his interpretation of the tape was just that -- his and no one else’s.

“I interpreted what I heard and saw in my own way, and I can’t say that’s correct. It’s just me, what I think. I can’t argue with Mr. Crawford about what he meant,” Mr. Dunlap said. “I took it on surface value about what he said. I just don’t want to deal with it anymore. He may be totally honest and right in what he thinks about the way he sounded.”

Mr. Dunlap said has has the tape “under lock and key.” He said he's the only person who’s heard it, and declined to make it available.

Spokeswoman Nancy Long said the Plano school district had no comment.

The monkey was among numerous animals taken from Mr. Crawford on Feb. 21 because of violations of city and state rules on the keeping of animals.

Mr. Crawford vowed at the time to leave Plano, and said Monday that in order to legally keep Darwin he has moved into a barn on a friend’s property in Kaufman County. The monkey was returned to him Friday.


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Chimpanzee Facial Expressions Are Helping Researchers Understand Human Communication

chimp facialBehavioral researchers led by Lisa Parr, PhD, director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center Cognitive Testing Facility and Chimpanzee Core, have found understanding chimpanzee facial expressions requires more attention to detail than researchers initially thought. Correctly interpreting the subtleties within chimpanzees' facial expressions may be key to understanding the evolution of human emotional communication.

According to Parr, "This discovery is an important step to help researchers recognize facial movements and understand why they are important. While some expressions, such as a playful look, can be identified using a single feature, other expressions, such as when a chimp bares his teeth, require looking at numerous characteristics within the face, including the eyes and lips."

This is similar to what researchers see in human emotional expressions. "Sometimes it's easy to read what people are feeling, but at other times, we have to look at multiple places on their faces. Ultimately, we want to better understand what people are feeling and expressing emotionally because it helps us empathize with one another," Parr continued.

To facilitate her studies, Parr developed the Chimpanzee Facial Action Coding System (Chimp FACS) to directly compare documented expressions of humans and chimpanzees. Using Chimp FACS, the chimpanzees in the study observed anatomically correct 3D animations of chimpanzee facial expressions and then were asked to match the similar ones. "After the chimpanzees matched similar images, we separated individual features of the original animated expression, such as a raised brow, by frame and pieced the frames back together to create a variation of the original expression. The chimpanzees then were asked to match the new expression to the original one. This is how we determined when the chimpanzees were using a single feature or if they needed more than one feature to match the similar expressions," said Sheila Sterk, a senior animal behavior management specialist on Parr's team.


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Inji The Orangutan Recovers From Gallbladder Surgery

inji orangutan surgeryInji, the Oregon Zoo's orangutan matriarch, is recovering from surgery.

Inji the primate, known for her Super Bowl and Civil War predictions, had her gallbladder removed Monday. Before the procedure, officials said the 47-year-old was in outstanding health for her age and was in discomfort because of the gallstones.

Zoo officials said Inji was back in her holding pen and doing well. A full recovery is expected.

Inji has been with the Oregon Zoo longer than any other animal.


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Monkeys Learn Stone Skills from Each Other

stoned monkeyMonkeys can learn skills from each other in the same way that humans do, according to a new study of capuchin monkeys in Brazil. While not conclusive, this research into the way monkeys use stones adds to a mounting body of evidence that suggests other species have something approaching human culture.

Dr. Antonio Moura, a Brazilian researcher from the University of Cambridge Department of Biological Anthropology, has discovered signs that a group of capuchin monkeys in northeastern Brazil bang stones together as a signaling device to ward off potential predators.

"One of the most interesting things is that they make a noise to scare off predators," Dr. Moura said. "They would seem to be communicating the danger to one another at the same time."

A strong case has already been made for great apes, such as gorillas and chimpanzees, having a capacity for social learning, but until now there has been no evidence of such culture among the New World primates of Central or South America, including capuchins.

Banging objects is an innate behavior in capuchin monkeys, but in all wild groups observed before this research the behavior had only happened in a foraging context. Banging stones is "an entirely new variant," Dr. Moura said.

This research in the Serra da Capivara National Park, in the Piaui state of northeast Brazil. There Dr. Moura observed episodes of stone-banging among a group of 10 monkeys.

At first, the act was apparently an aggressive one directed at Dr. Moura as a potential predator, and as the group became used to his presence in the area the stone-banging decreased.

In many cases, adults and juvenile monkeys were seen banging the stones together without paying the researcher any attention at all. Dr. Moura says this suggests that the younger monkeys were learning the skill from their more experienced elders.

Captive monkeys released into the area also appeared to learn to bang stones from the others.

Dr. Moura describes this act of stone-banging as "a remarkable and novel" behavior which has yet to be observed in any other non-human primate species.

Biological anthropologists are divided over whether other species have the capacity to acquire skills by social learning, or whether the different skill sets exhibited by different groups of the same species are a result of environmental influences.

In this case, Dr. Moura could find no environmental cause for the capuchins acquiring this skill, so he suggests that they had learned it by observing and imitating one another.

"We already know that these monkey populations use stones as tools to dig holes or to forage and questions remain about why this happens in this area," Dr. Moura said. "Because it is quite dry and barren, it is possible they learn these skills from one another because they have to develop them quickly."


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Monday, March 26, 2007

Confiscated monkey sent sexually explicit audio tapes by Plano owner

A Plano resident allegedly sent his male monkey a sexually explicit audio tape while the animal was in custody at the Living Materials Center (LMC), according to LMC staff.

Darwin, a Rhesus Macaque Monkey, was confiscated by animal services on Feb. 21 after police found illegal animals in owner Bobby Denton Crawford Jr.’s home.

Darwin was released back to Crawford Friday afternoon after being transported from the LMC, where the monkey stayed the past month.

Sherry Smith, a spokesperson for Plano Animal Services, said Darwin was given back to Crawford because he agreed to move out of the city.

“Where he is going to be moving, they don’t prohibit them there,” Smith said. “He is complying with city ordinances by removing Darwin from the city.”

Smith declined to comment on where Crawford had moved to. Crawford made at least three visits to the LMC and a handful of tear-filled phone calls requesting Darwin be returned to his custody, according to Jim Dunlap, curator at the LMC.

On one such visit, Dunlap said Crawford handed him a box of Darwin’s toys. Among those toys was an audio tape player with a recorded message from Crawford addressed to Darwin that was of a sexual nature, Dunlap said.

After listening to the tape, Dunlap said Crawford made references to Darwin and himself engaging in mutual stimulation.

Four animal services officers spent more than an hour Friday trying to coax Darwin into an animal carrier before finally tranquilizing the monkey.

“(Darwin) is very dangerous,” said Amy Early, one of the Plano Animal Services Officers who transported Darwin. “(Rhesus Macaque Monkeys) will go straight for your face and tear into you. They have the strength of six men and inch-and-a-half incisors.”

Crawford showed Dunlap the scars Darwin gave him when he first started making unannounced visits to the LMC two days after the monkey was confiscated, Dunlap said.

LMC staff were instructed to call the police when Crawford made his subsequent visits, Dunlap said.

The decision to return Darwin was not due to public pressure generated by media attention, Smith said.

Dunlap said he received hate mail, threatening e-mails and angry telephone calls from people who said Crawford should be allowed to keep the monkey.

The hazards of keeping a wild animal as a pet are two-fold, according to Dunlap.

“If you buy a wild animal, you are creating two problems,” Dunlap said. “One, it is a wild animal and two, you are making them unafraid of people.”


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Friday, March 23, 2007

Spongebob's bloody attack leads police to thief

spongebob monkeyA bunch of animals made a monkey out of a thief when they scratched and bit him as he stole a primate from a zoo, a court heard yesterday.

The creatures were said to have gone wild as a gang, including Marlon Brown, broke into an enclosure to steal Bolivian squirrel monkey Spongebob.

Brown bled from his wounds, allowing police to identify him through his DNA, it was alleged.

Spongebob is valued at £2,000 on the black market.

He was found in the street a few days later and returned to his home – only to be spurned by his fellow monkeys. He had to be moved to another zoo.

Brown was part of a gang of about eight people who allegedly waited until closing time at Chessington World of Adventures to launch the raid last July.

They used a stick to prise open wire meshing at the enclosure and stashed friendly Spongebob into a rucksack, a jury heard.

But the nine other monkeys leapt to their cage-mate's defence.

One jumped on Brown's head as he reached into their cave to retrieve his passport, which had fallen from the rucksack.

They scratched his back and bit his fingers. Police later arrested Brown.

Sonia Freeman, head of mammals at Chessington in Surrey, said: 'Someone handed in a monkey fitting Spongebob's description.

'He was extremely nervous and very frightened.

'He had been quite a laidback, happy little monkey. He was very thirsty and had a kink in his tail he didn't have beforehand.'

Spongebob was handreared in South Africa and came to Chessington as part of the European Protection Programme.


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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior

Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.

Biologists argue that these and other social behaviors are the precursors of human morality. They further believe that if morality grew out of behavioral rules shaped by evolution, it is for biologists, not philosophers or theologians, to say what these rules are.

Moral philosophers do not take very seriously the biologists’ bid to annex their subject, but they find much of interest in what the biologists say and have started an academic conversation with them.

The original call to battle was sounded by the biologist Edward O. Wilson more than 30 years ago, when he suggested in his 1975 book “Sociobiology” that “the time has come for ethics to be removed temporarily from the hands of the philosophers and biologicized.” He may have jumped the gun about the time having come, but in the intervening decades biologists have made considerable progress.

Last year Marc Hauser, an evolutionary biologist at Harvard, proposed in his book “Moral Minds” that the brain has a genetically shaped mechanism for acquiring moral rules, a universal moral grammar similar to the neural machinery for learning language. In another recent book, “Primates and Philosophers,” the primatologist Frans de Waal defends against philosopher critics his view that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes.

Dr. de Waal, who is director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, argues that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. These constraints, evident in monkeys and even more so in chimpanzees, are part of human inheritance, too, and in his view form the set of behaviors from which human morality has been shaped.

Many philosophers find it hard to think of animals as moral beings, and indeed Dr. de Waal does not contend that even chimpanzees possess morality. But he argues that human morality would be impossible without certain emotional building blocks that are clearly at work in chimp and monkey societies.

Dr. de Waal’s views are based on years of observing nonhuman primates, starting with work on aggression in the 1960s. He noticed then that after fights between two combatants, other chimpanzees would console the loser. But he was waylaid in battles with psychologists over imputing emotional states to animals, and it took him 20 years to come back to the subject.

He found that consolation was universal among the great apes but generally absent from monkeys — among macaques, mothers will not even reassure an injured infant. To console another, Dr. de Waal argues, requires empathy and a level of self-awareness that only apes and humans seem to possess. And consideration of empathy quickly led him to explore the conditions for morality.

Though human morality may end in notions of rights and justice and fine ethical distinctions, it begins, Dr. de Waal says, in concern for others and the understanding of social rules as to how they should be treated. At this lower level, primatologists have shown, there is what they consider to be a sizable overlap between the behavior of people and other social primates.

Social living requires empathy, which is especially evident in chimpanzees, as well as ways of bringing internal hostilities to an end. Every species of ape and monkey has its own protocol for reconciliation after fights, Dr. de Waal has found. If two males fail to make up, female chimpanzees will often bring the rivals together, as if sensing that discord makes their community worse off and more vulnerable to attack by neighbors. Or they will head off a fight by taking stones out of the males’ hands.

Dr. de Waal believes that these actions are undertaken for the greater good of the community, as distinct from person-to-person relationships, and are a significant precursor of morality in human societies.

Macaques and chimpanzees have a sense of social order and rules of expected behavior, mostly to do with the hierarchical natures of their societies, in which each member knows its own place. Young rhesus monkeys learn quickly how to behave, and occasionally get a finger or toe bitten off as punishment. Other primates also have a sense of reciprocity and fairness. They remember who did them favors and who did them wrong. Chimps are more likely to share food with those who have groomed them. Capuchin monkeys show their displeasure if given a smaller reward than a partner receives for performing the same task, like a piece of cucumber instead of a grape.

These four kinds of behavior — empathy, the ability to learn and follow social rules, reciprocity and peacemaking — are the basis of sociality.

Dr. de Waal sees human morality as having grown out of primate sociality, but with two extra levels of sophistication. People enforce their society’s moral codes much more rigorously with rewards, punishments and reputation building. They also apply a degree of judgment and reason, for which there are no parallels in animals.


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Joburg Zoo keepers find an easier way to dose apes

Keepers at the Joburg Zoo may have found a way to make the dosing of animals just a little easier.

The keepers of the ape section, in anticipation of the need to inoculate the primates, decided to experiment on their pair of gibbons, Dodi and Glasgow, and their new baby boy.

Learner keeper Faye Robinson explained: “Every time we need to give them shots or medicine, we are normally forced to catch them and pin them down.”

Three months ago the keepers started coaxing the gibbons to put their arms through the cage, allowing the keepers to hold them.

“We took an empty syringe and started tapping them on the arm, to get them used to it. The true test came last week when they needed to get their shots and the gibbons obediently offered their arms for it.”

In addition, the keepers also filled other syringes with juice or banana yoghurt and coaxed the gibbons to suck from the end of the syringe, to accustom them to taking medicine orally.

According to Althea Guinsberg, curator of the primates, if this method proves effective it will be tried out on other primates at the zoo.


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Monday, March 19, 2007

Gorillas Gave Pubic Lice to Humans, DNA Study Reveals

gorilla liceWhat exactly went on between gorillas and early humans? No one knows for sure, but scientists say one thing, at least, seems certain: The big apes gave us pubic lice.

Researchers made the uncomfortable discovery during a DNA study reconstructing the evolutionary history of lice in humans and our primate relatives.

The transfer occurred about 3.3 million years ago, said study leader David Reed, of the University of Florida in Gainesville. That's when the gorilla louse and the human pubic louse separated into distinct species, the research revealed.

Modern humans (Homo sapiens) weren't around at the time. So the first to be infested by the new lice species were probably Australopithecus, a group of human ancestors that include the famous "Lucy" fossil.

Prior to the transfer our ancestors were troubled by only one species of body louse, as chimpanzees and gorillas are today. Why humans can harbor two species—head lice and pubic lice—has been a mystery until now.

The discovery raises the same vexing question faced by anyone who has contracted pubic lice: How exactly did this happen?

Pubic lice are spread most commonly through sexual contact, but that's not necessarily how our ancestors acquired the parasite from gorillas.

"Unfortunately, we'll never know for sure," Reed said. "Given that the [gorilla louse] species occurs primarily in the pubic region, it is quite possible that the lice were transmitted sexually."

A more likely scenario, though, is that early humans picked up the parasites simply by living in close proximity to gorillas, perhaps using the animals' sleeping sites or scavenging gorilla remains, he said.


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Ireland moves forward with historic bill to end primate experiments

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and Animal Defenders International (ADI) applaud the news that Ireland could become the first European country in the world to ban laboratory experiments on monkeys, after a long-running campaign in the EU.

The news of this important step comes as Europe gears up to review animal testing rules including a possible ban on primate experiments (EU Directive 86/609).

The proposed primate test ban appears in “Restriction on Animal Testing Bill 2007”, a Private Member’s Bill proposed this month by Green Dail Member (MP) Eamon Ryan. This states: “The Minister for Health and Children shall within six months of the passing of this Act introduce regulations prohibiting all experimentation on non-human primates for commercial or medical purposes”.

ADI’s ‘My Mate’s a Primate’ campaign (launched in 2005) stunned many MEPs and others when it highlighted all the evidence of the similarities between humans and other primates. Although other primates have been shown to have culture, use tools, have language, and some have learned to communicate with humans in American Sign Language, thousands of them are still used in Europe’s laboratories every year.

Three months after the launch of this unique campaign, animal protection groups in Europe signed the Berlin Declaration, calling on governments to end the use of primates in laboratories. The Berlin Declaration is now backed by over 70 animal protection groups.


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Paternity mystery solved, Conan is the father

The paternity tests are in: The retired chimpanzee whose monkey business made Teresa a mother despite his own vasectomy is 21-year-old Conan.

Conan was one of seven males living in a group with the mother, Teresa, at Chimp Haven, which provides long-term care for chimps that had been used for laboratory research or in the entertainment industry or as pets.

All seven underwent DNA tests after Teresa, a wild-born animal estimated to be in her mid- to late 40s, gave birth to Tracy.

Chimp Haven president Linda Brent announced the findings on ABC's “Good Morning America.”

“That isn't who I was guessing,” she said.

Conan, 17-year-old Magnum and 37-year-old Jimoh had been the top suspects because they seemed to have the most interest in Teresa, who gave birth to the female in January.

“I think most of the staff thought it could be Jimoh, but also Magnum and Conan were definitely affectionate towards Teresa,” she said.

All male chimps get vasectomies before they are brought to Chimp Haven. But its attending veterinarian, Elysse Orchard, said on the Chimp Haven Web site that vasectomy failures in chimpanzees are not uncommon.


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Two rescued Indonesian orangutans give birth

rescued orangutans give birthTwo of the 48 orangutans that were returned to Indonesia in November after a protracted rescue operation in Thailand have given birth, a wildlife activist said Monday.

"Two of the orangutans have given birth, both to male babies," said Willie Smits of the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Center in Central Kalimantan.

Smits told AFP that one of the orangutans delivered her baby in January and the second on March 5 at the animal rehabilitation centre in Kalimantan on the Indonesian part of Borneo island.

He said the pregnancies were only discovered after they had been repatriated in November.

"The mothers and the baby are healthy," he said, adding that many of the other apes have been discovered to suffer from various diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis.

"The tests were not done properly before they were allowed to leave Thailand," he said.

The primates had been smuggled into Thailand and were seized two years ago at a Bangkok zoo that was found to have acquired them illegally. An investigation was carried out to determine whether they were from Malaysia or Indonesia.

Their eventual return to Borneo was delayed by September's military coup in Thailand. An Indonesian air force plane flew the animals in November to the centre.


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Show Monkeys In The News Some Love!

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Dutch Zoo Celebrates Birth Of Baby Gorilla

dutch gorilla birthAfter waiting for nearly a decade, workers at an Amsterdam zoo are finally celebrating the birth of a baby gorilla. It took a serious effort, but experts say the baby is healthy.

After two failed attempts, in 2005 the Artis Zoo had to import a male gorilla from a German safari park, Akili, in order to find a suitable partner for their female, Binti.

Akili wasted no time, and according to the zoo two other females are pregnant; Dafina and Skindy; both are due this summer.

According to zoo authorities, gorillas have a low sex drive and low sperm count, which makes the fruitful mating an rare chance.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Chimps Incorporated is Bringing Two Rescued Chimps to Oregon

This week Chimps Incorporated launched Chimp Quest. Their mission is to bring two rescued chimpanzees back to their habitat in Oregon. The chimps, Emma and Jackson, were obtained from a source in Texas.

Monkey Prose has the story.

Donate to Chimps Inc. here and aid in the cause.

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Electrocuted Monkey Given A Village Burial

It was a funeral of a different kind. And this time, the deceased was not a VIP or any other big shot, but a monkey, which was electrocuted in a village, called Venkattampatti in Dharmapuri on Tuesday.

It all started when the villagers heard a female monkey making a strange noise near the panchayat office. Nearby lay the carcass of a male monkey, which was electrocuted after it climbed on an electric post. The female's wails and the tragic death of the male touched the villagers, who then decided to give it a grand funeral.

They recovered the carcass and performed poojas by pouring sacred water over it and covered it with a new cloth.

All rituals performed for humans were done for the simian too. The villagers then paid their last respects to the monkey and carried it in a procession on a paadai made of coconut leaves and bamboo sticks and buried it in the Ellaiamman temple land.

The villagers told this website's newspaper that they had planned to construct a memorial on the spot. The villagers, including women, mourned the death of their beloved one for the whole day.

The temples were also kept locked as a mark of respect.


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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Human Ancestors Had Short Legs For Combat, Not Just Climbing

ape legsApe-like human ancestors known as australopiths maintained short legs for 2 million years because a squat physique and stance helped the males fight over access to females, a University of Utah study concludes.

"The old argument was that they retained short legs to help them climb trees that still were an important part of their habitat," says David Carrier, a professor of biology. "My argument is that they retained short legs because short legs helped them fight."

The study analyzed leg lengths and indicators of aggression in nine primate species, including human aborigines. It is in the March issue of the journal Evolution.

Creatures in the genus Australopithecus -- immediate predecessors of the human genus Homo -- had heights of about 3 feet 9 inches for females and 4 feet 6 inches for males. They lived from 4 million to 2 million years ago.

"For that entire period, they had relatively short legs -- longer than chimps' legs but shorter than the legs of humans that came later," Carrier says.

"So the question is, why did australopiths retain short legs for 2 million years? Among experts on primates, the climbing hypothesis is the explanation. Mechanically, it makes sense. If you are walking on a branch high above the ground, stability is important because if you fall and you're big, you are going to die. Short legs would lower your center of mass and make you more stable."

Yet Carrier says his research suggests short legs helped australopiths fight because "with short legs, your center of mass is closer to the ground. It's going to make you more stable so that you can't be knocked off your feet as easily. And with short legs, you have greater leverage as you grapple with your opponent."

While Carrier says his aggression hypothesis does not rule out the possibility that short legs aided climbing, but "evidence is poor because the apes that have the shortest legs for their body size spend the least time in trees -- male gorillas and orangutans."

He also notes that short legs must have made it harder for australopiths "to bridge gaps between possible sites of support when climbing and traveling through the canopy."

Nevertheless, he writes, "The two hypotheses for the evolution of relatively short legs in larger primates, specialization for climbing and specialization for aggression, are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, selection for climbing performance may result in the evolution of a body configuration that improves fighting performance and vice versa."

All modern great apes -- humans, chimps, orangutans, gorillas and bonobos -- engage in at least some aggression as males compete for females, Carrier says.

Carrier set out to find how aggression related to leg length. He compared Australian aborigines with eight primate species: gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, black gibbons, siamang gibbons, olive baboons and dwarf guenon monkeys. Carrier used data on aborigines because they are a relatively natural population.

For the aborigines and each primate species, Carrier used the scientific literature to obtain typical hindlimb lengths and data on two physical features that previously have been shown to correlate with male-male competition and aggressiveness in primates:

* The weight difference between males and females in a species. Earlier studies found males fight more in species with larger male-female body size ratios.
* The male-female difference in the length of canine teeth, which are next to the incisors and are used for biting during fights.

Carrier used male-female body size ratios and canine tooth size ratios as numerical indicators for aggressiveness because field studies of primates have used varying criteria to rate aggression. He says it would be like having a different set of judges for each competitor in subjective Olympic events like diving or ice dancing.

The study found that hindlimb length correlated inversely with both indicators of aggressiveness: Primate species with greater male-female differences in body weight and length of the canine teeth had shorter legs, and thus display more male-male combat.

There was no correlation between arm length and the indicators of aggression. Carrier says arms are used for fighting, but "for other things as well: climbing, handling food, grooming. Thus, arm length is not related to aggression in any simple way."

Carrier conducted various statistical analyses to verify his findings. First, he corrected for each species' limb lengths relative to their body size. Primates with larger body sizes tend to have shorter legs, humans excepted. Without taking that into account, the correlation between body size and aggression indicators might be false.

Another analysis corrected for the fact different primate species are related. For example, if three closely related species all have short legs, it might be due to the relationship -- an ancestor with short legs -- and not aggression.

Even with the corrections, short legs still correlated significantly with the two indicators of aggressiveness.

The study also found that females in each primate species except humans have relatively longer legs than males. "If it is mainly the males that need to be adapted for fighting, then you'd expect them to have shorter legs for their body size," Carrier says.

He notes there are exceptions to that rule. Bonobos have shorter legs than chimps, yet they are less aggressive. Carrier says the correlation between short legs and aggression may be imperfect because legs are used for many other purposes than fighting.

Humans "are a special case" and are not less aggressive because they have longer legs, Carrier says. There is a physical tradeoff between aggression and economical walking and running. Short, squat australopiths were strong and able to stand their ground when shoved, but their short legs made them ill-suited for distance running. Slender, long-legged humans excel at running. Yet, they also excel at fighting. In a 2004 study, Carrier made a case that australopiths evolved into lithe, long-legged early humans only when they learned to make weapons and fight with them.

Now he argues that even though australopiths walked upright on the ground, the reason they retained short legs for 2 million years was not so much that they spent time in trees, but "the same thing that selected for short legs in the other great apes: male-male aggression and competition over access to reproductively active females."

In other words, shorter legs increased the odds of victory when males fought over access to females -- access that meant passing their genetic traits to offspring.

Yet, "we don't really know how aggressive australopiths were," Carrier says. "If they were more aggressive than modern humans, they were exceptionally nasty animals."


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4-year-old boy bitten by gorilla in Kaohsiung zoo

kid bitten by gorillaA four-year-old boy was bitten by a gorilla yesterday at Kaohsiung's Shou Shan Zoo and needed stitches to repair his finger, Kaohsiung authorities said.

Yen Kai was in his father's arms when he reached his hand out to the gorilla, which was enclosed in a cage protected by reinforced glass and mesh.

Yen was immediately transported to a Kaohsiung hospital where he received stitches to his right hand.

Zoo officials said that the ape might have been trying to eat what was in Yen's hand instead of attacking Yen, as the animal was not in the heat.

Authorities said that as the gorilla poses no immediate danger, they have not placed it under isolation.

Meanwhile, Yen's parents have criticized zoo workers for failing to dress Yen's wound and stop the bleeding before transporting him to the hospital.

Kaohsiung City Bureau of Redevelopment director Hung Fu-fung contacted Yen's parents and promised to help parents teach their children to approach potentially dangerous animals with care.


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Primate Hunting Reaches Crisis Point in Latin America

Monkey numbers in Latin America have fallen dramatically in recent years as primate hunting reaches unsustainable levels. Most are used for food, but an increasing number of souvenirs are also produced using dead monkeys.

Dozens of primate species are being driven to extinction faster than ever before because of a massive rise in the number of monkeys being killed for food each year.

The authors of a report published this week by the British wildlife charity Care for the Wild International and the German organisation Pro Wildlife claim that the number of primates hunted in Latin America could be as high as 10 million a year. In some parts of the Amazon basin, the numbers of medium and large size primates has dropped by a staggering 93.5 per cent over the last 20 years.

The report concludes that primate populations in 16 of the 22 Latin American countries are under threat, particularly larger species such as woolly, spider, howler and capuchin monkeys. One of the report's authors, Sandra Altherr of Pro Wildlife, said it appeared that the extent of primate hunting in Latin America was higher than in Africa or Asia.

"While the devastating effects of the bush meat trade in Africa continues to hit the headlines, the largely uncontrolled hunting of primates in Central and South America has been all but ignored," Altherr told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "At an international level there is almost no discussion about this problem. We need to change this because the situation is becoming worse."

The report also found that primate hunting in Latin America, once a subsistence-level activity, is becoming increasingly commercialized with traditional hunting methods being replaced by modern weapons.

"Shotguns have a longer range and hit a wider target area than blow pipes and bows and arrows or nets increase the variety of potential target species," Altherr said. "Besides the proliferation of modern weapons, the use of other equipment such as outboard motors, trucks, flashlights and batteries further enhance hunting efficiency."

Smoked and salted primate meat is increasingly being sold at local markets to feed a rising human population in the Amazon basin. Tourist shops in the region are now increasingly selling hats from monkey-skins and necklaces from monkey teeth. In addition a growing number of primates are being killed for so-called 'medicinal' purposes as well as bait for large cats or fish.

The report also claims that the hunting of primates for food rather than habitat loss poses the most serious threat to the survival of large primates in Latin America within the next two decades. As the rain forest is cleared away by loggers, new paths and roads into forest regions allow hunters increasingly easy access to primate breeding grounds.

Primate hunting is already illegal in most Latin American countries, but Altherr said that the authorities in many areas turned a blind eye to the problem.


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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Chimp Bites Trainer's Finger Off, Other Ape Returns It

chimp bites fingerA trainer at the San Diego Zoo lost part of his finger to a chimp Wednesday.

A coworker of trainer Mike Bates said the two of them were doing a medical check on pygmy chimps known as bonobos Wednesday morning. He said that when Bates pointed at a chimp named Ikela to give the all clear that she was OK, the chimp bit off the tip off his finger.

Later, zoo workers noticed the finger tip in the middle of a cage. They signaled for another chimp, Lana, to retrieve the finger.

As soon as the second chimp handed over the fingertip, she was rewarded with raisins.

Bates has 22 years of experience at the zoo.

Bates told the paper he was lucky the finger was still intact and that the chimp didn't think it was food.

Bates had the fingertip reattached and has a 70 percent chance that it will heal, according to the paper. He is expected to return to work next week.

Zoo officials theorized that Ikela, the 15-year-old chimp who did the nipping, might not have been feeling well. She is pregnant and could have been annoyed or tired by extra monitoring due to her pregnancy.

A caption accompanying a picture of Ikela on the zoo's web site reads, "Ikela is always pushing the limits of good behavior."

The caption for the chimp named Lana, who rescued the finger, reads, "She has a strong bond with her caretakers."


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Baboon's art will be auctioned at Zoobilee

art baboonWhen Ana correctly picked UCLA to reach the NCAA basketball tournament Final Four last year, her pick was labeled miraculous by some. For Ana, though, it wasn't that big a deal.

Nearly a year later, the Washington Park Zoo's 14-year-old Hamadryas baboon has given up sports prognostication and taken up another hobby which, zoo officials hope, will help pay for a needed overhaul to the zoo's “Monkey Island.”

“She's an artist now,” Ana's trainer and zoo curator, Jaime LeBlanc, said Monday. “It's not a task for her. It's something she really seems to like.”

Ana began painting earlier this year with a glob of mustard and her hands as a way to keep up what zoo officials call continuing “enrichment.”

Keeping Ana busy and learning new things helps her continue to assimilate to her surroundings, LeBlanc said. It also produces paintings officials hope to auction off at the annual Zoobilee Ball, to be held Saturday, March 17, at the Grand Ballroom at Blue Chip Casino.

LeBlanc said zookeepers use enrichment exercises with many of the zoo's animals to keep them learning and “on their toes.” She said keepers will hide treats in the bottom of buckets or boxes and fill the receptacles with obstacles.

“The tigers have trees. A lot of the animals have pools. Sometimes they have fish,” LeBlanc said. “It's all about keeping them excited and happy and learning about their surroundings.”

LeBlanc said she got the idea to have Ana paint after seeing an elephant do it at the San Diego Zoo. She placed a large piece of cardboard on the floor of Ana's pen and placed a glob of mustard on top.

She said Ana first began to simply rub her hand in the mustard, then wipe it off her hands on the canvas.

“We started putting different colors of non-toxic paint in there and she started painting,” LeBlanc said. “We thought she might do it because she has a habit of scraping rocks on the ground with kind of the same motion.”

Easily distracted by the other baboons at the zoo, Ana prefers to paint by herself, LeBlanc said.

“We let the boys out so she can paint on her own,” LeBlanc said of the male baboons that live with Ana. “When she's more comfortable, maybe people will be able to watch her paint. But for now she's still young; she's got time to get more comfortable.”


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Friday, March 02, 2007

Rare Gorilla Birth Recorded in Congo

rare gorilla birthConservationists on Thursday announced the birth of a rare mountain gorilla in eastern Congo, where rebels have been accused of killing and eating the endangered animals.

The tiny gorilla, named Ndeze, was born Feb. 17 in Congo's Virunga National Park, home to some of the world's last 700 mountain gorillas, said Samantha Newport of the conservation support group WildlifeDirect.

"It's incredibly positive. These gorillas have managed to survive a 10-year civil war," Newport told The Associated Press by telephone from the park. It is "an absolute miracle and testament to the work of the rangers, who worked throughout the war without receiving a salary, and to conservationists from all over the world."

Last month, the London-based Africa Conservation Fund and local park officials accused rebels loyal to renegade army commander-turned-warlord Laurent Nkunda of slaughtering two of the animals for food. Nkunda commands thousands of fighters in the vast country's lawless east who have clashed sporadically with government troops.

Local park ranger Paulin Ngobobo met with rebel officials in late January and brokered a verbal agreement to stop the killings, Newport said.

Ndeze is the 12th member of a gorilla family living in a sector of the park called Mikeno that is home to about 80 gorillas, though a precise census has been impossible to carry out because of ongoing insecurity.


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