Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Chimp Fondles Christina Ricci

christina ricci monkeyChristina Ricci's fear of monkeys was validated on the set of her new film PENELOPE when a simian sidekick grabbed her breast and refused to let go.

The actress feared the chimpanzee, Chim Chim, was going to rip her boob off, and begged the ape's handlers to help her.

She explains, "I'm afraid of monkeys but I had decided not to be afraid of this monkey because no one else is: 'Everyone else thinks he's awesome so just be cool.' "It's the first day of shooting and I have this kitchen scene where I'm sitting down and the monkey is sitting right next to me.

"Of course it freaks out during the take and grabs my left breast and will not let go, and he's so strong. I'm thinking, 'This thing is gonna rip it's hand away and I will no longer have a boob there!'

"I'm so freaked out and the whole rest of the actors are turned around so no one sees that this has happened to me and I'm like, 'Help, help' as quietly and calmly as possible so this thing does not freak out any further.

"Finally they got him off me but my fear is completely validated and I did not go near him for the rest of the shoot... Monkeys are crazy and you never what they'll grab onto; I don't like unpredictable animals."

Story here.

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Why Don't Chimpanzees Like To Barter Commodities?

For thousands of years, human beings have relied on commodity barter as an essential aspect of their lives. It is the behavior that allows specialized professions, as one individual gives up some of what he has reaped to exchange with another for something different. In this way, both individuals end up better off. Despite the importance of this behavior, little is known about how barter evolved and developed.

This study (published in PLoS ONE on January 30) is the first to examine the circumstances under which chimpanzees, our closest relatives, will exchange one inherently valuable commodity (an apple slice) for another (a grape), which is what early humans must have somehow learned to do. Economists believe that commodity barter is one of the most basic precursors to economic specialization, which we observe in humans but not in other primate species. First of all, the researchers found that chimpanzees often did not spontaneously barter food items, but needed to be trained to engage in commodity barter. Moreover, even after the chimpanzees had been trained to do barters with reliable human trading partners, they were reluctant to engage in extreme deals in which a very good commodity (apple slices) had to be sacrificed in order to get an even more preferred commodity (grapes).

Prior animal behavior studies have largely examined chimpanzees’ willingness to trade tokens for valuable commodities. Tokens do not exist in nature, and lack inherent value, so a chimpanzee’s willingness to trade a token for a valuable commodity, such as a grape, may say little about chimpanzee behavior outside the laboratory.

In a series of experiments, chimpanzees at two different facilities were given items of food and then offered the chance to exchange them for other food items. A collaboration of researchers from Georgia State University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the U.T. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that the chimpanzees, once they were trained, were willing to barter food with humans, but if they could gain something significantly better – say, giving up carrots for much preferred grapes. Otherwise, they preferred to keep what they had.

The observed chimpanzee behavior could be reasonable because chimpanzees lack social systems to enforce deals and, as a society, punish an individual that cheats its trading partner by running off with both commodities. Also because of their lack of property ownership norms, chimpanzees in nature do not store property and thus would have little opportunity to trade commodities. Nevertheless, as prior research has demonstrated, they do possess highly active service economies. In their natural environment, only current possessions are “owned,” and the threat of losing what one has is very high, so chimpanzees frequently possess nothing to trade.

“This reluctance to trade appears to be deeply ingrained in the chimpanzee psyche,” said one of the lead authors, Sarah Brosnan, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgia State University. “They’re perfectly capable of barter, but they don’t do so in a way which will maximize their outcomes.”

The other lead author, Professor Mark F. Grady, Director of UCLA’s Center for Law and Economics, commented: “I believe that chimpanzees are reluctant to barter commodities mainly because they lack effective ownership norms. These norms are especially costly to enforce, and for this species the game has evidently not been worth the candle. Fortunately, services can be protected without ownership norms, so chimpanzees can and do trade services with each other. As chimpanzee societies demonstrate, however, a service economy does not lead to the same degree of economic specialization that we observe among humans.”

The research could additionally shed light on the instances in which humans also don’t maximize their gains, Brosnan said.

Story here.

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Monkey World Rescues 88 Capuchin Monkeys

caged monkeysEighty-eight monkeys in a South American laboratory have been brought to the UK by a primate sanctuary.

The Capuchin monkeys were removed from single cages in Santiago, Chile, by Monkey World.

They will now be rehabilitated in specially designed houses at the sanctuary in Wareham, Dorset.

Some of the primates - aged from two up to 30 - have spent 20 years in confinement, said a spokesperson for Monkey World.

With a number of the primates having only been taken out of their cages for medical experiments, they will need to be rehabilitated at the sanctuary's Capuchin Lodge to encourage their natural instincts.

This process could take weeks in some cases, but months in others.

The laboratory asked for Monkey World's help and Dr Alison Cronin and her late husband Jim, who died from cancer last year, had been planning the operation for more than a year.

Dr Cronin, who is director of Monkey World, said: "This is the largest rescue Monkey World has ever undertaken in its history and the largest rescue of primates in the world.

"They have been confined in small laboratory cages and they are coming to us with lots of psychological and potentially medical problems.

"The first day we walked into the laboratory we were met with shrieks and screams.

"Within an hour or so they settled down. They realised we posed no threat to them."

It took two days to transport the 88 capuchins in individual cages with windows, with help from the Chilean Air Force.

The Chilean military Hercules transporter arrived at Bournemouth Airport on Tuesday evening with special permission from the UK government.

Monkey World has already rescued more than 50 monkeys and apes from five different laboratories.

Capuchins are omnivores who live in groups of around 35 in the wild in Central and South America and have a life-expectancy of more than 30 years.

Story here.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Cheeta The Chimp To Publish His Memoirs

cheeta the chimpHe is a true Hollywood star, plucked from obscurity to play a leading role in a series of hit films before overcoming an addiction to alcohol and cigars.

Now, Cheeta the Chimp who is 75 and is listed in the Guinness World Records as the oldest living non-human primate, is to publish his memoirs.

The chimpanzee, who lives in California and whose real name is Jiggs, has been approached by the publisher Fourth Estate.

He has also taken on a literary agent and is working with a ghostwriter on a "funny, moving and searingly honest" autobiography.

Cheeta, who starred in 12 Tarzan films, retired from the big screen in the 1967. Me Cheeta will be published in October.

Story here.

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Thailand Tree Apes Use Song As Warning

tree gibbonHumans aren't the only "big apes" who use songs to impress each other. German researchers have found that gibbons in Thailand have developed an unusual way of scaring off predators - by singing to them. Literally singing for survival, the gibbons appear to use the song not just to warn their own group members but those in neighbouring areas.

The primatologists, Klaus Zuberbuhler from St Andrews University in Scotland and Ulrich Reichard of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, based their findings on two years spent in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand observing groups of gibbons.

Gibbons are renowned amongst non-human primates for their loud and impressive songs that transmit over long distances and are commonly used in their daily routine when mating pairs "serenade" every morning.

Songs in response to predators - mostly large cats, snakes and birds of prey - have been previously noted, but no extensive research into its purpose or understanding by other gibbons has been done until now.

The primatologists said, "We are interested in gibbon songs because apart from human speech these vocalisations provide a remarkable case of acoustic sophistication and versatility in primate communication.

"Our study has demonstrated that gibbons not only use unique songs as a response to predators, but that fellow gibbons understand them."

They added, "This work is a really good indicator that non-human primates are able to use combinations of calls given in other contexts to relay new, and in this case, potentially life-saving information to one another.

"This type of referential communication is commonplace in human language, but has yet to be widely demonstrated in some of our closest living relatives - the apes," the researchers told ScienceDaily.

They said, "We found that gibbons produce loud and conspicuous songs in response to predators to alert kin, both near and far - since gibbons frequently change group compositions, neighbouring groups often consist of close relatives."

The "songs" are not only aimed at their immediate family but also at neighbours some distance away.

"We found that gibbons appear to use loud 'long-distance' calls to warn relatives in neighbouring areas and that those groups responded by joining in the singing, matching the correct predator song, demonstrating that they understood the difference between calls."

The researchers concluded, "Vocal behaviour appears to function as a powerful tool to deal with immense sexual competition under which these primates operate, and it may not be surprising that they have evolved unusually complex vocal skills to deal with these social challenges.

"Not unlike humans, gibbons assemble a finite number of call units into more complex structures to convey different messages, and our data shows that distant individuals are able to distinguish between different song types and understand what they mean.

"This study offers the first evidence of a functionally referential communication system in a free-ranging ape species."

"Finding this ability among ape species, especially gibbons who in a sense bridge the evolutionary gap between great apes and monkeys, could shed light on when this ability developed in the primate lineage."

Story here.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Chimp Beats British Memory Champion In Competition

chimp memoryWhen scientists found out that chimps had better memories than students, there were unkind comments about the calibre of the human competition they faced.

But now an ape has gone one better, trouncing British memory champion Ben Pridmore.

Ayumu, a seven-year-old male brought up in captivity in Japan, did three times as well as Mr Pridmore at a computer game which involved remembering the position of numbers on a screen.

And that's no mean feat - the 30-year-old accountant from Derby is capable of memorising the order of a shuffled pack of cards in under 30 seconds.

Both chimp and man watched a computer screen on which five numbers flashed up at various positions before being obscured by white squares.

They then had to touch the squares in order of the numbers they concealed, from lowest to highest. When the numbers were shown for just a fifth of a second - the blink of an eye - Ayumu got it right almost 90 per cent of the time.

His human opponent scored a rather less impressive 33 per cent, Channel Five programme Extraordinary Animals will reveal.

Mr Pridmore, who spends his evenings memorising 400-digit numbers, ruefully acknowledged that he had met his match.

"I'd rather not be seen on TV doing worse than a chimpanzee in a memory-test," he said. "I'll never live it down!"

The TV tests follow scientific experiments which pitted Ayumu, along with several other young chimps, against a group of university students.

Ayumu was the clear champion, doing twice as well as the humans.

It is thought that young chimps are blessed with photographic memories, allowing them to remember patterns and sequences with amazing accuracy.

Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa, the Kyoto University researcher behind both sets of experiments, said: "People still believe that humans are superior to chimpanzees in any domain of intelligence.

"That is the prejudice of the people.

"Chimpanzees can be clever in a specific task in comparison to humans."

Story here.

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Human Sniffles Kill Endangered Chimps

chimps coldHuman researchers are killing wild chimpanzees by inadvertently giving them colds, a new study shows for the first time.

The researchers in Africa now face a dilemma: let tourists and scientists get close to Africa's great apes and risk spreading diseases, or curb contact with the apes and leave them vulnerable to a bigger threat – poachers.

For scientists to study wild gorillas and chimpanzees, and for eco-tourists to see them, groups of "habituated" apes must let people get within a few metres of them. It has long been suspected that this spreads human respiratory viruses, which apes can catch. Up to half the apes in such groups have died after showing respiratory symptoms.

However, it is hard to pinpoint what has killed a wild ape, says Fabian Leendertz of the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, Germany, who runs a chimp health project in the Tai forest in Ivory Coast.

Researchers have found human gut bugs such as Escherichia coli in ape droppings – not surprising, as these bacteria persist in the environment, where eco-tourists with diarrhoea deposit them.

But to catch a human respiratory virus you have to be close to someone coughing. Habituated Tai forest chimps had five separate outbreaks of respiratory disease between 1999 and 2005. Nearly all had cold symptoms, and between 3 and 19% died, mainly juveniles.

Leendertz and his colleagues found either human respiratory syncytial virus, or human metapneumovirus in victims, as well as pathogenic bacteria such as Streptococcus. The viruses commonly cause cold symptoms in human adults, but can be serious in children.

"From the virus alone the chimps would have probably not have died," Leendertz says. But the bacterial infections that accompanied them were deadly. When zoo chimps get these viruses, they also get antibiotics to kill bacteria.

Should sneezing apes in habituated groups also get antibiotics? "We must decide how much we have to invasively treat the wild apes," says Leendertz. "Do we have to get away from the "hands off" philosophy?"

The answer is probably not to end close encounters between apes and humans, which pay local people to protect the animals from poachers. "In the Tai forest we have the highest density (of chimps) around the research and tourist sites," Leendertz says. "Without research our site would probably have [no chimps] left."

Researchers walking across Tai National Park found their likelihood of running into signs of chimpanzees declined the farther they got from the research project or from a tourist site – but their likelihood of encountering signs of poaching increased.

"This is the first time people have quantified and compared the disease effects of research and tourism with the anti-poaching effect," says study co-author Peter Walsh of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

The researchers now wear heavy N95 hospital face masks in the field. "They're a bit hot, but OK," says Leendertz. "We need to find ways to maximise the benefit of research and tourism by minimising the negative effect of disease."

For the apes, the choice now is between the poacher and the plague.

Story here.

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Gorilla Organization Welcomes Congo Rebels Peace Deal

congo gorillaThe signing of a peace deal by warring factions in DR Congo is a historic move that should see a resumption of gorilla monitoring activities in the Virunga National Park after a 4-month stop, The Gorilla Organization has said.

The Congolese government and more than 20 rebel groups were in Goma - the capital of the troubled North Kivu province for more than two weeks and finally agreed to a deal after a number of last minute disagreements were resolved. President Joseph Kabila was in attendance at the signing ceremony.

"The signing of the peace agreements is an historic moment for Goma and eastern DRC", said Mr. Tuver Wundi, The Gorilla Organization's communications manager based in Goma.

"We hope for more peaceful times and look forward to resuming the gorilla monitoring activities in the Virunga National Park".

Since the beginning of September last year, the Virunga park has been occupied rebels loyal to dissident Gen. Laurent Nkunda and much fighting has taken place. During this time a number of the ranger patrol posts have been under the control of various groups and gorilla patrols were forced to cease.

The organisation that was formerly the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Europe says displaced communities have been forced to rely on the national park for firewood and other resources.

There has also the subsequent increase in charcoal production inside the park that has placed the gorilla habitat under greater threat.

The Gorilla Organization funds a number of community based conservation projects around the Virunga National Park that ease these pressures on the habitat by providing viable alternatives outside of the park.

These projects include the provision of firewood-saving stoves, which reduce firewood consumption by up to 70%; water cisterns, to provide a reliable source of clean water; and microfinance schemes to help set up small businesses that will provide income independently of the national park.

The Virunga National Park is home to around 70 Mountain gorillas, around one fifth of the 380 strong population living in the Virungas Massif straddling Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

In 2007 at least eight gorillas were killed in the National Park and while it is still unclear as to why these gorillas lost their lives, a United Nations fact-finding mission commissioned in response to the attacks, stressed the importance of including local communities gorilla conservation efforts.

This organisation is among a host doing the campaigning for the gorillas, the actual protection on the ground and support to communities.

Story here.

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Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Celebrates Tumani's First Birthday

gorilla tumaniThe star of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Primate World, infant female gorilla Tumani, celebrated her first birthday Thursday with a little help from some local preschoolers. Baby Tumani, her parents and the other gorillas all got to share a special birthday cake and unwrap birthday presents hand-decorated by the preschoolers.

The zoo staff says it's not everyday that there are streamers and cakes around and that the gorillas knew from the start that something special was happening. "Right when we walked in they were coming towards the windows, they came right up and kind of put their hand on the window just to let us know that they were watching and wanting to know what we were doing," said community programs manager Megan Hudak.

Hudak says Tumani’s cake was made of mostly dry gorilla chow, with some gelatin and peanut butter to hold it all together. The cake was topped off with fresh fruit and a yogurt as frosting. Tumani was born January 31, 2007.

Story here.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

100000-Year-Old Skull May Be Link To Ape-Man

skullArchaeologists in China claim an ancient skull bridges the gap between Ape Man and Homo Sapiens.

The skull was found after two years of excavations in Xuchang and may be 100,000 years old.

There are 16 fragments which piece together to form an almost complete skull with protruding eyebrows and a small forehead.

Li Zhanyang, an archaeologist at the Henan Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, said: "The discovery of the skull fossil has filled the gap between the period of the Ape Man and Homo Sapiens."

In the same dig, more than 30,000 animal fossils have been found, along with stone and bone artefacts.

The team believe there are more treasures to be found on the site.

Story here.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Moment Of Monkey Check-Up Zen...

monkey check up

Three-week-old Jed was examined for the first time since he was born and staff at the centre were pleased to discover he was a boy.

Story here.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Island Monkeys Do Not Recognize Big Cat Calls

Monkeys living on an island without big cat predators do not show any particular alarm when recorded tiger growls are played to them, according to research by a UC Davis graduate student. The pig-tailed langurs do, however, flee in a hurry from the sound of human voices.

"This contributes to a growing literature on how animal behavior changes under relaxed selection pressures," said Jessica Yorzinski, a graduate student in animal behavior at UC Davis, who authored the study with Thomas Ziegler of the German Primate Center in Göttingen, Germany.

Pig-tailed langurs are medium-sized monkeys that spend most of their day sitting in trees in small groups eating leaves. Their close relatives on the mainland of Indonesia are prey for tigers and leopards, but on the Mentawai islands, the monkeys have been isolated from big cats for about half a million years.

Yorzinski played recordings of tiger and leopard calls and growls, as well as the sounds of elephants (another animal unknown to the monkeys), pigs and birds (animals they know, but which do not eat monkeys) and people talking in the local language. People do hunt the monkeys for food.

On hearing the noises, the monkeys would look around and at each other and might leave the area. They did not show any greater alarm at hearing big cat noises than at hearing an elephant, and would flee in about four to five seconds. But on hearing recorded human voices, the monkeys would flee within a second. They did not flee from bird or pig noises.

Yorzinski, of course, had to take care to stay out of sight when locating monkeys and setting up speakers. "We couldn't do the experiment if the monkeys saw us first," she said.

Story here.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Padme And Chewie Rescued After Mother Abandons Them

padme and chewieKeepers at a Devon zoo are hand-rearing two critically endangered monkeys after their mother abandoned them.

The pied tamarin babies born on New Year's Eve at Paignton Zoo were rescued when their mother started to show signs of neglecting the pair.

Padme and Chewie are being kept in an incubator near their parents during the day. They will have 24-hour care for about more six weeks.

Pied tamarins are the most endangered of all the Amazon primates.

Primate keeper Andrew Fry rescued the babies after the mother, Leia, started to show signs of neglect and hurried the newborns to the zoo's veterinary centre, where they were placed in the incubator.

The species is critically endangered - every youngster is vital to the future of the species

They are being fed every two to four hours - primarily by Andrew - while colleagues are sharing the task of taking the babies home at night.

In proportion to their body size, the tiny monkeys have larger brains than humans.

They are classified as critically endangered and face an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the very near future.

The baby's mother, Leia, came to Paignton Zoo from Belfast Zoo.

Their father, Jedi, came from Apenheul Primate Park in the Netherlands.

Both are owned, as are all members of their species in collections outside Brazil, by the Brazilian government.

Senior head mammal keeper Julian Chapman said: "Genetically it is important that we get youngsters from this pair and continue their bloodline.

"The species is critically endangered - every youngster is vital to the future of the species."

At birth, the male, Chewie, weighed 53g and the female, Padme, 41g.

They were fed initially on glucose solution, then moved on to diluted baby formula, building up to near normal strength after five days.

They are currently spending all day in sight, smell and hearing of the adults, clinging to a small piece of carpet inside the incubator.

It is hoped that they will be reintroduced to an enclosure after six weeks.

Night feeds would then stop, but they would still need milk feeds from the keepers for another few months, the zoo said.

Story here.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monkey’s Thoughts Control Robot

monkey controls walking robot
If Idoya could talk, she would have plenty to boast about.

On Thursday, the 12-pound, 32-inch monkey made a 200-pound, 5-foot humanoid robot walk on a treadmill using only her brain activity.

She was in North Carolina, and the robot was in Japan.

It was the first time that brain signals had been used to make a robot walk, said Dr. Miguel A. L. Nicolelis, a neuroscientist at Duke University whose laboratory designed and carried out the experiment.

In 2003, Dr. Nicolelis’s team proved that monkeys could use their thoughts alone to control a robotic arm for reaching and grasping.

These experiments, Dr. Nicolelis said, are the first steps toward a brain machine interface that might permit paralyzed people to walk by directing devices with their thoughts. Electrodes in the person’s brain would send signals to a device worn on the hip, like a cell phone or pager, that would relay those signals to a pair of braces, a kind of external skeleton, worn on the legs.

“When that person thinks about walking,” he said, “walking happens.”

Richard A. Andersen, an expert on such systems at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena who was not involved in the experiment, said that it was “an important advance to achieve locomotion with a brain machine interface.”

Another expert, Nicho Hatsopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago, said that the experiment was “an exciting development. And the use of an exoskeleton could be quite fruitful.”

A brain machine interface is any system that allows people or animals to use their brain activity to control an external device. But until ways are found to safely implant electrodes into human brains, most research will remain focused on animals.

In preparing for the experiment, Idoya was trained to walk upright on a treadmill. She held onto a bar with her hands and got treats — raisins and Cheerios — as she walked at different speeds, forward and backward, for 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 2 months.

Meanwhile, electrodes implanted in the so-called leg area of Idoya’s brain recorded the activity of 250 to 300 neurons that fired while she walked. Some neurons became active when her ankle, knee and hip joints moved. Others responded when her feet touched the ground. And some fired in anticipation of her movements.

To obtain a detailed model of Idoya’s leg movements, the researchers also painted her ankle, knee and hip joints with fluorescent stage makeup and, using a special high speed camera, captured her movements on video.

The video and brain cell activity were then combined and translated into a format that a computer could read. This format is able to predict with 90 percent accuracy all permutations of Idoya’s leg movements three to four seconds before the movement takes place.

On Thursday, an alert and ready-to-work Idoya stepped onto her treadmill and began walking at a steady pace with electrodes implanted in her brain. Her walking pattern and brain signals were collected, fed into the computer and transmitted over a high-speed Internet link to a robot in Kyoto, Japan.

The robot, called CB for Computational Brain, has the same range of motion as a human. It can dance, squat, point and “feel” the ground with sensors embedded in its feet, and it will not fall over when shoved.

Designed by Gordon Cheng and colleagues at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, the robot was chosen for the experiment because of its extraordinary ability to mimic human locomotion.

As Idoya’s brain signals streamed into CB’s actuators, her job was to make the robot walk steadily via her own brain activity. She could see the back of CB’s legs on an enormous movie screen in front of her treadmill and received treats if she could make the robot’s joints move in synchrony with her own leg movements.

As Idoya walked, CB walked at exactly the same pace. Recordings from Idoya’s brain revealed that her neurons fired each time she took a step and each time the robot took a step.

“It’s walking!” Dr. Nicolelis said. “That’s one small step for a robot and one giant leap for a primate.”

The signals from Idoya’s brain sent to the robot, and the video of the robot sent back to Idoya, were relayed in less than a quarter of a second, he said. That was so fast that the robot’s movements meshed with the monkey’s experience.

An hour into the experiment, the researchers pulled a trick on Idoya. They stopped her treadmill. Everyone held their breath. What would Idoya do?

“Her eyes remained focused like crazy on CB’s legs,” Dr. Nicolelis said.

She got treats galore. The robot kept walking. And the researchers were jubilant.

Story here.

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Zookeepers Trying To Get Philly The Chimp To Stop Smoking

philly the smoking chimpKeepers of a zoo in China are trying really hard to make a resident chimpanzee quit smoking.

Philly got addicted to the habit months earlier by picking up cigarette butts discarded by visitors in Zhengzhou, Henan province.

The chimp fell prey to the smokes and would squeal for cigarettes every time she needed a drag, reports China Daily.

And to make matters more worse, the primate reportedly even developed a taste for specific brands. It picked the more expensive one when presented with two choices.

Zookeepers have added Chinese herbs to Philly’s diet to help her kick butt.

Story here.

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Austria's Supreme Court Refuses Chimp Human Rights

chimp refused human rightsAustria's Supreme Court has dashed hopes by animal rights activists to have a chimpanzee declared a person, a statement suggested Tuesday.

The court recently rejected a petition to appoint a trustee for the chimp, named Matthew Hiasl Pan, the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories said, and subsequently vowed to contact the European Court of Human Rights over the matter.

The court's decision follows in the footsteps of a similar ruling last fall. In September, a provincial judge in the city of Wiener Neustadt dismissed the case, ruling the Association Against Animal Factories has no legal standing to argue on the chimp's behalf.

The legal back and forth began in February, when the animal shelter where Pan and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years filed for bankruptcy protection.

Activists want to ensure the apes don't wind up homeless. Both were captured as babies in Sierra Leone in 1982 and smuggled to Austria for use in pharmaceutical experiments. Customs officers intercepted the shipment and turned the chimps over to the shelter.

Donors have offered to help with the upkeep costs, but under Austrian law, only a person can receive personal gifts.

Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Pan, whose life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But they argue only personhood will ensure he isn't sold to someone outside Austria, where he's protected by strict animal cruelty laws.

Story here.

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Monkey Malaria Widespread In Humans And Potentially Fatal

A potentially fatal species of malaria is being commonly misdiagnosed as a more benign form of the disease, thereby putting lives at risk, according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust and the University Malaysia Sarawak.

Researchers in Malaysia studied more than 1,000 samples from malaria patients across the country. Using DNA-based technology they found that more than one in four patients in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, were infected with Plasmodium knowlesi, a malaria parasite of macaque monkeys, and that the disease was more widespread in Malaysia than previously thought. Infections were most often misdiagnosed as the normally uncomplicated human malaria caused by P. malariae.

Malaria, which kills more than one million people each year, is caused when Plasmodium parasites are passed into the bloodstream from the salivary glands of mosquitoes. Some types, such as P. falciparum, found most commonly in Africa, are more deadly than others. P. malariae, found in tropical and sub-tropical regions across the globe, is often known as "benign malaria" as its symptoms are usually less serious than other types of malaria.

Until recently, P. knowlesi, was thought to infect only monkeys, in particular long-tailed macaques found in the rainforests of South East Asia. Natural infections of man were thought to be rare until human infections were described in one area in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. However, in a study published today in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, Professors Janet Cox-Singh and Balbir Singh with colleagues at the University Malaysia Sarawak and three State Departments of Health in Malaysia have shown that knowlesi malaria is widespread in Malaysia.

Under the microscope, the early parasite stages of P. knowlesi look very similar to P. falciparum, the most severe form of human malaria, while the later parasite stages are indistinguishable from the more benign P. malariae. Misdiagnosis as P. falciparum is clinically less important as P. falciparum infections are treated with a degree of urgency and P. knowlesi responds to the same treatment. However, misdiagnosis as the more benign slower growing parasite P. malariae is a problem.

P. knowlesi is unprecedented among the malaria parasites of humans and non-human primates as it reproduces every 24 hours, and one of the features of fatal P. knowlesi infections is the high number of infected red blood cells in these patients. Therefore, even a short delay in accurate diagnosis and treatment could lead to the rapid onset of complications, including liver and kidney failure, and death.

Using DNA detection methods, Professor Cox-Singh and colleagues found malaria infection with P. knowlesi to be widely distributed in Malaysian Borneo and mainland Malaysia, sometimes proving fatal. In addition, single human infections have been reported in Thailand and Myanmar.

"I believe that if we look at malaria infections in South East Asia more carefully, we will find that this potentially fatal type of the disease is more widespread than is currently thought," says Professor Cox-Singh. "Given the evident severity of the illness that it causes, I would recommend that doctors treating patients with a laboratory diagnosis of P. malariae remain alert to the possibility that they may be dealing with the potentially more aggressive P. knowlesi. This would be particularly important in patients who have spent time in the forest fringe areas of South East Asia where the non-human primate host exists."

Story here.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Dope Smoking Monkey Needs New Home

monkey smoking a hash bongA dope-smoking monkey that was once at the centre of a drugs raid is in need of a new home.

The rare Rhesus Macaque primate, whose pet name is Nobby, was caught up a police swoop in 1997 after being photographed puffing on a hash bong at an address in Southend, Essex.

Cops were alerted to the creature's plight when technicians at Boots chemists developed a roll of film for a customer and discovered images of the monkey using a cannabis pipe and looking disorientated.

Essex Police mounted a seven-man raid on the home of Nobby's owner, vowing to get a court order to take the monkey into care.

But when officers tried to rescue the animal it turned on cops and screamed and growled, forcing the lawmen to back off.

The creature was apparently content with it's environment and unwilling to be rescued.

But animal welfare workers are now seeking a responsible keeper for Nobby after he recently found himself in need of a new owner.

At the time of the raid PC Dave Clark said: "Nobby's strong and was determined not to let anybody near him. "Even though he's castrated he's still a very dominant male. I was afraid he'd tear my arm off."

The police found no drugs at the flat. But the primate's then owners confessed that their pet had helped himself to their hash.

Nobby, whose photograph appeared in the News of the World at the time of the raid, is later believed to have been taken in by an old lady who became his new owner, and she has been looking after him until recently.

Iain Newby, at the Dangerous Wild Animal Rescue Facility, in Little Wakering, said: "The lady who had him was moving and decided to get rid of him. She'd kept him for years behind glass, but in the wild, these monkeys roam around in troupes. They are social animals, yet Nobby had never even seen another monkey."

The exotic monkey is native to Afghanistan, India and China, but they are rarely found in captivity in the West.

Mr Newby added: ‘Since he has been here, he has had a proper leaf diet and fruit and veg. He is happy and putting on weight."

Mr Newby stressed: "These animals do not make good pets. They can seriously injure you. We are looking for a wildlife park, zoo or a private collection which can give one-to-one attention."

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Uganda To Export 300 Monkeys To Russia For Research

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has licensed a wildlife dealer to export 300 Vervet monkeys to Russia. Yekoyada Nuwagaba, the proprietor of Navina Export, secured the licence recently. The company has been exporting chameleons and snakes to Europe.

"We have approved the export, which is expected to take place within three months. UWA considered his proposal to save communities where vervet monkeys have become a menace and at the same time sell them and benefit in economic terms," said Sam Mwandha, the UWA acting executive director.

UWA declared vervet monkeys and olive baboons as vermin because of their large populations and tendency to destroy crops. "We have been getting persistent complaints about vermin," said Mwandha. "If there is someone who can get the vermin and make economic use of it, they are welcome."

Nuwagaba said UWA inspected and approved his monkey traps. He, however, declined to provide details on the export deal.

A vervet monkey can fetch up to $6,000 in Europe, according to a wildlife expert.

The areas where the company is authorised to trap monkeys include Kampala City, where residents of Muyenga, Bugolobi, Mulago and Ntinda have complained to UWA.

In the last two weeks, Navina has trapped 30 monkeys in Muyenga, one of the posh suburbs of Kampala.

The monkey is lured into an open cage with food like bananas. On entering to get the bait, it steps on a mechanism that closes the entrance.

In his proposal, Nuwagaba said he would set up a holding ground with a veterinary doctor to ensure that the primates are in good health.

The primates are on high demand for bio-medical research, such drug and vaccine trials. But Mwandha said the Ugandan monkeys were being taken to animal sanctuaries as exhibits.

The licence to export the monkeys has attracted hostile reactions from environmentalists, who insist that wildlife trade has many irregularities.

"We know that wildlife traffickers often export endangered species such as chimps," said Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director of Nature Uganda.

"The exportation of monkeys could provide a cover-up for the clandestine export of chimps."

He said it was difficult for some people to tell the difference between a chimpanzee and a monkey, making it difficult to ensure that only monkeys are exported.

Sources say many of the promoters of such deals are wildlife traffickers who work with people that have political clout to secure permits for export.

The preferred species for trade are apes like chimpanzees that are closely related to humans and can sell for as much as $80,000 (about sh130m) each.

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Dirt-Munching Helps Protect Chimps From Malaria

chimps eat dirtThe deliberate ingestion of soil, or 'geophagy', has important health benefits for chimpanzees, according to Sabrina Krief and her colleagues from the Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, France. Far from being a dysfunctional behavior, geophagy has evolved as a practice for maintaining health amongst chimpanzees. In this particular study, to be published online this week in Springer's journal Naturwissenschaften, geophagy increases the potency of ingested plants with anti-malarial properties.

Although geophagy is widespread throughout the animal kingdom, in humans it is perceived as a curious behavior, even linked by some to mental health issues. The paper looks at the consequences of soil ingestion on the health status of chimpanzees in the Kibale National Park in Uganda. These chimpanzees have been observed to ingest soil shortly before or after consuming plant parts, such as the leaves of Trichilia rubescens, which have anti-malarial properties in the laboratory.

The research team collected fourteen samples of soil eaten by chimpanzees as well as T. rubescens leaves from young trees in the same area. They designed a digestion model to replicate the digestive process of mastication, gastric and intestinal digestion in the laboratory. The samples were then analyzed for bioactive properties. The soil and leaves were examined both individually and as a mixture.

Before being mixed with the soil, the digested leaves showed no significant anti-malarial activity. However, when the leaves and soil were digested together, the mixture had clear anti-malarial properties.

The researchers also compared the composition of the soil eaten by chimpanzees with the content of soil used by the local healer to treat diarrhea amongst his patients. All the soil samples were rich in the clay mineral kaolinite, the principal component of some anti-diarrheal medicines. Furthermore, samples used by chimps and humans had exactly the same external aspects, were collected in a similar place and show a comparable physical and chemical profile, indicating similar content.

On the basis of these observations, Krief commented, "This overlapping use by humans and apes is interesting from both evolutionary and conservation perspectives - saving apes and their forests is also important for human health."

Krief and her colleagues discount mineral supplementation, stress-induced behavior and the search for anti-diarrheal effects of clay as the reasons behind the chimpanzees' geophagy observed at the field site during this study period. They propose geophagy's ability to enhance the pharmacological properties of plants as a novel argument to explain motivation for chimpanzees to ingest soil. They conclude that geophagy is a practice for maintaining health which may explain why it has persisted through evolution.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Successful Cyst Surgery For Baby Gorilla

baby gorilla yawning after surgeryVeterinarians from Woodland Park Zoo teamed with pediatric surgeons from Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center on Thursday in what they believe was a first -- removing a cyst from near the spine of a baby gorilla.

The yet-to-be-named baby gorilla was born to Amanda at the zoo in October with the cyst at the base of her back. Because of the way gorillas hold their babies, the mass wasn't noticeable at first, but it continued to grow. Tests showed that it had become infected.

Veterinarians were afraid that the mass would reach the spine and possibly cause meningitis. Although they hoped to wait until the baby was a bit older and could tolerate surgery better, they had no choice but to operate, said the zoo's interim director of animal health, Dr. Kelly Helmick.

Before the surgery, zookeepers trained Amanda to carry her baby to them so they could give her antibiotics to help fight the infection, Helmick said.

During the hourlong surgery Thursday morning at the zoo's animal health complex, a team of physicians and surgeons from the zoo and the hospital removed the cyst, which measured 3 to 4 centimeters, said Dr. Richard Ellenbogen, a neurosurgeon at Children's Hospital and chairman of the department of neurological surgery at the University of Washington.

Doctors confirmed during surgery that the baby also suffers from mild spinal bifida, which is not expected to be a concern as she grows older, they said.

Ellenbogen and other Children's Hospital experts donated their time to help with the surgery. Integra LifeSciences, a New Jersey medical instrument company, donated nearly $60,000 worth of spinal instruments to the zoo specifically for the operation. The company's chief executive, Stuart Essig, who recently vacationed in Seattle and visited Woodland Park Zoo with his children, agreed to the donation after he heard what it was for, Ellenbogen said.

"What we were able to do here was parallel to what we do in the human world," Ellenbogen said. "We were prepared for the worst, and it turned out to be something we could treat and cure."

Children's Hospital sees two to five cases a year of children with a problem similar to the baby gorilla's, he said. The baby is the 12th successful gorilla birth for the zoo and the third offspring between 37-year-old Amanda and the father, 28-year-old Vip.

Because gorillas pick at each other to remove dirt or insects, surgeons buried the baby's sutures under the skin and covered them with surgical tissue glue. Zookeepers also painted Amanda's nails red, so she would be distracted and pick at her nails instead of her baby's incision.

After the surgery, the baby gorilla was taken to a table just outside of the operating room where she was hydrated and warmed while she awoke from anesthesia. About 30 minutes later, a groggy, yawning baby opened her eyes and looked around the room. She was wrapped in a large, pink blanket, her pink and purple pacifier ready and waiting and a small stuffed gorilla sitting on the counter nearby.

Zookeepers then took her back to her mother. Amanda immediately grabbed the infant and began nursing, Helmick said.

"This gorilla operation was an amazing 'Star-Trek' type of experience for the team from Children's and the UW," Ellenbogen said. The team was "proud to help with an endangered species. ... The operation was a great success from our perspective."

Recovery is expected to take up to two weeks, Helmick said, adding that she, too, is optimistic that everything went well.

"The baby is young and was fighting a congenital mass and infection, so we're always cautiously optimistic the first few days," Helmick said. "But we don't see any reason for difficulty, and she should recover nicely. It was a touching reunion between mom and baby."

Story here.

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Grabby Gorilla's Leg Broken As Dad Gets Riled Over Raisins

Kazi's broken legHere's a lesson, kids: Don't mess with the old man's raisins.

Kazi, one of Zoo Atlanta's twin gorillas, decided to snatch some of dad Taz's raisins last week. That little act of insurrection earned the 2-year-old a trip to doctors who treated her last weekend for a broken leg.

Kazi, rambunctious as any toddler, apparently ignored her father's threats last Wednesday, said Dwight Lawson, the zoo's senior vice president of collections, education and conservation. The gorillas were in an enclosure behind the exhibit when she learned that it's not wise to ignore a peeved silverback.

"He yelled at her" when the youngster grabbed his raisins, he said. He yelled again when she came back for more.

When she came back a third time, the 19-year-old took his daughter to the simian equivalent of the woodshed.

"He picked her up and bit her on the leg," Lawson said. Kazi yelped and scooted back to her brother, Kali, and mom, Kuchi. Taz, order restored, finished his raisins.

Zoo workers kept a worried watch on Kazi. "We saw her limping around and decided to take a look," he said.

An X-ray revealed a fracture on her left leg.

The zoo called a couple of specialists, who gladly came on Saturday. They bent over a sedated Kazi and placed a stainless-steel plate on her leg, held in place by screws. The bone will grow over the plate, meaning Kazi may run into problems if she ever tries to pass through metal detectors.

Zoo officials suspect Kazi's bone may have mended without human help, but decided not to take any chances, Lawson said. At last report, she was walking carefully.

She, her mom and brother and another female have been placed in separate quarters until her bone is fully mended, he said.

According to all reports, Taz hasn't had any more problems with food thieves, either.

Story here.

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Baby Orangutan Born Via C-Section at Como Zoo

orangutan birthAt first he thought it was a practical joke. A doctor getting a call to examine a newborn organgutan.

The baby was delivered by C-section, the first time that's ever happened at the Como Zoo.

The four pound newborn required around the clock supervision for eleven days before he could be given to his mother.

The doctor from the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital said there was definitely something unique he noticed immediatley, while examining the animal.

"It was amazing, his gaze was very intense. A newborn human on their first day of life doesn't see very far, basically objects just right in front of their face," said Dr. Mark Bergeron. "Clearly he was seeing items further away. It was much more intense as far as his gaze goes. It struck me right away. He was certainly more hairy than most of my other patients."

The baby orangutan is the 14th born at the Como Zoo since 1959.

The zoo letting the public participate in picking out three possible names for the newborn.

Story here.

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Welsh Primate Refuge Rescues Monkey From French Lab Cage

A monkey which had been in a laboratory cage for 17 years has started 2008 with a new life in Wales.

Crab-eating macaque Pozzi was rescued just before Christmas by Graham and Jan Garen, who run the Cefn-yr-Erw Primate Sanctuary at Abercrave in the Swansea Valley.

They drove to the south of France to pick up Pozzi – an animal destined to be sent on a chemical-testing programme in another part of the country.

Some staff at the laboratory near Grenoble wanted Pozzi to be freed and an email was sent to Graham and Jan who immediately set about a rescue mission.

Laboratory officials told the couple they had “lost” Pozzi’s papers, but the couple contacted Cites (the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species) and were told the animal did not need papers to be transferred to Britain.

P&O Ferries, which has helped the Welsh sanctuary in the past, agreed to provide free passage for Pozzi and Graham and Jan’s 4X4 rescue vehicle and Ring Automotive of Leeds rigged up a CCTV system so the couple could see Pozzi in the back of the vehicle.

Mr Garen said, “As Pozzi had been stuck in a cage for 17 years he could well have become stressed with the movement of the vehicle and noise from other traffic on the 850-mile round trip.”

The couple drove though thick fog, snow and ice to collect the macaque and he arrived back safe and well in the week before Christmas.

Yesterday, Pozzi had come to terms with his new enclosure at Cefn-yr-Erw which has rescued dozens of chimps, monkeys and other primates from laboratories, zoos, circuses and other institutions.

Mr Garen said, “At first he did not know how to climb but he has got used to the idea now.

“He has even allowed his carer Sharon into his enclosure to help him.”

Story here.

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Valley Zoo Welcomes New Gibbon

gibbon penelopeA new addition was introduced today at Edmonton’s Valley Zoo – an endangered baby gibbon named Penelope.

The white-handed gibbon was born Dec. 9 to Julia and Chan.

Veterinarians had to perform an emergency caesarian section because the umbilical cord was wrapped around Penelope's neck.

Julia couldn't carry Penelope after birth because of the incision on her stomach, so she's being raised by zookeeper Andi Sime.

Born at 401 grams and now weighing 551 grams, three hour feedings have plumped Penelope up and veterinarians are pleased with her development.

Story here.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

'Stoner' Teen Jailed For Stealing Monkey, Crocs

A Palmerston teenager has spent the afternoon in jail for stealing a monkey and two baby crocodiles in two separate raids on a wildlife park on Darwin's outskirts in July last year.

The Darwin Magistrates Court heard 19-year-old Benjamin Glen Watts and a friend broke into Crocodylus Park and stole two baby crocodiles and three radios because they had been smoking cannabis and thought they would be able to make some money.

When they failed to find a buyer they went back a week later and stole a marmoset for a friend.

But that sale fell through as well.

Watts's lawyer said his client admitted it was a "dumb stoner" thing to do and said he had written to Crocodylus Park apologising.

He said Watts had successfully completed drug counselling and asked that he be given a non-custodial sentence.

But Magistrate Greg Cavanagh did not agree and sentenced the teenager to three months jail, suspended after court closed this afternoon.

Story here.

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Ebola Scare Again As Dead Monkeys Found in Bundibugyo

The discovery of eight dead monkeys in the Rwenzori National Park in Bundibugyo District has again caused more fears and tension among locals who are just coming to terms with the Ebola outbreak that ravaged the area and is said to have been brought to the area by infected monkeys.

District leaders and the health workers are suspecting that the monkeys may have been suffering from another virus but are all the same carrying out investigations.

In a meeting of medical experts with the district leaders held on Thursday at the district headquarters that was aimed at assessing and fighting the Ebola epidemic who epicenter has been here, it was noted that the monkeys and chimpanzees have certain blood viruses similar to those detected in human blood samples.

The investigations, however, will take congnisance of the fact that illegal hunting and killing of monkeys in the Mt Rwenzori ranges is going on uninterrupted.

It was resolved that the district authorities of Bundibugyo with immediate effect and alert the Uganda Wildlife Authority to intervene since a good number of families living in the mountains are feeding monkey meat and putting their lives at risk.

Meanwhile, on January 4 the Director General of Health Services, Dr Sam Zaramba issued a statement saying that the cumulative total of Ebola patients stands at 149 with 37 deaths.

"In Bundibugyo District, five people are currently admitted, one in Kikyo Health Centre and four in Bundibugyo Hospital. Of these, one new suspected case has been registered and is admitted in Bundibugyo Hospital in the last 24 hours. One patient was discharged from Kikyo Health Centre," the statement said.

The statement had positive news too saying that 441 out of 771 contacts have completed 21 days of follow-up and are considered safe.

Dr Zaramba, however, cautioned against "creating unnecessary panic."

Story here.

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Monday, January 07, 2008

A Moment Of Gorilla Attacking Tourist Zen...

gorilla tourist

gorilla attacks tourist

gorilla attacks tourist
gorilla attack
One moment he was standing with a video camera as the magnificent creature quietly held court before a group of sightseeers. The next, he was being dragged backwards through the undergrowth to a terrifyingly uncertain fate.

Quite what provoked the normally placid silverback into stamping his authority so forcefully is uncertain.

The clue probably came when the male started to parade intimidatingly close to the group of tourists, led by local rangers – beating his breast like a drum.

Suddenly, he charged at the crowd. Then he snatched a blue-anoraked man by one ankle and dragged him towards the trees.

Maybe the thrill of seeing gorillas in the wild had caused the tourist to forget the advice the rangers would have given before everyone set off on the trek – no flashguns... no noise... don't point... look away if they make eye contact... and melt into the ground if they charge.

It worked a treat for Sir David Attenborough – but whispering subservience patently wasn't adequate this time. One likely explanation is that the tourist – an American – got between the male gorilla and the true object of its attentions, a young female on the far side of the group.

Or perhaps the gorilla was simply being playful (not that it would have seemed like that to someone being kidnapped by a chest-thumping male like this one, of course).

"Playful" could have involved tossing the man against a tree, or cuffing him jovially around the face. Precisely what happened between man and beast in the few seconds the pair disappeared is difficult to establish.

Rangers stepped in to separate them by whacking the gorilla with sticks and waving bright clothing.

Story here.

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