Monday, June 30, 2008

Moe The Chimp Escapes Enclosure

moe the chimpMoe is making headlines again.

On Friday afternoon, the chimp featured in several news stories over the years, escaped from Jungle Exotics near Devore.

On Saturday, San Bernardino County animal-control officers and volunteers were searching the heavily forested area, while a privately owned helicopter circled overhead.

Michael McCasland, who said he was a friend of the West Covina couple who raised the chimp, likened the search to looking for a missing child.

"These 24 hours since he got away are crucial just like looking for a child," he said. "He has never escaped into the wild before and has no food or water out there."

McCasland, who was at the scene Friday and Saturday, said Moe might have escaped into the San Bernardino National Forest after being spooked by a recent fire.

McCasland said he was told that Moe opened his cage Friday and walked to the caretaker's home at Jungle Exotics, a business that rents animals to the entertainment industry.

He then kept on going to a nearby home that is being remodeled.

After surprising workers there, he disappeared into the wild.

Animal-control officers could not be reached for comment, but they were involved in the search, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

Moe has been at Jungle Exotics since last year.

It is one of many places the chimp has lived since being raised in West Covina by St. James and LaDonna Davis.

LaDonna Davis was there Saturday but did not comment on the missing chimp.

According to McCasland, St. James Davis brought Moe home from Tanzania in the 1960s, after the chimp's mother was killed by poachers.

He and his wife then raised the animal in West Covina, treating him much like they would a son.

It was an idyllic life, with Moe enjoying such treats as chocolate milk and watching TV with the family, until 1999, when he was forcibly removed from the home for being in violation of the city's wild animal ordinance. He was removed after biting a police officer and a female visitor.

In 2005, while the Davises were visiting Moe at the Animal Haven Ranch near Bakersfield to celebrate his birthday, two chimps in nearby cages attacked St. James Davis and nearly killed him.

In recent years, Moe was at the center of a legal battle between his owners and West Covina officials.

An attorney for Moe's owners argued before Pomona Superior Court Judge Abraham Khan that the city owed the Davises money for breaking an agreement reached after the chimp was removed from the couple's Vincent Avenue home in 1999.

The battle in court has since ended.

Since moving to Jungle Exotics last year, Moe has been a happy camper, McCasland said.

The cage he was in had a lookout tower where he could see trains passing nearby.

Saturday afternoon, McCasland was hopeful the ape would make it back to that cage but worried about what he might be facing in the wilderness.

"My hope is that he will just come back because primates are known to do that," he said. "My concern is the coyotes, rattlesnakes and lack of water.

Anyone who sees the chimp is asked to call San Bernardino County Animal Control at (800) 472-5609.

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Louisville Zoo Adds 12th Gorilla

kweliThe Louisville Zoo’s Gorilla Forest recently became home to 25-year-old female gorilla Kweli (pronounced "QUAY lee"), bringing the total number of gorillas to 12.

Kweli, who was born at the Cincinnati Zoo, is mother to 11-year-old blackback Kicho, who also resides in the Louisville Zoo’s Gorilla Forest. Kweli’s name means "truth" in Swahili.

"Kweli was an excellent mother to her three offspring," Gorilla Forest Supervisor Roby Elsner said. "She was also a high-ranking and well-socialized female in Cincinnati, which is why the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommended she come to Louisville."

Elsner said the goal is to utilize Kweli’s social skills and background so she can bond with adult female gorillas Mia Moja, 19, and Paki, 19, for their future introduction to young silverback Mshindi, 20.

"Testosterone-charged males like Mshindi who are in their prime at this age often need to be introduced to three or more females who can effectively act as a cohesive unit to handle a silverback’s rambunctiousness," Elsner said.

Kweli is currently housed with Mia Moja, Paki and Timmy, a 49-year-old silverback who is the leader of the group. Timmy is currently the oldest male gorilla in North America.

Visitors can recognize Kweli by her short, pudgy stature and a slightly hanging lower lip that reveals its inner pink lining.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

House of Representatives Passes Captive Primate Safety Act

captive primate safety actBanning importation and sale of primates: The House passed the Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R. 2964) sponsored by Rep. Eddie Johnson, D-Texas. The legislation would ban the sale or importation of primate species. Supporters said the bill would protect public health by preventing the transmission of diseases by primates kept as pets while also protecting the welfare of the primates. Opponents said the bill duplicated enforcement efforts already in place at the state level. The vote, on Tuesday, was 302 yeas to 96 nays, with a two-thirds majority needed for approval.

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Spain's Parliament Votes To Extend Human Rights To Apes

chimpSpain's parliament voiced its support on Wednesday for the rights of great apes to life and freedom in what will apparently be the first time any national legislature has called for such rights for non-humans.

Parliament's environmental committee approved resolutions urging Spain to comply with the Great Apes Project, devised by scientists and philosophers who say our closest genetic relatives deserve rights hitherto limited to humans.

"This is a historic day in the struggle for animal rights and in defense of our evolutionary comrades, which will doubtless go down in the history of humanity," said Pedro Pozas, Spanish director of the Great Apes Project.

Spain may be better known abroad for bull-fighting than animal rights but the new measures are the latest move turning once-conservative Spain into a liberal trailblazer.

Spain did not legalize divorce until the 1980s, but Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has legalized gay marriage, reduced the influence of the Catholic Church in education and set up an Equality Ministry.

The new resolutions have cross-party or majority support and are expected to become law and the government is now committed to update the statute book within a year to outlaw harmful experiments on apes in Spain.

"We have no knowledge of great apes being used in experiments in Spain, but there is currently no law preventing that from happening," Pozas said.

Keeping apes for circuses, television commercials or filming will also be forbidden and breaking the new laws will become an offence under Spain's penal code.

Keeping an estimated 315 apes in Spanish zoos will not be illegal, but supporters of the bill say conditions will need to improve drastically in 70 percent of establishments to comply with the new law.

Philosophers Peter Singer and Paola Cavalieri founded the Great Ape Project in 1993, arguing that "non-human hominids" like chimpanzees, gorillas, orang-utans and bonobos should enjoy the right to life, freedom and not to be tortured.

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A Moment Of 50th Birthday Zen...

keo chimp birthday
keo birthday
An elderly chimp is getting a birthday bash at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

The Chicago zoo is spending Thursday celebrating the 50th birthday of Keo .

He's one of the two oldest male chimpanzees in captivity in the U.S.

Thursday's activities include a 600-pound fruit-filled ice sculpture that will be placed in the outdoor area of Keo's enclosure.

Zoo keepers are also filling pinatas with sunflower seeds and raisins for Keo and his fellow chimps.

On the Net:

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Loose Monkey Reported In Lafayette, Indiana

A man reported spotting a monkey this morning off of North Sixth Street, a block south of TRW.

Lafayette Animal Control Officer Ashley Kaufman said they received a report of a monkey in a tree, but they were unable to find anything. Kurt Slaughterbeck made the call, and said the monkey ran across his roof, then he saw it outside his window. He ran to get the phone and his binoculars, saw the monkey run across the street, and then lost track of it. "I don't know what kind of monkey it was. It was a foot and a half, maybe, tall. A small monkey," said Slaughterbeck.

"We get a couple of reports per year that turn out to be true of odd things. More often than not, we find it's a case where someone has seen an animal they thought was something else," said Kaufman.

Slaughterbeck knows what he saw. "It wasn't a squirrel," he said. "It may have been a squirrel monkey or something, I don't know. It was a small monkey that's all I know."

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Kerala Monkey Doubles As A Shepherd

monkey shepardCompare him to the goats and he may look small, but Mani the monkey, shepherds nearly 100 goats in Nelliyampathy, Palakkad. The goat's ear is how he controls them. He makes the goats turn right or left by tugging gently at their ear. And he attacks anyone who ventures near the goats.

Manager Greenland Farmhouse, P J Martin says, "I got this monkey three years ago, bleeding all over. I applied medicine and left it with the goats. Afterwards he was always with the goats. He does all works as a man does it."

Three-year-old Mani effortlessly shepherds the goats through the coffee plantations. He even eats his food sitting on top of a goat. The tourists who visit the farmhouse watch Mani with awe.

A tourist, S Snehalatha says, "We came here on a holiday and heard about this monkey that is a shepherd. We have been watching him for the past few minutes and he seems to do his job better than a man would."

And you're in trouble if Mani catches you watching the goats. But then again, he's got a job to do.

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Great Ape Trust Bonobos Nervous, But Secure From Flood Waters

flood great ape trust
flood apesThe riverside homes of the orangutans and bonobos were dry again Monday, three days after flooding dumped 3 feet of water on the Great Ape Trust in southeast Des Moines.

Scientists said the bonobos were nervous about the rising floodwaters. But orangutans Azy, Knobi and Allie, from a species that lives in flooded forest in the wild, took it all in stride.

"I don't think they were that affected," scientist Robert Shumaker said. "They are outside, sitting in the sun and watching us while we work."

apes floodSome of the bonobos communicate via symbol boards and understand some spoken English. Kanzi, a bonobo with ability to communicate with humans, expressed fear that a "water gorilla" would come around. That's what he calls beavers, and he's seen them fell trees, which he has indicated is an impressive feat. Kanzi also discussed the "big water" with William Fields, who directs the bonobo research.

"They understand we've had 'big water,' as they describe it" Fields said. "We had to tell them the water would stop."

The apes simply climbed to higher posts in the two buildings, a three-story one for the orangutans and a more ranch-style place for bonobos.

"They were very frightened," Fields said. "It was frightening to us."

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Hank The Chimp Turns Forty

hank the chimp
Hank enjoys a birthday treat during his 40th birthday celebration at the Chattanooga Zoo Saturday. In addition to the chimpanzee’s birthday, Saturday’s celebration also marked the opening of a new zoo entrance.

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Sterilised Himachal Monkeys Pregnant

Monkeys sterilised by the Himachal Pradesh wildlife department last year are reproducing again, officials said Monday.

To control the monkey menace in areas like Shimla, Kufri and Rampur, the wildlife department sterilised about 1,300 simians last year. The males were sterilised using laser technology and tubectomy was performed on females using the laparoscopic technique.

But now the animals are breeding again.

'Most of the monkeys sterilised by the wildlife department are pregnant again,' said a wildlife official at the Himalayan Nature Park in Kufri.

He said 60 monkeys were caught from Kufri, about 25 km from here, and taken to the Tuti Kandi rescue centre on the outskirts of Shimla. After sterilisation, they were released in the same area. At that time, male and female monkeys were tagged. But now the tags have also disappeared.

Lalit Mohan, conservator of forests (wildlife), admits that there were some flaws in the sterilisation programme.

The drive hit several road blocks due to the shortage of expert monkey catchers. Now the department is training its own staff.

'We have been working on several projects to control their population,' he said. 'The monkeys might be pregnant again as all animals could not be trapped at that time. Those that had been left out at that time might be breeding now.'

R.S. Kishtwaria of the College of Veterinary Sciences in Palampur, about 175 km from here, says sterilisation is not good for animals and results in abnormal behaviour.

'The behaviour of the monkeys should be studied for a while after sterilisation. There are instances when the sterilised monkeys get themselves injured during fights, especially when they are in heat, or start attacking human beings,' he said.

The wildlife department had also initiated mass translocation of simians to remote forest areas from cities and towns to control the menace. But this process was not successful as the territory vacated by the animals was occupied by more aggressive troops of monkeys from surrounding areas.

According to a census conducted by the wildlife department, the state has 319,000 monkeys.

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Lemur's Scent Found To Carry More Information Than Thought

lemur's scentPerhaps judging a man by his cologne isn't as superficial as it seems.

Duke University researchers, using sophisticated machinery to analyze hundreds of chemical components in a ringtailed lemur's distinctive scent, have found that individual males are not only advertising their fitness for fatherhood, but also a bit about their family tree as well.

"We now know that there's information about genetic quality and relatedness in scent," said Christine Drea, a Duke associate professor of biological anthropology and biology. The male's scent can reflect his mixture of genes, and to which animals he's most closely related. "It's an honest indicator of individual quality that both sexes can recognize," she said.

Lemurs, distant primate cousins of ours who split from the family tree before the monkeys and apes parted ways, have a complex and elaborate scent language that until recently was completely undiscovered by humans. Drea said it's language that is undoubtedly richer than we can imagine.

"All lemurs make use of scent," she said. "The diversity of glands is just amazing."

Ringtailed males have scent glands on their genitals, shoulders and wrists, each of which makes different scents. Other lemur species also have glands on their heads, chests and hands. Add to these scents the signals that can be conveyed in feces and urine, and there's a lot of silent, cryptic communication going on in lemur society.

Wearing a scent-based nametag declaring one's genetics is probably useful in avoiding aggression with closely related males, Drea said. It's also quite likely to help prevent inbreeding by signaling family relationships to females, but the research to prove that is still ongoing.

For this study, Drea and postdoctoral fellows Marie Charpentier and Marylène Boulet focused solely on male ringtailed lemurs living at the Duke Lemur Center (

The males have a gland and spike on each wrist that is used to scratch and mark saplings with highly aromatic scents. A pair of glands on the shoulders "like misplaced nipples" manufacture squalene, a scent molecule that works like glue to keep the more aromatic compounds in place longer. Males can be seen dabbing the wrist gland on the chest gland and then scratch-marking. The wrist glands are also central to the "stink fighting" of ringtails, in which they rub the glands along the length of their bushy tails, and then foist them into each others' face to express dominance.

Most importantly, the male also has a scent gland on his scrotum that becomes critical to marking territory and advertising fitness during mating season. He does a handstand and rubs this gland directly onto a tree trunk to let any interested lemurs know who he is and what he's made of.

Scent not only speaks volumes, it's physiologically expensive to make, Drea said. When a lemur is ill or socially stressed, its scent changes dramatically. "If he loses his signals, it's quite likely its because he's less genetically fit," Drea said. "And his sexual or social partners can know that."

Female ringtailed lemurs have just one scent gland in the genital area, but their scent is more complex than the males'. Via scent, females may advertise not only their fertility, but the presence of a pregnancy and how far along it is, Drea said.

To a human, a lemur has a sort of musky scent. "In its little vial, the sample smells just terrible," said Charpentier, the postdoctoral fellow who deciphered the genetics and is now examining the behavioral response to these scents.

But under a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, postdoctoral fellow Boulet found that the powerful musk resolves into at least 203 different chemical compounds in a complex mix that has been found to vary not only by season, but by an individual's genetics as well. Boulet conducted this analysis after collecting cotton swabs of scent from the scrotums and other parts of 19 male lemurs throughout the seasons.

These findings fit with work done on how people feel about the odors individual humans leave behind on a T-shirt and sheds more light on Charles Darwin's theories about sexual selection being one of the drivers of evolution, Drea said. In both cases, there is some subtle signaling in scent that apparently helps govern mate choice or nepotism, even when humans' meager sense of smell isn't conscious of it, she said.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Researchers Find An Evolutionarily Preserved Signature In The Primate Brain

Researchers have determined that there are hundreds of biological differences between the sexes when it comes to gene expression in the cerebral cortex of humans and other primates. These findings, published June 20th in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics, indicate that some of these differences arose a very long time ago and have been preserved through evolution. These conserved differences constitute a signature of sex differences in the brain.

Many more obvious gender differences have been preserved throughout primate evolution; examples include average body size and weight, and genitalia design. This study, believed to be the first of its kind, focuses on gene expression within the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is involved in many of the more complex functions in both humans and other primates, including memory, attentiveness, thought processes and language.

The researchers measured gene expression in the brains of male and female primates from three species: humans, macaques, and marmosets. To measure activity of specific genes, the products of genes (RNA) obtained from the brain of each animal were hybridized to microarrays containing thousands of DNA clones coding for thousands of genes. The authors also investigated DNA sequence differences among primates for genes showing different levels of expression between the sexes.

"Knowledge about gender differences is important for many reasons. For example, this information may be used in the future to calculate medical dosages, as well as for other treatments of diseases or damage to the brain," says team leader Professor Elena Jazin, at Uppsala University, Sweden.

In addition to the results mentioned above, the researchers also report on evolutionary speeds in genes that have been identified as male or female-oriented. This could provide clues about the power of natural selection processes during the evolution of primates.

Lead author Björn Reinius notes that the study does not determine whether these differences in gene expression are in any way functionally significant. Such questions remain to be answered by future studies.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Female Chimp’s Sex Calls May Reflect Calculation

chimpanzee mating callsIntricate as the mating dance may be among people, for other primates like chimpanzees and baboons it is even more complicated. This is evident from the work of researchers who report that the distinctive calls made by female chimpanzees during sex are part of a sophisticated social calculation.

Biologists have long been puzzled by these copulation calls, which can betray the caller’s whereabouts to predators. To compensate for this hazard, the calls must confer a significant evolutionary advantage, but what?

The leading explanation involves the way female primates protect their offspring. Male chimps and baboons are prone to kill any infant they believe could not be theirs, so females try to blur paternity by mating with as many individuals as possible before each conception. A side benefit is that by arranging to have sperm from many potential fathers compete for her egg, the female creates conditions for the healthiest male to father her child.

The calls that female chimps make during sex seemed to be just part of this strategy. By advertising a liaison in progress, biologists assumed, females stood to recruit many more partners.

But the study, by Simon Townsend, Tobias Deschner and Klaus Zuberbühler, shows that in making calls or not, the females take the social situation into account.

The researchers monitored the lively love lives of seven female chimps in the Budongo Forest of Uganda, making audio recordings of nearly 300 copulations. In two-thirds of these encounters, they found, the female made no sound at all. This finding undermines the thesis that the principal purpose of copulation calls is to instigate rivalry among males, the researchers reported online Tuesday in the scientific journal PLoS One.

Unlike female baboons, who give a staccato whoop at each copulation, the chimps seem much more aware of the social context. Chimps are particularly likely to be silent and conceal their liaisons when higher-ranking females are nearby. They were most acoustically exuberant when cavorting with a high-ranking male.

The reason may be that other higher-ranking males are likely to be around, too, and by advertising her availability to them a female chimp may gain many influential protectors for her future infant.

The calculus changes when higher-ranking females are around because they are likely to attack the caller and break up the fun. To avoid incest, young females leave their home group and try to integrate with neighbors by offering themselves to socially important males. But the resident females tend to be obstructive, perhaps because they see them as competitors for male protectors and desirable feeding areas.

A similar use of copulation calls could once have existed in the human lineage but if so, it may have lost its evolutionary advantages when human societies developed their distinctive system of pair bonding and made intercourse a largely private activity.

Dorothy Cheney, an animal behavior expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said that copulation calls usually occurred in primate species where the females have visible sexual swellings during their receptive period. Because swellings do not occur in humans, it is hard to speculate about the relevance of chimp sexual calls to human behavior, Dr. Cheney said.

Though human vocalizations during intercourse have not been much studied, they do have “a quite elaborate acoustical structure, which suggests some kind of communicative function,” said Dr. Townsend, who is at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. Copulation calls are not a feature of public life in Western societies, but the situation could be different in hunter-gatherer groups, which enjoy little privacy.

“I can imagine that these sort of signals may still be very much perceived by other group members and give a female a high degree of control over her willingness to copulate or let others know her sexual state,” said Dr. Zuberbühler, also of the University of St. Andrews.

The female primate’s strategy of blurring paternity could be useful in human societies, too, especially when the rate of illegitimacy is high. “Whether or not this happens in humans I don’t know,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar went on.”

Female chimpanzees have sexual swellings that remain visible for several days, but they ovulate on just one day. A female gives her copulation calls throughout the period, concealing her most fertile time from the males.

“If she was truly interested in meeting with the best males, she should do all her calling during that narrow window when it matters,” Dr. Zuberbühler said. “But she doesn’t. She conceals the time of ovulation by calling throughout her cycle.”

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Play Can Be Fatal For Young Chimps

chimp mortalityFor young chimpanzees, play can be fatal. Germs spread by play explain why one African group shows waves of infant mortality that peak every three years, say experts who have studied them.

Primatologist Christophe Boesch and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have monitored the mortality of a chimpanzee group living in the Taï National Park of the Ivory Coast for more than 20 years. They noticed that outbreaks of respiratory disease strike roughly every three years. In the worst events, some 20% of the troop died.

These cycles do not match fluctuations in any external environmental factor, such as food abundance. Instead, the researchers report in PLoS One 1, the chimps have become locked into a cycle of reproduction and disease, driven by their own social behaviour.

If they lose their offspring, female chimpanzees soon breed again. Boesch suspects that an initial disease outbreak at some time in the past killed a large proportion of the group’s youngsters, causing many adult females to breed at once, and creating a cohort of youngsters of a similar age.

For their first year or so, baby chimps stay close to their mother. But when they reach 18 months they become boisterous and sociable. “They spend almost all their time playing and in very close contact, rolling around, wrestling, pulling each others’ hair and biting,” says Boesch.

The young chimps have the most physical contact of any group members — play results in twice as much contact as adult grooming, for example. It's not just the juveniles that wrestle, mothers also get drawn into the play. This makes a large group of youngsters ideal for spreading disease — just like in a human kindergarten.

It’s obvious when an outbreak is under way, says Boesch: “Every [chimp] gets ill within three to five days.” The respiratory viruses do not kill the young chimps, but they make them susceptible to other infections, which do. This creates a group of childless females, and the cycle begins again.

The initial respiratory infections are probably caught from humans — the genetic sequences of viruses isolated from the chimps are almost identical to those of viruses that can cause respiratory disease in people2.

The researchers now wear surgical masks whenever they are in sight of the chimps. Ecotourists should do the same, says Boesch.

The cycle of infant mortality plays out on a more general pattern of decline, caused by poaching, leopard predation, and other diseases such as the Ebola virus and anthrax. Two decades ago, there were more than 80 adults in the chimpanzee group. Now there are about 25.

“We have to be extremely careful,” says Victoria Horner, who studies chimpanzee behaviour at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “By habituating chimpanzee groups to people we are potentially putting them at risk.”

Chimp sanctuaries in Africa already typically inspect visitors’ vaccination certificates and bar anyone with a cold, she notes, but these precautions are rarely applied to contact between wild chimps and people.

Different factors compound one another, says Horner: poaching and logging increasing contact between humans and chimps, and smaller groups are more vulnerable to disease.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Study Suggests Apes Can 'Plan Ahead'

apes plan aheadChimps and orangutans plan for the future just like us.

They are capable of exercising self-control to postpone gratification and to imagine future events via "mental time travel," according to new research from Lunds University Cognitive Science in Sweden.

The skill of future planning was commonly thought to be exclusive to humans, although some studies of apes and crows have challenged this idea, say researchers Mathias and Helena Osvath. Now, for the first time, there is "conclusive evidence of advanced planning capacities in non-human species," they say.

The results are detailed online this week in the journal Animal Cognition.

The Osvaths figured this out by showing two female chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and one male orangutan (Pongo abelii) from the Lund University Primate Research Station at the Furuvik Zoo a hose and how to use it to extract fruit soup.

The researchers then tempted the apes (apes are a group that includes chimps, gorillas, orangutans and humans) with their favorite fruit alongside the hose to test their ability to suppress the choice of the immediate reward (favorite fruit) in favor of a tool (the hose) that would lead to a larger reward about an hour later (the fruit soup).

The apes chose the hose more frequently than their favorite fruit, suggesting they are able to make choices in favor of future needs even when they compete directly with an immediate reward.

A second experiment involved offering the apes new tools - a functional one that would work like the hose and two "distractor objects," such as a blue plastic car, a small teddy bear or a discarded wrist watch.

The apes consciously chose the new functional tool more often and later used it appropriately, demonstrating they selected the tool based on what it could do for them down the line.

The apes were likely pre-experiencing a future event, that is visualizing the use of the new tool to extract the fruit soup, the Osvaths say.

"This suggests that the advanced mental capacities utilized in human future planning are shared by phylogenetically more ancient species than previously believed," the authors wrote, and "that capacities central to humans evolved much earlier than previously believed."

The researchers suggest conducting similar experiments in the future on small children and on gibbons, the closest relatives to the great apes.

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Study Shows Chimps Calm Each Other With Hugs, Kisses

chimp hugsFor most folks, a nice hug and some sympathy can help a bit after we get pushed around. Turns out, chimpanzees use hugs and kisses the same way. And it works. Researchers studying people's closest genetic relatives found that stress was reduced in chimps that were victims of aggression if a third chimp stepped in to offer consolation.

"Consolation usually took the form of a kiss or embrace," said Dr. Orlaith N. Fraser of the Research Center in Evolutionary Anthropology and Paleoecology at Liverpool John Moores University in England.

"This is particularly interesting," she said, because this behavior is rarely seen other than after a conflict.

"If a kiss was used, the consoler would press his or her open mouth against the recipient's body, usually on the top of the head or their back. An embrace consisted of the consoler wrapping one or both arms around the recipient."

The result was a reduction of stress behavior such as scratching or self-grooming by the victim of aggression, Fraser and colleagues report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Frans de Waal of the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta said the study is important because it shows the relationship between consolation and stress reduction. Previous researchers have claimed that consolation had no effect on stress, said de Waal, who was not part of Fraser's research team.

"This study removes doubt that consolation really does what the term suggests: provide relief to distressed parties after conflict. The evidence is compelling and makes it likely that consolation behavior is an expression of empathy," de Waal said.

De Waal suggested that this evidence of empathy in apes is "perhaps equivalent to what in human children is called 'sympathetic concern.'"

That behavior in children includes touching and hugging of distressed family members and "is in fact identical to that of apes, and so the comparison is not far-fetched," he said.

While chimps show this empathy, monkeys do not, he added.

There is also suggestive evidence of such behavior in large-brained birds and dogs, said Fraser, but it has not yet been shown that it reduces stress levels in those animals.

Previous research on conflict among chimps concentrated on cases where there is reconciliation between victim and aggressor, with little attention to intervention by a third party.

Fraser and colleagues studied a group of chimps at the Chester Zoo in England from January 2005 to September 2006, recording instances of aggression such as a bite, hit, rush, trample, chase or threat.

The results show that "chimpanzees calm distressed recipients of aggression by consoling them with a friendly gesture," Fraser said.

Consolation was most likely to occur between chimpanzees who already had valuable relationships, she added.

The research was supported by the Leakey Trust.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Rustie The Chimp Dies During Medical Exam

rustie the chimpThings are different at the chimpanzee exhibit at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Rustie, a 23-year-old chimp, died Thursday. She passed away after being anesthetized for a medical exam.

"Animal care staff had been monitoring Rustie closely for a few days because she seemed lethargic and was reluctant to eat. When her symptoms continued and she refused to take oral antibiotics, she was anesthetized for an exam," said Rebecca Gullott, the Maryland Zoo's Mammal Collection and Conservation Manager. "Shortly after she was anesthetized, Rustie stopped breathing and efforts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful."

Details regarding her illness are pending closer examination of necropsy samples by Johns Hopkins University pathologists.

"It is likely that an excess of abnormal tissue at the back of Rustie's throat, the cause of which is still being examined, obstructed her airway during anesthesia and was the immediate cause of death," said Dr. Ellen Bronson, senior veterinarian for the Maryland Zoo.

Rustie came to the zoo from Yerkes Primate Center in Atlanta, Ga., in 1995 as part of the first troop to move into the then-new Chimpanzee Forest.

She gave birth to the Zoo's first baby chimp, Raven, in 1995 and had a second, Rozi, in 2005. Rustie was a favorite chimp of many who worked with her over the years.

"Her playful nature and occasional stubborn streak made her one of the neatest animals I've had the privilege to work with," continued Gullott. "She will be fondly remembered by zoo staff, volunteers and guests."

The zoo now has a troop of 10 chimpanzees.

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Monkey Uses Garden Hose To Scale Moat, Makes Brief Escape

MacGyver's got nothing on this monkey.

A spider monkey new to the city's Washington Park Zoo used a garden hose to scale the walls of a moat and make a break for freedom.

Workers were cleaning the moat at the time Wednesday. Zoo Director Johnny Martinez says workers had figured the monkeys would remain inside their enclosure during the cleaning even though the moat was empty of water.

However, one monkey made it past the moat, grabbed the hose and jumped onto the roof of a water filtration plant.

The zoo staff recaptured the adventurous monkey at a nearby boat dealership, where they found it perched atop a white and blue speedboat.

Martinez says the freedom-seeking monkey is sociable and was not any danger to people.

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La Castellana Town Residents On Alert For 'Wild Monkey'

Police and residents of La Castellana town are on alert against a wild monkey locally known as 'amomongo' reportedly attacking residents and other animals since last week.

Inspector Teddy Velez, the town's police chief, said a lot of residents from Barangay Sag-ang have reported of being attacked by 'amomongo' since last Tuesday.

Salvador Aguilar, a resident, told police he was attacked by the wild monkey. He showed authorities the scratches on his face, back and hands. He said several of his neighbors also saw the monkey attacking domesticated animals.

Mayor Alberto Nicor said 'amomongo' is not a witch or 'aswang' but a wild animal. He theorized it is not remote for an 'amomongo' to live in Sag-ang, considering that the area is at the foot of Mt. Kanlaon.

He added the animal may have been suffering from hunger. "This is one possibility because there may be no food now in the mountain. Or it might be that 'amomongos' habitat has been disturbed by humans, thus, it runs wild."

Velez said he already alerted his policemen as well as the village watchmen and instructed them on what to do in case the animal appears again or attacks residents.

Nicor also alerted residents in nearby barangays even as he advised Sag-ang residents to be calm but to also be prepared with arrows or anything that could be used in fighting the 'amomongo'.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Orangutans Take A Ride In The Singapore Flyer

orangutans singapore flyer
Two orangutans from the Singapore Zoo had a free ride on the Singapore Flyer yesterday as part of a drive to raise awareness of the plight of these primates.

Chomel, the fifth granddaughter of former zoo icon Ah Meng which died in February, and Merlin, a four-year-old Bornean orangutan, took the first spin of the wheel yesterday.

Accompanied by their handlers, the two orangutans kept gazing out of the capsule at the sights of Singapore's Central Business District throughout the 30-minute tour.

Back on land, the animals were a hit with those who had come for a ride on the Flyer, many stopping to take photographs with them.

Both the Sumatran and Bornean orang utans live in rainforests and are threatened by habitat destruction, forest fires and poaching for the illegal pet trade.

It is estimated that there are 55,000 Bornean orangutans, and only 7,500 Sumatran orangutans, left in the wild. This makes the Sumatran species critically endangered.

To highlight the plight of orangutans, Singapore Flyer and the Singapore Zoo will hold wildlife conservation themed events for children every weekend from 2pm to 4pm from tomorrow to June 30.

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Keo The Chimp Nears Fifty Years Old, Back On Display At Lincoln Zoo

keo the chimpLike the great elder statesman that he is, one of the two oldest male zoo chimpanzees in North America spent time affably greeting old friends and other visitors during a rare public appearance Wednesday at Lincoln Park Zoo.

The chimp named Keo usually lives behind the scenes in a non-public area of the Regenstein Center for African Apes, ceding the spotlight to the zoo's second, younger chimp troop. But in honor of his 50th birthday June 26, the zoo this week put Keo back on public exhibit with the three females in his group.

On Wednesday, Keo quickly recognized two familiar visitors he last saw more than a year ago, when he was last on display. Rushing over to retired airline pilot Joe Schenke and his wife, Judi, he planted his lips on the window as if to offer a kiss.

"He just loves my wife," said Schenke, who said they sometimes visit the apes every day of the week. "He will sit with his back against the window and want you to scratch it from the other side of the glass. He'll even turn to look, like he's making sure you're moving your hand, even though he can't feel it."

Keo's life at Lincoln Park during the last 49 years has made the chimp a walking history of zoos and the way they've changed in mission and in attitude, said Steve Ross, the zoo's supervisor of behavioral and cognitive research.

Born in Africa, Keo was taken from the wild as a year-old infant to Lincoln Park. There, he was raised by humans. Today, importing wild chimps is illegal, and most chimps born in zoos are raised by other chimps.

Much of Keo's childhood was spent in the children's zoo, where he was called upon to wear a hat and preside over pretend tea parties, once a favorite for zoo publicity photos. In his old age, Keo was the first ape in Lincoln Park trained to use a touch-screen computer as a part of cognitive experiments Ross launched three years ago.

"He has gone from tea parties to touch-screen computers," Ross said. "In the 49 years he has been here, he has witnessed incredible changes in how zoos operate and care for their animals."

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Monkey Cells Used For Bird Flu Vaccine

A bird flu vaccine made from monkey cells instead of chicken eggs has been reported effective by corporate researchers.

The researchers, from drug company Baxter International, documented the use of monkey cells as a safe alternative for influenza vaccinations.

“Cell culture technology could represent the future of influenza vaccine production,” said virologist John Oxford of The Queen Mary School of Medicine in London.

Scientists had previously been using chicken eggs but they found it difficult to obtain the right type and observed that the virus, H5N1, kills chickens rapidly.

The trial, carried out on more than 250 people and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed the vaccine produced a strong immune response in people who received two doses.

Despite this, Hartmut Erlich, vice-president of global research and development for Baxter's BioScience, found adding an immune system booster called an adjuvant did not improve the vaccination, despite previously helping other bird flu vaccines.

The H5N1 avian flu virus has been responsible for killing 241 people in 15 countries, according to the World Health Organisation, and has become firmly entrenched among birds in much of Asia and parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Experts fear the constantly mutating virus could change into a form easily transmitted from person to person, perhaps sweeping the world and killing millions.

At least 16 companies are working on vaccines against H5N1.

It is unknown whether they will work against whatever strain might eventually cause a pandemic, but makers agree it is better to be prepared.

Cell-based vaccines would require less advance planning and could be made year-round, it was reported.

Baxter also has created a seasonal flu vaccine made in cells instead of eggs.

The vaccine, called Celvapan, is made in the Czech Republic.

Because it is not possible to test whether the vaccine actually prevents infection, the researchers measured antibodies in their volunteers in Austria and Singapore. They said it induced an immune response similar to the body's defence against a natural virus infection.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Cheeta The Chimp Applies For Star On Hollywood Walk Of Fame

cheeta the chimpThree stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame have gone to the dogs, so why can't Cheeta the chimp get some love? The animal actor, whose credits include the 1967 comedy "Dr. Doolittle" and the "Tarzan" movies, is trying for the seventh time to get a sidewalk star and become the first monkey to get the honor. His handlers have launched an online petition to get supporters to urge the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to give him a star in 2009.

Each June, the Walk of Fame Committee picks from hundreds of nominations a list of inductees for the next year.

Cheeta's "inclusion on the Hollywood Walk of Fame will not only give recognition to one of the international, animal megastars of all time, but focus attention on his fellow primates in the wilds of Africa who now face extinction," the petition reads.

The petition notes that Cheeta's canine colleagues Lassie, and 1920s stars Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart are immortalized on the boulevard, along with fictional animals Kermit the Frog, Godzilla and Donald Duck.

"He's up against really big celebrities," Ana Martinez-Holler, a spokeswoman for the Chamber of Commerce said.

This year, Cheeta will be considered along with some 200 entertainers. The chamber usually chooses about 24 a year.

Martinez-Holler said chamber members will announce their selections near the end of the month. She wouldn't speculate whether the seventh time will be a charm for Cheeta.

The 76-year-old chimp, who the Guinness World Records has called the oldest living, non-human primate, is retired and lives in Palm Springs. Cheeta also has a MySpace page, which lists painting "Ape-Stract Art" among his hobbies, and The Monkees his favorite band.

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Animals Can Comprehend And Use Symbols, Study Of Tufted Capuchins Suggests

symbols understoodFrom paintings and photographs to coins and credit cards, we are constantly surrounded by symbolic artefacts. The mental representation of symbols -- objects that arbitrarily represent other objects -- ultimately affords the development of language, and certainly played a decisive role in the evolution of our hominid ancestors. Can other animal species also comprehend and use symbols? Some evidence suggests that apes, our closest relatives, can indeed use symbols in various contexts. However, little is known about the symbolic competence of phylogenetically more distant species.

A new study presents evidence of symbolic reasoning in tufted capuchin monkeys, a South-American species that diverged from humans about 35 million years ago. In the experiment, five capuchins engaged in "economic choice" behavior. Each monkey chose between three different foods (conventionally referred to A, B and C), offered in variable amounts. Choices were made in two different contexts. In the "real" context, monkeys chose between the actual foods. In the "symbolic" context, monkeys chose between "tokens" (intrinsically valueless objects such as poker chips) that represented the actual foods. After choosing one of the two token options, monkeys could exchange their token with the corresponding food.

The researchers examined whether capuchins' preferences in both real and symbolic contexts satisfy transitivity -- a fundamental trait of rational decision-making, according to which if A is preferred to B, and B is preferred to C, then A must be preferred to C.

Capuchins' choices did satisfy transitivity, both in the real context and in the symbolic context. Capuchins systematically preferred item A to B, item B to C, and item A to C both with tokens and with the actual foods. Hence, their preferences were qualitatively similar in both contexts. Quantitatively, however, expressing choices in the symbolic context increased the value distance between the corresponding foods.

For example, when choosing between actual foods, capuchins were indifferent between one Cheerio and two pieces of parmesan cheese, indicating that the value of one Cheerio is equal to two times the value of one piece of parmesan cheese. When choosing between tokens that represented the same foods, the relative value increased -- for example, capuchins were indifferent between one Cheerio-token and four parmesan-tokens.

These results indicate that capuchin monkeys can indeed reason about symbols. However, as they do so, capuchins also experience the cognitive burden of symbolic representation, and in this respect they appear to behave similarly to young children. In sum, though capuchins may not achieve adult-human-like symbolic competence, this study demonstrates that animal species relatively distant from humans have undertaken the path of symbolic use and understanding.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Scientists Find Monkeys Fishing For Food

fishing monkeysLong-tailed macaque monkeys have a reputation for knowing how to find food - whether it be grabbing fruit from jungle trees or snatching a banana from a startled tourist.

Now, researchers say they have discovered groups of the silver-haired monkeys in Indonesia that fish.

Groups of long-tailed macaques were observed four times over the past eight years scooping up small fish with their hands and eating them along rivers in East Kalimantan and North Sumatra provinces, according to researchers from The Nature Conservancy and the Great Ape Trust.

The species had been known to eat fruit and forage for crabs and insects, but never before fish from rivers.

"It's exciting that after such a long time you see new behavior," said Erik Meijaard, one of the authors of a study on fishing macaques that appeared in last month's International Journal of Primatology. "It's an indication of how little we know about the species."

Meijaard, a senior science adviser at The Nature Conservancy, said it was unclear what prompted the long-tailed macaques to go fishing. But he said it showed a side of the monkeys that is well-known to researchers - an ability to adapt to the changing environment and shifting food sources.

"They are a survivor species, which has the knowledge to cope with difficult conditions," Meijaard said Tuesday. "This behavior potentially symbolizes that ecological flexibility."

The other authors of the paper, which describes the fishing as "rare and isolated" behavior, are The Nature Conservancy volunteers Anne-Marie E. Stewart, Chris H. Gordon and Philippa Schroor, and Serge Wich of the Great Ape Trust.

Some other primates have exhibited fishing behavior, Meijaard wrote, including Japanese macaques, chacma baboons, olive baboons, chimpanzees and orangutans.

Agustin Fuentes, a University of Notre Dame anthropology professor who studies long-tailed macaques, or macaca fascicularis, on the Indonesian island of Bali and in Singapore, said he was "heartened" to see the finding published because such details can offer insight into the "complexity of these animals."

"It was not surprising to me because they are very adaptive," he said. "If you provide them with an opportunity to get something tasty, they will do their best to get it."

Fuentes, who is not connected with the published study, said he has seen similar behavior in Bali, where he has observed long-tailed macaques in flooded paddy fields foraging for frogs and crabs. He said it affirms his belief that their ability to thrive in urban and rural environments from Indonesia to northern Thailand could offer lessons for endangered species.

"We look at so many primate species not doing well. But at the same time, these macaques are doing very well," he said. "We should learn what they do successfully in relation to other species."

Still, Fuentes and Meijaard said further research was needed to understand the full significance of the behavior. Among the lingering questions are what prompted the monkeys to go fishing and how common it is among the species.

Long-tailed macaques were twice observed catching fish by The Nature Conservancy researchers in 2007, and Wich spotted them doing it two times in 1998 while studying orangutans.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Wild Gibbon Seduces Captive Gibbon

hoolock gibbonA male hoolock gibbon wandered from the wild into a national park in Assam in search of a mate - and has now returned with her to his natural habitat.

The first recorded case of a wild gibbon falling in love with a captive mate at the Kaziranga reserve has delighted wildlife experts.

Conservationists bade farewell in late May to the lone female gibbon they hand-raised at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) next to the Panbari forest in Kaziranga.

Now Siloni, who is the first gibbon to be rehabilitated in India, has joined her partner in the wild to start a family.

Hoolock gibbons are the species of the ape family found in India and are critically endangered, with only an estimated 4,500-5,000 left in the forests of Assam where they live. Gibbons are protected by Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, the highest measure for protection of wildlife in the country.

"Siloni first met her partner, a good-looking male gibbon, after he sneaked into the centre to meet her," says wildlife veterinarian Anjan Talukdar, who had been her surrogate parent.

The romance started some four months ago.

"He had been visiting the centre almost daily and we didn't mind it. We knew this courtship (with the wild mate) would help some day when we finally release her," says Talukdar.

Gibbons are careful in choosing partners. They are monogamous. Experts say in some cases they stay single after the death of a partner.

A gibbon family usually consists of two adults and one or two infants and an average group has two such families.

"This was a special union since one of them was in captivity. Gibbons are very picky about their partner, even when they are in the wild," says Prabal Sarkar, a primatologist.

Siloni was less then a year old when she was rescued in February 2003 from Silonijan in Assam's Golaghat district. Since then, she had been at the centre, some 300 km from Guwahati.

Her new home is a project to help distressed animals of the region. It was initiated by the NGOs the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) in partnership with the state's forest department.

"That fellow (the male gibbon) must have been waiting for a female for a long time," says Jose Thanni of WTI.

"Their first touches through the mesh and meals together must have been a Tarzan-like experience for the male.

"But they are free at last," said Thanni.

Gibbons, one of the smaller apes, have many distinct characteristics, which separate them from other apes such as chimpanzees and orangutans. They lack ear lobes and are territorial. Also they do not build nests.

They attain maturity in 8 to 10 years. A pair produces an average of five to six offspring in their reproductive life of 10 to 20 years.

"They mostly call out their distinctive hoots in the mornings. It serves to mark their territories and attract mates too," said Sarkar. "They are arboreal and canopy dwellers and move mostly by brachiation (using their four long limbs almost equally), which is a special characteristic feature of hoolock gibbons."

Their diet consists mainly of fruit, leaves and insects. Gibbons play an important role in the ecosystem. They help in forest regeneration by dispersing seeds of fruit trees, alert other animals of predators, and drop fruit when moving from tree to tree, which become the food source for other animals.

Gibbons are forest dependent species; hence their presence is an indicator of the health of the forest. Habitat loss is a major threat to their survival.

Some tribes in the northeast hunt gibbons for food, medicine, ornamentation, skin and bone. They are also trapped to be kept as pets and for sports. All these activities have threatened their existence, says Sarkar.

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Monkey Nip Nearly Takes Off Tot's Finger

A pet monkey nearly bit off the finger of a Queens toddler, and its owner was arrested and the illegal pet will be killed, authorities said.

Twenty-two-month-old Kimberly Salinas was playing in her Hollis backyard Thursday when she stuck her tiny fingers through a fence into her neighbor's yard.

That's when Mimwon Khan's Capuchin monkey, Sampson, caged in a pen next to the fence, leaned over and bit Kimberly's left pinkie.

"Her finger was just hanging there," said Kimberly's mother Nubia Salinas, 23. She said her husband, Oscar, had left the child alone for a few seconds to get her a sippy cup.

"He heard her screaming and came out and saw the monkey attacking her...We just moved here. I don't like that monkey," Salinas said.

Doctors at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan spent 12 hours trying to reattach Kimberly's pinkie, but the blood was not circulating, the girl's mother said.

Khan, who owned the monkey for more than eight years, was charged with criminal nuisance and ownership of an illegal pet. The monkey will be put down so it can be tested for rabies, a Health Department spokesman said.

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