Thursday, July 31, 2008

Simian Foamy Virus Found In People Working Around Monkeys

simian foamy virusA research team led by University of Washington scientists has found that several people in South and Southeast Asian countries working and living around monkeys have been infected with simian foamy virus (SFV), a primate virus that, to date, has not been shown to cause human disease. The findings provide more evidence that Asia, where interaction between people and monkeys is common and widespread, could be an important setting for future primate-to-human viral transmission. The study appears in the August issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Disease.

Though SFV has not been found to cause any human disease, it is a slow-acting retrovirus, so it could take many years before scientists determine the effects of infection. SFV could also change at the genetic level, resulting in a new strain of the virus that would affect humans. Scientists believe that a similar process occurred with HIV, which probably originated as a virus in non-human primates in Africa before jumping the species barrier to human hosts.

In this study, researchers from the University of Washington visited several countries in Asia, interviewing and testing about 300 people who live or work closely with any one of several species of small-bodied monkeys called macaques. Eight of those participants tested positive for SFV.

The people who had contracted the virus came from a variety of places and contexts: one person lived in an urban area in Bangladesh that had a large monkey population, for instance, while two other people lived near a monkey temple in Thailand. Monkey temples are places of religious worship that have become refuges for populations of primates.

Though much of the research on viral transmission between humans and other primates has focused on Africa, UW researcher Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel has led multiple studies examining the issue in Asia. Some Asian countries are prime areas for viral transmission between monkeys and humans, she explained, because of the huge populations of both and the widespread interaction between the species. People are in close contact with monkeys in many settings in Asia: in cities, religious temples, open-air markets, street performances, nature preserves, hunting areas, zoos, and even homes, where monkeys are kept as pets.

"So much of the focus on this issue has been in Africa, but there, the interface between humans and other primates is decreasing," said Jones-Engel, a senior research scientist in the Division of International Programs at the UW's Washington National Primate Research Center. "The intensity of bush meat hunting and infectious diseases have taken a huge toll on primate populations there. Individuals in Africa who are interacting with other primates are often very isolated from other humans – they live in small, rural villages, which limits the potential spread of pathogens."

In Asia, however, monkeys are often respected or revered because of cultural and religious traditions. The rapid expansion of cities and the decline of wild habitats have driven many monkey populations into urban areas, Jones-Engel said, where they interact more closely with large, interconnected populations of people.

In one state in northern India, for example, researchers estimate that more than a quarter-million rhesus macaques, or about 86 percent of the wild population, live in urban areas because of habitat loss. Unlike the great apes, such as chimpanzees or gorillas, rhesus macaques and other species of monkeys are very adaptable to new habitats.

"Some macaque species thrive in human-altered environments, given the tolerance of the local people," said Dr. Gregory Engel, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at the UW and a co-author on this study.

The group's findings support the notion that viral transmission could occur in any one of many settings in Asia, from religious temples to urban areas, and that the issue could affect many different people, from temple workers to pet owners. One of the people infected was a farmer in Thailand who had trained monkeys to help him harvest coconuts.

"This is a heterogeneous sample – subjects reported contact with primates in a variety of contexts," explained Gregory Engel, who is also a physician at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. "It seems that some of these contexts are going to be very important, but they haven't been studied much. Zoo workers and bush meat hunters have been typically considered at the highest risk for viral transmission, but none of the zoo workers or hunters in our sample tested positive for SFV."

The researchers suggest that better disease monitoring and further study of monkey-human interaction could help cut down on the risks associated with viral transmission. People living, working, or visiting areas of Asia with monkey populations can also reduce their risk by limiting their close contact with the animals. Tourists can reduce their risk by wearing long pants around monkeys, and by not trying to feed, pet, or hold the animals.

Story here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Martian Monkey On Display In Georgia Crime Museum

mars monkeyOther museums might have more or flashier items to display. But only the mini-museum of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation can boast of possessing such an other-world oddity as the monkey from Mars.

The bureau's state crime lab lobby has its requisite displays on forensic science, including an illegal moonshine still and the microscopic fibers that solved the 1981-82 Atlanta child murders. But tucked away in a glass cylinder are the preserved remains of a monkey that three pranksters passed off as an alien 55 years ago in a UFO hoax that drew headlines worldwide.

At the height of UFO hysteria then sweeping the nation, two young barbers and a butcher took a dead monkey in 1953, lopped off its tail and applied a liberal dose of hair remover and some green coloring to the carcass.

Then they left the primate on an isolated road north of Atlanta in the pre-dawn hours of July 8, 1953, burning a circle into the pavement with a blowtorch before a police officer came around the curve in his patrol car.

"If we had been five minutes earlier, we would have caught 'em in the act," said Sherley Brown, the officer who happened on the scene.

The barbers, Edward Watters and Tom Wilson, and the butcher, Arnold "Buddy" Payne, told the policeman they came upon a red, saucer-shaped object in the road that night. They said several 2-foot-tall creatures were scurrying about and the trio hit one with their pickup before the other creatures jumped back in the saucer and blasted skyward — leaving the highway scorched.

Brown took down the strange account and filed a report at police headquarters before going home.

Soon after his shift ended, he said, "the phone started ringing off the hook."

"They had the Air Force and everybody else trying to find out about it," said Brown, since retired in 1985.

Word of the discovery spread like wildfire.

Just the night before, some Atlanta area residents had reported seeing a large, multicolored object flying in the sky. A veterinarian who examined the corpse said it looked "like something out of this world." A newspaper put out an artist's drawing of the saucer that the men described.

But within hours the monkey business unraveled.

Dr. Herman D. Jones, the founder and director of the GBI lab, and Dr. Marion Hines, an anatomy professor at Emory University, examined the creature that evening and proclaimed it to be a hoax.

"If it came from Mars, they have monkeys on Mars," Hines was quoted as saying in an article at the time by The Associated Press that is set beside the monkey in the appointment-only museum.

Where the men got the monkey is not clear. Watters, Wilson and Payne eventually admitted to the hoax and Watters paid a $40 fine for obstructing a highway.

As for Jones, his name is now on the GBI crime lab as the man who introduced modern forensic science to the state.

Story here.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Moment Of Baby Black Howler Monkey Zen...

baby howler monkey
black howler monkey

baby black howler monkey
Diego, a three-month-old baby black howler monkey is fed by bottle during a photocall at Edinburgh Zoo in Edinburgh, Scotland July 29, 2008. The monkey, born on April 26, was named 'Diego' to reflect the origin of black howler monkeys which are native to South America. Diego has to be fed seven times a day by keepers at the zoo after his mother Molly died.

Story here.

Primate Study Shows Vaginal Gels of Future May Protect Against HIV

vaginal gel primate studyA team from Tulane National Primate Research Center conducted a study that gives support for the use of vaginal microbicide gels in protecting women against the sexual transmission of HIV type 1. The study, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health and Bristol-Meyers Squibb, used vaginal microbicide gels to protect rhesus macaque monkeys against vaginal transmission of multiple strains of simian/human HIV.

The gels were successful in protecting the monkeys from infection from three different strains of simian/human HIV viruses. "The protection we observed was dose-dependent, and at the higher concentration, robust, in that all the test animals resisted infection," said the researchers.

The microbicide gels targeted one of the main cellular receptors that HIV uses to infect cells. The advantage of the microbicide gels used, called T-1249, over other compounds was that these gels targeted a receptor that is common to most strains of HIV. An ever-increasing number of different HIV strains make protection against the disease very challenging. Whether T-1249 can be developed as a practical microbicide will depend on if it can be successfully formulated at a reasonable cost.

Research on vaginal microbicides has also been conducted at UCLA and the results of that research appeared in the National Academy of Sciences online July 7th issue. UCLA researchers concluded that the vaginal microbicides currently in clinical trials may be the only direct way that women can protect themselves against infection from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

"The antiretroviral drugs within these microbicides are the same as those used to treat people who are infected with HIV, so there is a great expectation that these microbicides will be very effective, but the concern is that these microbicides are going to lead to drug resistance," said Dr. David Wilson, of Australia's University of New South Wales.

If the microbicides are used by HIV-positive women they could lead to drug resistance. In these cases men would likely benefit more than women from their use, because the HIV infection would be less likely to be transmitted from the woman to man.

Story here.

Skull of Large Extinct Primate Reconstructed

lemur skullAn extinct giant lemur has just gotten a high-tech makeover.

Researchers have virtually glued together newly discovered skull fragments from a species of the rare primate into a nearly complete computer rendering of the skull.

And a new study of this virtual reconstruction of Hadropithecus stenognathus suggests the animal boasted a body size rivaling a large male baboon. A red-ruffed lemur living in Madagascar today weighs about 9 pounds (4 kg). The extinct lemur would have tipped the scales at about 65 pounds (29 kg).

The nearly complete virtual skull, described this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of only two known skulls of the species.

"This was an extremely rare lemur," said Ian Tattersall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who wrote a commentary on the study in the same issue of PNAS. "It was only known from one adult cranium, apart from the one that's been reconstructed now."

The new research builds on skull fragments from H. stenognathus discovered in 1899 by a professional fossil collector, Franz Sikora, in the Andrahomana Cave in Madagascar. In 2003, anthropologist Natalie Vasey, now at Portland State University, led a team that returned to the cave, where they excavated new cranial fragments and limb bones of the elusive creature.

Back at their home institution of Penn State, Vasey's colleagues Timothy Ryan and Alan Walker imaged the new fossils using computed tomography scanning. Along with CT scans from the past specimens, the team developed a 3-D picture of the lemur's skull. The images showed H. stenognathus sported one of the largest brains relative to body size of any known prosimian (a primitive primate group comprising lorises, lemurs and bushbabies, all of whom have wet, sensitive noses).

Its skull had a large, bony crest similar to that seen in gorillas, where powerful chewing muscles attached. The evidence, the researchers say, suggests this lemur ate hard foods, such as seeds and nuts.

The research sheds light not only on a rare lemur, but also on a batch of lemur species on Madagascar.

"It's important to understanding the full spectrum of diversity among the lemurs," Tattersall told LiveScience. "When you go to Madagascar today you only see the tip of the iceberg, as it were, of the entire fauna as it would've been before humans got to Madagascar."

Some 160 million years ago, Madagascar began to split off from the supercontinent known as Gondwanaland. By about 124 million years ago, the island took up its current spot on the globe. Secluded geographically from other lands, Madagascar developed its own unique flora and fauna.

The lemurs' original ancestor popped up on Madagascar and diversified ultimately into eight families, of which three are now extinct. When humans reached Madagascar some 2,300 years ago, several lemur species got wiped out.

The big ones went first.

"There was a huge range in size of lemurs and all the big ones were driven to extinction by human beings," Tattersall said. "They were easier to hunt, I think. They were slower moving; they were easier to find; they were more desirable to hunt; they had lower reproductive turnovers, more vulnerable."

Several lemur species are still endangered today, mostly due to deforestation, but also because of hunting and trapping, according to the National Museum of Natural History.

Story here.

Newly Discovered Monkey Is Threatened With Extinction

monkeyJust three years after it was discovered, a new species of monkey is threatened with extinction according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, which recently published the first-ever census of the endangered primate. Known as the "kipunji," the large, forest-dwelling primate hovers at 1,117 individuals, according to a study released in the July issue of the journal Oryx.

The population estimate was the result of more than 2,800 hours of field work by WCS scientists in the Southern Highlands and Udzungwa Mountains in Tanzania where the kipunji was discovered. The team found that the monkey's range is restricted to just 6.82 square miles (17.69 square kilometers) of forest in two isolated regions.

The authors also discovered that much of the monkey's remaining habitat is severely degraded by illegal logging and land conversion. In addition, the monkey itself is the target of poachers. Because of these combined threats, WCS proposes that the kipunji should be classified by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as "critically endangered" – which means it is threatened with extinction in the wild if immediate conservation action is not taken.

"The kipunji is hanging on by the thinnest of threads," said Dr. Tim Davenport, Tanzania Country Director for the Wildlife Conservation Society. "We must do all we can to safeguard this extremely rare and little understood species while there is still time."

Along with the IUCN designation, WCS is investing in the protection and restoration of the kipunji's remaining habitat and local conservation education of local people to help safeguard remaining populations.

The kipunji first made headlines in 2005 when a team of scientists led by WCS announced its discovery. Then in 2006, the monkey made news again when DNA analysis revealed that the species represented an entire new genus of primate—the first since 1923.

Story here.

Monday, July 28, 2008

'Monkey Island' Found Off South Carolina's Coast

monkey islandAn island in South Carolina is home to thousands of monkeys.

The exact location cannot be disclosed because the animals on the island are federally protected. It took years to find the place called Monkey Island.

Finding an island that few people believe exists is nearly impossible.

Vince Loper thought it was an urban legend, and his family has owned a home directly across from Monkey Island for decades.

"Like you said, a lot of people don't believe it," he said.

Vince and his son, Devin, helped a North Carolina television news crew from WCNC find what so many say is a myth.

After several hours of snaking through South Carolina estuaries, the years-long search paid off.

Slowly, one at a time, they came towards the boat.

They're called Rhesus monkeys and they're native to India, but 3,500 of them live in the wild in South Carolina.

Rhesus monkeys were first brought there in 1979 and they were left on the island to live and breed almost 750 newborns a year.

Every monkey is tagged or tattooed, and each year 500 monkeys are taken to labs.

Over the decades, they've been used to test vaccines for everything from AIDS to bio-terrorism agents.

Few people, even those who live there, have ever seen them.

"Just in amazement that there's monkeys running around on that island right there," said Lopez. "Ha ha ha."

Seeing them first hand in the Carolinas is a bit mind boggling.

Story here.

Gorillas Hand-Reared In Kent Returned To Wild In Africa

gorillasWestern lowland gorillas Kouki and Oudiki, both almost two years old, and five-month-old Tiya were bred in captivity at Howletts and Port Lympne wild animal parks in Kent.

While under the care of the keepers, the apes have thrived and have now become graduates of the Aspinall Foundation, set up by the late conservationist John Aspinall to protect rare species.

Accompanied by Mr Aspinall's son Damian Aspinall, the gorillas jetted out to the Gabon on a nine-hour flight from Farnborough Airport laid on by Virgin businessman Sir Richard Branson.

The group transferred to a helicopter and headed to a protected reserve before being introduced to the forest. Mr Aspinall said it was an easy transition and the apes will be ready for life in the jungle in a few years.

Mr Aspinall said: "They will be taken for walks every day in the forest and in a few years they will be ready for life in the jungle.

"We couldn't have hoped for an easier journey to the Gabon and to watch them adjust so quickly to their new environment.

"My father would have been overjoyed to know that we are able to continue his work in conservation, breeding and the reintroduction of endangered species as the western lowland gorilla."

The Aspinall Foundation manages and supports a number of conservation projects worldwide to help preserve and restore wild animal populations.

It is feared that the western lowland gorilla will be extinct by 2020 if their numbers continue to decline at the current rate, mainly due to deforestation, the ebola virus and the bushmeat trade.

The two wild animal parks in Kent house 74 western lowland gorillas, said to be the largest collection in human care, to help halt the extinction of the endangered species.

Story here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chimp Escape Caught On Tape

A chimp at a zoo in Western Japan was so desperate to get out of pen and into the shade that he escaped.

For about two and a half hours Tuesday the chimp named "Ichiro" just stayed in the shade on the roof top of a building.

He was trying to get a little relief from the 92 degree heat.

Workers tried everything to subdue him from a tranquilizer gun to a blow gun to spraying water.

At one point the chimp even took the zoo worker's gun which fortunately fell to the ground out of the animal's reach.

Finally, Ichiro was subdued by a banana.

Story here.

Highland Wildlife Park Not Being Prosecuted For Monkey Deaths

Zoo bosses will not face prosecution after three snow monkeys were killed during in-fighting by rival troupes at the Highland Wildlife Park.

An animal welfare group had asked Northern Constabulary and Highland Council to investigate the deaths of the Japanese Macaques which occurred at the attraction owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) in Feburary, earlier this year.

A dozen snow monkeys arrived at the park near Kincraig just over a year ago as part of plans by the RZSS to bring more exotic creatures to the park and increase visitor numbers.

The arrival of a second troupe in the purpose-built enclosure is being blamed for the deaths which animal welfare groups had claimed were avoidable.

Advocates for Animals said that an alpha male from one group had been killed, they claim another monkey drowned in a lake in their enclosure and a third had to be euthanased by vets after being badly injured.

Animal Concern Advice Line (ACAL) had made an official complaint to Aviemore police station and to the council over the incident.

They have now been informed that Scottish Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) who had been called in by police to investigate following their complaint, will not be taking the matter any further.

John Robins of ACAL said: "I was amazed to learn that the Scottish SPCA had decided against reporting such serious incidents to the procurator fiscal.

"This is one of the worst cases of avoidable suffering caused to zoo animals that I have seen in 28 years in this job.

"Zoo staff knowingly and quite deliberately put these monkeys into a life or death situation fully aware that the animals were fenced in and could not escape."

Mr Robins also said that he was greatly concerned that the SSPCA appeared to have been left to conduct the investigation on their own.

He added: "The SSPCA may feel it important to maintain a good working relationship with the Highland Wildlife Park in order to facilitate future inspections and visits to the facility and they could be satisfied by assurances that such incidents will not recur.

"If that is the case it quite frankly is not good enough."

He said that the owners of Highland Wildlife Park had also recently placed advertising in SSPCA publications also raising an element of doubt as to the impartiality of this investigation.

"I find it disturbing that charitable money donated by the public is being used to conduct investigations into allegations of criminal offences when such investigations are the responsibility of the police," said Mr Robins.

A Northern Constabulary spokesman said: "Our investigation concluded that all matters raised in the complaint were animal welfare issues, which were the remit of the SSPCA.

"Chief Superintendant Mike Flynn from the SSPCA attended at the Highland Wildlife Park on July 10 to carry out his investigation, accompanied by a Highland Council animal health officer and a vet.

"Our enquiries concluded that there was no crime committed and our involvement ceased."

The RZSS declined to comment to the "Strathy" following the announcement. They previously confirmed the deaths of the three monkeys earlier this month when the complaint was made to police.

A RZSS spokesman said at the time: "Primates are extremely unpredictable and conflict can happen at any time, whether it is within their existing group or when they are introduced to another group.

"This behaviour happens regularly in the wild and intervening would have resulted in serious repercussions for the social structure and long-term future of the group.

"A third group has also been recently introduced and the group, as a whole, has settled down. Bearing in mind the complexities involved with introducing groups of primates from different zoo collections, we are satisfied with the outcome. We will continue to monitor the group and their long-term welfare remains our priority."

Story here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

New Population Of Highly Threatened Greater Bamboo Lemur Found In Madagascar

lemursResearchers in Madagascar have confirmed the existence of a population of greater bamboo lemurs more than 400 kilometers (240 miles) from the only other place where the Critically Endangered species is known to live, raising hopes for its survival.

The discovery of the distinctive lemurs with jaws powerful enough to crack giant bamboo, their favorite food, occurred in 2007 in the Torotorofotsy wetlands of east central Madagascar, which is designated a Ramsar site of international importance under the 1971 Convention on Wetlands.

Updated information on the species will be presented at the upcoming International Primatological Society 2008 Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Aug. 3-8, as part of a new assessment of the world's primates that shows the state of mankind's closest living relatives.

For years, scientists believed but were unable to prove that greater bamboo lemurs (Prolemur simus) lived in the Torotorofotsy area. A collaborative effort between the Malagasy non-government organization MITSINJO and the Henry Doorly Zoo in the United States supported by the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation and Conservation International (CI) resulted in researchers finding and immobilizing several to attach radio collars for further monitoring.

The researchers believe there are 30-40 greater bamboo lemurs in the Torotorofotsy wetland, which is far to the north of the isolated pockets of bamboo forest where the rest of the known populations of the species live. Habitat destruction from slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging threatens the previously known populations that total about 100 individuals, making the existence of the newly found lemurs in a distinct region especially valuable.

"This finding confirmed what we knew before but couldn't prove," said Rainer Dolch of MITSINJO, which manages the Torotorofotsy site. "Our hope is that the presence of these critically threatened creatures will increase efforts to protect their habitat and keep them alive."

"Finding the extremely rare Prolemur simus in a place where nobody expected it was probably more exciting than discovering a new lemur species," said conservation geneticist Edward Louis of Henry Doorly Zoo, who coordinated the joint research mission that found the new population.

The scientists will publish their discovery in Lemur News, the newsletter of the Primate Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

"The greater bamboo lemur is a unique species and the only member of an entire primate genus, making it probably the most endangered primate genus in the world, so this discovery is a real blessing for our efforts to save it from extinction," said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier, the long-time chairman of the Primate Specialist Group. "It also shows the importance for conservation of collaboration between local villagers, local organizations such as MITSINJO and international groups like the Henry Doorly Zoo."

Story here.

Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo Euthanizes 14-Year-Old Patas Monkey

patas monkeyA 14-year-old male patas monkey at Woodland Park Zoo was euthanized after a sudden decline in health due to congestive heart failure.

The monkey, named T.C., came to the zoo's award-winning African Savanna exhibit in 2001 from Honolulu Zoo. Two female patas monkeys, Alexa and Fiona, remain in the African Savanna exhibit.

Meanwhile, Fiona, who received high-tech treatment earlier in July to relieve pain caused by kidney stones, continues to recover well from the procedure. The kidney stones were blasted to small pieces using sound waves, and were easily passed through her urinary tract.

Patas monkeys can live 15 to 20 years in the wild. In zoos, however, patas monkeys can live more than 20 years.

"The degree of heart failure was severe and the quality of this monkey's life was compromised, so we made the humane decision to euthanize him," explained zoo Interim Director of Animal Health Dr. Kelly Helmick.

The initial postmortem exam findings support severe congestive heart failure but final histology findings are pending.

Patas monkeys, native to Africa, are primarily ground-dwelling primates and are often found in open bush and grass savanna regions. Their long, slender arms and legs enable them to run up to 35 miles per hour. When required, a patas can go from 0 to 33 miles per hour in 3 seconds.

Patas monkeys are frequently hunted for meat and are sometimes considered pests because they raid crops. Heavy cattle grazing and the conversion of savanna areas into farmland have reduced available habitat. In some instances, deforestation has converted once humid areas into drier savanna zones, which actually increases suitable habitat for patas monkeys.

Story here.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Good Home Wanted For Pickled Monkey

pedro the pickled monkeyA pickled pet monkey found in the Northampton home of an eccentric Indiana Jones-style explorer is in need of a new home.

George Twiselton of Knightscliff Way, Duston, inherited Pedro the monkey five years ago from a fellow animal lover who lived abroad most of his life, collecting and studying wildlife.

Mr Twiselton said: "The monkey was the thing I kept, partly for sentimental reasons and partly because I didn't know what else to do with it.

"But if anyone would like a pickled monkey, they can certainly have it."

Mr Twiselton inherited the dead monkey from his friend, an old explorer who lived in Charnwood Avenue, Weston Favell. Before the animal died, he had treated it like a member of his family and used to read him bed-time stories.

But when Pedro died, his owner couldn't bare to be without his friend, so he had him preserved, pickled and placed in a bell jar on his dining room table.

After his death, such was the volume of clutter in his house, Angela Twiselton, Mr Twiselton's daughter, who is a trained "clutter consultant", was called in to clear the house.

She said: "The man was dead so he wasn't able to see my reaction when I saw the monkey, which was to run away screaming.

"It was the most unusual thing I've ever found. I was walking round each room wondering what I was going to find next"

After keeping the monkey in his loft for a number of years, Mr Twiselton has now passed it onto his daughter in the hope she can find a new owner for it.

The animal is so well preserved Mr Twiselton says it can't be buried for fear that someone may, one day dig it up and mistake it for a newborn baby. They also can't burn the monkey due to the amount of preservatives in his body.

If anyone knows of a good home for Pedro, they can call the Clutter Clearing Consultancy on 0870 429 9594 or email

Story here.

Chimp Born At Knoxville Zoo

george chimp babyKnoxville Zoo chimpanzee Daisy has given birth to a boy, the first chimp born at the park in two decades.

The baby was born Friday night indoors at the apes' Chimp Ridge habitat. He has been named George.

Both mother and baby are doing well, Knoxville Zoo Executive Director Jim Vlna said this morning.

Daisy has been very protective of her newborn, so much so that Vlna said zookeepers haven't yet gotten very close to the baby.

The zoo female chimpanzees Debbie and Julie are in the same indoor area as Daisy and her son and "are kind of protecting mom and baby - and protecting them from the keepers as well," Vlna said.

Although it's uncertain exactly when Daisy became pregnant the chimp's birth was a few weeks earlier than was expected, Vlna said.

There's no timeline for when zoo visitors will be able to see young George. That will all depend on his mother and her comfort level, Vlna said. Baby chimps are nursed and cared for by their mothers and can remain with them for several years.

Daisy, 32 came to the zoo in 2006 from the Little Rock (Ark.) Zoo; the baby's father, Jimbo, arrived that year from the Cleveland, Ohio, Zoo.

Both Daisy and Jimbo came to Knoxville as part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums' Species Survival Plan. That plan determines where zoo chimps live and which ones reproduce; it recommended that Daisy and Jimbo become parents.

Daisy is an experienced, if sometimes awkward mother. This was her third pregnancy; her other children were born at other zoos.

The baby's birth brings the total of chimpanzees at the zoo to nine.

Story here.

Onion Washing Is Therapeutic For Monkeys

onion monkey washingIf you wash yourself with raw onion, you might expect some aggression from your friends. Now it seems the same holds true of some primates – but for rather different reasons.

For capuchin monkeys, rubbing themselves with pungent-smelling plants is normally a communal and perhaps even a therapeutic activity.

Wild capuchins are known to get together and rub their fur with plants like citrus and peppers that have antifungal or antiseptic properties.

Some biologists think that the behaviour is medicinal, and that the monkeys are ridding themselves of parasites with their plant rubs. But until now no-one had looked to see what happens after the communal rubs.

Annika Paukner and Stephen Suomi at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Poolesville, Maryland, observed 15 captive capuchins who liked to rub themselves with yellow onions – which also contain high levels of antifungal or antiseptic compounds.

They watched what happened after giving the monkeys either onion or apple as a control, five times a week for five months.

The researchers found that while the capuchins were very social with one another during the onion washing, this polite behavior vanished afterwards, and levels of aggression increased.

Capuchins are thought to signal their relative ranking in the colony by urinating on their hands and feet, so the smell of the onion might be overpowering that signal, says Paukner.

"We think the scent of onions may make detecting the scent of urine difficult or even impossible, which may cross wires in the capuchin social circles and explain the increased aggression," she says.

Story here.

Great Ape Trust To Provide Home For Entertainment Orangutans

katy apeA group of orangutans who appeared in Hollywood films, television commercials and magazine advertisements is being relocated to Great Ape Trust of Iowa – a significant move that begins to close the curtain in the United States on the decades-long use of orangutans in the entertainment industry. Great Ape Trust, a scientific research facility in Des Moines, Iowa dedicated to the study of primate intelligence and behavior, will triple its orangutan population from three to nine.

The first of the new residents, 3-year-old Rocky and his 19-year-old mother Katy, arrived safely at Great Ape Trust on Saturday, July 12, from the Los Angeles area, where they had been privately owned by Steve Martin’s Working Wildlife, co-owned by Steve and Donna Martin. Their company specializes in providing trained animals for entertainment and advertising.

In discussions with Dr. Robert Shumaker, director of the orangutan research program at Great Ape Trust, the Martins decided to donate these orangutans to The Trust and discontinue their use of orangutans in entertainment.

“The owners are the sole supplier of entertainment orangutans on the West Coast and they are ending this practice,” said Dr. Shumaker. “I’m extremely gratified the Martins and Great Ape Trust are in such strong agreement about the future of these orangutans, and we look forward to working with them throughout this transition period.”

Steve Martin said he believes the orangutans will have a good quality of life at Great Ape Trust. “You can tell they are going to have a wonderful home here,” he said. “We are extremely happy to see the facility and the upgrade in their socialization opportunities.”

Lori Perkins, chair of the Orangutan Species Survival Plan and director of animal programs at Zoo Atlanta, calls the agreement a significant event with wide-ranging implications.

“I’m thrilled for orangutans and by what Dr. Shumaker and Great Ape Trust have been able to accomplish. This can only happen when you forge relationships,” said Perkins. “One of Rob’s real strengths is being able to build bridges with different animal communities, where everyone has a different perspective, by looking at issues passionately and finding common bonds. The species wins and these orangutans win. You can’t beat that – it’s a home run.”

Rocky comes to Great Ape Trust as the most visible orangutan in the entertainment industry in the United States today, having appeared in numerous television commercials and magazine layouts. The agreement to transfer Rocky and the other entertainment orangutans to Great Ape Trust has drawn praise from ape experts and animal welfare groups across the country that have been battling the issue for decades.

“This industry is a relic from a bygone era of entertainment, and it sends a signal to filmmakers loud and clear: Our world is intelligent enough and compassionate enough to know that you don’t have to use these animals,” said Doug Cress, vice president of development for the Orangutan Conservancy in Portland, Ore.

In addition to scientific research, Great Ape Trust’s mission focuses on the well-being of captive apes, the conservation of wild apes and to providing unique educational experiences about apes. A survey conducted of visitors to Great Ape Trust and cited in Science magazine (March 14, 2008) showed that the appearance of apes in advertising and entertainment negatively influenced the general public’s perception of the conservation status of apes in the wild.

“Using nonhuman primates in entertainment venues like films, television and advertisements certainly doesn’t enhance public attitudes toward their conservation, and doesn’t get across the message about their precarious situation in the wild,” Perkins said. “This is a very serious situation involving a species on the brink of extinction. Weigh that against the idea of having these magnificent creatures performing for our amusement, and it’s a pretty sharp contrast between entertainment and what’s happening to their counterparts in the wild.”

Rocky and Katy will join Azy, a 30-year-old male, Knobi, a 28-year-old female and Allie, a 13-year-old female – the current participants in the orangutan research program at Great Ape Trust. The two new residents will undergo a 30-day acclimation period that will be followed by introduction to the other orangutans.

“One of the most challenging aspects of behavioral and cognitive research with captive apes is small sample size – larger numbers of apes is always beneficial,” Shumaker said. “This diverse group of orangutans will dramatically increase the potential of our scientific research, specifically helping us to better understand individual variation and styles of learning. Given that all of our research is voluntary on the part of the apes, my colleagues and I look forward to designing studies that are interesting and intriguing for these important individuals. We expect significant new insights by collaborating with these orangutans.”

Four of the remaining orangutans will be transferred from California in the coming months and subsequent moves will be timed carefully. “We think doing this gradually is in the best interest of all the orangutans, including our current residents Azy, Knobi and Allie,” Shumaker added.

Great Ape Trust facilities include the three-story orangutan home and a spacious outdoor enclosure where the orangutans have 24-hour access throughout spring, summer and fall. In addition, a 3-acre wooded yard – the largest in North America – will be available to them.

“While we have the space to comfortably accommodate the orangutans for the next year, we are moving forward with a fundraising campaign to construct additional orangutan facilities on our 230-acre campus,” Shumaker said.

Story here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Female Monkeys More Dominant In Groups With Relatively More Males

dominant female lemursFemale monkeys are more dominant when they live in groups with a higher percentage of males. This is caused by self-organisation. This surprising discovery was made by researchers at the University of Groningen. What makes the study particularly interesting is that the researchers used a computer model which can simulate interaction between monkeys.

Many animals living in groups have a social hierarchy, a so-called 'pecking order'. Monkeys, too, have a social hierarchy. Highest in the pecking order is the most dominant monkey, who consistently wins aggressive interactions (such as biting) with other group members. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the lowest-ranking monkey, who consistently loses interactions with other members of the group. Monkeys have to fight for their place in this hierarchy every day.

The position of females in the hierarchy varies among different monkey species. In most species females are ranking below the males. This is no wonder, because they are usually much smaller than males. However, in the case of the Lemur species of Madagascar the females are dominant, in bonobos, males and females roughly equal each other in dominance, and among a lot of other species (macaques and the grivet, for instance) females are weakly dominant.

"This means that the most dominant females rank above approximately a third of the males," says Charlotte Hemelrijk, theoretical biologist at the University of Groningen and the first author of the article (which she wrote together with her former PhD student, Dr. Jan Wantia and a Swiss anthropologist, Dr. Karin Isler).

Until now, it was unknown how this female dominance develops. Researchers in Groningen therefore created a virtual world, Domworld, with which they could simulate the interactions between monkeys.

Surprisingly, the computer model predicted females to be more dominant in a group with a relatively large number of males. To verify this prediction, the researchers analyzed data of aggression of a large amount of literature in which primate behaviour is described in order to calculate for the first timefemale-dominance among many different groups and monkey species. Their analysis showed the predictions of the computer model to be accurate. "This is an interesting way of conducting research," says Hemelrijk. "You discover something unexpected in the virtual world and then you test your findings in the real world."

So why are females more dominant in groups with a higher percentage of males? Two competing theories about the development of dominance exist, explains Hemelrijk. "According to the first theory, dominance is inborn. A monkey with good genes is bigger and will therefore win aggressive interactions more easily. The second theory states that dominance develops through self-organisation. An individual monkey wins an aggressive interaction by chance. As a consequence, the monkey's self-confidence grows and it also wins other aggressive interactions. It's a self-reinforcing effect," says Hemelrijk.

If the first theory were correct, one would expect dominant females to be relatively bigger in size compared to male members of their species than less dominant females of other species. The researchers found this not to be the case. Instead, the second theory turns out to perfectly explain female dominance, as the relation between female dominance and the percentage of males can only be found among monkey species living in groups with aggressive behaviour that is sufficiently intense and frequent.

"Male aggression is more intense than that of females. In groups with more males, males are more often defeated by other males. Consequently, high-ranking females may be victorious over these losers. Furthermore, the presence of more males in the group leads to more interactions between males and females, causing more chance winnings by females. Through a self-reinforcing effect, these females will go on to win more frequently in later interactions and grow more dominant," says Hemelrijk.

According to the researcher, the study casts new light on monkeys. "The assumption was always that the degree of female dominance over males -or male dominance over females- was static, but it turns out to be much more dynamic and complex than expected." Dominance also plays a factor of importance in human interaction, says Hemelrijk. "It would not surprise me if self-organisation would prove to play a role in the development of dominance between the sexes among human beings too."

Story here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Woman Bitten By Monkey In Columbia

City officials are trying to identify the owner of a monkey that bit a local woman over the weekend in the second monkey attack in Columbia in less than a year. City health officials said they are confident the pet in the July 4 attack is being tested for diseases in St. Louis.

The weekend attack happened in a local residence when a young woman was bitten on the hand between the thumb and the index finger by a pet snow monkey, also known as a Japanese macaque, owned by an acquaintance, Columbia Environmental Health Manager Gerry Worley said.

The victim was holding the leash when the monkey bit her and then jumped up into her lap, a "typical type of spastic reaction of a monkey," Worley said. The victim went to a local hospital for treatment, and a hospital employee called the Columbia/Boone County Health Department to report the animal bite as required by law.

When animal control officers arrived at the hospital, however, the people present refused to reveal the name of the monkey’s owner. Worley said he has since been able to confirm that the monkey is now under the care of a St. Louis veterinarian who is testing it for diseases, including the rare but deadly Simian B virus, known to be carried by the macaque species.

"I think we are making some progress, and we feel confident that it’s being tested the way we want it to be tested," Worley said.

The veterinarian is invoking the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, to protect the identity of the monkey’s owner. Worley said the city attorney is looking into the legality of this and also plans to contact State Public Health Veterinarian Howard Pue for legal clarification.

The incident is eerily familiar to one that occurred Sept. 22 when a woman, Libby Brozovich, brought a pet rhesus macaque monkey to Stephens Lake Park. The monkey bit two children, and Brozovich disappeared from the park before authorities could interview her.

For several months, Brozovich’s identity was unknown. One of the victims that day, 7-year-old Liam Ritten, had to endure two rounds of blood testing, a viral medication and an antibiotic because the monkey could not be tested and ruled healthy.

Contacted by phone today, Liam’s mother, Kim Ritten, said her son has tested negative for disease, adding that it is time Columbia stepped up and forced owners of exotic pets to register with the city so that they can be quickly identified after a bite.

"Something needs to change with the law. I mean, you have to register a dog," she said, referring to a mandatory city license for a dog or cat older than 3 months. "There has to be some stricter penalties if you do have an animal like a monkey and it’s not registered because they’re not pets really."

Ritten said her son was traumatized by the bite and endured teasing at school. She said he has been subpoenaed to testify Tuesday in court against Brozovich on two counts of keeping a dangerous or aggressive animal.

Worley said he would favor stricter regulations, but that decision lies with Columbia City Council.

"We have the animal control people really trying to do their jobs, but sometimes the tools they have to use are less than perfect," he said.

Story here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Virginia Girl Recovering After 4th Of July Monkey Bite

The Richmond Public Health Department seeks information to help determine treatment for person bitten by monkey.

The Richmond City Health District needs information about a pet monkey that bit a teenage girl at Dogwood Dell in Byrd Park on July 4th.

The Health Department wants to identify the species and gather information about the monkey's general health history in order to assess what treatment may be needed for the teen and give the best recommendation to the patient's healthcare provider.

The owner or anyone with knowledge of the pet monkey is asked to call the Richmond Public Health Department at (804) 382-4363.

Story here.

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Big Brains Arose Independently Twice In Higher Primates

primate brainsAfter taking a fresh look at an old fossil, John Flynn, Frick Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History, and colleagues determined that the brains of the ancestors of modern Neotropical primates were as small as those of their early fossil simian counterparts in the Old World. This means one of the hallmarks of primate biology, increased brain size, arose independently in isolated groups--the platyrrhines of the Americas and the catarrhines of Africa and Eurasia.

"Primatologists have long suspected that increased encephalization may have arisen at different points in the primate evolutionary tree, but this is the first clear demonstration of independent brain size increase in New and Old World anthropoids," says Flynn of the paper that appeared in the Museum's publication Novitates this June. Encephalization is the increase in brain size relative to body size. Animals with large encephalization quotients (E.Q.'s) are those with bigger brains relative to their body size in comparison to the average for an entire group. Most primates and dolphins have high E.Q.'s relative to other mammals, although some primates (especially apes and humans) have higher E.Q.'s than others.

At the heart of the new paper is the development of more accurate equations for estimating body size in platyrrhines, or New World "monkeys." Most fossils are fragments of skulls or teeth so, to help in estimating their body size (and then E.Q.), Flynn and colleagues collected 80 measurements of the skulls, jaws, and teeth of 17 different species of living New World monkeys that ranged across the full spectrum of body sizes. This study is one of the first to estimate body size with platyrrhines instead of their better-studied counterparts from the Old World, and this detailed analysis uses new statistical approaches to tease out which characteristics correlate best with body size. The goal is to apply this equation to fossilized specimens.

Chilecebus, found high in the Andes and described by Flynn and collaborators in 1995 in Nature, is one such fossil. The skull dates to 20 million years ago and is the oldest and most complete well-dated primate skull from the New World. In the Novitates paper, Flynn and colleagues more accurately estimate that Chilecebus weighed about 583 grams and had an E.Q. of only 1.11--a much smaller relative brain size than any living New or Old World anthropoid, which have E.Q.'s ranging from 1.39-2.44 (and even higher for humans).

"The result is clear: early fossil members of both the New World and Old World anthropoid lineages had small brain sizes, thus the larger brain sizes seen in both groups today must have arisen independently," says Flynn. "Documenting that large brains evolved separately several times within Primates will enhance understanding of the timing and pathways of brain expansion and its effects on skull growth and shape, and may lead to new insights into the genetic controls on encephalization."

Eric Delson, the Chair of Anthropology at Lehman College, City University of New York and a Research Associate at the Museum, concurs. "This work confirms that brain size increase may be one of the common characteristics of all primates," he says. "The relatively small brain of Chilecebus contrasts with that of the slightly younger (16.5 million years ago), larger brained fossil Killikaike found in Argentina and described two years ago. It is probable that brain size also increased independently in the lemurs of Madagascar, as well as in the apes (of which humans are the extreme case) and the cercopithecid monkeys of Africa and Asia."

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Southwick Zoo Monkey Captured

southwick monkeyThe monkey who escaped from the Southwick Zoo was found hanging in the trees a mile away.

Two neighbors put out some bananas to entice the monkey to get into a position where the zoo's vet could tranquilize it.

The monkey, who escaped by unlatching its cage door, was on the lam for almost a week.

Story here.

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Iranian 'Vaccine' Lab Accused Of Testing On Endangered Monkeys

Hundreds of endangered monkeys are being taken from the African bush and sent to a “secretive” laboratory in Iran for scientific experiments.

An undercover inquiry by The Sunday Times has revealed that wild monkeys, which are banned from experiments in Britain, are being freely supplied in large numbers to laboratories in other parts of the world. All will undergo invasive and maybe painful experiments leading ultimately to their death.

One Tanzanian dealer, Nazir Manji, who runs African Primates, an animal-supplying company based in Dar es Salaam, said that in recent years he had been selling up to 4,000 vervet monkeys a year to laboratories, charging about £60 each.

Vervets are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Despite this they are being routinely caught and sold to any buyer prepared to pay.

Another Tanzanian dealer, Filbert Rubibira, was asked last year to prepare an order of monkeys to send to the Chinese military for “scientific purposes”. The deal was cancelled at the last minute for reasons that were unclear.

Rubibira told an undercover reporter posing as a buyer that the Cites office in Tanzania would sign permits regardless of what fate awaited the monkeys. “They don’t care about that,” he said. “If it’s for scientific, if it’s for the zoo, if the plane is accepted for transport they don’t care about that . . . The purpose is not a problem.”

Rubibira also indicated that he had no problem if the animals were to be used for cosmetics testing. He said: “We can ask the Cites officer to write [on the certificate] M for medical, scientific purposes, or T for trade purposes. whichever you want.”

Manji said scientists at the Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute in Iran had bought 215 vervet monkeys from him this year but he had become suspicious about their true motive, although he was still trading with them. They had “spent a lot of money” on getting the monkeys, even sending over scientists to check on each consignment.

“Iran is very secretive,” said Manji, who has been exporting monkeys for 22 years. “They said it [the monkeys] was for ‘our country’, for vaccine. [They said] ‘We don’t buy vaccine from anywhere; we prepare our own vaccine’.

“But I think they use it for something else. You know why? Because they don’t go on kilos. Iran wants [monkeys weighing] 1.5kg to 2.5kg, [but] 1.5kg for vaccine is not possible.”

Rubibira indicated that finding out what the Iranians wanted the monkeys for would be difficult. “They cannot say, you know. They are secretive. They wouldn’t tell the truth.”

The revelation will fuel speculation that the monkeys may be used for research involving biological weapons. Primates are typically used by scientists wishing to test both the effectiveness of germ warfare agents and defences against them.

The Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, which has its headquarters in Karaj, near Tehran, has been accused in the past by an Iranian opposition group of conducting biological weapons testing.

According to US intelligence, the pharmaceutical industry in Iran has long been used as a cover for developing a germ warfare capability.

In 2005 the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence said Iran “continued to seek dual-use biotechnology materials, equipment and expertise that are consistent with its growing legitimate biotechnology industry but could benefit Tehran’s assessed probable BW [biological weapons] programme”. Earlier this year it reiterated this.

The Razi institute, which was established in 1925, does legitimate research but does not publicly list on its website the use of primates in any of its current projects. Other animals being used for experiments, such as guinea pigs and mice, are mentioned.

Animal welfare groups called for an immediate inquiry into the revelations. Will Travers, head of the Born Free Foundation, said the captured monkeys would endure “terror and suffering” followed by “possibly painful” experiments and then death.

He said: “Following this Sunday Times exposé, Born Free is calling on the Cites authorities based in Switzerland and the Tanzanian government to immediately investigate exactly what is going on.”

Michelle Thew, chief executive for the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “The BUAV is appalled by the findings of The Sunday Times. The BUAV renews its call to governments such as Tanzania to protect its indigenous populations of primates and put an end to this unacceptable suffering.”

Vervet monkeys, like most other primates, are classed in the Cites appendix II, which stipulates that all the species listed “although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation”. In practice this means that dealers are legally able to sell thousands every year.

However, the use of all wild-caught monkeys in experiments has effectively been banned in Britain since 1997 and the pharmaceutical giant Glaxo-Smith-Kline, which produces a quarter of the world’s vaccines, has also stopped using them.

The European Commission is reviewing a directive on the use of animal experiments in Europe which may lead to an EU-wide ban on wild monkeys being used.

The monkeys are caught, or “harvested”, by men who first herd them into a tree at dusk.

The catchers then lay a 200m net below the tree and, at daybreak, scare the monkeys out of the branches and into the trap.

Then they are transported 250 miles overland from the main trapping grounds in Arusha near the Kenyan border to Dar es Salaam.

On arrival at Manji’s holding farm, where he can accommodate up to 1,000 monkeys at one time, they are transferred into tiny metal cages where they often remain for several weeks. They are then flown in wooden rates on Air Zimbabwe planes to countries such as Iran.

It is unclear exactly which type of vaccine the Razi scientists are claiming to be using the vervets for, but the World Health Organisation guidelines on the production of polio vaccine state that vervet monkeys used for testing it should weigh a minimum of 1.5kg.

However, the monkeys’ kidney cells can also be used to produce the vaccine, in which case the weight is not relevant.

Nobody from the institute was available to comment.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Florida Wildlife Officials Searching For Loose Monkey

snow monkeyThere's been some monkey business going on in Clay County, specifically in OakLeaf Plantation's Eagle Landing subdivision.

A primate has been sighted there several times, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is seeking the public's help in finding it.

The monkey, believed to be a Japanese or snow macaque, has been seen on Castle Oaks Court. State investigators received photos of the animal recently, according to Fish and Wildlife.

"Do not attempt to capture or trap this animal yourself," said Lt. David Lee, a commission investigator. "We also ask that no one attempts to feed it. The monkey has large canine teeth and can inflict a painful bite."

Anyone who sees the monkey can call the state's toll-free Wildlife Alert number at (888) 404-3922.

The agency is borrowing a trap from the Jacksonville Humane Society and will place it in a wooded area away from homes, Lee said. Fish and Wildlife also is working with the Jacksonville Zoo and others on the capture.

"We're concerned about the monkey, to be sure, but right now public safety is at the forefront," Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Karen Parker said Wednesday.

No permit has been issued to anyone in the area to keep a captive Japanese macaque, Lee said.

Story here.

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Moe's Tracks May Have Been Spotted

moe chimpMoe the chimp's trek through the wilderness might have brought him into contact with bears, rattlesnakes and nudists.

Four volunteer firefighters searching for the missing primate quite possibly encountered the chimpanzee's tracks near where the bears were sighted Saturday, officials said Wednesday.

"Right now we're trying to decide whether or not to bring in dogs," said Michael McCasland, a spokesman for Moe's owners, LaDonna and St. James Davis. "But the problem is whether handlers are willing to put their dogs at risk. The area is inundated with poisonous snakes."

Moe escaped from his locked cage at Animal Exotics - a company that supplies the entertainment industry with exotic animals - Friday afternoon and has not been heard from since.

The Davises kept the chimpanzee at their West Covina home for decades, but city officials eventually forced them to relocate the animal.

One of the top dangers posed to Moe comes from poisonous snakes.

"There are poisonous snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and bears that could pose a potential threat," Brian Cronin, division chief for San Bernardino County Animal Care and Control, said.

Moe might have encountered a family of bears that a helicopter pilot reported spotting while searching for the missing chimpanzee. They've also seen a bobcat.

In the five days that have passed since Moe went missing, searchers have yet to find any unequivocal evidence that Moe remains in the area.

"Friday, I was told he was seen down at the nudist colony," McCasland said.

However, Deer Park Nudist Resort Office Manager Lea Bush said she had not heard anything about Moe roaming the grounds. The camp has been at the same site since 1935 and has about 60 residents throughout the year and no chimp sightings in its history.

Fifteen animal handlers have been scouring the San Bernardino National Forest day and night in hopes of locating Moe.

"I spent Monday night on the mountain," Raymond Garcia, animal handler and volunteer searcher, said. "The terrain is rough. It's hard to handle even with four-wheel drive."

Searchers remain optimistic that Moe may still be in the area and living off an abundant supply of water and foliage.

"He's eventually going to come down looking for food and human contact," Garcia said.

While Moe may be able to survive in the San Bernardino National Forest, the likelihood of a safe return decreases as each day passes.

"Every day at about 3 or 4 (p.m.) Moe likes to hoot and holler," McCasland said. "He's loud. It's discouraging that we haven't heard any of it."

Moe may have already wandered into one of the homes that scatter the San Bernardino Mountains.

"Someone might have him locked in a room around here," McCasland said. "We've been going door to door asking if anyone has seen him and kind of peeking in."

Another possibility is that Moe may have caught a ride on one of the numerous freight trains that passes within several hundred yards of his enclosure.

"He loves riding in the car," McCasland said. "If he hopped on the train he'd be thinking, `this is great."'

McCasland directed any persons interested in helping to find Moe to meet at 10 a.m., at the Shell gas station in Fontana on the 15 Freeway at Sierra Avenue.

Despite the high price tag and dwindling funding, the search efforts for Moe will intensify over this weekend.

"We're broke," McCasland said. "We need volunteers to work as spotters."

Story here.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Monkey Theft Nets Prison Sentence

monkey theftOne of two men accused of stealing two exotic monkeys from a Somerset Township wildlife center in November will serve at least 2 years in a state prison.

Michael Anthony Naylor, 19, of 109 Millsboro Road, Rices Landing, was sentenced Monday to 2 to 5 years in prison by Washington County Judge John DiSalle. Naylor pleaded guilty in April to two counts of burglary and one count each of criminal trespass and criminal conspiracy.

Naylor was arrested after he and his alleged accomplice, Steven Christopher Labore, 18, of First Street, Vestaburg, broke into a climate-controlled greenhouse at Grant Kemmerer's Wild World of Animals wildlife company in Somerset Township on Nov. 5 and stole a spot-nosed Guenon monkey and a Mona Guenon monkey from their cages. The primates and other animals are used in educational programs across the country.

The men are accused of taking the monkeys to another location and returning later to get a third monkey. The third monkey reportedly escaped from the men's grasp.

The other two monkeys were returned to Kemmerer after the theft received much media attention.

Lisa Kemmerer, who co-owns the company with her husband, told DiSalle that, while the monkeys were returned, they both suffered from the ordeal. In addition, Kemmerer said Naylor put numerous other animals at risk after leaving the door to the greenhouse ajar. She explained that the temperature in the greenhouse is kept constant and the other animals could have been harmed by a temperature change.

A tearful Kemmerer then asked the judge to impose the maximum allowable sentence against Naylor.

"These monkeys function at the capacity of a 2-year-old child. Imagine having your 2-year-old child snatched away from you at night and you don't know where they are," said Kemmerer, who explained that she has raised the monkeys since birth.

Naylor apologized for his actions. He spoke with a whimper while occasionally seeming to shed tears.

DiSalle was unimpressed with Naylor's statements, especially after he learned that Naylor had had additional, unrelated charges filed against him while on bail for this incident.

According to Assistant District Attorney Chad Schneider, Naylor had been charged in Greene County with driving under the influence and possessing pipe bombs and detonating them in mailboxes. Those cases have not yet been settled.

In addition, DiSalle referred to a presentence investigation report in which Naylor is depicted as having a history of animal abuse, trouble in school and a juvenile record.

"How do we wake you up?" asked DiSalle.

In addition to the prison sentence, Naylor was ordered to pay $1,614 in restitution.

Police continue to search for Labore.

Story here.

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Study Shows Monkeys Ability To Count

At this rate a monkey might prove the Riemann hypothesis. Rhesus macaques have been shown to possess yet another numerical talent once thought unique to humans – they can simultaneously count audible beeps and dots on a computer screen.

Their ability to comprehend numbers not as just discrete images or sounds, but as abstract representations that can be combined suggests that such maths skills aren't unique to humans, says Kerry Jordan, a psychologist at Utah State University, Logan, US, who led the new study.

This sort of evidence "shows that [animals] have these precursors to math very early on in the evolutionary line and early on in development," she says.

Jordan and colleague Elizabeth Brannon, of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, US, trained two eight-year-old female macaques to equate beeps to dots on a computer screen. So if a monkey heard seven beeps, it knew to tap a square on the screen displaying seven dots.

Next, the researchers tested the monkeys’ training in adding dots and beeps together.

The animals were presented dots of different sizes flash onto a screen. At the same time they heard a series of short tones.

To determine if the monkeys could combine the two, Jordan and Brannon showed the animals a screen with two numerical choices, represented as dots – one the correct sum, one incorrect.

Both monkeys did better than 50:50 – one added the sights and sounds correctly 72% of the time, the other 66% of the time.

Both monkeys tended to make mistakes when the right and wrong answers were numerically similar. For instance, if the choices were one and eight, the animals rarely got it wrong. But they found it harder to choose between, say, five and six.

People make the same kind of errors when making snap numerical judgements, such counting the number of people in a crowd, says Jordan, which is further evidence that our abstract maths skills aren't unique.

The monkey's ability to add numbers seen and heard together makes sense in the wild, says Jordan.

"If you have an animal trying to make a decision to defend its territory, it's going to want know how many other animals it has to deal with," she says. It would do this by combining information on how many animals it could see with how many it could hear.

Irene Pepperberg, a psychologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who trained a parrot named Alex to add small sums, says the paper confirms observations in the wild.

Flycatchers, for instance, seem to communicate their mood to other birds using a numerical combination of song and wing motions. The more wing flicks and songs, the more likely it is to attack another bird, she says.

Story here.

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