Thursday, December 18, 2008

Farting Gorillas Force Brussels Sprouts Off Zoo's Christmas Menu

gorillas brussels fartZoo managers have taken Brussels sprouts off the Christmas menu after the vegetable caused an attack of flatulence in their gorillas.

The staff at Chessington Zoo fed the giant apes on the seasonal favourite as they are filled with nutritional goodness. However, they hadn't reckoned with the gassy qualities of the tiny veggies.

Now the zoo has issued an apology after guests at the zoo expressed their horror at the potent smell that started emanating from the gorillas' enclosure.

Gorilla keeper Michael Rozzi said: "We feed the gorillas brussel sprouts during the winter because they are packed with vitamin C and have great nutritional benefits.

"Unfortunately, an embarrassing side effect is that it can cause bouts of flatulence in humans and animals alike.

"However, I don't think any of us were prepared for a smell that strong."

Story here.

Lemur Virus Gives Clues To Evolution Of HIV

LEMURA squirrel sized lemur from Madagascar has given scientists new evidence about the origins of the HI virus and opened up promising new avenues for investigation.

Robert Shafer, a senior author of the research, told IRIN/PlusNews that the discovery "is one of the most important missing links" required for understanding the evolutionary history of HIV-related viruses.

It is widely believed that the two strains of HIV prevalent in humans, HIV-1 and HIV-2, were passed on by primates from Africa, and that these primates have harboured the disease for a million years at the most. But the discovery of a virus related to HIV in the genetic make-up of the tiny grey mouse lemur, found only in Madagascar, has turned these beliefs on their head.

The new findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on 1 December, suggest that lentiviruses, the family of viruses to which the HIV-1 and HIV-2 belong, have been present in primates for at least 14 million years. That was the last time the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar was linked to mainland Africa, allowing the disease to pass to lemurs.

"Our discovery means that primate lentiviruses have been present in Madagascar historically and may still be circulating there," Robert Gifford, an infectious disease researcher at the Stanford School of Medicine and lead author of the research, told IRIN/PlusNews. "Since Madagascar has been very isolated throughout evolutionary history, it's not clear how we could have these viruses present both there and in Africa, unless they are in fact many millions of years old."

Scientists now believe that lentiviruses could be at least 50 million years old, and that they may be found in primates throughout the world.

More than 25 million people across the world have died of AIDS-related illnesses since the HI virus was first identified in the United States 27 years ago. Two-thirds of the 33 million people infected with HIV globally live in sub-Saharan Africa, but Madagascar's HIV prevalence rate has so far remained below 1 percent. The prevalence of syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases, however, suggest that the virus could spread rapidly.

The recent findings from Stanford University are unlikely to radically change the course of research into HIV and AIDS in the short term, but are expected to have a major impact on scientists' broader understanding of the virus.

"If we are ever going to properly understand the relationships between lentiviruses and disease, assess the risk of new epidemics occurring, and harness the body's natural defences to prevent and control HIV infections, we need to establish the proper ecological and evolutionary contexts," Gifford said.

He described the lentivirus material found in the genetic make-up of the grey mouse lemur as "molecular fossils" that show how viruses looked hundreds of thousands or even millions of years ago. This is important, as it helps scientists understand the functions of different genes within a virus, and to assess the limits of virus adaptation and potential vulnerabilities - information that could be used to help develop new ways to prevent and treat infections in humans.

However, Gifford warned that there was still a long road ahead. "Like many things in science, our findings raise as many questions as they provide answers," he said. "But the important thing is that they reveal something new and completely unexpected about the evolutionary relationship between primates and lentiviruses."

Story here.

Zoo Chimp Takes Revenge On Visitors

chimp revengeMithu Mondal, 30, and her six-year-old daughter Nikita were hurt at Kolkata zoo in India when Babu, a male chimpanzee, threw stones at them, the zoo reported.

The chimp was reacting angrily after being teased by crowds on Sunday afternoon.

The zoo's director said visitors had been trying to attract the chimp's attention, something which happens regularly.

The two victims were taken to hospital and released after treatment.

Last year, Babu and a female chimpanzee escaped from their enclosure by breaking the lock.

Zoo authorities have repeatedly asked visitors not to throw stones, but people take no notice.

"Unless people throw stones, there is no way the chimpanzees can have stones in their enclosures," an official said.

Story here.

Abused Chinese Monkeys Beat Up Trainer

abused monkeysA trio of performing monkeys turned on their trainer when he beat one of them with a stick as they rode mini bicycles in a market in Sizhou, eastern China. One twisted his ears and another pulled out his hair in handfuls and bit his neck. Then when the trainer dropped the cane, the third one picked it up and started hitting him around the head with it until the stick broke.

The dazed trainer said afterwards: “They were once wild and these performances don’t always come naturally to them. They may have built up some feelings of hatred towards me.”

Police are investigating allegations of animal cruelty and may confiscate the monkeys.

Story here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Happy Monkey Day!

Happy Monkey Day everyone, don't forget those in the Greater Lansing area can attend the official Monkey Day Charity Art Auction benefiting Chimps Inc.

monkey day after
And please, remember to celebrate Monkey Day responsibly.

happy monkey day

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gorilla Birth At San Francisco Zoo, Surrogate Mother Sought

gorilla bornKeepers handling the newborn gorilla at the San Francisco Zoo went to Plan B on Wednesday, hoping to find a surrogate gorilla mother for a baby whose own mom is showing little interest in him.

"This is our next best option to get this gorilla raised as a gorilla, by a gorilla," said Corinne MacDonald, curator of primates at the zoo. "We're very lucky that we have this as an option."

The baby male, born Monday and yet to be named, is healthy and acting, well, like a baby gorilla should. He nursed from his mother after keepers had her anesthetized Tuesday in hopes she would give the newborn another chance when she awoke.

"His instincts were right on. His instincts were perfect," MacDonald said.

The only problem was that mom, an endangered western lowland gorilla named Monifa, still didn't appear to be interested in the newborn. Tuesday night, she bedded down in the gorilla enclosure about as far away as she could from her infant, MacDonald said.

The baby gorilla was taken to the zoo hospital overnight and returned Wednesday to a specially set up nursery that is separated from the main gorilla enclosure only by mesh, allowing the baby to hear, see and smell his brethren, and vice versa.

The hope is that Bawang, an elder female in the troop who has already raised offspring, will take to the little guy like one of her own. She already has shown interest since his birth, MacDonald said. It's also possible Monifa will see that interaction and decide to raise her baby.

It is not unheard of for gorillas to ignore their young, and Monifa is a peripheral member of the troop who may not feel comfortable with an offspring, MacDonald said.

If neither female gorilla takes to the baby, zookeepers will rear him themselves and try to get him to integrate with the troop when he's older, MacDonald said.

Two specialists in raising gorilla babies are heading to San Francisco from the zoo in Columbus, Ohio, she said. In the interim, zoo staffers wearing hospital scrubs and face masks are caring for the baby.

The baby gorilla, part of the critically endangered lowland western species, was the first born at the zoo in 10 years.

Story here.

SPCA Saves Chimpanzee Living in 'Deplorable Conditions'

chimp rescuedThe Houston SPCA recently seized a 23-year-old, malnourished chimpanzee from a home in Crosby, Texas.

The chimp, named Henry, was found living in a filthy cage littered with soda cans, cigarettes and trash.

Investigators learned he’d been living in those conditions for the past 15 years.

When he was found, Henry was so weak he could hardly stand and weighed only 60 pounds.

Upon his emergency medical evaluation, doctors discovered Henry was suffering from a bacterial infection of the stomach, among other maladies.

“Due to malnutrition and lack of exposure to light, Henry is suffering from a spinal deformity. When we confiscated him, he had severe vomiting, and constipation. We are thankful to the veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo who incorporated medical and dietary therapy to resolve these issues. Since Henry had lived in this type of environment for a substantial length of time, he will never be 100 percent medically and physically sound. However, we hope with proper diet and care, he can live out the remainder of his life in comfort,” Vice President of Animal Welfare Dr. Teri Schweiss said.

The SPCA said Henry will not be placed for adoption. Instead, they are securing a sanctuary placement where he will be able to live out the remainder of his life with other chimps and under the care of individuals who can meet his needs.

Story here.

Baby Attacked By Monkey Troop In India

Monkey menace came to fore once again when a group of over half-a-dozen monkeys attacked and injured a two-month old baby boy on Thursday afternoon. The incident was reported from sector C of Jankipuram here.

Identified as Sujal Srivastava, the baby had been taken to the terrace of the house by his grandmother. The baby was lying on a mattress and his grandmother was sitting besides him when suddenly a gang of monkeys came on the terrace and attacked the child, even as the woman tired to save him from the simians. Before the child's grandmother could come to his rescue, the monkeys had seriously injured the baby, who cried incessantly with blood oozing out from his head and hands.

Hearing the cries, locals rushed to the spot and freed the baby boy from the simians. Sujal was immediately rushed to a nearby hospital.

Story here.

Orangutan's Spontaneous Whistling Opens New Chapter In Study Of Evolution Of Speech

Update. Video here:

orangutan whistlesThroughout history, human beings have used the whistle for everything from hailing a cab to carrying a tune. Now, an orangutan's spontaneous whistling is providing scientists at Great Ape Trust of Iowa new insights into the evolution of speech and learning.

In a paper published this month in Primates, an international journal of primatology that provides a forum on all aspects of primates in relation to humans and other animals, Great Ape Trust scientist Dr. Serge Wich and his colleagues provide the first-ever documentation of a primate mimicking a sound from another species without being specifically trained to do so. Bonnie, a 30-year-old female orangutan living at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., began whistling a sound that is in a human's, but not an orangutan's, repertoire after hearing an animal caretaker make the sound.

"This is important because it provides a mechanism to explain documented between-population variation in sounds for wild orangutans," Wich said. "In addition, it counters a long-held assumption that non-human primates have fairly fixed sound repertoires that are not under voluntary control. Being able to learn new sounds and use these voluntarily are also two important aspects of human speech and these findings open up new avenues to study certain aspects of human speech evolution in our closest relatives."

Previous studies have indicated that orangutans and chimpanzees are capable of species-atypical sounds and vocalizations, but only under the strong influence of human training. Bonnie, however, was not explicitly trained to whistle, according to Wich and his co-authors Great Ape Trust scientists Dr. Karyl Swartz and Dr. Rob Shumaker; Madeleine E. Hardus and Adriano R. Lameira, doctoral candidates at the Utrecht University in The Netherlands assigned to the Ketambe Research Center in Sumatra, where Wich is research co-manager; and Erin Stromberg, an animal caretaker at the National Zoo.

Scientists have long known that orangutans copy physical movements of humans, but Bonnie's whistling indicates that the learning capacities of orangutans and other great apes in the auditory domain might be more flexible than previously believed, Wich said. The behavior goes against the argument that orangutans have no control over their vocalizations and the sounds are purely emotional that is, an involuntary response to stimuli such as predators.

Bonnie appears to whistle for the sake of making a sound rather than to receive a food reward or some other incentive. If asked to whistle, she is likely to oblige, another indication to scientists that she makes the sound voluntarily.

In their paper, Wich and his colleagues also shared anecdotal information about Indah, a female orangutan who lived with Bonnie at the National Zoo before moving to Great Ape Trust in 2004. Indah also began to whistle some years after Bonnie was first observed making the sound in the late 1980s, but Indah died before recordings could be made of her whistles. Scientists believe that Indah's whistling was a vocalization learned from Bonnie.

That compares with what scientists assume about social learning in wild orangutan populations. For example earlier work by Dr. van Schaik and colleagues showed that wild orangutans in one population make a "raspberry" sound during nest-making, while orangutans in another population make a "nest smack" sound when engaged in the same activity. Wich said it's unlikely that purely genetic or ecological factors explain the differences in sounds of different orangutan populations. Rather, it's more likely others copy one orangutan's innovative sound because the sound serves a function.

"This is a very strong indication that different sounds among wild populations are learned and are not purely genetically or ecologically based," Wich said. "This is a great indication that orangutans can learn sounds not in their repertoire from another species, and they are flexible in using them."

The scientific investigation with Bonnie at the National Zoo was supported in part by a grant from the David Bohnett Foundation and complements field studies of wild orangutans, where differences have been noted in the call repertoires between populations. A strength at Great Ape Trust is the ability of its scientists to conduct simultaneous studies on both captive orangutans and wild orangutans on the Indonesian island of Sumatra at the Ketambe Research Center, where Wich is research co-manager.

"Bringing captive and field research together is an unharvested field," Wich said, "and it offers great potential to Great Ape Trust."

The research also builds on earlier investigations by ape language pioneer Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh a scientist with special standing at Great Ape Trust, and others on the ability of great apes to imitate human speech. Specifically, Savage-Rumbaugh's 1991 investigation centered on whether the bonobo Kanzi, a member of the colony of bonobos now living at Great Ape Trust, might have structurally different vocalizations than bonobos in another group. In a 2004 study, Savage-Rumbaugh looked at whether Kanzi was attempting to imitate human speech.

The results of these studies did enlarge scientists' appreciation of the plasticity in primate sound and vocal learning and indicated that primates might have some plasticity to produce completely new sounds, Wich and his colleagues wrote.

The new findings reopen the door on such research.

"One of the main things we do not understand yet is the evolution of speech," Wich said.

Wich will present the findings on Dec. 18 at a scientific symposium on orangutan genetics at the University of Zrich, Switzerland.

Story here.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Woman Who Hid Sedated Monkey On Flight Convicted

monkey smugglerA Spokane woman who hid a sedated monkey under her blouse on a flight from Thailand to Los Angeles — pretending she was pregnant — has been convicted of smuggling charges.

Gypsy Lawson, 29, successfully passed through U.S. Customs in Los Angeles with the rhesus monkey hidden in her shirt after the November 2007 trip.

Her mother, Fran Ogren, 55, of Northport, Wash., accompanied her on the flight from Bangkok and was also convicted.

A jury found the two women guilty Monday on separate charges of conspiracy and smuggling goods into the United States. Sentencing is set for March 3.

They were arrested after Lawson boasted to a clothing store clerk about the airport escapade.

The monkey is now at a primate rescue facility in Oregon.

Story here.

New Group Of Critically Endangered Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkeys Found

SNUB NOSE MONKEYSA critically Endangered species of monkey has been unexpectedly found in north-western Vietnam. Biologists from Fauna and Flora International said they had found new sub-population of up to 20 Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys in a remote forest. Until now, fewer than 250 of the primates were thought to exist.

The team said the new group offered a ray of hope because it included three infants, suggesting that the monkeys were breeding and increasing in number. Until now, the monkeys had only been recorded in a few north-eastern areas within Vietnam, with no group exceeding 50 mature adults.

Hunting and deforestation has led to a continued decline in the species. The species inquisitive nature also meant that they did not flee when approached by humans, increasing the risk of being shot by hunters. Biologists however observed this new sub-population were more wary of people, issuing warning signs to each other, perhaps associating humans with danger, as a result of ongoing threats from hunters.

“All recent indications suggest that we have a fantastic opportunity to secure this population and significantly increase the chances of survival of this species,” explained Paul Insua-Cao, FFI’s Vietnam primate program manager. Measures including curbing the growing of crops in the area’s tropical forests and confiscating hunters’ guns have already been introduced since the new sub-population was first recorded in April 2008.

Story here.

3 Charred Monkeys Found in Luggage at Dulles Airport

mon key luggageCustoms officials searching the bags of an African man who flew into Dulles International Airport on Friday discovered three charred monkeys in his luggage, as well as deer meat and dried beef, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said yesterday.

The man was traveling from Bangui in Central African Republic, a small country north of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He admitted he was carrying the meat, a common food in parts of Africa, after a trained dog alerted authorities to the man's bag, customs spokesman Steve Sapp said.

The monkey carcasses, inadmissible under U.S. law, were confiscated and are being inspected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; monkeys can easily introduce infectious diseases to humans, Sapp said. The other meat was destroyed, and the man was allowed to enter the country without penalty, Sapp said.

Foreigners visiting the United States sometimes try to bring with them exotic foods that are part of their native cuisines, especially around the holidays. But this was "a first for many of us," Sapp said.

Primates are a common food source in the Central African region, said Heather E. Eves, director of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force, a nonprofit that researches the trade in African "bushmeat," the flesh of wild animals. Eves said that the monkeys' charred appearance comes from the animals' being smoked and that the meat is typically used to make stew.

Primates are also known to carry diseases such as monkeypox, HIV/AIDS and Ebola, she said.

The traveler was not identified because he was not arrested, Sapp said. Foreigners who attempt to conceal agricultural products from customs officials can face fines, usually about $300, Sapp said.

"If they're not trying to hide anything from us, they're not being combative . . . we let them go on their way," Sapp said.

Story here.

Bobby The Gorilla Dead At London Zoo

bobby gorillaOfficials at the London Zoo said the attraction's 25-year-old male silverback gorilla has died of unknown causes.

The zoo said in a statement that the gorilla, named Bongo Junior -- Bobby for short -- was found dead in his nest Friday morning, The Daily Telegraph reported.

"He was a dearly loved resident and will be sadly missed by all," a zoo spokeswoman told The Daily Mail. "Our keepers are incredibly upset, and it is asked that everyone respect the feelings of staff during this difficult time."

Ralph Armond, director-general of the Zoological Society of London, which runs the zoo, said workers and members of the public are "devastated" by the death of the "gentle giant."

"Bobby was a much-loved member of the ZSL family and leaves behind his family of keepers and three female gorillas, Mjukuu, 9, Effie, 15, and Zaire, 34," Armond said.

Story here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Monkey Day Charity Art Auction

monkey day art auction chimpThis year Monkey Day is sponsoring a charity silent art auction on Sunday, December 14th, to benefit our simian friends at Chimps Inc. From their website:

"Chimps Inc. is a nonprofit, 501(C)3-1 wildlife sanctuary dedicated to furthering chimpanzee conservation through education. It was founded by Lesley Day in 1995 in response to the multitude of captive chimpanzees desperately in need of homes. Our private sanctuary provides a place of refuge for those apes that have come from roadside zoos, entertainment industry and the private sector. "

Kimie the chimp from Chimps Inc. created the pictured hand print/painting that will be one of two chimp paintings up for bid at the silent auction.

More information at or the Facebook Monkey Event.

Fundraising Project To Help Mountain Gorillas Launched

The project S.O.S Gorilla has been created to raise funds to help the gorilla preservation. Thanks to the support of the Barcelona Zoo and Eaza (European Association of Zoos And Aquaria), we’ ve found an association who will make sure the funds will help the endangered ape, Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe.

Since 1984, the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe has been dedicated to the conservation of gorillas, especially the mountain gorillas, and their habitats. The Board consists of three honorary members who contribute their skills and experience in different disciplines. As project planning has to incorporate not only biological but also economic, social and political aspects, this multidisciplinary approach is very important. They focus their work on the eastern gorillas by supporting projects contributing to the conservation of these animals. Occasionally, they also support projects for the conservation of certain populations of western gorillas that are particularly at risk.

In addition, they support research activities of (predominantly local) scientists. With competent members the Berggorilla & Regenwald Direkthilfe also takes part in population censuses and ecological studies. Finally, they provide necessary equipment to support the important work of the rangers. Whenever possible, they cooperate with other international organisations also concerned with the conservation of the last remaining mountain gorillas, considering a constant exchange of information between all parties working for the threatened gorillas as very important.

Visit the website here.


Rare Gorilla Twins Born In Uganda

gorilla twinsRare mountain gorilla twins have been born in Uganda's Bwindi Forest, home to around half the world's population of the endangered primates, a wildlife official said Wednesday.

The twins were born to a gorilla called Kwintonda early last month, said Lillian Nsubuga, spokeswoman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).

"It is only the second time in history that we are aware of twins being born in Uganda," Nsubuga told AFP, adding that the twins were healthy.

"The fact that they have survived the harsh rains of November means that they are probably going to be OK."

Mountain gorillas are the cornerstone of Uganda's tourism industry and Nsubuga predicted the twins' arrival will boost tourist numbers.

"The word hadn't really gotten out, so it was a pleasant surprise for some tourists. But now that the information is public, we expect that many tourists will be requesting to see the family."

Bwindi is home to an estimated 340 mountain gorillas, around half the global population, according to the most recent survey conducted between 2006 and 2007.

The twins were sired by Safari, a dominant male, who took over the leadership of his group in April after the death of his predecessor.

Kwitonda is estimated to be between 15 to 20 years old. Female gorillas begin bearing children at between seven to eight years of age and continue up to 30.

Story here.

Monkey Skin Cells Reprogrammed Into Stem Cells

Scientists have successfully created the first induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines from adult monkey skin cells. The research, published by Cell Press in the December issue of the journal Cell Stem Cell, demonstrates that the method of direct reprogramming is conserved among species and may be useful for creation of clinically valuable primate models for human diseases.

Although previous work has shown that induction of four key transcription factors can reprogram adult mouse and human skin cells into iPS cells, creation of iPS cells in other species has not been demonstrated. "We sought to generate monkey iPS cells from skin cells isolated an adult male rhesus macaque using the predicted monkey transcription factors OCT4, SOX2, KLF4 and c-MYC," explains Dr. Hongkui Deng from the Key Laboratory of Cell Proliferation and Differentiation at Peking University in Beijing, China.

Dr. Deng and colleagues used retroviruses expressing these four factors to infect adult monkey skin cells. This technique led to creation of cells which displayed multiple hallmarks of embryonic stem (ES) cells. Specifically, the cells exhibited physical characteristics associated with ES cells, expressed genes appropriate for ES cells and possessed the ability to develop into multiple types of differentiated cells. These results reveal that monkey iPS cells can be generated using the same four transcription factors that have been used to successfully create mouse and human iPS cells.

The work has multiple exciting applications. "As the rhesus macaque is the most relevant primate model for most human diseases, highly efficient generation of monkey iPS cells would allow investigation of the treatment of various diseases in this model," offers Dr. Deng. "In addition, direct reprogramming with the four transcription factors could be a universal strategy for generating iPS cells in other species."

Story here.