Thursday, October 30, 2008

Orangutan Djambe Died Of A Heart Attack

djambe orangutanColchester Zoo's female Orangutan Djambe died of a heart attack, it has emerged.

The zoo has received the initial post mortem results following the death of the popular primate on October 25.

The results indicated that she suffered a heart attack following the rupture of a large ovarian cyst.

A spokeswoman for the zoo said: “Djambe and her companion, Rajang were moved to the new Orangutan Forest enclosure however, during a medical examination at the time of the move an irregular shaped mass, now known to be an ovarian cyst, was found on the right side of Djambe's abdomen.

“She was assessed by the zoo's veterinary team on the 24th October and a second anaesthesia to examine the mass in her abdomen was planned.

“It is now clear from the post mortem it is highly unlikely that this surgery could have been successful. A plaque at the new enclosure is planned to remember Colchester Zoo's very special female Orangutan.”


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Marmoset Baby Abandoned By Mother

marmoset bbabyThe baby, which is no bigger than a human thumb, was abandoned by its mother.

It is being reared by staff at Knowsley safari park, the second time in a few months keepers have had to step in to save one of the tiny monkeys.

Female marmosets only have two teats and enough milk for a pair of babies, so when triplets are born, one is usually abandoned.

Earlier this year, the same parents had another set of triplets and baby Elliott had to be rescued.

Now, both Elliott and the newborn monkey are being cared for by park photographer Penny Boyd in her home.

Penny said: “It will be great for Elliott to have a brother to play with.”


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Judge Rejects Charges In Monkey's Scalding Death

A Monroe animal rights activist won't be allowed to file criminal animal cruelty charges against three men in the scalding death of a monkey at an Everett animal testing lab.

Everett District Court Judge Roger Fisher ruled Wednesday there isn't enough evidence to support allegations that lab workers committed a crime when they failed to remove a cynomolgus monkey from her cage before sterilizing the enclosure.

Prosecutors from the city of Everett and Snohomish County also opted not to file charges.

"I believe the facts as presented do not rise to the level of a citizen's complaint," Fisher said.

Susan Michaels, co-founder of Pasado's Safe Haven, asked Fisher's permission to bring a private criminal prosecution against three former workers at SNBL USA. She worried the case would slip through the cracks if she didn't pursue criminal charges herself, her attorney, Adam Karp, said.

The Bellingham attorney, who specializes in animal law, petitioned to file misdemeanor animal cruelty charges. He alleged that the men were criminally reckless when they caused the monkey's death.

A former lab manager said the men couldn't miss seeing the monkey in her cage unless they were "intoxicated" or "really reckless," Karp said. There is no evidence that they intended to kill the animal, he said.

Michaels was concerned that the one-year statute of limitations to file a misdemeanor charge would run out before prosecutors made a decision, Karp said. The monkey died in November 2007.

Fisher initially delayed making a decision after learning that Everett police were investigating. Police had received the complaint in February. Fisher ordered county prosecutors to follow up with Everett's city prosecutor and police.

Snohomish County chief criminal deputy prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro on Wednesday told the judge her office was declining to file charges. There isn't a sufficient basis to prove the men intended to kill the monkey or even that they knowingly and recklessly caused the animal's death, she said.

Everett city attorney Mike Fisher reached a similar conclusion.

"I can't create a crime out of a bad outcome," he said.

He called the animal's death a tragic mistake likely attributed to poor job performance -- not criminal behavior that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

John Wolfe, an attorney for SNBL, also was at Wednesday's hearing. SNBL filed an objection to the petition on the grounds that the court rule allowing for private prosecution usurps the powers of an elected prosecutor and gives improper power to the judicial branch.

Fisher said he wasn't ruling that the bringing a private prosecution is unconstitutional. He noted that a case focusing on that question is pending before the state Supreme Court. Fisher said he was concerned, however, about being asked to substitute his judgment for the judgment of the prosecutors.

"I'd rather see that court rule utilized where there haven't been diligent efforts on the part of police and the prosecutor's office," he said.

Fisher said he was convinced prosecutors thoroughly reviewed the police investigation into the monkey's death.

The citizen's complaint process is expected to be reviewed by the state's high court next year. In that case, Karp asked the court to overturn a Spokane judge's ruling that disallowed the private prosecution of two sheriff's deputies after their use of stun guns on an escaped calf killed the animal.

The judge in Spokane determined a citizen's filing of criminal complaints violates the separation of powers between branches of government.

Karp said Michaels will not appeal Wednesday's ruling with the Snohomish County Superior Court. Instead, Karp said he will be looking at possible civil remedies.


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Monday, October 27, 2008

Congo Rebels Seize Gorilla Sanctuary, Government Camp

Gorilla congoRebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo were reported Sunday to have seized a national park in the east of the country that is home to more than a quarter of the world's surviving mountain gorillas.

"Rebels loyal to dissident general Laurent Nkunda took over the headquarters of the Virunga National Park and the sector where the gorillas are to be found after heavy fighting with the DRC army in the early hours of the morning," a statement received by AFP from the park said.

"More than 50 rangers were forced to flee through the forest."

"The taking of our headquarters at Rumangabo by the rebels is unprecedented in all these years of fighting," said park director Emmanuel de Merode in the statement.

The park, which has a rich variety of animal life and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to 200 of the world's surviving 700 mountain gorillas. It lies on the border with Rwanda and Uganda.

Fighters engaged in the fighting in the Nord-Kivu province regularly take refuge in the park, killing wild animals and chopping down trees for fuel.

"The military camp of Rumangabo is again under the control of the CNDP, as are the localities of Kalengera and Rugari," a statement from Nkunda's rebel National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) said earlier.

The camp is an important army base in Nord-Kivu, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of the provincial capital Goma.

"The CNDP took Rumangabo after fighting Sunday morning and clashes are continuing at Rugari," a spokesman for the UN's DRC peacekeeping mission MONUC told AFP. There were no details of any casualties.

An AFP correspondent in Rugari, 10 kilometres (six miles) south of Rumangabo on the road to Goma, reported that heavy artillery exchanges were continuing.

The rebels said they had taken the Rumangabo camp -- which they captured earlier this month and later abandoned at MONUC's request -- as a "riposte" against the "generalised attacks on all fronts by the government coalition."

The said the coalition was made up of government troops, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), a group composed of Hutu former militia fighters who fled Rwanda after the 1994 genocide, and local militias.

For its part, the government charged in a statement that "two foreign battalions" backed up the rebels in the attack on Rumangabo.

The DRC government says the CNDP, led by a renegade DRCongo general Laurent Nkunda, a Tutsi, has military backing from neigbouring Rwanda.

Fighting that broke out between the two sides in August -- violating a January ceasefire treaty -- has displaced some 200,000 people, the United Nations food aid agency warned Friday.

The latest developments follow a recent call by the UN Security Council for a ceasefire in the region, a theatre of conflict since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.


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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mumba, Tea-Drinking Gorilla, Passes Away At 48

MUMBA GORILLAMumba, the tea-drinking bachelor gorilla from Quebec who never quite took to females and was a star zoo attraction for more than four decades, has passed away at 48.

Mumba, who was about 100 in human years, was believed to be the second oldest male of his species living in captivity in the world.

A keeper found Mumba dead in his cage Tuesday morning while doing his routine rounds at the Granby Zoo, east of Montreal.

The zoo says the 220-kilogram gorilla likely died of natural causes.
Mumba, 41 years old at the time, sits in his cage at the Granby Zoo in Granby, Que.

“He probably didn't suffer, he ate well the night before,” zoo spokeswoman Catherine Page said in an interview.

“He probably died in his sleep and that's comforting for us that he didn't have an illness that dragged out over a long period.”

The venerable gorilla, riddled by arthritis and recovering from paralysis in 2004, hadn't been seen in public since retiring in June of 2007.

But he lived well in retirement, foraging for fruits and vegetables in his cage, but also drinking tea and enjoying treats such as popcorn, cottage cheese and couscous with parsley.

Zoo officials estimate more than 20 million visitors visited his quarters over more than 47 years and they erected a bronze sculpture of him a few years ago.

“For sure he's a part of the history of Quebec,” Ms. Page said. “It's not too much to say that.”

Mumba was born in Cameroon and arrived in Canada as a 15-month-old orphan in 1961, his parents likely killed by poachers.

The practice of taking gorillas into captivity is now frowned upon, which made Mumba even more rare.

He was initially taken in by a local family in Granby who raised him like a child – complete with diapers, human clothing, a high chair and bibs.

He was transferred to the zoo when he was about 30 months old and had several gorilla companions over the years.

Despite efforts by his handlers, Mumba never mated, likely a result of being raised by humans. He had a few female gorillas live with him over the years, Zira and Caroline, but the spark wasn't there.

“He wasn't interested in women and he had very little fertility in his sperm, so Mumba will remain unique,” said Ms. Page.

Mumba was one of about 700 lowland gorillas living in captivity in zoos around the world. In the wild, lowland gorillas are on the verge of extinction.

Because he was born in the wild, Mumba had unique genetic material highly sought by zoologists, who took several tissue samples from him over the years, Ms. Page said.

Timmy, a 49-year-old gorilla housed at the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, was the only male older than Mumba, she said.

In the wild, a gorilla's life expectancy is between 35 and 40 years.

“So 48 years is very respectable for a gorilla like Mumba.”

An autopsy will be performed and then Mumba's remains will be transferred to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Monkey Born At Salisbury Zoo

monkey born salisburyThe city zoo got a special gift as it celebrated the Night of Living Zoo, its biggest annual fundraiser.

Keeper Joy Gibson-McIntire noticed something different in the animal holding area of the sloth exhibit. The male and female Titi monkeys were huddled close together and as she peered into their enclosure, she noticed what looked like another appendage on the male monkey. As she looked closer, she saw a tiny baby monkey clinging to his dad.

The two adult Titi monkeys at Salisbury Zoo are among just 46 of their species currently in Association of Zoos & Aquariums accredited zoos in the nation, the zoo said.

Threatened mainly by habitat destruction, the Titi monkey is one of 36 species of primates found in the Amazon region. The monkeys are part of AZA’s Species Survival Plan, which aims to ensure long-term viability of the captive population of the species.

Although these tiny monkeys reach full adult weight at 10 months of age, they do not reach sexual maturity until 3-5 years of age.

The pair usually mate for life, and like tamarins, the father takes over the care of the infant after it is 2 days old. He carries it, grooms it, shelters it with his body when it rains. He only returns it to the mother to drink milk. This occurs for 4 to 5 months.

Youngsters remain in the family until they are about 3 years old, even when other babies are born.

“The birth of this little creature has special meaning to all of the zoo staff and volunteers, it is what we have worked so hard to do, the timing couldn’t have been better,” said Director Joel Hamilton.


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Man Goes To Jail To Keep His Monkey

pet monkeyNever get in the way of a man and his monkey. That seems to be the lesson one man was trying to teach the justice system in the U.S.

But despite his best efforts, it didn't quite work.

When David Grigorian, a 43-year-old resident from Van Nuys, California, got a marmoset monkey as a pet a few years back, he quickly fell in love with the creature. But he didn't have a permit for the exotic animal and a court ordered him to get rid of it.

The controversy began last January when cops investigated Grigorian on an unrelated matter. After arriving at his home, they found the animal but not the permits he needed to keep it. He was ordered to get rid of it and promised he would.

But he considered "Cheeta" a member of the family and in the end couldn't bear to let him go.

He was supposed to give his best friend up to an animal reserve in Nevada. But then last May, cops stopped the unlucky owner on a routine traffic matter - and spotted the monkey sitting beside him in his car.

The reluctant man was hauled back into court, but he still wasn't done. On Wednesday, Grigorian brought "proof" he'd followed orders, telling the judge he'd sent his furry friend to live in Mexico. And he even displayed a picture of Cheeta standing beside a recently dated Mexican newspaper, with multi-coloured decorations in the background as proof.

But officials didn't buy it and demanded more evidence.

After hesitating for a while, Grigorian finally admitted he still had the beast and issued one last plea, telling authorities his kids were in love with the pet and couldn't bear to see it go.

A fed-up judge had finally heard enough and ordered the man handcuffed until he agreed to part with his beloved friend.

After a few hours in the cooler, Grigorian came back to court and agreed to hand over the monkey to local Fish and Game officials.

But unlike previous attempts, the courts aren't going to take his word for it. This time, they're giving him a week to carry out the sad parting and they're demanding real proof - or they'll put him behind bars again.


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Zoo Monkey Gets His Own Guard Dog

dog monkeyA Chinese zoo has given an orphan monkey its own guard dog to stop it being bullied by bigger primates.

Keepers at Jiaozuo City Zoo said the monkey was always being bullied and they had intervened to save his life several times.

"So we put a dog in the monkey cage, hoping he can protect the orphan," a zoo spokesman told the China News Network.

The zoo said the dog, Sai Hu, does his job very well.

"Whenever the baby monkey gets bullied, he dashes up and drives the others away. And the baby monkey is also very smart. Each time he smells danger he runs to jump on the dog's back and holds on tight.

"The alpha male monkey has been really unhappy since we sent in Sai Hu. He tried to organise several ambushes on the little monkey, but they all failed because of the dog," added the spokesman.


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Monkey Studies Could Help Paralyzed Humans

monkey paralyzedA brain implant with mobile electrodes that can seek out and connect to individual neurons in the brain has enabled monkeys to regain control of a paralysed wrist.

The inventors of the implant say it could help people paralysed by spinal injuries to regain control of their limbs, or control robotic limbs.

The implant exploits the fact that even when the neural connection between a brain region and the muscles it controls is severed or damaged by, say, a stroke or spinal injury, the controlling neurons remain active.

For example, people living with quadriplegia who try to move their arm still generate arm-movement signals in the motor cortex of their brain, even after several years of paralysis.

Implants that use those signals have allowed monkeys to control mechanical devices, and a paralysed man to control a robotic arm and check his email.

Now a brain implant with moving electrodes has shown the potential of that approach to give people back control of their own limbs. It was created by physiologist Chet Moritz and colleagues at the Washington National Primate Research Center in Seattle.

Previous implants collect signals from large collections of neurons, and need complex software to process them into a clean output signal.

Moritz's system, though, uses only 12 moving electrodes – just 50 micrometres wide – to seek out and connect to just a single neuron. This produces a much simpler and tidier output signal.

After being inserted into the brain's motor cortex, the device can sense where the strongest signal is coming from, and move the electrodes towards it.

Piezoelectric motors can move the 12 electrodes in small 1-micrometre increments and will back off when necessary to avoid damaging nerve cells.

Two macaque monkeys were fitted with the implants, and the roving electrodes were used to connect to single neurons that control wrist muscles. The signals picked up were carried to the muscle groups they would usually control using wires and electrodes.

The macaques were then anaesthetised to block the nerves that normally control the same wrist muscles.

The team found that the monkeys could learn to exploit the alternative connection provided by the implant to bypass the nerve block and contract their muscles as they tried to grab a tempting food reward.

Moritz hopes this approach could restore movement to humans who have lost control of muscles due to nerve damage. Implants like these could also control prosthetic limbs more precisely because they relay signals from carefully chosen neurons, rather than having software calculate a signal from recordings of many different cells.

However, a way must be found to keep the implant's fine electrodes in place in a moving patient, he says.

"Maintaining stable recordings for long periods of time is one of the remaining challenges in neural engineering," says Moritz. "But given that the users of this device would be patients confined to a wheelchair, their physical activity will necessarily be limited."

So far, even when used on highly active monkeys, it has been possible to maintain connections to stable neurons for up to four weeks, he says.


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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bonobos Seen Snacking on Monkeys

bonobos cannibalA type of chimpanzee known to use sex for greetings, reconciliations, and favors may not be all about peace, love, and understanding after all.

A new study reveals that some bonobos—one of humankind's closest genetic relatives—hunt and eat other primates.

Groups of the endangered chimpanzee subspecies were observed stalking, chasing, and killing monkeys they later consumed.

Scientists have long known from stool samples that some bonobos eat rodents and small antelopes in their natural forest habitats in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but many researchers thought this was the extent of their hunting activities.

Gottfried Hohmann and Martin Surbeck, at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, thought differently.

"We saw that their relations with neighboring monkeys were frequently hostile and found a black mangabey finger in bonobo feces last year," Hohmann said. (See a photo of a mangabey.)

"We did not know if the mangabey had been killed by another predator and then scavenged by the bonobo or if the bonobo had killed the mangabey itself, but this raised our suspicions."

The researchers went on to observe bonobos attacking, killing, and eating monkeys. Their findings were published Monday in the journal Current Biology.

Six years ago, Hohmann and Surbeck began observing a previously unstudied community of bonobos in the DRC's Salonga National Park.

On five different occasions, the researchers saw traveling bonobos change their direction and silently approach monkeys in nearby trees.

Initially, several of the bonobos in the group would take up positions at tree bases and steadily gaze upward. Then, all at once, the positioned bonobos launched upward to attack the monkeys.

Twice the team saw the bonobos capture, kill, and eat their monkey prey.

"The second I read this, I thought: Oh good, finally!" said primatologist Elizabeth Lonsdorf of the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

"Bonobos being so peaceful never sat well with me," said Lonsdorf, who was not involved with the study.

"We see all species of captive apes, including bonobos, hunting animals, like squirrels, that wander into their enclosures. I was just waiting for something like this to come up," she said.

Primatologist Frans de Waal at Emory University in Atlanta said the research "changes our perception of bonobo social organization."

"This is a milestone finding," said de Waal, who also was not involved with the study.

"Now that actual observations have been made, [it] changes our perception of bonobo social organization," he said.

The scientists, funded in part by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration, were intrigued to find that some female bonobos hunt just as well as the males. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Among chimpanzees, females rarely hunt and have not been seen taking active roles in hunting parties.

But female bonobos launched themselves up trees and attacked their monkey prey just as effectively as the males, Hohmann and Surbeck reported.

"That females are hunting at all came as a surprise, but a few of them are truly excellent hunters," Hohmann said. "We just did not expect that."

Previous studies have found bonobo communities to engage amicably with monkeys they meet.

Bonobos have been observed "borrowing" baby black-and-white colobus monkeys and playing with them as if they were toys. They have also been seen engaging in grooming behavior with red colobus monkeys.

The Chicago zoo's Lonsdorf said playmates can easily become food if conditions change.

"I've seen adult chimpanzees hunt baboon babies that their offspring were playing with just days earlier," she said. "The same could easily be true of bonobos."

Emory University's de Waal said, "We are seeing in bonobos what happened a few decades ago for chimpanzees: field studies begin to report great variation from population to population."


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Friday, October 10, 2008

Gorilla Attacks, Kills Another Gorilla At Omaha Zoo

BAINAMale gorillas usually are easygoing toward females and offspring. But that wasn't the case Thursday at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo.

Samson, a 13-year-old male silverback gorilla, struck his daughter, Baina, about 10:15 a.m., the zoo's director, Lee Simmons, said.

"(Samson) suddenly jumped and slapped (Baina) and knocked her off her feet and down the side of the enclosure," Simmons said. "She fell and hit her head. There was tremendous head trauma."

Zoo staffers put forth "a heroic struggle" to save her life, Simmons said. The 3-year-old was even taken to the Nebraska Medical Center for a CAT scan. But Baina died at the hospital about 12:30 p.m.

Simmons said it was the second day since Baina's reintroduction to her family in an enclosure away from public view. Baina, who weighed 60 pounds, had been removed during attempts to get the 400-pound Samson to mate with an older female.

Staffers were stationed around the enclosure observing the group, Simmons said. Everything appeared fine until he suddenly struck her.

Simmons estimated Baina fell about 7 or 8 feet.

"It had to be that she just hit wrong because, ordinarily, (gorillas) would land on their hands and feet and be all right," he said. "It was just one of those fluke things."

Simmons said the zoo observers never had a chance to intervene.

"It was just a flick of his wrist, and she was gone," he said. "This is very unusual, because male gorillas may fight each other but they are very tender toward the females and offspring."

Gorillas, the largest of the primates, are ground-dwelling herbivores native to the forests of Africa.

Baina was born at Hubbard Gorilla Valley at the Omaha zoo on April 8, 2005, to Timu, the world's first test-tube gorilla. When Timu did not show the appropriate motherly instincts and walked away from the baby, zoo staff bottle-fed her as they had done with Timu's firstborn.

When Baina's grandmother, Rosie, showed interest in the baby, the zoo allowed her to become a surrogate mother. Baina's death drops the zoo's gorilla population to 13.

Simmons said it has been 38 years since a gorilla at the Henry Doorly Zoo was killed. In that case, a mother gorilla climbed to the top of the cage and dropped her baby to the floor below.

Staffers will get together to talk about Thursday's episode and evaluate Samson's attitude. Everything happened so fast, Simmons said, that the observers are not sure whether Samson intended to harm Baina.

"The only thing predictable about wild animals," Simmons said, "is their total unpredictability."


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Congo Rebel Attack Threatens Gorilla Park Rangers

REBELSCongolese wildlife guards prepared to evacuate from Africa's oldest national park on Wednesday as Tutsi rebels advanced on a ranger station protecting rare mountain gorillas, park officials said.

Rebel fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda seized an army base 3 km (2 miles) from the ranger station at Rumangabo during an artillery battle with government troops in Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern North Kivu province.

The station is in the southern half of the Virunga National Park, located on the border with Rwanda and Uganda and home to around 200 of the world's 700 surviving mountain gorillas.

"We need to evacuate the rangers and their families because there is a real threat that the conflict may engulf the main park station," park spokesperson Samantha Newport told Reuters.

Between 30 and 50 rangers were waiting to be extracted from Rumangabo late on Wednesday. Many have been living there since Nkunda's insurgents invaded much of the park last September.

"It's incredibly serious. The future is entirely uncertain. It will be impossible for the rangers to do their job if the station is overrun," Newport said.

In the past decade, 120 Virunga park rangers have been killed in clashes with armed groups and poachers.

Around 10 mountain gorillas were slaughtered last year in the Virunga reserve, shocking conservationists and causing a stir even in a country where violence, hunger and disease kill 1,500 people a day in the aftermath of a 1998-2003 war.

Around 100,000 civilians have fled their homes in North Kivu since fighting between the government army and Nkunda's rebels broke out in August after the collapse of a January peace deal.

Doctors at a hospital run by charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) treated dozens of soldiers and civilians injured in Wednesday's mortar, rocket and tank fire.

"We have two surgery teams working full-time ... This is enormous today," said MSF mission chief Anne Taylor. "Over the past few weeks the conflict has turned into a full-scale war."

A military spokesman for the United Nations mission in Congo (MONUC) said U.N. peacekeepers had come under direct fire from Nkunda's fighters. The mission deployed armoured vehicles and helicopters to the area of the clashes.


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Genome Of A Monkey-Human Malaria Parasite Decoded

genomeResearchers have decoded the genome of a malaria parasite that has a host range from monkeys to man. Identified originally in monkeys, the parasite was first reported in a human infection just over 40 years ago.

Until recently, four species were held responsible for human malaria infections: P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, and P. malariae. P. knowlesi is increasingly recognised as the fifth and emerging human malaria parasite, which is particularly prevalent in South East Asia and can cause potentially life threatening malaria. Recent surveys suggest that many P. knowlesi infections have been misdiagnosed by microscopy as P. malariae, resulting in gross underestimates of its prevalence.

The genome sequence reveals a dramatic example of 'molecular mimicry' that is likely to be crucial for survival and propagation of the parasite in the body. Remarkably, the team found several members of a large gene family that contain sequence signatures that closely resemble a key human gene involved in regulation of the immune system. The parasite versions of the human protein are thought to interfere with recognition of infected red blood cells.

In addition to this uniquely expanded group of genes, P. knowlesi has a fundamentally different architecture of the genes involved in 'antigenic variation' compared to other malaria parasites. The study also emphasizes the fact that, although 80% of genes are shared among all sequenced malaria parasites, each species may have a unique set of tricks and disguises that help it to escape host responses and to keep itself ahead in the host–parasite interaction.

"P. knowlesi has thrown up several surprises. Our study demonstrates the power of sequencing additional malaria genomes to unravel as yet undiscovered and fascinating aspects of the biology of malaria parasites" says Dr Arnab Pain, the first author in the study and the project manager at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

"Unusually, the key genes that we think help the parasite to evade detection and destruction by host defences are scattered through the genome. In the other species we have examined, these genes are most often near the tips of the chromosomes".

The phenomenon of 'antigenic variation' - where the parasite constantly changes the coat of parasitized red cells in order to avoid recognition by the host - was also first discovered in P. knowlesi. Moreover, it can be studied and grown in the lab, making it ideal to understand it's basic biology such as how it invades red cells.

Identified initially as a monkey parasite, P. knowlesi had been identified in only two cases of human infection before 2004. However, at that time, Professor Balbir Singh and colleagues developed DNA-based detection methods and examined samples from malaria patients in Malaysia. They showed that almost all cases of what was thought to be infection with the human parasite P. malariae were due to infection with the 'monkey' parasite P. knowlesi.

"Rapid and appropriate treatment is vital in cases of malaria," says Professor Balbir Singh, Director of the Malaria Research Centre at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak, "but before the development of molecular detection methods, we had been hampered by our inability to distinguish between P. knowlesi and the benign P. malariae parasites by microscopy. This parasite multiplies rapidly and can cause fatal human infections, so it is vital that doctors are aware that P. knowlesi is the fifth cause of human malaria.

"The genome sequence of what has been considered to be a 'model' for human malaria becomes much more significant with our findings of the widespread distribution and high levels of human infections with P. knowlesi."

P. knowlesi is an important model for studying the way that malaria parasites interact with host cells. It is a robust species in which invasion of red blood cells can be examined in detail. The genome sequence provides an updated catalogue of proteins that might help the parasite in these first stages of infection: the team identified novel regions in the genome that help to understand the regulation of these key genes and the transport of their proteins to the red cell surface.

Switching of surface proteins is a key defence mechanism for malaria parasites, as well as being essential for successful transfer between human and mosquito host, but the mechanisms of switching remain unclear.

"This is our first view of a monkey malaria parasite genome. It brings us intrigues and surprises - as well as new resources to help in the fight against malaria," says Dr Alan Thomas, Chairman of the Department of Parasitology, Biomedical Primate Research Centre in RIJSWIJK, Netherlands. "P. knowlesi is closely related to the second-most common cause of human malaria, P. vivax. With our new understanding of the genetic architecture of both parasites, we will more efficiently translate our studies on P. knowlesi to other human parasites.

"Just as important, the genome will help in understanding human cases of knowlesi malaria."

It is thought that P. knowlesi is a zoonotic malaria parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes of the Anopheles leucosphyrus group that feed on humans and monkeys.

The function of the majority of Plasmodium proteins remains unknown. Comparison with the other malaria parasites will help to understand the differences in pathology and the mechanisms they share in interacting with the human, monkey or mosquito hosts.


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Monday, October 06, 2008

Chimp Born At Detroit Zoo

detroit zoo chimp born ajuaThe Detroit Zoo is now home to a baby chimpanzee.

The new chimp, Ajua, was born Sept. 4.

Ajua, Swahili for sunny, was born to first-time mother, Akati, 21, and father, Imara, 13.

According to zoo officials, Akati is a very good mother and is taking good care of Ajua.

"She is exceptionally protective of Ajua," said Associate Curator of Mammals Michele Seldon. "The rest of the troop is excited and curious about the baby, but Akati is very selective about which members may come near or touch him."

The Great Apes of Harambee is a four-acre habitat which houses 11 chimpanzees, three Western lowland gorillas, two mandrills and a Diana monkey.

The animals spend their days foraging, grooming and playing just as they would in their native African environment


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Friday, October 03, 2008

Home Needed For Cambridge Chimps

tubmanThe race is on to help two chimps who were made homeless when a wildlife park closed down.

A Cambridge primate rescue charity has stepped in to help the chimps, Joey and Tubman.

The pair have been star attractions at Mole Hall Wildlife Park in Widdlington for 25 years - but the chimps now need to be rehomed because one of the park's owners was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Fundraisers from Cambridge-based Mona UK offered the animals a place at its affiliated sanctuary in northern Spain after no other home could be found for them.

But before the chimps can be moved from Cambridge to Spain, £150,000 needs to be raised.

A further £13,000 also needs to be found by Christmas before their current keeper at the wildlife park in Widdlington is made redundant.

The money will be used to charter a plane from Cambridge airport to take them to their new home.

Lorraine Docherty, director of the charity, said: "Options had run out for these poor boys, so we are glad that we can offer Joey and Tubman a place at our sanctuary.

"However, we urgently need the funds to make it happen within the next few months."

Dr Docherty says another £5,000 will be needed to make changes to an existing enclosure at the sanctuary to meet their needs and then a further £10,000 per year to keep them in food and lodgings for the rest of their lives, which is expected to be around 10 years.

John Doe, the curator of Mole Hall, said: "I am sad to see Joey and Tubman go but I know that they will well cared for at Mona's sanctuary in Spain."

Dr Docherty said: "It is a lot of money, but it will help to look after these guys for the rest of their lives.

"We do hope local people will support the campaign to raise the money as best they can after the loss of such a popular park."

The popular Mole Hall Wildlife Park was closed for good on September 16 after owner Douglas Johnstone announced the lung cancer he had been battling had spread.

Mr Johnstone's mother and father opened the park in 1963 and Joey and Tubman were considered two of the star attractions.

For more information on the campaign to raise the money to help move the pair, visit www.mona-uk.org


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Carcasses Found In Pennsylvania Kennel Raid

MONKEY IN ALMOST HEAVEN KENNELA kennel owner lost his license to operate Thursday and was charged with animal cruelty after officials found hundreds of animals crowded into a filthy, foul-smelling compound and dozens of puppy carcasses in a freezer.

Authorities removed dozens of ailing dogs and cats for medical care after Wednesday's raid at the Almost Heaven Kennel in Upper Milford Township in eastern Pennsylvania.

They were negotiating Thursday to remove more animals, said Elaine Skypala, program director for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Agents found a freezer containing 65 carcasses, mostly of puppies and some adult dogs. They also found 800 to 1,000 live animals, including monkeys, miniature horses and turkeys -- most of them living in filth without access to fresh water, Skypala said.

The SPCA served search warrants at Almost Heaven and two associated properties after resident complaints and an undercover investigation.

Under state law, the society's officers have police power to investigate claims of animal cruelty, abuse or neglect.

Kennel owner Derbe (Skip) Eckhart was cited Thursday, accused of keeping animals in unsanitary conditions and failing to provide proper veterinary care for 43 dogs, nine cats and a guinea pig.

The animals suffered from skin and eye ailments, upper respiratory diseases and lameness, officials said.

Eckhart, who faces a maximum fine of $750 for each count, disputed the allegations, noting that an August inspection by the state Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement turned up no violations of kennel regulations.

"What they tried to do yesterday was paint a picture that wasn't there," Eckhart said Thursday.

But the state agency moved to revoke Eckhart's kennel license Thursday, meaning he will have to sell or transfer enough dogs to no longer be considered a kennel.

Any kennel housing more than 25 dogs is required to be licensed and inspected.

"Mr. Eckhart allowed conditions at his kennel to deteriorate into a deplorable state," Jessie Smith, special deputy secretary for dog law enforcement, said in a statement.

"While we continue investigating his operations, we are taking this action to protect the health and welfare of the animals there."

Meanwhile, the state Agriculture Department, which oversees the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, planned to investigate why the kennel was given a clean bill of health following the Aug. 7 inspection.

"We're taking that very seriously," said Agriculture Department spokesman Chris Ryder.

Eckhart was charged two years earlier with having too many monkeys and operating a menagerie without a permit. He paid fines and court costs.

A neighbor, Phil Miller, applauded this week's raid.

"In the summertime, in August, you can't even open a window without being overcome with stench," he said.


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Uganda Wildlife Park Gets New Gorilla Family

GORILLAA new family of mountain gorillas, one of the world's most endangered species, is ready for interaction with tourists, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) told AFP Friday.

"There is a new group of 13 members that has been habituated," UWA spokeswoman Lillian Nsubuga said.

Wildlife experts began habituating the family, headed by a silverback named Nduhura, in October 2006 when one of the already habituated families in Uganda showed signs of moving into the bordering Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Nduhura's family completed its two-year habituation process, designed to gradually allow them to become used to a limited human presence, the day the other group crossed the border. "The timing was really perfect," Nsubuga said.

The endangered primates draw foreign visitors to Uganda's Impenetrable Forest at a cost of 500 US dollars per visit and are a cornerstone of Uganda's renascent tourism industry.

There are around 350 mountain gorillas currently living in Uganda, half of the world's population. The remaining half is found in the Virunga park which straddles the DRC and Rwanda.

"The population in Uganda is stable and can even increase," Nsubuga added. "As for the population in DR Congo, I can't be so optimistic."

Instability and violence in eastern Congo as well as a culture of eating primate meat and poaching threaten gorilla families living across the border. Several mountain gorillas were shot dead there recently.

The drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where Uganda's entire gorilla population lives, takes approximately 13 hours from the capital Kampala.

Once in the forest, tourists can track through the rough terrain for hours searching for a family, and spend no more than one hour interacting with the primates.

"Too much communication with humans is not good for these populations," Nsubuga said.

There are now four families of mountain gorillas in Uganda that are habituated to human contact.


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Monkey Bites Pitt Lab Technician

monkey biteAn 18-pound macaque monkey bit and then mauled the hand of a University of Pittsburgh laboratory technician last week, prompting accusations from the victim and her co-worker that the facility lacks sufficient safety measures.

Patricia "Trish" Boyle, 51, of Avalon, was released from UPMC Presbyterian yesterday -- eight days after the Sept. 24 attack. She received numerous stitches and suffered bone, tendon and nerve damage, the latter of which, she said, could be irreparable.

Blood tests have yet to show what viruses the macaque may have had and whether Ms. Boyle stands vulnerable to infections including hepatitis B. The macaque is used in research on a tuberculosis vaccine, but tuberculosis typically is spread via respiration rather than blood transfer.

"I'm afraid I'll never be able to work in this field again because of my hand," Ms. Boyle said. "I did a lot of microsurgery [in previous jobs] and don't know anything else but this. This is my life."

Pitt spokesman John Fedele, in a voice mail message, acknowledged that a workplace injury had occurred and the university was investigating. He could not be reached for further comment.

Karen Eggert, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the department investigates all reports of laboratory animals being improperly cared for, with ancillary concern for worker safety. After learning of the attack, a USDA inspector arrived Wednesday to question Ms. Boyle in her hospital room.

Alisha Brown, spokeswoman for the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said it would investigate only if a complaint is filed.

Pitt's $18 million Regional Biocontainment Laboratory is in Biomedical Science Tower 3 on Fifth Avenue in Oakland. The university's Center for Vaccine Research in Pitt's School of Medicine uses primates to develop vaccines with a focus on dengue, influenza, avian flu and tuberculosis.

The tuberculosis vaccine research is funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which awarded the center and other research groups a $11.4 million grant earlier this year to develop new strategies to control the disease.

To prevent exposure to dangerous disease, workers caring for animals in the containment area are required to don protective gear, respirators and rubber gloves, among other safeguards.

Ms. Boyle said her job was to feed up to 30 macaques used in the tuberculosis research, clean their cages and check on their health.

Ms. Boyle said she's trained as a laboratory technician, but was assigned to do animal husbandry at the lab.

"I was thrown in there and not taught anything, and told to do this," she said.

The macaques, also known as cynomolgus monkeys, hail from South Asia, weigh up to 30 pounds and feature long tails and limbs.

On Sept. 24, she was alone inside a containment area, using a pole to test whether the macaque's water system was working. But the macaque, called "Grabby" because of his propensity for grabbing anything he can reach, clasped the pole, yanked it inside the cage and then chomped down on Ms. Boyle's right palm below the index and middle fingers.

With its teeth penetrating to the bone, Ms. Boyle could not pull her hand away.

"My hand was in its mouth," she said. "It was clamping down on it and munching on it for up to a minute. I had no choice but to pull my hand out in shreds."

Bleeding profusely, she ran screaming into another containment area where another laboratory technician tried to attend to her injuries. Co-worker Joyce Ann Horner of West Mifflin also arrived to help.

They rinsed her hand, but lacked a bite kit to disinfect the wounds. Ms. Horner and Ms. Boyle also said a supervisor refused to call an ambulance. So Ms. Boyle, with her hand wrapped in a towel and covered with a garbage bag, had to walk uphill to the UPMC Presbyterian's emergency department.

During eight days in the hospital, she underwent three surgeries to treat recurring infections and continues to have no feeling in her index and middle fingers.

Ms. Boyle and Ms. Horner, who was fired the day after the attack for reasons she described as "vague," questioned safety and training procedures used at the lab.

They said a walkie-talkie system known as a Vocera was not working inside the containment area, preventing Ms. Boyle from summoning help. The cages that hold the long-limbed macaques also allow them to grab at workers, sometimes tearing away their respirator hoses. There also was no warning sign on the macaque's cage.

Ms. Horner said she previously was taken to an emergency room when a macaque scratched her hand.

"Bigger and bigger problems are turning out to be a disaster," Ms. Horner said. "For a center like this, they should pay more attention to the details."


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Mischievous Monkey Captured After Chase Aboard Ship At Fukui Port

MONKEY PORTJapan Coast Guard officials weren't monkeying around when they were called to capture a mischievous Japanese macaque that found its way onto a ship about to leave port here.

The 1,798-ton cargo vessel was about to leave Uchiura Port in Takahama on Sept. 27, heading to Vladivostok, Russia, when the monkey was spotted. Coast guard members who were called to the rescue eventually captured the monkey, but remained surprised.

"It's the first time we've had a stowaway like this," a coast guard representative said.

A marine safety station operated by the 8th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters received a report through a local shipping agency at about 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, saying that a monkey had found its way aboard and was running about the ship, preventing it from departing.

The macaque was chased into a compass control room below the upper deck and three coast guard officers used equipment, including shields and a net, to capture it shortly after 3 p.m. No injuries were suffered on either side.

The sex and age of the monkey remained unknown. Soon after being captured, it was reportedly released into the mountains nearby.

There is a protective fence around the port, and it remains unclear how the monkey made its way onto the ship, but coast guard officials were glad to have captured it.

"We've never heard of a monkey being captured by coast guard officers. It's a good thing it was found before they left," a relieved official said.


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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Indian Railway Employs 'Monkey-Man' To Protect Passengers

monkey man
Acchan Miyan, who's also known as Gudde, is allowed to monkey around at work - in fact it's an essential part of his job.

The 42-year-old is employed by the railway authorities in northern India to be a Monkey man.

He's paid around seven US dollars a day to scare away real monkeys.

There's a plague of them at Charbag station in Lucknow - at least there was until Gudde started work.

"There used to be thousands of monkeys here. But most of them have run away. People said that I would be eaten by the animals. But instead I've sacred them all the way."

Gudde perfected his monkey skills as a form of entertainment.

His ability to scare away the real thing was discovered by chance.

And passengers are delighted.

"There used to be many monkeys here and they'd cause all kinds of mischief. Sometimes they'd tear the seat covers in trains and snatch bananas from passengers. Acchan's act protect us from the monkey menace."

In a country where monkeys are often a menace Gudde's talents could prove lucrative.

That's something he's started praying for - to the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, of course.



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