Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green-Glowing Monkeys Have Green-Glowing Babies

glowing monkey babiesJapanese researchers have genetically engineered monkeys whose hair roots, skin and blood glow green under a special light, and who have passed on their traits to their offspring, the first time this has been achieved in a primate.

They spliced a jellyfish gene into common marmosets, and said on Wednesday they hope to use their colony of glowing animals to study human Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

Erika Sasaki and Hideyuki Okano of the Keio University School of Medicine in Japan used a virus to carry the gene for green fluorescent protein into monkey embryos, which were implanted into a female monkey, and four out of five were born with the gene throughout their bodies.

One fathered a healthy baby that also carried the new genes, they reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.

"The birth of this transgenic marmoset baby is undoubtedly a milestone," stem cell expert Dr. Gerald Schatten, of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of Oregon Health and Sciences University, wrote in a commentary in Nature.

"Transgenic marmosets are potentially useful models for research into infectious diseases, immunology and neurological disorders, for example," they wrote.

Full story here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Orangutans Found Cannibalizing Their Own Babies

orangutan cannibalismTwo female orangutans have been seen cannibalising the bodies of their recently deceased babies.

Such behaviour has never before been recorded in any great ape species.

The two incidences occurred just one month apart in the same region of forest in Indonesia.

The conservationist who witnessed both incidences suspects they were examples of aberrant behaviour, triggered by stressful living conditions suffered by both mothers.

Humans aside, chimpanzees were the only great apes known to engage in cannabilism, the eating of members of the same species. The behaviour had also been inferred but not seen in gorillas, after the remains of infants were found in the faeces of two adults.

But until now, no ape has been recorded eating its own offspring.

"Cannibalism has been documented in chimpanzees and reported in gorillas. Never before has any ape species been seen treating its own offspring as a consumable resource," says David Dellatore of Oxford Brookes University, in Oxford, UK.

That was until Dellatore begun tracking orangutans living in Bukit Lawang, an area of forest within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Dellatore, who now works with the Sumatran Orangutan Society based in Medan, Sumatra, initially monitored the physical health of once captive orangutans that have been rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

But soon he noticed that tourists in the area were interacting closely with the apes. Despite a ban on doing so, some tourists would feed or touch the semi-wild apes. So Dellatore switched his research to monitoring the behavioural health of the orangutans, following them from dawn till dusk.

During this research he twice witnessed female apes he recognised eating the corpses of their recently deceased babies.

"While following Edita, whose infant had just died in the forest, on the eighth day myself and my assistant Tumino saw her begin to consume the corpse," Dellatore says.

"At first we did not believe it, but there was no mistaking it. Edita was engaging in filial, or mother-infant cannibalism."

"Then a month later I was following Ratna by myself, whose infant had also just died, and observed her also cannibalising her dead infant."

Seeing the first instance surprised Dellatore, while he found the second even more shocking.

"Such behaviour had never been seen before in more than four decades of orangutan research. Surely it's not happening here twice in a one month period?" Dellatore recalls asking himself.

But Dellatore managed to collect further evidence of the second event. "I recovered a fallen piece of the infant's skeleton that Ratna spat out, as well as rather clear video footage of the event."

Dellatore is unsure why the orangutans behaved so. "It makes little evolutionary sense for orangutan females to kill their infants, nor is there any evidence that this happened here," he reports in the journal Primates.

Full story and video here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fossil Find May Be Monkey, Human Ancestor

fossilA University of Michigan professor says the discovery of a 47 million-year-old fossil may be from a primate species related to humans, apes and monkeys.

Michigan paleontology Professor Philip Gingeric, who also serves as the president-elect of the Paleontological Society of the United States, said the newly discovered fossil also supports the adapid theory of evolution, The Wall Street Journal said Monday.

A major ongoing evolutionary debate is focused on whether humans descended from an ape-like group called the tarsidae, the known descendants of the modern Asian primate tarsier, or the adapidae, whose modern descendant is Madagascar's lemur.

Gingeric said the new fossil offers evidence for the latter and traditionally less accepted theory.

"This discovery brings a forgotten group into focus as a possible ancestor of higher primates," Gingeric said of the archeological find.

Gingeric said the fossil, which will go on display next Tuesday at New York City's American Museum of Natural History, is of a young female adapid.

The Journal said the fossilized skeleton of the ancient primate was found near Frankfurt, Germany, in the Messel Shale Pit.

Full story here.

Ape Rescue Forest To Be Logged

An Indonesian paper company is planning to log an area of unprotected jungle which is being used as a reintroduction site for about 100 critically endangered orangutans, activists said on Monday.

A coalition of environmental groups said a joint venture between Asia Pulp & Paper and Sinar Mas Group had received a licence to clear the largest portion of natural forest remaining outside Bukit Tigapuluh national park on Sumatra.

The area is home to about 100 great apes that are part of the only successful reintroduction programme for Sumatran orangutans, the sub-species most at risk of extinction, the coalition said in a statement.

It is also a crucial habitat for the last remaining Sumatran tigers and elephants left in the wild, it said.

'It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild,' said Peter Pratje of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, which is part of the coalition.

'It could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat.

Full story here.

Great Ape Trust Bonobo Nathan Dies Of Lymphoma

nathan bonoboNathan, an 8-year-old bonobo and resident of the Great Ape Trust, died Friday of lymphoma, officials at the southeast Des Moines research center said Saturday.

The trust is dedicated in part to learning about humans by studying bonobos, our closest animal relatives.

Many staff members returned to the trust to grieve on Saturday.

"We humans who work at the Great Ape Trust grieve this loss like we would someone else important to us, whether human or nonhuman," said Operations Director Jim Aipperspach.

Nathan's mother, Panbanisha, 27, and brother Nyota, 12, are among a close-knit group of bonobos at the facility.

Aipperspach said the two apes were worried on Friday when Nathan left the facility to be diagnosed at Iowa State University's Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center. He died under sedation on the return trip.

Full story here.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jealous Female Gorillas Ply Males With Sex Even When They Can't Conceive

jealous gorillas sexJealous female gorillas ply their silverback with sex to fight off the competition, a study suggests.

Researchers at Zoo Atlanta in Georgia found that the female apes were more amorous on days their peers were having sex – even when they could not fall pregnant themselves.

Dr Tara Stoinski and her team monitored four female apes for two years, counting how often they approached their mate and actually had sex.

According to New Scientist magazine, even females who were already pregnant or breastfeeding young copulated more often when their peers were on heat.

It has previously been suggested that females solicit ‘non-reproductive sex’ – when they copulate despite being unable to conceive – to make males believe they could be the father.

But the females at Atlanta Zoo had only one silverback to father their young, discounting this theory.

Dr Stoinski believes the females upped their stakes with the male to stop him from inseminating the other three.

She said: ‘With another female in the mix, the male may copulate less with the first one, or he could be depleting his sperm.’

In their natural habitats, females could compete for the male’s attention so that he protects their young.

Full story here.

Chimp That Mauled Woman Had Xanax In System

chimp travisA chimpanzee that mauled a Connecticut woman had the anti-anxiety drug Xanax in its system, toxicology test results show, but investigators haven't determined whether the drug played a role in the attack, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

Authorities are still weighing whether to file criminal charges against the chimpanzee's owner, Sandra Herold, said Stamford State's Attorney David Cohen.

The 200-pound chimp, named Travis, attacked Stamford resident Charla Nash on Feb. 16. She lost her hands, nose, lips and eyelids in the attack. Doctors at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic say she is blind and faces two years of surgical procedures.

Nash's family has sued Herold for $50 million. The suit alleges, among other things, that she had given Travis medication that further upset the animal.

Herold has made conflicting public statements about whether she gave Travis Xanax the day of the attack. Police say the drug was not prescribed for the animal.

Telephone messages left for attorneys representing Herold and Nash's family were not immediately returned.

Full story here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gorillas Might Be The Smartest Apes On The Planet

gorilla intelligenceWhile researchers have rigorously tested chimpanzee intelligence for years, they have paid far less attention to gorillas.

That's because gorillas rarely use tools, and scientists had assumed the great apes are not as mentally astute.

But ongoing research at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago suggests otherwise.

Four years ago, scientists there attached a touch-screen computer terminal to the side of the enclosure of a female gorilla named Rollie.

As the gorilla approached, it saw the numeral one displayed on the screen. When Rollie touched the symbol, a chime sounded and the machine dispensed a frozen blueberry.

It did not take long for the gorilla to work out that pressing the number had benefits.

After a while, the computer screen presented Rollie with two symbols, the numerals one and two. Through trial and error, Rollie learned to press them in the right order to receive a blueberry.

Last year zoo primatologist Steve Ross reported that Rollie could sequence up to seven numbers at a time, and that chimpanzees at the facility were taking twice as long to learn the sequence.

"Gorillas rarely use tools and have rarely been cognitively studied as a result. So we did not expect them to perform very well at this," Ross said.

Despite Rollie's success, Ross and his colleagues wondered whether the gorilla was just one very sharp ape, or if such intellect could be found in other gorillas.

The scientists started testing other gorillas at their facility. The youngest of the group, a five-year-old named Azizi, is also proving to be a quick study.

So far the male gorilla has only learned to sequence five numbers at a time, but has progressed as rapidly as Rollie.

In Japan similar studies are being conducted with chimpanzees, mandrills, and gibbons. None have made it past the number five.

Full story here.

Louisiana Research Center Under Scrutiny For Handling Of Primates

lafayette iberiaFederal investigators have confirmed reports of primate mistreatment at the largest primate research facility in the US.

As The Scientist reported in early March, the New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana drew criticism after a video of alleged animal abuse surfaced. The video was shot by an investigator with the Humane Society of the United States, who in 2007 and 2008 recorded images of chimps being sedated with dart guns and falling off their perches onto the floor, and monkeys with open wounds.

Investigators with the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) visited the New Iberia Research Center, which is administered by the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, on March 17th in response to a complaint filed by the Humane Society. The report detailing their investigation was released yesterday (May 11).

Investigators were not able to observe the facility's sedation practices during their visit, but they documented several other violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

"Three adult primates individually housed with nursing infants were under sedation in their primary enclosures without adequate monitoring," the report read. "Each animal was not responsive to our presence or the vigorous attempts of the infant to arouse their mother. One of the sedated primates had their head pressed into the side of the enclosure possibly obstructing breathing. Monitoring in this manner was identified in separate areas of the facility grounds by two different inspection teams on the same day."

The report also stated that adult chimpanzees were transported improperly, with unrestrained apes set on tables and lifted by their four limbs into waiting vehicles. The report noted "the possibility of injury caused by the primate falling off of an unsecure table, injury to the joints or musculature caused by rough manipulations during the carrying or dropping during lifting the animal in to the transport vehicle."

Investigators also found that a number of African Green Monkeys at the facility were missing their tails. "Some of these tails were amputated as a result of trauma and others were amputated as a result of frostbite," the report read. "The heating of outside enclosures does not allow for the prevention of frostbite to all extremities of these primates."

The investigators uncovered further deficiencies in how the center documented animal research protocols as mandated by the Animal Welfare Act.

"USDA will be taking immediate action to ensure that these issues are corrected," the federal agency said in a statement.

"The UL Lafayette New Iberia Research Center is working with APHIS to ensure that corrective actions are taken," New Iberia Research Center director Thomas Rowell said in a statement faxed to The Scientist. The statement notes that the investigation turned up six "noncompliant issues," five of which the research center had "completely addressed" as of May 11th. The only outstanding issue appears to be the proper heating of the outdoor African Green Monkey enclosures noted in the APHIS report. The center has until October 30th to address that problem.

USDA investigator revisited the facility on April 30th and concluded that the citations uncovered in the March 17th investigation "were reviewed and addressed appropriately by the University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee," according to the facility's statement.

Full story here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pig-to-Monkey Transplant Treats Diabetes

pig to monkey transplantUsing embryonic tissue for interspecies organ transplants offers a way to evade the host's immune system, say scientists who used the method to treat type 1 diabetes in primates. By transplanting embryonic pancreatic tissue from pigs to monkeys, Israeli researchers report that they were able to reverse the primates' insulin deficiency.

The key, the researchers say, is the embryonic tissue's ability to grow into a new pancreas that uses blood vessels from the host animal. The host blood vessels are not subject to the dangerous immune reaction that has always dogged xenotransplants of mature pancreatic material.

The research team, led by Yair Reisner of the Weizmann Institute, claims that the results, published in the latest issue of the journal PNAS, could offer an attractive replacement therapy for type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease in which the destruction of the pancreas means that sufferers rely on injections of the hormone insulin to control their blood-sugar levels.

Full story here.

Mysterious Primate Skull Unearthed At Texas Construction Site

primate skullA plumber working on a construction project outside a Dallas, Texas school has unearthed a mysterious skull. "We all know it's a primate," said David Evans, 25, of Alvarado. "We just don't know which kind."

The skull was buried about five feet underground, he said.

The skull is six inches from front to back and two inches wide.

Most of the teeth, including one-inch canines, are intact.

Evans said the skull was discovered last week at the St. Alcuin Montessori School near Churchill Way and Preston Road.

A noted anthropologist for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office, Dr. Dana Austin, viewed photographs of the skull and said it was definitely an "old-world primate," possibly a monkey or chimp.

She said it was impossible to determine from the photos the age of the skull.

Evans, who talked to other experts, said he believes it may be a baboon.

"From everybody at UTA and everybody I've been talking to, it's possibly a baboon," he said. "But how it got to 635, right there at Churchill and Preston, I have no idea."

Full story here.

2 Golden Lion Tamarin Monkeys Born At Utah's Hogle Zoo

tamarin monkeys birthA couple of golden lion tamarin monkeys at Utah's Hogle Zoo are parents again -- for the 31st and 32nd time.

Puddles gave birth to twins overnight Saturday, just in time for Mother's Day. The tiny babies, which are currently hitching a ride on mom's back until they start walking in a month or so, are Puddles' 31st and 32nd babies with dad Poco.

Zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite says the little ones don't have names yet -- zoo staff don't even know if they are male or female.

Full story here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Monkey Psychology: Cooperation & Fairness

VIDEO. Monkeys understand cooperation and fairness, from a recent documentary.

Full story here (via Fresh Creation)

Whistling Orangutan Releases CD Of Songs

ujian whistling orangutanAn orangutan in Heidelberg Zoo has attracted attention after teaching himself to whistle. Now the 14-year-old ape has recorded his first CD.

Although somewhat underrated as a musical technique, a spot of whistling can often add a certain something to a song. Who can forget Otis Redding's poignant whistling on the soul classic "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" or the haunting whistle refrain on the fall-of-the-Wall rock anthem "Wind of Change" by Germany's Scorpions?

Now a whistling orangutan at Heidelberg Zoo in Germany is set to release his first CD. Entitled "Ich Bin Ujian" ("I Am Ujian"), the CD single by Ujian, a 14-year-old orangutan, will go on sale at the zoo in June. Proceeds will go toward the extension and renovation of the zoo's ape house.

The song, a jaunty pop-rock number with reggae elements, features Ujian's melodic whistling as a background element. The lyrics, sung by Tobias Kämmerer, follow a similarly self-aggrandizing stance as the classic "I Wan'na Be Like You" sung by the orangutan King Louie in the animated movie "The Jungle Book," with the chorus including the lines: "I am Ujian the orangutan, I am so cool, man, I'm a star."

Local musician Christian Wolf, who was one of the producers of the song, was passing Ujian's enclosure one day during a visit to the zoo with his son. He stopped in amazement in front of Ujian's cage when he heard the animal whistling.

He returned with a digital recording device. With the help of Bernd Kowalsky, who is responsible for apes at the zoo, they recorded five hours' worth of audio, from which they gathered enough of Ujian's whistling for the song.

Ujian apparently taught himself to whistle last summer. According to the newspaper Stuttgarter Nachrichten, Ujian was inspired to start whistling after a vegetable delivery man was late coming to his cage. Ujian let out an exasperated whistle in a bid to get him to hurry up. From simple notes, the gifted ape soon graduated to melodic phrases.

Listen to "Ich Bin Ujian" here.
Full story here.

Orangutan Short-Circuits Fence In Zoo Breakout

The overwhelming pain of grief can drive anyone into out-of-the-ordinary behaviour, even a 62kg orangutan.

Karta, a 27-year-old Sumatran orangutan at Adelaide Zoo, has cut a lonely figure since her mate, Pusung, 31, died from a respiratory infection last month.

Zookeepers believe the grief of losing her partner, known as the "gentle giant" of the zoo, led to Karta's ingenious escape yesterday from her enclosure.

The drama began about 11am, when Karta used a stick to short-circuit electric wires, which are used to protect vegetation around the bottom of the orangutan enclosure, zoo spokeswoman Emily Rice told The Australian.

"She climbed over those disabled hot wires, built up a mound of leaf litter and then used a branch to climb out of the exhibit and on to the surrounding wall of the exhibit."

It was the first time an orangutan at the zoo had ever left the enclosure, and it forced the evacuation and closure of the zoo for the rest of the day.

Staff last night were still trying to coax the clever orangutan inside her night den, although she had earlier voluntarily returned to her enclosure.

"It is unusual," Ms Rice said. "Certainly, we have never had an orangutan out before, but they are such an intelligent species. While orangutans have been known to make tools and so forth in the past, it is unusual for them to try and get out like that."

Once outside the enclosure, Karta spent the next 30 minutes trying to find her way back in.

Witness Ryan Johnston, 11, told of the orangutan's great escape.

"It was amazing how she did it, because she actually got a branch, pulled it over the electric fence and then got over," he said.

Ms Rice said Karta was not aggressive and did not pose an immediate threat to the public.

Full story here.

Monkey’s Death At Toledo Zoo Blamed On Heart Failure

The first member of an endangered monkey species to be born at the Toledo Zoo died Wednesday of congestive heart failure.

Tien, a male Francois’ langur, began receiving treatment last month because it showed signs of respiratory problems.

Though Tien responded partially to treatment, it became increasingly lethargic and anorexic, zoo officials said.

When the langur was examined Tuesday, its heart was enlarged and fluid was building up in its abdomen. Treatment was started to slow the heart disease and comfort the animal.

“An examination in January revealed no signs of heart disease in Tien,” Dr. Chris Hanley, zoo associate veterinarian, said in a statement. “Although the necropsy indicated cardiomyopathy as the cause of death, further tests may help determine the exact cause of the heart failure.”

Tien was born in July, 2002, the first Francois’ langur birthed at the zoo, the offspring of female Ashes, now about 12, and male Dong Puong, now about 13. The parents survive at the zoo, as do its brothers, Treiu Bay, born in July, 2004, and Chay, born in September, 2008.

Full story here.

Monkey Birth Celebrated At Highland Wildlife Park

monkey birthHighland Wildlife Park in Kingussie is celebrating the birth of a baby snow monkey.

This is the first baby to be born at the park since snow monkeys were introduced to the animal collection nearly two years ago. The baby, born on April 15, is a female and has been named Aimi by the keepers. Her name comes from a combination of the Japanese words for love and beauty.

Douglas Richardson, animal collection manager, said: “The birth and successful rearing of this baby monkey is the confirmation we were looking for that tells us that we now have a cohesive, established group of monkeys. Aimi is also the most precocious macaque baby I have ever seen and she is already trying to wander short distances from her mother.”

Full story here.