Friday, July 31, 2009

Kadogo, The Bald Gorilla

bald gorillaA gorilla in Congo has attracted attention from around the globe as the only primate of his kind to have no hair on his head.

But Kadogo is not ageing, or even old before his time. In fact, the Silverback has been hairless on his crown since his birth in 2000.

Rangers at the Virunga National Park where he lives are unable to explain the reason for the nine-year-old's bald patch, but say he has earned a celebrity status among visitors.

Kadogo lives with a family of mountain gorillas at the park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

His name, which translates as 'small' in Swahili, was given by park rangers when he was born, as he had been so severely undersized.

These incredible pictures show the unique primate over the past nine years.

Ranger Innocent Mburanumwe, 36, who is in charge of monitoring the park's gorilla groups said: 'We ask ourselves why he is the only one like that among all these others in the wilderness.

'I don't know why, but it impressed me very much to see a gorilla with a bald patch like an old man among humans.

Full story here.

Spider Monkeys Invent Medicated Body Scratcher

spider monkeysWild spider monkeys now have a new tool under their proverbial belt: a body scratcher that may release medicinal compounds, according to a study published in the latest issue of the journal Primates.

The study is the first to report this spider monkey scratcher. Lead author Stacy Lindshield told Discovery News that two other instances of the use of objects as tools by the social monkeys have been documented.

"Spider monkeys have been observed rubbing crushed and chewed leaves on their bodies," said Lindshield, a researcher in Iowa State University's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Graduate Program.

She explained that the smelly practice may "play a role in olfactory communication."

"Second, spider monkeys are known to break off branches and drop them on or near human observers," she added, "so it's not a good idea to be directly beneath these guys!"

She and co-author Michelle Rodrigues collected observational data on wild spider monkeys at El Zota Biological Field Station in northeastern Costa Rica. They documented three instances where the monkeys used the scratcher tool.

The first to scratch was an adult female. Holding a small, leafy branch in her hand, she scratched her chest and abdominal regions.

The second, another adult female, used a detached stick lacking side branches and leaves to scratch her left side. She chewed the tool tip between bouts.

The third individual, a juvenile female, first chewed the distal tip of a stick before scratching the underside of her tail and her genital region.

The scientists think that by modifying the scratcher tip, the monkeys could be providing "more relief and comfort during scratching." The chewing alteration could "also be related to the chemical properties of the selected plant, as research on fur-rubbing and self-medication indicates that some primates select plants or invertebrates with chemical properties for this reason."

Like a human slathering on scented ointment, the plants may then be providing soothing compounds. Since the monkeys aren't just scratching hard-to-reach spots, they could also be stimulating their own scent production glands, which are involved in nose-detecting communication.

Full story here.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cheeta The Chimp's Memoir Contends For Booker Prize

me cheetaThe purported autobiography of a movie-star chimpanzee is among the contenders for Britain's most prestigious literary award.

"Me Cheeta" is one of 13 novels on the Booker Prize long list. Originally published anonymously, James Lever's book claims to tell the life story of the chimp who gained 1930s Hollywood stardom in "Tarzan" movies.

Other contenders announced Tuesday are former Booker winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee, as well as Adam Foulds, Sarah Hall, Samantha Harvey, Hilary Mantel, Simon Mawer, Ed O'Loughlin, James Scudamore, Sarah Waters, William Trevor and Colm Toibin.

The short list will be announced Sept. 8 and the winner of the $82,000 prize on Oct. 6.

Full story here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Orangutans Swing Through Trees Like Acrobats

orangutan swingingHefty orangutans wield their up to 180-pound bodies on flimsy treetop branches using special acrobatic maneuvers, according to a new study that could have implications for habitat conservation and reintroduction of the endangered species.

The findings, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, come at a critical time, since Sumatran orangutans are now on the verge of becoming the first great ape to go extinct in modern history.

At first, the researchers were astounded watching the circus star-like movements of wild Sumatran orangutans in the Gunung Leuser Ecosystem, which comprises pristine rainforest in Sumatra.

Project leader Susannah Thorpe told Discovery News that, in terms of navigating trees, orangutans "can basically do anything: hang from branches or stand on top of them with their limbs in any direction and each limb can be doing something completely different to the others."

Thorpe, a lecturer in locomotor ecology and biomechanics at the University of Birmingham, and colleagues Roger Holder and Robin Crompton noted the smooth moves of orangutans after conducting field studies on these primates, which are the world's largest habitually arboreal mammal.

Two orangutan treetop maneuvers really stood out. The first, which Thorpe nicknamed "the quadrupedal scramble," involved orangutans crossing gaps between trees by "scrambling on all fours between the branches at the fringes of the tree crowns."

The second, which she called the "tree sway," "is where orangutans rock flexible tree trunks from side to side with increasing magnitude until they can cross gaps in the canopy."

Thorpe added, "They can also sway tree vines hanging from above, so that they move a bit like Tarzan in the old movies, swinging from branch to branch, only orangutans do it -- like they do everything else -- much more slowly!"

Full story here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

School Planned To Rehab Delinquent Monkeys

monkey schoolWildlife officials in India plan to build a special school to improve the behaviour of delinquent monkeys.

They say the aim is to target monkeys that pose a serious threat to people in the state of Punjab. Officials say monkeys are a growing menace in Punjab as the animals move into towns and cities looking for food. The state government has asked India's Central Zoo Authority for funds to build the country's first monkey rescue and rehabilitation centre. Punjab has more than 65,000 wild monkeys.

As more and more forests disappear, they are increasingly encroaching into human settlements, say experts.

Many of the animals now live in towns and villages and it is not uncommon for them to attack humans as they forage for food.

The problem of rogue monkeys is particularly severe in towns close to India's north-western border with Pakistan. Officials accuse them of a variety of bad behaviour from terrorising children, snatching food from people and destroying property.

Macaque monkeys routinely destroy TV antennae, tear down clothes-lines and damage parked scooters and motorcycles.

"Besides people landing in hospitals after encounters with monkeys, the animals also often get hurt when house owners try to chase them away or keep them out by using live electric wires and other means," chief wildlife warden RK Luna told the BBC.

The proposed new monkey school will take in the "worst offenders" and put them through a crash course in good manners.

"We have proposed a composite facility where scientific methods will be employed to change and alter the social habits of the monkeys," Mr Luna said.

Wildlife officials hope to reduce aggression and train the monkeys to be more like the wild animals they originally were.

Full story here.

Alarm Over Killing Of 26 Rare Monkeys In Kenya's South Coast

endangered monkeysAt least 26 endangered Colobus monkeys have died in Kenya's South Coast this year alone, conservationists said on Sunday.

Colobus Trust trustee Luciana Parazzi said 15 of the rare monkeys died from road accidents along the Ukunda-Diani road while 11 others were electrocuted by power lines.

Ms Parazzi said other factors threatening the monkeys scientifically known as Angolan black and white colobus (Colobus angolensis) include massive destruction of the Diani forest and poaching.

The remaining coastal coral rag forest inhabited by the primates is also faced with extinction owing to unplanned tourism development and construction of private homes by individuals, she said.

The population of monkeys in Diani has plummeted from 482 to 276 in the last 12 years. Ms Parazzi said the number of the rare monkeys, which are only found in Diani and Shimba Hills, used to be 2,000.

“In the past six month alone 26 of these precious monkeys died from road accidents and electrocution. Poachers are also wreaking havoc as we have recovered 600 snares in the forest,” she said.

“Unless the clearing of the endangered coastal forest is stopped urgently these important ecological, economic and cultural animals will be lost forever.”

Full story here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monkey Returned Safely to Zoo After Theft

squirrel monkeyA stolen squirrel monkey is back safe at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens & Zoo in Monroe, and a 22-year-old man has been accused of stealing it.

Monroe Police Maj. Don Bartley says Cody L. Savell of West Monroe was arrested Wednesday, July 22, 2009 on a simple burglary charge.

The monkey was recovered in West Monroe on Tuesday, exactly a week after the locks on its cage were broken and the female monkey taken. The monkey's brother was found near its cage.

Zoo director Joe Clawson says many people want monkeys as pets, but monkeys have never been successfully domesticated.

He said it was the first time an animal has been stolen from the zoo.

Full story here.

Scientists Find HIV's 'Missing Link' In Sick Chimps

hiv particleA virus that is killing chimpanzees in the wild may be an intermediate stage in the evolution of the deadly human strain.

Scientists believe they have found a "missing link" in the evolution of the virus that causes Aids. It bridges the gap between an infection that does no harm to most non-human primates and one that kills millions of people.

The suspected link is a virus that is killing chimpanzees in the wild at a disturbingly high rate, according to a study in tomorrow's issue of the journal Nature. Chimpanzees are the first primate shown to get sick in the wild in significant numbers from a virus related to HIV. They are also humans' closest relative among primates.

The discovery of the disease killing chimps may help doctors to come up with better treatments or a workable vaccine for humans, experts said.

The primate version of the virus that causes AIDS is called simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), but most apes and monkeys that are infected with it show no symptoms of illness. "If we could figure out why the monkeys don't get sick, perhaps we could apply that to people," said study lead author Beatrice Hahn, a professor of medicine at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

The nine-year study of chimps in their natural habitat at Gombe National Park in Tanzania found chimps infected with SIV had a death rate 10 to 16 times as high as uninfected chimps. And postmortems of infected chimps showed unusually low T cell counts that are just like the levels found in humans with AIDS, said Hahn.

And when scientists looked at the strain infecting the chimps, they found that it was a close relative of the virus that first infected humans.

"From an evolutionary and epidemiological point of view, these data can be regarded as a 'missing link' in the history of the HIV pandemic," said Aids researcher Dr Daniel Douek of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was not involved in the Nature study.

Monkeys and apes other than chimps seem to have an evolutionary adaptation, probably at the level of their cell receptors, that allows them to survive the virus, Douek said. The infection in chimps is more recent so they haven't adapted.

Full story here.

Primate Suspect Fingered In Garden Store Thefts

The owners of a Richardson, Texas, gardening store have surveillance video of what appears to be a monkey burglarizing their business.

Plants and Planters has been burglarized several times, but co-owner Jerry Duncan said it's “definitely never been robbed by a monkey before.”

A two-foot primate is the prime suspect in the latest break-in at the Richardson nursery. Duncan’s wife, Shelley Rosenfeld, said she didn’t believe it either, “until I looked at it and said, 'This is crazy.'”

The owners of Plants and Planters have watched the surveillance video hundreds of times and are convinced it shows a monkey stealing from them.

“You can see the back legs, the front arms and the white head,” Duncan said.

In the video, the primate appears briefly in the lower left corner, walks past the fountain and then stops and places his hands on the floor.

Rosenfeld said she believes a human accomplice trained the monkey to lift the plants and pass them over the gate.

About 40 plants were missing the nursery, and pieces of concrete were shattered in the parking lot.

Full story here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Gibbon Uses Slamming Door In Song

singing gibbonA female gibbon has been observed enhancing her territorial song with a percussive noise.

Each time her song reached its natural climax, the gibbon slammed shut the door of her enclosure, using the loud noise it made to accentuate her call.

The gibbon used the door to create a single beat rather than a rhythm.

But her behaviour is yet another example of how smaller ape species are also capable of novel tool use, says the primatologist who witnessed it.

Thomas Geissmann is a leading expert on the conservation and behaviour of small apes, which comprise four genera of gibbon and siamang.

Yet while great apes, the gorillas, chimps and orang utans, are frequently observed to use tools both in captivity and in the wild, gibbons are rarely seen to do the same.

That was until Geissman observed a female white-handed gibbon (Hylobates lar) living with a male at Zoo Seeteufel in Studen, Switzerland.

In many gibbon species, the males call out using a series of short distinct noises that gradually become more complex. At regular intervals, females join in, singing long phrases known as 'great calls'.

The gibbons are thought to produce these sounds to defend their territory, and they can be heard from up to 2km away in natural forest.

No other gibbons lived at the zoo with the white-handed pair, but a group of siamangs did live in an enclosure nearby.

But despite the absence of other gibbons, the pair sang regularly.

However, Geissmann soon noticed that the female would exhibit a rather unique behaviour every other time she made her great call.

Just a few seconds before she started her great call, Geissmann reports in the 5th edition of the Gibbon Journal, the female would retreat into her sleeping box, singing as she went.

She then half shut the sliding door to the wooden box.

At the climax to her call, she would then slam the sliding door shut, and after it bounced back open again, she would jump out of the box, thrashing her arms and legs in a display.

"She would go into her little sleeping box made of wood, and always at the same point of her duet song she would jump out and smash shut the sliding door, which made a bang," says Geissman, who is based at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

"I realised what I had seen was tool use."

The noise of the door slamming can be heard to coincide exactly with the climax of her great call.

More often than not when singing, the gibbon would enhance her song in this way, and she almost never slammed the door at other times.

In all his years studying gibbons in the wild and in captivity, Geissmann has never seen or heard anything like it.

Listen to the song with the door slamming here.
Full story here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Low-Calorie Diet Slows Aging In Monkeys

monkeys agingA 20-year study of monkeys shows that a reduced-calorie diet pays off in less disease and longer life, U.S. researchers said on Thursday, a finding that could apply to humans.

They said rhesus monkeys on a strict, reduced-calorie diet were three times less likely to die from age-related diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes over the study period than monkeys that ate as they liked.

"We have been able to show that caloric restriction can slow the aging process in a primate species," Richard Weindruch of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, whose study appears in the journal Science, said in a statement.

"We observed that caloric restriction reduced the risk of developing an age-related disease by a factor of three and increased survival," Weindruch said.

The study in primates reinforces similar findings in yeast, worms, flies and rodents, and suggests other primates -- including humans -- may benefit, too.

Since people live far longer than monkeys, it may never be possible to fully study the effects of calorie restriction in humans, but monkeys do offer a close approximation, the team said.

Most caloric restriction studies have found that a lifetime of deprivation is needed to achieve the longer-life benefits, and many research teams are working on ways to replicate the findings with drugs.

Full story here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Koko The Gorilla Celebrates 38th Birthday

koko gorilla birthdayKoko, the lowland gorilla who can speak to us through the use of American Sign Language (ASL), spent the day celebrating her 38th birthday. Koko's full name is Hanabi-Ko, meaning "fireworks child" in Japanese. Koko celebrated her special day with her self-chosen mate, Ndume, and her favorite caregivers. Through conversation she communicated her three birthday wishes.

Koko communicates through ASL, has a vocabulary of more than 1300 words, and understands much more spoken English. Dr. Penny Patterson, co-founder, president and research director of The Gorilla Foundation, chatted with Koko, and she let her know her top three wishes:

* Koko continues to hope to have a baby of her own, or adopt
* Koko looks forward to the day when the Maui Preserve is a reality and she and her family can enjoy the additional space, and a better climate (learn more about the preserve)
* Koko hopes that people will become aware of the plight of her species before it is too late (take action by visiting

Koko's birthday is a big day every year at The Gorilla Foundation. Today Koko opened presents and feasted on her requested fare of Japanese Sushi, Vietnamese tofu curry, and good ol' American 4th of July treats such as vegetarian hot dogs and layered gelatin salad.

Full story here.

Chester Zoo Evacuated After Chimps Escape

chimp escapeA zoo was evacuated on Sunday after about 30 chimpanzees escaped from their enclosure.

The animals escaped from 'Chimp Island' and found their way into a keeper area where their food is prepared, the zoo said.

More than 5,000 visitors were asked to leave Chester Zoo, near Liverpool, shortly after the break-out as keepers rounded up the chimps.

"In the interests of public safety Chester Zoo was evacuated today, Sunday 5th July, as a precautionary measure. This decision was taken due to an escape of chimpanzees from Chimp Island into a keeper area," the zoo said.

In a statement, it apologised for the disappointment caused to guests and offered to provide a refund or free future visit to the zoo.

Full story here.

Jocco, Hogle's Famed Capuchin Monkey, Passes Away

joccoJocco, thought to be one of the world's oldest capuchin monkeys, and a longtime star at Utah's Hogle Zoo, has died.

The monkey -- known for his cloudy eyes, mangy fur and mostly hairless body but loved by zookeepers and visitors alike -- died in his sleep on June 13, according to zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite.

Braithwaite said that while it is possible that Jocco was 45 when he died -- which would have put him among the oldest capuchins ever -- there is some dispute over his age. "According to a former keeper, there were actually three different Joccos," she said.

Back in the 1960s, she explained, the keepers always called the dominant male of the troop "Jocco."

"So, whenever one would die, the next one would become Jocco," she explained.

As such, she said, it's unclear whether Jocco was really as old as previously thought, which is why the zoo didn't announce his death.

Braithwaite said the zoo had placed a sign on the monkey's habitat to let "his friends" know he was gone.

She said he was suffering from cancer in his jaw.

"He'll be missed," Braithwaite said.

Full story here.

Edinburgh Zoo Monkeys Found 'Chink' In Security

barbary monkeys escapeFive monkeys who have been on the loose for five days found a "chink in the armour" of the security in their Edinburgh Zoo enclosure, keepers said.

The barbary macaques, which are not said to pose a threat to humans, made their bid for freedom on Friday.

The new primates from a centre in Germany, climbed a wall before squeezing under an electric fence.

Lorna Hughes, head zookeeper, said they were younger and more agile than macaques previously held in the cage.

Ms Hughes said she hoped attempts to lure them down with their favourite foods such as nuts, seeds and bananas would work before they were forced to use nets or, as a last resort, darts.

She told BBC Scotland: "We moved our 12 barbary macaques to a new enclosure within the zoo and, being inquisitive animals, they decided to explore their enclosure and found a certain little weakness where they could climb up a certain part of the wall and make their way under the electric fence at the top.

"So we have had a few who have been on a small holiday for a few days in the zoo.

"They have stayed within the vicinity of the enclosure just at the trees and path behind and we have known where all of the animals have been at all times.

"We have had barbary macaques living in this enclosure for many years, probably almost 20 years, but this is a new group who are a bit younger, more agile and they found a chink in the armour, which we are going to have modified."

Full story here.

New Monkey Sub-Species Discovered in Brazilian Amazon

saddleback tamarin monkeyResearchers have discovered a new sub-species of monkey in a remote part of the Amazon rain forest, a U.S.-based wildlife conservation group said on Tuesday.

The newly found monkey was first spotted by scientists in 2007 in the Brazilian state of Amazonas and is related to the saddleback tamarin monkeys, known for their distinctively marked backs, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) said.

The small monkey, which is mostly gray and brown and weighs 213 grams (0.47 pound), has been named the Mura's saddleback tamarin after the Mura Indian tribe of the Purus and Madeira river basins where the new sub-species was found.

It is 240 millimeters (9.4 inches) tall with a 320 millimeter (12.6 inch) tail.

"This newly described monkey shows that even today there are major wildlife discoveries to be made," Fabio Rohe, the lead author of a study confirming the new discovery, said in a statement released by the WCS.

The study found that the monkey is threatened by development projects in the region, including a major highway through the forest that is being paved and which could fuel deforestation.

"This discovery should serve as a wake-up call that there is still so much to learn from the world's wild places, yet humans continue to threaten these areas with destruction," Rohe said.

Full story here.