Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Global Warming Cycles Threaten Endangered Primate Species

monkeys climateSeveral endangered species of monkey are likely to be pushed further towards extinction by the effects of climate change, research has suggested.

At least four primates from South America that appear on the international Red List of endangered species are adversely affected by climate phenomena that are predicted to worsen as the world warms, scientists have found.

The muriqui, the Colombian red howler monkey, the woolly monkey and Geoffroy’s spider monkey, have all declined in population either during or soon after recent El Niño events, according to a study from a team at Pennsylvania State University.

Many scientists expect El Niño events, in which abnormally warm ocean temperatures in the southern hemisphere affect the climate, to become stronger or more frequent over the next century.

This could create fresh pressures on species that are already under threat. The muriqi and Geoffroy’s spider monkey are officially endangered, while the woolly monkey has vulnerable status and the Colombian red howler is classified as declining but of least concern.

Full story here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chimpanzees' Grief Caught On Camera In Cameroon

chimp funeral
More than a dozen chimps stand in silence watching from behind their wire enclosure as Dorothy, a chimp in her late 40s who died of heart failure, is wheeled past them.

The chimps are from the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center in Cameroon. Locals from the village work as "care-givers" for the orphaned animals whose mothers were all killed for the illegal bushmeat trade.

The photo was taken by Monica Szczupider, who was working at the centre.

Speaking about Dorothy, Miss Szczupider, 30, said the chimp was a "prominent figure" within a group of about 25 chimps.

"Chimps are not silent. They are gregarious, loud, vocal creatures, usually with relatively short attention spans", she said.

"But they could not take their eyes off Dorothy, and their silence, more than anything, spoke volumes."

Full story here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Koko Picks Winning Jack-O'-Lantern; Devours Pumpkin

koko pumpkinThe Gorilla Foundation, home of Koko, the gorilla who can speak to us through the use of American Sign Language (ASL), today announced the winner, selected by Koko herself, of their pumpkin design contest. Pumpkin-loving Koko closely inspected the carved and lighted creation, gently blew into its ear (of all the entries, only the top design she selected sported ears), then dug in and promptly devoured her own smaller carved pumpkin.

Halloween is one of Koko's favorite holidays and every year she eagerly anticipates pumpkin season when her caregivers serve her the orange beauties as well as the roasted seeds. The Gorilla Foundation decided to share Koko's holiday with the community and invited local school, Kings Mountain Elementary, to submit drawings for a pumpkin design contest. The children, grades K-5, drew pumpkin faces. Koko reviewed the designs and selected her top three favorites in rank order. The winner received a photo of Koko posing with the carved pumpkin and a Koko plush doll; the two runners up each received the book "Koko-Love: Conversations with a Gorilla."

Kyle Niermann, of Ms. Bolton's third grade class took first prize. The contest not only delighted Koko, but also helped raise awareness about the Gorilla Foundation's mission of conservation through communication to help protect endangered gorillas.

Full story here.

Starving Monkeys Fed By Thai Navy

hungry monkeysHungry monkeys are getting some relief from the Thai navy. The crew has started feeding a group of long-tailed macaques monkeys on Kledkaew Island, off Thailand.

The monkeys are starving because they don't have enough food, and the tourists who usually feed them have not been to the island because of bad weather. The navy now delivers bags of bananas and cucumbers to the monkeys.

Reuters reported that hundreds of monkeys live on the island, which is located within the naval training base. The navy started regularly supplying food to the monkeys after reports that many drowned while trying to catch fish from the sea.

When the boat reaches the shore, the monkeys gather around to await their handout. There used to be about 20 tourists a day who would come to the island to leave food for the monkeys, but that number has dwindled to less than five.

Full story here.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cocaine Makes Male Monkeys Lose Impulse Control

monkeys on cocaineAdult male monkeys exposed to cocaine while in the womb have poor impulse control and may be more vulnerable to drug abuse than female monkeys, even a decade or more after the exposure, according to a new study by researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The findings could lead to a better understanding of human drug abuse.

The study was presented today at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Chicago.

“This is the first time that so many different measures of impulsivity, which is considered a risk factor for drug abuse, have been looked at in the same group of animals,” said Lindsey Hamilton, lead investigator and a graduate student working in the laboratory of Michael Nader, Ph.D., a professor of physiology and pharmacology. “We’re looking for ways to predict which individuals are going to take drugs during their lives. It was very surprising to see that, even more than a decade after the prenatal cocaine exposure, the monkeys ended up being more impulsive and possibly more susceptible to drug use. It was particularly interesting, however, that this effect was only seen in the males. Something is either protecting the females from the effects of the cocaine exposure in the womb or making the males more susceptible to the lasting effects.”

For the study, researchers compared adult monkeys – both male and female – prenatally exposed to cocaine more than 15 years ago, to monkeys who were raised under similar conditions, but not exposed to cocaine during gestation. To determine if the animals differed in impulse control, they performed four tests. For one of the tests, the researchers gave the animals the choice between pushing a lever that delivered a single banana pellet reward immediately or a lever that delivered several banana pellets, but required the animals to wait up to five minutes before the reward was delivered.

“That’s where we saw very large differences between the groups,” Hamilton said. “The males who were exposed to cocaine in-utero had no patience or impulse control whatsoever.”

Those monkeys were less willing to wait for a larger food reward and preferred the immediately available, though much smaller, reward, indicating they were more impulsive than the adult male monkeys who had never been exposed to cocaine. There was, however, no difference in the preference of female monkeys prenatally exposed to cocaine and those never exposed to the drug.

Full story here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Evidence Of Culture In Wild Chimpanzees

wild chimp cultureA new study of chimpanzees living in the wild adds to evidence that our closest primate relatives have cultural differences, too. The study, reported online on October 22nd in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, shows that neighboring chimpanzee populations in Uganda use different tools to solve a novel problem: extracting honey trapped within a fallen log.

Kibale Forest chimpanzees use sticks to get at the honey, whereas Budongo Forest chimpanzees rely on leaf sponges—absorbent wedges that they make out of chewed leaves.

"The most reasonable explanation for this difference in tool use was that chimpanzees resorted to preexisting cultural knowledge in trying to solve the novel task," said Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St Andrews in Scotland. "Culture, in other words, helped them in dealing with a novel problem."

"Culture" in this sense refers to a population-specific set of behaviors acquired through social learning, such as imitation, Zuberbühler explained. That's in contrast to an animal or human learning something on his or her own through trial and error, without taking into account what others around them do, or behaviors that are "hard-wired" and require no learning at all.

Behavioral differences among animal populations have been taken as evidence of culture, the researchers said, but it's a notion that has remained controversial. Some think that other explanations—differences in the environment or in genetics—seem more likely.

Perhaps the strongest evidence for animal culture has come from studies on wild chimpanzees in Africa, Zuberbühler said. For instance, 15 years of field observation has shown that Kibale chimps habitually use sticks as tools, whereas Budongo chimps never do. Both groups make use of leaf sponges to access water from tree holes.

The question is, are those differences really cultural? That's been a hard question to answer because scientists couldn't rule out all of the possible ecological or genetic explanations for those behavioral differences. Scientists have seen social transmission of behaviors among chimpanzees living in captivity, with good evidence that the chimps can socially learn arbitrary behavior. It still wasn't clear whether those findings were relevant to chimps in the wild.

Full story here.

Chimp Dies At Albuquerque Zoo

A 37-year-old female chimpanzee has died at the Albuquerque zoo.

Bernice was euthanized Monday after a short illness. She was one of nine chimps, including her 9-year-old daughter, who joined the Rio Grande Zoo in May 2002 from the Coulston Research Foundation, a former biomedical research facility.

Zoo officials returned Bernice's body to the zoo's chimpanzee building to allow the other animals to know she had died. They displayed a variety of behaviors, including screaming and anger. Some hugged each other and gently touched her.

A necropsy is pending but zoo veterinarians believe she died from heart disease.

They said Bernice had a blood clot in her heart, and part of it broke off to cause a condition that made one of her legs wither. Treatment wasn't possible.

Full story here.

Second Primate Dies At Toledo Zoo This Week

elaine the gorillaA second great ape at the Toledo Zoo has died within a week.

Both were well beyond their life expectancy.

The zoo announced Wednesday morning that Elaine, a 42-year-old female gorilla, died early Tuesday afternoon after having an intermittent dry cough and loss of appetite over the weekend. She also was trembling, lethargic, and had difficulty breathing.

A necropsy performed on Tuesday revealed abnormalities in the adrenal glands, kidneys and lungs. Further tests are pending to determine the significance of the lesions, the zoo said.

Officials were initially encouraged by her response to treatment. But she was "minimally responsive" on Tuesday morning and died during recovery after being immobilized for an examination, the zoo said.

Full story here.

Activists File Second Complaint Of Abuse Against Research Center

complaintMore complaints of animal neglect have been made against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center.

For the second time this year, an animal rights group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency.

A complaint claiming similar neglect made in January by the group was determined to be unfounded by USDA inspectors during a March visit, said Dave Sacks, USDA agency spokesperson.

Sacks said the agency takes every complaint seriously and each is reviewed by inspectors.

The university also said it will review the records cited in Michael Budkie’s letter to the USDA, according to a statement released by ULL on Tuesday.

“Budkie routinely and frequently alleges animal welfare violations at universities and other research facilities around the country,” the statement says.

Full story here.

Analysis Finds Ida Not 'Missing Link'

ida missing linkWhen scientists announced in May the discovery of a fossil which showed an evolutionary “missing link” between humans and apes, experts were skeptical the fossil was even a close human relative.

A new analysis reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature further supports these doubts, finding instead that the fossil, dubbed Ida, is about as far removed from the monkey-ape-human ancestry as a primate could be.

Ida is the skeleton of a 47 million-year-old creature discovered in Germany, and is the subject of a book entitled "The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor." The fossil represents a previously unknown primate species called Darwinius.

Although the scientists who announced Ida’s discovery said they didn’t claim Darwinius was a direct ancestor of monkeys, apes and humans, they did maintain that it belongs in the same evolutionary grouping and that the fossil showed what an ancestor of that era might have looked like.

In the latest analysis, Erik Seiffert of Stony Brook University in New York and his colleagues compared 360 anatomical features of 117 living and extinct primate species, and then constructed a family tree.

They concluded that Darwinius does not belong in the same primate category as monkeys, apes and humans, and falls instead into the other major grouping, which includes lemurs.

Other experts agreed with Seiffert’s analysis.

Full story here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chimp Fifi Dies After 46 Years At Toledo Zoo

fif the chimpThe Toledo Zoo is mourning the loss of a chimpanzee that had been at the zoo for 46 years.

Fifi, a 49-year-old female chimp, died Friday after a rapid decline in health.

"That is very, very old for a chimp both in captivity and in the wild," said Randi Meyerson, the zoo's curator of mammals. "She lived a good, long life."

Fifi came to the zoo in 1963 at the age of 3 and was a well-liked member of the community with a strong personality, Ms. Meyerson said.

On Thursday she started showing signs that she was stiff and tired. Chief Veterinarian Chris Hanley examined her and started her on medication, which improved her condition and on Friday morning she was moving better and was more active.

By the afternoon, however, she had become disoriented, deteriorated rapidly, and died.

A necropsy revealed possible blood vessel abnormalities in the brain, and further tests are pending to determine a cause of death.

Full story here.

Gorilla Theatre Debuts

gorillaA little bit of link love, only because I am a big Jodorowsky fan:

Exclusively for Guerrilla Zoo, and the first time in London, a play written and directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Starring his son, actor Brontis Jodorowsky in a solo theatrical monologue inspired "Report to an Academy" by Franz Kafka.

A lone gorilla’s solitary struggle to reach acceptance by humanity. Its story to obtain a highly sought after award of distinction by ‘The Academy,’ and it’s disturbing discourse on his new ‘status’ as a human. A unique perspective of the human condition from the eyes of an educated Gorilla.

For more info go here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chimps Help Each Other, But Only If Asked

chimp study helpThe evolution of altruism has long puzzled researchers and has mainly been explained previously from ultimate perspectives—"I will help you now because I expect there to be some long-term benefit to me". However, a new study by researchers at the Primate Research Institute (PRI) and the Wildlife Research Center (WRC) of Kyoto University shows that chimpanzees altruistically help conspecifics, even in the absence of direct personal gain or immediate reciprocation, although the chimpanzees were much more likely to help each other upon request than voluntarily.

The findings are published October 14 in the open-access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE.

Shinya Yamamoto and colleagues studied six pairs of chimpanzees (three mother-offspring pairs and three non-kin adult pairs) in two different experiments, designed to test whether the chimpanzees would transfer a tool to a conspecific even if doing so would bring no immediate benefit to themselves. In each case, two chimpanzees would be situated in two adjacent, transparent booths, either in a straw-use situation where the chimpanzee would need access to a straw to be able to drink the juice box available to it, or in a stick-use situation where the chimpanzee would need access to a stick to drag a juice reward back into the booth.

In the first experiment, the two chimpanzees would have access to the opposite tool needed to obtain the reward in their booth—the chimpanzee that needed the straw would have access to the stick and vice-versa. In the second experiment, the mother-offspring pairs were tested in a situation where there was no opportunity for reciprocation because each individual was assigned a fixed role—giver or recipient—for 24 trials (one week's worth) before the roles were reversed.

The researchers found that the chimpanzees did spontaneously transfer tools in order to help their partner. This tool transfer occurred predominantly after the partner had actively solicited help (by poking its arm through a hole in the booth, for example, or by clapping), even when there was no hope of reciprocation from the partner (as in experiment 2) and even when the two animals were unrelated.

Full story here.

Artist Crucifies Ape To Save Threatened Gorillas

ape crucifiedIt's a crucifix in a church, but the cross bears the life-like body of a gorilla.

Paul Fryer is likely to provoke protests with his work, The Privilege of Dominion, installed in the former Holy Trinity Church in Marylebone in a show inspired by the cabinets of curiosities popular in the 16th century.

The gorilla was made with the help of a former Madame Tussauds waxwork expert and a hair-inserter. "It does look real - even close up," Fryer said.

He insists he wants to highlight the plight of the Western Lowland Gorillas, and to challenge the Christian notion that animals do not have souls. But he does not want to cause offence.

"I do go to church and regard myself as a Christian, though I'm probably a heretic," he said. "I just hope people understand the spirit of it is intended to create discourse and make people think rather than offend anybody."

Full story here.

Even Monkeys Hate Polar Express

monkeys virtualPrinceton University researchers have come up with a new twist on the mysterious visual phenomenon experienced by humans known as the "uncanny valley." The scientists have found that monkeys sense it too.

The uncanny valley, a phrase coined by a Japanese researcher nearly three decades ago, describes that disquieting feeling that occurs when viewers look at representations designed to be as human-like as possible -- whether computer animations or androids -- but somehow fall short.

Movie-goers may not be familiar with the term, but they understand that it is far easier to love the out-of-proportion cartoon figures in the "The Incredibles," for example, than it is to embrace the more realistic-looking characters in "The Polar Express." Viewers, to many a Hollywood director's consternation, are emotionally unsettled by images of artificial humans that look both realistic and unrealistic at the same time.

In an attempt to add to the emerging scientific literature on the subject and answer deeper questions about the evolutionary basis of communication, Princeton University researchers have found that macaque monkeys also fall into the uncanny valley, exhibiting this reaction when looking at computer-generated images of monkeys that are close but less than perfect representations.

Full story here.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Baboon Rescued From Kentucky Garage

baboonSuzie the baboon has a new home in a central Kentucky wildlife center after an anonymous tip prompted Kenton County authorities to remove the 31-pound primate from an Independence couple's home.

"Suzie's not stopped eating since she got here," said April Truitt, executive director of the Primate Rescue Center Inc. in Nicholasville. "I've never seen an animal consume so much in one sitting."

Kenton County animal control officers responded to a home in the 3100 block of Mills Road Thursday after an anonymous caller to the county's emergency dispatch center said that "someone was keeping an orangutan" at their home.

When animal control officers responded, they called Truitt after finding a baboon caged in the couple's garage. Because the owners willingly gave up the animal, they were not charged under a county law that prohibits keeping exotic animals as pets, said Dan Evans, director of the Kenton County Animal Shelter.

"The animal was getting older, and I was told that the owners were concerned about the animal because it was getting aggressive," said Kenton County Attorney Garry Edmondson.

Evans said the couple told animal control officers that the baboon had spent most of her 24 years in cages in their basement and garage.

Baboons typically live 35 to 40 years in captivity, and their life span is about half that in the wild, Truitt said.

"Suzie's owner said they didn't have any children and this was basically their child," Evans said. "The guy kept mentioning (the former TV show) 'BJ and the Bear.' He told me he didn't want to have any kids because kids talk back."

Full story here.

PETA Persuades 'Dancing With the Stars' To Cancel Chimpanzee Act

An announcement on Monday night's "Dancing With the Stars" revealed that a chimpanzee would be among the guest judges on the following night's program.

But you may have noticed that there was no chimp on the show Tuesday night. Instead, a toddler was a guest judge.

Here's how it went down: The announcement prompted PETA to ask "DWTS" executive producer Conrad Green on Tuesday to cancel the chimp appearance.

PETA cited concerns about how great apes are separated from their mothers, beaten and shocked in training, and discarded once they become too large to handle safely.

PETA also sent Green this short video, narrated by Anjelica Huston, which illustrates the many problems associated with using great apes on TV and in film.

Green e-mailed PETA to say that he would re-cut Tuesday night's segment and remove the chimpanzee and he vowed that he will never again use chimpanzees in his productions.

"If I had been aware of the information you outlined below I wouldn’t have proceeded with the shoot in the first place, so I’ve decided on balance to re-cut the package we use in tonight’s show to remove any footage of the chimpanzee" Conrad wrote. "While I can’t undo the fact that we did shoot with a chimpanzee I will be sure we don’t do this again in the future."

Green aired the segment sans chimp -– having replaced the chimp with a toddler.

Full story here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Monkey Moms Act Like Human Moms

monkey momThe intense, special exchanges that human mothers share with their newborn infants might have deep roots all the way back in monkeys.

Rhesus macaques and their offspring interact in the first month of life in ways much like what humans often do, scientists now suggest.

"What does a mother or father do when looking at their own baby?" asked researcher Pier Francesco Ferrari, a behavioral biologist and neuroscientist at the University of Parma in Italy. "They smile at them and exaggerate their gestures, modify their voice pitch — so-called 'motherese' — and kiss them. What we found in mother macaques is very similar — they exaggerate their gestures, 'kiss' their baby, and have sustained mutual gaze."

Past research has shown these emotional interactions go both ways in humans — newborns are sensitive to their mother's expressions, movements, and voice, and engage their parents in much the same way. For years, these capacities were basically considered unique to humans, although perhaps shared to some extent with chimpanzees.

Now Ferrari and his colleagues extend these skills to macaques, "suggesting the origins of these behaviors actually goes way back," he told LiveScience. (Rhesus monkey ancestors diverged from those of humans roughly 25 million years ago, while chimpanzees diverged from our lineage 6 million years ago.)

The scientists closely observed 14 mother-infant pairs for the first two months of the babies' lives. Mother macaques and their infants spent more time gazing at each other than at other monkeys. The researches also found that mothers more often smacked their lips at their infants, a gesture that the infants often imitated back to their mothers, suggesting that infant monkeys may have a rich internal world that we are only now beginning to see.

Moreover, Ferrari and his colleagues saw mothers actively searching for the infant's gaze, sometimes holding the infant's head and gently pulling it towards her face. In other instances, when the babies were physically separated from their mothers, the parent moved her face very close to that of the offspring, sometimes lowering her head and bouncing it in front of the youngster.

Intriguingly, these exchanges virtually disappeared when infants turned about one month old.

Full story here.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Del Toro Urges Puerto Rico To Nix Monkey Facility

benicioBenicio del Toro is asking Puerto Rico to halt a planned monkey-breeding facility, arguing the primates would suffer "extreme animal abuse."

In a letter to Gov. Luis Fortuno, the Puerto Rico-born actor says the Mauritius-based company Bioculture's facility would be cruel. It would supply monkeys to pharmaceutical companies for research.

Fortuno's office and Bioculture did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Bioculture community coordinator Jacinto Rivera Solivan previously said the Guayama facility would be run humanely.

Full story here.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Zoo Keeps Eye On Gorilla With Face Tumor

gorilla tumorZookeepers at the Cincinnati Zoo are keeping a close eye on one of their gorillas, who has a very large tumor on her face.

Muke has had the tumor for more than a year. She is still able to eat, but keepers want to get a closer look to find out if it's cancer.

"Even if it were cancer, it's not operable," said Ron Evans, the zoo's primate team leader.

Complicating matters further is that Muke is still taking care of her son Bakari.

"It's very important that (Bakari) have his mother available to him as long as possible. It takes gorillas quite a few years -- probably 10, and with silverbacks 15 years -- to reach full size and there's a lot of lessons they have to learn like humans," said Evans.

Full story here.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

4.4 Million-Year-Old Hominid Skeleton 'Ardi' Discovered In Ethiopia

ardiThe discovery of a 4.4 million-year-old skeleton in Ethiopia has allowed scientists to retrace the first evolutionary steps of our ancestors after they split away from those of modern chimpanzees.

The fossil reveals our earliest predecessor to have been a stocky, stooping creature, covered in hair, with a protruding face, long arms and a grasping big toe.

The fossil, known as “Ardi”, is the oldest specimen on the “hominid” branch that led to modern humans yet unearthed. It is more than 1 million years older than the famous “Lucy” skeleton.

Quoting Charles Darwin, Dr Tim White, the paleoanthropologist who led the original “Lucy” investigation, said: “The only way we’re really going to know what this last common ancestor looked like is to go and find it.”

At 4.4 million years old, the Ardi fossil is the closest specimen yet to that common ancestor. It possesses a strange mosaic of human and chimpanzee traits, combined in ways that scientists say they would never have been able to guess by simply triangulating between the modern versions of the two species.

Ardi has a relatively small skull, suggesting a comparable level of intellect to modern chimps. The angle of her head relative to her spine shows that she would have been able to walk upright in a stooped posture. However, she retains the “grasping” big toe of our more primitive ancestors, as well as long arms and big hands, which point to her being an able climber. Unlike chimpanzees and orangutans, though, she would not have been able to swing through the trees.

The almost complete skeleton of Ardipithecus ramidus was scattered in hundreds of pieces in volcanic ash in Afar, which lies in the Great Rift Valley in northeastern Ethiopia.

Full story here.

Howler Monkeys Caught Raiding Chicken Coop

monkey howler eggsWild howler monkeys have been caught on camera raiding chicken coops and eating bird's eggs.

The behaviour has surprised researchers as howler monkeys are thought to be exclusively vegetarian.

The egg-eating behaviour has evolved among black and gold howlers living in forest in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.

Despite it being one of the best studied monkeys in the New World, this is the first time the species has been recorded eating animal matter.

Details of the new behaviour are published in the International Journal of Primatology by Dr Julio Bicca-Marques and Ms Carina Muhle of the Primatology Research Group at the PUC/RS Bioscience Faculty in Porto Alegre, Brazil and colleagues.

"Howlers are believed to be strictly vegetarian. Their diet is based on leaves and fruits, although other vegetable matter, such as petioles, pulvini, buds, flowers, stems, twigs and bark can also be eaten," says Dr Bicca-Marques.

Howler monkeys are also known to ingest occasional arthropods such as beetles, but the monkeys do this inadvertently as they gather plant material.

Full story here.