Friday, January 16, 2009

Female Gorilla Recovering After Surgery

gorilla surgeryThe Budapest Zoo says a 32-year-old female gorilla has undergone gynecological surgery, the first such operation in Hungary and rare even worldwide.

Spokesman Zoltan Hanga says veterinarians and doctors carried out the procedure late Thursday night based on the diagnosis that Liesel, who came to Budapest in 1989 from Germany's Frankfurt Zoo, may have a malignant tumor on her right ovary.

Hanga says no tumors were found during the procedure, which required Liesel to be fully sedated for three hours. She will be kept under observation and apart from the rest of gorillas at the zoo for about a week.

More exams will be needed to determine why the mother of three — Dango, Gorka and Ebobo — has not given birth since 2000.


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Capuchin Monkeys Choose The Right Tool For The Nut

monkey tools
Wild capuchin monkeys don’t thoughtlessly grab any handy piece of stone to crack open hard-shelled nuts at snack time. These slender, agile primates select the best tool for the job, a new study finds.

Much like people, capuchins translate past experiences into action, say primatologist Elisabetta Visalberghi of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies in Rome and her colleagues. These monkeys draw on a reservoir of knowledge about a variety of stones and nuts to select suitable nut-cracking implements, the scientists assert in a study published online January 15 in Current Biology.

Capuchins make mental plans for fracturing a particular nut before selecting an appropriate stone for the task, Visalberghi’s team proposes.

“The present findings make capuchins a compelling model to track the evolutionary roots of stone-tool use,” Visalberghi says. Because capuchins last shared a common ancestor with humans approximately 35 million years ago, the team writes, the capacity for stone-tool use evolved earlier than thought.

In Visalberghi’s investigation, wild monkeys living in a forested area of Brazil individually approached two or three stones that differed in hardness, size or weight. One stone was best for cracking nearby palm nuts. Nearly all the time, animals chose the superior stone.

In one case, an adult male capuchin briefly touched each of two stones of comparable hardness before picking up the larger, heavier one. He then took that stone to a nearby fallen log. After placing a palm nut on the log, he stood upright on the makeshift anvil and broke the nut’s shell with his rock.

Such findings underscore wild capuchins’ proficiency at trial-and-error learning, remarks primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta. Thus, planning need not have contributed to the animals’ tool preferences, as argued in the new report, de Waal says. After having spent their lives learning to associate certain types of stones with nut-cracking success and others with failure, monkeys in the new study automatically applied that knowledge to experimental choices, he suggests.

Field observations suggest that wild chimpanzees also find especially effective stones for cracking different types of nuts. It will be difficult to run comparable experiments with wild chimps, de Waal notes, since many are wary of people due to frequent run-ins with poachers. But other evidence indicates that chimps do in fact solve problems using planning and insight, he says.

Visalberghi’s team received permission to study wild capuchins on privately owned Brazilian land. Eight monkeys participated in experiments.

Animals completed 10 trials in each of five conditions. In the first two conditions, choices consisted of pairs of stones that differed either in hardness or in size and weight. So, a monkey might select between a big piece of quartzite and a small piece of quartzite, or between same-sized pieces of quartzite and sandstone, a type of rock more apt to break on impact.

In the next three conditions, capuchins confronted artificial but realistic-looking stones constructed of a hard material. Animals chose between stones of the same size but different weights; between a light and large stone and a heavy and small stone; and among a light and large stone, a light and small stone and a heavy and large stone. In each condition, heavier stones worked best as nut crackers.

Capuchins chose the most effective stone for cracking nuts more than 90 percent of the time in four conditions. That figure fell slightly to 85 percent when the monkeys selected from artificial stones of the same size and different weights.

Monkeys usually touched the more-effective natural stone first, indicating that they could tell by sight which one was harder or heavier. With artificial stones, which had weights that couldn’t be detected visually, monkeys usually moved, lifted or tapped each stone before making a selection.


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Feces-Throwing Monkey on the Loose in Tampa Bay

feces throwing monkeyOfficials in Tampa Bay, Florida are on the hunt for a rhesus macaque monkey that appeared out of nowhere and has been causing a lot of concern ever since. The reason: the species has a tendency to start throwing feces when it gets upset.

This simian saga began on Tuesday, when someone spotted the primate leaping from a tree and running through a parking into some nearby brush. Wildlife experts have been dispatched with a tranquillizer gun and a bucket truck to try and track the elusive creature down, but so far, it's eluded all their attempts to find it.

Official stress there's no real danger to the public but do note that these kinds of animals (not exactly like the one pictured, top left) have been known to throw some very unpleasant material at people when they get upset. They can also carry certain kinds of diseases, including hepatitis.

As the hunt for the monkey continues, so does another search - for the place it came from. Police concede they have no idea where the unusual visitor originated or how it got into the middle of a city like Tampa. But they suspect whoever owned it was unlicenced, and like the animal itself, is unwilling to come forward.


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National Zoo Welcomes Baby Gorilla

gorilla babyA commotion occurred about noon yesterday at the Great Ape House at the National Zoo. A collective shriek arose. A stroller jam ensued. Cameras clicked and whirred. Mandara, one of the female gorillas, had just appeared, cradling the zoo's latest addition.

The 26-year-old Mandara had given birth to an infant, sex and name undetermined, about 1:45 p.m. Saturday, without fanfare or any evident histrionics on the other side of a large plate glass window in full view of staff employees and a few lucky onlookers. It was the first birth at the zoo this year and the first gorilla born there since 2001.

"Awwww," the small crowd murmured as Mandara and the baby settled onto a straw-cozy ledge for a midday feeding. Visitors could see only the baby's wizened head and a hand in the crook of its mother's hairy arm.

"I wonder if she feels the way I do after having a baby," said Elizabeth Sadqi of Chevy Chase, a teacher and mother of three. "Kind of 'in a zone.' "

Zoo officials said the birth is significant because the animals, western lowland gorillas, are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Scientists believe that there are more than 150,000 western lowland gorillas in the wild, said Donald Moore, the zoo's associate director of animal care. But the animals, who live in the tropical forests of West and Central Africa, are threatened by poaching, habitat loss and the deadly Ebola virus.

The zoo's latest arrival came at an auspicious time: The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums has dubbed 2009 the "Year of the Gorilla" to spotlight the animals' struggle.
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"This baby gorilla helps our zoo's mission of educating the public on the need for conservation," Moore said. "Having a little animal helps engage and inspire them."

The zoo's staff had planned Mandara's pregnancy as part of the Species Survival Plan, a collaborative effort of North American zoos designed to encourage a healthy gorilla population in captivity. In February, zoo workers stopped giving Mandara her birth control pill, which was hidden in a morning banana. By March, they now believe, she had mated with Baraka, a 16-year-old male in the family group.

Zoo officials said Mandara was an old pro at mothering, having previously given birth to five healthy offspring, three of whom still live in the Great Ape House. On Saturday, she paced from enclosure to enclosure but otherwise gave little hint that she was in labor. Then, her keepers, who had been expecting the birth for weeks, heard the newborn's high-pitched squeaking.

Mother and child will be closely monitored in coming weeks to make certain the baby remains healthy.

"This is a very critical time for the survival of the infant, and all precautions must be taken to ensure that Mandara and her baby are in an environment that is comfortable, safe and controlled," Moore said.

Staff workers have not gotten close enough to determine the sex of the infant, but they are rooting for a girl (the majority of gorillas born in captivity are males, Moore said). They will likely host a naming contest on the Friends of the National Zoo Web site.

Families who visited the Great Ape House yesterday saw sibling rivalry on display, gorilla-style. Mandara's son Kojo, age 7, threw handfuls of straw at his mother as she placidly nursed her newborn. She swatted him away gently, as one would an annoying fly.

District resident Max Block, 10 -- who is so enamored of gorillas that he raised $2,500 at a lemonade stand this summer for a preservation group -- had been watching the drama unfold for much of the weekend. He arrived to see the baby Saturday, just a few hours after it was born. He returned yesterday for another look.

"It's pretty amazing," Max said. "She's been holding it, tickling it, stroking it on the head. . . . She's a great mom."

Visitors can see the mother and baby, along with the other gorillas, in the Great Ape House between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily.



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Monday, January 05, 2009

Africa's Oldest Chimpanzee Dead At 66

gregoireGregoire, Congo legend and oldest known living chimpanzee, died peacefully in his bed (a pile of eucalyptus leaves) at Jane Goodall’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center on Dec. 17. He was 66 years old.

Gregoire was the poster child and ambassador for Goodall’s efforts to protect chimpanzees and end the illegal commercial bush-meat trade.

After surviving more than 40 years in a barren cage, Gregoire spent his last 11 years in peace at a sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees. When Jane met Gregoire in 1990, he was barely recognizable:

"I gazed at this strange being, alone in his bleak cement-floored cage. His pale, almost hairless skin was stretched tightly over his emaciated body so that every bone could be seen. His eyes were dull as he reached out with a thin, bony hand for a proffered morsel of food. Was this really a chimpanzee? . . . Above his cage was a sign that read ‘Shimpanse 1944.'

Thanks to Jane intervening on Gregoire’s behalf, his twilight years were filled with plenty of food and play.

At night he shared his nest with his favorite female, Clara, in a dormitory room that also housed La Vielle and Stephanie. During the day he enjoyed playing games of chase with caretakers and being tickled. Another favorite game involved sticking out his leg for people to grab. He also loved grooming people (heads, arms and ears, mostly), sitting and watching the activity around him, and eating treats, especially balls of sticky rice.

With one good eye and one amazing heart, Gregoire died loved, happy and free.


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Monkey Saga Behind Zoo Controversy Has Ended

escaped monkeysThe last of 15 monkeys that escaped from Safari Wild have been recovered, ending a saga that set in motion the events leading to the resignation today of Lowry Park Zoo President Lex Salisbury.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Gary Morse confirmed that the five monkeys still at large in late October have been accounted for. Four of them were trapped, at least one this week, and one was found dead in the woods of the Green Swamp.

"It was shot and killed by some unknown person," Morse said.

No further investigation is expected. "They are not protected in any way, shape or form," Morse said. "They're an exotic species."

All the monkeys were found in the area of Safari Wild, the exotic-animal park north of Lakeland that Salisbury owns as a side business. The four surviving monkeys were returned to Safari Wild and are secure in cages, Morse said.

"We're sending our investigator up there Monday to count heads," he added.

The park has not opened to the public yet and at least three government agencies have said Salisbury and partner Stephen Wehrmann moved ahead without the proper approvals.

The troop of moneys was captured in Puerto Rico about a year ago and was headed for euthanasia when an animal rescue group stepped in. The monkeys were shipped in April to Safari Wild.

They were kept on a manmade, 1-acre island surrounded by a moat that at some points was 60 feet wide and 8 feet deep.

Two days after arriving, they escaped.

The monkeys, including some females with babies on their backs, swam across the moat and scaled a large fence to reach nearby woods. They split up and survived in the wild, eluding attempts to capture them.

As they let their guard down, they began to fall prey to traps baited with fresh fruit.

By July, 10 of the 15 had been caught and returned to the sanctuary.

Their story made national headlines and drew public attention to Safari Wild.

The subsequent scrutiny raised questions about a potential conflict of interest for Salisbury and brought on the city of Tampa audit that resulted in his resignation today.

The audit states that Salisbury used zoo animals, employees and equipment for his personal gain.


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Judge Rejects Faith Claim In Monkey Meat Case

monkey meatA Liberian woman accused of smuggling endangered monkey meat from Africa to New York has failed to persuade a judge that she shouldn't be prosecuted because she needed the butchered carcasses for religious reasons.

Mamie Manneh ran into legal trouble three years ago when customs agents seized a shipment of dozens of primate parts, hidden in a batch of smoked fish, as it passed through Kennedy Airport.

The dozen boxes containing the skulls, limbs and torsos of monkeys and baboons had been shipped from Guinea and were headed to Manneh's home on Staten Island. Agents who searched her house found 33 more animal parts in her garage.

Manneh was charged with smuggling the meat of two endangered species. As her case moved toward a trial, her lawyers argued that she and other immigrants in Staten Island's thriving community of Liberian Christians ate monkey meat for spiritual reasons, particularly during holiday celebrations, and were thereby protected by the First Amendment and federal religious freedom law.


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