Friday, September 25, 2009

Titus Likely Died From Wounds

gorilla titusTitus, a famous ape known widely as the "Gorilla King," likely died of complications from wounds he received in a fight with another dominant gorilla, according to the veterinarian who led the post-death examination.

Titus was featured in the Dian Fossey biopic, "Gorillas in the Mist." Veterinarian Jan Ramer's revelation in an exclusive interview with The Des Moines Register replaces early reports from tourism officials that Titus had died of old age on Sept. 14.
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His death cast a pall across the Virunga Mountains area. He was buried near Fossey, the primatologist who named him, at the Karisoke Research Center.

Scientists said the fact that Titus died a natural death and not at the hands of poachers shows that conservation efforts are working.


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Monday, September 21, 2009

Primate Study Triggers Lawsuit

primate studyA six-month dispute between a biotech company and a university primate facility it contracted for a study on spinal cord injury has prompted a lawsuit. Cambridge-based biotech InVivo Therapeutics filed suit against Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) with the US District Courts in Boston earlier this month (Sept. 1), claiming the school's primate center improperly cared for monkeys during the study, resulting in the death of four animals and a premature end to the research.

"We were surprised by the lawsuit," OHSU spokesperson Jim Newman told The Scientist. "We disagree with the claims that were made by InVivo and we plan to vigorously defend ourselves."

In January of this year, InVivo contracted OHSU's Oregon National Primate Center to host their research, which involved severing the spinal cords of rhesus monkeys to test the company's polymer device, designed to aid the recovery of lower body motor skills after spinal cord injury. But the study was halted in late February, after the first seven animals to undergo spinal-severing surgery developed bladder complications. Within days, four of the monkeys had to be euthanized.

InVivo is suing OHSU for not giving the monkeys proper post-surgical care, which they say caused the routine bladder problems to become more serious issues. They further charge OHSU with halting the experiment and euthanizing the animals against the company's wishes.


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Friday, September 18, 2009

Oregon Zoo Chimp Dies Unexpectedly

charlie chimpCharlie, the patriarch of the Oregon Zoo's chimpanzees, died unexpectedly Thursday afternoon, zoo officials said.

Charlie was 39 years old.

A volunteer noticed Charlie was in distress around 2 p.m.

Veterinarians and animal-care staff rushed to the scene but four female chimpanzees were surrounding Charlie, zoo officials said in a news release. It took several minutes to get the females away and Charlie was already dead when veterinarians got to him.

"We thought we'd have another 20 years," said Dave Thomas, senior primate keeper. "It's the end of an era and the zoo will never be the same. We have to go on though -- to provide care and support for our remaining females: Delilah, Leah, Coco and Chloe."


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Titus The Gorilla Is Dead

titus the gorillaBefore the king's burial, his subjects take their time to clean his body. It is not a ritual that should be lightly interfered with and, as the mighty, fallen monarch receives his last ablutions, medical personnel are keeping a respectuful distance.

The king was a gorilla called Titus. Although he had been deposed by his son, death seemed to have restored him to his full glory. The mighty silverback was once the dominant head of a tight-knit group of the great apes whose kingdom was on the eastern slopes of the Karisoke volcano in Rwanda's border lands, and a vital figure in the battle for the survival of the species.

Rosette Rugamba, head of tourism and national parks in Rwanda, said: "The other gorillas are mourning. They are cleaning him. You have to be very careful. You can't just remove the body." The Rwanda national parks office said the 450lb, 35-year-old gorilla had "succumbed to old age" after a short illness.

Officials described Titus as "possibly the most remarkable gorilla ever known", referring to his rise to dominance of he largest known group of gorillas in the world. And Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist who was famously upstaged by Titus when the gorilla, then five, climbed on his back, said yesterday he was sorry that Titus should have died when he was still "quite young". He added: "He was a charming little animal. Certainly, it was very memorable and I haven't been allowed to forget it."


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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Uganda Unveils Online Gorilla Tracking

gorilla trackingThe Uganda Wildlife Authority plans to introduce online gorilla tracking as a new initiative aimed at the global demand for conservation tourism.

For a minimum donation of $1, subscribers will be able track the movements of individual gorillas through a custom-made Web site. Strategically placed cameras in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest will stream video footage of gorillas to audiences worldwide.

The service – scheduled to begin this month – will also allow users to “befriend a gorilla” on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

“The project aims to bring attention to the plight of gorillas,” said Lillian Nsubuga, a spokeswoman for the Uganda Wildlife Authority, “and any money raised will be put towards conservation efforts.”

Gorilla tourism raised $225 million in Uganda last year, providing 37 percent of the country’s national annual earnings from tourism, and more than half of the wildlife authority’s internally generated revenue.

The online tracking initiative hopes to add an additional $700,000 a year.

Traditional gorilla tracking excursions – in which tourists visit Uganda’s national parks and embark on hikes into to the forest – cost upwards of $500 per person, and visitors are strictly limited to small groups in order to minimise the contact between gorillas and humans.

Permits for such journeys are often fully booked months in advance.

“With this new online scheme,” Ms. Nsubuga said, “it is now possible to follow the gorillas from the comfort of your home.”


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Gene Therapy Cures Color-Blind Monkeys

color monkeysTwo male squirrel monkeys now see the world in a whole new way -- in full color.

Female squirrel monkeys can see in color, but male squirrel monkeys are normally red-green colorblind because they lack pigments in the retina that detect those wavelengths of light. Now, researchers have performed gene therapy that allowed two male squirrel monkeys named Sam and Dalton to produce proteins that detect red light. As soon as the red-light-harvesting protein was made in the monkeys' eyes, the animals were able to discriminate between red and green spots in color vision tests, Jay Neitz of the University of Washington in Seattle and his collaborators report online September 17 in Nature.

The experiment wasn't supposed to work, Neitz says. People born with cataracts don't develop nerve connections that help the brain make sense of messages sent by the eye. If the defect isn't corrected early, these people remain essentially blind even if their eyes return to full function later. Because there was no reason to assume color vision was different from other types of vision, the team had assumed it would not be possible to reverse the deficit in an adult animal.

Neitz polled experts in the vision field on whether they thought producing photoreceptors in colorblind adult monkeys could give color vision. "Every single person said, "absolutely not.'" But the researchers decided to move forward with the experiment to see if they could get the pigment protein to be made in the eye.

Male monkeys lacking the red photoreceptor protein were given injections of a virus carrying a gene for the protein. Levels of the protein slowly rose in some retinal cells. After 20 weeks, Neitz and his colleagues started to see differences in the way Sam and Dalton performed on daily color vision tests. Around that time, protein production levels peaked and the monkeys have maintained stable color vision for two years since treatment.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How To Give A 500-Pound Gorilla A Physical Exam

gorilla examThe gorilla opened wide and stuck out his tongue allowing the wooden depressor to lightly explore his mouth. He eagerly accepted a piece of apple and waited for his next command.

"Good boy," encouraged his trainer gently, "you're a good boy."

She then made her next request, "Shoulder." He turned his massive body sideways, leaned his shoulder against the reinforced metal mesh barrier and waited patiently for his shot.

"Good boy, such a handsome boy." He didn't flinch as the dull hypodermic needle poked through his hair and barely touched his skin.

This scene has played out for six years at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens between Quito - one of the zoo's three silverback Western lowland gorillas - and Tracy Fenn, his primary trainer.

They are part of the zoo's Gorilla Training Program, which, according to program supervisor Fenn, is designed to facilitate medical care for its gorillas.

"Our daily five- to 20-minute training sessions give us an up-close look at the gorillas," Fenn explained. "This allows us to notice signs of illness and teach them to cooperate for basic medical procedures."

Animals with known or possible medical conditions are given training priority. Quito (pronounced KEE-toh) has a heart condition, so his training includes desensitization to heart monitoring instruments.

"Training makes examinations safer for the animals, plus we can give them a real shot and they don't hold a grudge," Fenn said with a laugh.

Zoo executive director Tony Vecchio said these kinds of programs have evolved over the years.

"Zookeepers once believed animals should be left alone and maintained in as close to their wild state as possible. Training was for the circus," Vecchio said. "We ignored the fact that animals were traumatized each time they needed treatment."


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Chimps Catch Contagious Yawns From Cartoons

yawning chimpComputer animations of yawning chimpanzees provoke the same irresistible grins in real chimps, according to an unusual study released Wednesday.

"Contagious yawning" is well known among humans, and earlier studies have shown that chimps are not immune to its suggestive influence either.

But the new research is the first to show that images seen on a monitor can provoke teeth-baring yawns in non-human primates too.

Matthew Campbell and colleagues of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Lawrenceville, Georgia divided 24 chimps ranging in age from nine to 43 years old into pairs.

Each pair was exposed to animated chimps in two short 3-D videos on a 48-centimetre (19-inch) screen. Only one of the videos showed the animals yawning.

The chimps may doing something deeper than simple imitation, for they may have an emotional tie with the cartoon character, the researchers believe.

"Contagious yawning is controlled by the same mechanism that makes emotions contagious," the study notes. "Our results strongly suggest an empathetic response to the animations."

The technique could provide an important tool for exploring animal behaviour and cognition, the study adds.


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Metallica Calms Monkeys

monkeys metallicaA group of cottontop tamarins were played a variety of music, including Bach, Led Zeppelin and Miles Davis, but they only reacted when heavy metal rock songs by Metallica were played.

Psychology Professor Charles Snowdon teamed up with musician David Teie, who plays cello for the National Symphony Orchestra. They found that 30-second clips composed by Mr Teie on the basis of actual monkey calls provoked the strongest reaction.

Of all the human bands played to the tamarins, Metallica calmed them down.

Mr Teie of the University of Maryland composed using specific features he noticed in the monkey's calls, attempting to convey two opposite emotions – danger and safety.

The monkeys responded accordingly being either anxious or relaxed.

The pair also found monkeys use tone, pitch and other auditory clues to express emotions.

Prof Snowdon, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters: "My talking does not necessarily tell you about my emotional state.

"When I add extra elements, change the tone of voice, the rhythm, pitch or speed, that is where the emotional content is contained.

"Monkeys interpret rising and falling tones differently than humans. Oddly, their only response to several samples of human music was a calming response to the heavy-metal band Metallica."


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Teen Arrested For Monkey Theft

stolen monkeyWest Palm Beach police arrested a 17-year-old boy late Friday in the theft of three squirrel monkeys, a Goeldi's monkey and a Green-cheeked Amazon parrot from the Palm Beach Zoo, according to police spokesman Chase Scott.

The suspect faces burglary and grand theft charges. Animal cruelty charges are pending in the case.

"We are investigating two other young adults in connection with the crime," Scott said.

Primate keeper Nancy Nill's worry lines were gone, replaced by a broad grin.

She was still in mom mode, closely monitoring the recovery of four monkeys and a parrot that had been stolen from the Palm Beach Zoo after Wednesday's closing time. But with their return Thursday afternoon, relief tempered her concern.

"Awesome. I feel awesome," Nill said. "I can sleep tonight."

Acting on a tip, police tracked the animals to an abandoned house on the 2532 Palmarita Road in Lake Clarke Shores, according to Scott.

Three squirrel monkeys were found in plastic containers in a sweltering shed behind the house. A Goeldi's monkey and a Green-cheeked Amazon parrot were kept in cages.

Veterinarians treated the animals for heat exposure. All are expected to make a full recovery, though one monkey, Dougie, was in more serious condition and needed more care, said Keith Lovett, director of living collections at the zoo.

By Friday, Dougie was out of the intensive care unit and doing fine, mingling with other monkeys, said zoo spokesman Brian Crowley.


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