Monday, July 25, 2011

Captive Primate Safety Act To Ban Primate Pets

A group of lawmakers is seeking to put the kibosh on transporting primates in the exotic pet trade.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), David Vitter (R-La.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are standing up for our genetically similar, hairy friends by introducing the Captive Primate Safety Act. The measure would make it illegal to move monkeys, apes and other non-human primates across state lines in order to sell them.

The move comes after a pet chimp attacked a woman in Connecticut back in 2009, leaving her with critical injuries.

Michael Markarian, chief operating officer for the Humane Society of the United States, supports the legislation, saying, “Primates belong in the wild, not in our basements and bedrooms.”

Full story here.

First Satellite Tagging Of Proboscis Monkey In Borneo

The Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD) and Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) have fitted a satellite tag on a proboscis monkey in Kinabatangan.

“This is the first time in Borneo that a proboscis monkey is tagged with a satellite device,” explained Dr Laurentius Ambu, director of the Sabah Wildlife Department.

“It is the start of a long-term research and conservation programme initiated by our department and the Danau Girang Field Centre and funded by Sime Darby Foundation,” he said.

“The animal, a 24-kg male, was caught by members of the Wildlife Rescue Unit and DGFC during the course of our Proboscis Monkey Programme initiated last week, which is a collaboration between SWD, DGFC and Cardiff University,” said Dr Senthilvel Nathan, SWD chief wildlife veterinarian currently doing his PhD with Cardiff University.

“We will catch proboscis monkeys in the whole state to collect blood for genetic analyses and parasite identification, saliva for viruses and bacteria, ectoparasites and morphometric data. We will also fit 10 individuals with satellite tags in the Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary,” Nathan said.

Dr Benoit Goossens, director of DGFC and leader of the programme, said the aim of the satellite tagging is to fully understand the ranging patterns of proboscis monkeys and the stressors impacting their movements and density in order to determine the adequate amount of habitat available towards sustaining a continuous viable population in the Kinabatangan region.

Full story here.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Rules Urged On Hybrid Animal-Human Experiments

Scientific experiments that insert human genes or cells into animals need new rules to ensure they are ethically acceptable and do not lead to the creation of "monsters," a group of leading British researchers said on Friday.

While humanizing animals in the name of medical research offers valuable insights into the way human bodies work and diseases develop, clear regulations are needed to make sure humanization of animals is carefully controlled.

Extreme scenarios, such as putting brain cells into primates to create talking apes, may remain science fiction, but researchers around the world are constantly pushing boundaries.

Chinese scientists have already introduced human stem cells into goat fetuses and U.S. researchers have studied the idea of creating a mouse with human brain cells -- though they have not actually done so.

Such controversial research needs special oversight, according to a report from Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences on the use of animals containing human material.

Full story here.

Hundreds Of Endangered Gibbons Discovered In Vietnam

The lively morning calls of a rare species of gibbon has led to the discovery of the only known "viable" community of the talkative primates in remote Vietnamese forests, conservationists said Monday.

A "substantial" population of 455 critically endangered northern white-cheeked crested gibbons were found living at high altitudes and far from human settlements on the border with Laos, Conservation International (CI) said.

Researchers, who had previously found sparse groups in other areas, used the animals' "loud, elaborate and prolonged" calls to locate the creatures in Pu Mat National Park in Nghe An province, northern Vietnam.

The community represents two thirds of the total number in Vietnam and the "only confirmed viable population" of the variety worldwide.

"This is an extraordinarily significant find, and underscores the immense importance of protected areas in providing the last refuges for the region?s decimated wildlife," said CI president Dr Russell Mittermeier.

Full story here.

'Alien' Monkey Causes Panic In Chinese Village

A malnourished monkey caused panic among Chinese villagers who mistook him for a creature from outer space.

The starving animal had no hair and its skeletal frame convinced locals in Gezhai village,Henan Province, they were being visited by an alien life form.

The creature was first spotted as it munched cucumbers in housewife Mao Xiping's flat.

She was so scared of its "alien face" that she called police and told them to arrest it.

It was only later that they worked out that the animal was actually a monkey.

Full story here.

Mandrill Monkey Makes 'Pedicuring' Tool

A crude "pedicure" carried out by a mandrill at Chester Zoo suggests the monkeys are capable of more advanced tool use than previously thought.

Scientists from Durham University, UK, filmed the mandrill stripping a twig and using the resulting tool to clean under its toenails.

They published the findings in the journal Behavioural Processes.

Mandrills are the fifth species of Old World monkey seen deliberately modifying tools.

Non-human apes, including chimpanzees and orangutans, can adapt basic tools for specific jobs.

One well-known example of this behaviour is termite fishing in chimpanzees, where the animals strip down grasses to make fishing rods that they then poke into termite mounds to snag the nutritious insects.

"It is an ability that, up until a few years ago, was thought to be unique to humans," said Dr Riccardo Pansini, who led the research.

The new findings, he said, indicate that monkeys' intelligence may too have been underestimated.

"The gap between monkeys and great apes is not as large as we thought it was in terms of tool use and modification," he told BBC Nature.

Full story here.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

New Virus Jumps From Monkeys to Lab Worker

It started with a single monkey coming down with pneumonia at the California National Primate Research Center in Davis. Within weeks, 19 monkeys were dead and three humans were sick. Now, a new report confirms that the Davis outbreak was the first known case of an adenovirus jumping from monkeys to humans. The upside: the virus may one day be harnessed as a tool for gene therapy.

Adenoviruses are relatively large DNA viruses—as opposed to many other viruses that replicate using RNA—that commonly cause colds and respiratory infections in humans. They're also responsible for a variety of illnesses in cattle, dogs, horses, pigs, and other animals, but scientists thought the viruses and their ailments couldn't jump between species.

Then, on 14 May 2009, a healthy adult male titi monkey—a small, reddish-brown species that calls much of South America home—came down with a cough at the Davis primate center and soon became lethargic and wouldn't eat. Staff members gave the animal intravenous fluids and antibiotics, but its condition worsened, and after 5 days staff members euthanized him. Four weeks later, another titi monkey came down with the same symptoms. Then another. And another. Within 2 months, 23 of the 65-strong population had become sick, and 19 eventually died. A team led by infectious diseases researcher Charles Chiu of the University of California, San Francisco, analyzed lung tissue samples from the dead monkeys and identified a never-before-seen adenovirus, which they named titi monkey adenovirus (TMAdV).

Full story here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cigarette Smoking Monkey Weds His Lover In India

The story has a tough cigarette smoking hero, his lover girl, emotional turbulence and finally a happy wedding. Sounds like usual drama? Not really. The characters in this story are monkeys who live among humans.

According to a Reuters report two monkeys tied the knot in the forests of northwestern India on Friday.

Worship of animals as avatars of the gods isn't new in Hindu beliefs. Monkeys enjoy significant role in Hindu mythology where they are worshiped as avatars of Hanuman, the mighty ape that helped Rama in his fight against evil.

Raju, the "groom," was famous in his village, attracting crowds wherever he went. He was known for eating, sleeping and smoking cigarettes with his owner, Ramesh Saini, who treated him like a son.

Two months ago Saini met soon-to-be-bride Chinki's caretaker, a priest in a nearby village, who proposed the marriage of the two monkeys.

Plans for the wedding of "Raju" and "Chinki" were welcomed by the people of the small village of Talwas, with excitement.

"I want to enjoy the feelings of a son's marriage through Raju's wedding," said Rajesh, a 38-year-old married but childless auto rickshaw driver who nursed Raju back to health after finding him unconscious three years ago.

"We will welcome the bride in our house in Banetha after the wedding with all rituals," said an excited Saini while offering tea to the newly wed Raju at a roadside tea shop.

Full story here.

Monkeys Break Into Indian Hospital Via Automatic Doors

Monkeys have invaded a leading Indian hospital after working out how to use its automatic doors.

Staff at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) told The Times of India that the rhesus macaque monkeys have been sneaking into wards and recovery rooms, having learned that the hospital's new automatic doors operate using motion sensors.

A doctor at the New Delhi hospital said: "I was at the patient recovery room when a nurse cried out that a monkey had sneaked in. The monkey had somehow entered the main corridor and was hiding in the false roof.

"As soon as the security guard moved away, it jumped inside."

Y K Gupta, a spokesman for AIIMS, confirmed that the hospital has hired two grey langurs to chase off the smaller simians. There are thought to be between 20 and 30 monkeys across the campus.

Full story here.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Zoo Chimps' Mental Health Affected by Captivity

Many chimpanzees housed in zoos show abnormal behavior that suggest mental illness, according to a new PLoS One study.

The documented behaviors, which included self-mutilation, repetitive rocking, and consumption of feces, are symptoms of compromised mental health in humans, and are not seen in wild chimpanzees, the authors say. The study found that even chimps at very well regarded zoos displayed the disturbing behaviors.

"Absolutely abnormal behavior and possible mental health issues are most commonly associated with lab chimps," co-author Nicholas Newton-Fisher told Discovery News. "This is one of the reasons we were surprised to see the levels of abnormal behavior that we did -- in chimpanzees living in good zoos."

"We conclude that the chimpanzee mind might have difficulties dealing with captivity," added Newton-Fisher, a primate behavioral ecologist at the University of Kent's School of Anthropology & Conservation.

He and co-author Lucy Birkett used both direct observations and published sources to document the behaviors of 40 chimpanzees at six zoos in the U.S. and the U.K. The collected data, covering a two-year period, was then compared to observations made of wild chimpanzees, such as 1023 hours of documentation on wild chimps in Uganda.

Full story here.

Panzee the Chimp Can Recognize Distorted Speech

A talented chimpanzee called Panzee can recognise distorted and incomplete words spoken by a computer, scientists have discovered.

That suggests that apes may be more capable of perceiving spoken sounds than previously thought, and that the common ancestor of humans and chimps may also have had this ability.

It also refutes the idea that humans have brains uniquely adapted to process speech, say the scientists who have published their findings in the journal Current Biology.

Panzee was raised from 8 days old, by humans, and was spoken to and treated as if she were human. At the same time, she was taught to use symbols called lexigrams to communicate.

"This has resulted in Panzee showing proficiency in understanding approximately 130 English words," researcher Lisa Heimbauer told BBC Nature.

That made her an ideal subject to test hypotheses about how well other species, rather than humans, might be able to understand speech.

"There is a view about the human ability to produce and perceive speech that is called 'Speech is Special'," said Ms Heimbauer, who is studying for her PhD.

Full story here.

Saint Louis Zoo Chimpanzee Smoke Euthanized

A male chimpanzee who served as the alpha male at the Saint Louis Zoo for more than a decade was humanely euthanized on Wednesday.

The veterinary staff at the zoo found Smoke was suffering from inflammation and infection from his body had moved to his abdomen.

Smoke arrived from the Philadelphia Zoo in January 1994 to foster young chimps Hugo, Jimmy and Mlinzi. Even though Hugo eventually claimed the alpha male role, Smoke seemed more relaxed afterwards, and he continued to play games with Hugo.

Full story here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Project Nim Documentary: A Chimp Raised Like A Human

November 1973: A baby chimpanzee is born in a cage at a primate research center in Oklahoma. A few days later, his mother is knocked down by a tranquilizer dart, her screaming baby seized from her and placed into the waiting arms of his new human “mother,” a graduate student of psychology with three children of her own. Thus begins "Project Nim" arguably the most radical experiment of its kind, which aimed to show that a chimpanzee could learn to communicate with language if raised and nurtured like a human child. Under the auspices of a psychology professor at Columbia University, the chimp would be taught the sign language of the deaf and it was hoped he would soon acquire enough words and grammar to tell us what he was thinking and feeling. If successful, the consequences would be profound, forever breaking down the barrier between man and his closest animal relative and fundamentally redefining what it is to be human.

More info on Project NIM here.

Fugitive Baboon Captured At New Jersey Farm

The fugitive baboon of central New Jersey was captured on Saturday after she was spotted sitting on a fence post on a farm in Howell Township.

A crew from nearby Six Flags Great Adventure park, located in adjacent Jackson Township, arrived at the farm on Fairfield Road, and used a tranquilizer dart from a gun to put her to sleep, and return her to the 350-acre wild safari exhibit there.

The baboon is about 2 years old, according to Kristin Siebeneicher, a spokeswoman for the park.

"We are fairly confident that it is our baboon," Siebeneicher said.

Full story here.

Gorilla Stillborn At NC Zoo

Anticipation over the first gorilla birth at the North Carolina Zoo in 22 years turned to sadness Thursday morning as zoo keepers discovered that a pregnant gorilla had delivered a stillborn baby.

The baby gorilla was expected to be born sometime between July 23 and Aug. 27. It was discovered by zookeepers that Jamani, the mother, had delivered overnight.

Jamani was allowed to keep the baby "until she made peace with what had happened and abandoned it," said curator Ken Reininger.

Full story here.

Koko's 40th Birthday Celebrated In Haiku Form

The Gorilla Foundation, based in California, celebrated the 40th birthday of sign language-using gorilla Koko with a Twitter-based haiku contest.

The non-profit organization said the birthday of Koko, a gorilla purchased from the San Francisco Zoo and famous for using American Sign Language to communicate, inspired fans from around the world to submit haiku poems written in the primate's honor.

"Gentle lady ape / nimble fingers share her thoughts / teaching us to love," read the first place poem, submitted by Twitter user met314.

Full story here.