Friday, March 31, 2006

CHINESE CYCLISTS - Sharing the Road

Remember this hilarious bit of Douglas Adams from Last Chance To See?
The first time you stand at a major intersection and watch, you are convinced that you are about to witness major carnage. Crowds of bicycles are converging on the intersection from all directions. Trucks and trolley-buses are already barrelling across it. Everyone is ringing a bell or sounding a horn and no one is showing any signs of stopping. At the moment of inevitable impact you close your eyes and wait for the horrendous crunch of mangled metal but, oddly, it never comes.

It seems impossible. You open your eyes. Several dozen bicycles and trucks have all passed straight through each other as if they were merely beams of light.

Next time you keep your eyes open and try to see how the trick's done; but however closely you watch you can't untangle the dancing, weaving patterns the bikes make as they seem to pass insubstantially through each other, all ringing their bells.
This blog post reminded me of this funny bit from Last Chance To See, and led to me finding this amusing article on Chinese road etiquette entitled Sharing the road.
Generally, the bigger you are, the more right of way you have. So trucks and buses are near the top of the pecking order, followed by cars, motorcycles, bikes and, finally, the lowly pedestrian.

A single, short tap on the horn means "that's my space and I'm coming through." It's used at high speed on the open road to warn other vehicles not to change lanes and on slow-moving city streets to maintain a minimum of clear space around the front bumper.

For cyclists this means constantly weaving around vehicles and other bicyclists, but always being ready to give way; similarly, people on foot, even at a green "walk" sign or at a pedestrian crossing, must be prepared to stand back and let every other road user go first.

Indeed, cars, taxis and other vehicles will just keep aiming straight for pedestrians, even the very old or women struggling along with small children, until they stop, stand back and let the motor traffic through.

KING KONG - DVD out now

As if you didn't know already, , Peter Jackson's latest New Zealand shot epic has hit the DVD stands. You won't find a bigger gorilla this this.

Bit too much of a SFX bonanza for my tastes, but I enjoyed it in the movie theatre. I had heard there was going to be a "Peter Jackson visits the mountain gorillas" featurette on the DVD set, but I can't seem to find mention of it on the packaging in the stores. Can anyone confirm this for me?

STRUAN SUTHERLAND - 'If it hasn't killed him, just give him some more'

Here's the Sydney Morning Herald with an article on the dangers of funnel-web spiders, featuring a cameo from our favourite venom specialist from Douglas Adams' Last Chance To See...
IT WAS 11 o'clock on a muggy January night when a Sydney engineer, Gordon Wheatley, noticed that the light bulb in his dining room had blown.

"I decided to change the globe before going to bed but as I was doing it, I trod on something sharp, like a drawing pin going into my foot. I had socks on, no shoes and when I looked down, I realised I'd stepped on a spider." he told the Herald this week.
One, two, three shots of the antidote weren't enough to alleviate the pain, so they put in a call to Struan Sutherland... Full Story

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - My hairy encounter

The Telegraph Travel website with yet another personal encounter with the Mountain Gorillas of Uganda.
Without Ishmail I would never have gone eyeball to eyeball with an enormous gorilla as he partook of a late lunch in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in south-west Uganda.

Ishmail was a 23-year-old Ugandan porter, one of the entourage engaged to help visitors trek through steep, difficult terrain and catch a glimpse of the gorillas in the tropical rainforest. And "my'' gorilla was a rare silverback mountain gorilla, one of the world's most endangered apes (there are around 700 in the wild), found only in the protected forests of north-east Rwanda, eastern Congo and south-west Uganda.

KOMODO DRAGONS - There's a dragon in Chicago

News of a new exhibition running April 8, 2006 to February 28, 2007 at 's Shedd Aquarium which features a Komodo Dragon called Faust, on loan from Ft. Worth Zoo. Here's a blog post and Chicago Tribune article with more.
Even with his bad table manners, smelly breath and lethal bite, Faust, the first Komodo dragon ever to take up residence in Chicago, has become the darling of his keepers at the Shedd Aquarium.

At 7 feet 10 inches long, 129 pounds and growing, Faust is a member of the monitor lizard species Varanus komodoensis, which happen to be the biggest lizards in the world, up to more than 10 feet long and weighing more than 300 pounds after a good meal.
Could there be an episode in this...?

KAKAPO PARROTS - Fresh signs of long-lost kokako

Here's New Zealand's Stuff with an interesting offshoot of the recent Kakapo hunt.
For the veteran searchers seeking signs of the long-lost South Island kokako, a valley east of Puysegur Point in Fiordland National Park sounds like a breakthrough.

The bird was believed extinct in the 1960s, a tuneful victim of predators and loss of habitat.

But the South Island Kokako Investigation Team has kept compiling reports of the grey bird with orange wattles at each side of the beak.

And now an off-shoot of January's hunt for more kakapo in Fiordland has led to hopes that the team has a new valley to check in detail, with a community of the supposedly extinct kokako living there.
However, the Department of Conservation is still not convinced.
The Department of Conservation is not convinced that supposedly extinct South Island kokako could still be roaming through Fiordland.

The species is assumed to be extinct, although DOC said it was possible they could survive in low numbers in remote parts of the South Island and Stewart Island.

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - Bossa Nova goes to school to save the gorillas

Pittsburgh Live with news of an event at Downtown's Bossa Nova to raise money for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
Free food, cheap drinks and gorillas, oh my.

Next Saturday, Downtown's Bossa Nova -- the tapas and wine bar -- will team up with the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work's Student Executive Council to host a happy hour benefitting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

The fund, named for the late environmentalist, works to conserve gorilla habitats throughout Africa.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

CAFÉ MARRON - The Little Coffee Plant that Wouldn't Die

This is rather exciting! NPR's radio show "All Things Considered" had a segment on café marron last night. If you recall, café marron is the wild plant that almost disappeared from the Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, now part of Mauritius. Douglas Adams described the story of this plant in Last Chance To See of course.

The NPR website has a nice article, plus streamable audio of the radio show, available at: NPR : The Little Coffee Plant that Wouldn't Die, which includes the passage from Last Chance To See which described the story behind the plant Ramosmania rodriguesii, and inspired the article.
[Robert Krulwich] has pieced together the rest of the story, which, very briefly, involves:

-- an international rescue mission that rushed two fragile bits of plant to London.

-- a 20-plus-year attempt by some of the most sophisticated botanists in the world to get this plant to create a seed so it could have a future.

-- a daring experiment in 2003 that produced a breakthrough.

-- and, most important, and most dramatically, an unanticipated, unexplainable and utterly mysterious conclusion.

(Well, you should listen to the story. It will make you smile.)
I enjoyed listening to it Robert, very enlightening!

Kew Gardens has a page on the café marron plant.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

FOURTH DOUGLAS ADAMS MEMORIAL LECTURE

"Is the Human an Endangered Species?" by Professor Robert Winston

I'm delighted to share with you this report on the Fourth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture, from our regular correspondant David Haddock...
This took place in the Ondaatje Theatre at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Thursday 23rd March. Dirk Maggs was in the audience, as were Nick Webb, Robbie Stamp, Sean Solle, Mark Carwardine, Wix Wickens, Margo Buchanan, Terry Jones, Angus Deyton and Clive Anderson. I also think I saw Frank Halford who famously gave the ten out of ten to Douglas when he was at school. There were also quite a few members of Douglas’s family, his mother, wife, siblings, and (I think) his daughter.

In the bar beforehand I had a quick chat with James Thrift who explained that the hard part of his trip to Kilimanjaro was actually the walking downhill. After six days of constantly going up apparently you convince yourself that it is normal, and it is a shock to turn round. He looked to be limping a little.

There was a short introduction by a trustee of one of the charities who talked briefly about Save the Rhino and the Environmental Investigation Agency, the beneficiaries of the evening’s fundraising, and then introduced the evening’s speaker - the Professor Emeritus of Fertility Studies of Imperial College, Lord Winston. The Professor said it was a special pleasure to be giving the lecture, although he had never met Douglas he had be moved by his work, adding that tonight he had another invite to a dinner at the Guildhall with Prince Phillip but it was a great pleasure to be here.

The first slide was of Caravaggio’s Sacrifice of Isaac, and this began a wide-ranging talk that was entitled: Is the Human and Endangered Species? It focussed on the particular issue of whether genetic manipulation is a threat, and covered from the Bible story in Genesis to what we can expect in the next thirty years of advances in this field. The Professor is an entertaining speaker, and fitted in jokes, statistics and the profound, often in the same sentence. Humans it turns out are quite an infertile species, the average couple having unprotected intercourse over a menstrual cycle will, in the UK, have an 18% chance of becoming pregnant, whilst in Australia that figure is 22%, but in France just 16%. If we were more fertile there would be even more environmental problems.

From there he talked about when does an embryo become a person, touching on sperm observation via microscope as after dinner entertainment in 17th Century Holland, with scientists seeing what they expected to see (with a little dig to “his friend” Richard Dawkins about scientific truth). What they described, as in the Nicholas Hartsoeker woodcut Lord Winston projected was a homunculus, a fully formed little man within the sperm. This was taken as evidence for the religious belief that destruction of the seed is murder. He also briefly covered parthenogenic reproduction, showing a picture of a mouse born without conception, and commented that ethics need to change along with understanding. Conception is not an instantaneous, happening over a number of hours and not necessarily requiring an egg and a sperm. The difference in aging processes between man and other species was touched on before getting to his main topic.

Genetic manipulation can take many forms, from checking that an embryo is not carrying a hereditary defect in one base pair of three billion to the use of stem cells in treating Parkinson’s disease. There are difficulties. Cloning generally produces genetic abnormalities, and that the results are irreversible and unpredictable. He reminded us that there are 25,000 clones currently in the UK (identical twins) and that the Boys from Brazil scenario, where Hitler clones were being developed, as impossible as genes express themselves in different ways depending upon environment. He said that many press reports on genetic manipulation are rubbish, but also that scientists had a duty to consider the impact their work can have on society more. In Sardinia there are many sufferers from a hereditary disease called Beta thalassaemia. Those with two mutated chromosomes require blood transfusions to live beyond the age of twenty, but this life saving procedure eventually produces complications. However, those with just one copy have much milder anaemia, and also some protection against malaria which is why the genetic abnormality has persisted for over 3000 years. It may be possible to rid the island of the disease which consumes 60% of the healthcare budget, however, if malaria returned, a very real possibility with the increasing temperatures of the area, then the islanders would have increased susceptibility to this disease. He also discussed his current work on pigs, modifying them so that their organs can be transplanted into humans. This works better if the generic material is inserted into the sperm rather than the embryo.

James Thrift took to the stage next and thanked the Professor for the thought provoking lecture before launching into the auction. First up was an old GPS (a Trimble Scoutmaster, boxed with leads and a fluorescent pouch) that used to belong to Douglas. James told a story about Douglas buying a Toyota Landcruiser which had a gadget which told him his altitude (very necessary for the journey from Islington to Dorset), and how vexed he was when he arrived at a known height (625 feet) from the contour map, but his car thought it was 325 feet. Much manual reading and thinking ensued before driving to the coast and pressing the reset button. That made a couple of hundred quid, and there were a few other charity related lots before one of Douglas’s own copies of Life the Universe and Everything with a Malibu Divers sticker on the front. This had been annotated with notes from when Douglas first moved to California in 1982 to work on the Hitchhiker’s screenplay. James recollected some pleasant memories of that time saying that he got to leave his Religious Studies ‘O’ Level exam to fly out to the States (and he passed as well). The book sold for £350.

BAIJI DOLPHINS - Yangtse dolphin becomes a victim of China's success

Some very sad news from the Telegraph. The first week of a pilot project looking for signs of the Baiji Dolphin has failed to turn up any sign of the ultra-endangered marine mammal...
A team of scientists is to scan 1,000 miles of China's Yangtse River to see if its unique species of dolphin is the first member of the family of porpoises, dolphins and whales to have become extinct.

Using binoculars and underwater microphones, experts from Britain, the United States and China will spend eight weeks this autumn surveying the newly industrialised habitat of the white river dolphin.

A pilot project that began a week ago has failed to find one, leading to fears that the dolphin, or baiji as it is known in Chinese, has succumbed to the country's rapid economic growth.
[...]
The 1990s survey found 13 of the dolphins, leading him to conclude that there were fewer than 100 of the creatures left, but only a handful have been seen in the past few years.

The last sighting, of a mother and child, was in May last year.

Friday, March 24, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - Bird flu vaccinations

Several news agencies are reporting on Paul Jansen of New Zealand's Department Of Conservation announcement that several of the island's birds could be vaccinated against the virulant bird flu H5N1 that is sweeping the globe.
New Zealand's iconic flightless birds, the kiwi and the near-extinct kakapo, will be vaccinated against if the virus is detected anywhere near this isolated South Pacific nation, a conservationist said Friday.

New Zealand has reported no cases of the deadly H5N1 bird flu strain, but native birds are likely "highly susceptible" to it, said Paul Jansen, leader of the Department of Conservation's kiwi and kakapo recovery team.
Full Report

KAKAPO PARROTS - Recovery Programme Update

Sad news from the Kakapo Recovery Programme earlier this month. It appears we won't be getting any new Kakapo Parrot this year.
Well unfortunately it is looking increasingly likely that we won't end up with any breeding this summer on Whenua Hou. We thought for a while that it was looking promising, as 10 of the 14 females on the Summit side of the island had been for good wanders outside their home range to check out booming and food supplies. But so far none of these wanderings have resulted in a mating at a track and bowl.
Full Report

DOUGLAS ADAMS - Memorial Debate 2006

Dave Haddock has posted an interesting snippet on ZZ9 about a forthcoming Douglas Adams Memorial Debate to be held at Sci-Fi-London5, the 5th London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film.
It will at 19:30 on Thursday 27th April, with tickets scheduled to go on sale on April 3rd, and this year's theme is Posthumanism.

Programme and ticketing details [when available] will be at http://www.sci-fi-london.com/

Thursday, March 23, 2006

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - DFGFI Field News

Interesting article from this month's Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Field News on the vocalizations produced by gorillas. Includes audio clips of the hoots, grunts and screams mentioned.
Vocalizations are often overlooked as important sources of information about social relationships, particularly calls that are given within the group. Gorillas are very vocal animals. Calls between group members (or what are often called 'close' calls) have been recorded at a rate of almost 8 times per hour (Harcourt & Stewart, 2001). This rate is much more frequent than that of many other social behaviors, such as grooming and playing, and makes vocal relationships a primary component of gorilla social relationships.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS - Captured LRA capt lived like a beast

Short paragraph in the middle of this New Vision Online article says...
The World Society for the Protection of Animals says Garamba is home to 31 northern white rhinos, 4,000 elephants, 30,000 buffalo, giraffes and thousands of carnivore and primate species.
I'd like that figure to be true...

FOURTH DOUGLAS ADAMS MEMORIAL LECTURE

**REMINDER**

"Is the Human an Endangered Species?" by Professor Robert Winston

Thursday 23 March 2006, the Royal Geographic Society, London SW7

Save the Rhino International and the Environmental Investigation Agency are co-hosting the Fourth Memorial Lecture with a talk by Professor Robert Winston, on Thursday 23 March at the Royal Geographic Society in London SW7. In this talk, he will combine some of the apparently threatening aspects of technology and the trust, or lack of it, in science.

Lord Winston is one of the country’s best-known scientists. As Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial College, University of London, and Director of NHS Research and Development and Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, he has made advances in fertility medicine and been a leading voice in the debate on genetic engineering. His television series, including Your Life in Their Hands, Making Babies, The Human Body and The Human Mind and have made him a household name across Britain. He became a life peer in 1995.

The lecture is in aid of Save the Rhino International and the Environmental Investigation Agency, two charities supported by Douglas Adams. Douglas developed his deep-seated interest in wildlife conservation during a 1985 visit to Madagascar, which eventually resulted in a book (Last Chance to See) about the plight of species facing extinction. Douglas Adams died unexpectedly in 2001 at the age of 49. These Memorial Lectures continue to explore the themes in which Douglas was so interested.

For more details on this event go to this Save The Rhino Events page.
You can purchase tickets online @ £10.00

For details on Save the Rhino: www.savetherhino.org
For details on EIA : www.eia-international.org

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

PETER JONES - Interview with MJ Simpson

Just stumbled upon this nice archive interview of Peter Jones by MJ Simpson. Peter Jones was, of course, the voice of "The Book" in the original BBC "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and also contributed Book-like narration for the radio series of "Last Chance To See".
MJS: Douglas Adams is famous for being very, very late with his writing.

PJ: "Yes, he was. He was very late. Twice I turned up at the studio on the appointed day and there was no script so I was sent home."

MJS: It’s said that Douglas wanted a Peter Jones type voice but tried several people before he thought of Peter Jones. Were you aware of that at the time?

PJS: "(laughs) No, no."
Read full interview

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - Protecting endangered species helps reduce poverty

WebWire is running an interesting article on the side-effects of endangered animals conservation.
Saving pandas, gorillas or tigers is not just about stopping an endangered species from going extinct, but also about reducing and improving the lives of local communities, according to a new WWF report.

The report, based on six case studies, shows that WWF’s species work helps eradicate poverty and hunger, as well as promote sustainable and fair development in rural areas of countries such as Nepal, Uganda, India, Namibia, Costa Rica and China.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - Finding Kakapo "still possible"

New Zealand's Stuff has an optimistic view from the recent Kakapo hunt.
It's still possible there are kakapo in Fiordland even though a three-week search came up empty, a Waikato man says.

Maungatautari Trust ecologist Chris Smuts-Kennedy was one of several experienced conservation workers who took part in the latest search which replicated one he had been on in the 1970s.

During his 2½ week hunt, Mr Smuts-Kennedy tramped to five areas between Dusky and Doubtful Sounds where kakapo sightings had been reported.

They spent nights playing recordings of the bird's calls and listening for males booming.

"Certainly it was disappointing. We all had hopes, they weren't high hopes I suppose, but it needed to be done."

Five groups tramped through the park but found no sign of the birds.
Read on for the full story.

KOMODO DRAGONS - Expanded Akron Zoo enjoying new popularity

Cleveland.com has an article on the expanded Akron Zoo which is proving an attraction to lots of new visitors.
The Akron Zoo's new jaguars, dragons and bats have sent the park's attendance into orbit.

New animal exhibits, including Legends of the Wild and Komodo Kingdom, boosted last year's attendance to 223,918, a 41 percent increase over 2004's record-breaking attendance of 158,681.
[...]
Last October, the zoo opened the 35,000-square-foot Komodo Kingdom Education Center, home to a Komodo dragon, Galapagos tortoises and Chinese alligators. The facility has interactive exhibits, a restaurant and classrooms.

KAKAPO PARROTS - Hear ye, Hear ye

Here's a Arstechnica post that uses the Kakapo's booming call as an example of a low frequency sound. The post is promoting an interesting few responses in the comments to say the least...

BAIJI DOLPHINS - Hong Kong university students help save endangered animals

China's People Daily Online with an article on some laudable projects undertaken by Hong Kong students.
Eight students from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) presented their first-hand experience in the field for conservation projects about endangered Asian animals Thursday, which included giant pandas and white-flag dolphin.

Sponsored by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation of Hong Kong (OPCFHK), the eight students from the department of Ecology and Biodiversity of HKU participated in four different field research projects recently.

The four projects included studying the threatened Chinese white dolphin in Guangxi, studying the ecosystem of the Defending Nature Reserve in Sichuan province, monitoring the finless porpoise and white-flag dolphin population in Poyang Lake of China, and the study of giant pandas using enrichment items designed by students to stimulate giant pandas physically and mentally so as to keep them healthy in zoological facilities.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

CROSSWORD PUZZLE #1

A little puzzle to while away a few minutes and test your knowledge of "Last Chance To See". Click on any word to begin. The clues appear underneath.

Friday, March 17, 2006

REVIEW - THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Live on Stage in Philadelphia

Last night I went to the Walnut Street Theater, Studio 5 for Curio Theatre Company's production of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy - Part 1".

The show comprised the first three radio scripts with original sound effects, music and semi-animated illustrations. Three actors played multiple parts at lecterns, only emerging to perform two funny little dances between "episodes".

Susan Jude was the real highlight for me. Perky and expressive, her Book readings were superb, her hilarious Eddie the Shipboard Computer reminded me of an over-caffeinated Sandra Dickinson, and her Vogon Guard was as alienesque as they come. Frighteningly funny.

Drew Peterson was great as Arthur Dent, and his apoplexy at having his house demolished was fabulous. His quick switches for the Arthur/Marvin exchanges were also very well done.

Jerry Rudasill played most of the other characters in the show. From Mr. Prosser, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox to Slartibartfast, his energy was unfailing. His French accented Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz was something of a surprise, but one that worked particularly well.

The original sounds effects and music (no Journey of the Sorcerer) were mostly excellent, and the screen visuals included a headless Marvin, one-eyed Vogons, and a more alien looking Slartibartfast. There was a curious sound effect for the "man proves black is white and gets killed on the next zebra-crossing" line. Thundering hooves instead of the screech of tyres(?). Hmmm... Think Abbey Road rather than actual zebras.

The mixture of "audio" and semi-animated images remined me of another Douglas Adams script; the webcast of Doctor Who - Shada.

The script was almost identical to the radio version on CD, but different accents and intonations made it distinctly different to the BBC production. This entertaining show ended with the episode three cliffhanger, but we're promised that Part Two (episodes 4-6) will be back next year to take us on to the Restaurant At The End Of The Universe. I'm looking forward to it. Congratulations to all involved.

The show continues its run at the Walnut Theater in Philadelphia until March 26th, 2006.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

RHINO CLIMB KILIMANJARO 2006


Congratulations again to James Thrift! As previously reported, he has successfully scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, in memory of his brother , to raise funds for Save the Rhino. He has sent me a picture of himself at the summit which I'm delighted to share with you.
Just a quick note to let you know that I made it to the summit of Kilimanjaro, all 19,340 feet of it, and thankfully back down too.

A huge thank you to everyone who supported me in this mad venture, not only from me, but from the wardens and rangers of Tsavo East National Park who will be able to use the funds to continue the hugely successful Rhino Monitoring Programme.

Visit www.rhinoclimb2006.com for more.

Regards

James

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - A Sketch Swap

Here's something silly. A picture of a Kakapo drawn with the Sketch Swap website.
Unfortunately, I got a worthless scrawl in return. If anyone can do any better, feel free to send "ALT-PrintScr" dumps to my profile email address and I'll post them on the site. Anything appropriately "Last Chance To See" related will be published.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

AMAZON MANATEES - Peru promotes its Amazon north

An article on the British TravelBite website about Peru's renewed tourism initiative - Peru promotes its Amazon north.
Peru tourism officials are launching a campaign to promote the country's northern Amazon region.

While the Inca trail and the lost citadel of Machu Picchu are well-established on the tourist map, many of the country's northern attractions are less well-known.

The city of Iquitos offers the best route for tourists to enter the Amazon region of Peru, which comprises 50 per cent of its territory.

Iquitos, the capital of the Loreto region, is surrounded by three rivers – the Nanay, the Itaya and the Amazon – which are home to wildlife including the manatee, or sea cow, the pink dolphin, the charapa turtle, and the anaconda.

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - Tourist Adventures

Here's another couple of the regular Mountain Gorilla tourist reports that appear in the news.

The Washington Post has In a Family Way: One Amazing Hour With the Susas, and The Star has Sharing breakfast with gentle giants.
Just as I was ready to collapse, a tracker hooted in the distance and two young silverback gorillas tumbled into view.

The duo began playing to their audience like a couple of hams in a vaudeville act: striking poses, gamboling with each other, posturing for us. We were supposed to remain at least seven feet away, but no one had told them. Their performance was a combination greeting ("Welcome!") and warning ("But we're in charge!"). They'd stop to eat -- tearing bamboo plants up by their roots and chomping them down in one or two gulps -- then turn a profile.

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - Maryland Zoo takes over preservation of gorillas

More from the Washington Times on Maryland Zoo's role in the preservation of Mountain Gorillas.
The Maryland Zoo in the rolling fields of Druid Hill Park is far away from the mountain jungles in Africa, but it has become a surrogate home for a powerful primate species on the brink of extinction.

'We've got this very interesting opportunity to take these very interesting creatures and save them,' said Dr. Kim Hammond, a participant in the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, which has moved its headquarters to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. 'The reason Baltimore has [this project] is we know we can get the job done.'

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

EXTINCTIONS - Stopping the next extinction wave

Here's an interesting article from the BBC on the challenges ahead in "Stopping the next extinction wave".
A scientific study pinpoints 20 areas in the world where animals are not at immediate risk of extinction, but where the risk is likely to arise soon.

The regions include Greenland and the Siberian tundra, Caribbean islands and parts of South East Asia.
[...]
Some "last-chance" programmes have proved successful. In Yellowstone National Park, grizzly bears have recovered enough to come off the US endangered species list; while in the UK, numbers of stone curlew breeding pairs have doubled over the last 20 years.

Monday, March 06, 2006

REUNION ISLAND - Madagascar hit by chikungunya virus

The BBC has another report on the outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus which has now begun to spread onto Madagascar itself.
Madagascar has recorded the first cases of a mosquito-borne disease that has caused havoc and is linked to 93 deaths on Reunion Island, to the east.

The African state did not release figures for the number of people affected by the chikungunya virus, but called it a sporadic outbreak.

The symptoms of chikungunya include high fever, dehydration and severe pain - and there is no known cure.

The crippling disease has afflicted 20% of Reunion Islanders in the past year.

RHINO CLIMB KILIMANJARO 2006


Congratulations to James Thrift! He has successfully scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, in memory of his brother , to raise funds for Save the Rhino. Very well done!!

The Douglas Adams Continuum has the first reports.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

STEWART ISLAND - Billy Connolly's World Tour of New Zealand

I finally got round to purchasing the CyberHome CH-DVD 300S Progressive-Scan DVD Player. This nifty little machine will play PAL and NTSC discs on my US televsion, and can be made into a Region FREE DVD player with an ultra-simple code. So I've now been able to watch the Region 2 DVD of Billy Connolly - World Tour Of New Zealand in which Billy pays a visit to Stewart Island, New Zealand.

Unfortunately, no Kakapo Parrots on display, but it was great to see the beautiful landscapes of this country in all their glory. I visited New Zealand in 1997 and enjoyed it enormously.

Billy's other "World Tour" DVDs are still available. The combination of hilarious stand-up comedy and travelogue works wonderfully well.

KOMODO DRAGONS - Interview with a dragon...

Here's an odd one from The Japan Times Online. An interview with a Komodo Dragon no less...
There are only about 2,500 of these dragons left in the wild, and most of them live on two islands, Komodo and Rinca, in Indonesia. I first learned about the Komodo dragon in the documentary "Ring of Fire," by Lorne and Lawrence Blaire. They had fantastic footage of these dragons eating a goat -- bones and all. I was intrigued and went to Indonesia to meet the dragons myself. I was lucky enough to meet one dragon, who was sunbathing on a rock and agreed to be interviewed for this column.

"So, how big are you?" I asked.

"I am 11 feet long."

"How much do you weigh?"

"500 pounds! I'm full," he said giving me a toothy grin. "I ate a water buffalo this morning."
Read on for the full interview, with original audio at amychavez.blogspot.com.

Friday, March 03, 2006

MAURITIUS - Dodos, Pink Pigeons, Echo Parakeets and Mauritius Kestrels

Here's the Financial Times with a report on the the bird life of . "At worship in a forest cathedral" mentions Carl Jones and his remarkable efforts, and talks about all of the birds Douglas Adams mentions in Last Chance To See.
It was the home of the dodo until the Portuguese settled on the uninhabited island in the mid 17th century and drove the species to extinction but more recent birdlife that has been nearing oblivion has been a bit luckier.

The pink pigeon, a distant cousin of the dodo, the echo parakeet and the Mauritius kestrel have all had a reprieve, due largely to the work of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the tireless efforts of conservationist Carl Jones, a scientific director of the foundation, who was greatly influenced by the work of naturalist Gerald Durrell.

MOUNTAIN GORILLAS - DFGFI Field News

Great news from February's Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund Field News.
The new year started wonderfully with news of a gorilla birth in Beetsme's group, one of the three mountain gorilla groups we track regularly from the Karisoke Research Center. Trackers arriving in the group on the morning of the first of January were greeted by Bukima, a young adult female, and her newborn infant.
Beetsme's group is the same group to which our website sponsored infant Urwibutso belongs. So he has a new playmate! Excellent!

NORTHERN WHITE RHINOS - Rhino Climb Mount Kilimanjaro

Save The Rhino are now accepting applications for the 2007 expedition Rhino Climb - Mount Kilimanjaro.
Highlights:
• Trek on the little used Rongai wilderness route.
• Stand literally on the roof of the world.
• Safari in Tsavo East National Park.
• Exclusive opportunity to track black rhinos with the Kenya Wildlife Service.
• Relax at the exclusive Galdessa Lodge after the trek.
• Visit the project you'll be supporting.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

KAKAPO PARROTS - Scientists celebrate Kakapo discovery

Great news from New Zealand, and the TVNZ site. "Scientists are celebrating after successfully testing a procedure that could play a major role in saving the world's most endangered parrot - New Zealand's Kakapo."
Sperm taken from a Kakapo at Codfish Island two weeks ago has survived its deep freeze in liquid nitrogen.

"We're getting somewhere between 60% and 70% on some of our samples which is pretty high," said research scientist Serean Adams.

There are now 86 living Kakapo but virtually all of them are related.

"There's quite a lot of in-breeding and that's leading to infertility and quite a lot of our birds are quite old now and we don't want to lose this genetic material before they die," said Department of Conservation spokesperson Daryl Eason.

REUNION ISLAND - Disease hits 20% on French island

Startling health news from the BBC about the island of Reunion.
A crippling disease in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion has affected 157,000 people, one in five of the population, in the past year, health officials say.

Chikungunya, Swahili for "that which bends up", causes high fever and severe pain but was not thought to be fatal.

However, the health minister of France, which rules the island, said this week 77 deaths may have been caused "directly or indirectly".
[...]
There have also been cases of chikungunya in Mauritius, the Seychelles and Madagascar.