Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Baiji Dolphin spotted ALIVE?

Well here's a turn up for the books. It looks like the Baiji, a dolphin famed in legend as the "Goddess of the Yangtze", is not as dead as it was supposed to be. Here's the China Daily.com with the news - 'Extinct' dolphin spotted in Yangtze River.
A resident of east China's Anhui Province spotted a "big white animal" in the river on August 19, and filmed it with a digital camera, said Dr. Wang Kexiong, of the Institute of Hydrobiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The animal in the footage was confirmed by the institute to be a white-flag dolphin, known in Chinese as "baiji", Wang said.

"We are very glad to see baiji still exist in the world," Wang said.

Zeng Yujiang, the man who spotted the dolphin, told Xinhua, "I never saw such a big thing in the water before, so I filmed it. It was about 1,000 meters away and jumped out of water for several times."
If we can find the video footage, we will of course post it as soon as possible - and if any kind readers see it, do let us know.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Kakapo Podcast featuring Stephen Fry and Paul Jansen

ParrotScience.com has a very nice "enhanced" Kakapo Podcast with a pretty comprehensive history of the Kakapo. It features Stephen Fry reading Douglas Adam's description of the Kakapo from Last Chance To See, sort of a sneak-peek of next year's TV series narration. It also features Paul Jansen of the Kakapo Recovery Programme in New Zealand.
This is a great episode for those with displays on their iPod or watching it on the computer. ***Plenty of photos and live web links embedded as you go along! If you want more information, click on the photo when listening***

Friday, August 24, 2007

Happy 50th Birthday Stephen Fry!

Many happy returns to Stephen Fry today. I'm very much looking forward to his future adventures with Mark Carwardine on the TV series of Last Chance To See. Enjoy your trips Stephen!

And if you live in the USA, please head over to StephenFry.com and sign the "QI In America Petition". I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of QI on DVD from Amazon.co.uk, and if we can't get the show broadcast UNEDITED in the USA, at least let's get some more DVDs out please!

Brazil reviving endangered Amazon manatees

France24.com has a news update on the status of the Amazonian Manatee. The article covers the work being done by Brazilian conservationists who are looking to reintroduce Manatees into the wild. The National Amazon Research Institute have 36 manatees in captivity, all of them captured as babies after being discarded by hunters. Their ultimate plan will be to release as many as half of them back into the wild in the coming years.
In February 2008 scientists at the National Amazon Research Institute (INPA) plan to take the two manatees (Trichechus inungis) and drop them into the Rio Cuieiras, a tributary of the Rio Negro, where researchers hope they will seek out females and begin repopulating the area.
[...]
Despite being protected, the manatee population of the vast Amazon has steadily fallen with habitat loss, slow reproduction -- females give birth only once every two years and to only one offspring -- and due to hunting by people who eat the huge, sluggish fresh-water mammal.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sixth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture

The Sixth Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture will take place at the Royal Geographic Society in London, on Wednesday 12th March 2008.

The lecture will be presented by psychologist Steven Pinker, the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. His subject will be "The Stuff of Thought, Language as a Window into Human Nature". As always, proceeds will go to Save The Rhino.

New baby gorilla in the DR Congo

Here's some much more positive news from the DR Congo. The BBC is reporting that conservationists in DR Congo are celebrating the birth of a new baby mountain gorilla, discovered by rangers doing a routine checkup on the Munyaga family. After the recent atrocities in which nine Mountain Gorillas were found killed, execution style, this is joyous news indeed.
The rangers who made the discovery said the baby gorilla, a male, was born on Tuesday.

His mother, Balali, is the only female in the Munyaga family. The other members are made up of three silverbacks (dominant males) and a blackback.

"Every birth is important, but given the fact that we lost 1% of the world's population in July alone this latest birth is even more significant," said Robert Muir from the Frankfurt Zoological Society.
If you head over to The Gorilla Protection blog you'll find a report on the discovery and photos of the little boy gorilla with his mother Bilali.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Susu, the Ganges River Dolphin

Following the recent news that Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine would be visiting the Ganges River Dolphin for their Last Chance To See TV series, it's about time we posted some information on this creature, also known as the "Susu". Image by Brian Smith.

The Wikipedia article is very good and tells us that Ganges River Dolphin and its close relative the Indus River Dolphin are essentially identical in appearance, even though they have totally distinct ranges and have not interbred for thousands of years.
The Ganges subspecies can be found in the Ganges River as well as the Brahmaputra, Meghna, Karnaphuli and Sangu river systems of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Relatively high population densities have been observed near the Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary in India and in the Sangu River in southern Bangladesh. Very few individuals (perhaps 20) are present in Nepal in the Karnali River. The total population is unknown, but certainly numbers in the hundreds and there are perhaps as many as a few thousand.
The ARKive website has a lovely (if short) video of the Susu in action. Their full Ganges River Dolphin page is here.

The IUCN Red List of Endangered Species lists the Ganges and Indus River Dolphins as "Endangered".

And finally (for now), novelist Harold Bergsma recently posted a very nice article on Desicritics.org called River Dolphins and Baoli - The Passing of an Era. Harold writes...
How many of these rare, wonderful creatures are left? I poured over the literature and sadly have to report that only four to six hundred of these blind river dolphins exist in the Indus and that their numbers are diminishing rapidly because of a number of factors. Over fishing, dam construction, navigation projects, pollution, habitat destruction and increasing food needs of a fast growing human population have all but made this animal extinct.
[...]
In the Ganges this creature is called the Susu. If you are interested you can go online and watch a video of a Susu leaping out of the water and hear its whistle-like call. It is wonderful to see. Only about six hundred of them still exist in an area of heavy human population which uses their fat, you guessed it, for catching catfish. In the Brahmaputra River, scientists estimate that three to four hundred of the Hihu remain. In Nepal, in isolated sections of rivers a few may still exist.
Thanks for the article Harold, it was a very nice read. You can read more of Harold's work and find out about his award winning books at HaroldBergsma.com.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Could Fred's bones yield dodo DNA?

The Times of India has more news on Fred The Dodo's potential for yielding DNA from his bones.
Late last year, biologists looking for cave cockroaches accidentally discovered a dodo skeleton in the highlands of Mauritius.

Nicknamed 'Fred' after one of its discoverers, the skeleton's bones were badly decomposed and fragile, but there is still a good chance of extracting some dodo DNA because of the stable temperature and dry to slightly humid environment (keys to DNA preservation) of the cave. (Scientists think Fred ended up in the bottom of the cave because he sought shelter from a violent cyclone but fell down in a deep hole and could not climb out.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Mountain Gorillas: Missing female and baby are dead

The BBC News site reports today that a female mountain gorilla and its baby from the 12-strong group that were attacked last month are dead. This brings the recent death toll up to nine.
Rangers patrolling the area of the Virunga National Park where four of the great apes were killed discovered the remains of the female, called Macibiri.

Conservation group WildlifeDirect said it would continue searching the area to locate the body of the infant, Ntaribi.
There's a lot more information, photographs, video, and a progress report from the UNESCO inquiry at the Gorilla Protection blog.

Kakapo diet supplements to aid fertility

Here's InTheNews.co.uk with some (not altogether new) news on the dietary supplements being given to the 86 Kakapos in order to help them breed more often.
Hindering the kakapo's return to its previous numbers is its unusual eating habits. The bird breeds every two to six years when fruit is in bloom on pink pine and rimu trees, which they feed their young on.

During the rest of the time the kakapo's diet consists of grasses, leaves and herbs which lack the nutrients it needs to be able to breed.
[...]
A total of 67 eggs were laid in 2002, the first year in which the new diet was trialled.
That's an interesting follow-up to Tuesday's Kakapo post which mentioned the Kakapo's perceived diet in 1862. Here's another snippet from "Handbook to the Birds of Australia".
The cause of the deformity was supposed to be the want of proper food, and too close confinement. They were fed chiefly on soaked bread, oatmeal, and water and boiled potatoes. When let loose in a garden they would eat lettuces, cabbages, and grass, and would taste almost every green leaf that they came across. One, which I brought within six hundred miles of England (when it was accidentally killed), whilst at Sydney, ate eagerly of the leaves of a Banknia and several species of Eucalyptus, as well as grass, appearing to prefer them all to its usual diet of bread and water. It was also very fond of nuts and almonds, and during the latter part of the homeward voyage lived almost entirely on Brazilian ground-nuts.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

International Mission to Investigate Gorilla Killings

The Environmental News Service reported last week that an international group of UNESCO and IUCN experts would be on their way Saturday to investigate the recent mountain gorilla killings. I wish them the very best of luck. We need all the support we can find to save these beautiful endangered animals from extinction.
The execution-style shootings are considered a setback for gorilla preservation and for conservation of the World Heritage site, which was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1994.

Two suspects have been identified as being involved in the killings. One has been arrested and is assisting the authorities, but the other is still at large. Both were seen early on July 23 at the scene where the gorillas were shot, according to the International Gorilla Conservation Program, IGCP.
Thanks to everyone who has already donated to our new Mountain Gorilla fundraiser. We're well on our way to raising $720 for 720 Mountain Gorillas.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Kakapo Parrots Back in Time

Out of pure curiosity, I went looking for Kakapos in Google Book Search to see what I could find. Lo and behold, Google did pull up a few interesting "digitized publications", including what must be one of the oldest photographs of a Kakapo (or Owl Parrot) around. This is a picture of a Kakapo from "The World's Birds: A Simple and Popular Classification of the Birds of the World" by Frank Finn, published in 1908. I wonder if he or she is the great-great grandparent of any of the remaining 86 Kakapos?

If we now travel further back in time to 1865, we find a fascinating multi-page appendix devoted to the Kakapo in John Gould's book "Handbook to the Birds of Australia". Here's a couple of brief extracts from the book, which obviously covers New Zealand as well...
Long before 1845, when a skin of this extraordinary Parrot was for the first time sent to Europe, we had conclusive evidence of the existence of the species, from the circumstance of plumes made of its feathers being worn by the Maories. It is somewhat strange, however, that such a lengthened period should have elapsed after the discovery and possession of New Zealand before so singular a bird should have found its way to Europe.
On their ability to fly like bricks...
The only occasion on which the Kakapo was seen to fly was when it got up one of these hollow trees and was driven to an exit higher up. The flight was very short, the wings being scarcely moved ; and the bird alighted on a tree at a lower level than the place from whence it had come, but soon got higher up by climbing, using its tail to assist it.
Finally, this supposed cave gathering behaviour is an interesting idea indeed...
The cry of the Kakapo is a hoarse croak, varied occasionally by a discordant shriek when irritated or hungry. The Maories say that during winter they assemble together in large numbers in caves, and at the times of meeting, and, again before dispersing to their summer haunts, that the noise they make is perfectly deafening.
The full Kakapo entry runs to about 9 pages, and covers their range, the threat to them from cats and rats, diet, behaviour, edibility and more besides. It's quite a fascinating perspective from some 140 years ago, and warrants further Google Book Searches in the future.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Baiji Expert: Yangtze river dolphin may not be extinct

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that Professor Wang Ding, who headed the research team on the six-week Baiji Expedition, says that some of the dolphins may still exist.
"This is only one survey and...you can't have a sample in a survey, so you cannot say the baiji all is gone by the result of only one survey," he said.

"For example, there is some side channels or some tributaries [where] we cannot go because of a restriction of navigation rules, and also we don't survey during the night-time so we may miss some animals in the Yangtze River."

Professor Ding says based on anecdotal evidence, he remains confident the dolphins are still out there.

"I'm pretty much sure there are a few of them left somewhere in the Yangtze River," he said.

"I keep receiving reports from fishermen, they say they saw a couple of baiji somewhere, sometime.

Friday, August 10, 2007

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Mountain Gorilla Murders: Updates

There has been a large amount of media coverage in recent weeks over the horrific execution style killings of Mountain Gorillas in the DR Congo. At least seven dead since the beginning of 2007, possibly as many as nine.

Here's NBC affiliate 11Alive.com on how the murders are tainting the 40th anniversary of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Clare Richardson, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Fossey Fund, is horrified.

"Shoot them with a gun?" exclaimed Richardson. "I mean that it's just -- it's just horrifying. Because they have no defense against that -- I mean, they probably stood up and looked at them before they shot them."
[...]
Investigators in Congo are looking for those responsible for the killings, and they have been told by the Fossey Fund, help is on the way.
The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project based out of Maryland Zoo, Baltimore is also ramping up its efforts to assist. ABC2 reports...
Dr. Mike Cranfield heads up the project, working between Baltimore and Africa.

Dr. Cranfield and a team of veterinarians are doing everything possible to keep these endangered animals alive.

“These animals are closely related to us 98 percent and I feel if we can’t save the animals we have that close attachment with, then I think it’s bad for the lesser animals that not enough attention is paid too,” says Dr. Mike Cranfield with the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.
Finally, the ENN site reported last week that two men involved in the killings HAD been identified, and one had been arrested.
Wildlife authorities and conservation partners have held a series of emergency meetings to address last week's shooting of four endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two suspects have been identified as persons involved in the killing of the four gorillas, all members of the Rugendo group. The men were seen early on July 23rd at the scene where the gorillas were shot dead. One of the men has been arrested and is cooperating with the investigation, but the second man is still at large.

Baiji Dolphin 'now extinct'

News of the Baiji Dolphin's "extinction" is rolling around the media outlets again this week, as the researchers publish their 6-week study findings in the Royal Society Biology Letters. Here's BBC News with the story.
The researchers failed to spot any Yangtze river dolphins, also known as baijis, during an extensive six-week survey of the mammals' habitat.

The team, writing in Biology Letters journal, blamed unregulated fishing as the main reason behind their demise.

If confirmed, it would be the first extinction of a large vertebrate for over 50 years.

The World Conservation Union's Red List of Threaten Species currently classifies the creature as "critically endangered".
The BBC site has a video report on this story, including footage of the Baiji in graceful action.

Also, here's an older report from earlier in the year...

Would You Walk 1000 Miles? Mosher is...

Very best of luck to ACTS supporter Mosher as he struggles through the first few days of his new 1000 mile hike for charity. The I Would Walk 1000 Miles blog has all the details on his amazing walk from Monaco back to St. James Park in Newcastle. He's already developed a nasty blister, so hopefully that won't slow him up too much.
Though how I managed it I don't know. I have a nasty burst blister on my right foot and my feet ache but I'm just glad I made it. Later today I hope to clamber over the mountains and into Italy by 8pm.
Mosher is raising money for the Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, a children's charity in Vietnam, so please help him out if you can.

Komodo Dragon and Orangutans killed in Canary Islands fire

As wildfires rage out of control, burning more than 33,000 hectares of Canary Island forests, the Times Online reports that the fire has destroyed most of a wildlife park on Grand Canary.
Many of the animals at Palmitos Park, including reptiles, parrots, orangutans and a Komodo dragon, are thought to have died. An official said that many rare birds were released before the flames engulfed the park.
[...]
More than 13,000 residents were evacuated from their homes as firefighters battled at least four large blazes in Tenerife and Grand Canary.
[...]
where tens of thousands of British tourists are spending their summer holidays.

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