Giant fossil rabbit discovery in Spain


Nuralagus rex

From LiveScience:

King of Rabbits: Ancient, Gigantic Bunny Discovered

Charles Q. Choi, LiveScience Contributor

Date: 21 March 2011 Time: 03:02 PM ET

Just in time for Easter, the skeleton of a giant rabbit has been discovered, one that was once about six times the size of today’s bunnies.

The fossils of the giant were discovered on the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, a fact reflected in the rabbit‘s scientific name, Nuralagus rex, “the Minorcan king of the rabbits.” [Illustration of giant rabbit]

“I needed four years to recover a good sample of N. rex bones because they were in very hard red stone,” paleontologist Josep Quintana at the Catalan Institute of Paleontology in Barcelona, Spain, told LiveScience. “To pull the bones out from the matrix, it was necessary to use some hundreds of liters of acetic acid, a very concentrated vinegar — very hard and patient work! But it was worthwhile, of course.”

When the bunny lived approximately 3 million to 5 million years ago, it weighed about 26 pounds (12 kilograms), about six times the size of the living European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). [Fossils of Oldest Rabbit Relative Found]

The fact that it got so big on Minorca seems to follow the so-called “island rule.” On islands, big animals often get smaller, due to limited food, while small animals often get bigger, due to lack of predators.

“For most of their over 40-million-year history, members of the rabbit family have fit well within the size range exhibited by relatively well-known modern members of the family. Now, discoveries on Minorca have added a giant to the mix, a 25-pound, short-legged rabbit,” said rabbit researcher Mary Dawson at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who did not take part in this study.

As big as it was, N. rex might have been easy prey today — it lost the ability to hop. The long, springy spine of a typical modern rabbit was lost in N. rex, replaced by a short, stiff spine that would make leaping difficult.

“I think that N. rex would be a rather clumsy rabbit walking — imagine a beaver out of water,” Quintana said.

The giant probably also had poor hearing and vision, with relatively small eye sockets and internal ear parts. Its senses likely deteriorated for the same reason it got so large — it did not have predators to worry about. As such, it probably lacked another key trait often associated with rabbits — long ears. The bunny likely sported relatively small ears for its size.

Based on the rabbit’s curved claws, the researchers suspect the animal was most probably a digger that lived on roots and tubers it unearthed. Its neighbors included bats, large dormice and giant tortoises.

Quintana proposes that this newfound giant might make a good mascot for the island. “I would like to use N. rex to lure students and visitors to Minorca,” he said.

The scientists detailed their findings online today (March 21) in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

See also here.

It’s actually the European hare, or brown hare, that holds the impressive credential of being the original Easter Bunny: here.

April 2011: Populations of brown hares are holding up in the Braydon Forest area of North Wiltshire, a survey of landowners by the Wiltshire wildlife trust reveals. Sixty seven per cent of those taking part in the survey reported seeing hares on their land: here.

One of South Africa’s most endangered mammals, the Riverine Rabbit will again receive a helping hand from Lindt Master Chocolatiers when it donates a percentage of sales from their Lindt Gold Easter Bunnies to the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) Riverine Rabbit Programme 2012: here.

From miniature elephants to monster mice, and even Hobbit-sized humans, size changes in island animals are well-known to science. Biologists have long believed that large animals evolving on islands tend to get smaller, while small animals tend to get bigger, a generalization they call “the island rule”: here.

Afghan civilians murdered by US troops’ photos


From Associated Press:

German news group runs photos of Afghan killings

March 21st, 2011 @ 7:21am

By GENE JOHNSON

SEATTLE – Graphic photos showing U.S. troops and dead Afghans that the Army was keeping under wraps for a war crimes probe were carried by a German news organization Monday, with one showing a soldier smiling as he posed with a bloodied and partially clothed corpse.

The photos published by Der Spiegel were among several seized by Army investigators looking into the deaths of three unarmed Afghans last year. Five soldiers based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, have been charged with murder and conspiracy in the case.

Der Spiegel did not return calls seeking comment Monday, and it wasn’t known how the organization obtained copies.

Editions with the photos were on newsstands Monday, a day after Der Spiegel published them digitally.

Officials involved in the courts-martial had issued a strict protective order, seeking to severely limit access to the photographs due to their sensitive nature. Some defense teams had been granted copies but were not allowed to disseminate them.

“Today Der Spiegel published photographs depicting actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States Army,” the Army said in a statement released by Col. Thomas Collins. “We apologize for the distress these photos cause.”

One of the published photographs shows a key figure in the investigation, Cpl. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska, grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by the hair. Der Spiegel identified the body as that of Gul Mudin, whom Morlock was charged with killing on Jan. 15, 2010, in Kandahar Province.

Another photo shows Pvt. 1st Class Andrew Holmes, of Boise, Idaho, holding the head of the same corpse. His lawyer, Daniel Conway, said Sunday that Holmes was ordered “to be in the photo, so he got in the photo. That doesn’t make him a murderer.”

The photo was taken while the platoon leader, Lt. Roman Ligsay, was present, Conway said. Ligsay has asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify in the legal proceedings against his troops.

Conway sought copies of the photographs so that he could present them to a ballistics expert, who he argued might be able to tell whether the victim had been struck by the weapon Holmes was carrying. His request was rejected.

“I’m very disappointed that in an American judicial proceeding, I have to get potentially exculpatory evidence from a German newspaper,” Conway said.

A third photo depicts two apparently dead men propped against a small pillar. Der Spiegel said the photo was seized from a member of the platoon, but did not involve the deaths being investigated as war crimes. Soldiers have told investigators that such photos of dead bodies were passed around like trading cards on thumb drives and other digital storage devices.

The killings at issue occurred during patrols in January, February and May 2010. After the first death, one member of the platoon, Spc. Adam Winfield, sent Facebook messages to his parents, telling them his colleagues had slaughtered one civilian, were planning to kill more and warned him to keep quiet about it.

His father notified a staff sergeant at Lewis-McChord, but no action was taken until May, when a witness in a drug investigation in the unit separately reported the deaths. Winfield is accused of participating in the final killing.

Morlock has given extensive statements claiming the murder plot was led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs of Billings, Mont.; Gibbs maintains the killings were legitimate.

Morlock told investigators he threw a grenade and Holmes shot Mudin without cause; Holmes says that he fired when Morlock told him to, believing that Morlock had perceived a legitimate threat.

Morlock’s court martial was scheduled for Wednesday. He has agreed to plead guilty to murder, conspiracy and other charges and to testify against his co-defendants in exchange for a maximum sentence of 24 years in prison.

Meanwhile, military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks ruled late last week that Winfield can present evidence at his court martial that he tried to blow the whistle on the violence.

Prosecutors had tried to bar evidence that he sent the messages to his family.

Winfield has given a videotaped statement saying he took part in the final killing because he was afraid other soldiers might kill him if he didn’t.

However, the judge sided with prosecutors on whether to suppress Winfield’s videotaped statement as coerced.

In addition to the five soldiers charged in the deaths, seven soldiers in the platoon were charged with lesser crimes, including assaulting the witness in the drug investigation, drug use, firing on unarmed farmers and stabbing a corpse.

___

Associated Press writers Richard Lardner in Washington, D.C., and Kirsten Grieshaber and Tomislav Skaro in Berlin contributed to this report.

The ‘Kill Team’ Images. US Army Apologizes for Horrific Photos from Afghanistan: here.

More Damaging Than Abu Ghraib? Repugnant Army ‘Kill Team’ Took Photos, Trophies from Murdered Afghan Civilians: here.

See also here.

Afghan rights group demand US investigate ‘kill teams’ crimes: here.

Seymour Hersh on the “Kill Team” photographs: “In a sense, we’ve seen that smile before”: here.

Afghan activist Malalai Joya barred from entering the US: here.

Let Malalai Joya speak! What you can do to help: here. And here. And here.

Vote count grows for quick withdrawal from Afghanistan: here.

Afghanistan And Libya Have Something In Common– More Death, Destruction And Wasted Tax Dollars: here.

Yemeni women fight dictatorship


From the New York Times in the USA today:

3 Senior Yemeni Officers Back Antigovernment Protesters

By LAURA KASINOF

Published: March 21, 2011

SANA, Yemen — In an apparent erosion of military support for Yemen‘s embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, three army commanders gave their backing to protesters on Monday. The move came a day after the president fired his cabinet following the deaths of at least 45 people killed by government-linked forces.

Translated from a report by Ellen van Dalen in Dutch daily De Pers:

In Yemen, women now demonstrate as well

Published: yesterday 9:12 p.m.
Update: yesterday 9:33 p.m.

As in Egypt, the popular uprising in Yemen is not an exclusive male domain. Again, women are participating.

“I have a dream” is on the laptop of Tawakkol A. Karman. Karman (32) is a human rights activist and member of the conservative opposition party Islag. After the start of the revolution in Yemen, she has turned increasingly into one of the leaders of the protests against the regime in Yemen. “My dream is that our President Ali Abdullah Saleh quits. He is a criminal, a butcher.”

Every day there are more women demonstrating. Last Friday there were not less than ten thousand in the capital Sanaa. They scream even more loudly than the men that Saleh has got to leave. The bravest women even have a tent on the demonstration grounds. Tawakkol also lives there. Her tent has now become the place where students, tribal leaders and oppositionists meet every day. She placed her children with her ​​mother because she thinks the situation is too dangerous for them.

And not entirely unjustifiedly so. This Friday, the government turned the demonstration shortly before the noon prayer into a massacre. The women were unharmed, but helped as doctors and nurses in the emergency room. To demonstrate as a woman takes courage in this conservative Islamic country. Nadia (19), disguised by her niqab – her veil which covers all- says: “My parents know nothing. When they hear that I’m here, I guess I will have to stay at home forever. “

One of the first women in the square was Farida (49), she also lives in her tent in between the other demonstrators. “I’ll only leave here when Saleh is also gone, ” she says determinedly.

America’s Saudi air war. A plan to train Saudi air force pilots in Idaho is turning former allies into bitter enemies: here.

EGYPT: Revolutionary Youth Gives Clinton The Cold Shoulder: here.

Egyptian feminist urges us to keep fighting: here.

Egyptian Women Protesters Forced to Take ‘Virginity Tests,’ Says Amnesty International: here.

Former Mubarak minister charged over deaths: Habib al-Adly, former Egyptian interior minister, accused: here.