Strange fossil mammal discovery


From Discovery News:

Scrappy Mammal Survived Dinosaur Extinction

Jennifer Viegas
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas
Mon Nov 19, 2012 02:55 PM ET

Necrolestes patagonensis, Reconstruction by Jorge Gonzalez, Copyright Guillermo W. Rugier

A scrappy family of mammals with unusual, mismatched features moved underground and, like living in a perpetual bomb shelter, managed to survive the mass extinction event 65 million years ago that wiped out the world’s non-avian dinosaurs. We know this thanks to new research on the fossil mammal Necrolestes patagonensis, whose name translates to “grave robber,” referring to its burrowing and underground lifestyle. The animal, described in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, had an upturned snout, a sturdy body structure, and short, wide legs.

It lived 16 million years ago, long after the dinosaur demise. But it was found to be related to another fossil mammal, Cronopio, which belonged to the Meridiolestida, a little-known group of extinct mammals from the Late Cretaceous and early Paleocene (100–60 million years ago) of South America.

Cronopio and Necrolestes share a number of features in common, including the fact that they are the only known mammals to have single-rooted molars. Most mammals have double-rooted molars.

The animals were so odd and puzzling, at least to modern eyes, that they mystified scientists for years.

Necrolestes is one of those animals in the textbooks that would appear with a picture and a footnote, and the footnote would say ‘we don’t know what it is,'” co-author John Wible of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History said in a press release.

For a long time it was thought that “grave robber” was a marsupial. Further analysis, however, found that Necrolestes actually belonged in a completely unexpected branch of the evolutionary tree believed to have died out 45 million years earlier than the time of Necrolestes.

This is an example of the Lazarus effect, in which a group of organisms is found to have survived far longer than originally thought. (“Lazarus” comes from the Bible story about how Jesus raised a man from the dead.)

“It’s the supreme Lazarus effect,” said Wible. “How in the world did this animal survive so long without anyone knowing about it?”

A good example of the Lazarus effect is the ginkgo tree, thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered growing in China in the 17th century.

The researchers believe that Necrolestes’s supreme burrowing adaptations are exactly what enabled it to survive for 45 million years longer than its relatives.

“There’s no other mammal in the Tertiary of South America that even approaches its ability to dig, tunnel, and live in the ground,” explained Wible. “It must have been on the edges, in an ecological niche that allowed it to survive.”

See also here.

Killer whale and dog, video


From Discovery News:

When you combine the enthusiasm of a killer whale and playful romping of a swimming dog, the results are unpredictable. Luckily for us, someone captured their exchange and they get along just fine!

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Nov 11, 2012 by Deonette De Jongh

Encounter with Orcas at Matheson Bay, Leigh.

The free diver was on his way back in when he must have seen the Orcas and quickly got out onto the rocks. It seemed like there was at least 4 Orcas around him of which one was a mother with her calf.

The one Orca came very close to shore where the Labrador was busy retrieving sticks from the water. He saw the whale and quickly turned around and swam back to shore with the Orca following as far as he could go.

NATO accused of anti-animal cruelty


This video is called Cute mangalitza piglets.

By Tony Patey in Britain:

Charities slam MoD’s surgery on shot pigs

Monday 19 November 2012

Animal welfare groups attacked the Ministry of Defence today after it defended shooting live pigs to train army surgeons.

The pigs are shot by marksmen at a Nato training facility in Jaegerspris, Denmark, to replicate battlefield wounds and are then operated on by military medical staff.

Formerly known as Operation Danish Bacon, the practice has been described by animal rights groups as “impossible to justify medically, ethically and educationally.”

An MoD spokeswoman said: “This training provides invaluable experience, exposing our surgical teams to the specific challenges posed by the injuries of modern armed conflict.”

The MoD said although the practice would not be illegal in Britain, approval would have to be obtained on a case-by-case basis from the Home Office.

The government of the day suspended British participation in the surgical training exercises in summer 1998 after they were brought to the attention of ministers.

But the courses were re-instated after it was determined there was “no equally effective alternative” and that it was “entirely appropriate and, indeed, necessary” for military surgeons to carry out training on animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals described the procedure as “invasive and deadly” and claimed it would be illegal in this country.

It called for life-like dolls that “breathe” and “bleed” to replace the use of live animals.

Associate director for Peta UK Mimi Bekhechi said: “The overwhelming majority of the UK’s Nato allies do not shoot, stab and dismember animals for their military training exercises.”

The RSPCA said it was “upsetting that pigs were shot for surgeon practice.

“Pigs are highly intelligent animals and many people will be very distressed to hear about this,” it said.

“It is yet another example where animals pay the price of man’s inhumanity to man.

“We implore the military to explore the viability of alternative methods, and where these are found lacking, to invest in their further development.”

From The Independent:

Eighteen pigs were used in the most recent tests earlier this month, the Mail on Sunday reported.

They had circles drawn on their underbellies before a three-man sniper team fired shots intended to damage organs but not kill, the paper said.

Surgeons then treated them as they would battle zone casualties, reportedly keeping the pigs alive for two hours before they were put down.

‘We’re going to damage a lot of pigs’ livers': Horrific boast of battlefield doctors who shoot then operate on injured animals at Nato base: here.

Bird crime in Malta


This video from Malta says about itself:

Injured Pallid Harrier and hunter shooting at protected birds

Apr 5, 2010

Footage released by BirdLife Malta today revealed the targeting of rare and protected species over the Easter weekend, where one of the rarest birds of prey in Europe was seen struggling to survive gunshot wounds, and a hunter in Gozo was filmed shooting at protected birds in broad daylight by the side of a main road.

From Wildlife Extra:

Big increase in illegal hunting in Malta – Raptors targeted

Shot protected birds doubled this autumn

November 2012, Malta – Since the opening of the autumn season on 1 September, BirdLife Malta has received 62 shot protected birds- nearly double the total of 33 shot protected birds recovered over the same period last year. This is the worst autumn hunting season since the organization started keeping detailed records of shot birds in 2007.

Birds of prey including Pallid harrier

Over 60% of the shot protected birds were birds of prey, including rare species in Europe such as the Pallid Harrier.

Furthermore during BirdLife’s international bird monitoring Raptor Camp the conservation organization recorded an additional 124 injured protected birds in flight with visible gunshot injuries, and a further 106 protected birds being shot at or shot down by illegal hunters.

Commenting on the present situation, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager, Nicholas Barbara said “We have been witnessing widespread and commonplace illegal shooting and killing of protected species this autumn. The nearly 300 protected birds we witnessed being killed or received are just those we could record with our limited resources. We suspect that with the shot birds directly reported to the authorities and the unrecorded incidences, thousands of protected birds have been killed this autumn.”

Police overwhelmed

The flood of dead and injured protected birds received during the autumn hunting season has overwhelmed the Maltese authorities to the extent that the National Museum of Natural History, the Malta Police Force, as well as MEPA have no more capacity to store the carcasses of shot birds.

567 incidents of illegal hunting

BirdLife Malta alone recorded 567 incidences of illegal hunting at 40 different locations in Malta and Gozo during its Raptor Camp in September.

With a daily average of just 3 police vehicles observed patrolling the countryside, the mean response time to illegal hunting incidents reported to police by Raptor Camp teams was 50 minutes.

“All the evidence shows that illegal hunting is getting worse and that current enforcement is not effective in deterring illegal hunters from shooting protected birds,” continued Mr Barbara.

BirdLife has repeatedly asserted the need for Malta to institute a dedicated wildlife crime unit with the resources and specialist training needed if it is to effectively tackle illegal hunting and trapping. BirdLife Malta called on members of the public to continue reporting illegal hunting and injured birds incidents to the police and BirdLife.

Guidance on what is illegal and how to report incidents is available on the BirdLife Malta website, www.birdlifemalta.org.

In pictures: The migrant birds illegally shot in Malta: here.

September 2013. A juvenile Mediterranean Osprey fitted with a satellite tracking device in Corsica as part of a project studying the dispersal and migratory movements of these protected birds of prey has gone missing after arriving in Malta: here.

BirdLife Partners join forces against illegal bird killing in the Mediterranean: here.

Hobbit movie animals died, actors abused


This video is called THE HOBBIT Trailer – 2012 Movie – Official [HD].

From Associated Press:

27 animals ‘died while making Hobbit‘, claim animal handlers

NICK PERRY

November 19, 2012 6:17PM

ANIMAL handlers involved in the making of The Hobbit movie trilogy say the production company is responsible for the deaths of up to 27 animals, largely because they were kept at a farm filled with bluffs, sinkholes and other “death traps.”

The American Humane Association, which is overseeing animal welfare on the films, says no animals were harmed during the actual filming. But it also says the handlers’ complaints highlight shortcomings in its oversight system, which monitors film sets, but not the facilities where the animals are housed and trained.

A spokesman for trilogy director Peter Jackson acknowledged that horses, goats, chickens and one sheep died at the farm near Wellington where about 150 animals were housed for the movies, but he said some of the deaths were from natural causes.

The spokesman, Matt Dravitzki, agreed that the deaths of two horses were avoidable, and said the production company moved quickly to improve conditions after they died.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first movie in the planned $500 million trilogy, is scheduled to launch with a red-carpet premiere on November 28 in Wellington and will open at theaters in the US and around the world in December.

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says it’s planning protests at the premieres in New Zealand, the US and the UK.

The Associated Press spoke to four handlers who said the farm near Wellington was unsuitable for horses because it was peppered with bluffs, sinkholes and broken-down fencing. They said they repeatedly raised concerns about the farm with their superiors and the production company, owned by Warner Bros., but it continued to be used. They say they want their story aired publicly now to prevent similar deaths in the future.

One said that over time he buried three horses, as well as about six goats, six sheep and a dozen chickens. Others say two more horses suffered severe injuries but survived.

Handler Chris Langridge said he was hired as a horse trainer in November 2010, overseeing 50 or so horses, but immediately became concerned that the farm was full of “death traps.” He said he tried to fill in some of the sinkholes, made by underground streams, and even brought in his own fences to keep the horses away from the most dangerous areas. Ultimately, he said, it was an impossible task.

He said horses run at speeds of up to 50km/h and need to be housed on flat land: “It’s just a no-brainer.”

The first horse to die, he said, was a miniature named Rainbow.

“When I arrived at work in the morning, the pony was still alive but his back was broken. He’d come off a bank at speed and crash-landed,” Langridge said. “He was in a bad state.”

Rainbow, who had been slated for use as a hobbit horse, was euthanized. A week later, a horse named Doofus got caught in some fencing and sliced open its leg. That horse survived, but Langridge said he’d had enough.

He and his wife, Lynn, who was also working with the animals, said they quit in February 2011. The following month, they wrote an email to Brigitte Yorke, the Hobbit trilogy’s unit production manager, outlining their concerns.

Chris Langridge said he responded to Yorke’s request for more information but never received a reply after that.

Handler Johnny Smythe said that soon after Langridge left, a horse named Claire was found dead, its head submerged in a stream after it fell over a bluff. After that, he said, the horses were put in stables, where a third horse died.

Smythe said no autopsy was performed on the horse, which was named Zeppelin. Veterinary records say the horse died of natural causes, from a burst blood vessel, but Smythe said the horse was bloated and its intestines were full of a yellow liquid; he believes it died of digestive problems caused by new feed.

Smythe said the six goats and six sheep he buried died after falling into sinkholes, contracting worms or getting new feed after the grass was eaten. He said the chickens were often left out of their enclosure and that a dozen were mauled to death by dogs on two separate occasions.

Smythe said he was fired in October 2011 after arguing with his boss about the treatment of the animals.

A fourth handler, who didn’t want to be named because she feared it could jeopardise her future employment in the industry, said another horse, Molly, got caught in a fence and ripped her leg open, suffering permanent injuries.

The American Humane Association said in its report on “An Unexpected Journey” that it investigated the farm at the production company’s request. Dravitzki said the company contacted the AHA after Smythe alleged mistreatment of animals.

Mark Stubis, an association spokesman, said it investigated the farm in August 2011, months after the first deaths.

“We made safety recommendations to the animals’ living areas. The production company followed our recommendations and upgraded fence and farm housing, among other things,” the group said.

Stubis said the association acknowledges that what happens off-set remains a blind spot in its oversight.

“We would love to be able to monitor the training of animals and the housing of animals,” Stubis said. “It’s something we are looking into. We want to make sure the animals are treated well all the time.”

Hollywood has made animal welfare a stated priority for years.

In March, HBO cancelled the horse racing series “Luck” after three thoroughbred horses died during production. The network said it canceled the show because it could not guarantee against future accidents.

Peta to picket The Hobbit premiere after whistleblower reveals ‘preventable’ deaths and ‘needless suffering’ of animals on set: here.

Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. deny on-set troubles as the Humane Society pushes for oversight into what happens when the cameras stop rolling: here.

From Stuff.co in New Zealand today:

Since the infamous actors’ dispute over terms and conditions on The Hobbit, some Kiwi actors have had to endure on-set conditions that include sharing coloured prop contact lenses, their union says.

Phil Darkins, of Actors’ Equity, told a conference in Wellington yesterday he had also heard of actors being verbally abused, denied shelter, and not being offered blankets or warm drinks after long shoots in the water.

Those who spoke out would not get further work, he said.

“To go public is essentially falling on your sword and saying your career is over.”

Two years ago, Actors’ Equity had already spent 18 months trying to talk to the Screen Production and Development Association about getting binding terms and conditions for New Zealand actors – a move that would bring New Zealand in line with the rest of the English-speaking world.

New Zealand had guidelines only – and still did – and these were sometimes ignored, he said.

The dispute in 2010, in which unions called for actors not to sign up with The Hobbit until the row was sorted out, led to studios New Line, Warner Bros Pictures and MGM Pictures, as well as Hobbit director Sir Peter Jackson, saying this could force the production overseas.

The Government cut a deal, changing employment law – essentially making film workers contractors rather than employees – and giving Warner an increased tax concession to secure the films.

But documents provided to The Dominion Post under the Official Information Act later that year showed Jackson had emailed Economic Development Minister Gerry Brownlee’s office saying: “There is no connection between the blacklist [and its eventual retraction], and the choice of production base for The Hobbit.”

Mr Darkins said yesterday the “Hobbit dispute” was never an attack on The Hobbit.

But when the International Federation of Actors agreed to ask its worldwide members not to sign on to The Hobbit until binding terms and conditions were enshrined in New Zealand, it gave clout to the small New Zealand union, which decided to take action.

The fact that actors around the world had been asked not to sign on meant the production could never have been taken overseas, he said.

Mr Darkins – speaking at a Victoria University conference on work matters – also said the days of big-budget international film shoots in New Zealand were numbered.

When the “fad” of the fantasy film genre ended, most of the work would be in post-production, he said.

TOLKIEN’S GRANDSON DISCUSSES FAME’S DOWNSIDES

The grandson of JRR Tolkien has revealed how the Lord of the Rings movies tore his family apart and provoked a feud with his father.

Simon Tolkien, 53, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph that the immense popularity of the film adaptations was akin to being “hit by a juggernaut”.

The former barrister, now himself a successful novelist, said he began to lose sight of his identity and became “suffocated” by being known as JRR Tolkien’s grandson.

The problems also sparked an “incredibly, dreadfully painful” feud with his father, Christopher, with the falling out becoming so bad that the pair did not speak for a while.

Christopher Tolkien, now 87, did not attend the premiere of the first Lord of the Rings movie, saying the Tolkien estate was better off avoiding any specific association with the trilogy.

Earlier this year, he told French newspaper Le Monde: “They gutted the book, making an action film for 15 to 25-year-olds.”

Simon Tolkien said the pair had since “sorted out all our differences”.

The arrival of a Tolkien blockbuster no longer filled him with trepidation and The Hobbit wouldn’t mean another “sideswipe from the juggernaut”.