US African lion trophy hunting finished?

This video is called Born Wild: The First Days of Life | Lion Cubs.

By Miguel Llanos, NBC News in the USA:

African lions could end up on US endangered species list

If wildlife activists have their way, U.S. hunters trekking to Africa soon won’t be able to bring back any lion skins or skulls as trophies.

Acting on a petition by those activists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday said it will study whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Born Free USA, one of the petition groups, called the review “the necessary first step toward ensuring a chance at survival for this beleaguered species.”

African lion populations have seen “a substantial decline” over the past two decades and are estimated to be around 32,000, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which monitors species numbers globally.

The threats include not only trophy hunters, but loss of habitat, humans eating lion meat, and commercial sale of their body parts, said Adam Roberts, executive vice president of Born Free USA.

As humans move into lion habitat, he added, that increases “retaliatory killings, including by gruesome poisoning,” of lions that go after livestock.

The Fish and Wildlife Service began a 60-day period to receive public and expert comment on whether to list the species. The Asian lion was listed as endangered in 1970.

In their petition, the activists cited U.S. trade figures showing that more than 5,600 wild Africa lions were hunted and then exported as trophies between 1999 and 2008, with 64 percent of those trophies being imported into the U.S.

The U.S. has listed non-native animals before since the act is meant to ensure the U.S. citizens “do not contribute to the further decline of that species in its native habitat,” the Fish and Wildlife Service said in its announcement.

See also here.

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Galapagos tortoises migration

This BBC video is called The Galápagos Tortoise.

From the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Germany:

27 November 2012

Galapagos tortoises are a migrating species

This press release is available in German.

The Galapagos giant tortoise, one of the most fascinating species of the Galapagos archipelago, treks slowly and untiringly across the volcanic slopes. Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, together with the Charles Darwin Foundation, have used GPS technology and modern 3D acceleration measurements to find out that especially the dominant male tortoise wanders up to 10 kilometres into the highlands of the island. Only the fully grown animals migrate, the young tortoises stay year round in the lowlands. The reason for this and the question of why the animals don’t rest during the dry season are not known yet.

Even Charles Darwin anticipated that the giant tortoises wandered large distances. In the cool dry season, the highlands of Santa Cruz are engulfed in fog which allows the vegetation to grow despite the lack of rain. In the lowlands, however, there is no thick layer of clouds and the tortoises’ vegetation is not available year round. Adults, which can weigh up to 250 kilogram, spend the dry season in the higher regions at an elevation of 400 meters above sea level. However, since the food is not as nutritious there, they trek back to the lower zones where there is succulent vegetation in abundance as soon as the rainy season begins.

In order to study the migratory pattern more closely, Stephen Blake from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and his colleague Washington Tapia from the Galapagos National Park secured GPS loggers with 3D acceleration monitors onto 17 adult tortoises. This allowed the scientists to determine the animals’ exact position and behaviour over a period of two years. In order to gather information on the entire population, the researchers noted the size, sex and location of each tortoise they met on their monthly hikes along the volcanic hillsides. They combined the GPS data with the temperature data and information about availability of vegetation.

The results show that the tortoises have a partial migration system, where not every individual migrates. Only the adult animals wander and only the larger specimens are more likely to move. In June they start their slow, tedious march which can be up to ten kilometres long into the highlands. Adult females remain in the lowlands until they lay their eggs and then they also make their way to the highlands. In contrast, the smaller tortoises stay in the lower elevated areas all year round.

Although giant tortoises are able to survive for up to one year without nourishment, which made them a popular staple for seamen, they nevertheless wander for large distances searching for food as this study shows for the first time. Why don’t they just look for a shelter? The question of why the younger animals don’t migrate hasn’t been answered by the scientists yet. “Either the energy expenditure of this strenuous hike is too high, or there is still enough food available for the smaller animals.” Stephen Blake suspects, “perhaps the younger animals can’t tolerate the wet cold climate of the higher regions.”

In other species, the largest and the most dominant individual does not migrate because it can best defend itself against its competitors. It doesn’t have to leave to survive. However, among the Galapagos tortoises, it’s usually the largest and most dominant individual which takes on this arduous journey.

Future studies on giant tortoise species of the other Galapagos Islands with varying ecological conditions will show how environment influences the migration scheme of these closely related reptiles. The scientists also want to include factors such as age, size, sex and morphology in their studies to see why the behaviour changes in different lifetime stages and what the trigger of migration is.

Despite the threat of hunting, invasive species such as goats and rats, and the loss of habitat due to man, the Galapagos Tortoise still shows its original migrating behaviour. This and future studies will help to maintain this behaviour with the help of effective measures such as establishing corridors, preserving key habitats, keeping tortoise-friendly roads and maintaining less urban development. Based on its importance to the Galapagos Archipelago ecosystem as an herbivore and seed disperser, the annual migration of the tortoise must be preserved.

See also here.

Urban foxes in Paris

This video from England is about young foxes playing in London.

From Discovery News:

Foxes Run Wild in Paris: DNews Nugget

by Christina Reed

Tue Nov 27, 2012 05:52 AM ET

In the 1990s, the city of lights exterminated all their foxes in an anti-rabies campaign. Now about 15 wild foxes have returned to the streets of Paris, where an estimated 40 to 70 pounds of leftover food per person is thrown away each year, according to Food Industry Minister Guillaume Garot.

The foxes are taking advantage of the leftover food trash, and have skipped the forested parks along the borders of the city in favor of the more touristic and restaurant-lined gardens in the center, such as Jardin du Luxembourg. Philippe Jacob, head of the newly set up Parisian Biodiversity Observatory, said their return was an encouraging sign of a healthy ecosystem. About 10,000 foxes are said to inhabit London.

Iraq, Afghanistan military dogs get PTSD

From Discovery News:

Military Dogs Suffer From PTSD

Analysis by Jennifer Viegas

Tue Nov 27, 2012 08:38 AM ET

'Jackson', a military dog, on a mission in Iraq; Credit: Staff Sgt. Stacy L. Pearsall

Dogs and humans can both suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to veterinarians and senior dog handlers at Lackland Air Force Base.

Military dogs appear to be most at risk, but it’s likely any intense, stressful period could induce the debilitating condition.

“This is something that does not get better without intervention,” Walter Burghardt Jr., chief of behavioral medicine and military working-dog studies at Lackland, told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re essentially broken and can’t work.

He estimates that 10 percent of dogs sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to safeguard U.S. troops have developed canine post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Treatment may involve conditioning, retraining and drugs like Xanax. That anti-anxiety drug, as for many meds, comes with its own laundry list of side effects documented in humans. With or without drugs, recovery from canine PTSD is often only partial.

One dog with a relatively mild case is Cora, a Belgian Malinois who used to sniff out buried bombs. For just verbal praise, a short play session or a food treat, she’d search over long distances. When she detected an explosive, she’d lie down as a visual cue.

“Cora always thought everything was a big game,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Garry Laub. He trained Cora before she deployed. “She knew her job. She was a very squared-away dog.”

After months of active duty in Iraq, however, Cora changed. The once-independent dog hated to be alone. Loud noises made her jump, and the previously friendly canine started to growl and pick fights with other dogs.

“Dogs experience combat just like humans,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas Gehring, a dog handler at Lackland who works with Cora.

Physically, she looks fine. Cora is a fit, 60-pound dog with a shiny coat. But it sounds like she now suffers from permanent mental scars. She used to anticipate her handler’s orders and show excitement about her military work.

That’s now all in the past. The Cora of today is moodier and less eager. She’s a bit older now, of course, but age isn’t the only explanation for her change in behavior. At least she still enjoys head pats and doggy biscuits. She’s again one of the more treatable, mild cases.

Game of Thrones inspired Huskie craze goes cold as owners give up on dogs: here.

Pentagon’s giant blood serum bank may provide PTSD clues: here.

Wildlife photography with automatic cameras


From Co.Exist:

by Emily Badger

Amazing Photos Of Animals In The Wild, Snapped By Hidden Automatic Cameras

The Smithsonian’s Wild project uses advanced automated cameras to capture images of animals in their natural habitats as they go about their day. It’s a much better kind of specimen than a dead, stuffed animal.

Bill McShea has traveled to China more than 20 times as a research ecologist in search of pandas–or at least signs of them–while working with conservation parks eager to monitor their wildlife. In all that time, he has seen a panda, with his own eyes, twice. The unglamorous career of an ecologist more often involves scavenging for scat or animal tracks, the evidence left behind.

“That’s my living. You’d be surprised how few wildlife I see,” says McShea, an ecologist with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. “You just never see them. If you are wildlife living in some place like Asia, you’re running for your life every day of the week. You’re not standing around waiting for somebody to take a picture of you or get you in their gun sights.”


McShea’s job, however, is changing, and along with it our understanding of wildlife populations and behavior that scientists seldom get to lay eyes on. McShea runs the Smithsonian’s Wild program from a research station in Front Royal, an hour west of Washington in Virginia black bear country. Through the project, the Smithsonian has already gathered more than 200,000 images of giant pandas, bobcats, cougars, water buffalo, and more surreptitiously snapped by motion-trigger cameras hiding all over the world. Many of the animals appear, eyes blazing in the dark, as if they’ve been caught red-handed on a convenience-store camera.

Together, these images represent a modern collection for the nation’s museum. “We’re just talking about collecting a different kind of museum specimen,” McShea says. “Instead of having it be a skin in a drawer, it’s a photograph. But that photograph has a date and a place and a time and species identification and a collection ID. It has much of the information that the original specimen had.”

It has just about everything but the DNA. In other ways, this collection is even more valuable than the old dust-gathering kind. This image database contains vastly more data, and photos today are much easier to transport across national borders than physical bits of animals. McShea can now compare the conservation strategies of different parks across the world. (How do you know, for instance, if a Chinese park is low on pandas, or just short on experts who know how to track them?) And this project can now definitively document species where we weren’t sure they existed, or–worse–identify where they seem to have disappeared. “The advent of these cameras was just a godsend,” McShea says.


Wildlife photographers have been at this since the 1920s, trying to fashion more rudimentary motion triggers. (Here’s a popular one: Wait until an animal tugs at a piece of bait attached to a string that pulls the shutter of a camera closed.) A later generation of wildlife cameras was powered by car batteries in the 1980s. And then there was the problem of shooting in places like the steamy tropics on actual film. “It would get all mushy,” McShea recalls.

Ironically, deer hunters have largely pushed the development of this technology that’s today used for conservation. Over the last eight years or so, most of these cameras have gone digital. And they now have infrared flashes that don’t daze the animals. Most of the time, the wildlife never even know the cameras are there, mounted, at about the size of a children’s lunch box, onto the sides of trees. Okay, some of the animals notice, elephants and bears in particular. “Elephants are smart enough to say ‘that’s not natural over there,’” McShea says. “They just go out of their way to step on it and squash it.”

The project now includes images taken by partner researchers and organizations far from the Smithsonian. Give them your images, McShea says, and the museum will keep them forever. He hopes soon that the project will become even bigger, including more partnerships and rigorous submissions from citizen-scientists. In the meantime, the camera technology is likely to only get better. Today, researchers still have to troop out into the forest to pull memory cards from cameras that run on AA batteries. Perhaps cell phone technology will enable the cameras to instantly upload images in the future.

Some of what we’ll learn from the project will inevitably discourage us, as researchers are able to better document our true impact on nature. But other snapshots will surprise us. The Wild program received one image of a snow leopard from a wildlife reserve in China.

“There aren’t supposed to be any snow leopards in this whole province, and here is one in this one reserve, and that’s fantastic,” McShea says. “And the reserve is far happier than I am. They have old guys there saying ‘yes, we have snow leopards here!’ And nobody believed them.”

New snake species discovery in Ecuador

This is a live Imantodes chocoensis. Its head is about the size of an American penny. (Credit: Omar Torres-Carvajal et al. CC-BY 3.0)

From ScienceDaily:

A Rather Thin and Long New Snake Crawls out of One of Earth’s Biodiversity Hotspots

(Nov. 27, 2012) — Field and laboratory work by a group of zoologists led by Omar Torres-Carvajal from Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, has resulted in the discovery of a new species of blunt-headed vine snake from the Chocoan forests in northwestern Ecuador. This region is part of the 274,597 km2 Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena hotspot that lies west of the Andes.

The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Blunt-headed vine snakes live in an area comprising Mexico and Argentina, and are different from all other New World snakes in having a very thin body, disproportionately slender neck, big eyes, and a blunt head. They live in trees and hunt frogs and lizards at night. The new species described by Torres-Carvajal and his collaborators was named Imantodes chocoensis and increases the number of species in this group of snakes to seven.

Snakes collected as far back as 1994 and deposited in several Ecuadorian and American natural history museums were also examined. The authors were soon surprised with an interesting discovery. Some individuals from the Ecuadorian Chocó lacked a big scale on their face that is present in all other blunt-headed vine snakes from the New World. Other features, as well as DNA evidence, indicate that these Chocoan snakes actually belong to a new species. DNA data also suggest that its closest relative is a species that inhabits the Amazon on the other side of the Andes.

‘One possible explanation for the disjunct distribution between the new species and its closest relative is that the uplift of the Andes fragmented an ancestral population into two, each of which evolved into a different species, one in the Chocó region and the other in the Amazon’ said Dr Torres-Carvajal.

Pinocchio lizard rediscovered? Or just good PR? Here.

French center-right collapsing, double cross logo?

In an earlier post, this blog discussed the controversy about the new logo of the Conservative party in Scotland.

Scottish Conservative party old logo

Scottish Conservative party new logo

Incredulous Scots couldn’t believe their eyes today when the Scottish Conservatives unveiled their new “double cross” logo.

It replaces the tree adopted in 2006 when the party was trying to convince voters that it would pursue green policies.

The Westminster Tory government has largely shirked those commitments.

SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson said: “There’s something strangely appropriate in the Tories choosing a ‘double cross’ to represent whatever it is they stand for, but I’m not sure it’s what they were aiming for.”

He said that it was understandable the Scots Tories want to distance themselves from Westminster but “a leopard can’t change its spots.”

Now, from Scotland to France. Until May this year, the UMP centre-right political party was the ruling party in France, the party of President Sarkozy and with a majority in Parliament.

But then, incumbent President Sarkozy lost the election against François Hollande of the socialist party.

A few weeks later, at the parliamentary elections, the UMP lost their majority there as well.

Then, the French conservatives started to tear each other apart, while there was a drift to the far right.

Today, Reuters says:

French conservatives slip further into crisis

Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:29am EST

* Copé, named UMP leader, says it’s time to turn the page

* Rival Fillon wants new vote to resolve leadership crisis

* Pro-Fillon moderates form centre-right wing within party

By Catherine Bremer

PARIS, Nov 27 – France’s opposition conservatives sank deeper into a leadership crisis on Tuesday that could split the party, as moderates demanded a new vote to replace the disputed election of a hardliner and formed a breakaway wing.

Jean-Francois Copé, affirmed as winner of the UMP’s Nov. 18 leadership vote in revised ballot results on Monday, said it was time to move on from a week-old dispute that has left ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party in chaos.

But his rival Francois Fillon said he and his supporters were forming a new centre-right group within the UMP while he presses the party to hold a fresh vote from scratch.

“I am fighting over principles. Nobody today is in fact leader of the UMP,” Fillon said, as he called for a new vote within three months to be supervised by an independent body.

“We are neither beaten nor mute. We are on our feet,” he said, but added that he still hoped to be able to hold together a party formed a decade ago to knit together centrist and harder-right strands of conservatism.

France politics: UMP party splits in parliament: here.

What is the logo of the UMP?

UMP logo

A tree. Like the British Conservatives.

Will Fillon’s new party, or Copé’s party, or both, now change the logo to a double cross, like the Scottish Conservatives? And will they sue each other then about logo copyright?