Manatees’ ancestors discovery


A reconstruction of the early sirenian Pezosiren. Photo by Thesupermat, image from Wikipedia

From Smart News blog:

January 18, 2013 2:44 pm

Sea Cows Used To Walk on Land in Africa And Jamaica

Sea cows, also known as manatees, were not always the Florida-dwelling gentle giants of the sea that they are today. In fact, they once walked on land. Their 48-million-year-old ancestor, Pezosiren, ran all over prehistoric Jamaica and resembled a hippo at first glance. But sea cows also share ancestry with elephants, which first appeared in Africa around 66 million years ago. Paleontologists, however, have always drawn a blank on the evolutionary link between the manatee’s African and Jamaican relatives—until now. Researchers digging around in Tunisia found a skill fragment that fills the missing piece of the puzzle. National Geographic continues:

That might not seem like much to go on, yet the intricate, complicated features in this single bone allowed Benoit and coauthors to confirm that it belonged to a sirenian rather than an early elephant or hyrax. The researchers have wisely avoided naming the animal on the basis of such limited material. They simply call the mammal the Chambi sea cow.

The fact that the mammal lived in Africa confirms what zoologists and paleontologists suspected based upon genetics and anatomical traits shared with elephants and other paenungulates.

The bone is about 50 million years old. The researchers guess the animal it once belonged to resembled Pezosiren more than the modern sea cow, though the bone also hints that the Chambi manatee spent a lot of time in the water since the inner ear resembles that of whales.

The fossil, however, may raise more questions than provide answers. Like, if the Chambi manatee and the Jamaican one are about the same age, when did the dispersal event occur that first separated those animals? How did legged sea cows first make their way across the Atlantic? In the absence of other bones, what did the Chambi manatee look like? As NatGeo writes, paleontologists are slowly assembling the outline of how sea cows evolved, bone by bone.

See also here.

Bahrain dictatorship on film


This video from Bahrain is called Free Nabeel Rajab now.

By Alastair Lewis:

Bahrain: The Forbidden Country

January 18th, 2013

On a dusty football pitch in Bahrain, a convoy – or rather, a pack – of police 4x4s screeched into the crowd that had gathered there, scattering panicking protesters. As they circled at high speed, passing through the crowd, it was not clear if they were actively trying to hit the protesters, or just to scatter them, but what was clear was that it didn’t seem to matter if they did.

This footage was captured by French film-maker and journalist Stéphanie Lamorré, who travelled to the tiny Gulf Kingdom on a tourist visa, before ‘disappearing’ for a month, to live undercover and film the pro-democracy protest movement in its battle against the authorities.

Related article: Bahrain: little chance since ‘brutal crackdown’ as Formula 1 begins

To avoid the restrictions placed on journalists, the raw film had then to be smuggled across the border and ‘Fedexed to France’, according to producer Luc Hermann who introduced a special screening at the Commonwealth Club on Tuesday night.

In the resulting film, Bahrain: The Forbidden Country, Lamorré shows through interviews with three women that Bahrain’s protest movement, out of sight and, for most, out of mind since 2011, has not disappeared.  And her interviewees are difficult to dismiss as simply unthinking trouble-makers.

Zainab, daughter of the Bahraini-Danish human rights activist Abdulhadi al-Khawaja whose 110 day hunger strike brought international attention to the Bahraini struggle, spends her days meeting protesters and their families, hearing their stories and tweeting them from her ever-present Blackberry. Her nights are spent at protests.

On the day Lamorré filmed her, she spoke to the family of a 50-year-old mother who had immolated herself in desperation at continuous police raids on her family. Her blog, Angry Arabiya, contains many similar stories.

Related article: Sandhurst took £3m Bahrain gift after regime’s crackdown

Perhaps the most striking story shown in the film is that of Nada, 38, a doctor and mother of two young children who was arrested, imprisoned and claims to have been tortured for the crime of giving medical aid to protestors. An earlier shot had shown other doctors and nurses begging police to be allowed to enter their hospital to treat the wounded. Instead of being treated, the injured were arrested.

At the time of the film Nada was awaiting trial.

The death toll in Bahrain has been small  – as David Cameron says, ‘Bahrain is not Syria‘ – but, as this film graphically shows, protesters are still targeted with tear gas, rubber bullets, buck shot, and, in some cases, live ammunition. It is these protesters – who cannot go to hospital for fear of arrest – that Ouahida treats. Although not a doctor or nurse, she learned first aid, and began to travel under cover of night to treat wounds and pick out buckshot.

Related article: The inside track: how lobbyists have helped launder Bahrain’s reputation

At the end of the screening it is revealed that, just months after filming, Ouahida was seriously injured in a car crash fleeing from the police.

Bahrain, with its population of under one and a half million, its stable monarchy, and its high-income economy, rarely makes the news here.

Lamorré’s film is a welcome break to this silence.

It is available for international distribution from Premieres Lignes Television and is being shown at various film festivals. The film was part of the Centre for Investigative Journalism’s Film Week.

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Save spoon-billed sandpipers in China


This video is called Spoonbilled SandpiperLeizhou – China.

From BirdLife:

Shorebird trapping threatens new Spoon-billed Sandpiper wintering site in China

Fri, Jan 18, 2013

Shorebird trapping threatens new Spoon-billed Sandpiper wintering site in China

Mist nets found at the survey sites (Jonathan Martinez)

Four Spoon-billed Sandpipers were found at Fucheng, near Leizhou, south-west Guangdong Province in December 2012. Together with several other recent sightings this record indicates that Spoon-billed Sandpiper is a more widespread wintering species on the coast of southern China than was previously known. However, evidence was found of large-scale trapping of shorebirds and action is needed to address this threat.

The discovery was made by Jonathan Martinez and Richard Lewthwaite of Hong Kong Bird Watching Society during a project to investigate the winter distribution of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in southern China. They surveyed nine sites in south-west Guangdong and found the group of Spoon-billed Sandpipers in a large area of drained-down fishponds at Fucheng. This site is close to Zhanjiang, where the French ornithologist Pierre Jabouille described Spoon-billed Sandpiper as fairly numerous in winter in the 1930s, and where Professor Fasheng Zou of the South China Institute of Endangered Animals recorded three Spoon-billed Sandpipers in March 2003.

Since 2005, there have been sightings of Spoon-billed Sandpiper during the winter months at several other sites in southern China, indicating that this is a more important wintering area for the species than was previously known. The northernmost wintering location is the Minjiang Estuary in Fujian, where a flock of Spoon-billed Sandpipers has regularly been present in recent winters. There have also been sightings of up to three birds at Xitao in south-west Guangdong, Mai Po in Hong Kong, Fangcheng and QinzhouBay in Guangxi and the Changhua Estuary in Hainan. The on-going project will carry out further surveys in Fujian, Guangxi and Hainan and will hopefully locate some more wintering Spoon-billed Sandpipers.

In 2003, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper was found caught in a hunter's net (Fasheng Zou)

In 2003, a Spoon-billed Sandpiper was found caught in a hunter’s net (Fasheng Zou)

One of the three Spoon-billed Sandpipers recorded at Zhanjiang in 2003 was caught in a bird trapper’s net. Since then the problem of trapping appears to have become even worse and illegal bird-netting now poses a major threat to Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other shorebirds. The team counted a total of 460 mistnets during the survey – these were typically 25 m long and 3 m high, meaning that the nets counted equated to a length of 11.5 km. The nets were placed, often in parallel lines or V-shapes, beside shorebird roost-sites on fishponds, saltpans and sandbars on the coast, as well as in nearby paddyfields and marshes.

The shorebird trapping found during the survey has been reported to Guangdong Forestry Department, which is responsible for the protection of wildlife. Discussions are underway amongst Chinese birdwatchers and conservationists about how to support the local government agencies to address the trapping of Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other migratory birds (and other forms of illegal hunting) at the key sites for these birds.

The project “Study of the non-breeding distribution of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Southern China” is being managed by The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society and supported by Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong. It is being implemented in partnership with Fujian Bird Watching Society, Xiamen Bird Watching Society, Beilun Estuary National Nature Reserve and Kadoorie Conservation China of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.

Videos and more photos of Spoon-billed Sandpiper sighted at Fucheng

You can help BirdLife’s work on Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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Saving Polish aquatic warblers


This is a video from Belarus about an aquatic warbler.

From BirdLife:

Successfully conserving the Aquatic Warbler

Mon, Jan 14, 2013

Successfully conserving the Aquatic Warbler

OTOP (BirdLife in Poland), Aquatic Warbler singing

The numbers of Aquatic Warblers are declining in Europe mainly due to habitat loss and speeded up by changes in water management. The Polish Society for the Birds Protection (OTOP, Birdlife Partner) started a project to protect Aquatic Warbler back in the 1990s and conservation measures have focused on two big projects financed by the LIFE Programme.

In 2012, OTOP conducted a national Aquatic Warbler count, in which birds were counted not only in the places where conservation measures, like mowing and bush removal are taking place, but also at smaller sites throughout Poland. During these counts, thanks to an enormous effort of over 120 volunteers, OTOP now estimates the population at 3,256 male birds. This result supersedes the count in both 2007 and 2009; so it seems the decline has stopped.

Compared to other countries it appears like the Polish population of Aquatic Warblers is the only one that is stable. In Belarus and Lithuania the population decreased in 2012. Fortunately, conservation measures of restoration or increasing the quality of habitats are being implemented also there. In Germany, after several years of absence, three singing males have been observed in the Lower Odra Valley. Due to lack of research the situation of the species in the Ukraine and Russia is not known at the moment.

For more information, please contact Antoni Marczewski, Responsible for Communications at OTOP (BirdLife in Poland).

Find out more about Aquatic warbler migration

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