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

Related posts:

  1. Triple figures of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China Up to 103 Spoon-billed Sandpipers were observed earlier this month at Rudong, in Jiangsu Province…
  2. Spoon-billed Sandpiper Spoon-billed Sandpiper is one of the world’s strangest-looking birds and certainly the weirdest wader. It…
  3. Oversummering Spoon-billed Sandpiper discovered in Thailand Photos confirming the first record of the Critically Endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper oversummering in its wintering…

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

Related posts:

  1. A brighter future for Europe’s rarest migratory songbird Aquatic Warbler, the rarest passerine bird in mainland Europe, is facing a brighter future thanks…
  2. Timor Bush-warbler rediscovered A paper published online in BirdLife’s journal, Bird Conservation International reports the rediscovery of the…
  3. Universities invest in Seychelles Warbler research Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner) has received a total of £40,000 to renovate the Cousin Island…

Fiji petrel sound discovery

This video is called Search for the Fiji Petrel.

From BirdLife:

A Guitar reveals the call of the Fiji Petrel

Thu, Jan 17, 2013

The 20th confirmed grounding of a Critically Endangered Fiji Petrel occurred on the 13th of November 2012 when a bird was grounded by a fluorescent light in the school compound at Nukuloa primary school, Gau Island, Fiji. Petrel groundings in villages occur only rarely as a result, it is believed, of their being dazzled by lights.

The petrel’s grounding was heard by two young school boys who quickly took it to Eli (Eleazar) O’Connor, the Fiji NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) petrel project manager on Gau. Because very little is known of the species, grounded Fiji petrels provide important information on the biology of the bird which contribute to its conservation. The 20th Fiji Petrel was perhaps the most important of all the groundings, as it provided two highly significant bits of information.

First, it proved to be the first unequivocal fledgling Fiji Petrel, one that had just left the burrow and was on its first flight. This gives us a confirmed timing for the breeding season of this species, enabling us to concentrate our searches at a time when we know the bird is present on the island. Until now this was a subject of endless discussion and hypothesis.

But Eli discovered something else of equal importance – he became the first person in the world to hear and record the call of the Fiji Petrel. After careful examination, measurement, banding and photography, Eli placed the petrel in a carton in a secluded spot to rest it before its release. As he commonly does after a stressful day, Eli picked up his guitar and strummed some chords. To his amazement, he was immediately answered by the Fiji Petrel in its carton.

Not believing what he heard, he tried it again, and sure enough there was an answer. And a very strange call it is too! He was able to use the project recording equipment and the first call of the Fiji Petrel is now available for the scientists of the world – a great achievement. Asked to describe the call, Eli could only think of “tuning an old radio” or not unlike R2-D2 of StarWars fame! Certainly nothing like the Collared Petrel calls we commonly hear in the season on Gau.

The recording of the call is a breakthrough for the project as it can now be used in the project’s outdoor petrel call playback sound system which has been set up on the hills of Gau above Nukuloa to attract petrels to nest in artificial nest boxes in an area made safe from predators. This technique has been implemented successfully in Australia and New Zealand to conserve several endangered petrel populations by attracting them to areas free of predators and NFMV is trialling it on Gau to attract the Fiji Petrel, the Collared Petrel and the Polynesian Storm Petrel (the latter having been seen offshore Gau).

All three are globally threatened species. High resolution photographs and measurements of the Fiji petrel were taken by Eli to confirm the age of the bird and hence the breeding season of the species. Which is vital for searches using NFMV’s specially New Zealand trained petrel sniffer dogs. After the species was processed and revealed its call, it was given a band and safely released into an artificial nest box previously set-up on one of the peaks on Gau on the 14th of November 2012. It then departed safely under the cover of darkness. We hope it will return to that nest box.

Nunia Thomas, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti’s Conservation Co-ordinator has been appointed Director, taking charge of Fiji’s most progressive local conservation organisation: here.

Frankenfish salmon threat, petition

From Avaaz:

Dear friends,


The US is about to treat the world to the first genetically modified meat: a mutant salmon that could wipe out wild salmon populations and threaten human health. Unless we stop it, this Frankenfish could open the floodgates for biotech meat around the world. Click below to build 1 million voices to stop it:

The US is about to treat the world to the first genetically modified meat: a mutant salmon that could wipe out wild salmon populations and threaten human health — but we can stop it now before our plates are filled with suspicious Frankenfish.

The new fake salmon grows twice as fast as the real one, and not even scientists know its long-term health effects. Yet it’s about to be declared safe for us to eat, based on studies paid for by the company that created the GMO creature! Luckily, the US is legally required to consider public opinion before deciding. A growing coalition of consumers, environmentalists, and fishermen is calling on the government to trash this fishy deal. Let’s urgently build an avalanche of global support to help them win.

The consultation is happening right now and we have a real chance to keep mutant fish off the menu. Sign to stop Frankenfish and share widely — when we reach 1 million, our call will be officially submitted to the public consultation:

The company that developed the Frankenfish altered the DNA of the salmon to create a fish that would grow at lightning speed, year-round. Not only do we not understand its long term health effects, if a few of them or their eggs reached the wild, these super-salmon could decimate entire wild salmon populations. Worse, once they hit supermarkets, we won’t be able to tell apart Frankenfish and real salmon, so there won’t be a way to avoid it!

The biotech industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying governments to approve its GM crops. Frankenfish is their next million dollar baby — it could open the floodgates for other transgenic meats. But the US government will consider public opinion before it makes its final decision — if we can stun them with a giant global opposition when they least expect it, we can stop this reckless deal.

Frankenfish is on the verge of being approved — let’s make sure biotech companies don’t decide what we eat. Help build one million voices to stop the mutant fish:

Avaaz members have come together to protect the natural world and our food system from dangerous meddling. In 2010, over 1 million of us spoke out against genetically modified food in Europe. Let’s come together again to stop Frankenfish.

With hope,

Jamie, Nick, Emma, Dalia, Emily, Paul, Ricken, Wen-Hua and the whole Avaaz team


Engineered Fish Moves a Step Closer to Approval (NY Times)

GM salmon: FDA’s assessment of environmental risks (LA Times),0,2554480.story

Genetically Modified Animals (Women’s Health Magazine)

Protect our waters from GE Salmon (Center for Food Safety)

Below the Surface: The Dangers of Genetically Engineered Salmon (Food & Water Watch)

Genetically Engineered Salmon (Ocean Conservancy)

French author Guy de Maupassant on war

This video says about itself:

Official Bel Ami Trailer

Based on the novel by Guy de Maupassant, Bel Ami chronicles the rise of penniless ex-soldier Georges Duroy through the echelons of the 1890s Parisian elite and is a tale of ambition, power and seduction.

Starring Robert Pattinson, Uma Thurman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Christina Ricci and Colm Meaney.

From Rick Rozoff’s blog; on Guy de Maupassant, who had been a volunteer soldier in the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian war:

Guy de Maupassant: Why does society not rise up bodily in rebellion at the word “war”?

January 17, 2013

Guy de Maupassant

From Sur l’eau (1888)

Translated by Laura Ensor

Nothing can give a better idea of human labour, of the intricate and formidable labour done by the ingeniously clever hands of the puny human animal, than the enormous iron citadels which float and sail about bearing an army of soldiers, an arsenal of monstrous arms, the enormous masses of which are made of tiny pieces fitted, soldered, forged, bolted together, a toil of ants and giants, – which shows at the same time all the genius, all the weakness, and all the irretrievable barbarousness of the race, so active and so feeble, directing all its efforts towards creating instruments for its own self-destruction.

Those who in former days raised up cathedrals in stone, carved as finely as any lacework, fairy-like palaces to shelter childish and pious fancies, were they worth less than those who now-a-days launch forth on the sea these iron houses, real temples of Death?

At the mere mention of the word war, I am seized with a sense of bewilderment, as though I heard of witchcraft, of the inquisition, of some far distant thing, ended long ago, abominable and monstrous, against all natural law.

When we talk of cannibals, we proudly smile and proclaim our superiority over these savages. Which are the savages, the true savages? Those who fight to eat the vanquished, or those who fight to kill, only to kill?

The gallant little soldiers running about over there, are as surely doomed to death, as the flocks of sheep driven along the road by the butcher. They will fall on some plain, with their heads split open by sabre cuts, or their chests riddled by bullets, and yet they are young men who might work, produce something, be useful. Their fathers are old and poverty-stricken, their mothers, who during twenty years have loved them, adored them as only mothers can adore, may perchance hear in six months or a year, that the son, the child, the big fellow, reared with so much care, at such an expense and with so much love, has been cast in a hole like a dead dog, after having been ripped open by a bullet and trampled, crushed, mangled by the rush of cavalry charges. Why have they killed her boy, her beautiful boy, her sole hope, her pride, her life? She cannot understand. Yes, indeed, why?

War! fighting! slaughtering! butchering men! And to think that now, in our own century, with all our civilisation, with the expansion of science and the height of philosophy to which the human race is supposed to have attained, we should have schools in which we teach the art of killing, of killing from afar, to perfection, numbers of people at the same time; poor devils, innocent men, fathers of families, men of untarnished reputation. The most astounding thing is that the people do not rise up against the governing power. What difference is there then between monarchies and republics? And what is more astounding still, why does society not rise up bodily in rebellion at the word “war”?

Should we not have spurned any other than Victor Hugo, who should have launched forth the grand cry of deliverance and truth?

“To-day, might is called violence, and is beginning to be condemned; war is arraigned. Civilisation, at the demand of all humanity, directs an inquiry and indicts the great criminal brief against conquerors and generals. The nations are beginning to understand that the aggrandizement of a crime can in no way lessen it; that if murder is a crime, to murder a great many does not create any attenuating circumstance; that if robbery is a disgrace, invasion cannot be a glory.

“Ah! Let us proclaim the peremptory truth, let us dishonour war.”

Idle auger, poetic indignation! War is more venerated than ever.

A clever artist in such matters, a slaughtering genius, M. de Moltke, replied one day to some peace delegates, in the following extraordinary words:

“War is holy and of divine institution; it is one of the sacred laws of nature; it keeps alive in men all the great and noble sentiments, honour, disinterestedness, virtue, courage, in one word it prevents them from falling into the most hideous materialism.”

Therefore to collect a herd of some four hundred thousand men, march day and night without respite, to think of nothing, study nothing, learn nothing, read nothing, be of no earthly use to any one, rot with dirt, lie down in mire, live like brutes in a continual besotment, pillage towns, burn villages, ruin nations; then meeting another similar agglomeration of human flesh, rush upon it, shed lakes of blood, cover plains with pounded flesh mingled with muddy and bloody earth; pile up heaps of slain; have arms and legs blown off, brains scattered without benefit to any one, and perish at the corner of some field while your old parents, your wife and children are dying of hunger; this is what is called not falling into the most hideous materialism!

Warriors are the scourges of the earth. We struggle against nature and ignorance; against obstacles of all kinds, in order to lessen the hardships of our miserable existence. Men, benefactors, scholars wear out their lives toiling, seeking what may assist, what may help, what may solace their brethren. Eager in their useful work, they pile up discovery on discovery, enlarging the human mind, extending science, adding something each day to the stock of human knowledge, to the welfare, the comfort, the strength of their country.

War is declared. In six months the generals have destroyed the efforts of twenty years’ patience and genius. And this is what is called not falling into the most hideous materialism.

We have seen war. We have seen men maddened and gone back to their brute estate, killing for mere pleasure, killing out of terror, out of bravado, from sheer ostentation. Then when right no longer exists, when law is dead, when all notion of justice has disappeared, we have seen ruthlessly shot down, innocent beings who, picked up along the road, had become objects of suspicion simply because they were afraid. We have seen dogs as they lay chained up at their master’s gate, killed in order to try a new revolver; we have seen cows riddled with bullets as they lay in the fields, without reason, only to fire off guns, just for fun.

And this is what is called not falling into the most hideous materialism. To invade a country, to kill the man who defends his home on the plea that he wears a smock and has no forage cap on his head, to burn down the houses of the poor creatures who are without bread, to break, to steal furniture, drink the wine found in the cellars, violate the women found in the streets, consume thousands of francs’ worth of powder, and leave behind misery and cholera.

This is what is called not falling into the most hideous materialism.

What have they ever done to show their intelligence, these valiant warriors? Nothing. What have they invented? Guns and cannons. That is all.

The inventor of the wheelbarrow, has he not done more for humanity by the simple and practical idea of fitting a wheel between two poles, than the inventor of modern fortifications?

What remains of Greece? Books and marbles. Is she great by what she conquered, or by what she produced? Was it the invasion of the Persians that prevented her from falling into the most hideous materialism? Was it the invasion of the barbarians that saved Rome and regenerated her?

Did Napoleon the First continue the great intellectual movement begun by the philosophers at the end of the last century?

Well, yes, since governments assume the right of death over the people, there is nothing astonishing in the people sometimes assuming the right of death over governments.

They defend themselves. They are right. No one has an absolute right to govern others. It can only be done for the good of those who are governed. Whosoever governs must consider it as much his duty to avoid war as it is that of the captain of a vessel to avoid shipwreck.

When a captain has lost his ship, he is judged and condemned if found guilty of negligence or even of incapacity.

Why should not governments be judged after the declaration of every war? If the people understood this, if they took the law into their own hands against the murdering powers, if they refused to allow themselves to be killed without a reason, if they used their weapons against those who distributed them to slaughter with, that day war would indeed be a dead letter.

A comment on this from 1954:

And horrible as were the 19th century wars, De Maupassant had seen nothing compared with the slaughters of the 20th century up to now, slaughters which will themselves undoubtedly become mild affairs with what lies ahead. For now we have arrived at the point where H-bombs can be detonated, wiping out whole cities.