New wolf snake species discovery in Cambodia


This video from Thailand is called Common Wolf Snake – Lycodon capucinus; about a relative of the newly discovered snake.

From Wildlife Extra:

Distinctive new wolf snake species discovered in Cambodia

A new wolf snake species has been discovered in Cambodia’s Cardamom Mountains.

Wolf snakes are nonvenomous members of the family Colubridae, and named after their large teeth that are found in both jaws.

This distinctive, almost chequered, coloured snake was discovered by Cambodian herpetologist Neang Thy, Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI) research adviser in Phnom Penh, in a high altitude montane rainforest.

He said: “Given its unique colouration, submontane habitat and altitudinal separation from other wolf snakes in the region, the species will probably prove to be endemic to the Cardamom Mountains.”

The new snake has been named Lycodon zoosvictoriae by Thy in honour of the Zoological Parks and Gardens Board of Victoria in Australia, which has supported FFI’s studies in the region for several years.

Thy said: “The support FFI received from Zoos Victoria has helped build the capacity of Cambodian researchers and conservationists and has greatly improved understanding of Cambodia’s reptiles and amphibians. Naming this species in honour of Zoos Victoria will ensure a memorable and historical record of the support they’ve given FFI, both in discoveries and conservation of the Cardamoms.”

This discovery is the eighth new snake to be found in the Cardamom Mountains since survey work began in 2000.

This video is called Elusive New Wolf Snake Species Found In Cambodian Mountain.

The scientific description of this new species is here.

Bush’s 2003 Iraq invasion caused 2014 bloodshed, general says


This video about worldwide anti-Iraq war demonstrations is called 15 February 2003: The day the world said no to war.

By James Cogan:

Australian general blames 2003 invasion for Iraq civil war

17 June 2014

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, retired Major General John Cantwell denounced the attempts by figures such as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to deny that the 2003 invasion of Iraq is directly responsible for the sectarian civil war now devastating the country and destabilising the entire Middle East.

The Australian government was one of a handful of countries that joined the US “Coalition of the Willing,” defied international law and sent troops to illegally invade Iraq in March 2003. Australian forces subsequently participated in the occupation of the country until 2009. Cantwell served in Iraq in 2006, working alongside top American commanders as the Director of Strategic Operations.

The former general was asked by the ABC: “Is it reasonable for people to now ask whether toppling Saddam Hussein was, in the long run, one of the most misguided military expeditions in history?”

Cantwell replied: “It’s certainly a legitimate question and it was interesting to hear Tony Blair quickly brushing over that issue… which I would if I was him. He was one of the leaders that led us down that very, very bad pathway where we knocked over a government and a country on the basis of very poor intelligence and political blinkers, and led to a terrible and extended and very deadly war. You have to ask ‘why did we do that’, given the current circumstances.”

Extending his condemnation of the war, Cantwell stated: “You have to ask the question, if we had just left Iraq alone would Saddam Hussein still be there, would he have lasted, what would have changed that was in anyway comparable to the violence and death that has followed the invasion?”

Cantwell did not directly state that the pretexts for the war—notably the claims that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”—were outright lies. Nor did he indict the invasion of Iraq as a criminal enterprise aimed at seizing the country’s oil resources and asserting American dominance over the Middle East. He did, however, voice some basic truths about the situation in Iraq that are generally suppressed by the mass media and rarely uttered by current or former military commanders.

The former general condemned the sectarian policies of the Shiite fundamentalist-dominated government that holds power, with US backing, for the ability of the Sunni extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) to capture the city of Mosul and large areas of northern Iraq. He declared: “[T]he Sunni population—the minority population of Iraq—feel quite legitimately that they’ve been persecuted and held back and denied opportunities. There’s no wonder that organisations like ISIS are able to inflame the Sunni component of the country in the north, and the other parts of the country and take advantage of that.”

Cantwell also indicted the US-backed civil war in Syria, and the financing and arming of Al Qaeda-linked Sunni extremists by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, for the ability of ISIS to make military gains inside Iraq. “Much of the money… that directly supports the ISIS fighters,” he said, “is coming straight from Syria where they’ve gained so much of their experience. Their heavy weaponry and the like have all come from Syria.”

Asked about any Australian participation in renewed US military operations in Iraq, Cantwell emphatically told the ABC: “I think it would be absolute folly for Australia to go back into Iraq. I’d be very surprised if the US seriously gets involved. The worry, if they do employ air strikes, which they may be tempted to do if the situation worsens, is that it would probably be perceived by the Sunnis as further evidence of them being suppressed by a government that’s backed by the West—a Shia government backed by the West. It would produce other long term and unforeseen consequences.”

The statements of the ex-general are in sharp contrast to the unconditional support that has been offered by the Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to any military actions taken by the Obama administration in response to the debacle that US imperialism faces in Iraq. While joining Washington in excluding, for now, the redeployment of ground troops, Abbott declared on the weekend: “As you’d expect, the Americans are weighing their options. They’ll speak to us and we’ll talk to them and we’ll see what emerges.”

Cantwell’s positions stem from conclusions drawn after more than two decades of involvement in the neo-colonial violence perpetrated by the US and Australian governments in the region.

In 1990, Cantwell was attached as an exchange officer with a British armoured regiment in Germany and went with it to the first Gulf War. He was one of the few Australians who served in ground combat units. He fought in the armoured advance into southern Iraq that resulted in the mass slaughter of Iraqi troops, who attempted to fight the US and allied forces with vastly inferior equipment and no air support.

In 2006, Cantwell arrived in Iraq just before the sectarian massacres that followed the destruction of a key Shiite mosque, and witnessed the impact of devastating suicide bombings in Baghdad. In 2010, he served as commander of Australian forces in the US and NATO occupation of Afghanistan. That was the year of the most intense military operations against the Taliban resistance and the highest number of occupation force casualties, including 10 Australian troops.

Cantwell retired from the military in February 2012. He related in his autobiography how he almost immediately sought treatment for what was diagnosed as long-standing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

In April 2012, when asked about Australian casualties in the wars, Cantwell told ABC-TV’s “Four Corners” program: “At the level of the soldier and their families, you have to say, is it worth it? I as a commander asked myself that question many times, and I really, really struggle with it. The only way I can see through this, so that I can sleep at night, is to differentiate, to say it’s not worth it for the lives that you lose.”

Cantwell described Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan as political payment for the US military alliance, the outcome of “the dirty, ugly world of international relationships, where it’s ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’”

Obama Commits 275 US Troops to Iraq for American Embassy Protection Days After Saying “No Troops”: here.

Zebra finches sensitive to human speech, new research


This video is called Wild Zebra Finches in Australia.

From Proceedings of the Royal Society B in Britain:

Zebra finches are sensitive to prosodic features of human speech

Michelle J. Spierings
1,2
and Carel ten Cate
1,2

1
Behavioural Biology, Institute Biology Leiden (IBL), Leiden University, PO Box 9505, Leiden 2300 RA, The Netherlands
2
Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), Leiden University, PO Box 9600, Leiden 2300 RC, The Netherlands

Variation in pitch, amplitude and rhythm adds crucial paralinguistic information to human speech. Such prosodic cues can reveal information about the meaning or emphasis of a sentence or the emotional state of the speaker.

To examine the hypothesis that sensitivity to prosodic cues is language independent and not human specific, we tested prosody perception in a controlled experiment with zebra finches.

Using a go/no-go procedure, subjects were trained to discriminate between speech syllables arranged in XYXY pat-
terns with prosodic stress on the first syllable and XXYY patterns with prosodic stress on the final syllable. To systematically determine the salience of the various prosodic cues (pitch, duration and amplitude) to the zebra
finches, they were subjected to five tests with different combinations of these cues.

The zebra finches generalized the prosodic pattern to sequences that consisted of new syllables and used prosodic features over structural ones to discriminate between stimuli. This strong sensitivity to the prosodic pattern was maintained when only a single prosodic cue was available. The change in pitch was treated as more salient than changes in the other prosodic features.

These results show that zebra finches are sensitive to the same prosodic cues known to affect human speech perception.

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Survivors of Japanese militarist sex slavery demand justice


This video from Australia says about itself:

Australian comfort woman Jan Ruff-O’Herne

Jan Ruff-O’Herne told her shocking story on Australian Story in 2001 – a secret that took her 50 years to come to terms with before finally, she revealed it in a letter to her two daughters.

An idyllic childhood in Java was brought to an abrupt end by the Japanese occupation during Word War Two. Aged 21, she was taken from her family and repeatedly abused, beaten and raped – forced to be a sex slave for the Japanese military.

The term coined for this brutal sex slavery was ‘comfort woman‘.

But since revealing her ‘uncomfortable truth’ Jan Ruff-O’Herne’s suffering has been transformed into something affirmative.

In February this year, this 84-year-old Adelaide grandmother made the long journey to testify before Congress in Washington DC. The Congressional hearing was the pinnacle in her 15-year global campaign to seek justice for ‘comfort women‘.

Now six years since Australian Story first aired her story, Jan Ruff-O’Herne feels she is one step closer to finally achieving her ultimate goal.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

JAPAN: Five former victims of Japan’s wartime sex slavery and their supporters submitted hundreds of official documents to the government today, demanding that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe face up to the country’s past atrocity and formally apologise.

Several support groups backing the women, who are from Indonesia, the Philippines and South Korea, said the documents collected from round the world include clear evidence of coercion.

Successive Japanese governments have insisted that there is no proof the women were systematically coerced, citing a lack of official Japanese documents stating so.

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Echidna hatching from egg, video


This video says about itself:

The echidna is quite unique as it’s a mammal that lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young. This clip is an excerpt from our 1974 production, “Comparative biology of lactation”. A young echidna is called a puggle.

Video transcript available here.

From Smithsonian magazine in the USA:

Watch This Adorable Mammal Hatch From an Egg

A 1974 nature video shows a spiny anteater hatching

By Mary Beth Griggs

Via one of our favorite video blogs, The Kids Should See This, check out this incredible video of an echidna—also known as a spiny anteater—hatching from an egg. Echidnas live in Australia and on the island of New Guinea, and they are some of the only egg laying mammals in existence, along with the fantastically weird platypus.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, made this video in 1974. On the organization’s YouTube page, there are many more examples of wonderfully weird old example[s] of animal videos, including vintage favorites like the echidna hatching or a 1965 educational video about the birth of a red kangaroo. (That last one shows the actual birth of a live kangaroo and is not for the faint of heart.)

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Australian fairy wren babies’ anti-cuckoo password


This video from Australia is about superb fairy wrens.

From Science News:

Birds have clever solution for a cuckoo conundrum

by Sarah Zielinski

1:30pm, May 9, 2014

Like a lot of birds, superb fairy wrens of Australia have a problem: Cuckoos lay their eggs in the fairy wrens’ nests. This is called brood parasitism, and it’s how cuckoos manage to have their baby birds raised well without any effort on their part. They leave the messy parts of parenthood to other birds.

Those other birds, though, don’t want to spend their time and effort raising someone else’s kid, especially when that kid might push out the chicks that actually belong in the nest. But the fairy wrens don’t prevent Horsfield’s bronze cuckoos from laying eggs in their nests because the cuckoos look too much like Accipiter hawks, which prey on fairy wrens. Make the wrong call when trying to stop the invader and the fairy wren might end up dead.

Superb fairy wrens have come up with another solution: Mama birds sing to their eggs. This incubation call teaches her babies a password. After they’ve hatched, the babies repeat that password as a begging call, and that tells mom to feed her children. The closer the begging call is to the incubation call, the more food the babies receive. This system works because incubating cuckoos fail to learn the password (scientists aren’t sure why, though).

Now Sonia Kleindorfer and her colleagues at Flinders University in Australia have found that moms that are more aware of the cuckoo threat are better teachers to their incubating young. Their study was published May 6 in Biology Letters.

The researchers conducted an experiment in which they played the songs of either the bronze-cuckoos or a control, the striated thornbill. Mama fairy wrens that heard the cuckoo calls increased the rate at which they made their incubation calls, telling their babies the important food password over and over, more often than those moms that heard the thornbill calls.

The mama birds that heard the cuckoo calls were led to believe that there were cuckoos nearby and that the threat of brood parasitism was greater. Therefore, it was more important that the wrens teach their young the password because there’s a greater chance they’ll need to know it, the researchers suggest­­­.

Female fairy wrens aren’t always such great teachers because there’s a cost to it. When they make that incubation call more often, their risk of getting eaten by something else goes up. So mama is only going to take that risk when she knows it’s worth it.

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World’s first Ramsar wetland nature reserve celebrates 40th birthday


This video about wetlands is called Ramsar Convention.

From Wildlife Extra:

The world’s first Ramsar Site celebrates 40 years

It was on 8 May 1974, that Australia designated the Cobourg Peninsula in the Northern Territory as the world’s first Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

The Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. It was negotiated through the 1960s by countries and non-governmental organisations that were concerned at the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds. The treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. It is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem, and the Convention’s member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.

The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

The Cobourg Peninsula, a remote and unspoilt wilderness area on the far northern coast of Australia, was recognised 40 years ago for its diversity of wetland habitats, threatened marine species, significant seabird colonies and value as a refuge and breeding site. It also has a fascinating Indigenous, Macassan and European history.

Now known as Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, it is jointly managed by the Arrarrkbi people and the Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory. It was the first reserve in Australia to have a formal joint management arrangement established with indigenous people.

Australia currently has 65 Ramsar Sites across the continent, with an area of 8.3 million hectares, covering coral reefs, coastal lagoons, mangroves, inland rivers, mountain peat bogs and underground caves.

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