Extinct giant kangaroos, new research


This music video is called Saint Saens: Carnival of the Animals~Kangourous (Kangaroos).

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The mystery of the extinct giant kangaroo is solved – it didn’t hop

The giant Sthenurus – dead for 30,000 years – was three times the size of the modern-day kangaroo

Steve Connor, science editor

Wednesday 15 October 2014

It looked like something out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland but this giant, short-faced kangaroo hid another peculiar characteristic down its pouch – it walked rather than hopped on its hind legs.

The extinct marsupial, which was nearly three times bigger than the largest living kangaroos, died out 30,000 years ago, but only now have scientists been able to tie its locomotion down.

With a leap of the imagination, the researchers were able to visualise how the giant Sthenurus kangaroo, which weighed up to 240kg, moved around by putting one foot in front of another rather than hopping on both legs.

Bipedal hopping is a quintessential feature of kangaroo locomotion, but the Sthenurine group of extinct ‘roos was clearly made for walking, according to Christine Janis of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who led the study published in the on-line journal PlosOne.

“When I first saw a mounted skeleton of a Sthenurine I was struck by how different it was in the back end to modern kangaroos, despite the superficial similarity of long hind legs,” Dr Janis said.

“My work emphasises that the large modern kangaroos are highly specialized in their anatomy for hopping in comparison with other large extinct kangaroos,” she said.

“Sthenurines almost certainly did hop, except perhaps for the very largest ones. The issue is that their anatomy is also suggestive of bipedal walking, which is the unexpected issue here,” she added.

Modern kangaroos use hopping to move around at speed but when moving slowly they walk mostly on all fours, using their massive tails as support – so-called “pentapedal” locomotion.

The extinct Sthenurus, however, must have walked on its hind legs because its anatomy does not fit with the notion of hopping or pentapedal locomotion, Dr Janis said. For a start, it had “robust”, heavier bones compared with the more slender anatomy of modern kangaroos, which would have made hopping hazardous.

“If it is not possible in terms of biomechanics to hop at very slow speeds, particularly if you are a big animal, and you cannot easily do pentapedal locomotion, then what do you have left? You’ve got to move somehow,” Dr Janis said.

An analysis of the giant kangaroo’s anatomy suggests it was well suited to bearing the animal’s entire weight on one leg, which is crucial for bipedal walking. Its ankle bone, for instance, had a flange over the back joint to provide extra support – something missing in modern kangaroos.

Sthenurus has proportionately bigger hip and knee joints than today’s kangaroos and the shape of its pelvis – broad and flared – suggested that it had large gluteal muscles in is backside, which would have allowed it to balance on one leg as it moved the other leg forward, Dr Janis said.

“I think that they originally took this up as an alternative slow gait to the way that other kangaroos move slowly on all fours using their tail to propel their hind legs past their front legs [because] hopping is biomechanically impossible at very slow speeds,” Dr Janis said.

“This requires a flexible back and supporting their weight on their hands, whereas sthenurines had a stiff back and specialized hands for feeding. So they had this unique walking gait,” she said.

Sthenurine kangaroos died out around the same time that modern humans arrived in Australia and began to spread across the continent, suggesting that their demise may have had something to do with human hunting.

Walking rather than hopping would have been a slower and less efficient means of moving fast, which may have been one of the reasons by the giant, walking kangaroo went extinct, leaving their hopping cousins to fill the void, Dr Janis explained.

Australian ‘ISIS terrorist sword’ really Shiite plastic ‘sword’


This video from Australia says about itself:

Tony Abbott‘s New Terror Laws

The Abbott government has proposed drastic changes to Australia’s current anti-terrorism laws. These laws, if enacted, will have massive ramifcations on the rights of all Australians, especially targating Islamic communities.

A community forum was held to address these concerns, and to organise a fightback against the amendments being passed into law.

Speakers on the night:

Adam Bandt MP, Greens Deputy Leader and Federal Member for Melbourne
Professor Jude McCulloch, Criminology, Monash University
Ghaith Krayem, Secretary, Islamic Council of Victoria
Colin Jacobs, Electronic Frontiers Australia
Rob Stary, Civil Rights Lawyer

The night was organised by Adam Bandt, who co hosted the event with Ellen Sandell, Greens candidate for the state seat of Melbourne.

Members of the audience were invited to make to make comments and ask questions of the speakers.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Elizabeth St, Melbourne.

*Technical Issue: Due to a camera malfunction, the first thirty three minutes of the video is slightly out of focus.

By James Cogan in Australia:

“Terrorist” sword seized in Australian police raids is plastic

13 October 2014

The Fairfax press revealed last week that the inscribed Arabic sword seized during unprecedented police raids on September 18—and portrayed by the media as the weapon that would be used in an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)-inspired plot to kidnap a random person and behead them in the street—was actually a plastic ornament. Moreover, it is a plastic Shiite ornament. Its inscription pays homage to the first Imam, Ali, who is considered by the Sunni Wahhabist extremists who make up ISIS as an apostate to Islam.

The revelation adds to the numerous, disturbing questions about the raids on 15 homes in five Sydney suburbs, which was the largest anti-terrorism operation ever carried out in Australia and involved some 800 state police, federal police and Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) agents.

Police armed with military assault rifles and supported by armoured vehicles cordoned off entire neighbourhoods. People were ordered to lie on the ground as their homes were ransacked. Fifteen people were arrested and hauled off to police stations for interrogation. Video footage and photographs of some of the detainees were published by the police on Twitter and the official police media site and then re-published by every television and print outlet.

The media went into a frenzy, recounting sensational information they received from “unnamed” sources. However, it was the photo of the sword, being carried by police officers in a transparent evidence bag, which provoked some of the most lurid assertions. The Daily Mail breathlessly headlined its report: “Was this the lethal sword terror cell planned to use to behead an innocent victim on a Sydney street?”

From the beginning, there were glaring discrepancies between the initial police statements and the claims that an imminent terrorist attack had been thwarted. A press release issued shortly after the raids stated that the police had “no information regarding a specific attack, including dates, time or location.” However, by the end of the day, 22-year-old Omarjan Azari had been named as a “terrorist.” The media was full of reports that he had taken a phone call from an Australian ISIS member in Syria in which he had been instructed to film the beheading of someone and post it on YouTube. Press coverage dwelt at length on the police seizure of an unspecified weapon from one home, and the ominous photo of the sword.

The government and the police subsequently made no attempt to explain that the sword was plastic and thus allowed the idea to circulate that Muslim fanatics had been on the verge of beheading someone. It has directly contributed to a hysterical and xenophobic atmosphere and the abuse and assault of Muslims, especially veiled women, by racist elements. …

As for the owner of the plastic sword, he is 21-year-old painter Mustafa Dirani, from a Shiite Afghan immigrant family. He does not know Omarjan Azari and has no history of involvement with any Sunni extremist grouping. Everything suggests that he and his friend Maywand Osman were included in the raids solely to increase the number of targets. They appear to have been selected because they were recently involved in a car accident that has been linked to a brawl. The warrant issued to search his parent’s home dramatically stated that he had engaged “in preparation or planning terrorist acts” between May and September 2014.

Britain: London Isil terror raids questioned as it emerges one of the suspects is Iraqi Kurd: here.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will put Canada’s proposed combat military mission in Iraq to a vote on Monday. … But Harper’s plan to send Canadian warplanes to join the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq may just make matters worse: here.

Canada’s Conservative government and corporate media are seizing upon a purported terrorist attack to advance the ruling elite’s agenda of war, reaction, and attacks on democratic rights: here.

Will little penguins survive climate change?


This video from Australia is called Little Penguins Return to the Open Ocean.

From Wildlife Extra:

Penguins‘ personalities could help them cope with climate change

According to a new study, the individual personalities of birds could be one of the key factors that improve its chances of coping with environmental stressors, especially in times of rapid weather changes due to climate change.

John Cockrem from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedial Sciences at Massey University in New Zealand was behind the study. He studied differences in levels of the stress hormone corticosterone in Little Penguins when they were exposed to stressful stimulus. He found that there was ‘considerable individual variation in corticosterone responses’.

“Corticosterone responses and behavioural responses to environmental stimuli are together determined by individual characteristics called personality,” Cockrem explains. “Birds with low corticosterone responses and proactive personalities are likely to be more successful (have greater fitness) in constant or predictable conditions, whilst birds with reactive personalities and high corticosterone responses will be more successful in changing or unpredictable conditions.”

Birds are thought to be particularly at risk from the effects of climate change, and these findings could be helpful in predicting the adaptability of species of birds as they face a ‘new normal’.

Australia’s crimson rosella parrots, beauty and disease


This video says about itself:

This morning’s delegation of Crimson Rosellas (Platycercus elegans) at Banksia Cottage, one of the Bunjaree Cottages near Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, 100km west of Sydney, Australia.

From Wildlife Extra:

Colours of the Crimson Rosella parrot reveal a deadly secret

The crimson rosella parrot are [sic] immune to Beak and Feather Disease

The vibrant colours of Australia’s Crimson Rosella parrot might not in fact be quite as they seem. The colours covering its feathers could be the result of a virus that is known to kill other species.

A research team from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE) and School of Medicine carried out an eight-year study of the Crimson Rosella and subspecies across New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia.

The Beak and Feather Disease Virus that the Crimson Rosella carry around so proudly in the colour of their feathers is surprisingly deadly in other parrot species. As such, the Australian Government have listed the Beak and Feather Disease Virus as a key threat to biodiversity under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Justin Eastwood, Deakin CIE PhD student who worked on the project, explains: “The virus is only found in parrots; it’s no danger to humans, but the danger it presents to parrots seems to vary from species to species and it can be pretty nasty.”

The results, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA journal, could have important implications for managing disease in Australia’s unique wildlife. Project author and CIE researcher Dr Mathew Berg explains, “Our research results are not only good news for Crimson Rosellas, but we now have a good model species with which to study the disease, which is extremely important if we are to minimise its impact on the world’s parrot population.”

The research team aim to better understanding how disease and wildlife interact and co-evolve, and will be working with Zoos Victoria, the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Disease, Charles Sturt University and Biosecurity Victoria to investigate disease ecology and conservation in Australian parrots.

See also here.