Bulgarian graffiti helps birds

This video says about itself:

Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and 140 ideas made this mural under the project LIFE+ Save the Raptors. Giant graffiti is painted on the wall of the 32th school in Sofia. It is part of communications and education activities under the project aiming to protect globally endangered Imperial Eagle in Bulgaria.

See more here.

Tour de France cycling and vultures

Today, the Tour de France cycling race is in the Pyrenees mountains.

As the cyclists went to the Aubisque mountain pass, TV cameras zoomed in on a group of vultures.

They were griffon vultures.

This is a griffon vulture video from Bulgaria; also including an Egyptian vulture and a hooded crow.

Great tit, bird of Bulgarian capital

This is a video of a great tit chick hatching while its parents watch.

From Sofia News Agency in Bulgaria:

Great Tit Picked as Bird Symbol of Sofia

March 22, 2012, Thursday

Sofianites have picked the Great Tit (Parus major) as a symbol of the capital.

The poll was conducted in the period January 28 – March 15 and attracted a total of 8600 votes for 12 options.

The Great Tit emerged as the winner with 24% of the votes, followed by the Eurasian Collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) with 20% of the votes and the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) supported by 16% of the voters.

The poll was launched as part of the “See for the first time: The flying wealth of Bulgaria” project of the Bulgarian Society for Protection of Birds financed and supported by the America for Bulgaria foundation.

The winning species will be awarded with a special installation in Sofia’s Southern Park.

The installation will be the starting point for bird-watching routes that are yet to be marked with directional signs and notice boards.

The project, which aims to promote Bulgaria as a destination for eco-tourism and an important ornithological site, is to be completed by early June.

House sparrows in decline in India – Help BNHS survey house sparrows: here.

June 2012. House Sparrows are approaching a six-year high in gardens. Numbers declined sharply in 2006 but are now making a steady recovery. To help the public nurture this upturn, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has produced a free factsheet: here.

November 2013: The Bulgarian Government is being taken to the European Court of Justice following its failures to protect internationally important nature areas. The European Commission says the Bulgarian Government has not fulfilled its duties under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, the main pieces of EU nature legislation, which ensure the conservation of important nature areas in Europe: here.

Schwarzenegger, Stallone kill bats

From the Evening Standard in England:

Sly and Arnie ‘killing thousands of bats

24 Jan 2012

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone are under fire from animal activists after they woke up one of Europe’s biggest colonies of hibernating bats to film their latest movie.

They say the bats may starve in their thousands because the lights and cameras disturbed their winter sleep, leaving them disorientated and confused.

Stallone, Schwarzenegger and their crew entered the Devetashka cave in Bulgaria to film The Expendables 2, due to be screened this summer.

European ape fossil discovery

From ScienceDaily:

Most Recent European Great Ape Discovered

(Jan. 13, 2012) — Based on a hominid molar, scientists from Germany, Bulgaria and France have documented that great apes survived in Europe in savannah-like landscapes until seven million years ago.

A seven million year old pre-molar of a hominid discovered near the Bulgarian town of Chirpan documents that great apes survived longer in Europe than previously believed. An international team of scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Science, the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and Madelaine Böhme from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment at the University of Tübingen was involved in the project. The new discovery may cause a revision in our understanding of some major steps in hominid evolution.

To date scientists have assumed that great apes went extinct in Europe at least 9 million years ago because of changing climatic and environmental conditions. Under the direction of Nikolai Spassov from the National Museum of Natural Science in Sofia, Bulgaria, the molar was discovered in Upper Miocene fluvial sediments near Chirpan. The morphology and the great thickness of the tooth enamel point to a hominid fossil. The age of the fossiliferous sands at 7 million years reveals the fossil to be most recent known great ape from continental Europe.

Until now, the most recent fossil was that of a 9.2 million year old specimen of Ouranopithecus macedonensis from Greece. Hominids therefore were thought to have disappeared from Europe prior to 9 million years ago. At this time, European terrestrial ecosystems had been changed from mostly evergreen and lush forests to savannah-like landscapes with a seasonal climate. It had been thought that great apes, which typically consume fruits, were unable to survive this change due to a seasonal deficiency of fruits.

The scientists found animals typical of a savannah in the fossil-bearing layer: several species of elephants, giraffes, gazelles, antelopes, rhinos, and saber-toothed cats. This discovery suggests that European hominids were able to adapt to the seasonal climate of a savannah-like ecosystem. This conclusion is further corroborated by electron microscope analysis of the tooth’s masticatory surface, which reveals that the Bulgarian hominid had consumed hard and abrasive objects like grass, seeds, and nuts. In this respect, the feeding behavior of this animal resembles that of later African hominids from about 4 million years ago (e.g. australopithecids like ‘Lucy’).

Provocative post on that new hominin (or ape?) foot & what loss of grasping toe meant for infant care: here.

Burtele Hominin – New Kid On The Evolution Block: here.

Anti-Roma racism in Bulgaria

This video is called French Roma expulsions spark racism warning.

By Anna Rombach:

Violence against Roma in Bulgaria

7 October 2011

Bulgaria has recently witnessed violence against Roma for the first time. There were violent demonstrations in the capital Sofia and 14 other cities, including Plovdiv, Varna and Pleven, against the Roma minority, estimated at half a million out of a population of 7.5 million. In the forefront of the demonstrations were local Nazi gangs, who exploited the death of two Bulgarian youths for their own purposes.

See also here.

Using Ethnic Tensions for Political Games (and Gains): Anti-Roma Protests in Bulgaria. Elana Faye Resnick, Truthout: “Anti-Roma sentiment continues to spread throughout Bulgaria, just in time for the presidential elections on October 23…. Yes, protests against Roma are dangerous and must be stopped before violence ensures, but this wave of anti-Gypsy sentiment is an important symptom of larger political and economic issues – of countrywide poverty, high-level government corruption and the misuse of European Union (EU) funds. Right now, most people want a Band-Aid, but what they need most is to look at what created this massive societal wound”: here.

Giant fossil tortoises discovered in Bulgaria

This video is called Richard Dawkins: Saddles and Domes: Evolution of the Giant Tortoises.

From the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences:

First finds of giant land tortoises discovered in Bulgaria

07 June 2010

In the contemporary fauna the giant land tortoises are Tertiary relics. They survived at present only in several highly remote and restricted areas of the World. Their present distribution is pantropic and includes Africa, South America, Southern Asia, some islands of Oceania and the Indian Ocean. All species are herbivorous. By their enormous size giant land tortoises are the largest representatives of order Testudines Batsch, 1788 (Chelonians) of Class Sauropsida. The shell length of the largest recent species, the Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra (Quoy, Gaimard, 1824)) is up to 1.80 m. Body mass of the largest individuals is over 300 kg, while their age is estimated at over 200 years. These measurements are much smaller than the size of the largest extinct species of the order (Testudo atlas (Falconer, Cautley, 1844), also known as Colossochelys atlas Falconer and Cautley, 1844. Its carapace length was up to 2.10 m, and height – up to 1.80 m. The total body length was about 2.70 m, and body mass – up to до 3000–4000 kg.

According to recent conceptions on the systematics of the giant land tortoises (until recently traditionally placed in the genus Geochelone Fitzinger, 1835), at present exist 18 recent species of 9 genera: Aldabra Giant Tortoise Aldabrachelys gigantea (Schweigger, 1812) – Aldabra Athol and the Seychelles; Radiated Tortoise Astrochelys radiata (Gaimard, 1824) – South Madagascar (introduced in Reunion and Mauritius); Angonoka or Angulated Tortoise Astrochelys yniphora (Vaillant, 1885) – Madagascar; Red-Footed Tortoise Chelonoidis carbonaria (Spix, 1824) – Central South America and the Caribbean; Chaco Tortoise Chelonoidis chilensis (Gray, 1870) – Chaco (Argentina and Paraguay); South American yellow-footed tortoise Chelonoidis denticulata (Linnaeus, 1766) – Central America, northern part of South America and the Caribbean; Galapagos Tortoise Chelonoidis nigra (Quoy, Gaimard, 1824) – Galapagos Islands (Ecuador); Indian Star Tortoise Geochelone elegans (Schoepff, 1794) – India and Ceylon; Burmese Star Tortoise Geochelone platynota (Blyth, 1863) – Burma (extinct in the wild); African Spurred Tortoise Geochelone sulcata (Miller, 1779) – Africa (south regions of Sahara); Elongated Tortoise Indotestudo elongata (Blyth, 1853) – Hindustan and Indochina; Forsten’s Tortoise Indotestudo forstenii (Schlegell, Müller, 1844) – Sulawesi and Halmahera (Indonesia); Travancore Tortoise Indotestudo travancorica (Boulenger, 1807) – Southwest Hindustan; Asian Forest Tortoise Manouria emys (Schlegell, Müller, 1844) – Hindustan, Indochina, Sumatra and Borneo; Impressed Tortoise Manouria impressa (Gьnther, 1882) – Indochina; Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis (Bell, 1828) – Africa, to the south of Sahara; (Western) Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii (Cooper, 1863) – southwest parts of USA; and Geometric Tortoise Psammobates geometricus (Linnaeus, 1758) – South Africa (Fritz, Havaš, 2007).

In the last several centuries seven species at least have been totally extirpated by humans only on the islands of the Indian Ocean: Aldabrachelys abrupta (Grandidier, 1868) and Aldabrachelys grandidieri (Vaillant, 1885) from Madagascar, Cylindraspis indica (Schneider, 1783) from Reunion, Cylindraspis inepta (Günther, 1873) and Cylindraspis triserrata (Günther, 1873) from Mauritius, Cylindraspis vosmaeri (Suckow, 1798) and Cylindraspis peltastes (Dumáril, Bibron, 1835) from Rodriguez (Fritz, Havaš, 2007).

Because of the excellent taphonomic features, the giant land tortoises are relatively widely represented in the paleontological context. Parham (2006) states that the “Geochelone” complex includes over 25 species. Other specialists list about 48 fossil species, among them: G. atlas, G. becki, G. bolivari, G. ammon, G. ducatelli G. cubensis, G. monensis, G. brachygularis, G. chathamensis, G. crassiscutata, G. darwini, G. depressa, G. eocaenica, G. ephippium, G. farri, G. forstenii G. galapagoensis, G. gigantina, G. guentheri, G. gymnesica, G. hesperotestudo, G. hesterna, G. hoodensis, G. microphyes, G. mlynarskii, G. namaquensis, G. nigrita, G. nordensis, G. oelrichi, G. orthopygia, G. wilsoni, G. pansa, G. phantasticus, G. stromeri, G. turgida, G. incisa, G. wallacei, et al. On the Caribbean there have been described fossil taxa of two subgenera, Monachelys (Williams, 1952) and Chelonoides (Auffenberg, 1974). After Auffenberg (1974) the fossil finds of the giant land tortoises in the Caribbean region are extremely numerous. The Tertiary range of the group is very large. It included North, Central, and South America, Africa, Madagascar, Aldabra, Seychelles, Kazakhstan, Crimea, Moldavia, the Ukraine and Greece.

In the recent Bulgarian herpetofauna, the Chelonians are represented by six species – two terrestrial species (Hermann’s Tortoise (Eurotestudo hermanni (Gmelin, 1789)) and Greek Tortoise (Testudo graeca Linnaeus, 1758)), two terrapins (European pond terrapin (Emys orbicularis (Linnaeus, 1758) and Balkan Terrapin (Mauremys rivulata Valenciennes, 1833)), and two sea turtles (Loggerhead Sea Turtle (Caretta caretta (Linnaeus, 1758) and Green turtle Chelonia mydas (Linnaeus, 1758) (Petrov, 2007).

A total of 22 species/taxa of chelonians have been established so far in the fossil record of Bulgaria, 16 of them fossil and five recent (Boev, in prep.). Among the fossil taxa of a number of sites have been identified: Testudo bulgarica (Amiranashvili, Chkhikvadze 2000); Testudo cf. antigua Schlech, (possibly T. atlas (Falconer, Cautley, 1844) – Z. B.); Testudo aff. marmorum Gaudry, 1862; five taxa of Testudo (Protestudo sp.), two taxa of Testudo sp., all of family Testudinidae Gray, 1825; three taxa of Chelonia fam. indet. of family Cheloniidae Gray, 1825; two taxa, Clemmidopsis cf. sopronensis Boda, 1927 and Emys orbicularis (Linnaeus, 1758) of family Emydidae (Gray, 1825); and two taxa – Trionyx (Amida) capellini bulgaricus Khos. and Trionyx sp. of family Trionychidae Bell, 1828. Numerous fossils of recent E. hermanni, T. graeca and Ch. mydas also have been found.

After a general reorganization of the exposition and the funds of the Regional Historical Museum in the town of Yambol (1999–2000), the well equipped and excellently functioning Nature Department (unapproved by the Ministry of Culture) has been closed. Its rich zoological and paleontological collections (as well as many other of smaller number) and part of its library, collected and managed by Dr. Georgi Ribarov, have been excluded of the Museum funds and through our participation they have been transferred to the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia. Thus, in fact, the NMNHS acquired one of the most considerable completions of its funds during the last several decades. The completion of osteological preserves of recent reptiles, birds and mammals numbered over 400 specimens. Dozens species of them are rare and endangered and now it is extremely difficult to obtain specimens of them even for museum collections.

Among these very valuable materials we accepted also the fossil remains of a giant turtle of highly broken and fragmented plastron and carapace, originating from the sand quarry near Tenevo village (Yambol Region). The tens (64 in number; Figs. 1–3) pieces of the bony sheets, transferred to the NMNHS in April 2001 have shown that the specimen is an adult, completely developed individual of definite size. The find was found in the late 1980s by Dr. G. Ribarov in the fluviatile sand deposits of the Pra-Tundha River. Latter in the same quarry we have found bone remains of a rhinoceros (Rhinocerathidae gen. indet.) and a proboscidean mammal (Proboscidea fam. indet.), also presented to the funds of the NMNHS.

The uncovered associated mammalian megafauna (Anancus arvernensus, Stephanorhinus megarhinus, Dolichopithecus sp., Paracamelus sp., Agriotherium cf. sivalensis) allowed to Dr. Nikolay Spassov (NMNHS-BAS) to date these site Early Pliocene (Late Ruscinian) (Spassov, in prep.). The ecological requirements of the established species (mastodon, rhinoceros, primate, camelid, and bear) indicate the presence of abundant grassy vegetation (possibly also arboreal) and plain landscape, which are also preferred environmental conditions to the giant land tortoises.

Initially only tentative we have referred the specimen to Cheloniidae, but the short literature reference and the inspection of the herpetologist Andrey Stoyanov (NMNHS-BAS) firmly showed that the collected specimen belongs to giant land tortoises (Testudinidae) of the “Geochelone” complex. According his appreciative estimation, the length of the carapace is 1.60–2.00 m and the width – 0.70-1.00 m. No data have been published so far about the discovery of this interesting specimen, which is the goal of present note.

Even highly fragmented, the finds of the uncovered specimen show unambiguously, that they belong to a largest reptile, established so far on the Bulgarian territory. The specimen is the largest terrestrial representative of Class Sauropsida in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. As we mentioned above, in the Tertiary the range of the group included also some neighboring regions of Southeast Europe – Crimea, Moldavia, the Ukraine and Greece. It is worthy to note, that the find from Greece, identified as Testudo sp., comes from a locality very close to Bulgarian border, vicinities of Thessaloniki, and it was dated as the same age (Ruscinian), as the Bulgarian tortoise. That is why the discovery of giant land tortoises in Bulgaria is not a sensation. It only completes the knowledge of their Neogene distribution in that part of the continent. On the other hand, their record completes the scanty data on the large terrestrial (mega) herpetofauna as a part of the extinct megafauna of Bulgaria. Having in mind the chronostratigraphical and geographical distribution, as well as the morphological and dimensional features, we tentatively refer the specimen from Tenevo to Testudo ex gr. atlas.

Galápagos giant tortoise saved from extinction by breeding programme: here.

An Australian research team discovered turtle leg bones – but not shells or skulls – on an island of Vanuatu. The bones date to just 200 years after humans’ arrival, suggesting they were hunted to extinction for their meat: here.

Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) along the Gulf Coast of Naples, Florida occupy some of the richest, most coveted terrain in the world. Digging burrows in the shadow of towering waterfront highrises, Vanderbilt Beach tortoises live on the jagged edge of luxury and extinction. No matter how loudly humans declare fascination with exotic wildlife, they can’t seem to tolerate neighbors that restrict unbridled development of every inch of shoreline: here.

17 September 1922 – Birth of Agostinho Neto, doctor, poet and first president of Angola

This video in Portuguese says about itself: ‘Poema de Agostinho Neto, com a belissima voz de Cesária Evora’.

From Alistair Boddy-Evans:

17 September 1922 – Birth of Agostinho Neto, doctor, poet and first president of Angola

Agostinho Neto was not only Angola‘s first president but he remains its most prominent poet, with his work published in several languages Neto’s poetry deals with the quest for freedom, and several of his poems were converted into liberation anthems. He is considered one of Africa’s foremost independence leaders. Neto’s birthday, 17 September, is celebrated in Angola as National Heroes Day.

“…Neto, I sing your passing, I,
Timid requisitioner of your vast
Armory’s most congenial supply.
What shall I sing? A dirge answering
The gloom? No, I will sing tearful songs
Of joy; I will celebrate
The Man who rode a trinity
Of awesome fates to the cause
Of our trampled race!
Thou Healer, Soldier, and Poet!”

From the poem Agostinho Neto from Collected Poems by Chinua Achebe, Random House, 2004.

The Poetry of Nikola Vaptsarov, Bulgaria: here.

Chinua Achebe: here.