Chimpansee almost died, now freed


This video from Congo says about itself:

Wounda’s Journey: Jane Goodall releases chimpanzee into forest

17 Dec 2013

This video documents the story of Wounda, one of the more than 160 chimpanzees living at the Jane Goodall Institute’s Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Center in the Republic of Congo.

Thanks to the expert care provided at Tchimpounga, Wounda overcame significant adversity and illness and was recently relocated to Tchindzoulou Island, one of three islands that are part of the newly expanded sanctuary. Dr. Jane Goodall was on hand to witness Wounda’s emotional release, and now you can too.

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Four new African mammal species discovered


This video is called Fruit Bats in the Congo.

From the Field Museum in the USA today:

Four new mammal species discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo

32 minutes ago

Julian Kerbis Peterhans, a Roosevelt University professor and adjunct curator at The Field Museum who has conducted extensive studies on mammals in Africa, has announced the discovery of four new species of small mammals in the eastern section of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mammals were found during an expedition to the Misotshi-Kabogo highlands led by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and in another nearby forest with the Centre de Recherche en Sciences Naturelles (CRSN) Lwiro – areas that were previously unexplored. “Our discoveries demonstrate the need for conserving this isolated reservoir of biodiversity,” Kerbis said.

“Three new species from a single forest (with a fourth from a nearby forest) is quite unique,” Kerbis added. “More often such finds would be made on island ecosystems. However, the highlands in which these species reside are isolated from adjacent forests and mountains by savannah habitats and low elevation streams.”

In two new papers published in the German journal Bonn Zoological Bulletin, Kerbis and his colleagues describe the two new species of shrews and the two new species of bats.

WCS and CRSN scientists together with Trento Science Museum in Italy are in the process of describing three new frog species and possibly a new chameleon from the same area from these surveys. The team also confirmed the presence of a unique squirrel and monkey whose existence had been recorded in historical surveys and collections dating from the 1950s.

Remarkably, all of these species were found during the course of a short survey of less than 30 days in 2007. “Given the clear importance of this site, we are working closely with the local communities and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to protect this unique area,” reported Dr. Andrew Plumptre, director of WCS’s Albertine Rift Program. “The local community has elected to create a new national park here to protect these unique species, but concerns over mining concessions that have been granted in the area are hampering its creation.”

Kerbis’ colleagues included scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (New York) the Centre de Recherché des Sciences Naturelles (Lwiro, Democratic Republic of Congo) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

See also here.

Good African gorilla news


This is a western lowland gorilla video from the Central African Republic.

From Wildlife Extra:

Gorillas reintroduced into Congo & Gabon are thriving

October 2013. The Aspinall Foundation’s reintroduction of western lowland gorillas to areas of Africa where they have been hunted to extinction appears to be working, according to a new scientific study.

Critically Endangered

Western lowland gorillas are classified by the World Conservation Union as Critically Endangered, based on a projected 80% decline in the wild over just three generations, ranking them alongside the most threatened species on the planet. Reintroduction of gorillas to protected areas from where they have previously been exterminated is still considered controversial, but a pioneering, long-term programme to do just that is starting to show it may be possible after all.

Congo & Gabon

Two gorilla populations are currently in the process of being re-established in the neighbouring African republics of Congo and Gabon, by the UK-based charity The Aspinall Foundation in collaboration with the respective governments.

Fifty-one gorillas were released between 1996 and 2006, 25 in the Lesio-Louna Reserve in Congo, and 26 in the Batéké Plateau National Park in Gabon. Most of the released gorillas are rehabilitated orphans of the illegal bush-meat trade, taken as young babies from their slaughtered mothers by opportunistic hunters. The majority of orphaned gorillas die of depression and mistreatment, but a few survive long-enough to be confiscated and handed over to long-term rehabilitation programmes.

In the Gabon project, in addition to the wild-born orphans the released gorillas also include seven captive-borns, sent back to Africa from The Aspinall Foundation’s successful captive-breeding population at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks in the UK.

Good levels of survival, births and dispersal

Dedicated field staff have been monitoring the released gorillas for over ten years at both reintroduction sites. A previous analysis, published in 2012 in the International Journal of Primatology, illustrated that the reintroduction programme had been successful in terms of post-release survival, birth rates and dispersal, all of which were comparable with wild populations. The new study goes a step further, using this information to develop a computer simulation model of the growth of the two reintroduced gorilla populations over a 200-year period.

Lead author of the new study, The Aspinall Foundation’s Conservation and Reintroduction Co-ordinator Tony King, explained, “We have seen with our own eyes the remarkable ways in which the released gorillas adapt to their new homes, and have celebrated numerous successful births to orphaned gorillas who never had the chance of a normal upbringing in a gorilla family – but this is the first time that we have put all this together to help predict the future success of the reintroductions.”

3 more gorillas released

The results of the study suggest that the reintroduced gorilla populations have a good chance of sustaining themselves for 200 years and more, but illustrated that reinforcement of the populations by further releases could significantly improve probabilities of population persistence and retention of genetic diversity. Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, said, “This is incredibly useful information. Only last week three more gorillas were released in Gabon, and we are currently preparing an entire family group for imminent release.”

Slow reproduction

Developing the model was a challenge. “Gorillas can live for over forty years, usually don’t reproduce until they are at least 10 years old, and females produce one surviving off-spring only every five years or so,” added co-author Christelle Chamberlan, who has worked with both reintroduced lowland gorilla populations and the wild mountain gorillas of Rwanda. “Even after a decade of monitoring our released gorillas, there are still many aspects of their life-history patterns that we don’t know. We tested our model to see which factors were most significant in changing the predicted success of the reintroduction. Relatively small changes to annual birth rates or to female survival rates made big changes to the predicted long-term growth of the populations. Good numbers of healthy, reproducing female gorillas are therefore critical to population persistence.”

“It is definitely an ambitious project,” King concluded. “Results so far have exceeded most expectations. The gorillas are still living on a knife-edge though. Small reintroduced populations are always susceptible to crashes due to random changes in any number of factors. We plan to release more gorillas at both sites, which will increase the chances that the populations will survive. In reality we are still only just beginning.”

The study was published in the international conservation journal Oryx.

British cuckoos arrive in Congo


This video from England says about itself:

21 Aug 2013

Discover more about the story of cuckoos on Dartmoor and hear about an exciting project that will be tracking their migration to Africa.

From Wildlife Extra:

BTO cuckoos now in Congo Rainforest

Cuckoos have reached their wintering grounds

October 2013. Since the last update there has been a flurry of activity as the BTO Cuckoos have moved further south. The cuckoo called Nick’s tag has not been heard from for a while but regular transmissions are still coming in from all the others. There are now five Cuckoos in the heart of the Congo Rainforest; Chris, Waller, David, Livingstone and Tor.

Chris

Chris is now in the area in Congo that he has spent most of the last two mid-winter periods, close to Congo’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). He arrived here on 26 September, just a day later than he arrived at this location last year.

Waller

Waller has travelled south to the DRC and for a short time was our most southerly Cuckoo. He is only 115km (71 miles) to the east of Chris’s location (and a little south), with the Congo River running between the two positions.

David – Further south

David has also been busy. From his position in Sudan he flew over the Central African Republic to arrive in the Salong National Park in DRC by 5 October. He’s roughly 160km (100 miles) north of the area he wintered in last year, having arrived on 24 October 2012. This wintering location is one of the furthest south we have seen from our Cuckoos since the beginning of the project. Only a small number of tagged Cuckoos have flown that far south, including David in 2012, Lloyd in 2012 and Kasper in 2011.

Livingstone

Livingstone has recently joined the list, however, heading directly south from his location in the Central African Republic. By 6 October he was close to the Odzala-Kokoua National Park in northern Congo. From here he travelled further south, joining David and our other very southerly wintering Cuckoos.

Other cuckoos

Just further north of those five in the rainforest, Skinner is close, by on the outer edges. Having backtracked to Niger, by 3 October he had carried on to central Nigeria. A series of locations later that evening show him continuing on into Cameroon, continuing to travel south during the 5 and 6 October. His most recent location on 8 October places him 88km (55 miles) north of Cameroon’s border with Congo. It’s likely it won’t be too long before he heads into the depths of the forest too.

The latest movements include Patch’s movement of 1000km (600 miles) from Chad to Cameroon. At first a signal indicated he was in DRC but we were surprised to see that further signals received on 9 October showed that Patch had moved from DRC to Cameroon, a distance of over 1000km (620 miles), in less than an hour! Clearly this was very odd. As these signals in Cameroon continued, it was clear to see that the location pinpointed in DRC was an error location and that Patch was most definitely in Cameroon. He will have moved here directly from Chad (and not via DRC), which is a distance of over 1000km (600 miles).

Whortle covered 730km (450 miles) southwards within Nigeria and yesterday morning was in the Cross River region of southern Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Sussex and Ken are still both in Central African Republic. Chance and Derek, in northern Nigeria, and BB, in southern Chad, are currently our most northerly Cuckoos. We have heard from all the Cuckoos in the last ten days except for Nick. His last location was on 24 September from Cameroon. Could this mean he is feeding up and getting ready to make his move south? Keep an eye on the blogs for more information next week.

Take a look at the blogs and maps at www.bto.org/cuckoos.

How Birds Cooperate to Defeat Cuckoos: here.

UN Secretary-General Hammarskjöld murdered for anti-colonialism?


Dag Hammarskjöld

On 18 September 1961, Dag Hammarskjöld, Swedish Secretary-General of the United Nations, died in what was then the British colony Northern Rhodesia (now: Zambia). His plane crashed, killing all people on board either immediately, or a few hours, or a few days later.

An accident? Murder? Views on this differ sharply. Wikipedia notes that official investigations and search and rescue in Northern Rhodesia after the plane crashed were iffy.

Who might have had a motive for killing the United Nations Secretary-General; and, if so, what motive? Dag Hammarskjöld at the time of his death was trying to find a solution for the war in Congo. In 1960, Congo became officially independent from Belgium. However, Belgian big business, establishment politicians and “intelligence” services wanted to basically carry on ruling Congo, now from behind the scenes: from colonialism to neo-colonialism. The democratically elected prime minister of Congo, Patrice Lumumba, opposed that. This led to war in Congo. In 1961, Lumumba was murdered; with complicity of the Belgian secret service and the CIA, later research says.

After the news of Hammarskjöld’s death, a press release issued by the Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo stated that, “… in order to pay a tribute to this great man, now vanished from the scene, and to his colleagues, all of whom have fallen victim to the shameless intrigues of the great financial Powers of the West… the Government has decided to proclaim Tuesday, 19 September 1961, a day of national mourning.”

So, the government of Congo suspected murder by Western spying … sorry, I am supposed to use euphemisms … intelligence services.

Wikipedia says:

His [Hammarskjöld's] efforts towards the decolonisation of Africa were considered insufficient by the Soviet Union …

However, hardline pro-colonialists in Belgium, Britain and other NATO countries rather thought Hammarskjöld did too much for decolonisation.

United States President John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld “the greatest statesman of our century”. Not everyone in the United States government may have agreed with that view.

On 19 August 1998, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), stated that recently uncovered letters had implicated the British MI5, the American CIA, and then South African intelligence services in the crash of Hammarskjöld’s plane.

From The Local in Sweden:

NSA may hold key to Dag Hammarskjöld mystery

Published: 9 Sep 2013 15:42 CET

Investigators into Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld’s mysterious death have appealed to the US National Security Agency (NSA) for intercepted radio communications from the Swede’s fatal plane crash in Zambia, 1961.

The then Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld, died during the night of September 17th

Wikipedia says September 18th

1961 in a plane crash in what is now Zambia, where he was headed to mediate in the ongoing conflict in neighbouring The Congo.

The diplomat’s death has been the subject of numerous rumours and conspiracy theories over the past five decades centred around whether the crash was an accident, or if Hammarskjöld was killed.

Evidence available has left investigators puzzled, with pilot error deemed unlikely after witnesses claimed to have seen the plane going down on fire.

Investigators who probed the case urged the United Nations on Monday to launch a new investigation into the crash, stating that the possibility that the plane was attacked from above, or that it was forced down due to threats, should be “taken seriously, despite everything”.

The team of investigators, which was led by four senior lawyers including diplomat Hans Corell, appealed to the Unites States to declassify documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) including radio communications and intercepts of war planes in the area at the time.

The commission added that it was a “near certainty” that all air traffic information around the airport was “followed and recorded by the NSA and possibly even the CIA”. Access to such files has been denied by the NSA due to the “top secret” classification, something the commission wants to be lifted to further the investigation.

A recent book by the author Susan Williams entitled Who Killed Hammarskjöld? also argued that the plane was brought down, and prompted the diplomat’s nephew Knut Hammarskjöld to call for the new inquiry.

Newly released evidence on the death of UN chief and renowned Swedish statesman Dag Hammarskjöld, including previously unseen pictures of his corpse, has caused the author of an official inquiry to question his own claims that the death was an accident: here.

Hero shrew discovery in Congo


This video is called New species of super-strong ‘Hero Shrew’ discovered.

From Wildlife Extra:

New species of ‘super shrew’ discovered in Africa

New super strong species of Hero shrew may be able to lift rocks & logs to get to food

July 2013. Scientists at Chicago’s Field Museum and international collaborators have described a new species of Hero shrew (Scutisorex thori) – the mammal with the most bizarre lower spine on Earth. The interlocking vertebrae of the Hero Shrew render the spine four to five times more robust relative to body mass, a condition not found in any other mammal. The spine has been an enigma to evolutionary biologists, with no known adaptive significance.

First discovered in 1910, the Hero shrew’s most notable feature was not revealed for another seven years, when a specimen was dissected to reveal the most peculiar backbone of any mammal. The remarkable spine of the Hero shrew is unique among mammals, in that the lower vertebrae have multiple lateral processes that interlock with the processes of neighbouring vertebra. The arrangement, along with surrounding musculature, affords the animal extraordinary strength, so much so that the Hero shrew has traditionally been worn as a talisman.

“This shrew first came to light when explorers came to the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Bill Stanley, Director of Collections and zoologist at the Field Museum. “The explorers watched in amazement as a full-grown man stood on the back of the Hero shrew, and the animal walked away, unharmed.”

Until now, there have been no other species of this bizarre shrew. The new species described in this study represents a possible intermediate between the original Hero shrew and other shrews, since is possesses an interlocking spine, but with fewer lower vertebrae and lateral processes than the first Hero Shrew species.

This new species of Hero shrew, named Scutisorex thori, possesses features that may represent intermediate character states between the only other known Hero shrew species (Scutisorex somereni), and other shrews.

“You and I have five lumbar vertebrae,” said Stanley. “And so do most other mammals, but the Hero shrew has at least 10. Scutisorex thori has eight vertebrae, and fewer lateral processes than the original species.”

Collected in Democratic Republic of Congo

The specimen of the new Hero shrew species was collected in the lowland forest near the Tshuapa River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Based on the observations of one of the co-authors on the study, the authors present a novel hypothesis for the functional significance of the spine of Scutisorex thori; they suggest that these shrews position themselves between the trunk and leaf bases of Palms, and use their unique spine to exert force and gain access to concentrated sources of beetle larvae that are otherwise protected from predation. The same adaptation may allow these animals to lift logs or rocks to access invertebrates – a food resource that remains unavailable to many other mammals.

The specimen of Scutisorex thori now residing at The Field Museum is a holotype, meaning that it will be the standard for identifying other members of the species. The new species is named in honour of Thorvald “Thor” Holmes, Jr. of the Humboldt State University Vertebrate Museum, at the suggestion of Bill Stanley, who did his graduate work there. The suggested common name is “Thor’s Hero shrew”, appropriately invoking Thor, the god of strength in Norse mythology.

A novel hypothesis for the function of the animal’s expanded lower spine has been proposed. The study will be published [in the] July 24, 2013 edition of Biology Letters.

New African mole rat species discovery


African mole-rat (Fukomys sp.) in a cardboard tube. Mole-rats are subterranean rodents

From Wildlife Extra:

April 2013. Two new mammal species have recently been discovered on different continents, a porcupine from north-eastern Brazil, and a mole rat from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.

The new species of mole-rat, Fukomys vandewoestijneae, is described from an area on the Zaïre-Zambezi watershed. Its known distribution is limited to the Ikelenge pedicle of Zambia and adjacent areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and presumably Angola. Colonies of this social mole-rat were observed in the chanas (dambos), degraded miombo woodland and in villages.

More information can be found in the online journal Zootaxa.