Rhesus monkeys and generosity, research


This video about rhesus macaques is called Monkey Troop Mourns Loss of Baby.

From the Indo-Asian News Service:

Even monkey brains are wired to give

Monday 24th December, 2012

Researchers have found, as the season for giving sets in, that even monkey brains respond to the act of giving.

During a task involving rhesus macaques, three distinct areas of the brain were found to be involved in weighing benefits to oneself against benefits to the other, according to Duke University researchers.

The team used sensitive electrodes to detect the activity of individual neurons (nerve cells) as the animals weighed different scenarios, whether to reward themselves, the other monkey or nobody at all, the journal Nature Neuroscience reports.

Calculating the social aspects of the reward system seems to be a combination of action by two centres involved in calculating all sorts of rewards and a third centre that adds the social dimension, says Michael Platt, director of the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences who led the study, according to a Duke statement.

Using a computer screen to allocate juice rewards, the monkeys preferred to reward themselves first and foremost. But they also chose to reward the other monkey when it was either that or nothing for either of them.

They also were more likely to give the reward to a monkey they knew over one they didn’t, and preferred to give to lower status than higher status monkeys, and had almost no interest in giving the juice to an inanimate object.

British war department’s cruel animal experiments


This video from Britain says about itself:

May 17, 2012

During 2004, two UK television documentaries were produced which investigated the past activities of the UK Government’s Biological Warfare facility at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

The programmes revealed that scientists from Porton Down had used the UK as a vast outdoor laboratory during the Cold War. From 1950 to 1975, Porton scientists had clandestinely sprayed massive amounts of live bacteria (Serratia marcescens, E. coli MRE162 and Bacillus subtilis) and several tons of chemical compounds (such as Zinc Cadmium sulphide) over large parts of the UK.

The first programme shows – how Royal Enfield workers in an underground factory at Westwood Quarry were repeatedly exposed to an opportunistic pathogen in the early 1950s; how members of the public travelling on a regular railway train on the Salisbury-Exeter line were sprayed with live bacteria by Porton scientists while travelling through a tunnel; how the city of Salisbury was ‘attacked’ during August of 1960 with large amounts of a cadmium compound: and how Porton sceintists conducted the large, and now infamous, series of experiments – known as the Lyme Bay Trials.

The latter experiments exposed millions of UK residents to massive aerosols of live bacteria (E.coli and Bacillus subtilis) during the years 1963-1975. The huge bacterial clouds were sprayed from an Admiralty ship – ETV ICEWHALE – and were carried onshore by the wind and sampled by Porton scientists up to 50 miles inland. Athough this research was meant to be of a defensive nature, the official Porton film of these experiments stated: “Whilst these trials were designed for specific research purposes, they demonstrated, in a striking way, the feasibility of small-scale biological warfare. An appreciable dose of viable bacteria was achieved over an area greater than 1,000 square miles, by the release of only 120 gallons of suspension”.

From the (Conservative) Daily Telegraph in Britain, about the British Department of War … oops-a-daisy … ‘defence’:

Rise in animal experiments at defence laboratory

Almost 10,000 experiments were conducted on animals, including monkeys and pigs, at the Porton Down military research base last year, it has been revealed.

By Telegraph reporters

3:35PM GMT 18 Dec 2012

The number of animal tests carried out at the top-secret facility in Wiltshire increased by 300 since 2010 and by more than 1,000 since 2009.

Currently 21 licensed animal procedures are under way at Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL).

Most of these fall into the “substantial” severity category which may cause “significant or prolonged animal suffering”.

Six of the projects cover work funded directly by US defence agencies.

The details were disclosed in a series of written answers from junior defence minister Philip Dunne.

He was responding to parliamentary questions tabled by Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock, the member for Portsmouth South.

Mr Hancock said he was shocked by the statistics which, until now, were never made generally public.

Last month the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection highlighted “disturbing and cruel” experiments at Porton Down, said to include live pigs being blasted with explosives and forced to inhale mustard gas, monkeys being infected with anthrax and guinea pigs being killed with nerve agent.

Mr Dunne, the minister responsible for defence science and technology, listed the number of animal procedures undertaken at DSTL Porton Down over the last three years.

The figure has risen from 8,452 in 2009 to 9,582 in 2010 and 9,882 last year, he revealed.

The animals involved were pigs, rabbits, monkeys and rodents.

All scientific experiments on animals, including those at Porton Down, have to be licensed by the Home Office under the proviso that suffering is minimised as much as possible.

Procedures are graded according to the severity of harm or suffering they inflict.

Of the 21 “active” projects at Porton Down, four are “unclassified”, three are “mild”, six are “moderate” and eight are categorised as “substantial”, said Mr Dunne.

A moderate procedure may cause animals a “noticeable degree of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm”, according to the Home Office definition. Substantial severity “may cause a major departure from the animal’s usual state of health or well-being with significant or prolonged animal suffering”.

Mr Hancock said: “I was shocked to learn that almost 10,000 animal experiments are taking place at Porton Down every year, including ones inflicting substantial levels of suffering.

“The details were not included in the annual statistics published by the Home Office and many people will be totally unaware that this suffering is occurring.

“It is important that the Ministry of Defence routinely gives more information on its use of animals so the public can be fully informed.”

BUAV chief executive Michelle Thew said: “It is alarming that almost 10,000 animal experiments for military purposes took place in 2011 and that many animals were subjected to the most extreme suffering categorised by the Government.

“Some of the animal research conducted at Porton Down was even funded by the US defence agencies.

“The BUAV is calling for an end to the use of animals, including monkeys and pigs in these gruesome experiments. We need to ensure the safety of soldiers and civilians but the answer does not lay in blowing up or exposing animals to lethal chemical warfare and nerve agents.”

A REPORT published by the Ministry of Defence admitted that some trials of chemical agents on human volunteers at Porton Down from the 1940s to the 1970s involved “serious departures” from ethical standards: here.

Mammals threatened by climate change


Mammals and storms, climate map

Mammals and drouight, climate map

From Wildlife Extra:

Disaster map predicts bleak future for mammals

Mammals are in for a stormy ride as cyclones and droughts caused by climate change could threaten populations

December 2012. Mammals could be at a greater risk of extinction due to predicted increases in extreme weather conditions according to some new research. Scientists have mapped out land mammal populations, and overlapped this with information of where droughts and cyclones are most likely to occur. This allowed them to identify species at high risk of exposure to extreme weather. The paper describes the results of assessing almost six thousand species of land mammals in this way.

Cyclones & droughts

Lead author of the paper, ZSL’s Eric Ameca y Juárez says: “Approximately a third of the species assessed have at least a quarter of their range exposed to cyclones, droughts or a combination of both. If these species are found to be highly susceptible to these conditions, it will lead to a substantial increase in the number of mammals classified as threatened by the IUCN under the category ‘climate change and severe weather’.”

Primates in particular are in danger

In particular, primates – already among the most endangered mammals in the world – are highlighted as being especially at risk. Over 90 per cent of black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and Yucatan spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi yucatanensis) known habitats have been damaged by cyclones in the past, and studies have documented ways they are able to adapt to the detrimental effects of these natural disasters.

Madagascar

In contrast, very little is known about the impacts of these climatic extremes on other species. In Madagascar, entire known distributions of the western woolly lemur (Avahi occidentalis) and the golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) have been exposed to both cyclones and drought. These endangered species are also amongst the world’s most evolutionary distinct, yet remain highly understudied.

ZSL’s research fellow Dr Nathalie Pettorelli says: “This is the first study of its kind to look at which species are at risk from extreme climatic events. There are a number of factors which influence how an animal copes with exposure to natural disasters. It is essential we identify species at greatest risk so that we can better inform conservation management in the face of global environmental change.”

The study was published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in the journal Conservation Letters.

Rare Indian monkeys helped by rope bridges


This video from India is called The Golden Langur Conservation Project.

From Wildlife Extra:

New rope bridges helping to save endangered Golden langurs in India

Connecting canopies – ropeways to save the endangered langurs – Courtesy of The Wildlife Trust of of India

November 2012: As humans make an ever increasing indelible mark on the work, wildlife is constricted into smaller and small, and more and more fragmented habitats. In a few places, some allowance is now being made for the needs of wildlife when major obstacles are constructed. Wildlife over and under passes are becoming more common on major roads, fish ladders have been around for many years, and ropeways, already in use in Africa and Australia, have now been installed in a small corner of India to allow endangered Golden langurs to cross a large highway.

Golden langurs – endemic to the Indo-Bhutan region, have been using ropeways to safely cross a 500-m stretch of road near Chakrasila Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS). The stretch of road had claimed numerous golden langurs in the last few years, but since the installation of the ropeways in January this 2012, no death due to accidents on the road has been reported.

Golden langur

The golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) is an endangered primate with its distribution restricted between the Manas and Sonkosh rivers, in Assam. Its range includes The Chakrasila Wildlife Sanctuary and parts of Bhutan. It feeds on fruits, leaves, seeds, flowers etc. It is listed under schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

On the northern boundary of Chakrasila, the 500-m road separates the sanctuary from plantation forests used by the resident langurs as an extension of their habitat. The langurs were compelled to descend on to the ground and cross the road risking accidents, attacks by feral dogs or even poaching.

“Golden langurs are essentially arboreal and are not agile on ground. What we know is that there were 10 cases of these magnificent animals killed in this stretch since 2005 as per our records. Who knows how many cases went undetected, or how many other individuals lost to other causes due to this fragmentation,” said Dr Bhaskar Choudhury of the International Fund for Animal Welfare – Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI).

As part of their Greater Manas Conservation Project, the Bodoland authorities and IFAW-WTI initiated a Rapid Action Project (RAP) in January this year to help save the langurs. Ropeways of bamboo and ropes were created and strategically placed between canopies of trees in areas regularly used by the langurs to cross over. These ropeways were placed at a height of 60 m from the ground.

“Initially, understandably the langurs hesitated to use these bridges. But now they appear to have been habituated and are frequently seen to use them,” said Dr Panjit Basumatary, IFAW-WTI veterinarian who brought the issue to light.

“This shows the extent of fragmentation of natural habitats and the difficulties faced by wildlife. Nothing would be better than natural contiguous canopy, but such interventions are becoming more and more common and the only way out in many of the cases,” said primatologist Mayukh Chatterjee.

Rare Brazilian monkey, good and bad news


This video is called Northern Muriqui – Brachyteles hypoxanthus.

From ScienceDaily:

Surprising Demographic Shifts in Endangered Monkey Population Challenge Conservation Expectations

(Sep. 18, 2012) — At first glance, the northern muriqui monkey is a prime conservation success story. These Brazilian primates are critically endangered, but in the past 30 years a population on a private reserve has grown from just 60 individuals to some 300, now comprising almost a third of the total remaining animals.

As the population grows, though, it is offering researchers a glimpse into a new phase of recovery as it begins to face the limitations of its habitat. A recent analysis of the factors contributing to this population’s tremendous growth reveals surprising trends that raise new questions about conservation, recovery and what constitutes a healthy population.

University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist Karen Strier has led observational field studies of this muriqui population for 30 years, meticulously charting demographics and life history of hundreds of individual monkeys. An analysis, published Sept. 17 in the journal PLOS ONE with UW-Madison mathematical ecologist Anthony Ives, provides the most comprehensive, quantitative look to date at long-term demographic trends and the role of individual features such as fertility, mortality, and sex ratios.

The researchers used statistical models designed to handle multiple levels of data so they could construct a comprehensive view of the population while still accounting for variation among individual animals. The approach allowed them to identify specific demographic trends and their effects on the overall population size.

“By separating out these components we were able to see the patterns in the data,” Strier says, many of which were unexpected. For example, the analyses revealed increases in both fertility and mortality — a surprising combination, especially in a population that is still growing. In addition, they documented a remarkable and unexplained shift in infant birth sex ratios from about one-third male to two-thirds male in just 28 years.

“It is an analysis that leads to more questions than answers,” Ives says. A birth rate that continues to grow as the population expands flies in the face of most ecological thinking, he says, since demand for resources by larger populations usually reduces fertility. But without the observed fertility increases, the muriqui population would likely have plateaued around 200 individuals; instead, it has reached 300 and is still growing.

Strier believes the trends may be driven by behavioral changes. Though muriquis are typically arboreal animals, her field team has observed increased use of the ground — first for drinking and eating, then gradually for traveling, playing, and even mating. These data are still qualitative, but she suspects this behavioral innovation could help explain the rises in both fertility and mortality. The ground expands the monkeys’ pool of available habitat and food resources but exposes them to additional dangers as well.

“On the ground, there are risks. We suspect there may be more pathogenic risks, and we know there are more predators,” she says. Supporting a connection, mortality increased primarily in prime-aged males, who spend more time on the ground than females. “I’ve always thought it was increasing population size that was driving this increasing use of the ground, but never thought about what the potential consequences of the use of the ground might be for the population’s rate of growth,” she adds.

The apparent interactions between demography and behavior emphasize the need for ongoing population monitoring, Strier says. Her long-term study, in collaboration with Brazilian colleagues including biologist Sergio Mendes of the Universidade Federal do Espirito Santo, is showing that assumptions about population dynamics based on past observations may not hold true in the future.

Ives views the results as a cautionary tale for other threatened and endangered species, the vast majority of which are not monitored anywhere near as closely as Strier’s muriquis.

“From the conservation standpoint I think a main message is, don’t presume that the demographics will respond in a ‘normal’ way,” he says. “Even if an area is protected you need to have a close gauge on what’s going on. Protecting an area is not necessarily protecting a species.”

Strier agrees that the analysis raises important questions about environmental carrying capacity — basically, how large of a population a habitat can support. “How long will it be able to grow, and if it does continue to grow, is it in danger of crashing?” she asks.

These are critical questions when considering management decisions, she adds, especially given that her study population represents a third of the entire muriqui species. On paper, population growth alone can look like success, but their demographic analysis reveals early indications of stress even as the population continues to expand.

At the same time, Strier says, their studies suggest a solution. “We know exactly what we need to do to alleviate it — expand the area, and there is area to expand the forest into. In a world with so many unsolvable problems, this seems like a solvable one.”

Fact Attack: Endangered Species No. 105 – Northern Muriqui: here.

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Another milestone for this blog


This is a Spanish video on the new monkey species discovery.

I have to thank the newly discovered owl faced monkey species from Congo again.

My blog post on this discovery not only caused my blog to have the highest number of visitors on one day ever since the blog moved to WordPress. It also made last week the week with most visits ever.

New record visitors’ number for this blog


Yesterday saw a new record number of visitors at this blog, at least since the move to WordPress.

For the first time, over 1,000 a day: 1,064.

As I wrote, for my earlier record number of visitors I had to thank a dinosaur, extinct for 75 million years, which I had blogged about.

For the new record, I have to thank a new owl faced monkey species, recently discovered in Congo. Fortunately, it is not extinct yet, and I hope that it will not become so.

This video is on the monkey discovery.

New African monkey species discovered


Adult pelage coloration. Portraits are of a captive adult male Cercopithecus hamlyni (upper left), photo by Noel Rowe, with permission; and captive adult male Cercopithecus lomamiensis (upper right). Credit: doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044271

The new species Cercopithecus lomamiensis turned out to be different from the species Cercopithecus hamlyni, the owl faced monkey, which was already known.

From the Public Library of Science:

Researchers have identified a new species of African monkey, locally known as the lesula, described in the Sep. 12 issue of the open access journal PLOS ONE. This is only the second new species of African monkey discovered in the last 28 years.

The first lesula found was a young captive animal seen in 2007 in a school director’s compound in the town of Opala in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The young monkey bore a resemblance to the owl faced monkey, but its coloration was unlike that of any other known species. Over the following three years, the study authors located additional lesula in the wild, determined its genetic and anatomical distinctiveness, and made initial observations of its behavior and ecology, as reported in the PLOS ONE paper.

The new species’ range covers about 6,500 square miles in central DRC, in what was one of Congo’s last biologically unexplored forest blocks. Although its range is remote and only lightly settled at present, the lesula is threatened by local bush meat hunting. “The challenge for conservation now in Congo is to intervene before losses become definitive,” say John and Terese Hart, who led the project. “Species with small ranges like the lesula can move from vulnerable to seriously endangered over the course of just a few years.”

See also here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.