New lizard species discovery in Sri Lanka


This video is called Monitor Lizards of Sri Lanka.

By Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa:

Scientists discover new gecko hanging-on in single forest fragment

February 17, 2014

Scientists have identified a new species of day gecko that is the largest in its genus (Cnemaspis) to be found in Sri Lanka. To date, it has been observed only within the Rammalakanda Reserve in southern Sri Lanka, an area spanning just 1,700 hectares, raising questions about the viability of this population and hence the species’ long-term prospects.

The gecko belongs to the enigmatic genus of Cnemaspis, which in 2003 contained only four representative species within Sri Lanka. Since then, scientists have discovered 18 further species in the island country, but none as large in size as this most recent discovery. Known locally as the ‘Rammale day gecko’ (Rammale pahalpalli in Tamil, and Rammale diva huna in Sinhalese), the new gecko measures around 53 millimeters from snout to vent—a small reptile to us, but a giant in comparison to other gecko species in the area.

Its most distinctive features are its large size and numerous scales on the ventral side or belly. In fact, the Rammale day gecko possesses nearly 22 percent more scales than the next closest species, Cnemaspis alwesi, while approaching the size of Cnemaspis sisparensis, the largest gecko recorded to date on the entire Indian peninsula.

Scientist Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana, and his colleagues from the Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka and the Center for applied Biodiversity Research and Education in Kandy, reported this discovery in the journal Zootaxa.

“The occurrence of such a large species in a small forest patch at the edge of the wet zone is unexpected,” they write.

Rammalakanda Forest Reserve spans the border between Hambanthota and Matara districts in southern Sri Lanka, and supports a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including 99 species that can be found only within the reserve and nowhere else. The National Conservation Review recognizes it as one of the top 70 forests requiring conservation action within Sri Lanka.

Despite the Reserve receiving some protection from the government, concerns are high for the future of this rare and cryptic species that has eluded discovery until today.

“Illegal tree felling to cultivate tea has become a major threat in the area, ” write the authors. “Tea plantations and human settlements in the surrounding areas are slowly expanding, and are encroaching towards the forest, slowly destroying the habitat of this species.”

It is unfortunate that the celebration of a newly discovered species must immediately be tempered by anxiety for its future, but this is the increasing reality for scientists and conservationists working in the world’s tropical forests. As for this gecko, in honor of the place in which it was discovered, it has been named Cnemaspis rammalensis.

Citations:

D. L. Vidanapathirana, M. D. G. Rajeev, N. Wickramasinghe, S. S. Fernando and L. J. M. Wickramasinghe. (2014) Cnemaspis rammalensis sp. nov., Sri Lanka’s largest day-gecko
 (Sauria: Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis) from Rammalakanda Man and Biosphere Reserve in southern Sri Lanka. Zootaxa 3755 (3): 273-286.

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Australian government censorship about torture


This video from Australia says about itself:

Australia deports Tamil torture victim back to Sri Lanka

2 Aug 2012

On July 26, Tamil refugee Dayan Anthony (formerly known as “Mr X” in Australia in an attempt to protect his identity from Sri Lankan authorities), was deported from Australia. He was handed over to the Sri Lankan intelligence forces – who had held Mr Anthony in custody for years, and had tortured him.

After 16 hours in custody, paraded in front of the media by his captors, he recanted all allegations of torture – despite suffering in Australia from post-traumtic stress found to be from torture, and having suffered a broken back as a result of torture.

Melbourne refugee activists and the Tamil community outline the horror of the Australian government sending a torture victim back to their oppressor – and the battle against such deportations. Get involved with http://rac-vic.org or the refugee action group in your state.

By Mike Head in Australia:

Witch-hunt against Australian ABC escalates over refugee torture allegations

8 February 2014

As evidence continues to emerge indicating that the Australian navy may have assaulted refugees, deliberately causing burns, during operations to force them back to Indonesia, the government is intensifying its witch-hunt of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) for reporting the accusations.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Wednesday demanded that the ABC apologise for broadcasting video footage of the refugees’ badly burned hands and for suggesting that the injuries supported the allegations initially made by asylum seekers to Indonesian police last month. Abbott accused the ABC for its reporting “in ways that were extremely damaging to the professionalism of our military personnel.”

Defence Minister David Johnston went further yesterday, saying he was “absolutely sick to the stomach that this iconic Australian news agency would attack the navy in the way that it has.” Describing naval personnel as “heroes,” he called for an inquiry into the ABC. At the same time he reiterated the government’s refusal to investigate the mounting evidence. In an extraordinary outburst pointing to the xenophobic nature of the government’s campaign, Johnston told the Australian newspaper that the refugees making the complaints were not “even Australian” and were “desperate people.”

The government’s campaign is aimed at defending its “Operation Sovereign Borders” policy, which is in blatant violation of refugees’ right under international law to flee persecution and oppression. More broadly, Abbott and his colleagues are attempting to bully and threaten anyone who dares call into question the use of the military to trample over fundamental legal and democratic rights.

According to the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan, the Abbott government has “internalised several lessons” from the October 2001 “children overboard” scandal, in which the previous Liberal-National government of John Howard was exposed, by leaks from sailors themselves, after it falsely claimed that refugees had thrown children into the ocean to force the navy to rescue them. The truth was that the navy, under the government’s order, had fired shots toward their boat, which sank the following day, throwing its passengers into the water (see: “Australian navy opens fire on refugee boat”).

The “children overboard” accusations, which were fully backed by the Labor Party, became a turning point in the demonisation of refugees in the lead-up to the 2001 federal election. However the lies unravelled after the election, severely discrediting Howard’s government. Sheridan said the main political lesson drawn by the Liberal Party was that “everybody started leaking” to the media—a practice that had to stop.

Backed by the corporate media, the government is creating an atmosphere of wartime-like censorship in which any criticism of the military is to be forbidden.

The government’s threats to the ABC have been directly facilitated by figures within the broadcaster itself, most notably Paul Barry, the presenter of ABC TV’s “Media Watch” program. On Monday night, Barry proclaimed that the ABC had “got it wrong” and “over-reached” by “essentially endorsing the allegations of Navy mistreatment.”

Barry’s pronouncement reflects the rightward evolution of a layer of erstwhile liberals, who previously opposed the harsh treatment of refugees. They fell into line with the previous former Gillard Labor government which cynically justified its ramped-up “border protection” regime as a humanitarian policy to prevent people dying while trying to reach Australia’s shores. Now these elements are lurching further to the right.

Barry previously acquired something of a reputation for exposing the machinations of the corporate media, writing books on former media proprietors, Alan Bond and James Packer. Now he has aligned himself with a witch-hunt orchestrated by the same forces.

Fairfax Media, a traditional small “l” liberal platform, also weighed in. A Sydney Morning Herald editorial on January 30 declared that “the ABC’s handling of the ‘burnt hands’ claims was at times boosterish” and “damaged Australia’s reputation in the region.”

Likewise, opposition leader Bill Shorten rushed to declare that the Labor Party supports the military, while criticising the government for making the navy’s job “tougher” by keeping its operations secret. Greens spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young took a similar line, complaining that the government’s secrecy was “tarnishing the navy’s reputation.”

The ABC already functions as a reliable conduit for the Australian corporate and political establishment. It initially declined to report the complaints of burns and torture, which first surfaced on Indonesian news sites on January 7, and were published by Agence France Presse the next day. It was only then that the ABC felt compelled to report them—accompanied by vehement denials by Immigration Minister Scott Morrison of any wrongdoing.

The ABC’s supposed “overreach” occurred on January 22, when it published video footage that it noted “appears to back asylum seekers’ claims of mistreatment by the Australian Navy.”

Following Barry’s “Media Watch” verdict, ABC managing director Mark Scott issued a grovelling statement, saying: “We regret if our reporting led anyone to mistakenly assume that the ABC supported the asylum seekers’ claims.” Head of ABC news content Gaven Morris issued an edict to staff, warning them not to “embellish” or add “any flourish” to claims of mistreatment by “Australian border protection forces.”

None of this satisfied the government or the Murdoch press, which want nothing less than the reduction of the ABC to a pure propaganda outfit, giving unquestioned backing to the military. When Abbott was asked whether the controversy had been ended with the ABC’s statement, he replied: “I wonder why sorry seems to be the hardest word for them.”

The government’s opposition to any investigation of the alleged crimes carried out by the Australian military underscores its readiness to abrogate the most basic democratic and legal rights. Behind a blanket of secrecy, what is happening in the waters off the Australian coast is that some of the most vulnerable members of the international working class are being subjected to military detention, physically abused and dumped at sea in flimsy craft.

This is a warning of the kind of reactionary political atmosphere and methods that the government and the entire media and political establishment are preparing against the working class as a whole. There is not one rule for asylum seekers and another for working people at home.

It is no accident that the other supposed “crime” committed by the ABC was to publish former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden’s documents. They reveal not just US-backed spying on the people and governments throughout the Asia-Pacific region, but also the police-state surveillance being carried out domestically, with the US and Australian intelligence networks monitoring the phones and social media activity of millions of people.

The Abbott government is drawing up far-reaching budget cuts to social spending and supporting sweeping attacks on jobs, wages and conditions. The brutal treatment of refugees is a warning of the methods that will be used in the future against the resistance of workers and youth to these attacks on living standards.

The author also recommends:

Australian government joins international witch-hunt of Edward Snowden
[3 February 2014]

In an interview with Sydney Morning Herald journalist Michael Bachelard published yesterday, Sudanese refugee Yousif Ibrahim Fasher provided a further eye-witness account detailing Australian naval personnel physically assaulting and punishing asylum seekers who were attempting to reach Australia by boat: here.

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New beaked whale species re-discovery


This video says about itself:

Blainville’s beaked whale / Mésoplodon de Blainville (Mesoplodon densirostris)

22 Aug 2010

Underwater footage of a unique encounter with a Blainville’s beaked whale in French Polynesia. Marine Mammal Study Group (www.gemmpacific.org).

From Wildlife Extra:

Researchers discover rare new species of deep-diving whale

Based on the study of seven animals stranded on remote tropical islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans over the past 50 years, researchers have identified a new species of the mysterious family of beaked whales.

Beaked whales, a widespread but little-known type of toothed whale, distantly related to sperm whales, are found in deep ocean waters beyond the edge of the continental shelf throughout the world’s oceans.

“They are rarely seen at sea due to their elusive habits, long dive capacity and the apparent low abundance of some species,” said Dr Merel Dalebout, the international team leader. “Understandably, most people have never heard of them.”

The first specimen of the new species was a female found on a Sri Lankan beach more than 50 years ago. On 26 January 1963, a 4.5m long, blue-grey beaked whale washed up at Ratmalana near Colombo. The then director of the National Museums of Ceylon, P.E.P (Paulus) Deraniyagala, described it as a new species, and named it Mesoplodon hotaula, after the local Singhala words for ‘pointed beak’.

However, two years later, other researchers reclassified this specimen as an existing species, Mesoplodon ginkgodens, named for the tusk-like teeth of the adult males that are shaped like the leaves of a ginkgo tree.

“Now it turns out that Deraniyagala was right regarding the uniqueness of the whale he identified. While it is closely related to the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, it is definitely not the same species,” said Dr Dalebout. “The ginkgo-toothed beaked whale is only known from about 30 strandings and has never been seen alive at sea with any certainty. It’s always incredible to me to realise how little we really do know about life in the oceans. There’s so much out there to discover. “

The researchers used a combination of DNA analysis and physical characteristics to identify the new species from seven specimens found stranded in Sri Lanka, the Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati), Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Line Islands near Hawaii, the Maldives, and the Seychelles.

With the re-discovery of Mesoplodon hotaula, there are now 22 recognised species of beaked whales.

The scientific description of the re-discovered species is here.

A total of 93 whales have become stranded on Florida beaches in the past two months, almost three times the average, reports the local news agency, the Sun Sentinel. These large numbers have baffling marine biologists, making them wonder if a deadly common denominator is at play, such as a series of cold fronts affecting Florida in the past month: here.

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Australian lizards, frog new species discoveries


This video from Queensland, Australia says about itself:

Unique biodiversity of the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve

2 July 2013

Sign the petition to help us Save Steve’s Place here.

This amazing footage features some of the unique biodiversity on the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.

The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve is a conservation property and a tribute to Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin.

The 135,000 ha property, in Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, is home to a set of important spring fed wetlands which provide a critical water source to threatened habitat, provide permanent flow of water to the Wenlock River, and is home to rare and vulnerable plants and wildlife.

Currently the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve is being threatened by strip mining.

UPDATE: Campbell Newman, the Premier of Queensland, Australia, has promised the Steve Irwin Reserve on Cape York will be protected forever from mining under new legislation: here.

From RT:

Australia’s ‘lost world’ dazzles with new species

October 28, 2013 12:57

A remote mountain range in northern Australia just gave the world three new species after sitting in isolation for millions of years – including a ‘primitive-looking’ gecko. The scientists are excited for a return, hopeful of uncovering more new species.

We now know of a peculiar leaf-tailed gecko, a golden skink lizard and a brown-spotted yellow frog – none of them previously seen.

The expedition carried out by Conrad Hoskin from James Cook University and a film crew from National Geographic was to a difficult-to-reach and previously unexplored part of the Cape York Peninsula, which previously had only been subjected to lowland studies of impassable boulder fields.

The area is covered with tons of giant black granite boulders extending vertically for hundreds of meters and the result of nature’s furious prehistoric natural processes. But atop the mountain range, recently captured by satellites, sits a rainforest previously only explored by satellites.

Mere days upon arrival, Hoskin and his crew stumbled upon not one – but three new species at the same time. “The top of Cape Melville is a lost world. Finding these new species up there is the discovery of a lifetime — I’m still amazed and buzzing from it,” Hoskin, a tropical biologist by trade, told AFP.

“Finding three new, obviously distinct vertebrates would be surprising enough in somewhere poorly explored like New Guinea, let alone in Australia, a country we think we’ve explored pretty well,” he continued, adding that a few other interesting things were uncovered that may be new to science – but declined to comment further.

Of the three new species the gecko fascinated the team the most. It was described as a “primitive-looking”, 20cm creature that is a nod to an era when rainforests were far more widespread in Australia. The pre-historic reptile also has huge eyes, with a long slender body, but all in all a very different animal to its relatives.

“The second I saw the gecko I knew it was a new species. Everything about it was obviously distinct,” he said.

The newfound Leaf-tailed Gecko names Saltuarius eximius by Hoskin as the findings were publicized in the international journal Zootoxa.

As far as differences with close relatives go, the skink is also very notable, as it displays very distinct characteristics from its geographical neighbor in the rainforests to the south.

The newly-discovered frog is creative in its use of the surrounding terrain. Because frogs require water for eggs to develop, the frog leaves them in between the moist areas of the giant boulders, far from ideal – but it works: in the absence of water, the tadpole develops fully within the egg, before hatching.

Also on the research team was a National Geographic photographer and Harvard University researcher Tim Laman, who relayed his amazement at how such discoveries are still taking place.

“What’s really exciting about this expedition is that in a place like Australia, which people think is fairly well explored, there are still places like Cape Melville where there are all these species to discover,” Laman said, adding that “there’s still a big world out there to explore.”

The team is happy at the prospect of discovering even more new species as they plan to return in a matter of months. They mentioned the possibility of new species of snails, spiders and, surprisingly enough – small mammals.

“All the animals from Cape Melville are incredible just for their ability to persist for millions of years in the same area and not go extinct. It’s just mind-blowing,” Hoskin concluded.

Rare Horned Lizards of Sri Lanka Revealed: here.

For those who discover new species, the prospect of their science being used to poach the species is a strange one: here.

Navy sonar damages whales, new research


This video is called World’s Largest Blue Whale colony – Discovered in Sri Lanka.

This video is called Cuvier’s Beaked Whales.

From the BBC:

3 July 2013 Last updated at 00:38 GMT

Blue and beaked whales affected by simulated navy sonar

By Victoria Gill, Science reporter, BBC News

Blue and beaked whales‘ behaviour is disturbed by simulated navy sonar, according to two published studies.

In two experiments, teams of researchers managed to attach tracking and sound-recording tags to 17 blue whales and two beaked whales.

They then played simulated sonar sound through an underwater speaker and measured the animals’ responses.

The findings are reported in two Royal Society journals, Proceedings B and Biology Letters.

Researchers have previously linked mass strandings and deaths of beaked whales around the world to military exercises using what is known as mid-frequency sonar. So scientists have been keen to understand if the sound harmed the animals.

The new study does not explain those strandings – the chain of events that leads to these remains unclear.

But marine mammal expert Patrick Miller, from the University of St Andrews’ Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU), who was not involved with the new study, said the results showed it would be wise for naval exercises to “avoid critical habitat areas”.

Deep divers

The beaked whale study was led by scientists also from the SMRU.

It revealed what researchers had long suspected, that man-made sound had a negative effect on these deep-diving whales. Beaked whales use sound to hunt as well as to communicate. They produce echolocation clicks as they dive up to 1.5km (1mi) in depth, picking up echoes that bounce off the bodies of the squid they are hunting.

When the scientists played the sonar sounds during their experiments, both of the tagged Cuvier’s beaked whales stopped hunting and “swam rapidly, silently away”.

Perhaps more surprising was that, in the other study, led by Jeremy Goldbogen from the Cascadia Research Collective in the US state of Washington, several blue whales also responded to the sound.

Blue whales communicate with very low-frequency sound – far below that of naval sonar. And because they do not use sound to hunt, the scientists thought they would not be affected.

Yet the whales’ responses did vary.

Animals that were feeding close to the surface showed almost no response, but animals that were diving for krill – rather than sifting the surface waters – reacted very differently.

“One animal was diving and feeding repeatedly all throughout the day,” recalled Dr Goldbogen.

“And as soon as the sound started, the animal stopped feeding and maintained a directed heading and moved away from the sound source.”

These vast animals can scoop up half a million calories’ worth of krill in one gulp as they dive, so disturbing their feeding deprives them of large amounts of energy.

“I calculated that in that time, the animal lost a metric tonne of krill,” said Dr Goldbogen.

“So if this happens a lot in these feeding hotspots, that could have real consequences.”

And currently, naval exercises are carried out in these hotspots.

The blue whales in this study, for example, were feeding in the in-shore waters of California during the summer and autumn of 2010. The study area is where the US Navy carries out regular exercises and where the whales come to build up fat stores for the long migration to their breeding grounds.

Even subtle disturbance to this vital pre-migration gorge, said Dr Goldbogen, “could have real consequences for the population health”.

“These are the biggest animals that have ever lived, so they need a huge amount of food,” he added.

‘Smartphone tags’

The detailed examination of the whales’ behaviour was made possible by the technology contained within the tracking tags.

“A lot of the same sensors that are in our smartphones are in the tags we attached to these whales,” said Dr Goldbogen.

“When you rotate your phone and the screen moves with you, that’s because there are these sensors called accelerometers and magnetometers.

“That’s how we get the information about the position of the whale.”

This resulted in detailed animations of each whale’s position, speed and movement.

But to actually put a tag onto one of these giant mammals involved a chase.

The tags are attached using suction cups, so the researchers had to use a small boat to move alongside each whale, while one member of the team used a long carbon fibre pole to “tap” the tag onto the animal’s back.

“It’s a lot easier in blue whales than some other whales, because they’re so big,” said Dr Goldbogen.

“We can programme the tag to release, so we find the tag and download the data.”

The researchers draw alongside the blue whale to “tap” the tag onto its back

This is a far trickier exercise with beaked whales, which are smaller and dive for an hour at a time.

“If you see a beaked whale and if you don’t get the tag on it, you might never see it again,” said Dr Goldbogen.

Although both studies provide clear evidence that sonar affects these rare marine mammals, the scientists say much more research is needed into the specific impacts of human activity on their environment.

Dr Miller commented: “Further research on the possible long-term impacts of these effects is needed, to evaluate whether more protection measures are required.”

Dr Goldbogen concluded: “We didn’t expect blue whales to have a strong response, so there’s clearly a dearth of basic data on how animals respond to man-made sound.

“These animals have evolved in a very different environment to the one they’re living in today.”

See also here.

Court Rules that Federal Agency Failed to Protect Thousands of Whales and Dolphins from Navy Sonar: here.

Big new spider species discovery in Sri Lanka


A male Poecilotheria rajaei

From Wildlife Extra:

New tarantula species the size of an ipad discovered in Sri Lanka

New spiders grow up to 8 inches across

April 2013. A large new species of tarantula has been discovered in Sri Lanka. At 8 inches across, the new tarantula isn’t as large as the Goliath bird eating tarantula of South America, which can grow up to 12 inches. Poecilotheria rajaei (as the new spider has been named) would still be as long as an ipad screen. It is also quite fast for a spider, and venomous.

The tarantula was discovered back in 2009 when a villager in Mankulam, up in the northern part of Sri Lanka, provided Ranil Nanayakkara (Co-founder of the Biodiversity Education And Research (BEAR) organisation) with a dead male specimen. Further live specimens were then found in the village’s former doctor’s living quarters. It was quickly established that it was different to any species known from Sri Lanka at that time.

This group of tarantulas are commonly referred to variously as the Indian and Sri Lankan Ornamental Tarantulas, Parachute Spiders, Tiger Spiders, etc. but the scientific name is Poecilotheria rajaei (named after Inspector Michael Rajakumar Purajah – who was instrumental in allowing Ranil and his team access to the areas they needed to get to). It is an arboreal tarantula, so in its natural habitat it prefers to live in holes in trees or similar such crevices.

It belongs to a group of brightly coloured tarantulas from India and Sri Lanka which we can differentiate from one another by the pattern of black bands on the underside of their legs and, in this particular species and one other, a pale, ventral abdominal band.

Adapted to living in houses!

It is the first of what we believe are several new species of tarantula that have been located in this previously inaccessible region of Sri Lanka. Although this species is scarce as a consequence of its natural habitat having been destroyed, it has been able to adapt and has started to encroach on the ‘artificial trees’ that human habitation provides.

Our thanks to The British Tarantula Society & Ranil Nanayakkara.