Elephants comfort distressed herd mates

This video is called Asian Elephants Console The Distressed.

From Wildlife Extra:

Asian elephants reassure each other when distressed

February 2014: Asian elephants console others who are in distress, using physical touches and vocalizations just like humans, say scientists.

The findings are the first empirical evidence of consolation in elephants, “For centuries, people have observed that elephants seem to be highly intelligent and empathic animals, but as scientists we need to actually test it,” says lead author Joshua Plotnik of Emory University.

A group of 26 captive Asian [elephants] at an elephant camp in northern Thailand were observed for nearly a year by the researchers, who recorded stress incidences of individuals and the responses from other nearby elephants.

“With their strong social bonds, it’s not surprising that elephants show concern for others,” says co-author Frans de Waal, an Emory professor of psychology and director of Living Links at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “This study demonstrates that elephants get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset.”

The study found that nearby elephants would then comfort the distressed individual through directed, physical contact which often included using their trunk to gently touch the distressed elephant’s face, or put its trunk in the other animal’s mouth, in a move a bit like a handshake or hug.

Plotnik says. “It’s a very vulnerable position to put yourself in, because you could get bitten. It may be sending a signal of, ‘I’m here to help you, not hurt you.’”

In addition, elephants frequently responded to the distress signals of other elephants by adopting a similar body or emotional state, a phenomenon known as “emotional contagion,” which may be related to empathy. Groups of nearby elephants also were more likely to bunch together, or make physical contact with each other.

The current elephant study’s limitations include the fact that it was restricted to captive animals. “This study is a first step,” Plotnik says. “I would like to see this consolation capacity demonstrated in wild populations as well.”

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Rare spoon-billed sandpiper in Thailand

This video says about itself:

Spoon-billed Sandpiper: Foraging

The common foraging behaviors of Spoon-billed Sandpipers on the breeding grounds differ significantly from their behaviors on the wintering grounds. Birds move more slowly and pick food items — invertebrates and small amounts of plant material – from the surface in a fashion similar to most other small sandpipers. In this segment, a mated pair forages along the edge of a snow-melt pond during the egg-laying period of their nesting cycle.

Video includes commentary by The Cornell Lab’s Gerrit Vyn.

Filmed June 9, 2011 near Meinypilgyno, Chukotka, Russia.

Birdwatcher Raphael Lebrun from Belgium, while in Pak Thale in Thailand, spotted a rare spoon-billed sandpiper yesterday.

Hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper travels 8,000km

This video says about itself:

Journey of Spoon-billed Sandpiper

27 June 2013

The aim of the project was to promote the conservation of a Critically Endangered bird species called Spoon-billed Sandpiper. The population is now less than 200 pairs. Each year, this small shorebird has to fly from their breeding ground at Siberia, Russia down to South East Asia for wintering. The main threats it is facing are intertidal habitat loss throughout its migratory and wintering ranges, as well as bird trapping.

This project involved 500 children and helpers from 12 areas and 8 countries (Russia, Republic of Korea, Japan, mainland China, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh). Children helped colouring the animation one picture by one picture. About 1200 pictures were coloured.

The project was organized by the China Programme of BirdLife International/Hong KongBird Watching Society and was sponsored by the Eric Hosking Trust.

From Wildlife Extra:

A hand-reared sandpiper travels 8,000km

November 2013; A rare hand-reared spoon-billed sandpiper has been spotted for the first time in the wild, more than 8,000km from where it was released in Russia.

Twenty-five of the critically endangered birds have been raised over two years by an Anglo-Russia conservation team on the Russian tundra, before being released to join their wild-born counterparts in migrating to South-East Asia. However until now it was unknown whether any would be spotted until they return to Russia to breed aged two-years-old, so the news one has been seen in Thailand, on the coast near Bangkok, and another in southern China was welcomed.

WWT Head of Species Conservation Department, Baz Hughes said: “This is really exciting news. We now know that spoon-billed sandpipers, raised by our avicultural staff on the Russian tundra, can migrate with their wild counterparts to wintering areas a quarter of the way around the globe.”

Conservationists take eggs from wild spoon-billed sandpiper nests, prompting the parent birds to lay a further clutch. The hand-reared chicks are safe from predators and, with the wild-raised chicks from the second clutch, it increases the total number of birds fledging by up to ten times. The hand-reared birds are all marked with small white plastic leg flags. Marking birds allows them to be identified later and helps reveal information about their movements and behaviour.

Christoph Zöckler, Coordinator of the East Asian- Australasian Flyway Partnership’s Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force said: “We’ve learnt an enormous amount about spoon-billed sandpipers’ movements over the last few years but there are big gaps. While we still don’t know all the places they stop over on migration, we can’t protect them or address any threats they face there.”

Hitler ‘superhero’ in Thailand

This video is called An Alfred Hitchcock documentary on the Nazi Holocaust.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Thai university apologises for ‘superhero’ Hitler billboard

Nazi leader depicted on banner hailing Chulalongkorn graduates alongside Batman, Captain America and the Incredible Hulk

Monday 15 July 2013 11.28 BST

Thailand‘s leading university has apologised for displaying a billboard that showed Adolf Hitler alongside Superman and other superheroes, saying it was painted by ignorant students who did not realise the image would offend anyone.

The huge billboard was placed outside the art faculty of Chulalongkorn university as part of a tribute to this year’s graduates.

It said “Congratulations” in bold white letters and showed Hitler with his arm raised in a Nazi salute next to Batman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man.

“[We] would like to formally express our sincere apology for our students’ superhero mural,” the art school dean Suppakorn Disatapundhu said in a statement on Monday. “I can assure you we are taking this matter very seriously.”

The billboard was up for two days before being removed on Saturday in response to criticism. Online photographs showed graduating students in their robes, mimicking Hitler’s raised-arm salute.

Suppakorn said new art students had painted the banner as part of a traditional send-off from incoming students to the graduating class, and it was one of dozens of banners and billboards across the campus during the university’s commencement period.

The artistic vision behind the picture was to show that good and bad people co-exist in the world, Suppakorn said after summoning the students for an explanation.

“They told me the concept was to paint a picture of superheroes who protect the world,” the dean said in a telephone interview.

“Hitler was supposed to serve as a conceptual paradox to the superheroes,” he said, noting that the superheroes were painted in vivid colours while Hitler’s image was in grey. “This kind of thoughtless display will not happen again.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, an international Jewish human rights group, had criticised the banner before its removal.

“Hitler as a superhero? Is he an appropriate role model for Thailand’s younger generation – a genocidal hatemonger who mass-murdered Jews and Gypsies and who considered people of colour as racially inferior?” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the centre, in a statement on Friday.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Centre is outraged and disgusted by this public display at Thailand’s leading school of higher education.”

The study of history in the Thai school system revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings. World history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust.

Thailand snails discoveries

Perrottetia aquilonaria, one of the newly described species. Credit: Somsak Panha

From Wildlife Extra:

A new species on every mountain – Extraordinary evolution in Thailand

Tiny colourful snails are in danger of extinction with vanishing limestone ecosystems

April 2013. Three new species from the genus Perrottetia were described from north and north-eastern Thailand. The species show extraordinary endemism, with each of these colourful snails occurring as “One Hill One Species”. This is a very peculiar phenomenon where each one of these highly endemic snails is specific and the only one inhabiting a certain mountain range. They live in rock crevices, feeding on even smaller snails, insect larvae and some earthworms species. These beautiful animals are now at risk from extinction with the destruction of limestone ecosystems.

Limestone ecosystems in the world are now being destroyed at an alarming rate. This means we are losing biodiversity resources, a tendency especially threatening for the hot spot areas like Thailand. The new research findings show that key terrestrial invertebrates, such as several new bright carnivorous land snails are still persisting in such areas and are being described even from the highly endangered quarried sites. This demonstrates that there are still remnants of some fundamental ecosystem, which lives and is struggling for survival, a great experience for mankind to learn.

Researchers from Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok and the Natural History Museum in London (Thanit Siriboon, Chirasak Sutcharit, Fred Naggs and Somsak Panha) discovered many new taxa of the brightly coloured carnivorous terrestrial snails family Streptaxidae. Terrestrial snails are primarily herbivores and only a few groups like this one are carnivorous. The animals come from several limestone areas across the world, including some threatened by human exploitation, especially by quarrying.

Ecosystem destruction

“The three new Perrottetia species exhibit distinct morphological characteristics, which make for a great example for evolutionary studies in unstable environments,” comments one of the authors, Dr Somsak Panha. “More than 50% of limestone ecosystems in this region have been or still are being destroyed. This astonishing case of biodiversity persistence gives a valuable reason to put effort in the conservation of this important world ecosystem. “

The study was published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

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New snake discovery in Sri Lanka

This video says about itself:

Crocodile Hunter – Island of Snakes

Feb 12, 2012

Steve Irwin travels to Sri Lanka to help laborers contend with some of the most venomous snakes in the world. And, for the first time in his life, he goes head-to-head with a man-eating Mugger crocodile.

All rights belong to Discovery Communications, Inc.

This video says about itself:

Thailand Blind Snake Not Poisonous. Smallest Snake in World?

These are super small snakes from Thailand. I found 2 in my restroom. They climb up through the drain from outside. I lost one of these small black snakes in the house – don’t tell “da wife”.

The name of this snake: Brahminy Blind Snake

Very common in Thailand. In just about every potted plant we have it seems like, as well as climbing up through our drains. They eat termite and ant eggs primarily. They can’t bite you – their mouths are too small. They live in the dark – inside the soil – just like a worm, but not worms.

Google “Ramphotyphlops braminus” the technical name, and check out the Wikipedia entry. Looks a lot like this one – right?

From Wildlife Extra:

New genus of snake recognised on Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known

March 2013. An assistant biology professor from George Washington University has discovered a new genus of the blindsnake in Sri Lanka.

Using DNA sequencing to determine its relationship to other snakes, Dr. Pyron thought the blindsnake -found right in the yard of an environmental agency office-would be a new species. Amazingly it turned out to be a complete new genus.

“When we sequenced the snake’s DNA, we discovered that it was an entirely new lineage of blindsnake,” Dr. Pyron said. “It’s still a blindsnake, but a new genus, a group of blindsnakes that had never been described.”

60 known species of snakes in Sri Lanka

Along with the discovery of the new group, Dr. Pyron and researchers confirmed the identity of 60 known species of snakes in Sri Lanka, using DNA sequencing technology on 40 of them to help researchers understand how various snakes are related to each other and their evolutionary relationship to other species around the world.

“We found that Sri Lanka has been colonized by snakes at least five times by totally different snake groups, which have each diversified heavily within the island,” said Dr. Pyron, a Robert F. Griggs Assistant Professor of Biology.

That means that even though researchers know a lot about the snakes on the island, there’s still more to be discovered-and previous research to be corrected.

Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known

“The DNA data are telling us new stories about how they are related, completely contradicting what we thought we knew,” he said. “It tells us that Sri Lanka is a much bigger hotspot for biodiversity than previously known, and harbours massive richness.”

Researchers can also use the findings to draw conclusions about evolutionary biology and species diversity more broadly.

Their findings, which appear in the March edition of the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, show just how rich snake biodiversity is on the island.

Thais jailed for free speech

This video is about lèse majesté persecution in Thailand.

In Thailand, people get long jail sentences for free speech about the king; even if it is not about the king.

From the New York Times in the USA:

Thai Court Gives 10-Year Sentence for Insult to King


Published: January 23, 2013

BANGKOK — A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced a labor activist and former magazine editor to 10 years in prison for insulting Thailand’s king, the latest in a string of convictions under the country’s strict lese majeste law.

The case of Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, 51, was different from previous lese majeste cases because Mr. Somyot directly challenged the law itself, saying it violated the right to free expression.

Thailand’s constitutional court swept aside that challenge last month and laid out the justification for the law, saying the king deserves “special protection” under the law because he is the “center of the nation.”

“The king holds the position of head of state and is the main institution of the country,” the court ruled. Insulting the king, the court said, “is considered an act that wounds the feelings of Thais who respect and worship the king and the monarchy.”

Mr. Somyot was not the author of the two articles that the court said violated the law – the writer, Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman, has fled to Cambodia. But as the editor of the magazine, which was called The Voice of Taksin and is now defunct, Mr. Somyot was responsible for its content, the court said.

Similar to a decision last week, where an anti-government protester was sentenced to two years in prison for insulting the king, the articles never mentioned the king’s name.

The first article is a jumbled tale about a family that plots to kill millions of people to maintain its power and quash democracy. The court ruled on Wednesday that the writer was describing the Chakri dynasty of Thailand’s current King, Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The second article is a fictional tale about a ghost who haunts Thailand and plots massacres. The court ruled that the author was comparing the ghost to King Bhumibol.

“There is no content identifying an individual,” the court said. “But the writing conveyed connection to historical events.”

International human rights groups immediately criticized the verdict. Human Rights Watch said it would “further chill freedom of expression in Thailand.”

Amnesty International called the verdict a “regressive decision – Somyot has been found guilty simply for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately.”

The European Union issued a statement saying the ruling undercuts “Thailand’s image as a free and democratic society.”

The United Nations human rights chief, Navi Pillay, criticized the “extremely harsh” jail sentence as a setback for protection of human rights in Thailand and expressed her support for moves to amend Thailand’s lese majeste laws.

Mr. Somyot’s sentence “sends the wrong signals on freedom of expression in Thailand. The court’s decision is the latest indication of a disturbing trend in which lese-majesty charges are used for political purposes,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement released in Geneva on Wednesday.

Thailand’s lese majeste law calls for prison sentences of three to 15 years in jail for “whoever defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir to the throne or the regent.”

The court added one year to Mr. Somyot’s 10 year-sentence for a separate case where Mr. Somyot was accused of libeling a general involved in the 2006 coup.

Mr. Somyot, who has been denied bail since being arrested in 2011, was brought to the courtroom in shackles. His lawyers said he would appeal the verdict.

Ms. Pillay also criticized Mr. Somyot’s lengthy pre-trial detention, repeated denial of bail and his appearance in court wearing shackles. “People exercising freedom of expression should not be punished in the first place,” Ms. Pillay said.

His wife, Sukanya Pruksakasemsuk, said she was concerned about her husband’s health because he suffers from high blood pressure and gout.

“Is it reasonable to send someone to 11 years in jail for expressing something?” she said. “I don’t think so.”

Amid a continued standoff between the Thai government and anti-government protesters, Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha yesterday refused to rule out a military coup, warning that the army was at “a difficult crossroad”: here.