Soldier’s father says Stop Afghan war


This video is called 33 Civilians Killed by NATO Airstrike in Afghanistan.

From the Tallahassee Democrat in the USA:

David Freed: Bring my son home from Afghanistan

5:34 PM, Dec 24, 2012

My soldier son called last month to wish his mother and me a happy Thanksgiving. My iPhone buzzed and there he was, sitting in a gun tower, his smiling face bathed in gauzy infrared light, an M249 machine gun propped at the ready behind him. For security reasons, we didn’t talk about his location. It could’ve been Afghanistan, Iraq or Kuwait. He has spent the better part of this year serving in all three.

His infantry company will soon be rotated back to the United States after a one-year deployment. Because he’s an officer, he’ll probably be among those on the last plane out. We’re hoping it’ll be by Christmas. My son would like to be home for the holidays, of course, but his biggest concern is getting back before the start of postseason play in the NFL. He’s warned me, however, that the mysteries of Army upper management may mean we are both disappointed about the timing of his return. And so the clock ticks. Slowly.

During my son’s tour of duty — his first overseas assignment — the number of U.S. dead in Afghanistan climbed past 2,000, while the total wounded surpassed 18,000. That’s about 500 fewer Americans killed and nearly three times the number wounded during the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive in 1968. Certainly, Vietnam was a much different engagement from the one in Afghanistan, which has gone on for more than 11 years, but the casualty figures from both raise the same question:

How long should we as a nation continue to sacrifice blood and treasure for what is clearly a losing proposition?

While Tet was by no means a victory for North Vietnam, the offensive demonstrated to the American public that the communist forces were still capable of waging war on a broad scale, contrary to Pentagon assurances that the enemy had been nearly beaten into surrender. Tet disabused many Americans of the notion that the war was winnable and helped spur the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Southeast Asia five years later.

In Afghanistan, as in Vietnam, the Pentagon routinely claims that American-led combat power has measurably degraded the enemy’s capacity to fight. Still, that enemy continues to wage war effectively. Witness the rising phenomenon of what the Defense Department refers to as “green on blue” shootings — Taliban sympathizers within the Afghan military and police turning their weapons on NATO military trainers. In 2007, there were two such insider attacks, resulting in two deaths. This year, 58 of the nearly 400 coalition military personnel who died in Afghanistan, including 35 Americans, were felled in such attacks. …

David Freed is a former Los Angeles Times reporter who covered Operation Desert Storm. His next novel, “Fangs Out,” will be published in May.

Rare whale beaches in Philippines


The beached whale, photo Darrel Blatchley

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network:

Rare whale beaches in Philippines, dies

Sunday, Dec 23, 2012

DAVAO CITY – A “super rare” ginkgo-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens) beached in Maco, Compostela Valley, on Wednesday but later died due to its failure to digest garbage and other debris it had eaten, a conservationist here said on Saturday.

Darrel Blatchley, an Idaho native who had settled here and founded D’Bone Collector Museum, said villagers discovered the 16-feet long “super rare whale” around 2 a.m.

“But about 10 in the morning, the whale died,” Blatchley told the Inquirer.

He said the whale, which has been transported to the D’Bone museum here for necropsy (an autopsy performed on animals), weighed about 800 kilograms.

“The whale died of indigestion. It has garbage debris in its stomach when we did the necropsy,” Blatchley said.

Blatchley said the whale retrieved in Maco was only the second of its kind seen in the Philippines since 1957.

In fact, it is so rare that there are only a few of such whales discovered around the world.

There is a little known fact about the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale, which is among the 21 species of beaked, medium-sized whales with distinctive, long and narrow beaks and dorsal fins near the tail, but it has been spotted in areas around the Pacific and Eastern Indian Oceans, he said.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said data on ginkgo-toothed beaked whale was scarce.

“Very little is known about this whale. It is presumed to have food habits like those of other beaked whales and probably subsists on squid and open-water fishes,” FAO said.

“It is a fairly typical-looking species but is notable for the males not having any scarring,” FAO said, adding that the mammal was named for the unusual shape of its dual teeth, which is similar to the leaf of the ginkgo biloba plant.

This type of whale, FAO said, can grow up to 4.9 meters long from its birth length of 2.4 meters.

Since its discovery in the 1950s, there were only about 20 beachings reported off the coasts of Japan, the Galapagos Islands, California, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Maldives, FAO said.

Some fishermen off the coast of Japan also reported limited sightings of the whale, which was why it was difficult to estimate its population in the wild, it added.

Because it is super rare, the ginkgo-toothed beaked whale is covered by the Memorandum of Understanding for the Conservation of Cetaceans and Their Habitats in the Pacific Islands Region, which was pushed by the Convention on Migratory Species and was signed in 1996 by at least 15 countries, including the United States.

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) even put the whale on its Red List.

“Until the species can be reliably identified at sea, its true distribution will probably remain unknown,” the IUCN said.

33 new trapdoor spiders discovered, named after Obama, Jolie


Afer United States President Obama had a long-extinct lizard named after him, now he has also inspired the naming of a still living newly discovered animal species.

Female specimen of Aptostichus barackobamai. Photo credit Jason Bond

From Wildlife Extra:

33 new trapdoor spider species discovered in the American southwest

Barak Obama & Angelina Jolie get spiders named after them
December 2012. A researcher at the Auburn University Museum of Natural History and Department of Biological Sciences has reported the discovery 33 new trapdoor spider species from the American Southwest. These newly described species all belong to the genus Aptostichus which now contains 40 species, two of which are already famous – Aptostichus stephencolberti and Aptostichus angelinajolieae.

Barack-Obama-i

The genus now includes other such notable species as Aptostichus barackobamai, named for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, and reputed fan of Spiderman comics; Aptostichus edwardabbeyi, named for environmentalist and author Edward Abbey (1927-1989); Aptostichus bonoi from Joshua Tree National Park, named for the lead singer of the Irish rock band U2; Aptostichus pennjillettei named for illusionist and intellectual Penn Jillette; Aptostichus chavezi, named for Mexican American and civil rights and labor activist César Chávez (1927-1993).

Other notable new species names include Aptostichus anzaborrego, known only from the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in southern California; and Aptostichus sarlacc from the Mojave Desert, named for George Lucas’ Star Wars creature, the Sarlacc from the fictional desert planet Tatooine.

The researcher, Prof. Jason Bond, who is a trapdoor spider expert and the director of the Auburn University Museum of Natural History was excited at the prospect of such a remarkable and large find of new species here in the United States and particularly California.

Biodiversity hotspot

“California is known as what is characterized as a biodiversity hotspot. Although this designation is primarily based on plant diversity, the region is clearly very rich in its animal diversity as well. While it is absolutely remarkable that a large number of species from such a heavily populated area have gone unnoticed, it clearly speaks volumes to how little we know of the biodiversity around us and that many more species on the planet await discovery ” Bond said.

Like other trapdoor spider species, individuals are rarely seen because they live their lives in below-ground burrows that are covered by trapdoors, made by the spider using mixtures of soil, sand, and/or plant material, and silk. The trapdoor serves to hide the spider when it forages for meals at the burrow entrance, usually at night.

Aptostichus species are found in an amazing number of Californian habitats to include coastal sand dunes, chaparral, desert, oak woodland forests, and at high altitudes in the alpine habitats of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Bond said, “This particular group of trapdoor spiders are among some of the most beautiful with which I have worked; species often have gorgeous tiger-striping on their abdomens. Aptostichus to my mind represents a true adaptive radiation – a classical situation in evolutionary biology where diversification, or speciation, has occurred such that a large number of species occupy a wide range of different habitats”.

Bond also noted that while a number of the species have rather fanciful names, his favourite is the one named for his daughter Elisabeth. “Elisabeth’s spider is from an incredibly extreme desert environment out near Barstow, California that is the site of a relatively young volcanic cinder cone. The spiders make their burrows among the lava tubes that extend out from the cone – it is a spectacular place to visit but the species is very difficult to collect because the spiders build rather deep burrow among the rocks”.

New birds-of paradise video


This video from the USA says about itself:

Dec 21, 2012

This inspiring footage of the Birds-of-Paradise project celebrates the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s long-standing tradition of documenting and sharing information about the natural world. Thanks to you, that tradition continues. We hope you’ll keep watching, listening, and exploring with us to improve the understanding and protection of birds and biodiversity around the globe. Filmed and photographed by Tim Laman. To make a gift to the Cornell Lab visit birds.cornell.edu/support

New elephant, rhinoceros discoveries


From the BBC:

26 December 2012 Last updated at 00:41

Rhinos and elephants: the secret lives of Africa‘s giants

By Matt Walker, Editor, BBC Nature

Rhinos and elephants have a range of remarkable behaviours and adaptations, many of which we are only just learning.

Emerging through the twilight, a beast lumbers forward, sniffing, snorting, searching for something.

One of the largest animals to walk the earth, it is on a surprising mission.

This black rhino is embarking on a midnight journey, seeking out other rhinos in the dark to socialise and mate with, sharing some never-before-seen tender moments.

The behaviour, captured by filmmakers for the landmark programme Africa, a BBC / Discovery co-production, is one of a number of once secret activities undertaken by some of the largest land animals of all.

Africa – a landmark

Gelada: BBC Africa

Because despite their size, we are only just beginning to notice some remarkable behaviours and adaptations of elephants and rhinos.

These two groups are the largest terrestrial animals.

The three species of elephant range from 5.5 tonnes for an average male African bush elephant to 2.7 tonnes for female Asian elephants. Rhinos, of which there are five species, can exceed 3.5 tonnes.

Their size makes them relatively easy to spot and an easy target for poachers, who continue to hunt both groups of large mammal in significant numbers: elephants mainly for ivory in their tusks and rhinos for their horns.

They have all been extensively studied by scientists, in the field and also in wildlife parks, breeding centres and zoos.

But much about them, and what they get up to, remains a mystery, with many discoveries into their behaviour and adaptations only being made recently.

We are still struggling to understand just how unique are different populations of these megafauna.

Black rhino

What do black rhinos get up to at night?

For example, only in 2010 was it confirmed that there are two species of African elephant, the bush and forest elephant.

The same year, scientists controversially suggested that the northern and white rhinos are so distinct in appearance and genetics, that they should be classified as separate species, taking the number of living rhino species to six.

This year, other scientists published research concluding that we still don’t understand how different black rhino populations are to one another.

Such work is more than academic; if northern white rhinos are a unique species they immediately become one of the rarest of all, as just a handful survive.

Last century, black rhinos disappeared faster than any large mammal, primarily due to hunting. Understanding the true diversity of the remaining rhinos allows conservationists to work out how best to save them.

Big bodies

Recently, we have learnt more about how these animals function.
Thermal image of Asian elephant at night (c) Busch Gardens

Unlike their African cousins, Asian elephants don’t use their ears to shed heat (shown blue as they are cool)

Scientists are only just discovering why elephants have a fine coating of body hair, rather than the thick pelage of most mammals. Only a few mammals, including humans and seals, have such little body hair.

The answer is that elephant body hair actually helps the large mammals regulate their body temperature, according to a PLoS One study published in October.

Elephants are so large they have the highest body-volume to skin-surface ratio of any terrestrial animal, which means they have the most difficulty in keeping cool, especially under the hot African sun.

The fine hairs covering their body, which help shed heat, enhance their ability to keep cool by a minimum of 5% and more than 20% when wind speeds are low, when the elephants need to cool most.

African elephants also use their ears to shed heat, whereas Asian elephants rely on their trunks to do similar.

This year, Gary Haynes of the University of Nevada-Reno in the US, managed to quantify, for the first time, the degree to which elephants are capable of engineering the land around them.

African elephant: BBC Nature

Sociable and compassionate

His study, published in Geomorphology, showed how elephants’ trails, used and reused over centuries, can create kilometre-long features across the African landscape.

These huge giants may shift several cubic metres of sediment during each excavation when digging for minerals, and deposit 2kg of dung onto each square metre of land.

Elephants in Mali have just been found to roam further than any other in Africa, travelling in huge circles across their range.

Sophisticated minds

But is it the once-hidden, subtle aspects to these huge animals’ personalities that perhaps intrigue the most.

Individual African bush elephants do have distinct personalities. In September scientists showed how captive elephants consistently display four distinct personality types; being fearful, sociable, aggressive or effective, a effective elephant being one that gets its own way by controlling other elephants.

In the same month, researchers found that the personalities of six critically endangered northern white rhinos held in a zoological park in the Czech Republic significantly affected how they behaved when placed together into a new group. When the oldest and only wild-born female rhino was removed, the other female rhinos both fought and played more often, revealing a hitherto unknown social hierarchy between them.

Rhinos and elephants are also capable of very social, tender exchanges.

A review last year into how animals behave towards diseased, disabled or dying relatives reveals how touching some of this behaviour is.

It details a moment in 2006 witnessed by elephant expert Iain Douglas-Hamilton of the conservation organisation Save the Elephants, based in Nairobi, Kenya.

A dying matriarch elephant had been abandoned by her herd and was struggling to stand. She was approached by the matriarch of another herd, who repeatedly used her tusks to help bring the collapsed elephant to her feet, in what the researchers described as an act of compassion.

Some of these tender moments have even been caught on camera.

As part of the Africa documentary, filmmakers for the BBC and Discovery managed to film, for the first time, black rhinos gathering at night.

Abandoning their usual solitary lifestyles, the rhinos meet around a watering hole.

Filmed using a starlight camera, the supposedly intemperate rhinos meet and greet one another, socialising and forming partnerships.

A young female is even filmed being wooed by two males, before mating with a large male of her choice.

A nocturnal tryst, the like of which was unknown until now.

Social structure of elephant families altered by poaching: here.