Australian echidnas help other wildlife


This video says about itself:

13 August 2015

The “short-beaked echidna” is one of four living species of echidna and the only member of the genus “Tachyglossus”. The short-beaked echidna is covered in fur and spines and has a distinctive snout and a specialized tongue, which it uses to catch its prey at a great speed. Like the other extant monotremes, the short-beaked echidna lays eggs; the monotremes are the only group of mammals to do so.

From Science News:

An echidna’s to-do list: Sleep. Eat. Dig up Australia.

Short-beaked species of this mammal is a valuable ecosystem engineer

By Susan Milius

12:00pm, November 18, 2016

With no nipples and reptilelike eggs, short-beaked echidnas look like a first draft of a mammal. Yet, as Australia’s other digging mammals decline from invasive predators, the well-defended echidna is getting new love as an ecosystem engineer.

The only mammals today that lay eggs are the four echidna species and the duck-billed platypus. Eggs are probably a holdover from the time before mammals split from reptiles. Each year or so, the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) lays one leathery egg “about the size of a grape,” says Christine Cooper of Curtin University in Perth. Instead of constructing a nest, mom deposits the egg in her version of a kangaroo pouch and waddles around with it.

When the egg hatches about 10 days later, two patches of pores in mom’s pouch ooze milk, and the baby laps it off her skin. The puggle, as a baby echidna is called, hitchhikes for weeks as mom forages. The ride ends, however, when the puggle starts growing spines. “Then mum’s like, ‘Nope, no more,’ and she will put [baby] into a burrow,” Cooper says.

Puggles live in mom’s pouch until they get prickly

Puggles live in mom’s pouch until they get prickly.

Ben Nottidge/Alamy Stock Photo

Foraging echidnas claw around and poke their snouts into termite or ant nests, flicking out a long gooey tongue to flypaper up insects. The goo comes from unusually large salivary glands, but a quick echidna lick doesn’t slime. When Cooper wears sandals to visit captive echidnas, she says, “it’s ‘ooh, that tickles!’”

Echidnas’ toes point backward on their hind paws but forward on the front, and their short legs slant outward in a bit of a reptile sprawl, says Christofer Clemente of University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Australia. They rock side to side as they walk, moving both left, then both right feet. They can’t run, but they’re strong diggers, Clemente says. They not only claw around for food, but also defend their soft undersides by quick-digging into the ground, spikes up.

Acceleration-sensing instruments strapped onto short-beaked echidnas show they spend about 12 percent of their day excavating, researchers report in the Oct. 15 Journal of Experimental Biology. Over a year, a single echidna churns up some 204 cubic meters of soil, the scientists calculate, as it hunts for insects or scrabbles for shelter.  That’s enough to bury more than 100 full-sized fridges.

That digging benefits the echidna’s unusual diversity of habitat — from rainforest to desert. Echidnas don’t need to bury fridges, but soil turnover and nutrient mixing keep ecosystems humming along.

Australian Aboriginal prehistory, new research


This video says about itself:

Astounding archaeology discovery places inland human occupation of Australia at 49,000 years

2 November 2016

Archaeologists working with traditional Aboriginal owners in the northern Flinders Ranges have discovered astounding evidence of the earliest human habitation of inland, arid Australia.

The find has pushed back the date of such occupation by 10,000 years to about 49,000 years ago.

Warratyi cave’s astounding archaeological evidence

One of the traditional owners of the area, Clifford Coulthard, who is a co-author of the study, said the findings weren’t really a surprise to him.

“Our old people know we’ve been here a long time,” he said.

The site, the Warratyi rock shelter in the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people, also has evidence of extinct megafauna, including the diprotodon.

The authors of the study, published on Thursday in Nature, said it finally settles the question of whether humans and megafauna overlapped chronologically.

From Science News:

People settled Australia’s rugged interior surprisingly early

Roots of Aboriginal culture may stretch back at least 49,000 years

By Bruce Bower

3:01pm, November 2, 2016

Australia’s early settlers hit the ground running, or least walking with swift determination. After arriving on the continent’s northwest coast by around 50,000 years ago, humans reached Australia’s southeastern interior within a thousand years or so, researchers find.

This ancient trip covered more than 2,000 kilometers through terrain that, although stark and dry today, featured enough lakes and rivers at the time of Australia’s colonization to support long-distance treks, say archaeologist Giles Hamm of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues.

Excavations at Warratyi rock-shelter indicate that it took only a few millennia for Australia’s early colonists to forge a distinctive Aboriginal culture that continued to develop over the next 40,000 years, Hamm’s team reports online November 2 in Nature.

“Archaeological finds at Warratyi are surprisingly old and significant, especially coming from an excavation of only a meter of sediment,” Hamm says.

These new discoveries are “remarkable and atypical” for Australia, says archaeologist Peter Hiscock of the University of Sydney. But the finds’ ages and significance for understanding Aboriginal culture will be debated, he predicts.

Until now, the oldest human sites in Australia’s huge, arid interior dated to no more than 44,000 years ago in the continent’s northwest, not far from where the first settlers presumably arrived. Lake Mungo, now a dry lake bed in southeastern Australia, has yielded artifacts from about 50,000 years ago. Unlike artifacts at Wattaryi that represent human activity over a long time span, it’s not known if Lake Mungo finds come from a group that made an isolated foray into the region before dying out within a few generations.

Hamm’s group unearthed evidence of an intermittent human presence at Warratyi that lasted from around 49,000 to 10,000 years ago. People were largely absent between around 35,000 and 17,000 years ago, when the climate became substantially colder and drier, Hamm says.

Finds at Warratyi dating to between 49,000 and 46,000 years ago include stone tools, a piece of reddish pigment and bones from 16 mammal species and one reptile species. Of particular interest were a partial leg bone from an extinct, rhino-sized marsupial and eggshells from a large, flightless bird. These animals died out not long after humans reached Australia, but it hasn’t been clear whether humans contributed to the extinctions via hunting or other actions (SN: 1/20/07, p. 38).

Warratyi probably won’t resolve that issue. No butchery marks from stone tools appear on the marsupial fossil, although people may still have hunted the creature. Possibly burned areas appear on some eggshell fragments. Recent evidence from other Australian sites indicates that people were cooking this extinct bird’s eggs between 54,000 and 43,000 years ago.

Other discoveries at Warratyi indicate Aboriginal people there made a variety of tools up to 10,000 years before similar tool types were known to have occurred elsewhere in Australia or in Southeast Asia, the scientists say. For instance, a 4-centimeter-long bone point that dates to more than 38,000 years ago is Australia’s earliest known bone tool.

Comparably ancient discoveries include fragments of resin, which was probably used to glue stone tools to handles of some type. Tool handles probably came into use even earlier than that Down Under, argues archaeologist Sandra Bowdler of the University of Western Australia in Crawley. Researchers generally agree that, in Australia, stone cutting implements with ground, beveled edges were once attached to handles, Bowdler explains. A team led by Hiscock recently dated a ground-edge tool found in northwest Australia to between 49,000 and 45,000 years ago. That means handle use started there before it appeared at Warratyi, Bowdler holds.

Tools displaying sharpened edges along one side appear at Warratyi between 30,000 and 24,000 years ago. While Hamm’s team regards these as the oldest such implements in Australia, Bowdler awaits more thorough dating of Warratyi sediment layers before accepting that conclusion.

To date artifacts, Hamm’s group calculated the time since buried sediment was last exposed to sunlight and conducted radiocarbon analyses of charcoal from ancient hearths and of eggshell fragments.

Questions remain about the age of the oldest Warratyi discoveries, says geochronologist Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong in Australia. A single sample of the deepest artifact-bearing sediment was dated to around 44,000 to 43,000 years ago, whereas three radiocarbon dates of charcoal and eggshells from the same sediment ranged in age from possibly more than 50,000 years to perhaps more than 45,000 years, in Roberts’ view. If the younger age is the correct one, then Warratyi finds are no older than those previously discovered at Riwi rock-shelter, another site in Australia’s arid interior. If older than 50,000 years, Roberts says, “the Warratyi artifacts would be among the oldest on the continent.”

Australian torture of refugees in Nauru


This video says about itself:

10 September 2016

In 2013, Australia’s government announced a tough new policy towards refugees travelling by boat to its shores. The campaign that went with it was called, “No way. You will not make Australia home“.

Its goal was to discourage asylum seekers from entering the country “illegally” – as the government saw it.

Most were coming from countries such as Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

Many refugees – having fled their homes – considered themselves stateless.

Their journeys were arduous and complex. Those from Iran, for instance, would travel first to Malaysia, where they could enter without a visa. Then they’d make their way to southernmost Indonesia, and from there they took boats towards Australia’s closest islands.

The trips typically involved people smugglers and dangerous – sometimes deadly – journeys on boats that were often overloaded and unseaworthy.

Of the boats intercepted at sea by the Australian Border Force, many were forcibly turned back to where they’d come from. But passengers on some – and all those who did make it into Australian waters – were taken into custody, then deported, flown to neighbouring countries.

There, in Nauru and on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, they are still held in what Australia’s government calls “regional processing centres”.

Nauru is a tiny 29 square kilometre island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

That small independent country – a member of the United Nations – has played a central role in the history of Australia’s refugee policies.

Nauru’s “detention centre” first opened in 2001, under a policy brought in by Australia’s conservative Liberal Party – the so-called “Pacific Solution”.

But this all changed when Kevin Rudd, from the centre-left Labour party, came to power in 2007. Rudd closed Nauru’s centre and most of the refugees were relocated to Australia.

But then as the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat started going back up, the Labour Party’s government was forced to reconsider. The centre reopened in 2012.

Today, the island’s detention centre is home to almost 500 people, including about 50 children.

Many of them have been there for more than three years.

But what’s going on inside? Both the Nauruan and Papua New Guinean detention centres are run under a veil of secrecy, off-limits to the media and to NGOs like Amnesty International.

People working there are not allowed to talk about what they have seen. Why?

Talk to Al Jazeera sits down with former employees who have decided to break their silence to tell us about the situation inside Australia’s offshore detention centres.

Are they, as the government says, having the desired effect, by discouraging people from making dangerous journeys? But are they also, as the people we spoke to say, dehumanising and dangerous?

We spoke to Evan Davis, a teacher who used to work with children living in the Australian-run camp in Nauru. Despite secrecy provisions limiting the ability of staff to talk, he decided to share his experience.

“It struck me straight away that the place was more like a military camp, a prison, more than anything else, that was efficiently run,” he says. The children were referred to by personnel as numbers, not names, and Davis said the teachers endeavoured to make a point of learning the children’s names.

Judith Reem used to teach secondary school children on Nauru. She, herself, comes from a family of Bosnian refugees to Australia, which is one of the reasons she decided to speak out publicly. The tents where people lived, she says, were not designed for habitation, and cultural considerations, such as spaces for people to pray, were not taken into account.

Judith Reem feels particularly bad about having prepared the children for a life in Australia which was never going to happen.

“I feel, that in retrospect, I was a part of the lie, because I was teaching them conversational English for life in Australia and that just hasn’t happened,” she says. The conditions were worse than in a prison, Reem says.

“Some of the children in the camp can’t remember life before the camp because they were so little when they arrived,” she says.

“The cloak of secrecy around it [the camps] is what allows us this plausible deniability, which is hopefully a luxury I can take away.”

Jennifer Rose, a former elementary school teacher in Nauru, believes Australia needs to take a different approach when it comes to dealing with asylum seekers.

“How could you not be affected by seeing children retraumatised by a system that Australia has set up?” Rose asks.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Asylum-seekers ‘tortured’ on Australia‘s ‘Island of Despair’

Monday 17th October 2016

AMNESTY International releases a hard-hitting report today on Australia’s detention of asylum-seekers on the island of Nauru, where it says conditions “amount to torture.”

The 64-page Island of Despair report accuses the Canberra government of subjecting refugees and asylum-seekers to a cruel regime of abuse, flouting international law, in conditions which amount to torture.

It highlights cases of asylum-seekers self-harming or trying to take their own lives.

The Nauruan authorities have even arrested asylum-seekers and refugees for self-harm, the report records, leading to their imprisonment in a “prison within a prison.”

Amnesty senior director of research Anna Neistat, who managed to visit the remote island to investigate rights abuses, said: “On Nauru, the Australian government runs an open-air prison designed to inflict as much suffering as necessary to stop some of the world’s most vulnerable people from trying to find safety in Australia.

“The government of Australia has isolated vulnerable women, men and children in a remote place which they cannot leave, with the specific intention that these people should suffer.

“And suffer they have. It has been devastating and, in some cases, irreparable.

“It’s a vicious trap. People in anguish attempt to end their own lives to escape it but then find themselves behind bars, hurled into a prison within a prison.

“The Australian government’s policy is the exact opposite of what countries should be pursuing. It is a model that minimises protection and maximises harm.”

Australia has spent billions of pounds to create and maintain its inherently abusive offshore processing system.

According to the Australian National Audit Office, offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea has cost more than £350,000 annually per person.

Much of this money has been spent on companies contracted to work on Nauru, many of which have said that they will cease operations on the island.

Individual staff from some companies have become whistleblowers, even under the threat of criminal prosecution for exposing the desperate situation on Nauru.

Allowing people’s mental health to deteriorate without adequate treatment appears to be a deliberate part of the Australian government’s deterrence policy, Amnesty researchers found.

Doctors, medical staff and supporters rallied last weekend in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Cairns, Darwin and Newcastle in opposition to the Australian government’s brutal treatment of refugees. An estimated 5,000 protested in Sydney, up to 3,000 in Melbourne and hundreds in other cities. Demonstrations were held the previous weekend in Brisbane and Canberra: here.

Legislation to impose a lifetime ban on any refugees even visiting Australia passed the House of Representatives, parliament’s lower house, last Thursday. The Liberal-National government remains determined to get the bill through the Senate despite widespread public opposition to its blatant violation of international law: here.

United States-Danish-Australian killing of Syrian soldiers


This video says about itself:

U.S. airstrike on Syrian army position kill 62 soldiers, paving way for Daesh [ISIS] attack

17 September 2016

UPDATE by SANA reporters from the battlefield: Army and Armed Forces units recover control over areas that it had lost control over earlier due to American aircraft attack on positions in the surroundings of Deir Ezzor Airport.

The General Command of the Army and Armed Forces said that US alliance aircrafts targeted at 5 PM on Saturday a Syrian Arab Army position in al-Tharda Mountain in the surroundings of Deir Ezzor Airport, causing losses in lives and equipment and clearly paved the way for ISIS terrorists to attack the position and take control of it.

In a statement, the General Command said that this act is a serious and blatant aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic and its army, and constitutes conclusive evidence that the United States and its allies support ISIS and other terrorist organizations, stressing that this act reveals the falseness of their claims of fighting terrorism.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Danes and Australians involved in mistaken Syria airstrike

Today, 09:22

The air raid on Syrian government forces that has been designated by the US as a mistake was carried out by at least Danish and Australian warplanes. This say the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and Australian Prime Minister Turnbull.

Aircraft of the international coalition that is fighting against Islamic State [ISIS] probably mistook the Syrian military for ISIS warriors. In the attack on Saturday dozens of Syrian soldiers were killed.

Investigation

According to the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, two Danish F-16s were involved in the attack. The Danish Defence Minister is willing to coöperate in the investigation into the air strike, the newspaper writes.

The newspaper says also other countries were involved in the attack, but does not say which countries.

Deplore

Australian Prime Minister Turnbull said during a visit to New York that Australian aircraft took part in the attack. He regretted that Syrian soldiers were killed in the attack and that the Australian attack stopped immediately when the Russians told them what was going on.

The Australian defense minister refused to say to the Australian news channel ABC whether Australian aircraft were involved in the attack. …

It looks like this war ‘defense’ minister is less honest than her prime minister.

Ceasefire

According to Russia, the US has with this attack threatened the cease-fire in Syria. The Russian Foreign Minister said that the US attacks “balance on the border of criminal negligence and direct complicity with the ISIS terrorists”.

The Russians call upon the US to do a comprehensive investigation into the attack.

Female superb lyrebirds, new discoveries


This video from Australia says about itself:

Superb Lyrebird, Courtship Song and Dance

12 November 2015

[Male] Superb Lyrebird singing and dancing with mate, just amazing creature.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eNews from the USA, September 2016:

Discovery: Female Superb Lyrebirds Are Great Mimics

At long last the female Superb Lyrebird is emerging from the considerable shadow cast by her male counterpart. Though he is justly recognized for his terrific ability to mimic other bird species and ambient sounds, a two-year study by Cornell Lab researcher Anastasia Dalziell and colleagues finds the female is also a skilled mimic—you just have to know when to listen.

Read about the discovery.