New Ice Age rhino discovery in Kazakhstan

This video says about itself:

18 August 2015

Elasmotherium” is an extinct genus of giant rhinoceros endemic to Eurasia during the Late Pliocene through the Pleistocene, documented from 2.6 Ma to as late as 50,000 years ago, possibly later, in the Late Pleistocene, an approximate span of slightly less than 2.6 million years.

Three species are recognised. The best known, “E. sibiricum”, was the size of a mammoth and is thought to have borne a large, thick horn on its forehead. This horn was used for defense, attracting mates, driving away competitors, sweeping snow from the grass in winter and digging for water and plant roots. Like all rhinoceroses, elasmotheres were herbivorous. Unlike any others, its high-crowned molars were ever-growing. Its legs were longer than those of other rhinos and were adapted for galloping, giving it a horse-like gait.

From LiveScience:

‘Unicorns’ Lumbered Across Siberia 29,000 Years Ago

by Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer

March 29, 2016 04:24pm ET

Large, four-legged beasts, each with a single horn growing from its head, once ambled across part of western Siberia, in what is now Kazakhstan.

Sometimes referred to as “unicorns” because of their single horns, these animals were originally thought to have gone extinct 350,000 years ago. However, fossils from a new dig site place the hefty creatures in the region as recently as 29,000 years ago, according to a recent study.

In spite of their magical-sounding nickname, these bruisers share little in common with the graceful and delicate horselike creatures described in song and story and pictured in medieval tapestries. A 1923 publication by paleontologist Henry Fairfield Osborn estimated the creatures to be larger than any of the modern rhino species. Artists’ reconstructions hint at a burly build and body plan that resemble that of the animals’ extant cousins. And the beasts go by an equally cumbersome name: Elasmotherium sibiricum (ee–laz–moh–THEER–ee–um sih–BIH–rih–cum). [6 Extinct Animals That Could Be Brought Back to Life]

A well-preserved skull

The partial skull that the researchers found was well-preserved and in very good condition overall, though the teeth were missing, the scientists said. Dimensions of features in the skull fragment were considerably bigger than those in any other E. sibiricum specimen yet discovered in Eastern Europe, hinting that the skull most likely belonged to a large, older male, said study co-author Andrey Shpanski, a paleontologist at Tomsk State University in Russia.

“The dimensions of this rhino [described] today are the biggest of those described in the literature,” Shpanski said in a statement.

E. sibiricum is thought to have ranged from the Don River in southern Russia to the eastern part of Kazakhstan, and prior findings showed that the animal had long inhabited the southeastern part of the West Siberian Plain.

Other fossils found alongside the E. sibiricum skull include two upper teeth from a mammoth, the lower jaw of a steppe elephant and pieces of a bison‘s horn stem.

Dating a “unicorn”

To find out how old the fossils were, the scientists used a method known as radiocarbon dating, which they employed to analyze the amount of carbon-14 in the skull pieces. Carbon-14 is a carbon isotope, a variation of carbon with a different number of neutrons in its nucleus (14, in this case). Living plants and animals absorb carbon-14 from the atmosphere as long as they’re alive.

But once an organism dies, the carbon-14 in its body begins to decay at a regular rate that can be tracked over time, until about 60,000 years have passed and all the carbon-14 is gone. By analyzing bones to see how much carbon-14 is left, scientists can tell when the animal was still alive.

Radiocarbon dating told researchers that the E. sibiricum individual died 29,000 years ago, a dramatic divergence from previous estimates placing the species’ extinction at 350,000 years ago.

If the new calculation is correct, the “Siberian unicorn” could have crossed paths with modern humans. An earlier study suggested that humans inhabited the Siberian Arctic as far back as 45,000 years ago, based on the evidence of a butchered mammoth carcass that was likely cut up by hunters.

The new findings were published in the Feb. 2016 issue of the American Journal of Applied Sciences.

Mars spacecraft narrowly avoids exploding booster

This video says about itself:

Replay of the ExoMars 2016 liftoff on a Proton-M rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan at 09:31 GMT on 14 March 2016.

Credit: ESA/Euronews

From Universe Today:

ExoMars Mission Narrowly Avoids Exploding Booster

24 March 2016 by Bob King

On March 14, the ExoMars mission successfully lifted off on a 7-month journey to the planet Mars but not without a little surprise. The Breeze-M upper booster stage, designed to give the craft its final kick toward Mars, exploded shortly after parting from the probe. Thankfully, it wasn’t close enough to damage the spacecraft.

Michel Denis, ExoMars flight director at the European Space Operations, Center in Darmstadt, Germany, said that the two craft were many kilometers apart at the time of the breakup, so the explosion wouldn’t have posed a risk. Still, the mission team won’t be 100% certain until all the science instruments are completely checked over in the coming weeks.

Waterbirds in Kazakhstan counted

This video is called Birds of Kazakhstan. Cinclus pallasii (brown dipper).

From BirdLife:

Kazakhstan’s latest winter census sees fewer waterbirds in more wetlands

By Danara Zharbolova, Tue, 09/02/2016 – 11:18

Waterbirds (birds that live in freshwater habitats) cover tens of thousands of kilometres every year during their annual migration to warmer climates. To help determine their population status and trends, every January over 20 million waterbirds are counted in the Western Palearctic region, and up to 10 million in Sub-Saharan Africa by a network of about 15,000 volunteers for the International Waterbird Census.

The census, which began in 1967 in Europe and Asia, turns 50 this year. Coordinated by Wetlands International, today it covers more than 25.000 sites in more than 100 countries, making it one of the largest global monitoring schemes largely based on citizen science. The data it provides helps conservationists advocate for the right international and national policies to conserve waterbird populations and key wetland sites.

Kazakhstan began conducting its winter census in the central, southern and western parts of the country in 2004. Lead by the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife in Kazakhstan), the data of the winter census is used to identify changes in waterbird numbers and for monitoring key ornithological areas. This year, ornithologists surveyed 15 wetlands and counted more than 130.000 wintering birds from 80 species, including the Mallard, the Eurasian Wigeon, the Common Teal, the Ruddy Shelduck and the Greylag Goose.

The distribution of the species seen was unlike the previous years because of a warmer-than-usual winter that even brought out the crocuses. Wetlands in southern Kazakhstan were not frozen, leading to more sites being available for the birds than usual. For example, in the south, waterbirds were found not just at the Chardara reservoir, but also at the Koksaray, Badam reservoirs and Shohkakol lakes, which normally freeze over in the winter. More birds were also seen in the more northern reaches of the Caspian Sea.

“The weather was… mild and without precipitation. [Only] 40-60% of smaller water bodies in the southern region were covered in ice and birds were recorded on almost all of them, even if not in great numbers,” said Valeriy Khrokov, an ACBK board member. Counts are conducted in January because this is when many waterbird species congregate conspicuously at a relatively small number of sites where they can be readily counted.

Despite overall numbers being within the range of the last few years, some species did see a drop in population, owing mostly to the warm winter, according to experts. In the south, the population of the Mallard (56.800) was half that of 2012-2014, and the population of the Greylag Goose (2.530) was lower than four years ago. On Karakol Lake, the number of Mute Swans dropped from 3.500 to 2.000 between January 12 and January 16, which was much lower than the 14.000 recorded here in previous years.

However, there were some bright spots: the numbers of the Ruddy Shelduck doubled to 10.500 and volunteers counted 1.000 Greater Flamingos as well.

This year was also special for another reason: For the first time, students participated in this important task together with ornithologists. Around 30 students surveyed water bodies with 14 qualified recorders and learned to identify species. As a result, ACBK was able to cover the biggest number of wetlands ever, including all the really important sites.

After several years of collaborative work with regional governments and environmental experts and NGOs, the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK), BirdLife’s partner in Kazakhstan, is proud to announce that Western Tien-Shan was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List: here.

First Danish cosmonaut in space

This video says about itself:

Historic 500th Soyuz rocket sets off from Baikonur

1 September 2015

The 500th Soyuz rocket has successfully lifted off from the Gagarin’s Start launchpad marking a historic milestone for Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft will deliver three new crew members to the International Space Station.

Russian and Kazakh cosmonauts (Sergey Volkov and Aidyn Aimbetov respectively), along with the first ever Danish astronaut (Andreas Mogensen) have entered history on board Soyuz TMA-18M. The 500th manned rocket launched from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin’s original Soyuz blasted off from on April 12, 1961.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

Soyuz slowly blasts off to space station

KAZAKHSTAN: A Russian, a Dane and a Kazakh blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday.

Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space, while Kazakh Aidyn Aimbetov got his chance to go into space when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.

The Soyuz spacecraft will take an unusually long two-day flightpath to the ISS due to safety concerns after the station had to adjust its orbit to avoid orbital debris.

Saiga antelope and art in Kazakhstan

Drawing attention to the plight of the saiga through local engagement in community art. Photo: Rory McCann

From BirdLife:

Drawing attention to the plight of the Saiga through school mural painting

By Rory McCann, Mon, 15/06/2015 – 12:40

I am here in Kazakhstan to paint a mural depicting the wildlife of the steppe environment, with a particular focus on the Saiga antelope – a comical-looking yet critically endangered species which originally inhabited a vast area of the Eurasian steppe zone. The Saiga population in Kazakhstan has recently suffered severe losses due to a disease outbreak.

On my second day I meet staff of the Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan (ACBK, BirdLife Partner in Kazakhstan), who tell me one of the main issues for Saiga antelope is that they are being poached, especially by individuals in the remote villages of central Kazakhstan.

Our mural will be made in one of these villages, with the aim of boosting the plight of the Saiga. The mural painting team are Zhanna Aksartova – ACBK’s Conservation Education Coordinator, Ekaterina Aksartova – Zhanna’s sister and ecology student, and myself – Rory McCann – a wildlife artist with a background in conservation.

We travel across Kazahkstan to the village where we will paint the mural.  Its location is the village school, a mighty-looking building built by the government 3 years ago. We hope to have the help of the schoolchildren.

We are shown around the school by the school director and the village leader. I am touched and tickled to be given many business-like handshakes by children as young as three years old!

It’s exciting to introduce ourselves and explain our reasons for being there. We talk about the values of preserving native biodiversity and we launch a drawing competition for the students.

We have eight days to paint the mural!

The first brush strokes are always the hardest, but the fear of ruining a perfectly good wall quickly subsides and mural-painting fever takes over!

The days go by and our mural starts to take shape and so does a growing following of budding young artists. By the third day, I can barely move for all the students who are packed around me producing their own drawings based on the mural painting.

Zhanna and Ekaterina chat to the children and get them involved in activities such as making masks and singing songs about the Saiga. The children seem enthralled by the process – exactly the response we were hoping for!

We run a workshop with the younger competition winners – a series of mini drawing challenges, a master class in drawing eyes, and making Saiga gift cards. The competition winners can paint an animal on the mural.

The final day arrives. We must have the mural finished by 5pm in time for the grand opening. The mural has been sectioned off with curtains across the entrance so that our big unveiling can have maximum dramatic impact!  At 4:45 pm, the brushes are put down for the last time, with a big sigh of relief.

At 5pm, we emerge from behind the curtains to a waiting crowd of students, staff and other villagers. A few minutes of prize–giving, tributes and words of thanks, the curtains are pulled back to reveal the finished mural. More than 25 steppe animals and birds are represented on the mural painting.

The hope is that this project can pave the way for ACBK to conduct further outreach and educational projects in this region with a view to improving the status of the Saiga antelope and other species in the surrounding environment.

The enthusiasm and friendliness of the students has really made this experience a rewarding one for me.

The Mural Project was instigated by the Saiga Conservation Alliance, with funding generously given by Zynga via the Wildlife Conservation Network.

Rory McCann worked for two years at BirdLife’s Global Secretariat office in Cambridge.

Nearly 140, 000 of the critically endangered saiga antelope (Saiga tatarica), which lives in the Central Asian steppe, have died suddenly in Kazakhstan, almost half the global population, over a two week period: here.

The saiga is a Critically Endangered antelope that was originally found almost all over the Eurasian steppes, from Ukraine and Russia all the way to Mongolia. Today, they can only be found in parts of Russia and Kazakhstan due to illegal taking pressures for their meat and horns: here.