New bat species discovery in Kenya

This 13 July 2018 video is called 2 Lemon-Yellow Bat Species Discovered in Africa. And They’re Adorable Fuzz Balls.

From the Field Museum in the USA:

Fuzzy yellow bats reveal evolutionary relationships in Kenya

July 12, 2018

Summary: DNA analysis of fuzzy yellow bats in Kenya revealed at least two new species unknown to science. It’s important because Africa’s biodiversity is often under-studied and poorly understood, even though bats play a crucial role in agriculture and public health.

After Halloween, people tend to forget about bats. But, for farmers, residents of Kenya, and scientists, bats are a part of everyday life. While North America has 44 species, Kenya, a country the size of Texas, has 110 bat species. Many of these species also contain subspecies and further divisions that can make the bat family tree look like a tangled mess. Researchers set out to cut the clutter by sorting the lineages of yellow house bats and in the process found two new species.

The bats of Scotophilus vary in size and other characteristics but, in general, “They’re cute. They look a lot like the bats you see in Chicago but they’re this great yellow color”, says Terry Demos, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Chicago’s Field Museum and lead author of a recent paper in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. These furry creatures can roost in the nooks and crannies of homes in Kenya. “These are bats that live with people — they don’t call them house bats for nothing”, adds Bruce Patterson, MacArthur Curator of Mammals at the Field Museum and co-author of the study. Bats usually don’t fly too far to find a home either. Despite having wings, bats prefer to stay in a specific region, resulting in huge amounts of diversity throughout Africa.

Before understanding how these bat species related to one another, it was difficult to even research them. “We were using three different names for these bats in the field”, says Patterson. That kind of evolutionary confusion is enough to make anyone batty. As Demos and Patterson explain, bats that look very similar could have wildly different genetic information. This means that new species could be hiding in plain sight due to their physical similarities to other species. The only way to solve this mystery is to use cutting-edge genetic analysis techniques.

Skin samples collected from the field in Kenya, combined with information from an online genetic database, provided clarity to species confusion. Comparing all the DNA sequences of the samples showed the amount of similarity. The more similar the DNA, the closer species are to each other evolutionarily. This information was then used to make a chart that looks like a tree, with branches coming off one point. The tree is similar to a family tree, but instead of showing the relationships between different family members, it shows the relationships between species. The results accomplished the goal of finding the limits of species but also showed unexpected results. Besides sorting the known species, the tree predicted at least two new bat species. “These new species are unknown to science”, says Demos. “There was no reason to expect that we’d find two new species there.” When Patterson saw these two undescribed species, he got excited: “It’s cool because it says there’s a chapter of evolution that no one’s stumbled across before.”

These findings are not only interesting to scientists but to the local farming industry. Organic groceries at Trader Joe’s would be next to impossible without bats. They act as a natural pesticide, eating insects that threaten crops. Besides farmers, local health officials also rely on bat research because bats can be disease vectors that threaten public health. Being able to understand bats means that scientists can protect public health and plates of food.

This unexpected finding attests to the diversity of life in Kenya and other tropical locales in Africa. The variety of species in these regions is not ye described because, “Africa is understudied, and its biodiversity is underestimated, and it’s critical because there are threats to its biodiversity”, says Demos. This research gives a framework for future scientists to categorize species of bats and describe new species.

In the United States, because our bats are well researched, there is an app that can recognize bat calls, kind of like Shazam for bats. Patterson plays bat sounds off his phone: “I recorded this in my driveway and an app was able to identify the bat. This is what we want to be able to do in the field someday.” The next step in this research is using the genetic analysis of Scotophilus bats as a framework that allows scientists to categorize and eventually recognize species based on observable features, such as the chirps, squeaks, and sounds human ears can’t hear.

Demos notes that it is important to better understand these mysterious flying mammals to help conservation and local farming efforts. This study surveying Kenya paves the way for exploring other regions using the same methods. Science has brought us closer to understanding how bat species relate to one another, but Patterson says there is still more to discover — “No interesting biological questions are ever fully answered, and progress towards answering them invariably opens up a variety of others.”

See also here.


Baby African elephant’s first bath

This video says about itself:

Baby Elephant takes her First Bath | BBC Earth

14 June 2018

An elephant calf just a few days old has her first bath in the waterhole with her helpful nanny elephants – but climbing out is harder than getting in.

Elephant Family and Me: Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan travels to the spectacular Tsavo wilderness in Kenya to try to get closer than ever before to a wild elephant family. African elephants are among the most dangerous animals in the world, killing more people than lions or any other predator. But Gordon believes that elephants become dangerous only because of our actions towards them.

Hyenas save baby from lions

This video from Kenya says about itself:

Lions mess with the wrong hyena clan

11 June 2018

Because lions and hyenas both consume the same prey, they are each others’ most common competitors. Lions are three to four times larger than hyenas and hunt larger animals. A group of hyenas, however, can often use teamwork to intimidate a lion away from its meal. Both lions and hyenas frequently steal from each other. Lions have learned to recognize the feeding calls of hyenas after a recent hunt. They follow the calls to the source and chase the hyenas from their prey. Although it would seem abundant prey would lessen the hostility, the opposite has been observed.

In this sighting the lioness was trying to catch a young hyena and the hyena clan would have none of it, this lioness was very lucky to survive this ordeal.

Filmed in Masai Mara.

Elephant herd celebrates birth of baby

This video says about itself:

Elephant Herd Celebrates a New Born Calf | BBC Earth

10 June 2018

A new born elephant baby brings joy to the elephant herd.

Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan travels to the spectacular Tsavo wilderness in Kenya to try to get closer than ever before to a wild elephant family. African elephants are one of the most dangerous animals in the world, killing more people than lions or any other predator. But Gordon believes that elephants become dangerous only because of our actions towards them.

Lions near Kenya’s capital

This 2016 video from Kenya is called A Free Walk Day For The Lions In Nairobi.

From Leiden University in the Netherlands:

Lions in the queue for food

25 May 2018

The number of lions in Kenya is decreasing alarmingly, due partly to the encroaching cities and the development of the countryside. Together with local scientists and inhabitants, Leiden biologists are studying how this decline can be halted. ‘Lions are cleverer than we thought.’

Inhabitants of the suburbs of Nairobi often get the shock of their lives: every year between the streams of cars a huge lion will make its appearance. And, given the resulting commotion, these 3200-kilo

Very doubtful. Wikipedia estimates male lions are 150-250 kilo.

lions find themselves hemmed in by the cars. In Kenya’s capital Nairobi, this is a more frequent occurrence than it may seem, Leiden Professor of Environmental Biology Hans de Iongh, who also has an appointment in Antwerp, explains. With its rapidly increasing population, the capital city is spreading out towards the borders of Nairobi National Park; at just 117 sq.m.,

117.21 square kilometres (28,963 acres), according to Wikipedia.

the par[k] is relatively small. As a comparison, the Veluwe Park in the Netherlands is around 1,000 sq.m.

The partly enclosed Kenyan park is open on the south side so that the wild animals, such as zebras and giraffes are not completely restricted in their search for food. But the same also applies to the 35 to 40 adult lions that regularly go hunting outside the park – with all the consequences this entails. Last year park rangers shot an aggressive lion dead outside the park because it was fighting with another lion, and causing some concern. Neighbouring cattle farmers sometimes kill lions if they attack their cattle or sheep. And the lions in the traffic? They often return to the park of their own accord, but there are also occasions when they have to be anaesthetised before they can be removed, or they are even killed.

Restricting lions’ freedom

The Kenyan lion population has declined alarmingly over the past twenty years: from around 2,700 lions at the turn of the century that number now stands at around 2,000. The Kenya Wildlife Service is applying compensation measures and issuing advice to the local population to stop the lions running completely free. This Kenyan government organisation has also called on the help of Leiden researchers. PhD candidates and students have been conducting research here for over ten years, supervised by Professors of Environmental Biology Geert de Snoo and Hans de Iongh. De Iongh works at the Institute of Environmental Sciences, part of Leiden’s Faculty of Science, and De Snoo is dean of the same faculty. The researchers are studying the behaviour of the lions and whether their feeding patterns are changing under the influence of climate change.

One of the Leiden PhD candidates is Kenyan Francis Lesilau, Head of Security at Nairobi National Park. He is researching how farmers can protect their animals against lions, and conversely, how lions can be protected against people. The conflicts between humans and lions are unfortunately increasing, Lesilau explains by phone from Nairobi. Beside population growth, climate change also plays a role: the increasing drought is drawing the animals further away in their search for food, which means that animals of prey, like lions, have to travel many kilometres. ‘For them, the bomas, the enclosures where the cattle are kept overnight, are rather like attractive shopping centres where they can do some food shopping’, De Iongh explains. Lesilau understands the fear and anger of the cattle farmers. ‘The cattle are their only asset as well as their food.’ But he also wants to protect the lions so that they don’t become extinct in the region.

As Head of Security, Lesilau patrols Nairobi National Park almost every day. By chance, he often witnesses interesting incidents. He has twice seen a lioness pull a tranquiliser dart out of her rear paw.

Disco lights

Lesilau’s PhD research further builds on an inventive discovery dating from 2013 by the then 13-year-old cattle hand Richard Turere. As the son of a Masai cattle farmer, it was his job to protect the family’s cattle. After a lion had forced its way into the enclosure and killed a cow, Richard devised a deterrent system made up of flashing lights on the boma. It worked extremely well; the lions no longer ventured onto their land. De Iongh: ‘They’re a bit like disco lights placed at different intervals along the fence that flash intermittently, which makes the lions think that the cattle are being guarded by a number of people with lanterns.’ Richard’s clever invention was so successful, other cattle farmers also installed flashing lights.

Over the past three years Lesilau has been studying whether this deterrent really does work as well as it seems. He tracks the trail of lions using a transmitter in a collar around the lion’s neck. Via a satellite connection he can see where the lions have been, whether using his smartphone while driving around the park, or at his computer in Leiden. (It’s not yet possible to do this in real time, but with a delay of three hours). Over the past three years, he has monitored 80 cattle farmers in the region, 43 of whom were using the flashing lights. His study showed that those bomas with flashing lights were hardly ever attacked. The lions travelled further away from the borders of the park and went ‘shopping’ at enclosures without the lights. Lesilau: ‘This is an important discovery. Lions are able to adapt their behaviour if the environment changes. This means they are cleverer than we thought. They do sometimes attack cattle in the bomas in daylight hours. Fewer cows or sheep fall victim because the cattle are much more spread out in the daytime.’

Doesn’t this different form of predatory behaviour mean a greater danger for humans? Not necessarily, according to the two researchers. De Iongh: ‘Obviously, lions can be very dangerous, but in this area they seldom attack people. In principle, they don’t eat humans; they prefer wild animals or livestock.’ Lesilau does advocate a better system of enclosures for the park on the city side. A few years ago a man was injured when a lion attacked him in a suburb of Nairobi. This was mainly the result of human provocation, he explained. ‘More research is needed on the long-term effects and what the consequences are if the flashing lights are installed over a wider area.’

The research is having an effect elsewhere in Kenya. Four other national parks are going to be working with Leiden researchers, examining such issues as biodiversity. As well as a Dutch PhD candidate, two new Kenyan PhD candidates have been recruited and eight Dutch and Belgian students will be taking part in the research. The Kenyan researchers will also make frequent visits to Leiden to follow courses and share knowledge. ‘It is quite remarkable that a country that doesn’t have any lions is willing to help us’, Lesilau commented. ‘It’s really useful having scientists work together when there is a lack of knowledge in the local environment.’

Francis Lesilau says that in one sense his career is thanks to a lion. When he was 11 he had to protect his family’s last two camels. One day, a lion suddenly appeared and bit one of the camels in the neck. For a moment, Lesilau stood helpless, eye to eye with the lion. ‘I will never forget the piercing yellow eyes of that lion.’ The lion stared at him intensely, dropped the camel and trailed off. The camel did not survive. Lesilau’s father then decided to quit keeping camels, and Francis was able to go to school. After secondary school, he studied Sustainable Management at Leicester University in England. Afterwards, he became a ranger before becoming Security Manager at Kenya Wildlife Service, where he met Hans de Iongh. This is where their collaboration started.

Giraffes, new research

This video is called Giraffes 101 | National Geographic Wild.

From the University of Bristol in England:

Giraffes surprise biologists yet again

May 18, 2018

New research from the University of Bristol has highlighted how little we know about giraffe behaviour and ecology.

It is commonly accepted that group sizes of animals increase when there is a risk of predation, since larger group sizes reduce the risk of individuals being killed, and there are ‘many eyes’ to spot any potential predation risk.

Now, in the first study of its kind, Bristol PhD student Zoe Muller from the School of Biological Sciences has found that this is not true for giraffes, and that the size of giraffe groups is not influenced by the presence of predators.

Zoe Muller said: “This is surprising, and highlights how little we know about even the most basic aspects of giraffe behaviour.”

This study investigates how the grouping behaviour of giraffes differed in response to numerous factors, such as predation risk, habitat type and the characteristics of individuals.

Habitat type had some effect on group size, but the main effect on group size was in the behaviour of adult females, who were found to be in smaller groups when they had calves.

This is contrary to another popular belief that female giraffes form large groups to communally care for their young — this study, published this week in the Journal of Zoology presents the first evidence to show that actually, the opposite is true.

Giraffe populations have declined by 40 percent in the last 30 years, and there are now thought to be fewer than 98,000 individuals remaining in the wild.

In recognition of their drastic decline in the wild, they have recently been listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation in Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

However, conservation review is ongoing due to current debate over their taxonomic status, since some subspecies may be even more at risk of extinction than is currently recognised.

Zoe Muller added: “This research adds another important piece to the puzzle of understanding how giraffes live in the wild.

“Giraffes are a threatened species, suffering ongoing decline across Africa, and this research highlights how they are actually an incredibly misunderstood species. We can only manage and conserve giraffe populations effectively if we properly understand their behaviour and ecology, which we are only just beginning to do.

“Despite their prominence, giraffes have been significantly understudied in comparison to other charismatic African mammals. “The common misconception is that giraffes are ‘everywhere’ in Africa, yet recent research efforts have highlighted the fragmented and rapidly declining nature of their populations.

“Their recent listing as ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN red list is a valuable step towards recognising their potential to become extinct, and more research is sorely needed to understand the threats and challenges they face in the wild.”

The next steps for this research will be to replicate the findings in other areas of Africa. This is one case study from East Africa, and more research is needed to see if the same effects are observed in other giraffe populations. Results can be used to understand how the management of habitats, environmental and social variables can support the conservation of giraffe populations.

Outrage after American woman hunts and kills rare giraffe in South Africa. Tess Thompson posted Facebook photos of her next to the giraffe’s carcass: here.

This Kentucky woman is facing a huge backlash for killing a giraffe for sport in Africa.