Naked mole-rats, new study

This 2013 video is called True Facts About The Naked Mole Rat.

By Melissa Breyer:

Secrets of the naked mole-rat revealed

October 23, 2015

New research finds the naked mole-rat has been wildly misunderstood for decades.

So maybe the lack of fur, beady eyes and exuberant teeth don’t exactly make for “cute,” but in terms of nature’s design, the naked mole-rat is a splendid creature. Adapted to a life lived in tunnels beneath the hot African desert, their naked skin allows for excellent burrowing. They don’t need big cute eyes for their subterranean existence, and those teeth? Those teeth are so remarkable that they can not only chew through the tough underground roots that provide nutrition, but they can even chew through concrete when occasion calls for it.

Unlike most other mammals, naked mole-rats are eusocial, meaning that, like bees and ants, they live in a colony with a queen. A few lucky nude dudes get to mate with their depilated ruler, while the rest of the gang works on foraging and infrastructure. And, it has long been believed, they inbreed. (Which has kind of been the last straw for their reputation: They look like larva with teeth and they have sex with family members?)

According to a new study on the little darlings, evolutionary biologists have long been curious about their amorous behavior: “Why would this rodent have evolved to socialize and mate so differently from other mammals? From a natural selection standpoint – where advantageous traits are passed down to succeeding generations – what is gained by limiting genetic diversity by limiting the breeding pool?”

Now it turns out that maybe scientists have been wrong all along, according to the University of Virginia-led study published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

UVA biologist Colleen Ingram and a team of researchers looked at the genetics of different mole-rat populations from Africa, and analyzed them in comparison to the genetics of a mole-rat population that has been studied for decades. They discovered that the groups of the long-studied mole-rats are “inbred” only because they all initially came from a limited, genetically isolated group of naked mole-rats from south of Kenya‘s Athi River.

The team found that larger wild populations from other regions are genetically variable; although they are eusocial, they are not inbred.

“We now know, from looking at the big picture from a much larger geographic area than previously studied, that the naked mole-rat is not inbred at all,” Ingram said.

“What we thought we knew was based on early genetics studies of a small inbred sample from an otherwise genetically variable species. This shows that long-held assumptions, even from heavily studied model species, can and should always be questioned and further studied.”

So there you have it. The naked mole-rat may be bereft of cuddly fur … and bare teeth that are the stuff of cartoon nightmares, but inbred? No way. Proving that science can be fallible, one naked mole-rat at a time.

Saving vultures in Pakistan

This video says about itselF:

31 August 2011

Kenya celebrates the International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD) by showing the diversity of species, illustrating their critical role in the environment and focusing on their main cause for their widespread decline, poisoning with pesticides.

Dr Richard Leakey makes a personal statement regarding his own experience in witnessing the decline of vultures and highlights the need for governments to tackle poisoning issues seriously, otherwise the future of vultures is [certain. IVAD is a global event with awareness campaigns in the America’s, throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and the far East. Vultures have declined as much as 95% over South Asia and India because of the side-effect of diclophenac, a pharmaceutical drug meant to relieve pain in livestock.

Wind turbines and electricity lines are proving to be another serious hazard for vultures all over the world. Habitat removal and disturbance also play major roles in their declines.

Vultures are one of the most beneficial animals due to their “clean-up” work and removing carcasses that would otherwise rot and encourage disease. In Kenya vultures play a vital role in not only wildlife health but in the pastoral livestock rearing lands and in community public health. Join us in celebrating the vulture!

From Pakistan Today:

Plan for protection of fast-disappearing vultures

September 1, 2015 BY PPI

At the Baanhn Beli office in Nagarparkar, Tharparkar, Sindh, close to the Pakistan-India border, a new project was launched at a simple yet colourful, well-attended event to prepare a comprehensive national strategy to protect and conserve endangered vultures.

These birds have become a highly endangered species in Pakistan in recent years.

Serving as a unique scavenger bird for the past 50 million years which cleans the landscape from dead or rotting carcasses and is a vital link in the web of nature and ecosystems, the number of vultures in Pakistan has declined steeply over the past two decades. Nagarparkar Taluka is one of only two or three areas in the whole country where small colonies of vultures are still present.

A total of 224 residents of villages in Nagarparkar Taluka comprising 131 men and 93 women participated in the project launch ceremony. Volunteer-leaders of Baanhn Beli, a representative of IUCN, officials of the Departments of Wildlife, Forests, Local Administration of the Government of Sindh, leaders of other NGOs working in Tharparkar and village leaders addressed the gathering and gave relevant details.

Speakers highlighted the fact that the principal reason for the rapid and alarming reduction in the number of vultures is that a pain-killing drug known as “Diclofenac” normally administered to livestock to kill pain and increase weight and milk production proved to be catastrophically fatal for the internal organs of vultures. Similar rapid declines have been seen in India, Nepal and several countries in Africa. In 2006, the Government of Pakistan banned the production and use of veterinary medicines containing “Diclofenac” to save the rapidly declining vulture population.

However, unauthorised use of diclofenac continues and poses a threat to this remarkable species. Following the constitution of an Asia Regional Steering Committee on Vultures by IUCN in 2012, the Ministry of Climate Change has notified “National Vulture Recovery Committee” in 2012 to improve the coordination for conservation of vultures at the national level.

Several negative effects of the decline in the vulture population are already evident. These include contamination of the soil and water, infection of other species and human beings, increase in the number of feral dogs which feed on the dead or rotting carcasses and become dangerous animals for human settlements.

Concerted efforts on local, provincial, national and regional levels will be required to prepare and implement an effective strategy for the protection and conservation of vultures.

With this goal, the volunteer-led, community-based development organisation known as Baanhn Beli (a friend forever), now in its 31st year of public service in the Tharparkar arid region, in collaboration with IUCN-The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environment organisation has launched the project for the formulation of the National Vulture Conservation Strategy. USAID is proving funding support to the project.

Over the next 10 months, a series of coordinated actions are planned with the active participation of village communities, local resource persons, relevant officials, technical international and national experts to identify specific measures at multiple levels that will conserve existing numbers and promote their safe breeding. Consultations will also be held with the national and international experts on similar initiatives taken in South Asia and Africa.

The launch ceremony in Nagarparkar is being followed up with an inception ceremony on September 7, 2015.


Kenyan monument for people tortured during British colonialism

Kenyan Mau Mau veterans picket the law courts in the Strand in London, England as a successful legal case is brought against the UK government

From daily News Line in Britain:

Friday, 4 September 2015

Memorial to Mau Mau freedom fighters

A MEMORIAL will be unveiled at 07:30am (GMT) on Saturday 12th September 2015, at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park, Nairobi to remember the many thousands of Kenyans who suffered torture and abuse at the hands of British forces at the end of the colonial era (1952-1960).

In 2013, following a legal case brought against the UK government by law firm Leigh Day on behalf of 5,200 Kenyans, the then Foreign Secretary, William Hague, expressed ‘sincere regret’ that thousands of Kenyans had been subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the British colonial administration during the Kenya Emergency.

Attending Saturdays’ ceremony will be representatives of the Mau Mau War Veterans Association as well as representatives from Leigh Day, the British High Commissioner and UK government officials. Daniel Leader, a partner at law firm Leigh Day, who will be attending the ceremony on behalf of Leigh Day, said: ‘This memorial represents the first apology by the UK government for abuses by the British during colonial rule.

‘Crimes such as castration, rape and repeated violence of the worst kind were inflicted upon thousands of Kenyans by British colonial officials in detention camps. Many of those who suffered had little or nothing to do with the Mau Mau insurgency.

‘This memorial, along with the apology given in 2013, has gone a long way to lifting the cloud that has hung over those Kenyans tortured by the British for so long.’

3.3-million-year-old stone tools discovery in Kenya

This video says about itself:

3.3-Million-Year-Old Stone Tools Found in Kenya

30 April 2015

Archaeologists find stone tools used by early human ancestors in Kenya that predate the oldest known tools found in Ethiopia by some 700,000 years.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Stone tool discovery pushes back dawn of culture by 700,000 years

Finding overturns idea that tool-making ability was unique to our own ancestors and is hailed as a “new beginning to the known archaeological record”

Hannah Devlin, science correspondent

Wednesday 20 May 2015 18.00 BST

The oldest known stone tools, dating to long before the emergence of modern humans, have been discovered in Africa.

The roughly-hewn stones, which are around 3.3 million years old, have been hailed by scientists as a “new beginning to the known archaeological record” and push back the dawn of culture by 700,000 years.

The discovery overturns the mainstream view that the ability to make stone tools was unique to our own ancestors and that it was one of a handful of traits that made early humans so special.

The new artefacts, found in Kenya’s Turkana basin, suggest that a variety [of] ancient apes were making similar advances in parallel across the African continent.

“It just rewrites the book on a lot of things that we thought were true,” said Chris Lepre, a geologist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Rutgers University, who precisely dated the tools.

The Homo genus, from which modern humans descend, only emerged around 2.5 million years ago, when forests gave way to open grassland environments in Africa. Until now, it was widely assumed that environmental changes around this time triggered the shift towards a bipedal hunter-gatherer life style.

Jason Lewis, of Stony Brook University in New York and a co-author, said: “The idea was that our lineage alone took the cognitive leap of hitting stones together to strike off sharp flakes and that this was the foundation of our evolutionary success. This discovery challenges the idea that the main characters that make us human, such as making stone tools, eating more meat, maybe using language, all evolved at once in a punctuated way, near the origins of the genus Homo.”

The question of what, or whom, might have made the tools remains a mystery, but fossils from around the same period found at the site provide some clues.

The skull of a 3.3-million-year-old hominin, Kenyanthropus platytops [sic; K. platyops] , was found in 1999 about a kilometre from the tool site and a skull fragment and tooth from the same species were found just a few hundred metres away.

Other species from the same era include Australopithecus afarensis, which the famous Lucy fossil belongs to.

Professor Fred Spoor, a palaeontologist at University College London and part of the team that discovered K. platytops [sic; platyops], said the tools were “a very important find”. “Until now the thinking’s been that if you want to be part of this special club ‘Homo’, you need to be a tool-maker,” he said. “The period before three million years ago was seen as a rather boring period of evolution, but now we know there was stuff happening.”

Until now, hominins such as Australopithecus, from the earlier time period have been caricatured as “upright, bipedal chimpanzees that were just grazing the landscape with not much else going on,” he added.

To the untrained eye, the tools look unremarkable – barely distinguishable from ordinary rocks. But to scientists familiar with early humans, the hallmarks of tool-making were obvious. “I could immediately see the scars and features characteristic of a knapped stone,” said Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook, who made the discovery.

Professor Spoor and others who have examined the collection of tools have been impressed by the quality of the evidence.

“This is a momentous and well-researched discovery,” said paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who was not involved in the study. “I have seen some of these artefacts in the flesh, and I am convinced they were fashioned deliberately.”

The collection of several dozen tools appears to have been made by two different techniques. In one case, a core stone was held on an anvil and hit from above with a hammer stone to chip off sharp flakes, which the scientists believe could have been used to slice meat and plants. Other stones appear to have been held in two hands and struck against the anvil, again producing slices of stone.

Although the end results appear primitive, they demonstrate a degree of mental sophistication that is unexpected for such early hominins. Modern chimpanzees use natural stones as “tools” to crack nuts, for instance, but they stop short of actively fashioning their own tools.

The researchers relied on a layer of volcanic ash below the tools, which matched ash elsewhere that had been dated to 3.3 million years ago, to set a “floor” on the site’s age. The date was then refined by analysing magnetic minerals at the site, which contain a record of the Earth’s periodically switching magnetic field.

The findings are published today in the journal Nature.

See also here.

Two recently announced discoveries push back the known dates of both the earliest stone tools and the earliest remains likely to represent the genus Homo, reinforcing the link between technology and human evolution. The first find, unveiled at a conference organized by the Paleoanthropology Society in San Francisco last month, and published in the journal Nature, included the discovery of stone tools, including flakes, cores, hammers, and anvils, dating to 3.3 million years ago. The assemblage has been called Lomekwian, after the location of its discovery. The find was made in Kenya by a team from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, led by Sonia Harmand: here.

Hippo dung helps dragonflies, fish

This video is called Inside Nature’s Giants- Hippo.

From New Scientist:

Hippo dung is health food for river animals

18:45 15 April 2015 by Jessica Hamzelou

Don’t just flush it away. Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, hippo dung seems to be a valuable source of nutrition for the animals’ aquatic neighbours.

By injecting millions of tons of faeces into African waters every year, hippos may be providing a vital link between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Douglas McCauley of the University of California in Santa Barbara and his colleagues compared fish and dragonfly larvae in two river pools in Kenya‘s Laikipia district, one inhabited by hippos and the other hippo-free.

They found components of hippo dung in the tissues of dragonfly larvae that lived alongside the animals year round. During the dry season, fish absorbed faecal nutrients as well, while levels in dragonfly larvae increased.

The team thinks that during the wet season, high rainfall dilutes the hippos’ waste and faster-flowing rivers also wash away dung before animals can access it.

As climate change and development in east Africa continue to affect local rivers, it will be important to consider how the benefits of hippo excrement can be preserved.

Journal reference: Ecosphere,