What Ice Age mammals ate, new research

This 2012 video from the USA says about itself:

Florida’s Pleistocene Mammals

During the Pleistocene epoch, Florida was a wild place….even wilder than it is today. Mastodons, sabertooth cats and giant ground sloths roamed the peninsula in large numbers.

From the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany:

Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates

The ratio of special zinc isotopes in dental enamel provides information about the diet of mammals in prehistoric times

February 17, 2020

Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers, currently making it impossible to determine the exact timing of dietary changes or, often, even the species involved. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz have now tested a new method, the isotope analysis of zinc isotopes from the tooth enamel of fossil mammals. They found this method to be well suited to expand our knowledge about the diets of fossil humans and other Pleistocene mammals. The method proves especially useful when it comes to differentiating whether prehistoric mammals had mainly animal or plant-based food on the menu.

Information on what our ancestors ate is based mainly on carbon and nitrogen isotope analyses of the structural protein collagen in bones and dentin. Nitrogen isotope analysis, in particular, helps scientists determine whether animal or plant food was consumed. Since collagen, like proteins in general, is not easily conservable, this method cannot be used to examine vertebrate fossils older than about 100,000 years. This timeframe is even often reduced to only a few thousand years in arid or humid tropical regions like Africa and Asia, which are considered key regions for human evolution and are therefore of particular interest to science. New methods — such as zinc isotope analysis — are now starting to open up new research perspectives.

Zinc isotopes serve as indicators for food type consumed

The researchers analyzed the ratio of two different zinc isotopes in the dental enamel of fossil mammals that had only recently been discovered in a cave in Laos. These fossils date from the late Pleistocene, more precisely from around 13,500 to 38,400 years ago. In 2015, in the Tam Hay Marklot cave in northeastern Laos, scientists found fossils of various mammals, including water buffalos, rhinos, wild boars, deer, bears, orangutans and leopards. “The cave is located in a tropical region where organic materials such as collagen are generally poorly preserved. This makes it an ideal location for us to test whether we can determine the differences between herbivores and carnivores using zinc isotopes,” says study leader Thomas Tütken, professor at the JGU’s Institute of Geosciences.

First study with zinc isotopes on fossils shows preservation of food signatures

Zinc is ingested with food and stored as an essential trace element in the bioapatite, the mineral phase of tooth enamel. Thus, zinc has a better chance of being retained over longer periods of time than the collagen-bound nitrogen. The relevant ratio is derived from the ratio of zinc 66 to zinc 64: “On the basis of this ratio we can tell which animals are herbivores, carnivores or omnivores. This means that among the fossils we analyze, we can identify and clearly distinguish between carnivores and herbivores, while omnivores are expected to be in between,” says Nicolas Bourgon first author of the study from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and PhD student in Tütken’s research group. Lean meat contains more zinc-64 than plant food does. Carnivores, like the tiger, will have a smaller ratio of zinc-66 to zinc-64, as compared to herbivores, like the water buffalo.

In order to exclude alteration from external sources on the samples, the fossils were also examined by the team of Klaus Peter Jochum at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry. No changes were found when comparing the concentration and distribution of zinc and other trace elements of fossil tooth enamel with those of modern animals using laser ablation ICP mass spectrometry.

Time horizon to be extended to over 100,000-year-old fossils

The zinc isotope method has now — for the first time — been successfully applied to fossils. “The zinc isotope ratios in fossil enamel from the Tam Hay Marklot cave suggest an excellent long-term conservation potential in enamel, even under tropical conditions,” summarize the authors. Zinc isotopes could thus serve as a new tool to study the diet of fossil humans and other mammals. This would open a door to the study of prehistoric and geological periods well over 100,000 years ago. In the future, the next goals are to apply this method to reconstruct human dietary behaviours. The researchers also want to find out how far back in time back in time they can go, by applying their new method to fossils of extinct mammals and dinosaurs that are millions of years old.

Extinct Schomburgk’s deer, really extinct?

This August 2018 video says about itself:

The Schomburgk’s Deer (Rucervus schomburgki) was a member of the family Cervidae.

Native to central Thailand, Schomburgk’s deer was described by Edward Blyth in 1863 and named after Sir Robert H. Schomburgk, who was the British consul in Bangkok from 1857–1864.

It is thought to have gone extinct by 1938, but there is speculation that the deer might still exist.

This graceful deer inhabited swampy plains with long grass, cane, and shrubs in central Thailand, particularly in the Chao Phraya River valley near Bangkok.

This deer avoided dense vegetation. They lived in herds that consisted of a single adult male, a few females, and their young.

The wild population of Schomburgk’s deer is thought to have died because of overhunting in 1932, with the last captive individual being killed in 1938.

The species was listed as extinct in the 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

However, some scientists consider this species to be still extant.

In 1991, antlers were discovered in a Chinese medicine shop in Laos. Laurent Chazée, an agronomist with the United Nations, later identified the antlers from a photograph he took as coming from Schomburgk’s deer.

Only one mounted specimen is known to be in existence, which currently resides in Paris’s Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle after living in the zoo there until 1868.

From Northwestern University in the USA:

Rare deer likely lived 50 years beyond declaration of extinction

Fresh antlers from Schomburgk’s deer were photographed in Laos in 1991

September 6, 2019

A rare deer species that lived in central Thailand might have come back from the dead — without the help from sci-fi-like genetic engineering.

Schomburgk’s deer (Rucervus schomburgki) was added to the extinction list in 1938. But new evidence, gleaned from antlers obtained in late 1990 or early 1991, shows that it survived for at least an additional half-century and might still be around today.

The research was published last week (Aug. 30) in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. Gary Galbreath, professor of biological sciences at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, was involved in the work.

After the wild population died out from overhunting in 1932, the last known Schomburgk’s deer died in captivity six years later. Or so we thought. A trucker in Laos found a set of antlers, seemingly in fresh condition, in the early 1990s. He then gave the antlers to a shop in the northern Laos province of Phongsali.

In February 1991, United Nations agronomist Laurent Chazée photographed the antlers. Galbreath and his collaborator G.B. Schroering recently analyzed the antlers’ physical condition in those photos. Based on the widely spreading, basket-shaped, hyper-branched structure of the antlers, the team determined the antlers belonged to a Schomburgk’s deer. (Other Asian deer’s antlers do not have the same signature basket shape.)

Galbreath also confirmed that the antlers were fresh when photographed in 1991. The antlers — spotted with dark red to reddish-brown dried blood — had been excised from the deer’s head. The color of the blood and condition of the exposed bone marrow offered clues into the antlers’ age.

“The relative antiquity of the antler specimens can be assessed by the materials, such as dried marrow, still adhering to them,” said Galbreath, an expert in Asian wildlife. “Even the blood was still reddish; it would become black with increased age. In the tropics, the antlers would not continue to look this way even within a matter of months.”

Before they were listed as “extinct,” the deer were well documented in Thailand. Galbreath believes a small population probably also lived in a remote area in central Laos, where they just might still be living today.

Pentagon Vietnam war bombs still killing thousands of Laos people

This video says about itself:

US Cluster Bomb Legacy Costing Lives In Laos

4 August 2014

The Legacy: The Vietnam war‘s dark legacy is still costing lives in Laos. Meet the brave women trying to clear the bomb fields.

Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world. In the Vietnam War the US dropped 2 million tonnes of explosives there. Now, a brave band of women are finding and destroying the ‘bombies’ left behind.

The women walk slowly through the undergrowth, scanning the ground with metal detectors. Given there are up to 80 million unexploded munitions in Laos the women are doing a job that will take more than a lifetime to complete. “I was excited as well as frightened”, says 46-year-old Phou Vong, recalling the first time she found a ‘bombie’. “I hesitated a bit, but thought I should be glad to see it, because in a sense I was helping my people.”

Phou joined the team 3 years ago, after her husband was killed in a road accident. “There was no-one to help me but myself, and I had no money to support my children’s education.” She now earns $250 a month, that’s better than the average wage in Laos. It’s a special empowerment programme to give much-needed opportunities to local women. But the de-miners are worried their funding will run out. “We won’t be able to clear them all, there are just so many of them.” More than four decades after the American campaign ended, undetonated explosives still contaminate forests and fields. And it’s Lao civilians who are risking their lives to clean them up.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

In the Asian country Laos millions of balls are scattered throughout the country. They look a bit like tennis balls. So, children pick them up to play with, until the balls explode suddenly.

The balls are remnants of cluster bombs which the US American air force has thrown over the country during the Vietnam War. Between 1964 and 1973, the US threw two billion kilos of bombs – more than half of the total number of bombs dropped during World War II. …

Some 80 million of these US bombs have not exploded and are still somewhere in the country. The Laotians have been working for forty years to make them harmless, but only 1 percent of the bombs have been cleared so far.

The unexploded cluster bombs have so far claimed about 20,000 lives. Most victims are children, who mistook the bombs for toys.

Take a look at a map of the millions of bombs still left to be cleared. [Reuters]

A rare media examination of the US saturation bombing of Laos: here.

This video says about itself:

Blood Road | Official TRAILER

Blood Road follows the journey of ultra-endurance mountain bike athlete Rebecca Rusch and her Vietnamese riding partner, Huyen Nguyen, as they pedal 1,200 miles along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail through the dense jungles of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. Their goal: to reach the site where Rebecca’s father, a U.S. Air Force pilot, was shot down in Laos more than 40 years earlier. During this poignant voyage of self-discovery, the women push their bodies to the limit, while learning more about the historic ‘Blood Road’ and how the Vietnam War shaped their lives in different ways.


Rebecca Rusch

Huyen Nguyen

Directed By: Nicholas Schrunk

Researchers have used artificial intelligence to detect Vietnam War-era bomb craters in Cambodia from satellite images — with the hope that it can help find unexploded bombs: here.

New bat species discovery in Asia

Hypsugo dolichodon. Photo by: Judith L. Eger

From Inspire Wildlife:

New Bat Species Packs A Bite

Emily Stewart, April 26, 2015

A new bat species has been identified in the rainforests of Lao PDR and Vietnam, and it has a set of fangs which would make any dentist quake in their boots. Named the long-toothed pipestrelle (Hypsugo dolichodon) the species is most closely related to the Chinese pipestrelle (Hypsugo pulveratus) although it is much larger in overall size as well as fang length.

But why does the long-toothed pipestrelle sport such impressive dentures?

It is believed the large fangs may be a result of niche segregation, whereby it could grab larger prey or beetles with a harder exoskeleton and thus removing competition from other species for food. In essence, evolution has allowed the long-toothed pipestrelle to create its own ecological niche within its environment.

Despite first being trapped in 1997 by Charles M. Francis, and Antonio Guillén it has taken 17 years to formally identify the bat as more evidence was needed to determine it was a separate species. However genetic analysis has now proven the species was until now unknown to science. This is highly exciting news and can mean a variety of things.

Foremost we cannot ignore the fact that usually when a new species is identified it usually already endangered. To name but a few examples; the bahian mouse-colored tapaculo a small Brazilian songbird discovered in 2014 is under threat from logging, the first new river dolphin to be discovered in a century last year is though to be highly endangered and a tree dwelling porcupine (Coendou speratus)identified in 2013 is also thought to be vulnerable to deforestation.

As is often the answer in these cases, more research is needed into the long-toothed pipestrelle to determine whether conservation action is needed. Although currently one of the areas where a specimen has been caught is currently being destroyed by the construction of a dam along the Xe Kaman River in Lao PDR. Despite the vegetation of this area being obliterated, Tamás Görföl lead author of the paper identifying the new species does not proclaim this to be death knell for the bat.

In an interview with Mongabay, he claims that although the dam threatens the species, they can “presumably survive in other areas of its distribution if we stop the deforestation of the tropical landscapes”. He also adds that they may be a cave dweller so the protection of caves may also be needed. Another factor is that although the species current distribution is only known to be within Vietnam and Lao PDR it is possible it may be more widely distributed, something which the study and genetic analysis of previously collected materials can reveal.

Bats play a huge ecological role in their environment and every discovery of a new species can be exciting as they can reveal more hidden secrets about the world we live in. Hopefully the long-toothed pipestrelle will buck the trend and be a newly discovered species which is not immediately endangered.

For More Information:

GÖRFÖL, TAMÁS, GÁBOR CSORBA, JUDITH L. EGER, NGUYEN TRUONG SON, and CHARLES M. FRANCIS. “Canines make the difference: a new species of Hypsugo (Chiroptera: Vespertilionidae) from Laos and Vietnam.” Zootaxa 3887, no. 2 (2014): 239-250.

New Bat Species has Fangs you won’t believe

Saudi bombs killing Yemeni civilians

This video says about itself:

US Cluster Bomb Legacy Costing Lives In Laos

4 August 2014

The Legacy: The Vietnam war‘s dark legacy is still costing lives in Laos. Meet the brave women trying to clear the bomb fields.

From Human Rights Watch:

Yemen: Saudi-Led Airstrikes Take Civilian Toll

Saudis Should Not Repeat Use of Cluster Bombs

March 28, 2015

(Beirut) – The Saudi Arabia-led coalition of Arab countries that conducted airstrikes in Yemen on March 26 and 27, 2015, killed at least 11 and possibly as many as 34 civilians during the first day of bombings in Sanaa, the capital, Human Rights Watch said today. The 11 dead included 2 children and 2 women. Saudi and other warplanes also carried out strikes on apparent targets in the cities of Saada, Hodaida, Taiz, and Aden.

The airstrikes targeted Ansar Allah, the armed wing of the Zaidi Shia group known as the Houthis, that has controlled much of northern Yemen since September 2014. In January, the group effectively ousted the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi …

The governments of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan said that their warplanes also participated in airstrikes on March 26 and 27. Pakistan and Egypt provided naval support and the United States provided intelligence and logistical support, media reports said.

Interior Ministry officials linked to Ansar Allah shared with Human Rights Watch details of their final casualty count from the bombings in Sanaa on March 26. They said that warplanes bombed various parts of the city, including Bani Hawat, a predominantly Houthi neighborhood near Sanaa’s international and military airports, and al-Nasr, near the presidential palace. The officials said they had documented that 23 civilians had been killed and 24 wounded. Among the dead were 5 children, ages 2 to 13, 6 women, and an elderly man, they said. The wounded included 12 children, ages 3 to 8, and 2 women.

These numbers are consistent with information provided by two hospitals that Human Rights Watch visited. At the hospitals, Human Rights Watch documented the deaths of 11 civilians, including 2 women and 2 children, whose names were not included among those provided by Interior Ministry officials as well as 14 more wounded, including 3 children and 1 woman.

Amnesty International reported that bombing destroyed at least 14 homes in Bani Hawat.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether specific attacks complied with the laws of war, which apply to the armed conflict in Yemen. The laws of war prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian property, or that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and fighters. Attacks that cause casualties or damage disproportionate to any anticipated military advantage are also prohibited. All parties to the conflict have an obligation to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from harm, and not to deploy forces in densely populated areas.

Saudi Arabia’s past use of cluster bombs, which are indiscriminate weapons, raises concerns that they will be used in the current fighting, Human Rights Watch said. There is credible evidence that in November 2009 Saudi Arabia dropped cluster bombs in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate during fighting between the Houthis and the Yemeni and Saudi militaries.

Cluster munition remnants from the 2009 airstrikes, including unexploded submunitions, have been reported by a number of sources. In July 2013, Yemeni clearance personnel photographed unexploded US-made BLU-97 and BLU-61 submunitions. In May 2014, VICE News published photos and a video shot near Saada showing numerous remnants of US-made CBU-52 cluster bombs deployed in 2009.

Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of submunitions. The submunitions are designed to explode when they hit the ground but spread over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time of attack at risk of death or injury. In addition, many submunitions do not explode on impact but remain armed, becoming de facto landmines.

The US provided Saudi Arabia with significant exports of cluster bombs between 1970 and 1999. Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch has urged Saudi Arabia and Yemen to join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use of cluster munitions in any circumstance.

“Saudi forces should publicly reject any use of cluster munitions and recognize that their use could have a devastating impact on civilians,” Stork said.

Defence officials in Washington admitted providing refuelling tankers and surveillance flights for the Saudi operations yesterday and there are several US troops working in the operations centre. Saudi ambassador Adel al-Jubeir said in Washington that the autocratic regime in Riyadh was “very pleased” with the level of co-ordination with the US: here.

Yet another front has been opened in the US-led war drive in the Middle East, this time in Yemen. In flagrant violation of international law, Saudi Arabia, backed by the Obama administration, has now completed its third day of air strikes targeting strategic locations as well as residential neighborhoods in Yemen. At least 39 civilians have been killed, including at least six children. The death toll will no doubt rise sharply in the coming days. These actions are being carried out with US logistical support, utilizing fighter jets and bombs provided by the United States: here.

BAE agrees price on Typhoon jet deal with Saudi Arabia government. British defence firm announces deal on 72 Eurofighter aircraft during Prince Charles visit to Saudi royals and deputy PM: here.

Saudi Arabia says it won’t rule out building nuclear weapons: here.

New film on Laotian farm family

This video is called The Rocket – 2013 Official Trailer.

By Suphor Samurtharb and Richard Phillips:

The Rocket: Modest but sympathetic tale about Laotian villagers

16 November 2013

Written and directed by Kim Mordaunt

The Rocket is a light-weight but compassionate work about a poverty-stricken displaced peasant family from northern Laos. Written and directed by Australian filmmaker Kim Mordaunt, it centres on the life of 10-year-old Ahlo (Sitthiphon Disamoe), the family’s only son. The movie references aspects of Laos’ complex culture and recent history, in particular, the deadly aftermath of the Vietnam War and the impact on rural communities of major dam developments.

In 2007 Mordaunt directed Bomb Harvest, a feature-length documentary about bomb disposal squads attempting to clear Laos of the tons of unexploded US ordnance dropped during the Vietnam War. Between 1964 and 1973, the American military disgorged over two million tons of bombs on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Over 20,000 people, almost half of these children, have been killed or injured by munitions left over from the Vietnam conflict since 1973.

The Rocket begins with Ahlo’s difficult birth on a stormy night in a remote northern Laotian mountain valley. The baby boy is a twin, but his sibling is stillborn. According to village beliefs, twins can bring either good or bad luck. Taitok (Bunsri Yindi), his grandmother, is convinced that Ahlo will only bring bad times and so must be killed to protect the family.

Mali (Alice Kephavong), Ahlo’s mother, fiercely rejects these demands and the boy survives. While there is little documentary evidence that this sort of infanticide is still practised in Laos, Ahlo’s ‘curse’ is central to the movie’s plot and the story moves forward ten years.

Ahlo’s grandmother remains suspicious of the young boy because he always appears to bring misfortune to the family. The peasant villagers are forced to abandon their homes to make way for a massive dam being constructed by an Australian-Laotian consortium. There are vague pledges of better times by dam authorities, but the relocation is a disaster and Mali is killed in a tragic accident, which grandmother Taitok blames on the boy. The promised new homes, electricity and running water at the new location fail to materialise. The new settlement, in fact, is a chaotic and poverty-stricken shantytown.

Ahlo meets Kia (Loungnam Kaosainam), a young orphan girl, on the road to the shantytown and they become best friends. She introduces him to her eccentric Uncle Purple (Thep Phongam) who is obsessed with American soul singer James Brown and permanently dressed in a weather-beaten purple suit. Purple is a marginalised figure, having actively supported the US military during the Vietnam War.

Ahlo attempts to tap into shantytown’s rudimentary electricity supply but only succeeds in blacking out the entire settlement. “As of today,” Purple says to the young boy, “I’m the second-most hated person in this place.” Ahlo and his family, along with Purple and Kia, are forced to flee to another community, hitching a ride on a cart carrying unexploded bombs.

The ever-optimistic Ahlo hears about a local Rocket Festival, an annual event where dangerous homemade missiles are blasted “towards the gods” in order to provoke rain. The highest-flying rocket wins a large cash prize. Ahlo decides to enter the competition in the hope that it will break his “curse”, redeem his difficult relations with his father and allow the family to buy some land.

The dramatic highpoint of the film is the rocket festival as the irrepressible Ahlo and other competitors risk life and limb with their homemade rockets. The movie cleverly intercuts footage from a real rocket festival to place cinemagoers at the heart of this jubilant and chaotic event.

The Rocket has won a number international festival awards and was chosen as Australia’s submission for the Best Foreign Film category at next year’s Academy Awards. The performances by Sitthiphon Disamoe and Loungnam Kaosainam are strong, with real electricity in their relationship. Disamoe—originally from the Thai/Laos border and a former street kid—won the best actor prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

While Mordaunt’s film—his first fiction feature—should be commended for highlighting some of the issues facing people in Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world, it is not a flawless work. The movie fails to explore in any depth the issues it touches on and some of its cultural references are wrongheaded.

The opening birth scene, for example, is not entirely accurate. All the older females of the entire tribe usually participate in the birthing process, not just the mother-to-be and her mother as portrayed in The Rocket. Mali, Ahlo’s mother, is also rather too sophisticated and shows little physical signs of the harsh life endured by these poverty-stricken people.

More importantly, Ahlo and his family are generally presented as victims of circumstances—politically passive with no overt opposition to the dam development or communal connection to the rest of their home village. This does not ring true and ignores the numerous political conflicts over dam development.

In 1999, peasant villagers determinedly opposed construction of the Houay Ho dam before being forcibly relocated by government authorities. Land allocated to the resettled families was grossly inadequate with 95 percent still suffering rice deficiencies for most of the year.

These experiences would not have been lost on other villagers forced to endure the same fate or those portrayed in The Rocket. According to International Rivers, there are over 72 new dams currently under construction or in the advanced stages of planning in Laos. Thirteen of these are along the Mekong River and will drastically affect food supplies to the more than 60 million people in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Director Kim Mordaunt has worked in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos over many years and is no doubt aware of peasant opposition to their loss of animals, land and livelihood via government decree, but glosses over this issue. Whether this was due to budgetary limitations or Laotian government censorship is not clear.

The closing scenes of The Rocket suggest that Ahlo and his family have a brighter future and that the poverty, dislocations and the bloody legacy of the Vietnam War are receding. One leaves the cinema, however, mindful of the obvious contradiction between Mordaunt’s upbeat ending and the brutal reality of life for most Lao people, and with the nagging feeling that too much has been left untold.

Flying squirrel discovery in Laos

Underside view of the newly discovered Laotian giant flying squirrel. Photo courtesy of Sanamxay, Daosavanh; et al. Zootaxa 3686 (4): 471–481

From Mongabay.com:

Scientists discover new flying mammal in bushmeat market

By: Liz Kimbrough

August 06, 2013

The bushmeat markets of Lao PDR (Laos) are filled with racks of wild game harvested both legally and illegally from the surrounding landscapes. While these meat markets certainly provide local protein to patrons, for wildlife biologists they offer something more. These bizarre zoological exhibits are a rich source of information about wildlife populations and wildlife consumption in remote areas.

In September 2012, a team from the National University of Laos surveyed markets in central Lao PDR for squirrels. In one of the many small markets, Master’s student Daosavanh Sanamxay found something remarkable, a single specimen of a flying squirrel previously undescribed to science. The researchers described this newly discovered species in a 2013 Zootaxa publication, giving it the English name: the Laotian giant flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus laoensis).

The Laotian giant flying squirrel is only the second record of the genus, Biswamoyopterus, the first being the Critically Endangered Namdapha flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi), known only from a single physical example collected in 1981 in Arunachal Pradesh, India. The new Laotian giant flying squirrel is also the first record of the genus from Southeast Asia.

Though the new species does show close affinities to the Namdapha flying squirrel, it is certainly distinct, differing substantially in color of the body, patagia (membrane between limbs of flying mammals), tail membrane, and tail pelage, as well as size.

“We don’t know how endangered this species is… during my second survey in the market, I found approximately 10 dead bodies of this species in the [freezers] of the sellers,” Daosavanh Sanamxay, lead author and current master’s student at the National University of Laos, told mongabay.com.

The exact habitat of this new mammal is not known, but the researchers speculate that the habitat is not far from the market where the specimen was found, 5 km Southwest of Nam Kading National Biodiversity Conservation Area (NBCA), a heavily hunted area consisting mostly of pristine dry evergreen forest or semi-evergreen forest and limestone karst formations. Central Lao PDR is characterized by these limestone cliffs and rock formations and is home to other rare endemic rodents including the Kha-nyou (Laonastes aenigmamus), the only member of a rodent group thought to have died out 11 million years ago that was incidently also discovered in a bushmeat market, and the Lao limestone rat (Saxatilomys paulinae).

Lao PDR and the Greater Mekong region have experienced unprecedented development over the past decades, driving the construction of major roads and dams and attracting foreign investments in Lao’s oil, natural gas, coal, hydroelectric potential, and mineral deposits. Rural communities in Laos earn nearly half of their income from harvesting and selling non-timber forest products, meaning that expansion into forests and unplanned development poses a considerable threat to rural Laotian communities.

The major threats for the wildlife in Lao PDR are habitat loss and harvesting for food. Squirrels in particular face serious threats. According to the Zootaxa paper “they rank as the most commonly traded mammalian ‘bush-meat‘ in local markets.”

To address the conservation of these seemingly rare flying squirrels Sanamxay poses that, “First we must put more effort into surveying not only flying squirrels but also other wildlife in order to estimate the population in nature and compare it with the consumption rate. Moreover, we need to revise the law for wildlife in the country. Most squirrels, especially flying squirrels, are not included in the law.”

Bear saved by brain surgery in Laos

This video is called Asian Black Bears (Ursus thibetanus).

From Wildlife Extra:

Rescued Moon bear given life-saving brain surgery in Lao PDR

First brain surgery on a bear

April 2013. A rare Moon bear (Ursus thibetanus) suffering from hydrocephalus recently underwent a world-first neurosurgery at the Tat Kuang Si Bear Rescue Centre in Lao PDR. Moon bears are a globally threatened species and are given the highest level of protection in Laos, where they are targeted by poachers to feed the demand for their bile and other body parts.

Rescued from wildlife traders

The bear, named ChamPa, was brought to the Free the Bears-sponsored sanctuary as a cub in 2010, after being rescued from wildlife traders. ChamPa was estimated to be just a few months old at the time of her arrival at the sanctuary. Her sibling, captured at the same time as her from forests in northern Laos, had already died whilst in the hands of illegal wildlife traders, who had hoped to sell her into a life of misery on one of the many bear bile extraction facilities that can be found throughout Laos and neighbouring countries.

Free the Bears staff noticed ChamPa’s pronounced, dome-like head when she first arrived, but at that stage the symptoms of hydrocephalus were mild. In humans, hydrocephalus is diagnosed using specialist imaging techniques such as MRI or CT, however these are not available in Laos. Hydrocephalus, also known as “water on the brain”, is a medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) in the cavities of the brain, leading to increased intracranial pressure inside the skull and progressive enlargement of the head. Headaches, convulsions, tunnel vision and mental disability often result from hydrocephalus which, if left untreated, often leads to premature death.


After nearly three years at the Free the Bears sanctuary, ChamPa’s condition had deteriorated, leading to her vision being drastically impaired and her being unable to handle interaction with other bears. On February 26th 2013, Free the Bears assembled an international team of veterinary specialists for a workshop aimed at building capacity of local veterinarians from Laos, Cambodia and India. Following a thorough examination of ChamPa the specialists, led by Dr. Romain Pizzi and Dr. Jonathan Cracknell of Wildlife Surgery International, concluded that she was indeed suffering from hydrocephalus.

ChamPa became the first bear of any species to receive neurosurgery, the procedure requiring the placement of a ventricular shunt which allows the excess CSF to be drained from the brain and into the abdominal cavity of the bear where it can be naturally absorbed. The procedure took over 6 hours and involved assessment of the ideal location to place the shunt, creating access to the brain via a 6mm bone tunnel drilled using specialist equipment. The ventricular catheter, inserted into ChamPa’s brain, was then attached to a low-pressure shunt that was buried under her skin, almost running the entire length of her body. This was finally linked to a peritoneal catheter which drained into ChamPa’s abdomen and was placed using minimally invasive keyhole surgery. This long and difficult surgery required both specialist surgical and anaesthesia techniques to be applied.


By the following morning ChamPa’s condition was already showing noticeable signs of improvement, with increased activity and balance, improved mental alertness and signs that her vision appeared to have returned. Close monitoring over the past six weeks has concluded that the surgery was a success, with ChamPa now enjoying a greatly improved quality of life.

Free the Bears Founder Mary Hutton commented “Free the Bears offers the very best quality of life possible to each and every new bear that is rescued and brought into our sanctuaries. All of the bears have been rescued from terrible circumstances, and we feel it is our duty to make amends for the suffering they have endured prior to their rescue. Thanks to this surgery, the outlook for ChamPa is certainly much brighter”.

Matt Hunt, Chief Executive of Free the Bears, added “ChamPa’s case was exceptional in many ways, yet she is one of many bears that require ongoing veterinary care to overcome the conditions which they have suffered prior to their rescue. We hope that with continued improvement over time it will be possible to mix ChamPa with some of the other 24 rescued bears at the Free the Bears centre in Laos, so that she can enjoy a normal life in her beautiful forest sanctuary”. Dr Pizzi added “Operating on one bear won’t save the species from extinction, and making life better for one bear won’t change the world, but the world of that one bear is changed forever”.

Individuals wishing to support Free the Bears in their mission to protect, preserve and enrich the lives of bears throughout Asia can donate via the website http://www.freethebears.org and can even purchase a general health check for a rescued bear through the virtual gifts section of the online store.

Moon bears

The Moon bear (Ursus thibetanus) is also known as the Asiatic black bear, or Himalayan black bear. It can be found in eighteen countries across Asia, ranging from south-eastern Iran to Japan, and is considered to be Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN.

New Mekong region animal discoveries

This video is called New Species Thrive in Mekong.

From Wildlife Extra:

126 new species identified in Mekong region in 2011 – Including Beelzebub bat

Extraordinary new species discoveries in the Greater Mekong
December 2012. A new bat named after its devilish appearance, a subterranean blind fish, a ruby-eyed pit viper, and a frog that sings like a bird are among the 126 species newly identified by scientists in the Greater Mekong region in 2011, and described in a new WWF report, Extra Terrestrial.


Among the ten species highlighted in the report is the aptly named Beelzebub’s tube-nosed bat, a diminutive but demonic-looking creature known only from Vietnam. Beelzebub’s bat, like two other tube-nosed bats discovered in 2011, depends on tropical forest for its survival and is especially vulnerable to deforestation. In just four decades, 30 per cent of the Greater Mekong’s forests have disappeared.

“While the 2011 discoveries affirm the Mekong as a region of astonishing biodiversity, many new species are already struggling to survive in shrinking habitats,” said Nick Cox, Manager of WWF-Greater Mekong’s Species Programme. “Only by investing in nature conservation, especially protected areas, and developing greener economies, will we see these new species protected and keep alive the hope of finding other intriguing species in years to come.”

Walking fish

A new ‘walking’ catfish species (Clarias gracilentus), discovered in freshwater streams on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc, can move across land using its pectoral fins to stay upright while it wiggles forward with snake-like movements. And a dazzling miniature fish (Boraras naevus), just 2cm in length, was found in southern Thailand and named after the large dark blotch on its golden body (naevus is Latin for blemish).

A pearly, rose-tinted fish from the carp family was found in the Xe Bangfai catchment, a Mekong River tributary in Central Laos that runs 7km underground through limestone karst. The cave-dwelling Bangana musaei is totally blind and was immediately assessed as vulnerable due to its restricted range.

The Mekong River supports around 850 fish species and the world’s most intensive inland fishery. Laos’ determination to construct the Xayaburi dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River is a significant threat to the Mekong’s extraordinary biodiversity and the productivity of this lifeline through Southeast Asia that supports the livelihoods of over 60 million people.

“The Mekong River supports levels of aquatic biodiversity second only to the Amazon River,” added Cox. “The Xayaburi dam would prove an impassable barrier for many fish species, signalling the demise for wildlife already known and as yet undiscovered.”


A new species of tree frog discovered in the high-altitude forests of northern Vietnam has a complex call that makes it sound more like a bird than a typical frog. While most male frogs attract females with repetitive croaks, Quang’s tree frog spins a new tune each time. No two calls are the same, and each individual mixes clicks, whistles and chirps in a unique order.

When it comes to frogs in the genus Leptobrachium, the eyes have it. Among its more than 20 species, there is a remarkable variety of eye colouration. Leptobrachium leucops, discovered in 2011 in the wet evergreen and cloud forest in Southern Vietnam, is distinguished by its striking black and white eyes.

21 reptiles

A staggering array of 21 reptiles was also newly discovered in 2011, including the ruby-eyed green pit viper (Trimeresurus rubeus) in forests near Ho Chi Minh City. This new jewel of the jungle also winds its way along the low hills of southern Vietnam and through eastern Cambodia’s Lang Bian Plateau.

Pygmy python

A short-tailed python species was found in a streambed in the Kyaiktiyo Wildlife Sanctuary in Myanmar. The elusive pygmy python (Python kyaiktiyo) has not been found again despite repeated surveys, so little is known of its ecology, distribution or threats. However, the 1.5 metre-long python is likely at risk from threats faced by other pythons, including habitat loss, and illegal hunting for meat, skins, and the exotic pet trade.


“Poaching for the illegal wildlife trade poses one of the greatest threats to the existence of many species across Southeast Asia,” added Cox. “To tackle this threat, WWF and TRAFFIC launched a global campaign this year to increase law enforcement, impose strict deterrents and reduce demand for endangered species products.”

1,710 new species since 1997!

Extra Terrestrial spotlights 10 species newly identified by science, among the 82 plants, 13 fish, 21 reptiles, 5 amphibians and 5 mammals all discovered in 2011 within the Greater Mekong region of Southeast Asia that spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan. Since 1997, an incredible 1,710 new species were newly described by science in the Greater Mekong.