Giant lemur fossils discovery in Madagascar

This video says about itself:

Enormous Underwater Fossil Graveyard Found

8 January 2015

National Science Foundation-funded anthropologists and paleontologists uncovered what could be the largest single collection of lemur remains ever found. What’s more, they found it in a most unusual place–hidden in a series of underwater caves in a remote desert region of Madagascar.

Described as a lemur graveyard, the discovery of hundreds of potentially thousand-year old skeletons make it one of the most unique sites in the world. The finding, reported in this video, could be important for understanding human relatives and other animals and result in a totally new era for underwater paleontology.

From the Washington Post in the USA:

In an underwater graveyard, scientists discover bones of giants from Madagascar’s past

By Sarah Kaplan

February 19 2015

Not too long ago, huge animals dominated the island of Madagascar: elephant birds the height of professional basketball players, giant, lumbering tortoises, massive lemurs that weighed up to 15 times as much as their smaller, living relatives.

Those creatures have all but died out within the past thousand years in one of the swiftest extinction events known to scientists. Researchers still puzzle over what exactly led to their demise. But a newly-discovered “underwater graveyard” filled with thousands of fossils may offer a key to understanding what happened to Madagascar’s megafauna.

A team led by National Geographic fellow and Brooklyn College professor Alfred Rosenberger found three flooded caves in Tsimanampesotse National Park, each containing an unprecedented number of large, perfectly preserved specimens. One in particular, Aven Cave, is so packed with bones that divers felt them every time they put their hands down.

“It’s just phenomenal,” researcher Laurie Godfrey, a paleontologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “A huge cache of fossils like this has never been explored before. Now that we know that it’s there, it’s opening up a new era in paleontological exploration.”

The researchers’ most prized findings are the bones of several extinct species of giant lemurs, ranging from several hundred to several thousands of years old. Among them are specimens of Megaladapis, a big-nosed, beady-eyed creature whose heavy, squat body more closely resembled a koala’s than those of the diminutive lemurs we know today, and Archaeoindris, the largest known lemur species that was the same size and weight as a gorilla.

The discovery, which National Geographic announced Tuesday, is just the first step in what Godfrey hopes will be a more thorough investigation of the caves. The initial sweep brought up so many fossils that researchers haven’t even begun to dig into the sediments on the cave floors. Once they do, Godfrey estimates they’ll find thousands of specimens from dozens of extinct species.

The caves remained unexplored for so long because of the difficulty of probing their flooded interiors. In Aven Cave, where the fossils were most abundant, the water is 130 feet deep and often murky.

But that same water is also what makes the caves such perfect places to find fossils.

“In a flooded cave the preservation can be just marvelous,” Godfrey said. “Nothing’s bothering them, nothing’s disturbing them.”

The quality of the fossils will be key for scientists’ research into the causes of the animals’ disappearance. Godfrey said that researchers will likely be able to obtain DNA samples from the specimens, carbon date them to see when they died, and examine them for cut marks or other signs of human butchering.

“All of this information can help us flesh out the story that we’re telling about what happened to the giant lemurs and the associated fauna,” she said.

It’s long been understood that human arrival on Madagascar about 2,000 years ago coincided with the sudden die-off of much of the island’s wildlife. Two-thirds of the species that lived on the island a millennium ago are now extinct, in part because of changes caused by humans, Godfrey said. What’s not clear is exactly how those changes led to the animals’ demise.

“You’re dealing with a situation where not only are humans coming but they’re bringing a lot of other animals and plants that transform the habitat. They’re hunting,” for example, she said, and “it could be that certain species didn’t want to come near water or food sources because humans were around. There’s competition with new introduced species. There’s a number of long, complicated stories people have put forth as to why these animals are extinct.”

Untangling those stories isn’t just a matter of understanding history — it can help with conservation efforts today. Lemurs are the most threatened mammal species on Earth, according to a policy paper published last year in the journal Science, and Madagascar is the only place where they are found in the wild.

“It’s a very sad situation in Madagascar. The threat to species is tremendous, there’s a high rate of extinction,” Rosenberger said in a video for National Geographic. “We’d like to know what the interaction was between people, climate change, habitat change … that contributed to the demise of the giant lemurs. Because knowing that might give us some perspective on what we have to prepare for the future.”

Shark sanctuary in Madagascar

This video says about itself:

Indian Ocean shark footage – Raw

11 June 2012

Here are 2 minutes of pure shark watching. Take a look as some beautiful marine life responds to researchers luring them with a bag of chum in the Indian Ocean.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Madagascar Creates Shark Park

February 4, 2015

Great news bite: the government of Madagascar has created the country’s first shark sanctuary in Antongil Bay to protect 19 shark species! The law that creates the sanctuary also grants local communities exclusive use and management rights to fishing areas.

WCS is committed to protecting the incredible biodiversity of Madagascar, as well as sharks. Of the 19 species protected by this sanctuary, one third have become severly threatened by unregulated fishing.

“With the support from Wildlife Conservation Society, we chose a participatory and collaborative approach for the development of this law and management plan and we opted for the search for a balance between fishing activities and ecological integrity to ensure rational and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources” said Mr. Ahmad, Minister of Marine Resources and Fisheries at the press conference in Antananarivo.

Saving Madagascar’s ploughshare tortoises

This 4 February 2015 video from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust about Madagascar says about itself:

100th Ploughshare [tortoise] release

Charlie Hebdo massacre and governmental violence

This video from France says about itself:

Paris Algeria massacre 1961

17 October 2011

Commemoration and demonstration for the victims of the massacre of Algerians in Paris on the 17th of October 1961.

By Victor Grossman in Germany:

Je suis Charlie, I am Ken Saro Wiwa, I am Victor Jara

Wednesday 14th January 2015

Why the media insistence that only Islamists commit atrocities? Governments, including that of France, are just as capable of inflicting bloody violence, writes Victor Grossman

Writing from Germany, I had planned to discuss the rise of Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West, or Pegida, movement, which is based in Dresden.

But then came the atrocious murders at Charlie Hebdo.

Like so many millions I was shocked and horror-stricken. But I was also frightened. Now the Pegida crowd would shout: “You see! We told you so!”

Even before the attack, polls showed 57 per cent of non-immigrant Germans mistrustful of Muslims.

But only small numbers had gone on the virulent marches. How many would now join in with flags, crosses and slogans? How many right-leaning leaders would once again find their raucous voices?

And how could they now be counteracted? Would the tragic shots fired in the rue Nicolas Appert echo menacingly down the Alleen and Strassen of Germany?

With so many people understandably stricken and determined to oppose murderous Islamists and defend freedom of a critical press, why am I stricken by so many doubts?

Must sharp, iconoclastic satire, bravely spiting the powers-that-be with sharp pens and sharp words, purposely insult deeply felt religious beliefs?

A convinced atheist all my life, I have no sympathy whatsoever for religious fanatics, be they Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist.

For centuries fanatics have caused far too much misery in our world.

Attacking Isis is good. But lampooning the beliefs of so many Muslims in Europe who face daily discrimination in schools and jobs, with mosques and minarets often attacked too?

Should satire be unfettered? Almost always, yes.

But perhaps not the ridiculing of prophets and beliefs which still provide solace to many.

Bloody fanatics must be opposed. But Moses, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed are long dead. Is attacking them courageous or good?

Nothing can justify assault rifle attacks and cold-blooded murder, in this case of artists, writers and satirists.

But why this repeated insistence that only Muslims or Islamists can be bloody?

Must I recall the uprising in France’s colony of Madagascar in 1947, whose people, dreaming of independence, naively hoping for US assistance, began their fight, armed mostly with spears?

A well-armed French army of 30,000 men adopted “a strategy of terror and psychological warfare involving torture, collective punishment, the burning of villages, mass arrests, executions and rape … In Mananjary, hundreds were killed, among them 18 women and a group of prisoners thrown alive out of an airplane.”

An official estimate of the number killed was 89,000, but if one counts those who fled into the forest and were believed dead, it was more likely over 100,000.

And what about press freedom?

“The French media reported little on the event and few details of the rising and subsequent repression were reported … outside France.”

On the 65th anniversary of the uprising in 2012, Madagascar’s prime minister requested that the French government declassify archival materials on the uprising. The request was not approved.

Why must I recall the French war in Indochina, soon after? And what about Algeria?

In 1841, 11 years after its conquest, the visiting historian Alexis de Tocqueville commented: “Whatever the case, we may say in a general manner that all political freedoms must be suspended in Algeria.”

After World War II Algeria also wanted independence — and had to fight for it.

In the battle of Algiers in 1957 General Massu’s paratroop division made use of its methods in Madagascar and Indochina, also against civilians, with illegal executions and forced disappearances, in particular through what would later become known as “death flights.”

Viewing Algerians as a subhuman race made the use of torture more agreeable if not enjoyable for the torturer. General Paul Aussaresses referred to Algerian fighters and sympathisers as “rats, criminals, rebels, militants and bandits.”

In his memoir he wrote of the “disappearances” of many prisoners: “Only rarely were the prisoners we had questioned during the night still alive the next morning.”

“First, the officer questions the prisoner in the ‘traditional’ manner, hitting him with fists and kicking him.

“Then follows torture: hanging … water torture … electricity … burning (using cigarettes, etc) … Cases of prisoners who were driven insane were frequent … Between interrogation sessions, the suspects are imprisoned without food in cells, some of which were small enough to impede lying down … some of them were very young teenagers and others old men of 75, 80 years or more.”

Communist journalist and writer Henri Alleg disclosed that the French military, besides torturing actual suspects, even buried old men alive. He was himself tortured and described in horrifying detail the method now known as waterboarding and also electrical torture with hand generators.

And press freedom? With the French state denying its employment of torture, more than 250 books, newspapers and films in metropolitan France and 586 in Algeria were censored.

Alleg’s factual book La Question and Jean-Luc Godard’s film Le Petit Soldat were forbidden by a Socialist government headed by Guy Mollet.

No. Then and now, press freedom can never be taken for granted.

The war with Algeria still raged in October 1961 during the “Paris massacre.”

Under orders from police chief Maurice Papon, later convicted as a war criminal, French police attacked a demonstration of 30,000 Algerians.

The results were horrifying. Many died when they were violently herded by police into the river Seine, with some thrown from bridges after being beaten unconscious.

Others were killed in the courtyard of police headquarters while senior officers ignored pleas by other police officers shocked at the brutality. Some 10,000 were arrested, estimates of those killed range from 70 to 200.

No, brutality is not somehow restricted to Islam or Muslims.

Even my short-term memory and US nationality force me to remember Abu Zubaydah, father of four daughters, arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and in US custody for over 12 years.

During that time he was waterboarded 83 times, subjected to forced nudity, sleep deprivation, confinement in small dark boxes and stress positions.

After physical assaults he lost his left eye. Videotapes were destroyed, but we know that the waterboarding sessions “resulted in immediate fluid intake and involuntary leg, chest and arm spasms” and “hysterical pleas.”

In at least one such session, he “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” After medical intervention he regained consciousness and “expelled copious amounts of liquid.”

In 2006 he was transferred to Guantanamo’s Camp 7, where conditions were especially miserable.

In 2007 the review tribunal told Zubaydah that he was “not significant … They told me: ‘Sorry, we discover that you are not Number 3, not a partner, not even a fighter’.”

Gul Rahman was arrested at his doctor’s home after travelling to Islamabad for a medical check-up.

He too was subjected to “48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation, a cold shower and rough treatment.”

Rahman died on November 20 2002, reportedly after being stripped naked from the waist down and shackled to a cold cement wall in the “salt pit” in 2°C temperatures.

As one CIA interrogator reported: “A detainee could go for days or weeks without anyone looking at him.”

His team found one detainee who, “as far as we could determine, had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days.”

Some prisoners were said to be like dogs in kennels. In 2006, during a CIA briefing, president George W Bush expressed discomfort at the “image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.”

This man was chained with one or both wrists to an overhead bar for 22 hours on two consecutive days. His imprisonment was concealed from the Red Cross international committee.

British human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith reported on as many as 20 teenagers imprisoned at Guantanamo, some in long-term solitary confinement.

One Afghan human rights worker asserted that one lad was only 12 or 13 when he was captured.

Such victims’ names are rarely known or quickly forgotten.

Again, must I recall how in July 2011, Nato planes — 35 per cent of them French — bombed the Libyan state TV station, killing three journalists and injuring 15?

The International Federation of Journalists stated: “We utterly condemn this action, which targeted journalists and threatened their lives in violation of international law … Our concern is that when one side decides to take out a media organisation because they regard its message as propaganda, then all media are at risk.”

For some the action recalled April 1999 when Nato planes destroyed the TV and radio station of Belgrade, killing 16 Radio-TV of Serbia employees with a single well-aimed rocket and calling it “a legitimate target” because it was a “propaganda mouthpiece.”

But the men of Charlie Hebdo were writers and creators, unique and irreplaceable. True without a doubt.

Does that not apply to Charles Horman, US journalist and filmmaker, killed during a US-supported putsch in Chile in 1973 (and famous after the film Missing)?

Or, on the same occasion, to the wonderful singer-songwriter Victor Jara?

Or the Belgian-organised, US-supported torture and murder of the Congolese poet and political leader Patrice Lumumba?

Or in Nigeria to novelist and filmmaker Ken Saro-Wiwa, hanged with the connivance of Shell?

Or the Palestinian Ghassan Kanafani, considered one of the greatest modern Arabic authors, whose car was booby-trapped by Mossad in July 1972?

I cannot help thinking that there are far more too many bloody criminals still at large in the world, of many beliefs and nationalities, even though most media, so defensive of freedom of the press, keep such names from the people or distort their contributions and fates.

Nor do their ideas of a free press always extend to a Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden or Mumia Abu-Jamal.

What I now fear is a renewed misuse of the latest assassinations, encouraging mass feelings of revenge not just toward a few fanatic assassins of often twisted religious beliefs but toward anyone with a darker skin colour and differences in language or clothing.

Attention is thus directed away from the true perpetrators, those worsening the very social conditions which breed fanaticism, and their marionettes, who have career goals but no consciences and are already spouting their now hardly muted poison, cashing in on renewed hatred.

We must work to close the gaps, to clasp hands and work together for a better world.

We dare not forget all the countless bloody deeds preceding the horror of Paris.

This is what makes me join in saying: “Je suis Charlie!” but then adding: “I am Gul Rahman! I am Abu Zubaydah! I am Charles Horman and Ken Saro-Wiwa! I am Ghassan Kanafani and Victor Jara!”

New gecko species discovery in Madagascar

This image shows a juvenile and subadult of the new species Paroedura hordiesi. Credit: Jörn Köhler

From EurekAlert!:

10 Nov 2014

A new species of nocturnal gecko from northern Madagascar

Hidden away in the tropical darkness of nocturnal Madagascar, scientists have discovered a new species of gecko which has been described in the open access journal Zoosystematics and Evolution.

A master of disguise, the new species Paroedura hordiesi has camouflage pattern to blend with its natural habitat, while climbing on rocks and the ruins of an old fort, where it was spotted by scientists.

Home of the new gecko, the karstic limestone massifs in the region of northern Madagascar are believed to still harbour further undescribed reptile species, some of which might be microendemic and threatened by substantial habitat destruction.

The new species P. hordiesi is also proposed to be classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List on the basis that it is known from a single location, and there is continuing decline in the extent and quality of its habitat.

The far north of Madagascar comprises a mosaic of heterogeneous landscapes ranging from rainforests on volcanic basement to deciduous dry forests in karstic massifs and littoral habitats on sandy ground. The geological and climatic diversity of this area is reflected by a high species diversity and a high degree of microendemism.

Several taxa including dwarf frogs (Stumpffia), dwarf chameleons (Brookesia), burrowing skinks (Paracontias), leaf-tail geckos (Uroplatus), and the nocturnal geckos of the genus Paroedura have undergone remarkable diversification in northern Madagascar due to the great diversity of habitats, which are separated from each other and thus in part constitute “habitat islands”.

“The new Paroedura species from Montagne des Français described in our paper is just one new contribution to the taxonomic inventory of this massif, which is believed to hold yet undiscovered diversity. This discovery also highlights the threats affecting this microendemic species and other biota in the region.” explains the lead author of the study Dr. Frank Glaw from the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology (ZSM).

Wild mouse lemurs live long

This video is called Microcebus rufus, or the brown mouse lemur, in Ranomafauna, Madagascar.

From Wildlife Extra:

Wild mouse lemurs live six times longer than similar-sized mammals

A new study has found that brown mouse lemurs in the wild can live to be up to at least eight years old, which is twice as long as other mammals of a similar size. They were also found to show signs of aging slower than captive grey mouse lemurs, which often display behavioural and neurological degeneration by the age of four, as well as developing grey hair and cataracts.

“It’s surprising that these tiny, mouse-sized primates, living in a jungle full of predators that probably consider them a bite-sized snack, can live so long. And we found individuals up to eight years of age in the wild with no physical symptoms of senescence like some captive mouse lemurs start getting by the age of four,” commented biologist Sarah Zohdy, post-doctoral fellow in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Rollins School of Public Health. Zohdy, who conducted the research while at the University of Helsinki, led the study on the brown mouse lemurs in Madagascar. She notes that it is likely factors such as starvation, predation, disease may decrease the observed rate of degeneration (known as senescence) in the wild, but evidence suggests that captivity can adversely affect mental and physical function.

“Comparing longevity data of captive and wild mouse lemurs may help us understand how the physiological and behavioural demands of different environments affect the aging process in other primates, including humans,” says Zohdy.

The study, which took place in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, analysed a total of 420 dental impressions taken from 189 unique individuals between 2003 and 2010. 270 age estimates were calculated during the course of study, based on the wear rates of the mammals’ teeth.

“We found that wild brown mouse lemurs can live at least eight years. In the population that we studied, 16 per cent lived beyond four years of age,” Zohdy explains. “And we found no physical signs of senescence, such as greying hair or cataracts, in any wild individual.”

Hormone analysis of fecal samples from the mouse lemurs was also undertaken, and results revealed that there was no difference in testosterone levels between males and females. Ordinarily in most vertebrates, males tend to die first, so this is an unusual finding. Zohdy explains, “While elevated male testosterone levels have been implicated in shorter lifespans in several species, this is one of the first studies to show equivalent testosterone levels accompanying equivalent lifespans.”

Mouse lemurs are endemic to Madagascar and are the world’s smallest primate[s]. Although captive grey mouse lemurs can live beyond the age of 12, it is still not known what causes them to show earlier signs of senescence.

It is also not known why brown mouse lemurs in the wild have a much greater longevity than other animals of the same size. Zohdy suggests that the fact that wild mouse lemurs hibernate for half of the year could possibly boost their life span, but further research is needed to explain the findings.

“Our results do not provide information about wild brown mouse lemurs that can be directly compared to senescence in captive grey mouse lemurs,” she says. “Further research, using identical measures of senescence, will help to reveal whether patterns of physiological senescence occur consistently across the genus and in both captive and wild conditions.”

This video says about itself:

29 October 2014

Emory University biologist Sarah Zohdy studies mouse lemurs, the world’s smallest primates, in Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park. The video shows a pregnant brown mouse lemur at night. “I saw her leap and catch a moth out of mid-air,” Zohdy says. “She then stopped a moment in the trees to clean off her mouth, hands and face, which is what you see on this video.”