Big horseshoe bat discovery in Romania


This video is about a greater horeseshoe bat hibernating in Spain.

From the Conservation Leadership Programme:

Record-breaking bat colony discovered during CLP-funded survey

January 20, 2016

Team leader Szilárd Bücs sheds light on the spectacular findings of a cave survey conducted as part of a CLP-funded bat conservation project in Romania.

February 2015. Lots of snow and sunshine. Temperature well below zero. A typical winter in South-Western Romania. What is not so typical is the happiness of nine slightly frozen cavers, who have been tiptoeing around for over an hour in order to close the complex gate system of one of the most well-protected caves in Romania. Our team has just finished the winter survey of Topolnița Cave, a spectacular underground environment in the Mehedinți Mountains. And we are overjoyed, because in the process we have discovered probably the largest colony of the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) in Europe.

We say probably, because at that stage the exact size of the colony had yet to be determined. Photographs were taken, to minimise on-site disturbance of hibernating bats, and a painstaking one-by-one count followed at home, on PCs and laptops. The end result exceeded every expectation: on site, the colony was estimated to comprise around 4,000 individuals (a huge number in itself), but the final count yielded 7,482 greater horseshoe bats. This number means that the colony is by far the largest aggregation of this species in Europe, and is also high on the list of the biggest colonies of all five European horseshoe bat species.

The survey leading to the find was conducted as part of the CLP-funded project “Protecting the horseshoe bats of Romania”, which received a Future Conservationist Award in 2014. Besides the CLP project team, the group making the discovery was composed of rangers from the Mehedinți Plateau Geopark protected area, and two fellow bat researchers from the Emil Racoviță Speleological Institute. Indeed, collaboration yields the best results.

The overall goal of the CLP project was to improve the status of horseshoe bat populations in Southern Romania, with the purpose of establishing key elements in their conservation: (1) availability of up-to-date distribution data, (2) positive public attitude towards bats and (3) engaged decision makers. Completed in May 2015, the project achieved all three of the proposed objectives, and hence its overall goal.

Scientific data about horseshoe bats and their distribution in Southern Romania was updated, with several other major bat-related discoveries alongside the colony from Topolnița cave. Partial results have already been published and/or presented at conferences (see below). Public attitudes towards horseshoe bats and bats in general improved noticeably, thanks to a diverse array of awareness activities through social media, printed materials and school presentations. The project’s key messages were simple, engaging and visible, enabling the public to contribute to bat conservation. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Also, the increased frequency of phone calls received about bats needing help, and the desire to be directly involved in bat rescue, are indicative of increased public engagement.

Finally, stakeholders (protected area custodians and cavers) from Southern Romania are now able to be actively involved in the conservation of local horseshoe bat populations and bats in general. They participated in all stages of the project, including fieldwork planning and actual fieldwork, learned basic species identification techniques, and also took part in education activities. Collaboration with protected area custodians is ongoing, especially in the annual monitoring of key sites and colonies discovered during the project. Joint field trips with local cavers are planned for this year, mainly to caves never previously surveyed for bats. Further discoveries are imminent.

Besides the fact that our knowledge of Europe’s horseshoe bat fauna has been enriched, and key elements of conservation established, it is also highly encouraging that colonies of such size are still being discovered. With two other major finds (one cave of continental importance and 5,000+ bats in hibernation, and a colony with 350+ greater horseshoe bats in an abandoned building), the project established that South-Western Romania harbours the highest bat diversity in the country, and is one of the key regions in Europe for bat populations.

The CLP-funded project was crucial to get back on track with the conservation of horseshoe bats in Southern Romania, not only for the greater horseshoe bat, but also for the Vulnerable Mehely’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi) and other cave-dwelling bat species. The in-kind contribution of the Romanian Bat Protection Association made fieldwork fast-paced and efficient. The project has illustrated the vital importance of ongoing communication with the general public and key stakeholders, and its impact from a scientific, educational and decision-making perspective will be felt for years to come, aided indispensably by continuous communication with the public and stakeholders.

Members of the CLP project team remain intensely involved in national bat research and monitoring, with two other projects currently under way: one targets anthropogenic bat roosts (churches, old buildings) and their restoration, while the other maintains an uninterrupted connection to the public, in the form of a bat distress phone line. In addition, one team member has started her PhD…on bats, naturally.

The presence of Mehely’s horseshoe bat Rhinolophus mehelyi in South-Western Romania

New data regarding the status and distribution of horseshoe bats (genus Rhinolophus) in karst areas of Southern Romania

For further details, contact Szilárd Bücs (szilard_bux@yahoo.com)

Romanian conservationists, hunters unite to save red-breasted geese


This video shows a red-breasted goose, swimming with greater white-fronted geese.

From BirdLife:

Romanian conservationists and hunters unite to save a threatened bird

By Ovidiu Bufnila, Mon, 07/12/2015 – 09:49

For the first time in Romania, conservationists and hunters are working together to protect a threatened species: the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis).

At the request of the Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR, BirdLife Romania), the National Association of Romanian Hunters (AGVPS, the FACE partner in Romania) have agreed to a temporary hunting ban in one of the most important Special Protected Areas (SPAs) for the Red-breasted Geese – Lake Balta Alba in Buzau County.

The Red-breasted Goose is the smallest goose species in the world. It nests in Siberia and when it migrates, it travels 9.000 km to its wintering grounds in Romania and Bulgaria. Hunting, illegal killing, loss of feeding sites and displacement by windfarms in their wintering grounds are major threats that have led to a continuing decline in the species’ population.

“We monitored this area with our partners and we found that the geese began wintering in October. We saw 1.260 birds on 30 October… By the end of November, we had approximately 10.000 individuals, which is 20% of the global population,” said Emil Todorov, project officer of SOR.

To make matters worse, Red-breasted Goose flocks mix with other geese species, such as the Greater White Fronted Goose (Anser albifrons), which are allowed to be hunted. This increases the risk of Red-breasted Geese being accidentally shot, especially in the morning when the whole flock takes off together from their roosting place.

According to data, Lake Balta Alba is an important resting and feeding ground during November-December for the geese (the lake freezes by the end of December, so the geese then fly further south). Thus to protect the Red-breasted Geese, the hunters have agreed that from 23 November until 31 December between 6 and 10 am, they will keep a distance of 500 metres from the western part of the lake so the flock can take off safely.

“This partnership has a mutual purpose and we, the hunters, can set in motion an army of over 1.500 technicians and game-wardens. We know a lot about Romania’s wildlife and we can contribute to all conservation activities,” Neculai Selaru, the executive president of hunting association AGVPS said.

The partnership between SOR and AGVPS comes after a PR campaign that took place this summer in Romania. ‘Don’t kill the trill’ was a successful effort to change a new hunting law by SOR and more than 40 other NGOs. After the campaign, ornithologists and hunters had several meetings and are working together to change subsequent legislation in Romania.

“We really believe in the impact this measure will have, proving that ornithologists and hunters can work together. We really think this is the first step in an enduring partnership,” said Dan Hulea, executive manager of SOR.

CIA Romanian torture prison discovered, 2011


This video says about itself:

AP Exclusive: Inside Romania’s Secret CIA Prison

7 December 2011

For years, the CIA used a government building in Bucharest, Romania as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees.

From Associated Press, 8 December 2011:

Inside Romania’s secret CIA prison

WASHINGTON: In northern Bucharest, in a busy residential neighbourhood minutes from the heart of the capital city, is a secret the Romanian government has long tried to protect.

For years, the CIA used a government building — codenamed “Bright Light” — as a makeshift prison for its most valuable detainees. There it held Al-Qaeda operatives Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, and others in a basement prison before they were ultimately transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2006, according to former US intelligence officials familiar with the location and inner workings of the prison.

The existence of a CIA prison in Romania has been widely reported, but its location has never been made public. The Associated Press and German public television ARD located the former prison and learned details of the facility where harsh interrogation tactics were used. ARD’s program on the CIA prison is set to air Thursday.

The Romanian prison was part of a network of so-called black sites that the CIA operated and controlled overseas in Thailand, Lithuania and Poland. …

Unlike the CIA’s facility in Lithuania’s countryside or the one hidden in a Polish military installation, the CIA’s prison in Romania was not in a remote location. It was hidden in plain sight, a couple blocks off a major boulevard on a street lined with trees and homes, along busy train tracks.

The building is used as the National Registry Office for Classified Information, which is also known as ORNISS. Classified information from Nato and the European Union is stored there. Former intelligence officials both described the location of the prison and identified pictures of the building.

In an interview at the building in November, senior ORNISS official Adrian Camarasan said the basement is one of the most secure rooms in all of Romania. But he said Americans never ran a prison there.

“No, no. Impossible, impossible,” he said in an ARD interview for its “Panorama” news broadcast, as a security official monitored the interview.

The CIA prison opened for business in the fall of 2003, after the CIA decided to empty the black site in Poland, according to former US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the detention program with reporters.

Shuttling detainees into the facility without being seen was relatively easy. After flying into Bucharest, the detainees were brought to the site in vans. CIA operatives then drove down a side road and entered the compound through a rear gate that led to the actual prison.

The detainees could then be unloaded and whisked into the ground floor of the prison and into the basement.

The basement consisted of six prefabricated cells, each with a clock and arrow pointing to Makkah, the officials said. The cells were on springs, keeping them slightly off balance and causing disorientation among some detainees.

The CIA declined to comment on the prison.

During the first month of their detention, the detainees endured sleep deprivation and were doused with water, slapped or forced to stand in painful positions, several former officials said. Waterboarding, the notorious interrogation technique that simulates drowning, was not performed in Romania, they said.

Former US officials said that because the building was a government installation, it provided excellent cover. The prison didn’t need heavy security because area residents knew it was owned by the government. People wouldn’t be inclined to snoop in post-communist Romania, with its extensive security apparatus known for spying on the country’s own citizens.

Human rights activists have urged the Eastern European countries to investigate the roles their governments played in hosting the prisons in which interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used. Officials from these countries continue to deny these prisons ever existed.

“We know of the criticism, but we have no knowledge of this subject,” Romanian President Traian Basescu said in a September interview with AP.

The CIA has tried to close the book on the detention program, which President Barack Obama ended shortly after taking office.

“That controversy has largely subsided,” the CIA’s top lawyer, Stephen Preston, said at a conference this month.

But details of the prison network continue to trickle out through investigations by international bodies, reporters and human rights groups. “There have been years of official denials,” said Dick Marty, a Swiss lawmaker who led an investigation into the CIA secret prisons for the Council of Europe. “We are at last beginning to learn what really happened in Bucharest.”

During the Council of Europe’s investigation, Romania’s foreign affairs minister assured investigators in a written report that, “No public official or other person acting in an official capacity has been involved in the unacknowledged deprivation of any individual, or transport of any individual while so deprived of their liberty.” That report also described several other government investigations into reports of a secret CIA prison in Romania and said: “No such activities took place on Romanian territory.”

Reporters and human rights investigators have previously used flight records to tie Romania to the secret prison program. Flight records for a Boeing 737 known to be used by the CIA showed a flight from Poland to Bucharest in September 2003. …

Later, other detainees — Ramzi Binalshibh, Abd al-Nashiri and Abu Faraj al-Libi — were also moved to Romania. …

Court documents recently discovered in a lawsuit have also added to the body of evidence pointing to a CIA prison in Romania. The files show CIA contractor Richmor Aviation Inc., a New York-based charter company, operated flights to and from Romania along with other locations including Morocco and the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.

For the CIA officers working at the secret prison, the assignment wasn’t glamorous. The officers served 90-day tours, slept on the compound and ate their meals there, too. Officers were prevented from the leaving the base after their presence in the neighbourhood stoked suspicion. One former officer complained that the CIA spent most of its time baby-sitting detainees like Binalshibh and Mohammed whose intelligence value diminished as the years passed.

The Romanian and Lithuanian sites were eventually closed in the first half of 2006 before CIA Director Porter Goss left the job. Some of the detainees were taken to Kabul, where the CIA could legally hold them before they were sent to Guantanamo. Others were sent back to their native countries.

The detailed and engrossing 2008 book, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America, by Hugh Wilford investigates the CIA’s ideological struggle from 1947 to 1967 to win “hearts and minds” for US capitalism and to prosecute the Cold War: here.

‘Bring European bison back to Dutch nature reserve’


This 13 June 2015 video is about bringing back European Bison to the Romanian Carpathians.

Regional TV Omroep Brabant in the Netherlands reports today that the management of nature reserve De Maashorst between Oss and Uden wants to introduce European bison.

Local authorities will still have to give permission for this. The (conservative) VVD political party has objections.

Human with Neanderthal ancestry discovery


This video says about itself:

16 September 2014

Nova – Decoding Neanderthals (PBS Documentary)

By Jennifer Viegas:

Ancient Human With 10 Percent Neanderthal Genes Found

June 22, 2015 11:00 AM ET

DNA from a man who lived 40,000 years ago in Romania reveals that up to 11 percent of his genome came from Neanderthals.

Because large segments of the individual’s chromosomes are of Neanderthal origin, a Neanderthal was among the man’s ancestors as recently as four generations back in his family tree, reports a study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

The finding reveals that some of the first members of our species who came to Europe interbred with the local Neanderthals.

To this day, individuals of European and Asian heritage retain Neanderthal DNA in their genomes, but whether or not Neanderthals went extinct or simply were absorbed into the modern human population remains a matter of definition, senior author Svante Pääbo told Discovery News.

“Some Neanderthals clearly became incorporated in modern human societies,” said Pääbo, director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. “It is still unclear exactly how much of the complete Neanderthal genome exists today in people, but it seems to approach something like 40 percent.”

“But, of course, the Neanderthals are clearly extinct in the sense that they do not exist as an independent, separate group since some 30,000 or 40,000 years.”

David Reich from Harvard Medical School coordinated the population genetic analysis of the study, which was an international effort. At the center of the research were the remains of the man, named “Oase 1,” unearthed at a cave system called Peștera cu Oase in Romania.

The researchers believe that the man derived from the same expansion out of Africa as other modern people, but was likely to have been part of an early “pioneer foray into Europe,” ahead of other migrations that were to come later.

Under what conditions his relatives, and those of other early Neanderthal-human hybrids, interbred is a big question.

Chris Stringer, an expert on early humans at the Natural History Museum in London, posed some intriguing questions about the matings.

“Were these peaceful exchanges of partners, raids which stole women or girls, or even the adoption of orphaned babies?” he asked, adding that the answer remains a mystery.

What is clear is that the interbreeding took place at different times and locations. This particular individual, Oase 1, did not contribute much, if at all, to later modern human populations, however. Pääbo explained that whatever population he represented seems to have “disappeared,” leaving behind no known tools or other artifacts.

Some people from Southeast Asia have up to 6% Denisovan DNA: here.

Romanian fossil Balaur, dinosaur or bird?


This 2011 video is called Ancient Reptile Tribute Three: Balaur bondoc / Dromaeosaurid – Dinosaur.

From PeerJ:

The phylogenetic affinities of the bizarre Late Cretaceous Romanian theropod Balaur bondoc (Dinosauria, Maniraptora): dromaeosaurid or flightless bird?

June 18, 2015

Abstract

The exceptionally well-preserved Romanian dinosaur Balaur bondoc is the most complete theropod known to date from the Upper Cretaceous of Europe. Previous studies of this remarkable taxon have included its phylogenetic interpretation as an aberrant dromaeosaurid with velociraptorine affinities.

However, Balaur displays a combination of both apparently plesiomorphic and derived bird-like characters. Here, we analyse those features in a phylogenetic revision and show how they challenge its referral to Dromaeosauridae. Our reanalysis of two distinct phylogenetic datasets focusing on basal paravian taxa supports the reinterpretation of Balaur as an avialan more crownward than Archaeopteryx but outside of Pygostylia, and as a flightless taxon within a paraphyletic assemblage of long-tailed birds.

Our placement of Balaur within Avialae is not biased by character weighting. The placement among dromaeosaurids resulted in a suboptimal alternative that cannot be rejected based on the data to hand. Interpreted as a dromaeosaurid, Balaur has been assumed to be hypercarnivorous and predatory, exhibiting a peculiar morphology influenced by island endemism.

However, a dromaeosaurid-like ecology is contradicted by several details of Balaur’s morphology, including the loss of a third functional manual digit, the non-ginglymoid distal end of metatarsal II, and a non-falciform ungual on the second pedal digit that lacks a prominent flexor tubercle. Conversely, an omnivorous ecology is better supported by Balaur’s morphology and is consistent with its phylogenetic placement within Avialae. Our reinterpretation of Balaur implies that a superficially dromaeosaurid-like taxon represents the enlarged, terrestrialised descendant of smaller and probably volant ancestors.

Some time round about 165 million years ago, the group of small, feathered dinosaurs that we call birds evolved from within the theropod radiation (theropods are the so-called ‘predatory dinosaurs’: the great group that includes animals like Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptor as well as the birds). As anyone reasonably familiar with recent palaeontological discoveries will know, we’re now aware of a large number of fossils that blur and smudge whatever distinction there might have been between ‘dinosaur’ and ‘bird’: here.