Extinct human Homo naledi’s hands and feet, new study

This video says about itself:

10 September 2015

Paleoanthropologist and explorer Lee Berger has made an important new discovery in the human family tree: a new species called Homo naledi. In this interview with journalist Bill Blakemore, Berger gives the details of the find, how it came about, the difficulty in recovering the fossils, and why it’s such an important find.

From Nature Communications:

The foot of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


Modern humans are characterized by a highly specialized foot that reflects our obligate bipedalism. Our understanding of hominin foot evolution is, although, hindered by a paucity of well-associated remains.

Here we describe the foot of Homo naledi from Dinaledi Chamber, South Africa, using 107 pedal elements, including one nearly-complete adult foot. The H. naledi foot is predominantly modern human-like in morphology and inferred function, with an adducted hallux, an elongated tarsus, and derived ankle and calcaneocuboid joints. In combination, these features indicate a foot well adapted for striding bipedalism.

However, the H. naledi foot differs from modern humans in having more curved proximal pedal phalanges, and features suggestive of a reduced medial longitudinal arch. Within the context of primitive features found elsewhere in the skeleton, these findings suggest a unique locomotor repertoire for H. naledi, thus providing further evidence of locomotor diversity within both the hominin clade and the genus Homo.

Also from Nature Communications:

The hand of Homo naledi

6 October 2015


A nearly complete right hand of an adult hominin was recovered from the Rising Star cave system, South Africa. Based on associated hominin material, the bones of this hand are attributed to Homo naledi.

This hand reveals a long, robust thumb and derived wrist morphology that is shared with Neandertals and modern humans, and considered adaptive for intensified manual manipulation.

However, the finger bones are longer and more curved than in most australopiths, indicating frequent use of the hand during life for strong grasping during locomotor climbing and suspension. These markedly curved digits in combination with an otherwise human-like wrist and palm indicate a significant degree of climbing, despite the derived nature of many aspects of the hand and other regions of the postcranial skeleton in H. naledi.

Ex-circus lions get new life in South Africa

This video is called Lions – The New Endangered Species?

From Wildlife Extra:

Two ex-circus lions from Bulgaria have been released into Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa, the Born Free Foundation has reported.

Jora and Black’s started their 10,500 mile journey ‘home’, from a halfway house in central Bulgaria to Bourgas Airport on the Black Sea coast, late on Friday, 25th September. From there they were flown by Thomson Airways to London’s Gatwick Airport where legendary actress and Born Free co-founder, Virginia McKenna OBE, was waiting to give them a warm welcome.

Virginia said: “Born Free has successfully moved many captive animals but each occasion is unique in its own way. I am really happy to have seen these two lions at Gatwick before they head to their African homeland. I hope their story will inspire people to treat wild animals with respect and understanding, and never subject them to totally inappropriate existences in captivity. Jora and Black are flagship animals for the ending of all wild animals in circuses. Let all countries follow Bulgaria’s example.”

Jora and Black then travelled by road, in approved quarantine vehicles operated by JCS Livestock, to London’s Heathrow Airport where they were carefully prepared for the longest leg of their journey – a flight to Johannesburg International Airport. Much-loved Coronation Street actress Helen Worth, who launched the successful appeal for Jora and Black’s rescue in July and has been closely following their progress, took the opportunity to wish the brothers a fond farewell as they left the UK.

Helen said: “It is so exciting to see Jora and Black on the move to their wonderful new home. They are absolutely stunning animals and I feel really privileged to have had a chance to see them close up and on their way. I love Shamwari Game Reserve and I know they will have a lovely home there.”

After landing in Johannesburg, Jora and Black were transported by road. A convoy of Land Rover Discovery vehicles and trailers completed the journey to Shamwari Game Reserve, near Port Elizabeth. Born Free staff, friends and local media watched with delight as Jora and Black were released into their new enclosure, setting paws on Africa soil for the first time.

Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover Experiential Marketing Director, said: “Our vehicles are designed with the power and ability to safely transport heavy and precious cargo. We were delighted to be able to support Born Free with the relocation and to ensure that Jora and Black had the most comfortable ride possible to their new home in Africa.”

Shamwari Group Head of Wildlife and Veterinarian, Dr Johan Joubert, and Born Free’s Big Cat Specialist, Tony Wiles, travelled with Jora and Black throughout their journey, making regular health checks.

Dr Joubert said: “I am delighted we have been able to take these animals and offer them a permanent home in the African bush. It is a stark contrast from the trucks in which they were first found. These animals have travelled well and show every sign of settling in and reestablishing some of their natural behaviour.”

Jora and Black’s new lives in their spacious, safe and enriching accommodation will be a world away from the circumstances in which they were rescued by Born Free, assisted by FOUR PAWS, earlier this year. Taken in as small cubs, the brothers were originally part of a circus act touring Eastern Europe and Turkey. Following the Bulgarian government’s much-welcomed ban on the use of wild mammals in circuses, the lions were left to languish in a stifling beast wagon since the summer of 2014, until the owners agreed to re-home them with Born Free.

Ancient human species discovered in South Africa?

This video says about itself:

10 September 2015

Within a deep and narrow cave in South Africa, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger and his team found fossil remains belonging to the newest member of our human family. The Homo naledi discovery adds another exciting chapter to the human evolution story by introducing an ancestor that was primitive but shared physical characteristics with modern humans.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Homo naledi: New species of ancient human discovered, claim scientists

Bones found in South African cave are Homo naledi, a new species of ancient human relative, say researchers, but some experts are sceptical of find

Ian Sample, Science editor

Thursday 10 September 2015 10.30 BST

A huge haul of bones found in a small, dark chamber at the back of a cave in South Africa may be the remnants of a new species of ancient human relative.

Explorers discovered the bones after squeezing through a fissure high in the rear wall of the Rising Star cave, 50km from Johannesburg, before descending down a long, narrow chute to the chamber floor 40 metres beneath the surface.

The entrance chute into the Dinaledi chamber is so tight – a mere eight inches wide – that six lightly built female researchers were brought in to excavate the bones. Footage from their cameras was beamed along 3.5km of optic cable to a command centre above ground as they worked inside the cramped enclosure.

The women recovered more than 1,500 pieces of bone belonging to at least 15 individuals. The remains appear to be infants, juveniles and one very old adult. Thousands more pieces of bone are still in the chamber, smothered in the soft dirt that covers the ground.

The leaders of the National Geographic-funded project (link to video) believe the bones – as yet undated – represent a new species of ancient human relative. They have named the creature Homo naledi, where naledi means “star” in Sesotho, a local South African language. But other experts on human origins say the claim is unjustified, at least on the evidence gathered so far. The bones, they argue, look strikingly similar to those of early Homo erectus, a forerunner of modern humans who wandered southern Africa 1.5m years ago.

“We’ve found a new species that we are placing in the genus Homo, which is really quite remarkable,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist who led the work at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. He described the slender, small-brained creatures as “long-legged”, “pinheaded” and “gangly”. The males stood about 5ft, with females a little shorter.

Measurements of the bones show that the creature has a curious blend of ancient ape and modern human-like features. Its brain is tiny, the size of a gorilla’s. Its teeth are small and simple. The thorax is primitive and ape-like, but its hands more modern, their shape well-suited to making basic tools. The feet and ankles are built for walking upright, but its fingers are curved, a feature seen in apes that spend much of their time in the trees. The findings are reported in two papers published in the online journal eLife.

The Dinaledi chamber has been visited by explorers in the past, and the soft sediments in which the bones were found have been badly disturbed. Because the remains were not encased in rock, Berger’s team has not been able to date them. They could be 3m years old, or far more modern. No other animals were found in the chamber that might hint at when the human relative got there.

“If this is an ancient species, like a coelacanth, that has come down through time and is only tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of years old, it means that during that time we had a complex species wandering around Africa, perhaps making tools. That would make archaeology very difficult, because we aren’t going to know who made what,” Berger said.

John Hawks, a researcher on the team, said that despite some of its modern features, Homo naledi probably belonged at the origins of our genus, Homo. “It’s telling us that evolutionary history was probably different to what we had imagined,” he said. Paul Dirks, another scientist involved, said that work was ongoing to establish the age of the bones. Some tests, such as carbon dating, will destroy the material, and will only be tried once the bones have been studied more closely.

Without knowing the age of the bones, some researchers see the fossils as little more than novelties. “If they are as old as two million years, then they might be early South African versions of Homo erectus, a species already known from that region. If much more recent, they could be a relic species that persisted in isolation. In other words, they are more curiosities than game-changers for now,” said William Jungers, an anthropologist at Stony Brook School of Medicine in New York.

Christoph Zollikofer, an anthropologist at the University of Zurich, said that many of the bone characteristics used to claim the creature as a new species are seen in more primitive animals, and by definition cannot be used to define a new species. “The few ‘unique’ features that potentially define the new species need further scrutiny, as they may represent individual variation, or variation at the population level,” he said. Tim White, a paleoanthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley, goes further. “From what is presented here, they belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s.”

The Dinaledi chamber is extremely hard to access today, raising the question of how the creatures came to be there. They may have clambered in and become stuck, or died when water filled the cave. But Berger and his colleagues favour a more radical explanation. “We have, after eliminating all of the probable, come to the conclusion that Homo naledi was utilising this chamber in a ritualised fashion to deliberately dispose of its dead,” Berger said.

The conclusion is not widely accepted by others. “Intentional disposal of rotting corpses by fellow pinheads makes a nice headline, but seems like a stretch to me,” said Jungers. Zollikofer agrees. “The ‘new species’ and ‘dump-the-dead’ claims are clearly for the media. None of them is substantiated by the data presented in the publications,” he said. Hawks is open to other explanations, but said that disposal made sense. “The evidence really tends to exclude the idea that they entered the chamber one at a time, alive, over some time, because we have infants, small children, and very old adults who would almost certainly not have managed to get into this chamber without being deposited there.”

Chris Stringer, head of human origins at the Natural History Museum in London, said that how the creatures reached their final resting place was a “big puzzle”.

“If we’re talking about intentional disposal, we’re talking about creatures with a brain the size of a gorilla’s going deep into a cave, into the dark, and posting bodies through a small fissure into this cave chamber. It’s remarkably complex behaviour for what we’d think of as a very primitive human-like species. Whether there are other explanations remains to be seen, but it’s one of the plausible explanations,” he said.

MEET THE NEWLY DISCOVERED HUMAN SPECIES “Acting on a tip from spelunkers two years ago, scientists in South Africa discovered what the cavers had only dimly glimpsed through a crack in a limestone wall deep in the Rising Star cave: lots and lots of old bones. The remains covered the earthen floor beyond the narrow opening. This was, the scientists concluded, a large, dark chamber for the dead of a previously unidentified species of the early human lineage — Homo naledi.” Check out this Q&A with the leader of the expedition. [NYT]

Scientists have discovered a new species of human ancestor deep in a South African cave, adding a baffling new branch to the family tree. By Jamie Shreeve, National Geographic: here.

Save South African vultures, campaign

This video from South Africa says about itself:

1 September 2015

Exclusive footage of ‘Tuluver’ revealed.

To everyone who liked, hated, tweeted, debated, narrated, shared, posted, declared, noted, backed it, cracked it, wrote articles, deleted them, printed them, supported and celebrated; BirdLife South Africa and more so the Vultures, sincerely thank you.

From BirdLife:

New species or unnoticed plight?

By Martin Fowlie, Fri, 04/09/2015 – 14:47

The beautiful, newly ‘discovered’ bird species, the Tuluver, is a digitally-altered image of a Lappet-faced Vulture. The fictitious bird is part of a campaign to draw attention to the plight of Africa’s vultures on International Vulture Awareness Day.

BirdLife South Africa’s carefully planned campaign prompted a social media storm, generating much debate as to the authenticity of the photo. Some soon twigged the image was part of a bold stunt by BirdLife South Africa in aid of International Vulture Awareness Day.

The big reveal was shown in an online video, where viewers could see the reverse transformation of the ‘Tuluver’ into a vulture. (As eagle eyes spotted, Tuluver is an anagram for Vulture.) The video culminated in a simple message: “If we can get this passionate about discovering new species, why can’t we get as passionate about losing them?”

The stunt, conceptualised by communications agency Utopia in partnership with BirdLife South Africa, aims to raise awareness of the often unappreciated and endangered vultures whose plight has gone unnoticed.

“Many people simply don’t know of the ecological value vultures have, and regard them as ‘ugly’”, explains Carl Cardinelli, Creative Partner of Utopia. “Our idea was to test the notion of whether people would notice vultures if they were beautiful or new and exciting. We created a new, fictitious bird, the Tuluver, with all the important characteristics of a vulture, except we made it more traditionally beautiful.”

Vital service providers

“Africa’s vultures are in serious trouble and they need urgent conservation attention and, for this reason, we decided to use a brave approach during our International Vulture Awareness Day awareness efforts”, explains Mark D. Anderson, CEO of BirdLife South Africa.

“We’ve already seen the decimation of three species of Asian Gyps vultures, which were brought to the brink of extinction following the use of a fatal drug called Diclofenac (commonly known as Voltaren). The absence of vultures subsequently led to an increase in feral dogs and, in turn, an increase in rabies, with an estimated cost to human health of approximately US$ 1.5 billion.”

“Science forms the basis to much of BirdLife South Africa’s work, so we realised that we could open ourselves up to criticism by announcing the discovery of a fictitious bird. We do however know that, in our important bird conservation work, awareness is immensely important, and therefore out-the-box type campaigns are occasionally necessary. We do apologise for any ‘feathers ruffled’, but we must be willing to be bold if we are to help ensure that Africa’s vultures do not follow the same path as their Asian cousins or the California Condor in North America,” says Anderson.

The stunt certainly got vultures noticed in what has been the biggest publicity campaign BirdLife South Africa has ever pulled off. “We were overwhelmed by the response of our initial post and, for example, we reached about 250,000 through our Facebook Page alone during the first 48 hours. Many more were reached through other media,” says Anderson. ”In the spirit of International Vulture Awareness Day, we hope people will share the video and help champion the real reason of our campaign.”

New threats

“More recently, a new contributor to the species’ decline in Africa is poaching. Poachers lace their victim’s remains with poison, providing one fatal last meal for vultures whose overhead circling might signal the poachers’ presence to rangers.”

“Other threats include a declining availability of food, inadvertent poisoning by livestock farmers, electrocution on electricity pylons and drowning in farm reservoirs”. “Sadly some people believe that eating the brains of vultures enables one to predict the outcome of the lottery or a football match”.

“Perhaps not as pretty as a panda or as regal as a rhino, their plight should be equally important,” says Anderson. “Vultures are nature’s ultimate clean-up crew, disposing of carrion and, in turn, preventing the spread of diseases such rabies, anthrax and botulism. They are vitally important to both the environment and humans alike,” he explains.

“Unfortunately many people do not like vultures and they regard them as ugly and dirty, which is of course not the case.”

British author Doris Lessing spied on by secret police

This video is called Re-Reading Doris Lessing‘s ‘The Golden Notebook’: Ten Years Later.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

MI5 spied on Doris Lessing for 20 years, declassified documents reveal

Newly released and redacted British intelligence files refer to author from early 1940s to long after her break from communist party in 1956

Richard Norton-Taylor

Friday 21 August 2015 00.01 BST

MI5 targeted the Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing for 20 years, listening to her phone conversations, opening her mail and closely monitoring her movements, previously top secret files reveal. The files show the extent to which MI5, helped by the Met police special branch, spied on the writer, her friends and associates, long after she abandoned communism, disgusted by the crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956.

MI5 was concerned about her continuing fierce opposition to colonialism, the files, released at the National Archives on Friday, make clear.

Lessing first came to MI5’s notice in the early 1940s in Southern Rhodesia when, as Doris Tayler, she married Gottfried Lessing, a communist activist and leading figure in the Left Book Club. …

From British daily The Independent, quoting MI5:

One memo to London said: “The general tone of the club is reported to be very left, and it is stated that most topics of discussion there usually end up in anti-British, anti-capital and anti-imperialist vapourings.”

The BBC quotes MI5 that it was ‘a club “patronised by persons with foreign accents”‘ Gottfried Lessing, Doris’ husband, was a refugee from nazi Germany of Jewish ancestry, so probably spoke English with a German accent.

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

She kept his surname when the marriage ended and she left Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she was brought up, and moved to Britain in 1949.

MI5 stepped up its spying on her when, in the course of its permanent bugging of the British Communist party’s headquarters in King Street, Covent Garden, her name (initially misheard as Lacey) came up in a conversation.

From British daily The Independent, quoting MI5:

One 1951 report in her Security Service personal file said: “Doris Lessing has been described as certainly pro-Communist although it is doubtful if she is a party member. Her Rhodesian background has brought out in her a deep hatred of the colour bar which has now reached the point of fanaticism. In this way her Communist sympathies have been increased.”

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

In 1952, MI6 passed to MI5 what it called “character sketches” of members of a visit to Moscow by a number of British authors, the files released on Friday reveal. Under the name Miss Doris Lessing, it wrote: “Her communist sympathies have been fanned almost to the point of fanaticism owing to her upbringing in Rhodesia, which has brought out in her a deep hatred of the colour bar.”

MI6 added: “Colonial exploitation is her pet theme and she has now nearly become as irresponsible in her statements as … saying that everything black is wonderful and that all men and all things white are vicious.”

… In 1956, Special Branch informed MI5 that Lessing, whom it described as “of plump build”, had moved into a flat in Warwick Road, London SW5. “Her flat is frequently visited by persons of various nationality,” it reported, “including Americans, Indians, Chinese and Negroes.” The report added: “It is possible that the flat is being used for immoral purposes.”

But 1956 proved tumultuous for Lessing. She was banned from South Africa and Rhodesia.

From British daily The Independent:

Lessing, who was expelled from South Africa during the trip after an alert to the apartheid country’s police force from London, was also followed onto a flight back to Britain and observed to be writing in a large black notebook which her tail considered suspicious because the author covered what she had written each time someone came past.

An attempt to find the notebook in her luggage upon her return to London airport was abandoned because of fears it would alert Lessing to MI5’s scrutiny.

While the author, who died in 2013 aged 94, maintained her radical politics throughout her life, her MI5 file reveals nothing to suggest she was an active threat to national security.

The Richard Norton-Taylor article continues:

Then came Moscow’s violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising. MI5 reported a fraught meeting at the communist party headquarters where Lessing agreed to sign a letter exposing “the grave crimes and abuses of the USSR and the recent revolt of workers and intellectuals against the pseudo Communist bureaucracies and police systems”. …

Lessing, an MI5 file notes, resigned from the Communist party and rejected an appeal from party officials to change her mind.

Early the following year, 1957, an MI5 source described Lessing as “disgusted with the Russian action in Hungary”, and attacking the attitude of the British communist party as “hopeless and gutless”. The same source described her as “an attractive, forceful, dangerous, woman, ruthless if need be”. …

MI5 continued to monitor Lessing’s movements, speeches and writing, and eagerly passed titbits on to the South African police. MI5 officers make clear they chose not to believe that she had “broken completely” with the Communist party, as one file puts it. In 1960, a Special Branch officer told MI5 she attended an “inaugural discussion” of the anti-war group, the Committee of 100, at Friends’ House on the Euston Road, London.

In November 1962, six years after she left the Communist party, an MI5 officer wrote, in a file stamped “secret and personal”: “She is known to have retained extreme leftwing views and she takes an interest in African affairs as an avowed opponent of racial discrimination. In more recent years, she has associated herself with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

This is the last entry in the intelligence files on her released on Friday, two years after her death. Official weeders have taken out some pages and passages, partly to protect the name of informants. They may be released at a later date.

In 2007, aged 88, Lessing, who made no secret of her political views, became the oldest winner of the Nobel prize for literature. She died in November 2013, aged 94.

The files released on Friday reveal that MI5 also kept a close watch on prominent figures of the left who were never members of the Communist party. They include the brothers David and Martin Ennals: the former became social services secretary in Callaghan’s 1976 Labour government and was later ennobled, the latter became general secretary of the National Council of Civil Liberties, a founder member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement and secretary general of Amnesty International.

An anxious Foreign Office diplomat wrote shortly after the end of the second world war to Roger Hollis, who later became head of MI5, asking about the pair. MI5 replied that its files on the Ennals brothers had been “in great demand recently”. MI5 was concerned that UN groups, in which it said both brothers were involved, might be infiltrated by the Communist party. MI5 noted that Martin was “well known to Special Branch for his activities in the Anti-Apartheid Movement”.

The MI5 files contain extracts of Harold Laski’s private correspondence that were intercepted because it was worried about his alleged communist connections. His private communications were intercepted, though MI5 reported to the Home Office in 1933 that he was “not a Communist”. Laski was chairman of the Labour party at the time of its landslide victory in the 1945 general election.

Baby elephant drives away swallows, video

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Baby Elephant Calf vs Birds [swallows] – Latest Wildlife Sightings

28 July 2015

With this week being so sad after the loss of a great animal, Cecil the lion, we thought we would cheer everyone up with a video that will make you cry of happiness, rather than sadness.

Baby rhino saved from snare in Malawi

This video from South Africa says about itself:

Black Rhino Cow Tries To Revive Dead Calf

8 February 2013

Black Rhino grieves over her dead calf and tries to revive it after it was struck by lightning.

From LILONGWE NEWS blog in Malawi:


14 August 2015

Today we received this update from our partners at the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi.

A poor little [black] rhino calf was caught in a snare in Liwonde National Park in Malawi, but luckily Lilongwe Wildlife Trust’s wildlife emergency response unit (WERU) were on hand to help.

Kate Moore tells us more about the operation:

After four days of tracking the team finally had the opportunity to dart the mother, Namatunu, allowing the team to sedate the calf, believed to be just a few months old, and work on removing the snare. The snare had become embedded around the baby’s foot.

WERU’s lead vet Amanda Salb cleaned up the wound, which was very deep, and gave antibiotics to avoid infection. The team also found out that the calf was a ‘she’…nice to know! A VHF transmitter was then attached to her tail so that she can be monitored to make sure the injury heals properly and she experiences no further problems as a result. Once awake, both mother and daughter were seen leaving the area together and have been spotted doing well since then.

Wire snares are set by poachers to catch buffalo and antelope so they can sell the meat, but other wildlife such as elephant, rhino and lions are regularly caught accidentally as snaring is indiscriminate in their action.

The operation took a lot of teamwork from Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, Department of National Parks and Wildlife, CAWS, Cluny Wildlife Trust and African Parks, as well as the Born Free sponsored vehicle, so congratulations to everyone involved!