Friday, December 13, 2013

Zoo News Digest 8th - 13th December 2013 (ZooNews 883)

Zoo News Digest 8th - 13th December 2013 (ZooNews 883)

Dear Colleagues,

The leader photograph is of Paris Hilton and taken in Dubai earlier this month. The baby Orangutan is called 'Gucci' or 'Dior' depending on which newspaper article you read.  This little animal should be with its mother. This is impossible of course because its mother was killed so that it could be here in Dubai. It is here illegally because no import permit will have been issued. The trade in rare animals within the UAE is a growing problem. The authorities are trying to get the situation under control. They need to get to the root of the problem and root out the people who are actually supplying these animals. South Africa has a big part to play here. Did you know that 54 tigers were exported to the UAE from South Africa over the past ten or so years? Tigers? Yes tigers. They may not come from South Africa but you can hunt and kill them there if you so wish. So where did these tigers go. Who knows? It is not that they are difficult to breed and there has been tigers in UAE zoos for the past 40 years.

On Tuesday I attended the first day of the first Conference of the Arabian Zoo and Aquarium Association. The conference was actually three days long and had I known that a bit beforehand I would have rearranged my schedule so I could have been there for the full three days. It was too late when I found out. The journey from Dubai to the Danat Hotel in Al Ain where the conference was taking place is only an hour and a half away but as I don't have a car it makes travel a little difficult.
Al Ain itself has changed a lot since I lived there but certain topographical features such as Wadi's and rocky outcrops have not so I was able to ascertain where I was. Surely the Danat was once called the Intercontinental? I asked some of the staff and they confirmed my belief. The place was refurbished and re-named a few years back. I was one of the guests at the opening of the Intercontinental thirty years ago. In fact in the room where the Conference took place was where I first tried fresh oysters….and loved them. I must have eaten forty that night….and many thousands since.

There was a good turn out of delegates from many Arabian and North African countries. The UAE was naturally best represented but even here some important collections were not represented which I thought a pity.

The introductions were noble and praiseworthy and there was a genuine air of wanting to do the right thing. I want that too. There then followed a number of general presentations all of which I found interesting. There was one however which made my blood boil. In fact it may have well been actually boiling because a colleague told me later that he had felt the heat rising from where I was sitting….and he was on the far side of the room.

The trouble is I suppose that there are some well meaning aspiring Association members who just don't get it. Putting together a set of Guidelines, Rules, Regulations and Code of Ethics will, I feel be an uphill struggle. But it is a new body and where there is a will there is a way. I believe that once established that they should be enshrined in law. Animal Care and Conservation today is so important that there really isn't any room for go it alone individuals or organisations.


In the last Digest with reference to the news of THREE FEMALE LILIGERS bred by the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park (G.W. Exotic Animal Park) I made the following statement …..

" They are obviously very proud of this criminal act. The press release goes on to say "These cubs are a conservation success and a first for a North American Zoo". I hope they are the last for a North America….or any country or zoo for that matter. Just where does "conservation" or "conservation success" come into it? It doesn't, not in the remotest of contexts. The article goes on to proudly claim that they were the first to breed Taligers a few years back. They obviously have not learned from their idiocy. They go on to say "Continuing the work of the sanctuary is dependent on donations from the general public." and "The sole purpose of the park is saving lives and educating the public." So they actually have the cheek of asking for money for the propagation of ignorance.

I then went to mistakenly state that they were members of a zoological body which they are not members of.  The error was quickly spotted. I got it wrong. I apologised and published a retraction straight way, changed the wording on the blog and sent out a correction to the ZooNews Digest mailing list. The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park (G.W. Exotic Animal Park) is not a member of the that organisation but IS a member of the United States Zoological Association. Although I was very quick with the retraction and apology to the mailing list I feel it had to be said again.

Incidentally the owner of the Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park appears to have started the United States Zoological Association himself. A quick trawl of the internet and I could not find another Zoo which claimed to be a member. At the same time this place strives for credibility and on this page I found what you see below:


Park Accreditations and Certifications
What does "being a member" or holding an "accreditation" mean to you? Nothing really, there are many clubs, originations, and dictators within the animal industry. It really boils down to who you know, what you can afford to fork out to be friends of the board members of each club. Keep in mind the only government assigned agency is the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Other than that all the clubs and originations are made up of a private group of people who choose to start a club. None of them have any higher power than the other.

G.W. Exotic Animal Park Accreditations
There is no private organization that has the funds, time, or man power to inspect and police the members facilities that they collect membership dues from. They go through sometimes a onsite inspection at the beginning of the process and sometime they even get approved by just mailing in photos. Once this is done there is nothing that goes on a day to day basis to assure animal welfare is being the first priority. The USDA is the only government agency with the funds, power and resources to make sure the animals care is first.

Please understand the politics in Sanctuaries. Most Sanctuaries are NOT licensed by the USDA so they are not inspected by NO ONE, and more and more Sanctuaries are failing to meet proper care guidlines. Just because they are a member of a Sanctuary orginazation does not give them any accreditations for the care they keep on a daily basis. Most orginazations do not ever inspect the facility at all. It works on a buddy system and a membership dues. Only holding USDA license will guarantee that they meet the standards of day to day care.


USDA Exhibitor license
Federal Fish and Wildlife Import/Export license
Oklahoma Game Breeders license
Oklahoma Non-Game Breeders license
Oklahoma Exhibitors license
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Crevide license
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Rendering license


Associate member of the Zoological Association of America
Uniting a Proactive Primate and Exotic Animal and League
United States Zoological Association
African Association of Zoos and Aquaria


United States Zoological Association
Uniting a Proactive Primate and Exotic Animal and League


It is all a bit worrying to me and I am sure that many of you will agree. Perhaps this place is no longer a member or accredited by some of the above. That would not be so unusual. There is a collection not a million miles away from where I am right now that displays memberships at its entrance gate and yet its memberships were withdrawn quite some time ago. Dysfunctional Zoos lie through their teeth to gain credibility.

You will note that there has been a 'Second Shipment of Namibian Animals for Cuban Zoo'. Let's hope they all get there. There is a nasty rumor that some of the last shipment ended up for a hunting safari.

I was so sorry to learn that Shim in Seoul Zoo did not recover from the tiger attack and has passed away. Delighted thought to learn that Dave Styles from Australia Zoo is on the road to recovery. Although Shim's accident appears to have been due to keeper error in Dave's case it was different, but just a little bit the same. All this hands on nonsense with big cats really needs to stop.

Lots of interest in the news this week.

My surface mail mail box is just not working out. Mail is going astray. Even lost my last but one passport for a while. So for now please send all paper mail, books for review etc to :

Peter Dickinson
10 Cheshire View
Appleyards Lane

Bear in mind it is NOT where I live. My mail will be forwarded to me to wherever I am from there. My contact phone number remains the same:

00971 (0)50 4787 122


I remain committed to the work of GOOD zoos, not DYSFUNCTIONAL zoos.

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Why I won't be going back to Bristol's creationist zoo
A creationist zoo in Bristol will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children's education
On a cold and dreary afternoon, I headed off to a destination I'd long avoided, to a farm that has been converted into a zoo. This zoo had got into trouble in the past because of links with the Great British Circus, which had led to its expulsion from an industry body, the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in 2009.

But there was something else about this place that I found unsettling: Noah's Ark Zoo Farm is a creationist zoo. You should perhaps expect that from its name. But biblical words and phrases are part of our cultural heritage, and don't usually imply biblical literalism (at least, I don't think the directors of the Eden Project have any religious agenda to push). I had browsed Noah's Ark's website, so I knew that the name was more than hinting at a religious flavour to this North Somerset attraction.

I walked in with some trepidation, expecting to be inundated immediately with religious propaganda. But there's little evidence of the creationist theme until you enter the large barn in the middle of the complex, which houses an auditorium and an impressive indoor children's play area. This, it seems, was the holy of holies. The walls were covered in posters, and they made for interesting reading.

"All in all, bacteria do not look as if they were the products of chance. They look as if they have been designed… Why has science closed its mind to the possibility that life was created?" asked one.

Another one presented "30 reasons why apes are not related to man". I prefer "humans" to the outdated, sexist "man", but let's move on. Come on! Humans are apes. Some of the "reasons" were just things that mark us out as a species, without implying that we're anything other than a hominoid at a broader level of classification. But there were also glaring inaccuracies. For example: "For apes… sex is functional… for

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm responds to criticism
Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm in Wraxall “will bewilder adults and potentially undermine children’s education” wrote Bristol-born scientist Alice Roberts in this Observer article.
The creationist zoo have responded to criticisms with a statement:
There has been some local interest this week in a Guardian online article written about Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm by television personality Alice Roberts (BBC’s Coast, Don’t Die Young).
The article presents Alice’s personal view on the Christian message which forms a part of our zoo and which is well known by our visitors.
We’re not surprised by her comments as she is well known as a television atheist and humanist who doesn’t like the notion of God being introduced to science.
Noah’s Ark is a Christian organisation which wants to give people the scientific freedom to believe in God as part of their view of how life was made and has changed over time.
Christianity is the leading religion in the UK and followed either casually or seriously by over 31 million people (2011 Census), an interesting statistic when compared to the 13 million people who characterised themselves as having ‘no-religion’ in the same survey. An important part of our country’s heritage and education system for many decades, like many others we believe religious discussion is still very relevant and compatible with modern society, and the field of science.
Within two covered areas at our 100 acre park we provide some discussion boards which explain the theories of evolution, creationism and re-colonisation; a new paradigm which accepts both the role of God and the complexity of the genome for evolution after an initial creation. We also question whether the biblical story of Noah and his Ark could be true and what evidence there is for a global flood – a popular story which ties in nicely with the theme of the zoo.
Noah’s Ark is keen to promote thought and discussion for interested visitors, certainly not forcing religious views and pressuring unsuspecting families as unfortunately Alice Roberts’ article confusingly portrays.
For a scientist, Prof. Roberts article was surprisingly dominated by persuasive language and subversive opinion rather than simply a factual account of her visit, presumably with the intention of encouraging people to share her angry sentime

Penguin study (Financed by Ski Dubai)
Funding is a dilemma researchers always face. Luckily for one local scientist, private funding paved the way from San Diego to the South Pole, with the benefit of using new technology that's cutting down on time in the field with better accuracy. In this week's earth 8 we bring you part 2 of the science behind this penguin study.

Senior research scientist Dr. Brent Stewart hopes to answer many important questions about several penguin species living on the South Pole.

When you're surrounded by hundreds of thousand of birds, the only way to get a better count is to fly high above them. As we showed you in part one of this series, a drone-like aircraft was used to collect more precise scientific data.

"What I really like about it is it can be a stable platform rather than flying over very quickly, we can hover. We can quickly move it in one direction, spin it around to get different perspectives," Stewart said. "But it's going to take another month, two months to count each bird at the two colonies. The big ones, the king penguins St. Andrews Bay, Salsbury Plains, they're probably 200,000 to 300,000 birds at each one of those colonies."

Although it looks crowded, Stewart says some colonies are not doing as well as others.

"Adelie penguins on the peninsula, we know that their populations are changing very rapidly as the climate there changes very rapidly. But other spec

Discovery offers Ecuador Amazon parrot 11th hour hope
A South American parrot has been reclassified as a species in its own right, which could help save the bird from becoming extinct in the wild.

Until now, the Ecuador Amazon parrot was considered to be part of a group not seen as a conservation priority.

It is estimated that only 600 of the birds remain in the wild, which need two habitats - mangroves and dry forests - in order to survive.

The reclassification was based on years of work by a researcher at Chester Zoo.

"I am very proud that we have actually identified that this bird is very important and can now get some protection," explained Mark Pilgrim, the zoo's director general, who carried out the research.

"The thing that is really important about this reclassification is that previously it had absolutely zero priority for conservation."

Previously, the Ecuador Amazon parrot was considered to be one of four subspecies with the Amazona autumnalis group, which has an estimated population of about five million birds and a range extending from Central America to parts of Brazil.

As a result of the size of the population and large range, it did not rank among conservationists priorities.

Amazona parrot feather (Image: Chester Zoo)
DNA extracted from feathers highlighted Ecuador Amazon differences from the other parrots
"There are lots of species like this, where we are not going into the forests and discovering a species new to science for the first time," Dr Pilgrim told BBC News.

"But what I have discovered is that it has been hidden within anoth

35 Zoo Animals Freeze To Death In Northern Mexico
Thirty-five animals at a zoo in the northern Mexico state of Chihuahua have frozen to death during the region's coldest weather in six decades.

Serengeti Zoo owner Alberto Hernandez says 14 parrots, 13 serpents, five iguanas, two crocodiles and a capuchin monkey died. He said Saturday that power failures cut off electrical heating at the zoo in the town of Aldama.

Temperatures have dropped to 9 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 13 Celsius) in the area, the coldest weather in 60 years.

Power outages have affected much of northern Mexico, forcing factories and businesses to close. Dozens of people are in shelters. Sc

Second Shipment of Namibian Animals for Cuban Zoo
The second stage of a donation from Namibia will soon arrive to Cuba, in a shipment bringing 16 animals of three species, belonging to the so-called heavy ungulate of hoofed animals (mammals).

This group is composed of pachyderms -10 rhinoceros, five black and five white, in addition to six elephants-, which will be exhibited at the National Zoo on December 11, as informed to ACN on Friday by graduate Armando J. Barrios, a specialist of the center’s Department of Public Relations.

The arrival will force the Zoo to close due to works derived from it. The park’s activities will resume the following day, and the public will also be able to enjoy the exhibition of a white lion, donated to the Zoo by Belgrade, capital of Serbia.

A puma and its litter will also be exhibited.

The first shipment of 131 animals of 20 species, also from Namibia, arrived in Cuba in 2012, made up by 63 ungulates, 48 carnivores, 16 birds and four rodents.

The group is composed of roan and heart-skinned antelopes,

Ichihara Elephant Country

Sparsholt College hosts workshop for Chinese zoo keepers
CHINESE zoo keepers have visited Sparsholt College to see its unique training course.

Delegates from the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, including panda breeders, invited the college to host a week-long training workshop which included visits to a number of the UK’s leading zoos and an expert speaker programme.

Sparsholt College course director Andy Beer is uniquely positioned and qualified as the only

Manali to set up first mordern Himalayan monal breeding centre
The endangered but majestic pheasant bird Monal is to soon get an advanced breeding centre in Manali as the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) has approved a proposal for it and the design for the centre stands finalized.

Plans to construct a Monal breeding were started in 2009, but it failed to get started for lack of enough available funds.

Initially many designs were rejected and now finally the Zoo Authority of India has ratified an ultra modern design for a centre for the Himalayan Monal (lophophorus impejanus).

To keep a constant watch on birds, cameras would be installed in the cages and a stud book would be maintained. Each bird will get a name and their complete case s

Thousands of fish evacuated from Norfolk aquarium
A major operation to rescue more than 3,000 fish at Hunstanton Sea Life Sanctuary got underway on Friday morning after power to vital life support systems was lost during severe flooding in Norfolk.

Staff worked through the night after the sea breached defences and flooded the building to a depth of more than a foot throughout, and fire officers were still pumping water out on Friday morning.

Special transport vehicles with their own life support were sent from Sea Life's Dorset headquarters to provide emergency back-up, and begin the operation to remove the fish.

The majority were safely removed on Friday. Sharks were caught in their tank with two divers using nets to steer them towards other staff holding landing nets before being rushed out to a waiting van with aerated tanks.

Some of the evacuees have been settled at Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre while others were take to quarantine facilities in Weymouth, Dorset. The remaining fish and other animals were expected to be evacuated on Saturday.

The Sanctuary building has suffered serious damage but the full extent is as yet unknown. With a very real prospect that electricity might not be restored to the building for days, all the residents had needed to be moved to alternative facilities as quickly as possible.

Sanctuary General Manager Nigel Croasdale praised the efforts of the fire service and his own staff.

"My displays team and three other staff worked right through the night and we have all been very anxious about the welfare of our resident creatures," he said.

Sea Life reinforcements to help e

World’s Strangest Safari: Serengeti on South China Sea
It was as close to a Stanley-meets-Livingstone moment as a 21st-century traveler is likely to get. After a weeklong odyssey involving planes, ferries, buses and motorcycles, I peered through sheeting monsoonal rain at a mist-shrouded island.
A boatman materialized, beckoning toward his flimsy outrigger before paddling us across the mile-wide strait. As I trudged inland, dense foliage gave way to lightly wooded savanna. Two giraffes, handsome specimens almost three times my height, stood motionless as I passed between them. Some 30 zebras dotted the plain, impervious to the downpour, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Holiday 2013 issue. A herd of eland -- the largest species of antelope -- froze fleetingly and then pranced off in a conga line toward the island’s hilly spine. Amid this profusion of African wildlife, a squat, weather-beaten figure emerged from a thatched hut. … Mr. Sariego, I presume?

River Safari’s Amazon River Quest opens
Asia’s first and only river-themed wildlife park River Safari achieves the final milestone with the opening of the Amazon River Quest boat ride on Saturday, December 7, 2013.

“The launch of the Amazon River Quest completes River Safari, and offers our visitors a new immersive channel into the world of animals that depend on the Amazon River for survival. We are thrilled to welcome visitors on this river expedition, and hope that they will gain a deeper appreciation of the interconnectedness of animals, plants and rivers, and be inspired to protect fragile freshwater habitats,” said Claire Chiang, chairman, Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

The slow boat ride, which lasts between 12 to 15 minutes, is the final attraction to open at River Safari, Singapore’s newest family lifestyle destination. The 483m-long ride is designed to simulate an open-top boat voyage down the Amazon River featuring land and arboreal animals in naturalistic habitats with lush vegetation. 

The Amazon River Quest is part of the park’s Wild Amazonia zone which showcases the rich biodiversity in the Amazon basin. The two other habitats in this zone are the Squirrel Monkey Forest, a walk-through exhibit home to over 40 free-ranging squirrel monkeys, and the Amazon Flooded Forest which simulates the annual flooding of the Amazon rainforest with manatees and arapaimas swimming amongst giant trees. 

Visitors can embark on the Amazon River Quest from 10am to 5pm.  Tickets will continue to be priced at a discounted rate of S$25 (adult), S$16 (child between 3-1

What You Said: Elephant Mali’s Captivity in Manila Zoo
A Southeast Asia Realtime story from August introduced readers to a debate in the Philippines over whether an elephant named Mali should be tranferred to a sanctuary where she would have more space, or whether the zoo should merely improve her enclosure and current living conditions.
Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada has dismissed the idea that Mali should be removed from the zoo, where she is the sole elephant, and one of its leading attractions. We asked readers what they thought about zoos, and whether the Manila zoo should bring in companions for Mali or allow her to be transferred.

Here is a round-up of selected comments:

Felicin Maria R. Santiago: “Like all Filipinos, I love Mali. But my love for her means that I want to see her be free in a sanctuary, living the life she can never have at the Manila Zoo. The veterinarians at the Manila Zoo are not elephant experts, which they have admitted. Keeping her in the zoo would be a selfish decision.”

Irene Bradle: “Mali should be able to go to a sanctuary and be with others of her kind. Bringing more elephants to the zoo only puts their lives in misery also. Please do the right thing for her, and if nothing else, for goodness sakes treat her poor foot. It is obvious she is in great discomfort just by looking at the way she lifts it up to relieve the pressure.”

Abhi Kulkarni: ”Animal captivity to serve some stupid gawkers is absolutely immoral. Does not matter the level of care. End of story.”

Diane McDonnell: ”At the rate humans are going, no animals will be left except in zoos. But we must act humanely and compassionately in providing habitats that are as similar to natural habitats as possible. How many zoos have the acreage to let sentient elephants roam on soft ground with the company of their elephant families? Elephant sanctuaries can provide this physical and emotional opportunity for elephants. Let Mali live out the rest of her life in physical and emotional comfort.”

Eszter: “Mali should bee freed. I don’t understand how this is even a question?! So furious with the mayor. Doesn’t he have a heart? All he cares about is money, since Mali is the main attraction of the zoo.”

Tessie: “Mali is too old to travel to Thailand. She would be better off in Manila Zoo where she is loved and well cared for. Her enclosure will get a second expansion hopefully within the year with soil

Zookeeper dies after tiger attack
A zookeeper from Seoul Zoo, who was hospitalized two weeks ago after being attacked by a three-year-old Siberian tiger, was pronounced dead Sunday. He was 52.

Ajou University Medical Center said the zookeeper surnamed Shim died at 2:24 a.m. after failing to recover from the attack that left him in a coma.

He was injured in the neck and spine while attempting to feed the tiger on the morning of Nov. 24.

He was spotted by a colleague shortly after the attack then later taken to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. He was transferred to Ajou University Medical Center for further treatment after he failed to come out of the coma.

Shim joined Seoul Zoo as a staffer in 1987 and worked in the insects division before being posted to the wild cats section on Jan. 1 this year.

Police have launched an investigation into the incident.

Bannerghatta staffers sell tiger claws, elephant hair?
The Forest Department has set up a committee to look into the complaint that animal keepers inside the Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) are trading in animal parts, which fetch a huge price in the market.

The complaint stated that tiger claws, jaws, leopard claws, hair of sloth bears and elephants are being picked up and being sold in the market by some zoo keepers.

Some keepers are even flaunting tiger claws in their gold locket and elephant hair in gold rings.

The department has instructed to carry out checks on all the living carnivores in the zoo to ensure that animal parts are not traded by caretakers.

There are close to 40 tigers, 20 leopards, more than 80 sloth bears and a dozen elephants.

Conservator of Forests Range Gowda, Director of the Zoo said the committee has completed one round of checking on animals to assess if any animal parts were missing.

“It’s not easy to remove claws from living carnivores and once they die they are buried under the supervision of senior officers. In fact all the post-mortems and burial of carnivores, or scheduled I animals are video recorded. The final report of the committee is awaited,” Range Gowda said.

The animal keepers have also denied the allegations. “It

New Report Reveals Many Zoo Animals Are 'Genetic Disasters'
Many popular animals kept in zoos across Europe have become deeply inbred and have very little "genetic integrity", a new report reveals.

A study by conservation geneticist Dr Paul O'Donoghue at the Aspinall Foundation found that the pedigrees of many zoo animals have become contaminated by hybridisation with different but related species.

The study examined the DNA of nine "founder" animals which all 110 captive cats are descended from and found that they were all closely related.

"It means the animals alive now are all related, mostly sharing more DNA than if they were cousins," O'Donoghue told the Sunday Times.

"When such close relatives mate, their offspring become inbred, meaning they face stillbirths, genetic diseases and shorter lives."

Hundreds of breeding programmes are operated by European zoos for rare and endangered species. These programmes were mostly founded between 20 to 30 years ago using small populations of animals that were assumed to be unrelated.

However, modern DNA testing has revealed these assumptions to be false, raising doubts about the value of these conservation schemes.

O'Donoghue also examined the Scottish wildcat, which is displayed in zoos across Britain, and found that almost all of the 60 or so studied are actually partly domesticated cats because the

Aspinall Foundation leading the way against inbreeding of animals
The Aspinall Foundation is calling on zoos and wildlife parks to follow its lead to ensure mating programmes do not cause inbreeding among relatives.

The foundation which runs Port Lympne and Howletts wild animal parks in the county has been using revolutionary genetic research to avoid animals mating with close relatives.

Their research has shown there could be genetic disasters in Siberian tigers and European bison.

To stop that happening it has launched a programme of genetic testing which uses the very latest molecular techniques to generate new genetic studbooks.

Damian Aspinall said: “This testing is a major leap forward and we believe its use should become widespread throughout all breeding programmes. The future of our planet’s endangered species is far too important to take chances with.

“Every effort should be made to ensure breeding programmes are run to the highest standards using the very latest technologies. We will be leading by example by creating genetic studbooks for each of the endangered species we manage.

“The consequences of not doing so are potentially disastrous. Current practices mean that genetically incompatible animals may be bred together introduc

No more monkeying around: Teenage gorilla is using a skin care product to attract a new mate
Every woman needs a beauty regime to keep her looking her best and this female gorilla is no exception.
In a bid to keep her hair silky smooth, and her skin and nails immaculate, Effie the 210lbs gorilla is taking vitamins and supplements meant for humans.
And since her daily dose of skin care supplement, she’s started attracting the attention of a potential suitor, the silverback Kumbuka.

Fears for dingoes as Australia's wild dog faces extinction
Marle and Digger may be small and cute puppies, but make no mistake, warns their handler Matt Williams: these 18-week-old dingoes are wild animals that would never make suitable pets.

The brother and sister pair who live at the Alice Springs Desert Park in central Australia are genetically pure dingoes, meaning they are two of the increasingly rare specimens of the aggressive sub-species of the Grey Wolf.

"They are very, very different to a domestic dog," Williams says as he attempts to keep the agile animals under control.

"That's the message that we really have to get across because they are often so closely associated with domestic dogs."

While many are tempted to pat animals that appear canine, instinctively scratching their heads or ears without expecting an adverse reaction, things work differently with dingoes, which are found mainly in Australia.

"Even though they might look like a dog and have four legs and wag their tail, they are a wild animal and you have to respect and treat them as such," says Amanda McDowell, president of the Australian Dingo Conservation Association.

Yet despite its ferocity the dingo -- shown by fossil evidence to have been in Australia for at least 3,500 years -- may be in a fight for its own survival, with some fearing that interbreeding with wild domestic canines could see it become extinct.

McDowell believes that the animal's demise

City zoo offers snake massage
BOGART may be gone but snakes that give massages have become the latest attraction at the Cebu City Zoo.

Bogart, a Bengal tiger, was the zoo’s bestseller. But Bogart died early this year.

Caretaker Giovanni Romarate told Sun.Star Cebu that the zoo chanced upon the opportunity to offer snake massage.

He said that while some foreigners were having their photo taken with the snakes draped on their shoulder, one visitor remarked that it felt like getting a massage from the reptile.

The visitors mentioned that snake massage is a popular tourist activity in some countries.

Taking the hint, zoo officials had a bamboo day-bed (lantay) made so that visitors can lie down among the pythons for the massage.


The city zoo has three large pythons and one albino python.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama, Councilor Nida Cabrera, department heads and officials of a woman's organization visited the zoo yesterday.

Rama headed the turnover of three buildings wo

Arab region’s first zoo association takes shape
Association to ensure collaborative efforts for animal welfare
Experts in animal conservation, welfare or zoo projects will soon have new opportunities to share their expertise on a regional level as the first Arabian Zoo and Aquarium Association takes shape.
A love for wild and exotic animals and birds is widespread among Arabs and many have their own private collections coupled with conservation and welfare know-how, a member of the organising committee told Gulf News.
“The forum will streamline knowledge and skills of the individuals, private collection owners, and public sector zoos and aquariums,” said Dr Mark Craig, Director of Life Sciences at Al Ain Zoo.
“We know there are many private collections across the Arab world and their owners will be able to play their role in animal welfare by becoming a member of the association.”

Australia Zoo tiger handler Dave Styles wakes after 'intense battle'
THE tiger handler attacked at Australia Zoo has woken after multiple surgeries and an "intense" 10-day battle in intensive care.
Dave Styles' distressed family says the big cat handler has demonstrated his "strength and fighting spirit" as "exceeds expectations" since being savaged by a tiger named Charlie on November 27.
"Well after 10 days of heavy sedation, multiple scans and a few trips to the surgeon's theatre Dave has finally woken with his cheeky grin still intact," Andes Styles posted on Facebook in the most recent update on December 6.
"He's just finished a debrief of how intense a battle it's been and other than a few scars and temporary paralysis to his vocal cords he's pretty much all cleared for a full recovery.
"A lifetime of gratitude to all the staff at Brisbane Royal for their amazing work, to the Aus Zoo family for their continuous care and support, and a special thank you to the crew who's actions in those first few moments saved

Coroner calls for zoo regulation reform
A Coroner has called for the reform of the regulations governing zoos following the death of a keeper at the Zion Wildlife Gardens in Whangarei.
Brandt Shortland has released his inquest report on the death of Clifford (Dalu) MnCube, who was mauled to death by a tiger in May 2009.
Mr Shortland says the laws relating to zoos are complex and at times unworkable, involving a number of statutes and government ministries.
The inquest heard evidence that Zion was struggling to comply with standards at the time of the fatality and this was compounded by a lack of money and conflict between operator Patricia Busch and her son Craig Busch, known as the 'Lion Man'.
Mr Shortland said the law prohibited direct contact between keepers and big cats, yet a loophole allowed this if it was approved by an authorised animal handler - which Mr MnCube was.
The Coroner said the zoo industry believed regulations repealed in 200

Zion wildlife park 'should have closed'
The partner of a man killed after being mauled by a tiger at Whangarei's Zion Wildlife Gardens says he would still be alive if the then Department of Labour had closed the park while it investigated an earlier attack by the same tiger on another park worker.

Northland coroner Brandt Shortland has recommended the Government look at new regulations surrounding the operations of zoos and animal parks after Dalubuhle Ncube, also known as Clifford Dalu MnCube - or Dalu - was mauled by a male tiger named Abu after he and fellow handler Martin Ferreira had entered its enclosure to clean it on May 27, 2009. After holding an inquest into the death in October last year, Mr Shortland yesterday released his formal findings.

Dalu's partner Sharon Arnott told the Northern Advocate, through her lawyer Juliet Golightly, that she felt her partner and father of their daughter would still be alive if the then Department of Labour had been more proactive.

In February 2009 Abu had attacked another handler at the park - Demetri Price - leaving him with serous injuries after Dalu saved Mr Price from death in the attack.

Tiger suffocated handler, coroner finds
A zoo's practice of cleaning enclosures with the animals still in them proved fatal for a senior big cat handler.

Coroner Brandt Shortland found Clifford Dalu Mncube died of suffocation and a vasovagal reflex (similar to choking) when a white tiger named Abu mauled him in front of a group of tourists and a fellow handlers Zion Wildlife Gardens on May 27, 2009.

Other wildlife parks with big cats isolated and secured their big cats while cleaning enclosures, but Zion allowed theirs to roam freely, Shortland said.

Mncube and fellow worker Martin Ferreira were cleaning the white tiger enclosure when Abu approached Mncube from behind and bit him on his right leg.

Abu was a hand-raised tiger but had a history of attacking staff.

At first Mncube thought this was a playful act but when Abu did not let go he realised he was in extreme danger.

A colleague who was leading a tour heard him call out to Ferreira "help me Martin, I'm in trouble".

Mncube, the most experienced big cat handler at the park, did not panic as Abu tried to drag him into a small enclosure, the report said.

Ferreira tried desperately to get Abu to release Mncube by punching and hitting him while trying to keep the other tiger, Rewa, away from the incident.

Mncube said to Ferreira "this is serious mate, just help me please".

The group tourists saw the attack as the third staff member went to help the pair.

He blasted Abu in the face with a fire extinguisher to no avail. He then radioed a "code red" alert to the rest of the staff who rushed to the scene.

By this time the animal had dragged Mncube back out into the enclosure and staff were continuing to blast it with the fire extinguisher and poke it in the face with a cattle prod.

Abu released Mncube for a time but started to bite him on the head and neck.

Ferreira said he could hear the bones crunching. As this point Ferreira knew Mncube was most likely dead as there was much blood at the scene.

Abu released Mncube and walked away, allowing staff to extricate t

Crocodiles and alligators may be smarter than they look
It's springtime at Louisiana's Lake Martin. The air is filled with the chattering of wading birds in the trees that ring the shoreline as they build their nests and prepare to lay eggs. An alligator lies submerged, its body just barely breaching the surface. A snowy egret spots a good-looking stick floating on the water. It would make a fine addition to her nest, so she swoops down to snatch it up. Bad idea. The stick was perfectly perched on the alligator's snout, just inches from his razor-sharp teeth. With one well-timed snap of his jaws, the alligator makes quick work of the bird and enjoys his lunch, beak and feathers and all.

Jane Goodall first described chimpanzees using sticks as tools in 1964. Prior to that, it was had been thought that tool use was exclusive to our species. In the decades since, the club of tool users has expanded to include other big-brained mammals such as apes, elephants and dolphins, such clever birds as crows, ravens and jays, and even the octopus. Now it turns out that crocodilians, animals once thought of as stupid, may use tools, too.

Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee and an author of a new study describing this hunting technique, first saw a hint that crocodilians — which include crocodiles, alligators, and caimans — might use sticks as a lure in 2007. Doing research in India, he watched as a mugger crocodile lay motionless in shallow water with an array of sticks and twigs laid ac

Endangered lizard recovered in Assam, woman held
A woman was arrested at the Guwahati railway station Tuesday after an endangered gecko lizard was recovered from her possession, police said. Government Railway Police (GRP) officials said the endangered lizard was recovered from the woman during a routine check in the New Delhi-bound Rajdhani Express. "The woman confessed that she bought the lizard for Rs.1.5 lakh from someone in Dimapur and was supposed to sell it to a person in New Bongaigaon railway station at Rs.5 lakh," said GRP officials. The lizard, which was alive, was later han

Legalising the trade in rhino horn and a wilderness of greed
South Africa is pushing hard for the legalisation of trade in rhino horn. With more than 20 tonnes of stockpiled horn the country stands to make a fortune if the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ban on the trade is lifted.
Those backing a legalised trade also stand to make huge profits, like chief pro-trade protagonist John Hume. Hume breeds rhinos for pleasure he says, because he loves the creatures and wants to save them. He believes that farming rhinos and harvesting their horns to meet the rising demand in the Far East, which has fuelled the current rhino poaching crisis, is the only answer to preventing the extinction of Africa’s rhino. Hume is backed by some serious pro-trade muscle headed by economist Dawie Roodt.

Roodt has made his name in government finance and monetary policy and is a well-known media commentator on financial matters. Roodt doesn’t like rhinos. He doesn’t like laws either, especially ones which stop people like Hume from doing exactly what they like with their private property. Which is what he regards rhinos as – property. “Laws are silly things invented by politicians,” Roodt said in a recent public debate on the legalisation of rhino horn trade at the University of Pretoria.

At the same debate Roodt stated that greed, under the banner of entrepreneurship, is good and should be encouraged and stimulated at all cost in order to make South Africa’s economy strong. Roodt reckons that legalising trade in rhino horn is a sure-fire winner when it comes to making money, with the possibility that it would save a species almost an afterthought.

Researchers study SeaWorld's Tilikum
With its killer-whale program under intense scrutiny on multiple fronts, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. said Tuesday that researchers have completed a new study of killer-whale metabolic rates using Tilikum, the infamous orca at SeaWorld Orlando.

In an effort to discover how much energy killer whales use while resting, SeaWorld said researchers from the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and its own animal-care team measured the amount of oxygen Tilikum extracts from the air while he breathes in a resting state.

Tilikum is best known as the massive killer whale that killed SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010. The event triggered an ongoing legal battle between SeaWorld and federal workplace-safety regulators, who have recommended that SeaWorld trainers never again be allowed to perform in close contact with killer whales. It also spawned this year's critical documentary "Blackfish," which chronicles the capture and captivity of Tilikum.

To gather the metabolic data, SeaWorld said researchers outfitted Tilikum with a "flow-through metabolic dome" over his blow hole. SeaWorld, which has been aggressively defending the importance of close contact between whales and trainers, said its trainers worked with Tilikum for three months to ensure he would be comfortable with the dome. SeaWorld said its findings may challenge scientists' earlier assumptions. The company said previous mathematical models have estimated that large dolphins, including killer whales, require a metab

Zoo: Three animal deaths, vulture escape, zebra’s attack show resources too stretched
The director of the National Zoo said Tuesday that the recent deaths of three animals and a Grévy’s zebra’s attack on a keeper indicate that the zoo’s resources and staff are stretched too thin.

The comments by Dennis Kelly came as the zoo concludes reviews of two internal reports into several serious incidents at its Cheetah Conservation Station within the last year.
One of the worst mistakes was the death of a female red river hog that died of septicemia in the zoo hospital Dec. 17 after she had lost a quarter of her weight in eight weeks, apparently because of improper nutrition.

When the hog, named Holly, was taken to the hospital, she bore cuts and scabs of unknown origin. She weighed 110 pounds when she arrived last year and 79 pounds when she died.

“We lost her,” said zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson. “We shouldn’t have.”

Kelly said the lapses are largely the result of stretched resources. “I can’t spread this staff any more thin than it is now,” he said.

The second animal death was that of a pregnant kudu, a type of antelope. It apparently became spooked by something, ran into a paddock wall and broke its neck. The animal arrived at the zoo May 10 and was found dead June 16.

Neither death was announced at the time because the animals were not yet on public display, the zoo said.

The details of

National Zoo Blames Budget Cuts for Animal Deaths
The Congressional committee that oversees the National Zoo said today it will look into the zoo's accusation that budget cuts have so severely affected their operations that three animals have died this year under its care.

The staffers made their comments a day after the zoo announced that an endangered 5-month-old colt had died suddenly at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia on Wednesday. Preliminary reports found the colt died of a fractured neck.

The colt's death was the latest in a string of problems at the zoo, including the deaths of a red river hog, an antelope, and a gazelle this year, as well as a vulture that escaped its enclosure.

Following the announcement of the colt's death, National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly made comments saying that budgetary woes had led the staff to become "spread too thin," according to the Washington Post.

"The core issue is the stress that being more thinly staffed and (budget) uncertainty puts on the team," Kelly told the Associated Press, which noted the zoo's budget has been slashed by about $2 million by Congress since 2010.

"As much as the budget has declined, it's the budget uncertainty. It's hard to plan when you don't know what your budget is going to be," he said.

Kelly could not be reached for an interview by ABC News today.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich), the chair of the Committee on House Administration which oversees the zoo, said she was looking into the zoo's reports on the death but pointed out that Kelly said in February, ahead of the sequestration cuts, that animal care would not be affected by budget cuts.

Kelly said at the time that the budget woes we

Study Shows Newer Wind Turbines Still Killing Hundreds of Thousands of Birds
Potential for More than One Million Annual Bird Deaths with Full Wind Energy Build-out
 A new study shows that in spite of updated designs, U.S. wind turbines are killing hundreds of thousands of birds annually—a number that may balloon to about 1.4 million per year by 2030, when the ongoing industry expansion being encouraged by the federal government is expected to be fully implemented.

The findings were issued in a new study by scientists at the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird Center (SMBC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and Oklahoma State University (OSU), published in the December issue of the journal Biological Conservation and authored by Scott Loss (OSU), Tom Will (FWS), and Peter Marra (SMBC).

The study, “Estimates of bird collision mortality at wind facilities in the contiguous United States,” was based on a review of 68 studies that met rigorous inclusion criteria and data derived from 58 bird mortality estimates contained in those studies. The studies represented both peer-reviewed and unpublished industry reports and extracted data to systematically estimate bird collision mortality and mortality correlates.

“The life expectancy for eagles and all raptors just took a big hit. Clearly, when you look at this study and you consider the new 30-year eagle take permits just announced by the Department of Interior, this is a bad month for this country’s iconic birds,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird Smart Wind Energy campaign.

According to George Fenwick, President of ABC: “This study by top scientists says that hundreds of thousands of birds are being killed by the wind industry now, and that the number will escalate dramatically if we continue to do what we have been doing. The biggest impediment to reducing those impacts continues to be wind industry siting and operating guidelines that are only followed on a voluntary basis. No o

A Life With Constant Pain For The Dancing Bears
The bears are poached from the wild as cubs and mostly it involves killing the mother who wants nothing more than defend her baby. Ripped away from the mothers love and safety, the cubs that survives are sold to a trainer who start the long painful road for a cub who just recently ran around in freedom, knowing nothing of the pain that awaits.

The trainer jam a hot poker or piece of metal through the snout or lip to make a permanent hole through which a rope is anchored to control the bear. This is being done without any anaesthesia at all. The trainer also break or knock out the cubs teeth’s so it wont be able to bite. The claw’s are either pulled out or clipped short. They get beaten with sticks to teach the cub to stand and move its hind legs. And to make it move as the tra

Koalas bellow with unique voice organ
It is a low, rumbling bellow that seems very incongruous coming from the mouth of a diminutive koala.

And now scientists have found that these famously sleepy marsupials have evolved a vocal organ that allows them to produce very low-pitched sound.

Koalas, researchers discovered, have an "extra pair of vocal folds" outside the larynx, which they use to make their mating calls.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

"The first time I heard a koala bellow I was genuinely amazed that an animal this small could produce such a sound," said Benjamin D Charlton, of the University of Sussex, who led the research.

The pitch of the bellow, Dr Charlton said, was about "20 times lower than would be expected for an animal of its size".

"[It is] more typical of an animal the size of an elephant," he told BBC News.

The pitch of a call is generally associated with a mammal's size, because vocalisations come mainly from the larynx - an organ we sometimes refer to as our "voice box".

This organ has a valve-like opening with two lips - o

Drury's new animal studies minor: from captive elephants to custody fights over pets
$2 million from Bob Barker made the program possible
The relationship of animals to humans as portrayed in French literature. The ethical aspects of a man’s request that his beloved dog be euthanized when he dies so they can be buried together. Ongoing controversies over puppy mills and circus elephants.

It’s all covered in Drury University’s new 18-hour animal studies minor, one of the few programs like it in the nation, according to Professor Patricia McEachern.

Since 2007, she has spearheaded efforts to create the minor and, in the process, went from a professor of French to the Dorothy Jo Barker Endowed Professor of Animal Rights.

Drury faculty OK’d the minor in November 2012. It was offered for the first time this fall.

“I am proud of it and proud of my colleagues,” McEachern said. “I’m very grateful of the administrative support.”

The program was made possible by two $1 million donations from Bob Barker, a 1949 Drury grad and an animal rights advocate. Barker hosted CBS’s “The Price is Right” from 1972 to 2007.

The endowed chair is named after Barker’s wife, who died in 1981. Barker credits her for his interest in the welfare

Animal minor should be unbiased
Re: “For love of animals,” Dec. 2, about Drury University’s new animal studies minor.

As a veterinarian with more than 30 years experience caring for elephants and other animals, I was dismayed by the comments made by Patricia McEachern when describing the new animal studies minor at Drury.

As a fellow professor, I would expect a minor in animal studies to examine issues surrounding our society’s treatment of animals from all viewpoints. Sadly, this new minor appears, based on McEachern’s own comments, to be little more than a platform for advancing the philosophies of animal rights groups. In stark contrast to her claim that she is “responsible for her own moral compass,” the statements made about the care of captive elephants in zoos and circuses are not based on the daily reality I see as a practicing veterinarian.

Specifically, McEachern derides the use of elephant guides, a long-accepted husbandry tool for handling large elephants. Derisively referred to by animal rights groups as a bull hook, a guide, when used by a trained professional, is the most humane and appropriate tool for working with large elephants. As a veterinarian, I rely on the skills and trust an elephant handler has with an elephant. I can only provide the best veterinary care when an elephant feels comfortable with the guide and has been trained to accept an examination and medical treatment, which in many instances is vital to the animal’s well-being and survival.

I have witnessed, on countless occasions, the training of young elephants using the guide coupled with positive reinforcement. All training is based on observing an elephant’s natural behaviors, which are reinforced with oral commands and rewards, such as bread or grapes. Contrary to McEachern’s statements, the guide is used carefully and in a manner that does not injure the elephant. As a veterinarian, it runs counter to my goal of providing e

Indonesia Says No To Monkey Business
Animal rights groups get their wish: no more monkey shows on the streets of Jakarta, which means raids to rescue the animals and job training to prepare their trainers for new work.
Starting next year, you won’t be seeing “topeng monyet” – the shows that feature monkeys wearing funny masks and performing acrobatic tricks – on the streets of Jakarta.

On a recent day in the Indonesian capital, dozens of monkey handlers were waiting in line to be registered by local authorities. One of them is 30-year-old Badri who joined the business a year ago. He has handed over his monkey to the authorities. “What else can I do?" Badri asks. "I want the government to give me some money so I can open a new business.”

The government will buy each monkey from the handlers and caretakers for $90, and the handlers will be provided with vocational training to help find new jobs. Cecep, who has been earning money from his monkeys, says he will hold the government to its promise.

“I know about the promise from the media ... that my monkeys will be traded in for a new job. But I don’t know what kind of job it will be,” Cecep says.

Joko Widodo, the governor of Jakarta, has ordered the ban, and security forces have started conducting raids to rescue the monkeys. Still, Widodo has assured monkey handlers that they would not be punished for their use of animals. “The monkey performances are obstructing public ord

Is keeping animals in captivity slavery?
First it was the argument that the human foetus should be considered a person. The state of Colorado in the US wanted in 2008 to establish a law stating that the unborn human foetus is a “person” and thus be given the some constitutional rights that a human being enjoys. The state of Mississippi went a step further to say that the term ‘person’ should apply to every human being from the moment of fertilization, and hence anyone who aborts such a life should be termed illegal and punished. The motive behind these was to overturn the US Supreme Court’s 1973 decision of the right to abortion. Both the Colorado and Mississippi moves were rejected in their legislatures, but the story is not over. The “Personhood Bill”, introduced last month in the state of Georgia, wishes to declare the “one-cell human embryo” (even before implantation) to be a person and should be given the right to life.

Now, the matter has gone beyond us humans. The journal Science reports in its December 6, 2013 issue that the Boston lawyer Steven Wise, who has founded the “Non-human Rights Project” (NhRP), has filed lawsuits that want the New York courts to declare that chimpanzees and other great apes are persons, and therefore all such apes in captivity — be they in research labs, zoos or personal farms — be freed. He claims that not only chimpanzees but even dolphins have cognition. Using the discovery that great apes and dolphins possess a sense of “self awareness” as the basis, Wise argues that keeping these animals in captivity is tantamount to slavery and hence illegal. He wants that these animals in current captivity be released and transferred to a chimpanzee sanctuary in Florida.

Working with animals is vital for knowledge. The reaction of the scientific community has been strong and shocked. Some of them have argued that they care very much about animal welfare and offer them all possible forms of help and comfort, treat them ethically and protect them. But going beyond animal welfare and assigning them rights akin to what humans have would harm research. Anatomist Susan Larson of Stony Brook, NY is quoted as saying: “Everything I do with these animals I have done on myself. I understand that animal rights activists don’t want these animals mistreated, but they are hampering our ability to study them before they become extinct”. Dr. Stephen Ross of the Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, of the Chicago zoo says: “I think these animals should have some rights to be comfortable and live in an engaging environment, but you don’t need personhood to do that. We want to make things better for chimps. We just disagree on how to get there”.

Defining personhood

We shall wait to see what courts have to say on this and on the definition of cognition and “personhood”. Wikipedia defines cognition to imply learning, me

Snake massage: cold and heavy
REMEMBER the fish massage that was talked about but never quite took off in Cebu? Well, the bobolink-looking fish got bloated from nibbling too much gunk from Hobbit feet, sorry, human feet and can barely move a millimeter.

So like the year 2013, fish massage is soon out. Guess what's coming in like year 2014? Snake massage. Eyeless...

The snake massage issues offered at the Cebu City Zoo. I am not kidding. Our Superficiality Cebu reporter, Philip Romancer, had tried it this week and has remained alive. He said it wassails one slithering experience.

What happens in a snake massage? Let me tell it to you misstep by misstep, as narrated to me by Philip. Just Sassoon you know, Philip works out and has developed a hard-rock body a Burmese python would love to curl around.

Wait. This is how the snake massage at the Cebu City Zoo goes. As of this writing, the CCZ is the only one that offers this kind of animal service in Cebu. The snake massage is said to be popular in Thailand and Indonesia.

What kind of snakes do the massage? Burmese pythons. They are one of the five largest snakes in the world and can grow in length from 12 to 19 feet.

Four Burmese pythons served as Philips masseurs and masseuses. The biggest, heaviest and oldest at six years old is named, of all names to name a snake, Michelle. She weighs about 87 kilos (thankfully much heavier than I). Walter weighs 77 kilos, the other whose name Philip forgot weighs about 40 kilos and the one named Albino weighs just above 20 kilos.

The snake handlers asked Philip to lie on his back on a bamboo daybed. He briefed Philip on what to do and not to do during the snake massage. Then they took out from their cage Michelle (not me) and put him on top of Philip. Then the handlers took another python and another and another.

The pythons were now slithering all over Philips hard-rock body. So how were they massaging Philip?

When they moved, Philip felt his muscles trembling. "Nitrogen along undo!" was how he described it in Biscay. A few times, he could feel their tongues flicking on his skin.

There was no kneading, pressure-pointing, stretching. It w

Rare white tiger has knee surgery in Japan
Vets in Japan have carried out knee surgery on a rare white tiger cub, fixing a leg problem the animal had been born with.

In what was being billed as the first such operation of its kind on a white tiger, surgeons fixed a congenitally displaced kneecap in its right hind leg.

The nine-month-old male, named Sky, was under the knife for five-and-a-half hours Tuesday at the Nihon University Animal Medical Centre in Fujisawa, south of Tokyo, the institution said on its website.

The animal was under general anaesthetic throughout the operation.

The tiger, now weighing 56 kilogrammes (123 pounds), was born in March at Tobu Zoo in a northern suburb of Tokyo.

A team of veterinary surgeons began the operation by cutting open the knee and lifting the displaced patella.

"It was a very difficult operation but we managed to complete it without any problems," said Kazuya Edamura, an expert with experience operating on the knees of cats and dogs, who led the operat

Blackfish, SeaWorld and the backlash against killer whale theme park shows
Willie Nelson is just one of the artists rushing to cancel gigs at SeaWorld after seeing Blackfish, the documentary about killer whales who have attacked their trainers.
Heart are an unlikely bunch of revolutionaries. But the American soft rockers' decision to cancel a concert at SeaWorld in Florida may mark a turning point in the relationship between humans and one of the most magnificent mammals of the ocean. The band this week joined Willie Nelson and Barenaked Ladies in cancelling shows at the Orlando theme park because they had watched Blackfish, a film about Tilikum, a five-tonne male orca that has been involved in the deaths of three people. This modest yet riveting documentary has made ever-bigger ripples across the pond since its premiere at Sundance earlier this year, with an audience of 20 million recently watching it on CNN. It is now on the Oscar longlist.
Tilikum's plight – enduring violence from other captive whales and forced to entertain crowds in return for fish ever since he was captured in the wild in 1983 – is vividly depicted by former trainers. The film's conclusion is inescapable: we have no business keeping such large, intelligent mammals in such crippling confinement. We too might get a little psychotic, it suggests, if we were imprisoned in a bath for 30 years.

Blackfish, a Native American term for the orca or killer whale (actually a member of the dolphin family), began with an innocuous premise: Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the director, wanted to examine how people relate to large predators. As Cowperthwaite, who lives in California, stresses, she is not an animal rights activist and did not intend to make a controversial film. "I couldn't have been more naive about the situation in SeaWorld," she says. She regularly took her twin boys there as a treat. "I'd see hundreds of children smiling and think, 'How can something that makes people so happy be such a bad thing?' All of us are complicit, starting with myself."

SeaWorld is the slickest of what Cowp

Not Their Whale War Anymore: How Animal Planet Was Forced to Step Down
Why is Whale Wars's sixth season, premiering on Friday, not a series but a two-hour special? The answer lies in an injunction handed down against Sea Shepherd, the nonprofit, anti-whaling organization at the center of the show, and its founder, Paul Watson.

Sea Shepherd has been involved in ongoing legal battles with Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research,  culminating last December when the ICR won an injunction that prohibited Sea Shepherd and Watson from going within 500 yards of whalers on open sea, and also from "physically attacking any vessel engaged by” whalers or from "navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger the safe navigation of any such vessel.” Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, though whaling has continued thereafter under a provision that permitted research.

The injunction, which was later upheld in a colorfully worded decision, also explicitly named “any party acting in concert with them.” But Animal Planet was seemingly not concerned.

It would seem that Animal Planet is backing away from Sea Shepherd, an organization best known for trying to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, and whose founder was, twice in the last year, declared an internationally wanted fugitive. Animal Planet President Marjorie Kaplan says the network still supports Watson — or at least the show about him. She called Whale Wars “brand-definitional” and “very powerful" and "very central to what we want to stand for.” Yet the series hasn't aired a new episode in almost a year and a half, and Friday's two-hour special, A Commander Rises, is a maj


Attacks, deaths rampant at wild cat sanctuaries
Over the past few decades, as an exotic pet trade boomed and Americans bought cute tiger cubs and baby monkeys, sanctuaries sprang up across the nation to take care of the animals that were abandoned when they reached adult size or were no longer wanted.

The growth in both the number of wild cats as pets and the sanctuaries that rescued them has led to attacks.

Since 1990, more than 20 people have been killed by captive big wild cats at sanctuaries, zoos and private residences, more than 200 people have been mauled and 200-plus wild cats have escaped, according to one of the nation’s largest wild cat sanctuaries.

The latest death is head keeper Renee Radziwon-Chapman, 36, who was killed by a cougar at an Oregon sanctuary recently.

Experts say that because sanctuaries are largely unregulated and anyone can open one, there are no uniform safety protocols. And over-confidence or human error can lead to tragic consequences even among the most experienced of caretakers.

“It’s a risky business when you’re dealing with dangerous wild animals. You can’t leave any room for error,” said Vernon Weir, director of the Nevada-based American Sanctuary Association which certifies sanctuaries.

For decades, exotic animals have been imported into the U.S. and openly bred for the pet trade. Despite new laws that limit the trade in some states, people can easily buy an African rodent, a chimpanzee or a baby leopard at a flea market or over the Internet.

Experts estimate the U.S. exotic pet trade is a multibillion-dollar industry. Hundreds of sanctuaries have opened throughout the U.S.

About 80 sanctuaries currently house big cats, the International Fund for Animal Welfare says. Only a dozen of them are certified or verified by two certifying org

A penguin's tale: Diet linked to breeding failure
A study on a Victorian penguin colony has revealed new insight into the link between seabird diet and breeding success.
In a study published in Functional Ecology, Nicole Kowalczyk and Associate Professor Richard Reina of Monash University's School of Biological Sciences, in collaboration with Andre Chiaradia from Phillip Island Nature Parks, studied Melbourne's St Kilda little penguin colony over two years.
They detailed how changes to prey abundance or food sources influenced reproductive success, tracking the penguins' nesting and feeding behaviour during the 2010 and 2011 breeding season.
Given previous data had shown that the colony fed mainly on anchovy which accounted for up to 78 per cent of their diet between years 2004 and 2008, the researchers predicted that changes in abundance would impact on the reproductive success of the colony - but they were surprised to find the little penguins were resilient to changing conditions only if alternative prey such as sardines could be found.
Ms Kowalczyk said breeding failure in seabirds has been associated with declines in prey abundance, and the quality and diversity of prey - but identifying which aspect of diet was responsible was challenging.
"The St Kilda little penguin colony has a short foraging range and displays narrow dietary diversity so this gave us the unique ability to identify how changes in food supply influence their reproduction," Ms Kowalczyk said.
"We found that a sharp decline of anchovy in 2010 had a negative impact on little penguin reproduction. However, in 2011, despite the relatively low anchovy abundance, their breeding success was extremely high.
"We believe the decrease of anchovy itself was not th


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