Taronga Zoo's new pygmy hippo Monifa is a lucky baby
By Steve Gee
The Daily Telegraph
November 08, 2008 12:22am
Hand-fed ... baby pygmy hippo Monifa is lucky by name and lucky by nature, Taronga Zoo keepers say.
LUCKY by name, lucky by nature - that's the case for Taronga Zoo's newest nursery edition, Monifa the pygmy hippo.
Born three weeks ago and unable to stand or feed herself, the piglet-sized hippo would have died within days, but for the intervention of dedicated zoo staff.
Hippo keepers Renae Zammit and Tracy Roberts have been living round-the clock with the 3.8kg infant.
The pair spent a fortnight sleeping with and hand-feeding Monifa - who's name means "I am lucky" in Nigerian.
The infant has now moved into her own pen and is ready to follow the footsteps of her father Timmy, the last pygmy hippo born at Taronga 23 years ago.
Born during the early hours of October 15, Monifa initially had to be patiently coerced into even trying to feed from a teated syringe. Ms Zammit and Ms Roberts spent alternate days working around the clock to keep her alive.
She has now doubled in weight and is drinking from a bowl, content to suckle the thumb of her keepers.
A delighted Ms Zammit said Monifa was already showing signs of playfulness.
"She's such an inquisitive little thing and loves bath time, she even turns somersaults in the water," she said.
The species grows to about 1m in height - almost half the size of other hippos.
Looks like you got it wrong again, Jimbo! Sulfur content 'has been increasing'! - J. Reynolds
Obviously there is now an opening for us rank and file both to defend the environmental benefits of air pollution.. what about some comment on whether the "air pollution is good" line is utilisable, perhaps in rallies? - Wayne Hall
What we're able to do now is inadvertent.- Patrick Minnis, NASA
A rare rhino rat snake (Rhynchophis boulengeri) emerges from its shell at ZSL London Zoo. This is the first time these so-called "green unicorns", from the mountains of Vietnam, have been bred in a European Zoo. The Reptile House produced a clutch of eight snakes. They grow to a metre long.
Basel, Switzerland: Baby hippopotamus Farasi, born on November 6, in its enclosure with mother Helvetia Photograph: Andreas Frossard/AP
Krefeld, Germany: A male silver marmoset carries its offspring through the enclosure at the zoo. Twin silver marmosets were born at the end of October and are now almost eight centimetres in height. They are mainly cared for by their father. In their natural environment in Bolivia, central Brazil and Paraguay the animals are endangered Photograph: Roland Weihrauch/EPA
Sample of ice core recovered from Vostok ice core. Studying ice cores has provided a way to examine the biology of icy environments buried beneath kilometers of ice for millions of years. (Credit: Image courtesy of Brent C. Christner)
ScienceDaily (Nov. 17, 2008) — Scientists have long known that life can exist in some very extreme environments. But Earth continues to surprise us.
At a European Science Foundation and COST (European Cooperation in the field of Scientific and Technical Research) 'Frontiers of Science' meeting in Sicily in October, scientists described apparently productive ecosystems in two places where life was not known before, under the Antarctic ice sheet, and above concentrated salt lakes beneath the Mediterranean. In both cases, innumerable tiny microbes are fixing or holding onto quantities of organic carbon large enough to be significant in the global carbon cycle.
Lakes under the ice
Brent Christner of Louisiana State University, in the US, told the conference about the microbes living within and beneath the ice on Antarctica. In the last decade, scientists have discovered lakes of liquid water underneath the Antarctic ice sheet. So far we know of about 150 lakes, but this number will probably increase when the entire continent has been surveyed. These lakes occur as a result of geothermal heat trapped by the thick ice, melting it from underneath, and the great pressure from the ice above, which lowers the melting point of water.
The largest subglacial lake, Lake Vostok, lies beneath the coldest place on the planet, where the temperature at the surface often falls below minus 60 degrees Celsius. "It's the sixth largest freshwater lake on the planet by volume, and about the size of Lake Ontario," says Christner. "If you were on a boat in the middle of the lake, you would not see shores."
Christner has examined microbial life in ice cores from Vostok and many other global locations. While direct samples of water from subglacial Antarctic lakes have yet to be obtained, the lower 80m or so of the Vostok ice core represents lake water that progressively freezes onto the base as the ice sheet slowly traverses the lake. "Microbial cell and organic carbon concentrations in this accreted ice are significantly higher than those in the overlying ice, which implies that the subglacial environment is the source," says Christner.
Based on accumulating measurements of microbes in the subglacial environment, he calculates that the concentration of cell and organic carbon in the Earth's ice sheets, or 'cryosphere', may be hundreds of times higher than what is found in all the planet's freshwater systems. "Glacial ice is not currently considered as a reservoir for organic carbon and biology," says Christner, "but that view has to change."
Salt below the sea
Beneath the Mediterranean lurks a similar surprise. Michail Yakimov of the Institute of the Coastal Marine Environment, Messina, Italy is a project leader for the European Science Foundation's EuroDEEP programme on ecosystem functions and biodiversity in the deep sea. His team studies lakes of concentrated salt solution, known as anoxic hypersaline basins, on the floor of the Mediterranean. They have discovered extremely diverse microbial communities on the surfaces of such lakes.
The anoxic basins, so called because they are devoid of oxygen, occur below 3,000 m beneath the surface and are five to ten times more saline than seawater. One theory says they exist uniquely in the Mediterranean, because this sea entirely evaporated after it was cut off from the Atlantic around 250 million years ago. Its salt became a layer of rock salt, called evaporite, which was then buried by windblown sediment. Now the sea is filled again, the salt layer has been exposed in some places, perhaps by small seaquakes, and the salts from the ancient Mediterranean have dissolved again, making the water very salty.
Despite the harsh conditions, hypersaline brines have been shown to possess a wide range of active microbial communities. Together with other international partners, Yakimov's team has already identified more than ten new lineages of bacteria and archaea (these are ancient bacteria-like organisms), which they have named the Mediterranean Sea Brine Lake Divisions.
There is ample life at the boundary between the concentrated basin and the ordinary seawater. "Because of the very high density of the brine, it does not mix with seawater," he explains, "and there is a sharp interface, about 1m thick."
In that layer, microbial diversity is incredibly rich. The research shows that these microbes largely live by sulphide oxidation. Like the communities at hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean, they can survive independently of sunlight and oxygen. But they are an important store for organic carbon. "The deep-sea microbial communities in the Mediterranean fix as much or even more carbon dioxide each year as those in the surface layers," says Yakimov. "This carbon sink should be taken into account at the global scale."
This research was presented at the "Complex Systems: Water and Life" Frontiers of Science conference, organized by European Science Foundation and COST, 29-31 October, Taormina, Sicily.
Long-lost 'Furby-like' Primate Discovered In Indonesia
A pygmy tarsier, furry Furby/gremlin-looking creatures about the size of a small mouse and weighing less than 2 ounces, being held in one hand. (Credit: Image courtesy of Texas A&M University)
ScienceDaily (Nov. 19, 2008) — A team led by a Texas A&M University anthropologist has discovered a group of primates not seen alive in 85 years. The pygmy tarsiers, furry Furby-like, or gremlin-looking, creatures about the size of a small mouse and weighing less than two ounces, have not been observed since they were last collected for a museum in 1921.
Several scientists believed they were extinct until two Indonesian scientists trapping rats in the highlands of Sulawesi accidentally trapped and killed a pygmy tarsier in 2000.
Sharon Gursky-Doyen, working with one of her graduate students, Nanda Grow, and a team of locals trapped three of the nocturnal creatures in Indonesia in late August. The pygmy tarsiers possess fingers with claws instead of nails, which Gursky-Doyen says is a distinguishing feature of this species, and distinguishes them from nearly all other primates which have nails and not claws. The claws may be an adaptation to the mossy environment, she believes.
Over a two-month period, two males and one female were trapped on Mt. Rore Katimbo in Lore Lindu National Park in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. The scientists used approximately 276 mist nets to capture the creatures, then attached radio collars to their necks so they could track their movements.
The moist mountainous terrain at heights of 7,000 to 8,000 above sea level proved tricky to navigate, and the nocturnal nature of the animals added another element of danger.
“It was always foggy and wet, so you had to be careful not to get hypothermia,” Gursky-Doyen says. “And the moss was so slippery, we were always struggling to stay upright.”
Gursky-Doyen, a physical anthropologist, specializes in the behavioral ecology and conservation of the non-human primates. In addition to research on the spectral tarsier, Gursky-Doyen’s earlier research focuses on the unusual infant caretaking behaviors exhibited by this primate, as well as the relationship between behavior and lunar cycles. Her most recent research project involves the relationship between group living and ecological pressures such as predation and the temporal distribution of resources.
Gursky-Doyen, who began work on her dissertation in 1993 in the central part of Indonesia , says she is eager to return to gain more first-hand knowledge about the creatures and work toward their preservation. She would like her graduate student, Nanda Grow, whom she calls “a mountain goat, because she was a stronger walker than the other field assistants,” to return to the site to complete here dissertation research.
Gursky-Doyen and Grow are drafting a paper that represents the first behavioral and ecological data on this living population of pygmy tarsiers.
Whatever else happens, Gursky-Doyen says she hopes the tarsiers won’t slip back into oblivion. Hopefully, she says, now that the Indonesian government knows where this species resides, it will protect them from the encroaching development that is occurring in the range of this species within Lore Lindu National Park.
“There are still primates waiting to be discovered in Indonesia,” she says. “Not all have been seen, heard and described.”
Gursky-Doyen’s research was funded by National Geographic Society, Conservation International Primate Action Fund, Primate Conservation Incorporated and Texas A&M University .
Editor's note: Furbys were electronic toy robots popular in the late 1990s that had large eyes and ears. They spoke their own language but could be programmed to speak some English words.
Hamburg, Germany: Swans swim in a small lock after council workers rounded up them from Hamburg's inner-city lake Alster. Every year the swans are collected from waterways around the city of Hamburg and taken to winter quarters where they are fed and cared for until the spring Photograph: Christian Charisius/Reuters
ScienceDaily (Nov. 23, 2008) — The magnificent sea eagle, missing from England for more than 200 years, could be soaring along the Norfolk coast next summer if a proposed reintroduction scheme gets the go ahead.
Natural England, the RSPB and Anglian Water, have been investigating the feasibility of reintroducing the sea eagle, also known as the white-tailed eagle, to East Anglia.
North Norfolk is the preferred location and public consultation is underway to let local people know about the project and to identify any concerns they may have. The consultation will involve landowners and farmers and must address any possible impacts between eagles and livestock.
In a recent opinion poll, held in north Norfolk, 91% of the 500 members of the public who were asked indicated that they would like to see a bird like this in Norfolk.
In 1700, there were more than 200 pairs of white-tailed eagles spread across the UK, but by 1916, they had been driven to extinction.
White-tailed eagles were reintroduced to Scotland in 1975 and last year there were 42 breeding territories. Birds could take decades, if not hundreds of years, to spread from Scotland without assistance.
Natural England's Chief Scientist, Tom Tew, said: 'Before attempting to return a species that has been lost for so long, it is important to understand its potential effect on both wildlife and people. We are consulting widely in order to make a fully informed judgement as to whether, through this ambitious project, there is an opportunity to return one of the UK’s rarest and most spectacular birds to England.'
Rob Lucking, RSPB Area Manager for The Wash and North Norfolk, said: 'The sight of birds of prey like the white-tailed eagle is a sure sign of a strong and healthy environment. Without them our ecosystem is disfigured, our natural and cultural heritage diminished and we are all the poorer.
'England has been without these magnificent birds for too long. Such a reintroduction must be done properly and with due regard to the people and wildlife nearby but, if it can be done, then the sight of eagles soaring over Norfolk would give a huge lift to people’s spirits and to the local economy.'
It is hoped that a firm decision will be made in spring 2009 on whether the project should proceed. If approved, the first releases could take place in summer 2009.
Alien-like Squid With "Elbows" Filmed at Drilling Site
Kelly Hearn for National Geographic News November 24, 2008
A mile and a half (two and a half kilometers) underwater, a remote control submersible's camera has captured an eerie surprise: an alien-like, long-armed, and—strangest of all—"elbowed" Magnapinna squid.
In a brief video from the dive recently obtained by National Geographic News, one of the rarely seen squid loiters above the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico on November 11, 2007.
The clip—from a Shell oil company ROV (remotely operated vehicle)—arrived after a long, circuitous trip through oil-industry in-boxes and other email accounts.
"Perdido ROV Visitor, What Is It?" the email's subject line read — Perdido being the name of a Shell-owned drilling site. Located about 200 miles (320 kilometers) off Houston, Texas, Perdido is one of the world's deepest oil and gas developments.
The video clip shows the screen of the ROV's guidance monitor framed with pulsing inputs of time and positioning data.
In a few seconds of jerky camerawork, the squid appears with its huge fins waving like elephant ears and its remarkable arms and tentacles trailing from elbow-like appendages.
Despite the squid's apparent unflappability on camera, Magnapinna, or "big fin," squid remain largely a mystery to science.
ROVs have filmed Magnapinna squid a dozen or so times in the Gulf and the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans.
The recent video marks the first sighting of a Magnapinna at an oil development, though experts don't think the squid's presence there has any special scientific significance.
But the video is evidence of how, as oil- and gas-industry ROVs dive deeper and stay down longer, they are yielding valuable footage of deep-sea animals.
Some marine biologists have even formed formal partnerships with oil companies, allowing scientists to share camera time on the corporate ROVs—though critics worry about possible conflicts of interest.
The Perdido squid may look like a science fiction movie monster, but it's no special effect, according to squid biologist Michael Vecchione of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who is based at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
In 1998 Vecchoine and University of Hawaii biologist Richard Young became the first to document a Magnapinna, based on juveniles of the Magnapinna pacifica species. M. pacifica was so unusual that the scientists had to create a new classification category to accommodate it: the family Magnapinnidae, which currently boasts four species.
In 2001 the pair released the first scientific report based on adult Magnapinna specimens, as seen via video. The study demonstrated that Magnapinna are common worldwide in the permanently dark zone of the ocean below about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters).
In 2006 a single damaged specimen from the North Atlantic led to the naming of a second Magnapinna species, M. talismani. And in 2007 the scientists documented two more: M. atlantica and a species based on a specimen from the mid-Atlantic.
That fourth Magnapinna species remains nameless, because its arms were too badly damaged for a full study. "However, it was clearly different from the three known species," Vecchione said.
The Magnapinna species apparently have only slight physical differences, mainly related to tentacle and arm structure in juveniles.
The subtlety of those variations makes it impossible to identify which species is in the oil-rig video, given that at least two Magnapinna species—M. atlantica and M. pacifica—are known to inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, Vecchione said.
Based on analysis of videos not unlike the one captured at the Perdido site, scientists know that the adult Magnapinna observed to date range from 5 to 23 feet (1.5 to 7 meters) long, Vecchione said. By contrast, the largest known giant squid measured about 16 meters (52 feet) long.
And whereas giant squid and other cephalopods have eight short arms and two long tentacles, Magnapinna has ten indistinguishable appendages that all appear to be the same length.
"The most peculiar structure is that of the arms," said deep-sea biologist Bruce Robison of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California.
Referring to the way the tentacles hang down from elbow-like kinks, Robison said: "Judging from that structure, we think the animal feeds by dragging its arms and the ends of its tentacles along the seafloor as it drifts slowly above it."
The elbow-like angles allow the tentacles to spread out, perhaps preventing them from getting tangled.
"Imagine spreading the fingers of a hand and dragging the fingertips along the top of a table to grab bits of food," he added.
But NOAA's Vecchione suggests a feeding behavior that is more like trapping than hunting. He speculates that Magnapinna passively waits for prey to bump into the sticky appendages.
As oil companies and their ROVs spend more time in the bathypelagic zone, more discoveries are sure to follow, experts say.
Eager for hard-to-come-by deep-sea video and data, some biologists are formally aligning themselves with the companies.
The U.K.-based SERPENT (Scientific and Environmental ROV Partnership using Existing iNdustrial Technology) project, for example, matches oil companies with researchers "to make cutting-edge ROV technology and data more accessible to the world's science community," according to the project's Web site.
Despite such partnerships, Monterey Bay's Robison said, most sightings of the Magnapinna squid have come from research vessels, not oil companies. The November 2007 video, for the record, was captured without scientific involvement.
Some scientists, including Robison, are not entirely comfortable relying on corporations for new data.
Andrew Shepard, director of NOAA's Undersea Research Center, is excited about the potential for new ocean resources, but he does have concerns.
"Oil companies are there to develop hydrocarbons, not find new species," Shepard said.
"These discoveries may, in fact, have a negative impact on very expensive and valuable lease tracts if someone decides a rare species needs to be protected."
But given how expensive and time consuming ROV-based deep-sea research is, scientific cooperation with industry is crucial, SERPENT project oceanographer Mark Benfield said.
"There are relatively few research vessels and far fewer ROVs and manned submersibles capable of working down through [extremely deep regions of the ocean]," said Benfield, who teaches at Louisiana State University.
Research funds are getting scarcer, he added, and "with SERPENT we gain access to sophisticated ROVs for free.
"These systems are based on vessels or rigs that spend months to years at a single location. This allows us to build up a much more complete picture of life in the deep-sea than would be possible with [only] academic ships and deep-submergence vehicles."
NOAA's Vecchione said he has "gotten a lot of interesting observations from the SERPENT project and other petro sources."
But the oil-industry collaborations "should not get in the way of purely scientific exploration," Vecchione said. "We need to be careful about deep-sea conservation."