Where Cows Are Waited On Hand And Hoof

The attorney General may be the guest of honour at the opening of Bhaktivedanta Manor’s new farm today, but his status as a VIP will be overshadowed by a host of far more glamorous brown-eyed creatures.

At New Gokul, already dubbed the “Hilton of farms”, cows are worshipped by the Hare Krishna devotees who lovingly chant Sanskrit mantras and play relaxing music to them as they are milked or fed their favourite cabbage, carrots and jagari – raw sugar cane.

When Dominic Grieve QC MP cuts the ribbon and unveils the plaque at the £2.5m centre, he will do so under the docile gaze of 44 cows and bulls, adorned in flowers and brushed with coloured paint powders by devotees. [Read more...]

Grays Harbor PUD Nixes Wind Farm

The Grays Harbor Public Utility District (PUD) won’t proceed with a proposed wind farm in Pacific County, citing permitting costs and other risks.

That leaves Energy Northwest and three PUDs in Clallam, Pacific and Mason counties to decide what to do with plans to build 32 wind turbines without the project’s largest investor.

The wind farm would be the largest in Western Washington and generate 60 to 80 megawatts of power. Conservationists are concerned about the effect of wind turbines on the marbled murrelet, a seabird listed as threatened on the federal endangered-species list.

Grays Harbor PUD commissioners questioned whether the project could get timely approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to meet lease and financing deadlines.

The commissioners on Monday opted not to commit $1.14 million to pay for more extensive environmental review, The Daily World in Aberdeen said.

To take advantage of $122 million in zero-interest financing from the Recovery Act, the utility said permitting must be done by 2011.

“It has great wind, but it comes with a lot of baggage,” PUD General Manager Rick Lovely told commissioners, who were also concerned about possible lawsuits.

Jack Baker, an Energy Northwest vice president, said he “respect(s) the rights of any organization to make such a cost-risk analysis.”

Baker said Energy Northwest will ask the three other utilities if they can cover the $2 million environmental review.

He added that the project did studies that found no serious threat to the marbled murrelet, but decided to complete a fuller study. Seattle Times

Experts: Pet Capuchins Can Turn On Their Owners

Capuchin monkeys, with pint-sized, human-like features, appeal to people who want pets they can dress, carry around, spoon feed and nuzzle.

But when the so-called organ-grinder monkeys reach sexual maturity around 5 years old, they can turn dangerous and destructive.

Wildlife officials adamantly oppose capuchins as pets. Helping Hands, a Boston-based service monkey training academy, believes they’re better equipped than any other animal to help the physically disabled with certain chores-but doesn’t endorse them as pets.

The 9- to 12-pound monkeys can turn the pages of a book, pick up dropped items, push buttons on remote controls, load DVDs and open water bottles. That, said wildlife experts, isn’t good enough.

“Can you imagine going into the jungle, grabbing a monkey out of a tree and taking him home? He’d rip your face off-as he should, as he should,” said Lynn Cuny, founder and chief executive of a sanctuary, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Inc. in Kendalia, Texas.

She has about 25 capuchins in two enclosures. Beth Preiss, a captive wildlife regulatory specialist with the Humane Society of the United States in Gaithersburg, Md., also isn’t a fan of capuchins as pocket pets.

“Keeping monkeys as pets threatens public health and safety as well as animal welfare. They can attack, they can spread disease and the average pet owner cannot meet their needs in captivity,” she said.

The same concerns can arise using wild animals as service animals, she said. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the ASPCA oppose primates as assistance or service animals.

Twenty-one (Illinois is considering the issue this week) states ban pet primates. About 15 states allow primates as pets and the rest require permits. Congress is considering the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit interstate commerce in pet primates. The bill is pending in the Senate.

Helping Hands said it socializes and trains its monkeys to federal standards. Since 1979, the organization has placed 145 capuchins with disabled people. It costs about $40,000 to breed, raise, train and place each monkey. The animal and lifetime care is free of charge to recipients.

“Unfortunately in the U.S., many monkeys purchased as pets do not get the care and attention they deserve throughout their 30- to 40-year lifespan,” said Megan Talbert, executive director of Helping Hands, explaining why the organization won’t embrace the idea of capuchins as pets.

The Internet has made it easy for anyone to get a pet monkey, Preiss said. And Hollywood hasn’t helped.

In 2006, the number of capuchins at the Primarily Primates sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas, soared and the population grew to 130, said executive director Stephen Rene Tello. He blamed television’s “Friends” and the story line featuring a capuchin called Marcel.

It’s about time to see the castoffs from people who got capuchins because of “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Night at the Museum,” he said, calling the phenom Hollywood’s “pet of the month.”

Most people won’t unload a capuchin until it has grown out of its baby and juvenile stages, Cuny said.

“If you’ve ever seen a baby monkey, your little heart just melts in place. They are beyond adorably precious. The problem is people only see that. Babies are adorable, whether they are baby wombats, elephants, monkeys or a child,” Cuny said.

She said anyone considering a wild animal for a pet should do some research. “And if they love animals, they will not contribute to the cruelty that gets those animals into the trade to begin with.”

There are probably fewer than 100,000 pet capuchin monkeys in the United States, estimated Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, executive vice president & science adviser for the ASPCA in New York.

“They are destructive. They can tear a house apart. We are talking rip the curtains down, knock everything off every shelf you have. Think about a critter-who is more agile and able to reach places than a cat-having a tantrum. You can’t house train them. They evolve to live in trees,” Zowatowski said.

Many pet monkey owners will have the animal’s teeth removed so they don’t bite off their fingers, he said.

Joseph “Babe” Hamric of Chesapeake, Va., was attacked twice in two weeks in March by his pet capuchin named Noah, police said. The Vietnam vet, who got the monkey to help him cope with post traumatic stress disorder, told reporters the first attack occurred because he stepped on the monkey’s tail. The second attack was unprovoked, he said.

Noah was not from Helping Hands, which gives its animals to people who are physically disabled as a result of spinal cord injury or disease. “Our service monkeys are not trained to provide emotional support for people with PTSD or other anxiety disorders,” Talbert said.

Tammy Zaluzney of Washington, D.C., spent 14 years on staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and cautions against any wild animals as pets.

Hollywood may whet people’s appetites, but too often capuchin owners just want an animal that is different from the neighbors, she said, warning their 15 minutes of tame won’t last.

“Other people are replacing a child or have a monkey as a surrogate child,” she said, “and here’s a furry little human in Pampers and overalls.” By Sue Manning, Syracuse

Group Of Wayward Dolphins Spotted In Icy NJ River

group of wayward dolphins_A group of wayward dolphins has been spotted in a northern New Jersey river.

About 8 to 15 dolphins were first reported in the chilly Hackensack River on Wednesday. They’ve been swimming near the towns of Hackensack, Teaneck and Bogota (ba-GOH’-tah).

Bill Sheehan of the Hackensack Riverkeeper group fears there’s not enough food in the river in the winter to sustain the dolphins.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine has been contacted. The center says it can’t act until the dolphins are in distress.

Dolphins have wandered into New Jersey rivers in the past, including a pod that caused a stir in the Shrewsbury River in the summer of 2008, and stayed in the area for over 7 months. Several of them were believed to have died as temperatures dropped. The News & Observer

2009 Was Good For Butterflies, But Bad For The Cuckoo

2009 was good for butterflies_It has been disappointing for staycationers and somewhat slippery for Christmas shoppers. But while this year’s weather wasn’t great for we humans, there have been mixed blessings for the country’s wildlife.

Butterflies and some other types of insect saw their numbers soar, but cuckoos, daddy longlegs, bats and beetles fared less well.

Although the wet summers of 2007 and last year, coupled with mild winters, disturbed the natural hibernation and breeding cycles of several plants and animals, this year’s dry summer helped repair a lot of the damage.

Matthew Oates, of the National Trust, said that while the UK did not bask in the ‘barbecue summer’ promised by the Met Office, the weather was better than the previous two years.

A third ‘rotten’ summer would have done serious damage to even more species, he added.

Purple emperor butterflies are among the species to have benefited from the coldest weather for years, allowing them to hibernate as caterpillars to emerge strongly in the summer.

Painted lady butterflies were also seen migrating in their millions and it was a good year for seven spot ladybirds.

‘Many insects managed to hibernate properly, instead of being constantly woken up by unseasonably mild days,’ said Mr Oates.

‘This year has stopped the rot and a lot of wildlife has started to get its way back up the ladder – but we still need a good summer in 2010.’ But despite this it has not all been good news for British wildlife.

Along with other birds, choughs in Cornwall and Pembrokeshire struggled to feed in the face of frozen ground in February and Dartford warblers also suffered.

The number of cuckoos has also fallen sharply in the past 12 months, with the bird disappearing from some areas altogether.

Mr Oates said the fall could be down to a variety of reasons including a lack of their favourite food, hairy caterpillars, which in turn have been affected by the poor weather. Earlier this year, the cuckoo was added to the ‘Red List’ of the UK’s most threatened birds.

Only between 10,000 and 20,000 breeding pairs now migrate from Africa each year.

And scientists are also trying to pinpoint why the daddy longlegs – or common cranefly – has gone missing.

What is clear, however, is that its disappearance is likely to have a huge effect on bat numbers because they rely on the insect for food. By Luke Salkeld, The Daily Mail

Evolving Evidence

indohyus_NOVEMBER 24th will mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection , in which Charles Darwin spelt out the famous theory. The big discovery, made by Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, was not evolution itself, but the mechanism through which it works – natural selection. Some people still challenge the theory, despite it having received massive scientific validation. A recent publication entitled 15 Evolutionary Gems by H Gee, R Howlett and P Campbell (www.nature.com/nature/newspdf/

evolutiongems.pdf) briefly describes 15 examples published in the journal Nature over the past decade that offer powerful evidence for the theory. I will describe three examples.

1 The origin of feathers

The fossil record is one of the main pillars of evidence on which the theory of evolution stands. But critics claim the fossil record is fatally flawed because of the lack of “transitional forms” that illustrate intermediates in the transition of one major group of animals to another. The critics are wrong, and the first two cases I will cite describe examples of transitional forms.

Evolutionists tell us that modern birds are descended from dinosaurs. A famous fossil that provides evidence for this was discovered in Bavaria in 1861. The fossil is called Archaeopteryx . The creature displays reptilian features, such as teeth and a long, bony tail, but it also has wings and flight feathers like a bird. It is commonly interpreted as a fossil of the earliest known bird. But has the fossil record thrown up any dinosaurs with feathers – unambiguous transitional forms?

Yes. Fossils found in China in the 1980s showed a variety of dinosaurs with feathers and feathery plumage. Many of these feathered dinosaurs could not have flown, which means that feathers evolved for reasons other than flight (heat insulation, for example). Flight was an extra opportunity that was exploited by creatures already carrying feathers.

2 Land-living ancestors of whales

Whales are mammals, like ourselves, but they have lived in the water for millions of years. There is good evidence that mammals originated on land, which means that, originally, the ancestors of whales forsook the land for the water. The fossil record now provides good evidence for this.

There is no shortage of fossils from the first 10 million years of whale evolution of creatures showing whale features (anatomy of the ear, for example) and limbs like those of land-living animals from which they descended. But until 2007, there was no report of a good fossil of the land-living creature from which whales eventually evolved. Work by Hans Thewissen and others described now-extinct creatures called raoellids that looked like small dogs but were more closely related to even-toed ungulates (a group that includes cows, sheep, deer, pigs and hippos). Molecular evidence had already hinted at a deep evolutionary connection between whales and even-toed ungulates.

Thewissen’s work shows that one raeollid, Indohyus (oictured), is similar to whales but unlike other even-toed ungulates in various ways (for example, ear and teeth structure) that indicate the creature spent much of its time in the water. The raeollid diet is very unlike the whale diet, suggesting that the impetus to take to the water might have been dietary change. Indohyus is definitely a good candidate for a transitional form.

3 The molecular basis for Darwin’s finches

All living processes and behaviours are underpinned by molecular mechanisms. Evolution works through molecular mechanisms, and these mechanisms are being elucidated by elegant research.

Darwin described several species of finches in the Galapagos Islands that all looked similar except for their beaks. Ground finches had broad, deep beaks, warbler finches had slender, pointed beaks, and so on. Beak size and shape reflected differences in diet. Darwin speculated that all the finches had a common ancestor that originally migrated to the islands, and that natural selection had then evolved a variety of forms from this common ancestor suited to different ecological niches on the island.

Arhat Abzhanov and others have studied the genes that are switched on and off in the developing beaks of finch chicks. They found that differences in beak shape coincided with variations in the expression of the gene for calmodulin, a molecule that regulates the signalling effected by calcium on metabolism and development. For example, calmodulin is expressed stronger in species with long pointed beaks than in species with more robust beaks.

Biologists are advancing from the documentation of evolution at whole animal level to identification of the underlying molecular mechanisms. By William Reville, Irish Times

Global Warming Cycles A Threat To Endangered Primates

global warming cycles_Two Penn State University researchers have carried out one of the first-ever analyzes of the effects of global warming on endangered primates. This innovative work by Graduate Student Ruscena Wiederholt and Associate Professor of Biology Eric Post examined how El Niño warming affected the abundance of four New World monkeys over decades. The research will be published on 28 October 2009 in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, a fast-track journal of the Royal Society of London.

Wiederholt and Post decided to concentrate on the way the oscillating weather patterns directly and indirectly influence plants and animals in the tropics. Until the research by Wiederholt and Post, this intricate network of interacting factors had rarely been analyzed as a single system. “We know very little about how climate change and global warming are affecting primate species,” explains Wiederholt. “Up to one third of primates species are threatened with extinction, so it is really crucial to understand how these changes in climate may be affecting their populations.”

The scientists focused on the large-bodied monkeys of South America, which are highly threatened. Choosing one species from each of the four genera of Atelines, Wiederholt and Post examined abundance trends and dynamics in populations of the muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus, formerly B. arachnoides) of Brazil, the woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha) in Colombia, Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), which was studied on Barro Colorado Island in Panama, and the red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus) in Venezuela.

For each species, long-term research projects carried out by other teams over decades have documented the abundance and feeding patterns of these primates. By studying the different species, Wiederholt and Post hoped to highlight the importance of the response to changing climate conditions of the trees that provide the dietary resources for the monkeys. All the species live in social groups and spend most of their time in the trees of tropical forests, using their limbs and prehensile tails to move around or to suspend themselves from branches. The monkeys differ in the proportions of fruit, flowers, and leaves in their diets. Woolly monkeys and spider monkeys predominantly eat fruit, howler monkeys specialize in leaf-eating, and muriquis also eat leaves but consume more fruit than howlers. “Long-term studies like those we derived data from are incredibly valuable for illuminating effects of global warming,” Post said. “Unfortunately for endangered species, such studies also are incredibly rare. We hope our results bring attention to the importance of maintaining long-term monitoring efforts.”

The team hypothesized that the trees’ response to the warming events might provide a crucial link between changes in climate and monkey abundance. To test their hypothesis, Wiederholt and Post needed to compare information on the monkey populations with data on fluctuations in food resources such as leaves, seeds, and fruits. Then, using statistical models, they investigated how food and abundance information related to annual temperature and rainfall information.

Detailed ecological information was not available on each of the forests in which the target species live, so the team used information from Barro Colorado Island — a lowland, moist, tropical forest where Geoffroy’s spider monkey was studied — as a general indicator of what happened over time in each of the habitats. From Barro Colorado, the scientists knew the number of tree species that were fruiting and flowering each month during the years between 1987 and 2004. They also looked at the annual values of flower and seed production for 44 specific tree species with seeds that are spread by mammals.

To examine these factors on a regional and local scale, Wiederholt and Post used information on mean annual temperature, rainfall, and the length of the wet and dry seasons for the years between 1960 and 1990 in Venezuela, Brazil, Barro Colorado Island, and Colombiaavailable. They obtained these data from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and from the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware. “We expected to find a strong relationship between the large-scale climate and the population dynamics of these species,” explains Wiederholt. “We also wanted to tease out which measures of vegetation-response to climatic conditions were most influential.”

The scientists obtained large-scale climate data from the southern oscillation index (SOI), the El Niño-Southern Oscillation indices (ENSO3, 34, 4, and 12), and the Southern Hemisphere temperature-anomaly index, which are available from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean provided a rainfall anomaly index. The El Niño and La Niña phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO — often called simply “El Niño”) are the cycles of warm/dry and cool/wet periods in oceanic and atmospheric temperatures in the tropical Pacific region. These cycles often are associated with disruptive events in to central and northern South America, such as floods, droughts, or disturbances in fishing or agriculture.

The results of the team’s analyses were spectacular. All four monkey species showed drops in abundance relating to large-scale climate fluctuations. Even though the monkey populations were separated by large distances, the three fruit-eating species had synchronous responses to large-scale warming. During El Niño warming events, trees produced more fruit than usual. Then, during the subsequent La Niña cooling events, the trees produced much less fruit, resulting in a local scarcity or even famine.

Some ecologists have speculated that high production of fruit during El Niño events may have been triggered by the increase in solar radiation, despite lower-than-usual rainfall. However, high productivity during an El Niño event might also use up the stored reserves of the trees, which would have difficulty recovering during the subsequent La Niña events, when weather was wet, cloudy, and cool. This mechanism would explain why the fruit-eating monkeys showed a delayed response to the El Niño events after a lag of one or two years.

Howler monkeys also showed declines with warm and dry El Niño events, but their population fall was out of sync with that of the fruit-eating species. The mechanism is not yet clear, but Wiederholt has some ideas. She notes, “Primate researchers have seen elevated adult female mortality and lowered birthrates among red howlers in drought years. Since leaf flush often occurs at the start of the wet season, a prolonged dry season might delay the availability of this resource for the howlers and perhaps cause them nutritional stress.”

Warmer temperatures also may cause leaves — the howlers’ primary food — to mature faster, which would accelerate the leaves’ acquisition of toxins and other chemical defenses against monkeys. The factor that the scientists found was most influenced by changes in climate was the monthly maximum number of tree species that were fruiting. Climate changes also were highly correlated with the monthly maximum number of species that were flowering and with annual seed production. The length of the dry season also was highly correlated with annual flower production. Thus, vegetation responses to climatic conditions substantially altered the food resources available to primates, which in turn influenced the decline or rise in monkey abundance.

Global warming already has produced a rise of 0.74 degrees over the last century, and an additional increase of 1.8 to 4 degrees Celsius is anticipated over the next century. “El Niño events are expected to increase in frequency with global warming,” explains Post. “This study suggests that the consequences of such intensification of ENSO could be devastating for several species of New World monkeys.”

The researchers say that now, more than ever, quantitative studies that delineate the complex ecological links between climate, vegetation, and animal survival are urgently needed.

This study was funded by Penn State’s Graduate Fellowship Program in a grant to Ruscena Wiederholt. redOrbit