Sunday, December 24, 2006

Virgin Komodo prepares to give birth

Chester, England: In an evolutionary twist, Flora, a Komodo dragon from a UK zoo has managed to become pregnant without any male help.

Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora’s virginal conception and that of another Komodo dragon earlier this year at the London Zoo, are the first time it has been documented in a Komodo dragon.

Native to Indonesia, Komodos are the world’s largest predatory lizards.

The cases of Flora and the London lizard, Sungai, are described in a study published Thursday in Nature.

Parthenogenesis is a process in which eggs become embryos without male fertilisation. It has been seen in about 70 species, including snakes and lizards. Scientists are unsure whether female Komodo dragons have always had this latent ability to reproduce or if this is a new evolutionary development.

Having been raised in captivity, Flora has never been exposed to a male Komodo dragon.

Her keepers first became suspicious in May, when she laid 25 eggs.

Though it’s not uncommon for female dragons to lay eggs without mating, such eggs are not usually fertilised. When three of them collapsed, scientists took a closer look.

“We saw blood vessels and a small embryo,” said Kevin Buley, a reptile expert at Flora’s home at the Chester Zoo in the northern England town. “And we knew immediately that Flora had fertilised the eggs herself.”

They sent the collapsed eggs, along with tissue samples from Flora, Nessie, and a male Komodo dragon, to a laboratory that conducted genetic testing to determine the eggs’ parentage. Results showed that their DNA could not have come from any other dragon.

At the London Zoo, Sungai gave birth to four dragon hatchlings in April through self-fertilisation. After their births, Sungai went on to mate normally with a male dragon, producing another baby dragon.

In contrast, other lizard species that reproduce asexually cannot mate normally.

That might give Komodos a distinct survival edge. Experts are keen to find out how prevalent Komodo virgin births are in the wild.

“It’s baffling why a species starts doing this,” said Dr Kevin de Queiroz, a research zoologist at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington. “It would be helpful to know how often this happens and what the mechanism is that allows them do that.’’


Thanks to Dr.Sangeeta Dhanuka

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

New Insect Order Found in Southern Africa

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
March 28, 2002

For the first time in 87 years, researchers have discovered an insect that constitutes a new order of insects. Dubbed "the gladiator" (for the recent movie), it lives in the Brandberg Mountains of Namibia, on the west coast of Southern Africa.

Entomologist Oliver Zompro of the Max Planck Institute of Limnology in Plön, Germany, who identified the creature as unique, said it resembles "a cross between a stick insect, a mantid, and a grasshopper."

It differs from a stick insect, Zompro noted, because its first body segment is the largest. Unlike a mantid, it uses both its fore and mid legs to catch prey, and unlike a grasshopper, it can't jump.

Growing up to four centimeters (1.6 inches) long, "the gladiator" is carnivorous and nocturnal. It lives at the base of clumps of grass that grow in rock crevices.

Zompro first suspected that he was seeing a new insect order while examining fossils of stick-like insects sent to him by amber collectors in Germany. After finding similar specimens in more recent collections at museums in London and Berlin, he set out to determine whether the insect—which had been presumed extinct—might still be found in the wild.

The existence of the insect was confirmed last month on a field trip to Namibia.

The discovery of the new insect order, which has been named Mantophasmatodea, increases the number of insect orders to 31.

"This discovery is comparable to finding a mastodon or saber-toothed tiger," said Piotr Naskrecki, director of Conservation International's new Invertebrate Diversity Initiative.

Diana Wall, an ecologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, called the discovery "tremendously exciting" and said it could give scientists "a new perspective on how life fits together."

"This new order could be a missing link to determining relationships between insects and other groups," she said, adding: "Every textbook discussing the orders of insects will now need to be rewritten."

Lucky Break

No new order of insects has been identified since 1915.

Zompro said he got lucky. "So many zoologists all over the world have combed the Earth for new specimens in so many locations that the chance of finding a new order is close to zero," he said. Zompro, a specialist in stick insects, was studying a group of fossils sent to him by various collectors when he began to suspect he was seeing a new type of insect.

The oldest known specimen of the newly identified insect was encased in a 40-million-year-old chunk of golden amber.

Over a period of six months, Zompro received nearly two dozen specimens that led him to conclude he had discovered a new order, but one that he thought was now extinct. One amber nugget contained a perfectly preserved adult specimen. Another fossil had captured the insect in the cannibalistic act of eating another.

"It's a big insect and difficult to overlook. That's what is so amazing" about the finding, Zompro said.

Immature Stick Insect
New to Science

Pictured above is a new, as yet unnamed species that has been identified as belonging to a new order of insects. It lives atop the Brandberg Mountains in Namibia, dwelling in grasses that spring from rock crevices, and probably feeds mainly on spiders and small insects.

Photograph by Thomas Kujawski/ASA-Multimedia

Sifting through entomology collections at the British Museum of Natural History in London, he found an adult male insect from Tanzania that looked remarkably like the specimens entombed in amber. A few weeks later, he came upon a female specimen of the insect at Berlin's Museum of Natural History.

When Zompro dissected the specimen from the Berlin Museum, he found the remains of insects in its gut, indicating that the stick-like insect was a carnivore. All other known stick-like insects are plant eaters.

"At this point, I was sure that I had found an absolutely new order of insects," said Zompro.

Wilderness Search

Both of the insects Zompro observed in London and Berlin appeared related to the 40-million-year-old fossilized insect encased in amber. But the museum specimens had been collected during expeditions in the last century, suggesting that the insect was not extinct.

Zompro photographed the three specimens and sent the pictures to museums in Africa and South America, requesting information about any insects that appeared to be similar.

The National Museum of Namibia responded with a specimen that had been found in the Brandberg Mountains. It appeared to be from the same insect group.

Eugene Marais, the museum's curator of entomology, met with Zompro in Berlin and examined the original amber fossil. Based on their analysis, Zompro made plans to travel to Namibia to search for the insect.

Earlier this month, he joined an expedition to the Brandberg Mountains, jointly sponsored by Conservation International, the Max Planck Institute, and the National Museum of Namibia. The team consisted of 16 entomologists from Germany, England, South Africa, Namibia, and the United States.

The scientists were dropped onto a mountain peak in the remote area and began a painstaking search on the stony, arid summit. After a night of shaking grass bushes, a scientist looking for insects called silverfish found the first of the live insects that came to be known as "the gladiator."

During the trip, Zompro collected a dozen of the insects, which he carried back to his lab in Germany to study mating, feeding, and other forms of behavior in the insects. Aggressive tendencies became one area of interest—a couple of the insects apparently were eaten during the the trip back.

Zompro plans to return to Namibia to study the distribution of the insect in Namibia.

Naskrecki of Conservation International said Zompro's discovery is important because it "tells us that there are places on Earth that act as protective pockets, preserving tiny glimpses of what life was like millions of years ago."

The Namibian insects, he added, "are one of the last living witnesses of a time when America and Africa were still part of the same land mass. This order was thought to be extinct for 35 to 50 million years."


Thanks to Vaz Viren

Monday, December 11, 2006

Sticky material to scale new heights

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Climbing up walls like Spider-Man might not just be the stuff of comic books if a new material continues its successful development.

A team at a British aerospace and defense company have created a re-usable adhesive material that can stick to any surface, a small piece of which could easily support the weight of a small family car.

The team at BAE Systems Advanced Technology Center, led by Dr. Jeffrey Sargent and Dr. Sajad Haq, have been inspired by the gecko lizard and its ability to walk up walls and across ceilings.

Their "Synthetic Gecko" material mimics the microscopic hairs on a gecko's foot. Its potential as a reusable super-strong adhesive material could be applied across a number of areas.

"As well as the engineering potential of our product we realize there is a huge scope for its commercial and even medical application," Dr. Jeffery Sargent told CNN.

It's not the first time that material has been produced that has tried to copy geckos' climbing feats. Scientists at the University of California discovered the secrets of the lizard's seemingly gravity-defying ability in 2000.

Full Story

The Sanctuary-ABN AMRO Wildlife Awards 2006

Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” – Shawshank Redemption

Oft in the midst of noise and haste, one tends to forget that there is a battle going on, a quiet, stealthy battle waged against that which cannot speak in its own defence – Nature. Irreplaceable ecosystems are being lost, too many species are going extinct to keep a count, and others are at the brink of extinction… floods and droughts have become permanent ‘seasons’ across the globe. And in this face of aridity and hopelessness, we have Earth Heroes who give silent Nature a voice, while risking their lives everyday for us. That is what makes them out of the ordinary. They give us hope for a better tomorrow. For our children, and our children’s children… For this, we honour them.

Lifetime Service Award
Romulus Whitaker
: American by birth and Indian at heart, Romulus Earl Whitaker is an inspirational figure who has made an invaluable contribution to wildlife research and nature conservation in India. He arrived as a young boy and did much of his schooling in Kodaikanal where he developed an affinity for the natural world by trekking through the forests of the Palni Hills. He moved back to the U.S. to complete his higher education and after a short stint with the U.S. Merchant Navy, joined the Miami Serpentarium where he learned about venom collection. He returned to India to fulfill his destiny as a world class herpetologist, founding the Snake Park in Guindy in Tamil Nadu and then the very popular Madras Crocodile Bank/Centre for Herpetology in Mahabalipuram, where crocodiles are bred in captivity with the objective of releasing them into the wild.

Wildlife Service Awards
Firoz Ahmed
: Firoz Ahmed is a prolific field biologist whose experience belies his 31 years. Wildlife conservation is at the centre of his life’s purpose. He is an Honorary Wildlife Warden in his home state of Assam. He currently works as a wildlife biologist and environment educator with Aaranyak, in Assam. Ahmed has documented the herpetofauna of the Kaziranga National Park, Orang National Park and a number of community forests in Nagaland and Meghalaya. He also studied the endangered Dark-rumped Swift in Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland.

Praveen Bhargav: Praveen Bhargav, an accomplished wildlifer, has been at the cutting edge of strategic conservation and research in Karnataka since 1979. A passionate advocate for wildlife, he was born in Gwalior, but has spent most of his life in Bangalore. He co-founded Wildlife First, a Bangalore-based advocacy group that helped convince the Supreme Court to wind up the destructive open-cast mining by the Kudremukh Iron Ore Company Limited (KIOCL) in the Western Ghats. This has directly benefitted a number
of endangered species including the endemic lion-tailed macaque. It has also freed the exquisite Bhadra river
from toxic contaminants routinely released by
mining companies.

Dr. Dharmendra Khandal: He is one of the country’s few spider experts, a botanist and field researcher who works with tigers. Employed by Tiger Watch, an NGO founded by Fateh Singh Rathore in Ranthambhore, he is internally driven to protect Rajasthan’s wildlife. His most passionate involvement today is the setting up of an anti-poaching information network in Rajasthan. With colleagues, he has been responsible for several wildlife contraband seizures that have resulted in the arrest of poachers. A conservationist at heart, he is now searching for ways to reform and rehabilitate the families of the dangerous Mogiya tribal poachers.

The Sundarbans Protection Team: The largest delta in the world, the Sundarbans is a hostile land and patrolling it is a Herculean task. But the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve Protection Team, led by their Field Director Pradeep Vyas, has displayed creativity, determination and courage and has brought uncompromising dedication to the task on hand. Their dream is to see a day when the tiger and all species that share its world are truly safe.

Nikhil Padmakar Desai: One of India’s least known, but most effective field-based conservationists, Nitin Desai is Director, Central India with the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). His association with wildlife issues began in 1987 as a volunteer for WWF’s nature camps. Disturbed by the impact of poaching and the wildlife trade between 1998 and 1999, he worked on a collaborative data gathering project to clamp down on the illegal wildlife trade.

Green Teacher Award
Nishikant Vasudeo Kale and Prakash Muralidhar Laddha:
They work as a team, and their mission is to create a veritable army of young Indians who grow up to respect the Earth. They use the tiger as a symbol for the protection of all wild plants and animals, with the Melghat Tiger Reserve and the Satpura region as their living canvas.Both Prof. Kale and Prakash Laddha are models that good educationists should try to emulate. They are successfully passing the green baton on to generations, even as they fight to protect their vanishing natural heritage.

Young Naturalist Awards
Bajrang Bishnoi:
If this is the face of tomorrow, India has a great green future. He is one of the principal members of a flying squad of Bishnois who are prepared to chase, capture and restrain anyone who dares to poach animals in the vicinity of their villages in Rajasthan. Bajrang belongs to a remote tribal community that has contributed more to wildlife protection than almost any other urban or rural society in India. The Bishnois of Rajasthan are best known for their culture of animal reverence and protection. Young Bajrang Bishnoi follows the footsteps of his elders for whom the teachings of Jambaji, or Jambeshwar Bhagavan guide their every living moment.

Hakabhai Makawana: Young people are understandably attracted to tigers, lions, elephants and rhinos. Hakabhai’s life is governed by less charismatic creatures – vultures. When the Gir Nature Youth Club and the Flamingo Nature Club approached the padavalas (labourers who collect coconuts by climbing trees) of Bhavnagar’s Mahuva District for help with their “Save the Vulture” campaign, Hakabhai a young boy responded instantly.He is now an effective ambassador for vultures, explaining their ecological role to other padavalas who now protect the nests they might once have destroyed.

Sameer I. Kehimkar: He is a snake rescuer who is fast becoming recognised as a crack herpetologist. Sameer Kehimkar is 23 years old and is happiest in the company of the kind of creepy-crawlies that other young persons shun. Snake rescues came naturally to Sameer from his childhood in Navi Mumbai where people often called him to help with snakes that had entered homes and offices. He is already a caecilian and amphibian expert and has helped conduct surveys in Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Wind Under The Wings Award
NDTV, Delhi
NDTV is best known for the high standards it has set for television reporting in the arena of politics, business, sports and entertainment. Yet, one NDTV programme has consistently managed to hold its own in the rough and tumble world of commerce by creating a loyal viewership numbering millions of Indians, young and old – Born Wild.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Satellites to keep track on turtles

Statesman News Service

KENDRAPARA, Nov. 30: Stung by conservationists’ criticism that oil exploration along the Orissa coast will adversely affect the marine ecology, the state forest department and Wildlife Institute of India have joined hands to closely monitor the path of one million of Olive Ridley sea turtles, visiting the Gahirmatha coast from January to March every year, through satellite telemetry tracking technology.

Turtle experts have the view that it is imprudent to allow offshore oil drilling in the sea perilously close to the maximum turtle concentration zones.

The novel satellite study on these threatened species, the itinerant path of which has largely remained unexplored, would start once the turtles start arriving at the Gahirmatha nesting ground to lay eggs, according to officials.

About 70 turtles will be handpicked for experiment with satellite telemetry application. After fitted with telemetry, they would be released in the wild. Its track and path of movement would be minutely observed by WII scientists, said the Bhitarkanika forest officials.

The divisional forest officer, Bhitarkanika forest (mangrove) division, Mr Ajay Kumar Jena, said the satellite application on turtles would start shortly under the stewardship of scientists of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun. He refused to elaborate on.

Though the experiment to track the turtles’ itinerant path through satellite telemetry technique had earlier been conducted in 2001, it was not a great success. Four female turtles fitted with satellite transmitters and released in the wild near the Devi river mouth nesting ground hardly moved long distance and were sighted roaming along the Bay of Bengal coast. The telemetry fitted then had reportedly developed technical snags and as a result these species are learnt to have gone out of sight.

While one of the turtle advanced up to Jaffna off Sri Lankan coast, two others roamed on the Bay of Bengal coast before making their annual journey to Orissa coast for mass nesting. The latest satellite tracking experiment on turtles would commence during early 2007 after turtles make their annual rendezvous to Gahirmatha rookery for mass nesting, officials of Bhitarkanika national park said.

The Union government has accorded nod to oil exploration work by corporate giant Reliance Industries and Oil and Natural Gas Commission along the Mahanadi river basis area.
After the conservationists raised voice, the environment ministry had directed the RIL to stop oil drilling during the nesting season.

Of the two midsea blocks, where RIL has taken to oil exploration reserve, one of the blocks is right on the return path of these migratory species who travel long distances to nest along the Gahirmatha coast.

The satellite telemetry tracking of these species was given a serious thought to scientifically establish whether the oil drilling block is swarmed by breeding turtles. The satellite study will also examine the impact of human interference on the turtles and other marine species.

The oil exploring companies had contended that the turtle congregation areas thrived on the near shore which is 10 nautical miles off the coast. The offshore drilling beyond 50 nautical miles will not affect the turtles, the oil companies had maintained citing similar explorations in the USA and Gulf of Mexico.

The satellite tracking being done this time is in accordance with recommendation of Multi-disciplinary Expert Group (MEG) constituted by the Union forest and environment ministry, said officials of the state forest department.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

Vietnam protects sea turtles by satellite

09:51' 21/11/2006 (GMT+7)
Soạn: HA 962283 gửi đến 996 để nhận ảnh này

VietNamNet Bridge - Three blue turtles on Con Dao Island have been affixed with special equipment which can send signals to satellites, which can help scientists follow the movements of the turtles.

“After one month, the equipment still works well. Watching the movements of the turtles by satellite has exceeded our expectations,” said Le Xuan Ai, Director of the Con Dao National Park.

The park is the first place in Vietnam keeping track of wild animals by satellite.

Con Dao is considered the most important place for sea turtles to lay eggs in Vietnam. Following turtles by satellite will provide significant information to managers and preservers to protect this kind of animal.

For the past ten years, sea turtles have been protected on Con Dao Island and tens of thousands of baby turtles are set free annually.

The programme to protect the egg laying sites of sea turtles on Con Dao Island has been quite successful, but many turtles still die when they come to the egg delivery sites because of being caught in nets, etc.

Following sea turtles by satellite will be combined with a master plan to protect the Con Dao sea area and coastal area under a project of the United Nations Development Fund (UNDP), sponsored by the Global Environment Fund and the Danish International Development Agency (Danida).

An education programme on sea turtle protection will be carried out at schools on Con Dao island, including a contest to name and keep track of sea turtles.

Kieu Minh


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

City birds raise their tempo

Published online: 4 December 2006; | doi:10.1038/news061204-1

Birds change their tune to be heard over traffic.

Narelle Towie

Birds sing fast and high in London, but slower in the Kolin forest of the Czech Republic.

AlamyIt seems life really is faster in the city — even for birds.

Researchers have found that birds living in urban areas sing a faster tune than their slower country counterparts. The changes in birdsong may help their calls to be heard over the howl of traffic and the wind.

The songs of great tits (Parus major) living in ten major European cities were compared with the tunes from those living in nearby forest. All of the city slickers were found to make shorter, faster and more high-pitched sounds, researchers report in Current Biology1.

"Quick, repetitious trills pass better through high wind and the low frequencies of traffic noise," explains Hans Slabbekoorn from Leiden University in the Netherlands. "Whereas low, slower sounds transmit better through dense vegetation."

Changing one's tune to be heard over background noise is not a new phenomenon. Urban nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) have been shown to up their volume when the going gets loud. And birds that live near the crash of a waterfall have a higher frequency call than those residing in quieter woodland.

Slabbekoorn's team previously showed that great tits in the city of Leiden had different tunes depending on whether they lived in quiet or bustling areas. That work prompted him to see whether city and country birds were different.

Sound survival

The ability of the male great tit to adapt his repertoire can make a big difference to his life: male birds use sound to defend their territory and to attract females.

"If the birds still used low-frequency sounds in the city, they would lose the ability to communicate," explains Slabbekoorn. "Leaving out lower frequencies seems critical to the bird's ability to thrive."

The expansion of urban landscape makes this area of research important, say scientists. Particularly since it seems that not all birds are so flexible about changing their tune. Zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), for example, crystallize their melody in their first months, and so would not be expected to adapt to a new soundscape later in life.

"We have very limited data on all the different species," says Slabbekoorn, about both their ability to adapt their song and their capacity to have stuck it out in the city so far. "We need to know which species have already disappeared from urban areas."

With more information on which birds are sensitive to noise, Slabbekoorn thinks it should be easier to predict some of the consequences of putting roads through nature areas.

  1. Slabbekoorn H., Boer-Visser A., . Current Biology, 16 . 2326 - 2331 (2006)