Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Polar bear numbers systematically underestimated by 25-30%

May 31, 2014

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a conservation lobby group. As with all advocacy groups (WWF, FoE, Greenpeace….) much of their “science” has to be taken with a large bushel of salt. Needless to say they have “observer” status at the UN. In any event they have a Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG) and much of the unfounded alarmism about the polar bear being a threatened species originates with them. As with other advocacy groups they systematically ignore data which does not advance their theses. They are not averse to data manipulation when it suits them.

In fact polar bears are thriving. The IUCN -PBSG now admits – in a little footnote – that their numbers in 5 large zones have just been ignored and set to zero for lack of data. Actual polar bear numbers are probably well in excess of 30,000. Since 2001, the PBSG has systematically ignored 5 large sub-populations of polar bears as Dr. Susan Crockford reports on her blog:

…. none of these ‘global population estimates’ (from 2001 onward) came anywhere close to being estimates of the actual world population size of polar bears (regardless of how scientifically inaccurate they might have been) — rather, they were estimates of only the subpopulations that Arctic biologists have tried to count.

For example, the PBSG’s  most recent global estimate (range 13,071-24,238) ignores five very large subpopulation regions which between them potentially contain 1/3 as many additional bears as the official estimate includes (see map below). The PBSG effectively gives them each an estimate of zero.

Based on previous PBSG estimates and other research reports, it appears there are probably at least another 6,000 or so bears living in these regions and perhaps as many as 9,000 (or more) that are not included in any PBSG “global population estimate”: Chukchi Sea ~2,000-3,000; East Greenland, ~ 2,000-3,000; the two Russian regions together (Laptev Sea and Kara Sea), another ~2,000-3,000 or so, plus 200 or so in the central Arctic Basin. These are guesses, to be sure, but they at least give a potential size.

I find the entire thrust of Conservationism to be fundamentally flawed. Threatened species are genetic and evolutionary failures in the sense that they do not have the genetic variability necessary to continue in a changing world. Trying to stop the change they cannot cope with is a futile exercise. If conservation of a species has to mean anything, then selected, threatened species have to be helped to adapt to the inevitable change – genetically if necessary.

After Marius the giraffe, Copenhagen Zoo puts down 4 lions

March 25, 2014

Zoos fool themselves when they claim to be anything other than places of entertainment for the general public. They pretend at playing the saviour of endangered species but really do little more than force some individuals of an unsuccessful species to live a fairly useless life in totally artificial surroundings. It is my contention that “Conservation” is on the wrong track in trying to freeze species in to a mould that clearly is genetically a failure. If the goal is to help a species to survive then they have to be helped genetically to live alongside humans – and not in some artificially created environment which can never exist outside the zoo.

And there is something wrong when perfectly healthy specimens are bred and then put down because they don’t suit. Copenhagen Zoo is probably not the worst zoo in the world, but it is among those who pretend the most. After Marius the giraffe they have now culled two lion cubs and two adult lions as being surplus to requirements. They are probably the same lions which feasted on Marius!

The Guardian: A Danish zoo that prompted international outrage by putting down a healthy giraffe and dissecting it in public has killed two lions and their two cubs to make way for a new male.

“Because of the pride of lions’ natural structure and behaviour, the zoo has had to euthanise the two old lions and two young lions who were not old enough to fend for themselves,” Copenhagen zoo said.

The 10-month-old lions would have been killed by the new male lion “as soon as he got the chance”, it said. The four lions were put down on Monday after the zoo failed to find a new home for them, a spokesman said. All four were from the same family.

He said there would be no public dissection of the animals since “not all our animals are dissected in front of an audience”.

“Animal conservation” in zoos is anti-evolutionary and probably immoral

February 27, 2014

The case of Marius the giraffe murdered recently at Copenhagen Zoo has led to more attention to the function of zoos, their supposed “conservation” efforts and their breed-and-cull policies. There is an aura of “goodness” around “animal conservation” which is quite unjustified. As practised today, animal conservation in zoos is anti-evolutionary and borders on the immoral.

I enjoy visiting some zoos (though there are many which are merely collections of psychotic animals) and I enjoyed taking my children to some zoos. It was primarily for entertainment and – as with all entertainment – offered some opportunities for learning. But I cannot subscribe to the politically correct notion that zoos are places where some animal species are being “saved” from extinction. At best they are places where some species, which are on the verge of extinction because they have failed to adapt or evolve to cope with their environments, are frozen into an artificial existence in quite unsuitable habitats for the purpose of entertaining visitors. Such species are not helped to change – genetically or otherwise – to be able to survive by themselves in a changing world. Conservation is taken be a “good thing” but consists only of preserving the animals and their current genes. If left to themselves they would still fail to survive. The animals are bred and over-bred such that healthy specimens must then be culled. That is stagnation not evolution. Zoos are just places for human entertainment and very little else – and there is nothing wrong with that. But they do not deserve any halo of “goodness” for their “conservation”.

To truly help a species to survive requires helping them to breed and evolve such that their survival characteristics are improved. But “conservation” today consists of creating living fossils which are incapable of surviving without human intervention. It is taking a frozen snap-shot of the species and its genes. That is fundamentally anti-evolutionary. I have written on this theme before (Genetic adaptation not stagnating conservation is the way to help threatened species),

Conservation – as stagnation – is not sustainable.  Trying to prevent change is a futile exercise. It is change which is the fundamental characteristic of life. It is managing change and even designing change which is a particular strength of the human species. It is human ingenuity at work. It is time to give thought to how we can help the species around us evolve into the neo-species which can cope with the changes which are inevitable.

This BBC article today only reinforces my view that so-called “animal conservation” in zoos is just show business and has nothing whatever to do with helping endangered species to survive.

How many healthy animals do zoos put down?

When Copenhagen Zoo put down a healthy male giraffe earlier this month, much of the world was horrified. But those in the know say it’s quite normal – a fate that befalls thousands of zoo animals across Europe every year. ….. 

It’s often hard to get any information, but the 340 zoos that belong to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) must sign up to the organisation’s various breeding programmes, and for each species in the programme there is a studbook – a kind of inventory which records every animal’s birth, genetic make-up, and death.

EAZA does not publish these records or advertise the number of healthy animals that have been culled, but executive director Dr Leslie Dickie estimates that somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 animals are “management-euthanised” in European zoos in any given year. …… 

…….. Four German zookeepers were also prosecuted in 2010 for culling three tiger cubs at Magdeburg Zoo “without reasonable cause” (though the EAZA judged the step “entirely reasonable and scientifically valid“). ….

… The EAZA Yearbook 2007/2008 (the latest publicly available edition) states clearly that a “breed and cull” policy should be followed for some animals, like the pygmy hippopotamus.

Surpluses are a problem with a number of species, including monkeys and baboons, it notes. ….

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Copenhagen Zoo’s justifications for killing Marius if applied to humans

February 12, 2014

Copenhagen Zoo has been marshalling support on the scientific and the ethical plane to try and justify their decision to kill Marius the healthy giraffe. They protest too much and it is a revealing exercise to apply their argumentation to humans.

Their basic theme is that He died so that others could live

Capital punishment could be applied for all humans convicted of murder or  causing a fatal accident or whose genes are defective in any way so that others may live. In current Danish politics, the wrong skin colour in a human is indicative of defective genes.

Culling is for the greater good of the giraffes

The man who pulled the trigger, the zoo’s own veterinarian Mads Frost Bertelsen, says that a very positive situation lies behind the Zoo’s action. 

”Up until now, we have not had to cull the giraffes. But now we have reached the point where the population is doing so well that a giraffe like Marius could not be relocated. Then the best solution is to put him down,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen.

The vet explains that a central European coordinator keeps track of pedigrees, and which genes are represented by individual giraffes in European zoos. The coordinator estimated from these data that Marius’ genes were already well represented and recommended that Marius was killed to protect the population best suited to the gene pool.

But now we have reached the point where the human population is doing so well in so many countries. Many individuals cannot be relocated. From East Europe or Africa to Europe for example. Then the best solution is to put them down, especially if their genes are already well represented. Something like the policy China had. Enforced abortion for all children after the first. 

The right time for Marius to die

Marius was allowed to live for one and a half years, then that was it. At that age he can, according to Bertelsen, be described as a ‘teenager’. It was an age when his father had also started roughing him up.

“In the wild he would leave the herd. If he were lucky, he would meet and join up with other young male giraffes. If he were  unlucky, he would be killed by lions,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen, explaining that it was not unnatural for Marius to die young.

In fact, the young male giraffes are most at risk of being killed and eaten on the savannah, because they do not have the protection of the herd when they are looking for females to mate.

If contraception or abortion are not permitted then the individual can be allowed to live for a while and put down just before it reaches child-bearing age. Lions and other carnivores could soon develop a liking for human flesh.

How to lead a natural life in the zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo lets the animals breed because one of the biggest challenges of keeping animals in captivity is that they are bored. …… a great activity for the captive animals is to find a partner, nest, have offspring, feed an raise their offspring, and finally spend energy on throwing the kids out.

“The side effect is that we have a surplus of animals. It is in fact fortunate that we can use them as food. Instead of killing 20 goats or a cow, we can use the giraffe,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen. ….. 

“Our function is not to keep the individual animal alive, but to keep the species alive,” says the Jens Sigsgaard and continues:

“We have decided that even if an animal is over-represented in the gene pool, we will let it breed and have as normal a life as possible. We prefer to kill ‘surplus animals’ rather than send them to zoos we cannot approve.”

For defective humans or humans of low intelligence, breeding could be encouraged as an antidote to boredom. Surplus individuals produced by such breeding can always then be culled and used as food. They should be killed rather than being sent to countries unwilling to accept them or to countries which cannot be approved.

The adult animals breed – the young must die

Aalborg Zoo has several arguments for allowing animals to breed, even if it may result in too many babies. …. “The animals are allowed to breed because it is an important part of their natural behavior to have offspring and experience the process of taking care of the them. Looking after the young is one of the best and most natural ways to occupy animals in captivity, In the wild there comes a time when the baby is old enough to break away from the mother and maybe become part of another group. That is the time when we try to find another well-suited zoo for it. If that is not possible, the young animal must be put down,” ”says Jens Sigsgaard. 

The animals can also be adversely affected if they are not allowed to breed and have offspring. They may find it difficult ever to start breeding again. And if there are no kids in the flock, the younger animals will not get the experience of what it is like to care for babies. 

The humans with the defective genes are allowed to breed as part of their natural behaviour. But when any young individual is old enough to break away from the mother we can try and find a new location for the individual. If that is not possible then it must be put down.

It is not the killing of an animal that is the problem; it is allowing the individual to be bred with the intention of killing it (and where the feeding of the carcass to lions is only incidental). And there is a difference in the breeding of mice for the purpose of being fed to snakes.

Animals are kept captive and alive in zoos just for gawking at. Once upon a time we did that with human “freaks”. I would like to think that we are more “civilised” now where I take “civilised” to be elegance in behaviour. The behaviour of Copenhagen Zoo with Marius was particularly inelegant.

The fundamental issue is that Copenhagen Zoo – like all zoos – are places for human entertainment.  They fool themselves – and others – into thinking that they are performing a scientific or conservation function – but that is just twaddle. (That is also the fundamental flaw in the conservation of species in zoos where – instead of trying to get the species to adapt genetically – the zoos try to “freeze” the animals genetically in a frozen and artificially maintained habitat).

There is something lacking in the ethics of Copenhagen Zoo – and all zoos for that matter.

I hope visitors to Copenhagen Zoo dry up….

February 9, 2014

One wonders what the purpose of the Copenhagen Zoo is? First they breed them. Then if they don’t like them or find them surplus to requirements they kill them. They invite zoo visitors to the autopsy. Why not to the executions? A healthy, 18 month old giraffe bred by the Copenhagen Zoo was killed off for being surplus to requirements (genetically)! Why breed it in the first place? And apparently this is standard practice.

If it had been culled in the wild because of an excess population it might have felt different. And the zoo had been offered alternatives.

Marius the giraffe bred to be killed by Copenhagen Zoo

I hope visitors to the Copenhagen Zoo dry up.

From the Copenhagen Post:

An online petition to save the life of a young giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo is currently accumulating close to 2,000 votes an hour. But all the votes are in vain because the unfortunate animal was destroyed this morning in accordance with the zoo’s policy on in-breeding. 

The zoo said it has taken the decision to kill the 18-month-old male giraffe Marius and feed him to some of his fellow animals at the zoo in order to keep the giraffe population “genetically sound”.

“Giraffes today breed very well, and when they do you have to choose and make sure the ones you keep are the ones with the best genes,” Bengt Holst, the scientific director at the zoo, explained to the BBC.

Between 20 and 30 animals are put down in a similar fashion every year, added Holst. According to Ekstra Bladet tabloid, this has included bears, tigers and zebras.

…. Marius was killed by a bolt gun instead of a lethal injection, which would have contaminated the meat.

While most of him will be fed to the carnivores at the zoo, part of his carcass will be used for scientific research. Visitors to the zoo on Sunday were invited to attend the autopsy.

Ottawa CitizenCopenhagen Zoo turned down offers from other zoos and 500,000 euros ($680,000) from a private individual to save the life of a healthy giraffe before killing and slaughtering it Sunday to follow inbreeding recommendations made by a European association.

The 2-year-old male giraffe, named Marius, was put down using a bolt pistol and its meat will be fed to carnivores at the zoo, spokesman Tobias Stenbaek Bro said. Visitors, including children, were invited to watch while the giraffe was dissected.

Marius’ plight triggered a wave of online protests and renewed debate about the conditions of zoo animals. Before the giraffe was killed, an online petition to save it had received more than 20,000 signatures.

Stenbaek Bro said the zoo, which now has seven giraffes left, was recommended to put down Marius by the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria because there were already a lot of giraffes with similar genes in the organization’s breeding program.

The Amsterdam-based EAZA has 347 members, including many large zoos in European capitals, and works to conserve global biodiversity and to achieve the highest standards of care and breeding for animals.

Bengt Holst is the scientific director of Copenhagen Zoo who has implemented this policy of the EAZA.

Zoos are of course just places of entertainment for humans and I don’t really think they perform any other useful function. And I don’t much believe that their much vaunted  “conservation” which consists of freezing an unsuccessful species in an artificial habitat does that species any service at all.

Meanwhile in the UK: lioness and cubs who were the pride of Longleat are put down

Graphic pictures of Marius being cut up and fed to the lions.

Fish biomass 10 times greater than thought (and fish “fix” carbon dioxide from sea water)

February 8, 2014

A new paper suggests that the biomass of mesopelagic fish which dominate the total biomass of fish in the ocean is 10 times higher than previously assumed. Instead of being about 1,000 million tens the researchers suggest it could be 10,000 million tons or even more.

Fish are a critical link in the Carbon cycle and especially the removal – by “fixing” as carbonates – of the carbon dioxide in sea water. They act to neutralise acidity and increase alkilinity. The level of carbon dioxide dissolved in sea water itself affects the capacity of the ocean surface waters to absorb more carbon dioxide. A change – by a factor of 10 – in the fish biomass is a not insignificant change to the carbon fluxes through the ocean and to the carbon cycle.

Xabier Irigoien et al, Large mesopelagic fishes biomass and trophic efficiency in the open oceanNature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI:10.1038/ncomms4271

EurekAlert: With a stock estimated at 1,000 million tons so far, mesopelagic fish dominate the total biomass of fish in the ocean. However a team of researchers ….. has found that their abundance could be at least 10 times higher. The results, published in Nature Communications journal, are based on the acoustic observations conducted during the circumnavigation of the Malaspina Expedition. … Mesopelagic fishes, such as lantern fishes (Myctophidae) and cyclothonids (Gonostomatidae), live in the twilight zone of the ocean, between 200 and 1,000 meters deep. They are the most numerous vertebrates of the biosphere, but also the great unknowns of the open ocean, since there are gaps in the knowledge of their biology, ecology, adaptation and global biomass. 

… Xabier Irigoien, researcher from AZTI-Tecnalia and KAUST (Saudi Arabia) and head of this research, states: “The fact that the biomass of mesopelagic fish (and therefore also the total biomass of fishes) is at least 10 times higher than previously thought, has significant implications in the understanding of carbon fluxes in the ocean and the operation of which, so far, we considered ocean deserts”.

Mesopelagic fish come up at night to the upper layers of the ocean to feed, whereas they go back down during the day in order to avoid being detected by their predators. This behaviour speeds up the transport of organic matter into the ocean, the engine of the biological pump that removes CO2 from the atmosphere, because instead of slowly sinking from the surface, it is rapidly transported to 500 and 700 meters deep and released in the form of feces.

Irigoien adds: “Mesopelagic fish accelerate the flux for actively transporting organic matter from the upper layers of the water column, where most of the organic carbon coming from the flow of sedimentary particles is lost. Their role in the biogeochemical cycles of ocean ecosystems and global ocean has to be reconsidered, as it is likely that they are breathing between 1% and 10% of the primary production in deep waters”.

According to researchers, the excretion of material from the surface could partly explain the unexpected microbial respiration registered in these deep layers of the ocean. Mesopelagic fishes would act therefore as a link between plankton and top predators, and they would have a key role in reducing the oxygen from the depths of the open ocean.

The mechanisms by which fish create carbonates and contribute to the “fixing” of carbon dioxide is through feces.

Fish feces reduce ocean CO2 levels

 .. when fish drink seawater they excrete calcium as calcium carbonate — a chalky substance that can make seawater more alkaline and diminish the carbon dioxide in the water. ….. the bulk of the world’s fish species, excluding sharks and rays, produced the carbonate to counter the salt they ingested in seawater. The carbonate binds to the salt and is expelled as pellets, which dissolve in the ocean. … (We) knew before that something in the water was producing carbonate, but believed it came from other sources, such as microscopic marine plankton near the bottom of the food chain. But (we) didn’t understand why they were seeing so much of the carbonate at shallower depths. ……. most conservative estimates suggest three to 15 per cent of the oceans’ carbonates come from fish, but this range could be up to three times higher.

File:Oceanic divisions.svg

Oceanic divisions (Wikipedia)

Camel stories in the Old Testament were made up and long after the purported events

February 4, 2014

I suppose there are some who still believe that the stories of the Old Testament are not just fables and are an historical account.  As fables they are almost as well known as the stories of the brother’s Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson. But they are not at all a bad bunch of stories – though I always thought that a father offering up his son as a sacrifice was a sign of an evil man and not of any kind of faith to be admired. And even as a child I felt that neither the cowardly Abraham nor his tyrannical God came out of that story very well. And the grown-up son (Isaac) who allowed himself to be bound up to satisfy a demented father only comes out as an idiot.

In any event I cannot remember that I ever thought the stories were factual accounts or were anything other than fiction (which itself makes me wonder at what age we come to separate fact from fiction). To “prove” that fiction about the long dead past is not factual is, of course, trying to prove a negative. Researchers have now shown that at the purported time of the Age of the Patriarchs (supposedly 2000 – 1500 BCE), camels did not exist in the purported habitat of the purported Patriarchs (Abraham, Joseph and Jacob). I find it interesting that camels  were actually moved up from Arabia to the Levant apparently to help with a change of copper mining technology. But it is of little relevance to proving or disproving the fictions embodied in the fables of the Old Testament.

Finding Israel’s First Camels

Camels are mentioned as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob. But archaeologists have shown that camels were not domesticated in the Land of Israel until centuries after the Age of the Patriarchs (2000-1500 BCE). In addition to challenging the Bible’s historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes.

Now Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen of Tel Aviv University‘sDepartment of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures have used radiocarbon dating to pinpoint the moment when domesticated camels arrived in the southern Levant, pushing the estimate from the 12th to the 9th century BCE.  …. 

Archaeologists have established that camels were probably domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for use as pack animals sometime towards the end of the 2nd millennium BCE. In the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the oldest known domesticated camel bones are from the Aravah Valley, which runs along the Israeli-Jordanian border from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea and was an ancient center of copper production. At a 2009 dig, Dr. Ben-Yosef dated an Aravah Valley copper smelting camp where the domesticated camel bones were found to the 11th to 9th century BCE. In 2013, he led another dig in the area.

To determine exactly when domesticated camels appeared in the southern Levant, Dr. Sapir-Hen and Dr. Ben-Yosef used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the findings of these digs as well as several others done in the valley. In all the digs, they found that camel bones were unearthed almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century BCE or later — centuries after the patriarchs lived and decades after the Kingdom of David, according to the Bible. The few camel bones found in earlier archaeological layers probably belonged to wild camels, which archaeologists think were in the southern Levant from the Neolithic period or even earlier. Notably, all the sites active in the 9th century in the Arava Valley had camel bones, but none of the sites that were active earlier contained them.

The appearance of domesticated camels in the Aravah Valley appears to coincide with dramatic changes in the local copper mining operation. Many of the mines and smelting sites were shut down; those that remained active began using more centralized labor and sophisticated technology, according to the archaeological evidence. The researchers say the ancient Egyptians may have imposed these changes — and brought in domesticated camels — after conquering the area in a military campaign mentioned in both biblical and Egyptian sources.

……. The arrival of domesticated camels promoted trade between Israel and exotic locations unreachable before, according to the researchers; the camels can travel over much longer distances than the donkeys and mules that preceded them. By the seventh century BCE, trade routes like the Incense Road stretched all the way from Africa through Israel to India. Camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, researchers say, profoundly altering its economic and social history.

Cats and physics

January 1, 2014

It’s pretty obvious which kitten is going to grow up to be a physicist.

 

It’s only a matter of time and evolution.

From Luboš Motl’s The Reference Frame

Another human intervention for the survival of unfit species

November 8, 2013

I believe the entire thrust of “conservationism” in protecting unfit species and sanctioning successful species is fundamentally unsound. It is the survival of the unfit. It is no sustainable way to proceed. If humans are to intervene then it should be in the genetic adaptation of  a weak species to help that species to survive in the long term and not in “protecting” the habitat of the weak species by eradicating successful species so that the weak species continues in a state of being unfit for survival.

And now the very successful brown rats on the Isles of Scilly are to be culled in favour of sea birds that they threaten. Rather than kill the rats and perpetuate the sea birds in their unfit state, surely we ought to be adapting the sea birds to be able to survive in the new environment they live in.

Johnny Birks, chair of the Mammal Society, said: “Brown rats are not native to Britain… it’s our own fault they are so widespread and that makes it right for us to repair the damage we’ve caused.”

He added that the eradication could benefit the Scilly shrew and other species found on the islands, but it was key that the rats did not reinvade.

A convoluted – and rather sick – argument if ever there was one. To just remove the competitive pressures that the weak species is subject to is to try and prevent evolution. It may work in the short term but provides no long term future for the weak species. In fact it prevents them from responding to evolutionary pressures. The rats have taken advantage of the new environment created by humans and have thrived. The sea birds and other species have failed to do that. The paradigm cannot be  “Kill all immigrants” to freeze the unfit native species in their untenable positions. If the answer is to limit the successful species then the present thrust of “conservationism” leads logically – and inevitably – to the culling of humans as the preferred solution.

The weak have a guaranteed place in heaven anyway. Either help them to change or let them die out. But don’t lock them into the unfit state they find themselves in.

BBC

A project aimed at protecting internationally important seabird populations on two of the Isles of Scilly by killing more than 3,000 brown rats, is under way.

The islands, which are located off Cornwall, are home to breeding populations of 14 seabird species and approximately 20,000 birds.

Eradication experts from New Zealand and the UK have been contracted to carry out the work.

“Among many challenges our seabirds face, the greatest threat on land is predation of eggs and chicks by brown rats,” said Jaclyn Pearson from the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project.

“The brown rats were accidently introduced to islands from shipwrecks in the 18th Century,” she added.

The project is part of a 25-year programme to protect “internationally important” seabird numbers, including those of Manx shearwaters and storm petrels, and is costing more than £755,000.

The rodents will be poisoned on St Agnes and Gugh by Wildlife Management International Limited (WMIL).

The company has helped eradicate rats from Ramsey Island off Wales, Lundy Island off Devon and the Isle of Canna in the Scottish Hebrides.

Elizabeth Bell, from WMIL said: “A period of intensive baiting will start from the 8 November and most of the rats will be dead by the end of November. We’ll then target the surviving rats.”

A long-term monitoring programme will start at the beginning of 2014 to check the rodents have been eradicated from the islands.

Ms Bell said all the bait stations were enclosed, tied down and were designed not to kill any other species, such as rabbits. ……

A platypusian tale of a raunchy rat and a promiscuous duck

November 6, 2013

A science story is doing the rounds today based on a new paper:

No living mammal is more peculiar than the platypus. It has a broad, duck-like bill, thick, otter-like fur, and webbed, beaver-like feet. The platypus lays eggs rather than gives birth to live young, its snout is covered with electroreceptors that detect underwater prey, and male platypuses have a venomous spur on their hind foot. Until recently, the fossil record indicated that the platypus lineage was unique, with only one species inhabiting the Earth at any one time. This picture has changed with the publication of a new study in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that describes a new, giant species of extinct platypus that was a side-branch of the platypus family tree.

The new platypus species, named Obdurodon tharalkooschild, is based on a single tooth from the famous Riversleigh World Heritage Area of northwest Queensland. While many of Riversleigh’s fossil deposits are now being radiometrically dated, the precise age of the particular deposit that produced this giant platypus is in doubt but is likely to be between 15 and 5 million years old.

File:Platypus BrokenRiver QLD Australia2.png

Platypus BrokenRiver QLD Australia Wikimedia

But what I found far more interesting was the story from the Aborigine Dreamtime which is so much more attractive than any evolutionary history of this strange animal. The Dreamtime sounds fascinating – a kind of Brigadoon.

In the Dreamtime, Tharalkoo was a headstrong female duck who disobeyed her parents’ warnings not to swim downriver where Bigoon the water-rat could catch her and have his wicked way with her. Like anyone who disobeys their parents in a fairy story, things turn out exactly as they said they would and Tharalkoo is ravished by Bigoon. When she returns home, the other female ducks are all laying eggs, so she does the same. But instead of a baby duckling, Tharalkoo’s child is a chimera with the bill and webbed hind feet of a duck and the fur and front feet of a rodent – a platypus.

It is not hard to read between the lines that Tharalkoo had promiscuous tendencies and that Bigoon was the swaggering young tough who was the local heartthrob. Unlike Juliet, Tharalkoo got to having her offspring – which has since prospered. Presumably Bigoon fathered others for Tharalkoo’s child to mate with. What else Bigoon got up to and how he came to meet a nasty end (and there can be no doubt that he must have come to a nasty end) is unknown.


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