Contains selective news articles I select

Archive for the ‘Animal Kingdom’ Category

Mysterious glowing coral reefs are fighting to recover

Southampton UK (SPX)

May 22, 2020

A new study by the University of Southampton has revealed why some corals exhibit a dazzling colorful display, instead of turning white, when they suffer ‘coral bleaching’ – a condition which can devastate reefs and is caused by ocean warming. The scientists behind the research think this phenomenon is a sign that corals are fighting to survive.

Many coral animals live in a fragile, mutually beneficial relationship, a ‘symbiosis’ with tiny algae embedded in their cells. The algae gain shelter, carbon dioxide and nutrients, while the corals receive photosynthetic products to fulfill their energy needs. If temperatures rise just 1?C above the usual summer maximum, this symbiosis breaks down; the algae are lost, the coral’s white limestone skeleton shines through its transparent tissue and a damaging process known as ‘coral bleaching’ occurs.

This condition can be fatal to the coral. Once its live tissue is gone, the skeleton is exposed to the eroding forces of the environment. Within a few years, an entire coral reef can break down and much of the biodiversity that depends on its complex structure is lost – a scenario which currently threatens the future of reefs around the world.

However, some bleaching corals undergo an, until now, mysterious transformation – emitting a range of different bright neon colors. Why this happens has now been explained by a team of scientists from the University of Southampton’s Coral Reef Laboratory, who have published their detailed insights in the journal Current Biology.

The researchers conducted a series of controlled laboratory experiments at the coral aquarium facility of the University of Southampton. They found that during colorful bleaching events, corals produce what is effectively a sunscreen layer of their own, showing itself as a colorful display. Furthermore, it’s thought this process encourages the coral symbionts to return.

Professor Jorg Wiedenmann, head of the University of Southampton’s Coral Reef Laboratory explains: “Our research shows colorful bleaching involves a self-regulating mechanism, a so-called optical feedback loop, which involves both partners of the symbiosis. In healthy corals, much of the sunlight is taken up by the photosynthetic pigments of the algal symbionts. When corals lose their symbionts, the excess light travels back and forth inside the animal tissue -reflected by the white coral skeleton. This increased internal light level is very stressful for the symbionts and may delay or even prevent their return after conditions return to normal.

“However, if the coral cells can still carry out at least some of their normal functions, despite the environmental stress that caused bleaching, the increased internal light levels will boost the production of colorful, photoprotective pigments. The resulting sunscreen layer will subsequently promote the return of the symbionts. As the recovering algal population starts taking up the light for their photosynthesis again, the light levels inside the coral will drop and the coral cells will lower the production of the colorful pigments to their normal level.”

The researchers believe corals which undergo this process are likely to have experienced episodes of mild or brief ocean-warming or disturbances in their nutrient environment – rather than extreme events.

Dr. Cecilia D’Angelo, Lecturer of Molecular Coral Biology at Southampton, comments: “Bleaching is not always a death sentence for corals, the coral animal can still be alive. If the stress event is mild enough, corals can re-establish the symbiosis with their algal partner. Unfortunately, recent episodes of global bleaching caused by unusually warm water have resulted in high coral mortality, leaving the world’s coral reefs struggling for survival.”

Dr. Elena Bollati, Researcher at the National University Singapore, who studied this subject during her PhD training at the University of Southampton, adds: “We reconstructed the temperature history of known colorful bleaching events around the globe using satellite imagery. These data are in excellent agreement with the conclusions of our controlled laboratory experiments, suggesting that colorful bleaching occurs in association with brief or mild episodes of heat stress.”

The scientists are encouraged by recent reports suggesting colorful bleaching has occurred in some areas of the Great Barrier Reef during the most recent mass bleaching there in March-April 2020. They think this raises the hope that at least some patches of the world’s largest reef system may have better recovery prospects than others, but emphasize that only a significant reduction of greenhouse gases at a global scale and sustained improvement in water quality at a regional level can save coral reefs beyond the 21st century.

Source: Terra Daily.

Link: https://www.terradaily.com/reports/Mysterious_glowing_coral_reefs_are_fighting_to_recover_999.html.

Bunnies to the rescue as virus hits Belgian chocolatiers

April 10, 2020

SINT-PIETERS BRUGGE, Belgium (AP) — Master chocolatier Dominique Persoone stood forlorn on his huge workfloor, a faint smell of cocoa lingering amid the idle machinery — in a mere memory of better times.

Easter Sunday is normally the most important date on the chocolate makers’ calendar. But the coronavirus pandemic, with its lockdowns and social distancing, has struck a hard blow to the 5-billion-euro ($5.5-billion) industry that’s one of Belgium’s most emblematic.

“It’s going to be a disaster,” Persoone told The Associated Press through a medical mask. He closed his shops as a precautionary measure weeks ago, and says “a lot” of Belgium’s hundreds of chocolate-makers, from multinationals to village outlets, will face financial ruin.

For the coronavirus to hit is one thing, but to do it at Easter — when chocolate bunnies and eggs are seemingly everywhere — doubles the damage. Yet amid the general gloom Belgians are allowing themselves some levity for the long Easter weekend.

Some producers, like Persoone’s famed The Chocolate Line, offer Easter eggs or bunnies in medical masks, while the country’s top virologist has jokingly granted a lockdown pass to the “essential” furry workers traditionally supposed to bring kids their Easter eggs.

For young and old here, Easter Sunday usually means egg hunts in gardens and parks, sticky brown fingers, the satisfying crack of an amputated chocolate rabbit’s ear before it disappears into a rapt child’s mouth.

“People love their chocolates, the Easter eggs, the filled eggs, the little figures we make,” said chocolatier Marleen Van Volsem in her Praleen shop in Halle, south of Brussels. “This is really something very big for us.”

The country has an annual per capita chocolate consumption of six kilograms (over 13 pounds), much of it scoffed during the peak Easter period. “It is a really big season because if we don’t have this, then we won’t … be OK for the year,” Van Volsem said.

Persoone makes about 20% of his annual turnover in the single Easter week. This year, reduced to web sales and pick-ups out of his facility in western Belgium while his luxury shops in tourist cities Bruges and Antwerp are closed? “2% maybe, if we are lucky — not even.”

Guy Gallet, chief of Belgium’s chocolate federation, expects earnings to be greatly reduced across the board this year. He said companies that sell mainly through supermarkets are doing relatively well but firms depending on sales in tourist locations, restaurants or airport shops “are badly hit.”

Persoone has a firm local base of customers but knows how tourists affect the books of so many chocolatiers. “Of course, we won’t see Japanese people or Americans who come to Belgium for a holiday,” he said. “I am afraid if we do not get tourists anymore it will be a disaster, even in the future.”

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some, especially older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and in some cases death. The immediate challenge is to keep the Easter spirit — and the chocolatiers’ craft — alive in these trying times.

A big part is humor and the use of medical masks made of white chocolate is an obvious one. Persoone puts them on eggs. “It is laughing with a hard thing. And on the other hand, we still have to keep fun, no? It is important to laugh in life.”

Genevieve Trepant of the Cocoatree chocolate shop in Lonzee, southeast of Brussels, couldn’t agree more. And like Persoone, who donated sanitary gel no longer needed in his factory to a local hospital, Trepant also thought of the needy.

That’s how the Lapinou Solidaire and its partner the Lapinou Confine — the Caring Bunny and the Quarantined Bunny, both adorned with a white mask — were born. Customers are encouraged to gift Trepant’s 12-euro ($13) bunnies to local medical staff to show their support. Part of the proceeds go to charity.

One of the country’s top coronavirus experts also knows the medical virtues of laughter. Professor Marc Van Ranst told Belgian children that their Easter treats weren’t at risk. Tongue well in cheek, he told public broadcaster VRT that the government had deeply pondered the issue of delivery rabbits’ movements in these dangerous times. The rabbits bring — Santa-like — eggs to the gardens of children, roving all over Belgium at a time when it is forbidden for the public at large.

“The decision was unanimous: it is an essential profession. Even the police have been informed that they should not obstruct the Easter bunny in its work,” he said. There was a proviso, though. “Rabbits will deliver to the homes of parents, not grandparents,” who are more at risk from COVID-19, Van Ranst said.

Un-baaaaa-lievable: Goats invade locked-down Welsh town

March 31, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Un-baaaaa-lievable: This wild bunch is completely ignoring rules on social distancing. With humans sheltering indoors to escape the new coronavirus, mountain goats are taking advantage of the peace and space to roam in frisky clumps through the streets of Llandudno, a town in North Wales.

Andrew Stuart, a video producer for the Manchester Evening News, has been posting videos of the furry adventurers on his Twitter feed and they are racking up hundreds of thousands of views. He said the goats normally keep largely to themselves, in a country park that butts up against Llandudno. But now emboldened by the lack of people and cars, the long-horned animals are venturing deeper into the seaside town. The U.K. has been in lockdown for the past week to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

“There’s no one around at the moment, because of the lockdown, so they take their chances and go as far as they can. And they are going further and further into the town,” Stuart told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday from his parents’ pub in Llandudno, where he is waiting out the pandemic.

His videos show the goats munching on people’s neatly trimmed hedges and trees in front yards and loitering casually on empty streets as if they own the place. “One of the videos on my Twitter shows that they were on a narrow side street and I was on the other side and they were scared of me. They were edging away from me. So they are still scared of people,” Stuart said. “But when there’s hardly anyone around on the big streets, they are taking their chances, they are absolutely going for it. And I think because it’s so quiet, and there’s hardly anyone around to scare them or anything, that they just don’t really care and are eating whatever they can.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

Grrrrr! Angry herders secure bear ban from France’s Macron

January 15, 2020

PARIS (AP) — The bears have cute names — Bubble, Feather, Snowflake and the like — and look so soft and huggable when caught on video by remote cameras that study their habits. But to herders high in the Pyrenees mountains of southwest France, the animals are stone-cold killers, ravaging flocks and undermining farming livelihoods.

Pyrenean livestock farmers who raise sheep for meat and famously pungent cheeses are rejoicing after getting an assurance from President Emmanuel Macron that he won’t authorize the release into the wild of any more of the bears blamed for a surge in deadly attacks.

“He promised that the re-insertions (of bears) are finished, that he won’t release any more,” said Jean-Pierre Pommies, who raises sheep and cows. Pommies wore his broad farmer’s beret to Tuesday’s meeting with the suit-and-tied Macron in Pau, a Pyrenean town with sweeping views of the mountains.

“He was able to understand that it’s a big problem for us,” Pommies added. “We have reached the bottom, and the situation was ridiculous for Pyrenean herders.” When France’s last pocket of brown bears appeared headed for extinction in the Pyrenees in the 1990s, the country began importing animals from Slovenia, where the population is booming. A total of eight were freed into the wild in 1996, 1997 and 2006. Another release of two Slovenian female bears — Claverina and Sorita — followed in 2018, the first first full year of Macron’s presidency.

The population is now estimated at around 40 bears, doubling its size since 2010 and roaming over a long and expanding swath of the mountains that form the border between France and Spain, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Bear attacks on livestock have grown, too. Having long been largely stable, mostly between 100 and 200 attacks per year across the Pyrenees, including Spain, France and Andorra, they surged to close to 400 in 2018, according to the most recent official annual report.

Herders who suffered included one of Pommies’ friends, whose flock was devastated in an attack last year, he said. The sheep took fright and plunged off a cliff together. “There were 256 piled up at the bottom,” he said. “They had to finish some of them off with their knives. For us shepherds, that is traumatic.”

He believes the presence of the predators is simply “incompatible” with the Pyrenean mountain economy that rests largely on herding. “I love bears. I’m passionate about them as animals. But I love that they live happily in Yellowstone, in Canada, in Romania and Slovenia,” he said. In the Pyrenees, “the people who are pro-bear say that it used to work for the old timers, that they used to deal with it. And that is completely false. History shows that men have always killed them.”

The Pyrenees are only one of the battlegrounds in Europe over efforts to preserve wild fauna and flora. In France’s other major mountain range, the Alps, wild wolves that also prey on flocks are a persistent source of tension between herders and those opposed to the deployment of large dogs to keep wolf packs at bay.

In Germany, wolves have been a source of political friction. The far-right opposition Alternative for Germany party accused the government of failing to defend farmers’ interests against the 75 wolf packs counted there in 2018. There is also debate in Belgium about the reappearance of wolves after infrared cameras spotted a pair together in woods and a pregnant wolf was killed in northern Belgium last summer.

Slovenia’s brown bear population is so plentiful that authorities are culling the animals that are becoming a headache for farmers, raiding beehives and even attacking people in the small Alpine state. Around 170 bears were shot in 2019, said Damjan Orazem, the Forest Service director.

Herders including Pommies pounced on Macron to talk about the Pyrenees’ bears when the French leader turned up at the Tour de France last year on a day when the bicycle race swung through the peaks. Pommies said he threatened to release his animals into the riders’ path unless Macron agreed to a meeting. That brief encounter elicited a pledge from Macron that he’d hold talks with them at length at a later date, an offer he made good on this week.

Emmanuelle Wargon, a deputy environment minister who attended the meeting, told broadcaster Sud Radio that Macron “reaffirmed that we don’t have any plans to reintroduce (more) bears,” adding: “It was important to tell them this.”

For bear preservationists, herders are greatly exaggerating the risk posed by the predators. Alain Reynes, director of the group Country of the Bear, said he believes the actual number of animals killed by bears is far smaller than the 1,500, mostly sheep, that Pyrenean herders claim they lost last year.

Reynes also said that Macron’s moratorium on bear releases can’t last, because France is obliged by European law to ensure that the bear population remains viable. “The president can only speak for the period of his mandate,” he said. “There have always been bears. The history in the Pyrenees is one of cohabitation, even if it hasn’t always been easy. … There have been bears in Europe for 250,000 years. This is their space.”

Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Strasbourg, France; Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Serbia, and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed to this report.

Locust outbreak, most serious in 25 years, hits East Africa

January 17, 2020

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The most serious outbreak of locusts in 25 years is spreading across East Africa and posing an unprecedented threat to food security in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, authorities say. Unusual climate conditions are partly to blame.

The locust swarms hang like shimmering dark clouds on the horizon in some places. Roughly the length of a finger, the insects fly together by the millions and are devouring crops and forcing people in some areas to bodily wade through them. Near the Kenyan town of Isiolo on Thursday, one young camel herder swung a stick at them, with little effect. Others tried to shout them away.

An “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity has been reported in Kenya, the East African regional body reported this week. One swarm measured 60 kilometers (37 miles) long by 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide in the country’s northeast, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development said in a statement.

“A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer,” it said. “Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometers in a day. An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people.”

The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, also has affected parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea and IGAD warns that parts of South Sudan and Uganda could be next.

The outbreak is making the region’s bad food security situation worse, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has warned. Hundreds of thousands of acres of crops have been destroyed. Already millions of people cope with the constant risk of drought or flooding, as well as deadly unrest in Ethiopia, extremist attacks in Somalia and lingering fighting in South Sudan as it emerges from civil war.

The further increase in locust swarms could last until June as favorable breeding conditions continue, IGAD said, helped along by unusually heavy flooding in parts of the region in recent weeks. Major locust outbreaks can be devastating. A major one between 2003 and 2005 cost more than $500 million to control across 20 countries in northern Africa, the FAO has said, with more than $2.5 billion in harvest losses.

To help prevent and control outbreaks, authorities analyze satellite images, stockpile pesticides and conduct aerial spraying. In Ethiopia, officials said they have deployed four small planes to help fight the invasion.

But one approach backfired in Kenya in recent days when the agriculture minister asked people to post photos on social media of suspected locusts, or “nzige” in Swahili. A mocking series of images of warthogs, cats, lizards and other beasts followed, with pleas for help in identifying them, and the appeal was ended.

Anna reported from Johannesburg.

3 women investigated for causing deadly blaze at German zoo

January 02, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — Three women are under investigation in Germany for launching paper sky lanterns for the new year which apparently ignited a devastating fire that killed more than 30 animals at a zoo, officials said Thursday.

The three local women — a mother and her two daughters, ages 30 to 60 — went to police in the western city of Krefeld on New Year’s Day after authorities held a news conference about the blaze, criminal police chief Gerd Hoppmann said.

The women are being investigated on suspicion of negligent arson, prosecutor Jens Frobel said. The offense can carry a prison sentence of up to five years. Many Germans welcome in the new year legally with fireworks at midnight. Sky lanterns, however, are both illegal and unusual in Germany. The mini hot-air balloons made of paper have been used in Asia for centuries.

The fire started in a corner of the ape house’s roof in the first minutes of the new year and spread rapidly. The zoo near the Dutch border says the ape house burned down and more than 30 animals — including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys — were killed, as well as fruit bats and birds. The animals either burned to death or died from smoke inhalation, authorities said.

Hoppmann said the women had ordered five sky lanterns on the internet and told authorities that they had believed they were legal in Germany. He added that there was nothing in the product description showing that they were banned.

Hoppmann described the women as “completely normal people who seemed very sensible, very responsible” and said it was “very courageous” of them to come forward, saving authorities a tricky investigation. He added that they feared reprisals and authorities limited the details given about the suspects.

Investigators believe that just one lantern started the blaze. They found the other four later, with handwritten good wishes for the new year attached. The destroyed ape house lacked fire detectors and sprinklers, which weren’t required when it was built in the 1970s. The zoo said, however, that it had passed a regular fire protection check a few months ago.

The building’s roof had been renovated after a hailstorm a few years ago and plexiglass was added, Hoppmann said. He said while investigators were confident the sky lantern was to blame, they will look at other factors that may have contributed to the blaze, such as dry fallen leaves on the roof.

Investigators plan to carry out tests to help find out why the blaze spread so quickly. Firefighters were only able to rescue two chimpanzees. The zoo said Thursday it was satisfied with their condition.

Fire kills animals at zoo in western Germany

January 01, 2020

BERLIN (AP) — A fire at a zoo in western Germany killed a large number of animals in the early hours of the new year, authorities said. They did not comment on local media reports that the fire was started by celebratory fireworks.

The Krefeld zoo near the Dutch border said the entire ape house burned down and all the animals inside are dead. The dpa news agency, quoting officials, said the dead animals included chimpanzees, orangutans and two gorillas, as well as fruit bats and birds.

The zoo said the nearby Gorilla Garden didn’t go up in flames, however. Gorilla Kidogo and his family are alive, the zoo wrote on Facebook early Wednesday. “An unfathomable tragedy hit us shortly after midnight.” the zoo said. “Our ape building burned down to the foundation.”

Both the zoo and the city said that they didn’t know the cause of the fire and that police are investigating. Officials would not confirm reports by local media that New Year’s fireworks could have caused the blaze. The zoo will remain closed on Wednesday.

Tag Cloud