Beauty of Nature

>> Saturday, August 30, 2008


Lonely gibbon goes to forest to live with partner

>> Wednesday, August 20, 2008

She learnt to watch TV, reacted to pictures of food in magazines and even ate with a spoon -- but in the end she went to live in the woods with her partner.

Her name is Siloni, a female captive-reared Hoolock Gibbon, who in a first-ever success story of rehabilitation of the rare ape in India was released in the wild after being reared in a temporary enclosure till her sexual maturity and subsequent matrimony with a male in the Kaziranga National Park.

"The animal has conceived and we are expecting the baby within a few months. Foresters are monitoring the movement of the couple and everything is normal," the park's director, Suren Buragohain, said.

Siloni was rescued from a temple in Assam's Golaghat district by Buragohain when he was the Divisional Forest Officer there in 2003.

"She was in an injured condition when I brought it from a priest. I took her to my home and nurtured it. She had developed acquaintance with humans as she had learnt to watch TV, react to pictures in books and even eat with a spoon," the director said.


World's smallest snake in Barbados

>> Saturday, August 16, 2008

A US scientist has discovered the globe's tiniest species of snake in the easternmost Caribbean island of Barbados, with full-grown adults typically stretching less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) long.

S. Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Penn State University whose research teams also have discovered the world's tiniest lizard in the Dominican Republic and the smallest frog in Cuba, said the snake was found slithering beneath a rock near a patch of Barbadian forest.

Hedges said the tiny-title-holding snake, which is so diminutive it can curl up on a US quarter, is the smallest of the roughly 3,100 known snake species. It will be introduced to the scientific world in the journal ' Zootaxa " on Monday.

"New and interesting species are still being discovered on Caribbean islands, despite the very small amount of natural forests remaining," said Hedges, who christened the miniature brown snake "Leptotyphlops carlae" after his herpetologist wife, Carla Ann Hass.

The Barbadian snake apparently eats termites and insect larvae, but nothing is yet known of its ecology and behaviour. Genetic tests identified the snake as a new species, according to Hedges. It is not venomous.

Zoologist Roy McDiarmid, curator of amphibians and reptiles at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, said he has seen a specimen of the diminutive creature. He saw no reason to argue with the assertion that it is the world's smallest snake.

McDiarmid said the Barbados creature is a type of thread snake, also called worm snake, which are mostly found in the tropics. "We really know very little about these things," he said in a Sunday telephone interview from his Virginia home.

Finding the globe's tiniest snake demonstrates the remarkable diversity of the ecologically delicate Caribbean. It also illustrates a fundamental ecological principle: Since Darwin's days, scientists have noticed that islands often are home to both oversized and miniaturised beasts.

Hedges said the world's smallest bird species, the bee hummingbird, can be found in Cuba. The globe's second-smallest snake lives in Martinique. At the other end of the scale, one of the largest swallowtail butterflies lives in Jamaica.

Scientists say islands often host odd-sized creatures because they're usually inhabited by a less diverse set of species than continents. So island beasts and insects often grow or shrink to fill ecological roles that otherwise would be filled by entirely different species.


Thai farmers beat costly fuel with water buffalo

>> Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Struggling to cope with soaring food and fuel prices, Thai rice farmers are swapping diesel-fuelled tractors for water buffalo, the beasts used for ploughing the paddy fields for centuries.

Despite benefiting from rising rice prices this year, farmers in northeastern parts of Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, say the soaring costs of fertiliser have also prompted them to rely more on manure to nourish their soil.

"Farmers can never keep up with skyrocketing prices of fuel and fertiliser, so they are now depending on buffalo again," said Thongbai Gaewwan, who has been working with the government to promote buffalo raising in the region.

With support from Bangkok, farmers in Hinkone village, 450 km (280 miles) northeast of the capital, have started to turn back the clock to the old days when buffalo were widely used for labour, fertiliser and meat.

The number of buffalo in the village now stands at 250, from a mere 50 in 2003, thanks to a project by the Livestock Development Department to lend farmers a buffalo and take a calf back as a rental fee, Thongbai said.

Thai farmers abandoned buffalo in the quest for better returns, as machinery was considered a more efficient way of ploughing. Now some believe buffaloes are more cost-effective.

"When people saw tractors working all day and buffalo stopping when the sun gets strong, they switched to iron buffalo," said farmer Arn Saigrasoon, who recently switched back to buffalo from two-wheeled diesel tractors. "But when buffalo leak in the field, their waste becomes fertiliser. When tractors leak, we lose money in fuel waste," Arn said.

Buffalo maintenance costs are very low as their "fuel" is grass and medicine comes from livestock officials. Unlike tractors, they are also not prone to getting stuck in the muddy rice paddy, Arn said.

Owners of the diesel-powered, hand-steered tractors who contract plough for farmers say they can only charge 10 percent more than they did last year despite a rise of as much as 50 percent in diesel prices since the start of the year.

"My business is in a critical condition," 51-year-old tractor contractor Chanthong Seeon said, blaming the switch to buffalo power for his woes. Six more buffalo in the village are being trained this year for ploughing, and the number of people learning to work with them is rising, Thongbai said. He also disputed the popular perception that buffalo lack intelligence, although conceded they could be very disobedient.

"Most people will call someone 'dumb as a buffalo', but buffalo trainers call disobedient animals 'stubborn as people,'" he said.


First commercially cloned pet dog

>> Sunday, August 10, 2008

An America woman blinked back tears of joy on Tuesday as she cuddled puppies cloned in South Korea from her beloved former pit bull terrier.

"This is a miracle," said Bernann McKinney from Hollywood in California, hugging five clones of Booger at Seoul National University’s veterinary school.

RNL Bio, the company which arranged the re-creation of Booger through his refrigerated ear tissue, hailed the event as the world's first commercial cloning of a pet dog. "This is my first birthday present. These guys gave me the best present," said McKinney, a movie scriptwriter who turns 58 on Wednesday.

The five clones were born from two surrogate mothers on July 28, said Ra Jeong-Chan, CEO of RNL Bio which has launched a commercial dog cloning service in cooperation with the Seoul National University (SNU) scientists.

"They are perfectly the same as their daddy. I am in heaven here. I am a happy person," McKinney said, recalling her years with Booger who saved her life by chasing off a ferocious mastiff which bit her severely.

She said she would consider training some of the pups as service dogs for the handicapped or elderly when they arrive at her home in September. McKinney said she had contacted South Korean experts after a US company failed to re-create Booger.


Global warming threatens indigenous people

Global warming and limited access to land and other resources threaten many indigenous peoples, the UN food agency warned Friday.

"Indigenous peoples are among the first to suffer from increasingly harsh and erratic weather conditions, and a generalised lack of empowerment to claim goods and services," said indigenous people’s expert Regina Laub of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Many indigenous groups live in vulnerable environments such as mountainous areas, the Arctic, jungles or dry lands, added the FAO statement released on the eve of the International Day for the World's Indigenous Peoples.

The FAO noted that native populations also played a critical role in adapting to climate change.

Indigenous communities are often the custodians of unique knowledge and skills, the Rome-based agency noted, adding that some 80 percent of the world's remaining biodiversity "that may be vital in adapting to climate change" is found within their territories.

The world's indigenous people’s population is estimated at 370 million, representing at least 5,000 different groups in more than 70 countries.

"Defending the recovery of ancestral lands, the self-determination of indigenous peoples and their human rights is at the core of their claims," the statement added.


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