News Article | April 13, 2016
Andrew Plumptre is a senior conservationist in the Uganda Program at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Stuart Nixon is a conservationist at Chester Zoo in the U.K. who was working with Fauna & Flora International at the time these surveys were made. Radar Nishuli is chief park warden for the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo working for the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN). The authors contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights. The Rwandan genocide in 1994 forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which two years later became embroiled in a calamitous civil war — an estimated five million lives were lost there over the following seven years. Alongside the human tragedy, the war has taken its toll on DRC's wildlife, as lawlessness, a heightened illegal bushmeat trade and increased deforestation took hold. In 2011, the three institutions we worked for began a study to find out how those tragedies impacted the world's largest primate, the Grauer's gorilla. What we learned was shocking — a combination of illegal hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss from mining has led to a catastrophic collapse. Our research documents a devastating — nearly 80 percent — drop in the population of this gorilla subspecies, one of only four, from an estimated 17,000 individuals in 1995 to just 3,800 today. [World's Largest Gorillas Are at Risk (Photos )] Grauer's gorillas can weigh more than 400 pounds and are closely related to the better known mountain gorilla. Unlike mountain gorillas, which occupy the volcanic landscape at the intersection of the DRC, Uganda and Rwanda, this subspecies is restricted to the remote and politically troubled forests in the DRC's eastern regions. Our findings justify re-categorizing the Grauer's gorilla as "critically endangered" on the IUCN list of Threatened Species, highlighting the perilous position these great apes are in and the need to act now to prevent a further decline in numbers. The Grauer's would be the final gorilla subspecies to enter this category — the other three are already critically endangered. Our research results are significant not only for the light they shine on the crisis facing gorillas, but for the difficulty in collecting reliable data amid ongoing instability and armed conflict. Armed militias are present all across the Grauer's gorilla range, so in addition to making observations in accessible, safer, areas, we rigorously assessed information collected by local community members and rangers. The WCS and the Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN, DRC's national park service) have been supporting a system of data collection by park rangers and local community members that is entered in software called the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART). The SMART system enables conservationists to monitor human activity and sightings of key species, including gorillas. These data have been collected across the gorillas' range in parks, reserves and proposed community managed areas. The gorilla habitat in your mobile phone One reason Grauer's gorilla numbers have declined so dramatically is an explosion in mining for columbo-tantalite, or coltan, and other minerals in the gorilla's range. The tantalum extracted from coltan ore is used for the capacitors in mobile phones, laptop computers, gaming consoles, digital cameras — a wide range of popular products across the globe. Most of the mining is conducted at remote sites often controlled by armed militias, which means miners turn to local wildlife for food. Although protected by law, gorillas are highly prized as bushmeat due to their large size and because they are easily tracked and killed as they move in groups on the ground in their small home ranges. To bring back the Congo's devastated wildlife, including the Grauer's gorilla, mining must be controlled and the various armed groups that control mines disarmed. To accomplish that, mining must end in protected areas where it is illegal under national law. Four areas are now particularly crucial for the gorilla's survival: Kahuzi-Biega National Park; the adjacent Punia Gorilla Reserve in the west, where the WCS is supporting gorilla conservation; the Itombwe massif south of Kahuzi; and the remote, unprotected Usala Forest together with the Tayna Reserve to the north of Kahuzi, which because of poor security currently has no support. The Itombwe and Punia reserves together would protect about 60 percent of the remaining gorilla habitat outside protected areas. These reserves have community support, but have not yet been legally formalized. The WCS, WWF and AfriCapaciti, an African investment group with an emphasis on economic development and local empowerment, have been working in Itombwe with the local communities to map the boundaries of a proposed reserve in a participative approach. The boundaries have been approved by a provincial committee in South Kivu and all that remains is the legal signing of the "arrete" (a binding decree or judicial order) by the provincial governor of South Kivu. The WCS is starting a similar process with communities in the region for the Punia Gorilla Reserve. With community support for the conservation of the gorillas it will be easier to control the mining in these areas. Ultimately, the DRC government must actively secure and manage this region for both human welfare as well as the survival of the Grauer's gorilla. That means establishing strong coordination between the ICCN and the DRC military to tackle armed militias that control mining camps in the gorilla heartland. Other essential actions include: training, supporting and equipping eco-guards to tackle poaching more effectively; building intelligence networks; supporting the close daily monitoring of gorilla families to ensure their protection; and engaging customary chiefs who hold traditional power in the region to educate their communities to stop hunting these apes. Each of these actions require financing and while donor support to the region is reasonable (particularly through the USAID/CARPE, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and ARCUS Foundation), more resources are needed to provide the level of conservation needed. Where resources have been targeted at sufficient levels in the highland sector of the Kahuzi Biega National Park, gorilla numbers have increased since 2000, which show it is possible to reverse the decline. Global consumers also have a role to play, for the cellphones, video game consoles and other electronic devices we all enjoy and increasingly rely upon require many of the minerals whose extraction is driving the current threat to gorillas. Many suppliers in the commercial tuna industry have chosen to certify that no dolphins were killed as bycatch in the production of their product. We should demand that the consumer electronics industry do the same with respect to gorillas. The eastern Congo remains one of the most diverse places on Earth for wildlife, with gorillas representing the most iconic species of the region. But unless greater investment and effort is made by the DRC government, conservation community, donor community and the local communities who live with these apes we face the very real threat that this incredible primate could become extinct in the next 10 years. Gorillas are one of our closest living relatives and we have a duty to protect this magnificent and defenseless animal from extinction. The ICCN and its partners have shown that where sufficiently resourced they can protect the gorillas in the Kahuzi Biega National Park. Security in the region is also slowly improving. If we can act quickly there is the chance to save many of the remaining gorillas — but the actions need to happen now. Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science. 8 of the World's Most Endangered Places Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
News Article | January 2, 2016
I figured that this event should be marked in some way that’s different from usual. Combine it with the fact that my annual reviews always tend to be over-long and that I’m over-committed and unable to find time for blog-writing this month anyway, and the result is… a whole month dedicated to 10 years of Tet Zoo. If this quantity of gratuitous introspection and self-congratulation is too retchingly egoistic for you to handle, go away and check back next month. It’s a big deal for me and I can’t ignore it. Here’s how the whole thing is going to pan out. To begin with, I’m going to review the events and adventures of 2015. I’m then going to review the blog’s taxonomic coverage during 2015. This is the part where I beat myself up for not writing enough about amphibians and turtles and berate myself for being too focused on charismatic megafauna. And then I’ll finish things by musing about the role of Tet Zoo in the blogosphere. Some of this might be interesting, but at least there’ll be lots of pictures. To work. Some things were due to happen in 2015. The writing of two… three… four books. More fieldwork in Romania. Four conferences in the UK, all of which I was (in some way) involved with, assorted technical research projects, continual progress at the Tet Zoo patreon project (THANK YOU PATRONS!) and the TetZoopodcats podcasts… During February I attended (and spoke at) the SRA (= Scholarly Research of the Anomalous) conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. As I’m sure you already know, there’s a lot of science to do on anomalous phenomena no matter whether there’s validity in them or not – human belief systems, our perceptive abilities, the way we interpret data, ideas, concepts and so on are all rewarding areas of study regardless of whether sea monsters, bigfoot or UFOs exist. Highlights included Roger Musson on the Bala earthquake – yes, this is the same event as the Berwyn Mountain UFO incident – Bettina Bildhauer on monster beliefs of the Middle Ages, Mike Dash’s ‘Our Artist Pictures What the Witness Saw’ and Charles Paxton on eyewitness reliability and re-enactments of the Patterson film. My own talk was on the evolution of ideas about sea monsters: I’d talk more about it, but now is not the time and I think it’s covered in my new cryptozoology book anyway (on which more later). Thanks to Gordon Rutter and Charles Paxton for the invitation and for organising a great conference. I took advantage of my time in Edinburgh to visit the zoo. Bad weather (driving rain) meant that it wasn’t the best of outdoor experiences I’ve had, but at least I had close-up views of such animals as giant panda, binturong (yeah, sleeping), one-horned rhino, drill, douroucouli and cassowary. March saw the publication of a collaborative paper on a small azhdarchid pterosaur vertebra from Romania (Vremir et al. 2015). This is a significant specimen since it provides evidence for a new, small, relatively short-necked azhdarchid taxon that lived alongside the also small but long-necked Eurazhdarcho and the gigantic Hatzegopteryx. Incidentally, the published version of this paper does not reflect the look or feel of previous drafts – I’m not happy with the very text-heavy look of the final product… pages and pages of text and nothing else. A few other interesting things happened in March. I started work on a new dinosaur-themed book (co-authored with Paul Barrett of The Natural History Museum, London), caught up (briefly) with Steve Backshall while attending a talk he gave for the Winchester College Natural History Society, and went to a talk by Christine Janis on kangaroo anatomy. And I was absolutely thrilled to receive a review copy of Gordon Grigg and David Kirshner’s incredible Biology and Evolution of Crocodylians (Grigg & Kirshner 2015), one of the most significant zoological books of our time. My initial thoughts on the book are here and I still have to write a proper, long review for publication. By the end of March, I’d done enough work on The Big Book (aka The Vertebrate Fossil Record) to have another draft ready for sharing and viewing. I suppose at this stage that the book was over 50% complete. Already it was 553 pages long. April started with the pivotal Tet Zoo article on how the Chromatic Truthometer has shown the world that cetaceans are not the blacks, grey and browns so often assumed but, actually, multi-coloured beasts of many hues. I was in Romania at the time, doing fieldwork. I saw European bison Bison bonasus (captive, not wild), Syrian woodpecker Dendrocopus/Picoides syriacus, Valachian sheep (article here) and much else, and my colleagues and I succeeded in finding new Cretaceous dinosaur and pterosaur specimens. The Hoser Issue Once More Regular readers will be aware of the effort to minimise the vigorous taxonomic vandalism being practised by independent researcher and snake-keeper Raymond Hoser – I covered this issue at length back in June 2013. Hoser has named hundreds of new, or allegedly new, taxa (including ‘higher’ entities like subfamilies, families and so on) and wants his names to be accepted by the technical community. There are a whole list of reasons why this shouldn’t happen: not only are the names etymological monstrosities, they’re published in-house in a desktop magazine that can’t be considered at all acceptable in terms of technical standards. There have been several efforts over the years to get Hoser’s hundreds of proposed names stricken from the record. Unfortunately, the body that’s supposed to police and monitor taxonomic problems and disputes (the ICZN, the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature) simply won’t make rulings on situations of this sort on its own. Instead, communities of workers are required to resolve messes for themselves before steering the ICZN toward the making of an appropriate final decision. And so it was that a large number of people interested in the Hoser problem ganged together in order to encourage the ICZN to have Hoser’s primary taxonomic vehicle (his Australian Journal of Herpetology) listed as unavailable for the publication of new taxonomic names. The resulting paper – led by Anders Rhodin and involving Roger Bour, Frank Glaw, Colin Groves, Russell Mittermeier, Mark O’Shea, James Parham, Robert Sprackland, Laurie Vitt, E. O. Wilson, Hussam Zaher, myself and many others – was published in March (Rhodin et al. 2015). The aim of publishing an argument such as this is to solicit comments from other members of the community, the weight of consensus then affecting the ICZN’s eventual ruling. It’s Case 3601 and comments can be added here. Hoser is a perfectly sensible and normal individual. Just to prove this, he recently went through my entire twitter feed to find – and respond to – all the mentions of his good self. I’ll be covering the Hoser issue again at some point. The multi-author article denouncing the pterosaurian nature of ‘Thalassodromeus sebesensis’ – it’s actually a partial plastron of the turtle Kallokibotion – saw print in April (Dyke et al. 2015). April also saw Tet Zoo articles on Brontosaurus, on the artisan modification of live monitor lizards (thanks to Memo Kosemen for all his help with that), and my article Some of the Things I Have Gotten Wrong. I mean to do follow-up articles to that one: there are, you see, an awful lot of Things I Have Gotten Wrong, but I haven’t yet found the time. Remember: it’s normal to get things wrong, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that so long as you aim to change your mind and admit your mistakes the more you learn. April 27th was World Tapir Day, and I hastily covered it on Tet Zoo. I like tapirs. Did I mention that there’s a new one? This wasn’t the only perissodactyl-themed day of 2015. The bizarre new membranous-winged maniraptoran dinosaur Yi qi was published late in April and the Tet Zoo take on it proved one of the year’s most popular articles. As I said back then, some of the most interesting things about Yi qi weren’t really covered by other writers or scientists. One is that the possible existence of membranous-winged scansoriopterygids was predicted and in fact even published (in All Your Yesterdays) years prior to 2015. Another is that the ‘screaming dragon of death’ images so prevalent online probably do not accurately reflect what we know about the life appearance of this animal. It probably looked more like a bat-winged parrot. As has been tradition for the past few years, I and colleagues attended the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival during late April and early May. We spoke to people about Mesozoic marine reptiles, dinosaurs and other beasts. I spent time at the coast, photographing pipits, wagtails, pigeons and gulls, as is tradition. I wrote about the pigeons. Significant progress was made on several technical projects during May: on a sauropod-themed manuscript, an azhdarchid one that’s kind of a big deal, and another that involved reinterpreting the Romanian maniraptoran Balaur. I’m sure I’ll mention again that 2015 was one of the most frustrating years I’ve yet endured in that an incredible number of technical papers got to a very advanced stage in the long and tedious process of publication, only to stall or be derailed for one reason or another. Of the projects just listed, only one has made it to completion so far. Such is the nature of the beast when it comes to scientific publishing, but it doesn’t ever make it any easier, especially not when you have to pour your own hard-won free time – or have to take time away from paid work – into getting things done. While staying in north Wales in May, I (and my family) visited both Chester Zoo and the Welsh Mountain Zoo. At both of these fine zoos I did see a great many animals, some of which you can see here. While caving, I (and my son, Will) accidentally discovered a Lesser horseshoe bat colony. Disturbing a bat roost is a criminal offence here in the UK, but of course this only counts when people know that there’s a bat colony there in the first place. Rest assured that we acted in proper fashion. June at Tet Zoo started with an article about turtles. Ah, turtles. I really need to blog about them a whole lot more. Sorry turtles. The final proofs for the paper version of Witton & Naish (2015) were dealt with – another azhdarchid paper... (a digital preprint has been around since 2013). Of course, June was also the month in which a movie called Jurassic World was released. Like everyone else who works on Mesozoic dinosaurs, journalists sought me out for my opinion (I penned an opinion piece for CNN). I don’t rate Jurassic World at all. It’s a dumb film with a lazy storyline, it makes a point of poking fun at you if you have any affection for Jurassic Park, and it deliberately gives us hideous monsters because modern audiences only like dinosaurs, apparently, when they look like saggy-skinned throwbacks from the 1950s. I agree with whomever it was that compared ‘Indominus’ to Rudy from Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs. During May I’d already been quoted in the Sunday Times, the Mirror and various other UK papers, my primary lament being that Jurassic World simply could have been so much better as goes an innovative portrayal of Mesozoic animals. But, no. Stick with what’s safe. Cowards. The same sentiments were reflected via Brian Engh’s Build A Better Fake Theropod project, mentioned on Tet Zoo during June. And that’s where we’ll end things for now. More thoughts coming soon. For the previous Tet Zoo birthday articles, see... Dyke, G. J., Vremir, M., Brusatte, S., Bever, G., Buffetaut, E., Chapman, S., Csiki-Sava, Z., Kellner, A. W. A., Martin, E., Naish, D., Norell, M., si, A., Pinheiro, F. L., Prondvai, E., Rabi, M., Rodrigues, T., Steel, L., Tong, H., Vila Nova, B. C. & Witton, M. 2014. Thalassodromeus sebesensis – a new name for an old turtle. Comment on “Thalassodromeus sebesensis, an out of place and out of time Gondwanan tapejarid pterosaur”, Grellet-Tinner and Codrea. Gondwana Research 27, 1680-1682. Grigg, G. & Kirshner, D. 2015. Biology and Evolution of Crocodylians. Comstock Publishing Associates and CSIRO Publications. Rhodin, A. G. J., Kaiser, H., van Dijk, P. P., Wüster, W., O’Shea, M., Archer, M., Auliya, M., Boitani, L., Bour, R., Clausnitzer, V., Contreras-MacBeath, T., Crother, B. I., Daza, J. M., Driscoll, C. A., Flores-Villela, O., Frazier, J., Fritz, U., Gardner, A., Gascon, C., Georges, A., Glaw, F., Grazziotin, F. G., Groves, C. P., Haszprunar, G., Havaš, P., Hero, J. M., Hoffmann, M., Hoogmoed, M. S., Horne, B. D., Iverson, J. B., Jäch, M., Jenkins, C. L., Jenkins, R. K. B., Kiester, A. R., Keogh, J. S., Lacher Jr., T. E., Lovich, J. E., Luiselli, L., Mahler, D. L., Mallon, D., Mast, R., Mcdiarmid, R. W., Measey, J., Mittermeier, R. A., Molur, S., Mossbrugger, V., Murphy, R., Naish, D., Niekisch, M., Ota, J., Parham, J. F., Parr, M. J., Pilcher, N. J., Pine, R. H., Rylands, A. B., Sanderson, J. G., Savage, J., Schleip, W., Scrocchi, G. J., Shaffer, H. B., Smith, E. N., Sprackland, R., Stuart, S. N., Vetter, H., Vitt, L. J., Waller, T., Webb, G., Wilson, E. O., Zaher, H. & Thomson, S. 2015. Comment on Spracklandus Hoser, 2009 (Reptilia, Serpentes, ELAPIDAE): request for confirmation of the availability of the generic name and for the nomenclatural validation of the journal in which it was published. (Case 3601; see BZN 70: 234–237; 71: 30–38, 133–135, 181–182, 252–253). Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature 72 (1): 65-78. Vremir, M., Witton, M., Naish, D., Dyke, G., Brusatte, S. L., Norell, M. & Totoianu, R. 2015. A medium-sized robust-necked azhdarchid pterosaur (Pterodactyloidea: Azhdarchidae) from the Maastrichtian of Pui (Haeg Basin, Transylvania, Romania). American Museum Novitates 3827, 1-16.
News Article | April 4, 2016
The results of the report point to a 77% drop in gorilla numbers, from an estimated 17,000 in 1995 to just 3,800 individuals today. Grauer's gorillas – the world's largest gorilla subspecies weighing up to 400 pounds – are closely related to the better known mountain gorilla. The subspecies is restricted to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). ICCN, WCS, Fauna & Flora International and other partners are calling for the following additional actions to reverse the decline of Grauer's gorillas: The research design was led by experts from Fauna & Flora International and WCS, with data gathered from across the Grauer's gorilla range by a group of collaborating organisations. The report, funded by ARCUS Foundation analysing data collected with support from Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, KfW (German Development Bank), ICCN, Newman's Own Foundation, Rainforest Trust, UNESCO, USAID, US Fish and Wildlife Service and World Bank was presented at a press conference in Kinshasa. The authors of the report say that their findings justify re-categorising the Grauer's gorilla as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, highlighting the perilous position these great apes are in, and the need to act now to prevent a further decline in numbers. This would put all four gorilla subspecies in the Critically Endangered category. The decline in Grauer's gorillas can be traced back to the Rwandan genocide in 1994, which forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee to the DRC. This in turn led to the DRC civil war in 1996, which continued until 2003 with devastating consequences, including an estimated 5 million people killed. But beyond the human tragedy, the war has also taken its toll on the DRC's wildlife as a result of insecurity, heightened illegal bushmeat trade and increased deforestation. The authors of the report sought to assess the impact of the civil war on Grauer's gorilla numbers, which were estimated at 17,000 before the conflict. Field teams conducted widespread surveys, the most intensive ever for this ape, in regions beset by insecurity, searching for ground nests and other signs of this elusive ape. In addition, the authors employed a novel method that allowed them to rigorously assess data collected by local community members and rangers to estimate Gorilla abundance. The survey results confirmed their worst fears: numbers had plummeted to an estimated 3,800 individuals – a shocking 77% decline. One of the primary causes of the decline in Grauer's gorilla numbers has been the expansion in artisanal mining for coltan (a key mineral used in the manufacture of mobile phones and other electronics) and other minerals in the gorilla's range. Most of these artisanal mining sites are remote, which means that the miners often turn to local wildlife for food. Although protected by law, gorillas are highly prized as bushmeat due to their large size and because they are easily tracked and killed as they move in groups on the ground in their small home ranges. The authors say that halting and reversing the decline of Grauer's gorilla will take considerable effort and will require more funding than is currently available. Artisanal mining must be controlled and the various armed groups that control mines disarmed. To accomplish this, it will be necessary to halt mining in protected areas, as it is known that miners subsist on bushmeat and hunt gorillas around their camps. Three areas are now particularly crucial for the gorilla's survival: Kahuzi-Biega National Park, the adjacent Punia Gorilla Reserve, and the remote unprotected Usala Forest which has no support currently. The Itombwe Reserve and the Tayna regions also support highly-important outlying populations. It is critical to formally gazette the Itombwe and Punia Reserves, which have community support but are not yet legally established. "We urge the government of DRC to actively secure and manage this part of the country for both human welfare as well as the survival of this gorilla," said the study's lead author Andrew Plumptre of WCS. "Significantly greater efforts must be made for the government to regain control of this region of DRC. In particular, the government needs to quickly establish Reserve des Gorilles de Punia and the Itombwe Reserve, and reinforce Kahuzi-Biega National Park efforts, which have community support, and to establish strong coordination between ICCN and the DRC military to tackle armed militias that control mining camps in Grauer's gorilla heartland." Stuart Nixon of Fauna & Flora International (now at Chester Zoo where he has continued his analysis of the survey data), one of the co-authors involved in the study stated, "Grauer's gorilla is found only in the eastern Congo – one of the richest areas on our planet for vertebrate diversity. As one of our closest living relatives, we have a duty to protect this gorilla from extinction. Unless greater investment and effort is made, we face the very real threat that this incredible primate will disappear from many parts of its range in the next five years. It's vital that we act fast." Radar Nishuli, Chief Park Warden for the Kahuzi Biega National Park and another co-author, said: "What we have found in the field is extremely worrying. We are urging a strong and targeted response that addresses the following: Train, support and equip ecoguards to tackle poaching more effectively; build intelligence networks, and support the close daily monitoring of gorilla families to ensure their protection; engage customary chiefs who hold traditional power in the region to educate their communities to stop hunting these apes." Jefferson Hall, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and another co-author, said: "The bright spot in all this is that we have seen, over and over again, dedicated Congolese conservationists risk their lives to make a difference," said Hall. "Thanks to these individuals, there is still hope and the opportunity to save these animals and the ecosystems they represent."
News Article | August 12, 2016
British zookeepers were in for a rare treat as a clutch of approximately 200 Montserrat tarantulas successfully hatched at Chester Zoo in Cheshire. Zoo officials say the momentous event has never been achieved before, making Chester Zoo the first in the world to accomplish the hatching in captivity. The hatched tarantulas are native to the Caribbean island of Montserrat, but very little is known about them. That is, until now. In 2013, a dozen of these hairy brown spiders were brought to Chester Zoo by a keeper after observing them in the wild during several field trips. After three years of careful study and behavioral management, a female Montserrat tarantula gave birth to 200 baby spiders. Gerardo Garcia, curator of lower vertebrates at Chester Zoo, says whether scientists can synchronize sexual maturity between spiders is "kind of a race against time." One problem is the difference between the lifespan of female spiders and their male counterparts. According to Garcia, male Montserrat tarantulas often reach 2.5 years at the most, while female Montserrat tarantulas live much longer and mature much more slowly. The few male tarantulas that Garcia collected before were a precious resource, he says. Because of this, there were few nervous moments for the scientists when they began match-making. Indeed, as with many invertebrates, the encounters between male and female were more dangerous for the former. Garcia says that instead of being a partner, the female Montserrat spider might take the male as prey. The team observed a very tentative courtship ritual: the male spider drums out a special rhythm on the female's web, which has been spun near her burrow. Even after three positive encounters, Garcia and his colleagues were still anxiously waiting. Apparently, three pregnant female spiders disappeared. Garcia says the spiders dug a burrow on the ground and vanished. What's more, the tarantulas do not feed and do not show up so scientists could observe them. "[W]e don't know what's going on," says Garcia. "You just have to leave it for several months and see what happens." Eventually, however, spiders began popping out of the earth, says Garcia. From one single burrow with one female, about 200 tiny spiderlings crawled out. These baby spiders are the first of their species to be observed by scientists and are now being well taken care of at Chester Zoo. Garcia says they're keeping the baby spiders in individual pots. A staff feeds the spiders one by one with tiny flies, up until the critters can eat bigger prey like crickets. In 12 months' time, the Montserrat tarantulas might become part of a breeding program. Furthermore, the male spiders that mingled with female spiders have all died after breeding, so there are no adult male spiders left in the colony. Garcia and his team's work at Chester Zoo is a crucial step toward understanding the mysterious Montserrat tarantulas. In fact, the species has only been officially described based on a male specimen about 100 years ago. Garcia believes seeing the tarantula's complete life cycle will help scientists learn more about them. Watch the video below to see the spiders in action. © 2016 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
Agency: GTR | Branch: NERC | Program: | Phase: Research Grant | Award Amount: 508.60K | Year: 2013
Cooperative animal societies, in which adults help to rear offspring that are not their own, have been the focus of intense research because they can help to understand how cooperation can evolve in the face of natural selection for self-interest. However, this research has also revealed great unexplained variation between individuals in how much they contribute to teamwork and how much effort they invest in rearing offspring. A plausible explanation for this variation comes from research on laboratory animals showing that early life conditions have lifelong impacts on adult health and behaviour, suggesting that differences in helping effort among adults could be attributable to variation in their early life developmental experiences and nutrition. Our research will test this hypothesis using our long-term habituated study population of banded mongooses, a highly cooperative mammal which lives in mixed-sex groups of around twenty individuals throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This species is ideal for the task because there is extreme variation among individual group members in how much they contribute to raising communal litters of offspring, and extreme variation among offspring in how much care and food they receive from adults. We have built up a detailed database on the behaviour and reproductive success of over 2200 individuals which enables us to test the lifetime consequences of this variation in early life care, and we can carry out feeding experiments to test whether maternal nutrition during pregnancy has lifelong impacts on their offspring. We will also measure the underlying hormonal mechanisms which control cooperative behaviour, and test how sensitive these hormonal mechanisms are to early life experiences and maternal nutrition in utero. The output of the research will be an improved understanding of the causes of individual variation in cooperative behaviour, and improved knowledge of mammalian development in populations exposed to natural predators and pathogens.
News Article | August 22, 2016
(Reuters) - A clutch of around 200 rare Montserrat tarantulas have successfully hatched at a British zoo in what keepers hailed on Friday as a first in breeding such spiders. "Invertebrate keepers at the zoo are the first in the world to successfully breed the Montserrat tarantulas, marking a crucial step towards discovering more about the mysterious species," Chester Zoo said in a statement. Little is known about the spiders, which are native to the Montserrat island in the Caribbean. Experts had observed the adult tarantulas for three years and now hope to uncover more about the species.
News Article | February 4, 2016
Tuatara are believed to have been on Earth for 225 million years, before most dinosaur species existed, but until now had only been bred in New Zealand's offshore islands or in a handful of its mainland zoos. Chester Zoo keeper Isolde (PRON: Izz-older) McGeorge has spent 38 years trying to encourage the reptiles to reproduce. The new arrival came in December, weighing 4.21 grams, following a 238 day incubation period. The zoo waited until this week to check the infant's health before going public. "Breeding tuatara is an incredible achievement," said Isolde. "They are notoriously difficult to breed and it's probably fair to say that I know that better than most as it has taken me 38 years to get here. It has taken lots of hard work, lots of stressful moments and lots of tweaking of the conditions in which we keep the animals along the way but it has all been very much worth it." She added: "This animal has been on the planet for over a quarter of a billion years and to be the first zoo to ever breed them outside of their homeland in New Zealand is undoubtedly an amazing event." Tuatara, scientific name Sphenodon punctatus, only reproduce every four years, and McGeorge spent 12 years attempting to help mother Mustard and father Pixie procreate. Around 70 million years ago the species became extinct everywhere except New Zealand. The tuatara is revered in Māori culture and few people are given permission to visit the islands where they reside. It belongs to a group of animals commonly known as beak heads, or Rhynchocephalia. Arguably its most curious feature is a 'third eye' on the top of its head. Despite having a retina, cornea, lens and nerve endings, the eye is not used for seeing. McGeorge says the next challenge is to repeat the zoo's success and help increase numbers of this endangered species.
News Article | December 8, 2016
The population of the world's tallest land mammal, the giraffe, is shrinking. Chester Zoo says humans are to blame.
News Article | January 21, 2016
LONDON - The birth of a baby black rhino at Chester Zoo, in northern England, has been caught on camera. The zoo this week uploaded video onto social media of a male Eastern black rhino being born on Jan. 16. The birth was captured on the zoo's CCTV. A representative from the zoo said mum Ema Elsa and her baby were doing well.
News Article | February 26, 2017
It’s been a long journey for these rare tortoises, from the clutches of ruthless smugglers to a long-awaited debut in the U.K. Read: Giraffe Kicks Around a Soccer Ball at the Zoo: 'It's a Great Way for Him to Expel Energy' The four ploughshare tortoises, with shells so precious the species has been poached to existence, were rescued by the Chester Zoo from the hands of smugglers in 2009. At the time, they were part of a group of 13 tortoises confiscated by Hong Kong customs officials after they were illegally plucked from their native Madagascar. In 2012, the four were turned over to the Chester Zoo. "There’s a very real possibility the species could be lost forever due to illegal trafficking for the exotic pet trade," Dr. Gerardo Garcia of the Chester Zoo, said in a press release. "These tortoises are seen as the jewel in the crown of the reptile world." The ploughshare tortoises are recognized for their distinctive gold and black shells, and are highly coveted in the international black market. Read: Fuzzy, Furry Calf Has Internet Swooning and Swearing Off Meat According to the press release, officials estimate there may only be about 500 of the species left in the wild, making it one of the rarest animals on earth. The zoo now hopes the four ploughshare tortoises on display will help raise awareness for conservation efforts. Watch: Tortoise Is Still Considered Young as He Celebrates 50th Birthday With Watermelon Cake