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The population of the world's largest ape has collapsed over the last two decades. Fewer than 4,000 Grauer's gorillas remain in the wild, and now conservationists warn that the animals are at risk of extinction. Officials from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced Sunday (Sept. 4) that they're raising the threatened status of the Grauer's gorilla from "endangered" to "critically endangered," the highest category before extinction. "Critical endangered status will raise the profile of this gorilla subspecies and bring attention to its plight," Andrew Plumptre, the lead author of the new listing, said in a statement. "It has tended to be the neglected ape in Africa, despite being the largest ape in the world." [Image Gallery: 25 Primates in Peril] Grauer's gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri) are a subspecies of the eastern gorilla. They are found in fragmented forest habitats in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they mainly subsist on fruit and other plants and can grow up to 5.5 feet (168 cm) tall and weigh up to 440 lbs. (200 kg). Earlier this year, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Fauna and Flora International released a report documenting a77-percent drop in the number of Grauer's gorillas over the span of a single generation, from an estimated 17,000 individuals in 1995 to 3,800 today. The authors of the report pointed to bushmeat hunting and civil war in the DRC as major drivers of the population collapse and recommended that the species be listed as critically endangered. The new listing means that all gorillas —including eastern and western gorillas —are now considered critically endangered. The other subspecies of the eastern gorilla is the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei), which is already listed as critically endangered. The population of mountain gorillas has, however, been increasing. There are now an estimated 880 individuals, up from about 300 in 2008, according to the IUCN's latest data. The changes to the IUCN's Red List of Threatened Species were announced at the organization's World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. Among the other species whose threatened status was raised was the plains zebra (Equus quagga), which was once considered a species of "least concern" but is now "near threatened." The animal's population in Africa dropped by 24 percent over the past 14 years, from around 660,000 individuals to just over 500,000 animals, mostly due to hunting, according to the IUCN. In a bit of good news, the giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), which had been listed as endangered since 1990, had its status downgraded to "vulnerable." The IUCN lauded conservation efforts that have helped boost the panda population in China, but warned that climate change could wipe out a large chunk of the bears’ bamboo habitat during the next century. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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
Site: www.scientificamerican.com

Last year researchers working in Ghana made a startling discovery: the illegal pet trade and rampant deforestation had all but wiped out the African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus and P. timneh) in that country. Many populations had fallen to as low at 1 percent of their historic levels. Other sites were completely devoid of the once common birds. Could the same thing happen in other countries? Conservationists working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have issued a warning that thousands of these valuable parrots—which can ultimately sell for up to $2,000 or more apiece—are being stolen from the wild in that country every month. They are shipped and stored in tiny, dirty cages and smuggled by air to buyers around the world. Many parrots do not survive their perilous illegal journeys. How is it possible to capture so many of these birds before they fly away? It turns out the birds’ own behavior works against them. “Parrots are hyper social,” explains primatologist and filmmaker Cintia Garai, who has spent the past few years in the DRC. “They roost communally and come down in flocks to clearings.” Trappers, she says, find these aggregations and can capture dozens of parrots at a time. “Trappers also climb trees and use decoy parrots,” she adds. “They tie them on branches on the trees and use glue to capture the birds that come to socialize with this bird.” Although at least one province in the DRC has banned parrot captures and trade, it still continues in many areas, including at least one airport that helps to smuggle the birds to middle-men in other countries before they get further shipped to willing buyers. “We have been able to determine in some cases that the parrots go to a small number of identified exporting agents,” Garai says. “As for foreign destinations, we can’t ourselves track these, but colleagues in World Parrot Trust have indicated that DRC parrots go to South Africa and several Middle Eastern destinations, among others.” All of this trade came to Garai’s attention while she was working on bonobo conservation with the TL2 Project (named after the Tshuapa, Lomami and Lualaba Rivers) of the Lukuru Foundation. “I am still a bonobo conservationist, but the parrot crisis was too big and right in front of us,” she says. “I became involved in the African grey parrot situation as it became more and more pressing, with more and more confiscations in the region, and I could see birds suffering and dying. We could not ignore this.” Garai even produced a short documentary about the crisis, which you can see below: Protecting the birds, Garai says, is just one step in protecting everything that lives in the same region. “I learned during the years that if I want to do something for the bonobos, I need to focus on their environment, the forest and its other creatures, and the work has to be started and conducted together with the people living in the area,” she says. “This is something I am learning from John and Terese Hart,” the leaders of the TL2 Project. “Conservation is about changing the attitude and the behavior of local communities toward the wildlife and the forest.” Although the United States and other countries have proposed banning all African grey parrot commerce under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species—a vote is expected later this month—Garai expressed worry about the fate of the birds within the DRC, saying the country “views its parrots as a potentially exploitable resource. They have shown almost no capacity or political will to manage this exploitation.” Beyond the commerce itself, there is also little funding or expertise available to help rehabilitate any birds that have been rescued from the trade. “Taking care of the confiscated parrots requires experts such as veterinarians and experienced caretakers specialized in rehabilitation, a network for transportation of the confiscated birds in the least stressful way to a suitable place, and last but not least, financial resources,” Garai says. “None of these is available in the region at the moment.” She said she hopes her film will inspire other organizations to take the necessary steps to help protect these birds, something that neither the TL2 Project nor the DRC’s government agency, the Congolese Nature Conservation Institute, has the ability to accomplish on their own. African grey parrots can persist in DRC and other countries given the chance. Unlike Ghana, which lost most of its parrot habitat to agriculture, Garai says the birds’ range in the Congo hasn’t faced the same extent of deforestation. “The range is still very large,” she says. Whether there will continue to be enough birds left to fill that range will remain an open question.

News Article | January 19, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

Humans have a weird relationship to robots: We're not sure if we love or fear them. Whether you grew up with Rosie, the robot maid from The Jetsons, or the terrifying but stilted approach of the Terminator, chances are you've got a vivid picture in your head of what the world would be like if robots were in our everyday lives. This week, the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (FIHMC) released a video of its newest family member at work: a humanoid robot that can clean, build and perform creepily human-like movements. But the robot, named Atlas, can do more than clean up batteries (classic robots, spilling batteries, am I right?) and vacuuming. Atlas was also the lab's formal entry into the DARPA Robotics Challenge. DARPA is the government agency which sponsors the challenge to stimulate innovative solutions to natural disasters, giving participating schools increasingly difficult challenges. According to FIHMC's website, it developed its robot's capabilities in the hope of not only meeting this challenge, but doing so with a humanoid machine, with the team focusing on the model's walking algorithm and its user interface with the human operator. The challenge did not require that the machines be human-like (in fact, there are several good reasons why quadrupedal machines might have an advantage), but FIHMC says its "focus on humanoid robots is rooted in a simple concept: Because the robots will be working in environments built for humans, a human-like robot is best-suited to the challenges involved." For example, entering a nuclear power plant during a disaster, and shutting down machinery. Seven of the 25 teams in the competiton used the upgraded Atlas robot from Boston Dynamics, with each team's software, user interface, and strategy distinguishing its model's abilities. Fifteen different commercial and custom physical robot forms got an outing at the DRC finals. And how did the IHMC team's robot do? In the challenge, he came in second, bringing home a cool $1 million, probably to buy all his robot pals some oil cocktails. Now the team's 6 foot, 2 inch, 345-pound Atlas model robot is back at home, and doing what all of us do after we neglect our personal lives for a big project: He's cleaning house.

World-leading nanoelectronics research center imec presents at OFC 2016, the international event for both the science and business of optical communications held March 20-24, performance improvements of various key building blocks of its wafer-scale integrated silicon photonics platform (iSiPP). The new results expand imec's iSiPP device portfolio to support 50Gb/s non-return-to-zero (NRZ) lane rates, and are an important milestone for the realization of high data rate silicon integrated optical interconnects targeting high density, high bandwidth, low power telecom and datacom transceivers, as well as for low cost large volume applications such as sensors or LiDAR. Through process and design optimizations, imec has improved the operating speed of the silicon based traveling-wave mach-zehnder modulators and ring modulators to reach 50Gb/s NRZ lane rates. In addition, a C-band GeSi electro-absorption modulator was developed with electro-optical bandwidth beyond 50GHz, enabling NRZ modulation at 56Gb/s and beyond.  All modulator types can be driven with competitive drive voltages of 2Vpp or below, enabling compatibility with power efficient CMOS driver circuits. The responsivity of the high-speed Ge photodetectors has been improved to 1A/W, enabling highly sensitive 50Gb/s NRZ receivers both in the C-band and the O-band. Also, edge coupling structures were developed for broadband optical coupling to high-NA and lensed fiber with less than 3dB insertion loss in the C-band. Moreover, designers can exploit the superior patterning fidelity provided by 193-nm lithography, enabling robust active and passive waveguide devices. The 50Gb/s components are included in imec's 200mm silicon photonics multi-project wafer (MPW) offer, and are supported by a Process Design Kit (PDK). The MPW service is available via Europractice IC service and MOSIS, a provider of low-cost prototyping and small volume production services for custom ICs. Imec's active iSiPP50G run is now open for registration (deadline June 28th 2016) with first wafers out in January 9th 2017. Imec also provides technology customization options with dedicated wafer fabrication services supported by a PDK. This service enables the use of full-size reticles, delivery of full wafers, and access to specialty modules enabling high efficiency integrated heaters, MOSCAP devices and flip-chip assembly amongst others. The PDK's have been validated with silicon data, based on a minimum of two process runs for most of the components, and describe the process and device performance statistics. They are supported in various EDA environments and include DRC, supporting first-time right designs.

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