Latest Zoo & Conservation News
Week ending September 3, 2011

Compiled by:
Library Staff
San Diego Zoo Global

In this week's news (local news in red):

San Diego Zoo scientists relocate California ground squirrels to improve burrowing owl habitat
August 24, 2011

More than 350 California ground squirrels (Otospermophilus beecheyi) have been relocated to three other San Diego County sites, as part of a conservation program designed to improve burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) habitat. Scientists from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research hope the ground squirrels, which "play a critical role as grassland engineers", will create homes for the owls. The goals for the project are to develop "a model that addresses habitat needs, genetic viability and conservation threats such as loss of habitat due to development and invasive species. In this first year, San Diego Zoo Global scientists hope to create suitable habitat that is self-sustaining by restoring a more intact, functional ecosystem."

Full press release:

Dolly scientist working on cloning Scottish wildcats
August 25, 2011

Dr. Bill Ritchie, who was part of the breakthrough cloning project 15 years ago that produced Dolly the sheep, is now working on a project to clone Scottish wildcats (Felis silvestris grampia). It is estimated that only about 400 of these cats exist in the wild, as their population has been decreased by disease, habitat loss, and inter-breeding with domestic cats. Skin cells from the wildcats and eggs from domestic cats, a byproduct of spaying, will be used in the cloning process. Successful cloning has already been done with domestic cats and wolves.

Full article:

New Wings over Wetland web-based conservation mapping tools
August 25, 2011

The Wings over Wetland (WOW) project is "the largest flyway scale waterbirds conservation initiative ever attempted, covering the 118 countries included in the range of the African-Eurasian Waterbirds Agreement." WOW has created the award-winning "Critical Site Network (CSN) Tool" and a "Flyaway Training Kit (FTK)." The CSN Tool will provide data to improve understanding of waterbird migration.

From the article:

Selected as one of the best web-based conservation mapping tools, from over 100 entries, the CSN Tool is being increasingly featured in birding and conservation magazines and winning global awards since its launch in 2010. This online conservation tool features 294 species of waterbirds and covers all the known important sites upon which they depend (n.b. access is free, on the WOW website).

Users can now gain quick one-stop access to all existing relevant information about migratory waterbirds and their critical migration sites, used for rest and refuel during their journey, and this is all greatly simplified through a user-friendly interface. The improved access to existing information can now significantly help conservation efforts, but will also facilitate the implementation of international environment agreements, such as the AEWA and the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. It is a useful resource for a range of different users from site managers to national authorities and international organizations.

Migratory waterbirds often feel the impact of climate change before other species, and with an estimated 50 billion migratory birds annually, a better undersanding of these migrations will help make more informed decisions on wetlands habitats. More information, direct access to all the WOW flyways tools described in this article, and contacts, can be found at:

Full article:

Butterfly species radiation in the Caribbean studied with 'DNA Barcoding'
August 25, 2011

Using DNA barcoding, Andrei Sourakov (University of Florida, Florida Museum of Natural History) and Evgeny Zakharov (University of Guelph, Canadian Centre for DNA Barcoding at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario), studied Satyrinae butterflies found only in the Caribbean, focusing on the genus Calisto.

From the article:

The satyrine butterfly genus Calisto is the most notable of them, because it has the largest number of extant species compared to other butterfly genera found in the region. Until the present revision, Calisto had comprised 54 named taxa, which occupy an extremely diverse array of habitats, suggestive of adaptive radiation on the scale of other classic examples, such as the Galápagos or Darwin's finches.

The authors of the study applied a new set of molecular characters to clarify the classification and evolution of Calisto butterflies. The 'DNA barcoding' technique is based on the analysis of short, standardized gene region within mitochondrial DNA, and provides an efficient method for species identification. As a result, Calisto now contains 34 species and 17 subspecies and new data shed light on the general evolutionary history of the genus.

The degree of genetic divergence indicates dispersal events and adaptive radiation, refuting theories that suggested geographic separation due to plate tectonics.

Full article:

CITATION: Sourakov A, Zakharov E. 2011. "Darwin's butterflies"? DNA barcoding and the radiation of the endemic Caribbean butterfly genus Calisto (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae, Satyrinae). Comparative Cytogenetics 5(3):191. doi:10.3897/CompCytogen.v5i3.1730

Aquarium of the Pacific celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month
August 26, 2011 By Marilyn Padilla

The Aquarium of the Pacific will host its tenth annual Baja Splash Cultural Festival, celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month on September 24-25, 2011. Entertainment includes a parade, Aztec, Mexican and South American music and dance, personalities from Telemundo, and more.

From the article:

Baja Splash will highlight Mexico’s Gulf of California, which is one of the most important wildlife havens in the world. Through the Aquarium’s bilingual film and Gulf of California exhibition, visitors will be able to learn about this important ecosystem, the threats facing it, and how they can help. Another way to learn more about the Gulf is through special bilingual presentations and films in the Aquarium’s Honda Theater. During the festival, the Aquarium will bestow its annual Hispanic Heritage Award to World Wildlife Fund Mexico for their work in helping the people and wildlife of Baja.

The aquarium's bilingual film and Gulf of California exhibition will also help to create awareness for visitors on September 24, which is climate action day.

Full press release:

Tests show minimum contamination on Yellowstone fish from last month's oil spill
August 26, 2011

Lab tests have been conducted on Long-nose suckers (Catostomus catostomus), rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and small mouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) in the Yellowstone River near the July 1st oil pipeline rupture, and the results show "no detectible petroleum in consumable tissues." There were traces of petroleum hydrocarbons in fish digestive and reproductive organs, and crude oil has been detected in the river bed and along the shore.

Full article:

ABQ BioPark Zoo plans a gorilla bachelor pad
August 26, 2011

Zookeepers at the ABQ BioPark Zoo are working to raise $50,000 to expand their Ape House and add 720 square feet to the current building. This addition is intended as a Gorilla Bachelor Pad for the zoo's three adolescent males. As the young males have gotten older, their rough play is causing problems for the older females. Two fundraisers are planned, and original primate artwork will be on sale. The first fundraiser, "Asian Dining to Help Apes", will take place at an Albuquerque area restaurant on August 28. The second event, "Grapes with Apes", will be co-hosted by the Young Professionals of Albuquerque at the Zoo on September 16 and will feature "wine and other driniks, food, music with a DJ and a keeper meet-and-greet along the Ape Walk." Tickets to the event are $35.

For more information, visit or call 311 locally or (505) 768-2000 (Relay NM or 711).

Full article:

Polar bear researcher is back at work at BOEMRE, but still under investigation
August 26, 2011 Posted by Eugenie Samuel Reich

Charles Monnett, co-author of a paper on drowned polar bears that became a symbol of the impact of climate change, has returned to work for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), following a suspension for 'integrity issues." According to information released by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who provided legal representation for Monnat, the Inspector General of the Department of the Interior "believes Monnett may have broken procurement regulations by helping Deroucher draft a proposal for a contract that Monnett was later involved in awarding." PEER, which says "Monnett’s involvement was sanctioned by Monnett’s supervisors," has submitted a complaint, which is currently being investigated. BOEMRE says that Monnett is still under investigation.

Full blog post:

How humans added fuel to the wildfires of New Mexico
August 26, 2011 By Philip Connors

Philip Connors, firewatcher in south-west New Mexico for ten years, describes his experience and thoughts this year as he watched the Arizona fires from afar. Fire, he says, is a part of the natural cycle of life and kept the landscape healthy. When humans settled the area, the impact of cattle and ranching resulted in suppressing fires, preventing the role fire has in clearing undergrowth. As a result of that and climate change, the ecosystem now includes heavy undergrowth and "a sick and unnatural forest" that is primed to support raging fires.

Connors says:

There is a saying among some of my colleagues in the wildfire community: that during the 20th century, despite our phenomenal success in suppressing fires on public land, we were not so much putting out fires as putting them off. Not any longer. Especially amid the effects of climate change, the days of putting off fires are over. But if I've learned anything in my decade of quiet mountain-watching, it is that fire is as much a creative as a destructive force, and from amid the blackened stumps the forest will renew itself once more. What kind of forest we will have is uncertain.

As climate changes and protected undergrowth becomes denser, the potenital for disastrous fires increases.

Full article:

Endangered arroyo toads cling to existence in the Tehachapi Mountains
August 26, 2011 By Louis Sahagun

The arroyo toad (Bufo californicus) was listed as endangered in 1994 after losing more than 75% of its habitat to encroachment by humans and non-native species. It is now found in only 23 small areas and faces continued threat from fungal infection and predators that include raccoons and non-native bullfrogs. It is also plays a role in many ongoing development battles in Southern California.

From the article:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized designation of 98,366 acres of critical habitat for the arroyo toad from Monterey County to San Diego County, concluding a decade-long legal battle between the agency and the Center for Biological Diversity.

In June, a U.S. District Court judge ordered three federal agencies to "take all necessary measures" to better protect 40 endangered species -- including the arroyo toad -- in four national forests in Southern California.

In July, however, avdvocates for the toad lost a court fight to spare a small population in Orange County’s Silverado Canyon from threats posed by a proposal to develop a large horse ranch in the area.

Even with protections in place, the arroyo toad's future is not certain.

Full blog post:

Scientists call for better management of the deep sea
August 26, 2011 By Tamera Jones

A team of researchers from countries around the world met recently as part of the 10-year Census of Marine Life (COML) initiative, which had the aim "to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the oceans." The team was focused on studying the deep sea, defined as "waters deeper than 200 metres" (approximately 656 feet), and analyzed the "effects of human activities on deep-sea habitats" from the past and present. Where pollution used to be the most pressing problem, now exploitation of mineral wealth, oil, gas and fish have become the biggest issue. They predict that climate change will cause the most damage in the future, making the oceans more acidic and causing problems for creatures with chalky skeletons like coral and starfish. They recommend regulation to provide wider protection of the world's oceans.

Full article:

CITATION: Ramirez-Llodra E, et al. 2011. Man and the last great wilderness: human impact on the deep sea. PLoS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022588

Florida Aquarium lands record $2.5 million gift for education center
August 26, 2011 By Ted Jackovics

Thanks to a gift of $2.5 million from the Mosaic Company, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa moved closer to a $15 million goal to build an education facility in support of their mission of aquatic study. Construction on one wing will begin in 2012, and will open in the fall of 2016. The donation is the largest in the aquarium's 15-year history. According to the article, the planned education center "...will accommodate marine science classrooms, exhibit space for aquatic ecosystems and marine animals and a conference space to be called The Mosaic Center." The aquarium has now raised $6 million of its $15 million goal. Annual attendance at the facility is usually over 600,000 individuals.

Full article:

Ostriches look completely alert when in deep sleep
August 26, 2011 By Sara Reardon

In a study of six ostriches (Struthio camelus) in South Africa, researchers measuring brainwave patterns learned that these ancient birds exhibit unique sleep patterns. Expecting two patterns, deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM), researchers found something different. When the birds were recorded as being in deep sleep, they looked completely alert. Howver, when they entered a different sleep cycle, they looked sleepy. The brainwave pattern in this cycle was a combination of REM and deep sleep patterns.The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is the only other animal exhibiting this combination sleep pattern. The study suggests that the separation of deep sleep and REM may be a recent evolutionary development.

Full blog post and video:

CITATION: Lesku JA, et al. 2011. Ostriches sleep like platypuses. PLoS ONE 6(8):e23203. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0023203

Subterranean Amazon river 'is not a river'
August 27, 2011 By Richard Black

Research titled "Indications of an Underground 'River' beneath the Amazon River: Inferences from Results of Geothermal Studies" was presented recently at a meeting of the Brazilian Geophysical Society in Rio de Janeiro, prompting a lively discussion among Brazilian experts. The 'river' is moving at speeds of inches per year, with a volume of 4,000 cubic meters per second. Its existence was determined using temperature data from the borings dug by an oil company, and indicate that it is moving from west to east. Unanswered questions include whether the water is saline or fresh, whether it reaches the ocean or is blocked by rolder rock deposits, and whether it can be termed a "river." Further research is planned.

Full article:

Tips for shopping for an electric vehicle
August 28, 2011 By Jerry Hirsch

Automobile manufacturers are starting to focus more on electic vehicles (EV), with new models proposed, including the Toyota RAV4, Fisker Kama, and the recently released Nissan Leaf. These EVs will be more expensive and require drivers to analyze their driving habits more closely in order to realize true decreases in gas usage. The presence of absence of a charging station at work and at home will be an issue, as well as the comparative price of electricy versus gasoline. Incentives are available, but vary between models of vehicle, so need to be shopped carefully. Battery life is another issue, as well as deciding the right time to make the decision, with technology changing so rapidly.

The article includes the following tips if you are in the market for an EV:

Full article:,0,6689205.story

NYC Parks and Zoos closed on Monday due to Hurricane Irene
August 28, 2011

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and Prospect park Zoo all weathered Hurricane Irene with no serious damage, but will be closed on Monday, reopening on Tuesday, August 30th.

Full article:

Student Conservation Association restores area of Angeles National Forest
August 28, 2011 By Megan O'Neil

Thanks to collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and the Student Conservation Association, the Wildwood Picnic area in the Angeles National Forest along Big Tijunga Road has been restored, following the damages inflicted by the Station Fire two years ago. The four-person team "focused primarily on removing invasive plants and improving wildlife habitats." The Student Conservation Association is a nonprofit group that provides paid summer jobs for high school and college students in national parks.

Full blog post:

Experience "Susurrus", a pre-recorded audio performance at San Diego Botanic Garden
August 28, 2011 By James Herbert

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas will be the site of a site-specific theater piece on September 16 called "Susurrus" by Scottish artist David Leddy. The play is the "first in a planned four-year series called Without Walls."

From the article:

To experience “Susurrus,” a playgoer will be handed an iPod and a map and will listen to the story unfold through the voices of various characters (as well as music and Shakespeare quotations) while navigating a preplanned route through the garden. Up to six people will be admitted every 15 minutes.

“I’m drawn to the idea of stretching the form, picking and pulling at the form of a piece of theater, stretching it, swiveling it, snapping it,” Leddy explains of his inspirations. “I’m interested in playing around with theatrical form, but for me the emotions come first.

"Susurrus" is meant to "break the barriers of traditional theater by moving beyond the boundaries of the Playhouse's theater spaces." The Playhouse recommends the play for mature audiences. Tickets are available at and are available at a discounted price for members of the gardens.

Full article:

Preserving four percent of the ocean could protect most marine mammal species, study finds
August 29, 2011

Researchers at Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico report that preserving as little as four percent of the ocean would protect the habitat for a majority of marine mammal species. According to the study, "of the 129 species of marine mammals on Earth, including seals, dolphins and polar bears, approximately one-quarter are facing extinction." The researchers overlaid maps of each mammal species habitat, revealing areas with the highest number of different species.

From the article:

"This is the first time that the global distribution of marine mammal richness has been compiled and presented as a map," said co-authors Sandra Pompa and Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The most surprising and interesting result was that all of the species can be represented in only 20 critical conservation locations that cover at least 10 percent of the species' geographic range."

It turned out that preserving just nine of the 20 conservation sites would protect habitat for 84 percent of all marine mammal species on Earth, the scientists found. That's because those nine locations have very high species richness, providing habitat for 108 marine mammal species in all.

These nine sites, which make up only 4 percent of the world's ocean, are located off the coasts of Baja California in Mexico, eastern Canada, Peru, Argentina, northwestern Africa, South Africa, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, the study reported.

Additonal factors impacting the potential conservation areas include pollution, climate disruption, commercial fishing, and most importantly, human population increase. Locating areas that can be designated as protected habitat is the first step in taking steps to conserve it.

Full article:

CITATION: Pompa S, Ehrlich PR, Ceballos G. 2011. Global distribution and conservation of marine mammals. PNAS. doi:10.1073/pnas.1101525108

Whimbrel successfully negotiates most severe part of Hurricane Irene
August 29, 2011 By Joseph McClain

To learn how migratory birds survive major storm systems, scientists are tracking whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) that migrate from Canada to South America, using satellite transmitters carried as backpacks. A whimbrel named Chinquapin is being monitored during flight through Hurricane Irene.

From the article:

Bryan Watts, director of William & Mary’s Center for Conservation Biology (CCB), said Chinquapin left upper Hudson Bay on Saturday, flew out over the open ocean and appears to have encountered the outer bands of Irene on Tuesday.

He said tracking revealed that Chinquapin flew through the dangerous northeast quadrant of the storm during the day on Wednesday. Watts added that in 2010, the same bird flew around Tropical Storm Colin while a second bird flew into the storm and did not survive.

Watts said that he’s at a loss to explain exactly what makes whimbrels such excellent storm navigators.

Another whimbrel named "Hope" withstood "headwinds for 27 hours" during August's Tropical Storm Gert off the coast of Nova Scotia. Learning how migratory birds navigate storms is important because many bird species migrate during the period of most hurricanes.

Watch whimbrel tracking online.

Full article:

Regulations to prevent import of invasive species pays off in the end
August 29, 2011

In a study at UC Davis, researchers looked into the net benefits of screening invasive animals and preventing their import into the United States. Millions of dollars are currently being spent at controlling invasion by animals like the burmese python. The study estimates that "a nationwide risk-screening system would yield net benefits ranging from approximately $54,000 to $141,000 per species, assuming mid-range impacts of establishing species."

From the article:

“Managing the introduction of non-indigenous species is becoming a major goal of policy makers,” said the study’s lead author, Michael Springborn, an assistant professor in UC Davis’ Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “This study integrated biology and economics to tackle the question of how we as a nation balance the benefits of trade against the risk of invasive species becoming established.”

One result of globalization in recent decades has been a dramatic increase in trade and travel, which has resulted in both intentional and accidental transport of species beyond their native areas. The researchers noted that the United States receives hundreds of millions of non-native animals each year, representing thousands of different wildlife species.

Currently, the 111-year-old Lacey Act restricts only 25 "injurious species." Additional legislation is needed to prevent the spread of invasives in the United States.

Full article:

CITATION: Springborn M, Romagosa CM, Keller PR. 2011. The value of nonindigenous species risk assessment in international trade. Ecological Economics 70(11):2145-2153. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2011.06.016

Emperor penguin found lost on New Zealand beach released back into ocean
August 29, 2011

After spending two months being nursed back to health in New Zealand's Wellington Zoo, a juvenile male emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), which has been dubbed Happy Feet, has begun his journey back home to Antarctica. Happy Feet had wandered more than 1,900 miles (3,000 kilometers) off course during his migration, washing up on the shore in New Zealand emaciated and ill. He is the second emperor penguin ever found in New Zealand, and during his stay at the Zoo attracted international attention and was a popular zoo attraction. Happy Feet was transported to the Southern Ocean on the New Zealand fisheries vessel "Tangaroa," where it is hoped "he will rejoin other emperor penguins."

Full article:

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo visitors can get a free teddy bear medical check-up
August 29, 2011 By Joe Yachanin

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is celebrating Teddy Bear Day on September 24 by inviting children under the age of 12 to bring a teddy bear in for a check-up with an “official teddy bear doctor.” The day’s events will also include a teddy bear parade, face painting, animal encounters, and children’s safety presentations. The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of the few zoos in the United States which houses six of the eight bear species worldwide, including new grizzly bear cubs. Visitors may learn more about the Zoo’s bear care through Meet-the-Keeper sessions.

Teddy Bear Day activities begin at 10 a.m. at the Steffee Center and a full schedule will be available at in September.

Full article

Roles of herbicides used in combating invasive plants
August 30, 2011 By Daniel Cressey

Researchers who presented at a recent American Chemical Society conference are investigating constructive ways in which herbicides may be employed to curb invasive species and promote growth of native plants. In one project, Colorado State University scientist George Beck investigated control of invasive Russian Knapweed (Acroptilon repens) by applying the herbicide aminocyclopyrachlor prior to reseeding with native plants; 3 of 16 native species were established on untreated sites, while 15 of 16 natives were established in treated locations. Another project by the US Army Corps of Engineers is focusing on using aquatic herbicides to control waterborne invasives, such as Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), to promote native plant communities and restore natural ecosystems.

Full blog post:

Rare African golden cat captured on video for first time
August 30, 2011 By Jeremy Hance

The African golden cat (Caracal aurata), native to central African rainforests, was captured on video for the first time in history, thanks to researchers at the University of Kwazulu Natal working with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Research Unit. The species, first photographed in its native wild habitat in 2002, has long been elusive and was studied little by scientists in the past. It is about the size of a bobcat, is most closely related to servals and caracals, and it is the only African cat which requires forest cover to survive. Deforestation and hunting are major threats to the African golden cat’s population, which has decreased by 20 percent in the last 15 years.

Full article and video recording:

New Hawaiian seabird described, but may already be extinct
August 30, 2011 By Jeremy Hance

The unusual discovery of a new seabird species native to Hawaii was announced after DNA tests proved that a museum specimen collected in 1963 originally thought to be a smaller variation of a little sheerwater (Puffinus assimilis) actually represents a unique species, now designated as Bryan’s sheerwater (Puffinus bryani), which diverged from Boyd's shearwater (Puffinus boydi) about two million years ago. The Bryan’s sheerwater museum specimen was originally collected during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program, though scientists are unaware of where in the Pacific region the birds breed. It is assumed that the Bryan’s sheerwater is rare or may already be extinct; scientists ideally hope to identify the species’ breeding territory so that efforts may be made to protect this habitat for the birds’ survival.

Full article:

BPA ban passes California state Senate
August 30, 2011 By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

The California state Senate voted in favor of The Toxin-Free Infants and Toddlers Act (AB 1319) on Tuesday, which would ban plastic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) from all baby bottles and sippy cups made or sold in the state after July 1, 2013 as well as require manufacturers to use the least toxic alternative materials in these products. The act, which reflects Senate amendments, will head back for a vote by the state Assembly in the coming months. According to executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Martha Dina Argüello, the ban is important because “babies and children are most vulnerable to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”  Opponents of the ban claim that companies risk being the target of lawsuits if the chemical is found in baby products after the effective date.

Full blog post:

San Diego Zoo's giant panda, Bai Yun, not pregnant this year
August 30, 2011

San Diego Zoo officials announced this week that 19-year-old giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) Bai Yun, already the mother of five cubs, is not pregnant this year. The female mated with male Gao Gao in April, and since then, zoo staff have closely monitored her for behavioral and hormonal changes, performed regular ultrasounds, and produced thermal images in attempts to detect pregnancy. Despite changes in Bai Yun’s progesterone, activity, and appetite levels similar to those experienced during her previous pregnancies, ultrasounds and thermal images failed to reveal a developing fetus. Giant panda pregnancy is still not thoroughly understood in the scientific community; it is known that the female’s gestation period runs between 85-130 days, and pandas often experience delayed implantation in which a fertilized egg is “suspended in their uterus for two to three months before it is implanted and begins to develop.” San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research staff will continue to study data with the goal of better understanding giant panda reproduction.

Full article:

Science Magazine announces the 2011 ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ contest
August 30, 2011 By John Bohannon

Science Magazine is sponsoring the fourth annual installment of its international Dance Your Ph.D. contest, in which researchers in the sciences – also broadly including engineers, mathematicians, and historians of science – either in progress on or having completed a Ph.D. are encouraged to choreograph an interpretive dance representative of their Ph.D. dissertations and post a video of the dance online. The rules state, “you must make a dance that not only captures the essence of your science but also is actually a cool work of art.” Finalists will be chosen in four categories, including physics, chemistry, biology, and social sciences, and each will win $500. One grand-prize winner will receive $500 additional dollars plus travel and accommodation to the TEDxBrussels conference in Brussels, Belgium on November 22, 2011.

Full blog post and contest submission details:

Researchers study giant panda gut bacteria to find more efficient ways to manufacture biofuel
August 31, 2011

A new study presented at the 242nd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society documents how the bacteria found in the giant panda's intestinal tract may provide an energy-efficient method of turning grass, wood chips and crop wastes into biofuels. The research was conducted by scientists at Mississippi State University and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Memphis Zoological Society, the Mississippi Corn Promotion Board, and the Southeastern Research Center at Mississippi State. The researchers chose to study giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), as the animals are known to "have bacteria in their digstive systems to break down the cellulose in plants into nutrients." The scientists studied feces from pandas at the Memphis Zoo for over a year, "[identifying] several types of digstive bacteria in the panda feces...which are renowned for their ability to digest wood." The researchers are currently working to "isolate the most powerful digestive enzymes [in giant pandas' intestinal tract] or biofuel production and other purposes."

Full article:

Noise pollution appears to cause some birds to change their songs, making them less attractive
August 31, 2011 By Bob Yirka

Researchers, led by behavioral ecologist Wouter Halfwerk at Leiden University in the Netherlands, recently published findings which suggest that competition with noise pollution causes some male birds to change their mating songs, which negatively affects bird populations by interfering with the female’s natural mate preference for traditionally strong, attractive males.  In a previous study, Halfwerk found that some male birds changed their songs to a higher frequency in order to be heard above low frequency highway traffic; his most recent study focused on analyzing which males, those with natural low frequency or altered high frequency songs, successfully mated with females. For both studies, Halfwerk and his team looked at the great tit (Parus major).

The most recent study shows that males sang the lowest frequency songs before females began laying eggs, suggesting that low frequency songs were desirable by mating females, and paternity tests conducted on hatchlings showed that females did exhibit a preference for birds which maintained low frequency songs. Researchers also played prerecorded male songs of varying frequency to females to see which would significant responses.  Though females tended to emerge for the low frequency songs, this changed when low frequency background noise was added.  The competing noise interfered with the females’ ability to hear the traditionally attractive male songs, which resulted in more female response to higher frequency bird songs.  The change in songs in response to noise pollution may interfere with female preference for the strongest mate, thus altering genetic trends and putting the species at risk.

Full article:

CITATION: Halfwerk W, et al. 2011. Low-frequency songs lose their potency in noisy urban conditions. PNAS 108(35):14549-14554. doi:10.1073/pnas.1109091108

Tarpan wild horses to be reintroduced to Bulgaria
August 31, 2011

Twelve tarpan horses (Equus ferus ferus), a European subspecies which became extinct in the wild during the late 1800s, will be reintroduced in the Rhodope mountains in southeast Bulgaria – thought to be one of the species’ native habitats – as part of a joint Dutch-Bulgarian project. The tarpans to be released were bred and raised in the Netherlands, thus they will require a transitional adaptation period in order to fully acclimate to the mountainous Bulgarian landscape. The horses will begin in enclosures that will be enlarged gradually, and they will be paired with ordinary horses intended to “teach” the tarpans about local survival. Since tarpans died out in the wild, they were first raised and bred by Polish peasants until the 1930s, and since then they have been introduced and taken root in the Netherlands, western France, northern Germany, Britain, Belgium, and Lithuania.

Full article:

California Science Center to pay $110,000 over intelligent design film
August 31, 2011 By Sara Reardon

The California Science Center (CSC) has agreed to pay $110,000 to California-based think tank American Freedom Alliance, which sued CSC for illegally censoring intelligent design (ID) by canceling the think tank’s booking for the premier of Darwin’s Dilemma, a pro-ID documentary, originally scheduled to debut in the CSC’s IMAX theatre on 25 October 2009; as originally planned, the event was to include a debate between creationists and evolutionary scientists following the film screening. CSC claims to have canceled the event due to a breach of contract by AFA, which required CSC’s “approval prior to issuing any press releases,” including “false and misleading press releases” issued by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank, and AFA without CSC’s prior approval. According to AFA, the science center used the breach of contract over press release details as “false pretext” to cancel the event, the real motive for which was due to pressure imposed by scientists and other advocacy groups, including the Smithsonian. Neither CSC nor AFA admits to being at fault, and CSC’s offer to reschedule the event has been met with AFA’s refusal.

Full article:

First lizard genome sequenced: Green Anole Lizard’s genome sheds light on vertebrate evolution
August 31, 2011

The green anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis) is the first species in the Reptilia class to have its genome sequenced and assembled, thanks to the recent collaborative efforts of researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The researchers’ findings, published in the journal Nature, help provide an understanding of the green anole’s genomic agility and may offer insights into how genomes of humans, other mammals, and reptiles evolved. Over 400 species of anoles populate the Caribbean, North America, Central America, South America, making for an appealing model through which to study evolution.

The anoles of the Greater Antilles islands, often compared to Darwin’s finches, have adapted over time to fill various ecological island niches. Unlike the aforementioned finches, however, the lizards have separately evolved into almost identical lizard species on the islands of Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Jamaica. The anoles thus exhibit parallel workings of natural selection and environmental adaptation in similar though geographically distinct habitats. “By sampling the genomes of more than 90 species, the researchers were able to make a preliminary map of how these species evolved to colonize the islands,” thus setting the stage for further research into the intricacies of the signatures of adaptation.

Full article:

CITATION: Alfoldi J, et al. 2011. The genome of the green anole lizard and a comparative analysis with birds and mammals. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature10390

New dragonfly sanctuary pond at ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden
August 31, 2011

The ABQ BioPark Botanic Garden in Albuquerque, New Mexico is opening the Dragonfly Sanctuary Pond on September 2nd. The first dragonfly sanctuary pond in the United States, the exhibit will allow people to "view dozens of [dragonflies and damselflies]...and enjoy learning more through displays and hands-on discovery stations...."

From the article:

The new Dragonfly Sanctuary Pond features aquatic habitat perfect for attracting and breeding dragonflies and damselflies. Plants for perching grow around the pond, allowing guests to view and identify several species of dragonflies at once. A stream bubbles into the exhibit from a rocky desert landscape, and a deck overlooks the vibrant scene.  A stunning glass mosaic depicting summer insects shimmers on the north wall of the courtyard.  The mosaic by artist Laura Robbins will recognize NM BioPark Society donors.

The Botanic Garden will hold an exhibit opening on Friday and a Dragonfly Discovery Day on Saturday. Both of the events are part of the BioPark's Bug Blitz and are included with regular admission.

Full article:

Revised designation of critical habitat for Sonoma County population of California tiger salamander
August 31, 2011 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 169
FWS-R8-ES-2009-0044; MO 92210-0-0009

From the announcement:

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), designate revised critical habitat for the Sonoma County distinct population segment of the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) (Sonoma California tiger salamander) under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). In total, approximately 47,383 acres (19,175 hectares) of land are being designated as revised critical habitat for the Sonoma California tiger salamander.

DATES: This rule becomes effective on September 30, 2011.

ADDRESSES: This final rule and the associated final economic analysis are available on the Internet at Comments and materials received, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing this final rule, are available for public inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825; telephone 916-414-6600; facsimile 916-414-6713.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Susan Moore, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, 2800 Cottage Way, W-2605, Sacramento, CA 95825; telephone 916-414-6600; facsimile 916-414-6713.

Full announcement:

Tripoli Zoo animals lack food and water during Libyan conflict
August 31, 2011

Nic Robertson, a Senior International Correspondent for CNN, discovered that the Tripoli Zoo had been deserted during the conflict that is going on around it.

From the article:

Robertson found the gates locked and was told the zoo was under renovation -- that there were no animals there.

But a big cat's roar told a different story, and Robertson followed the sound -- underscored by the echo of gunfire in the distance -- to find enclosures holding a tiger, lions, giant tortoises, hippos, hyenas, bears, monkeys, deer, emus and more.

All the animals appeared undernourished and struggling as they waited for food and for water where there was little or none to be found.

According to a zoo keeper who arrived while Robertson was on zoo grounds, zoo staff were not able to attend to the animals for 7 days due to the dangerous situation in Tripoli. Currently, "10 of the 200-person staff have returned and are trying to feed all the animals," although they are not able to provide the needed amounts of food or water.

Full article:

New York Botanical Garden's teen explainers teach younger kids about nature
September 1, 2011 Gina Salamone

The New York Botanical Garden's High School Explainer Program provides local teenagers with the opportunity to share their "love of animals and the environment" with younger children. The teenagers work at "several different stations and workshops scattered across the Everett Children's Adventure Garden," which provides hands-on activities for visitors. The activities include "Potting Up," where children plant wildflowers and kidney beans on their own, catching frogs in the Garden's pond, and making "pollinator puppets." Every year, the Garden accepts about 150-160 new Explainers into the program, each of whom must attend a four-day training. They are required to commit to volunteering 125 hours over six months.

From the article:

"About 80% of the Explainers are from the Bronx," Haight says. "It's a great opportunity for these young people to really find their voice. We found through research that Explainers have a stronger sense of self after leaving the program. They have confidence in their ability to speak publicly and interact with people other than peers."

The children they teach are benefiting, too. "Little kids spend all their time learning from adults, so when they come here, they have the chance to learn from the cool, older kid," Haight explains. "We've noticed it breaks down a lot of the learning barriers. As a result, they get that much more engaged in these activities."

To learn more about the Explainer Program, visit the NYBG's website.

Full article:

USFWS finds petition to list captive chimpanzees as endangered to be warranted
September 1, 2011 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 170
FWS-R9-ES-2010-0086; MO 92210-1111F113 B6

From the announcement:

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 90-day finding on a petition to list all chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). Based on our review, we find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing all chimpanzees as endangered may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a review of the status of the species to determine if listing the entire species as endangered is warranted. To ensure that this status review is comprehensive, we are requesting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding this species. Based on the status review, we will issue a 12- month finding on the petition, which will address whether the petitioned action is warranted, as provided in section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Act.

DATES: To allow us adequate time to conduct this review, we request that we receive information on or before October 31, 2011.

ADDRESSES: You may submit information by one of the following methods:
Federal eRulemaking Portal: Search for Docket No. FWS-R9-ES-2010-0086 and then follow the instructions for submitting comments.
U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R9-IA-2008-0123; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Janine Van Norman, Chief, Branch of Foreign Species, Endangered Species Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Room 420, Arlington, VA 22203; telephone 703-358-2171; facsimile 703-358-1735.

Full announcement:

Endangered Species permit applications
September 1, 2011 Federal Register / Vol. 76, No. 170
FWS-R9-IA-2011-N175; 96300-1671-0000-P5

From the announcement:

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invite the public to comment on the following applications to conduct certain activities with endangered species. With some exceptions, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibit activities with listed species unless a Federal permit is issued that allows such activities. The ESA laws require that we invite public comment before issuing these permits.

DATES: We must receive comments or requests for documents on or before October 3, 2011.

ADDRESSES: Brenda Tapia, Division of Management Authority, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Room 212, Arlington, VA 22203; fax (703) 358-2280; or e-mail

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Brenda Tapia, (703) 358-2104 (telephone); (703) 358-2280 (fax); (e-mail).

Applicant: University of New Mexico, Museum of SW Biology, Albuquerque, NM; PRT-49775A
The applicant requests a permit to import salvage biological materials from Asian wild ass (Equus hemionus hemionus) from the wild in Mongolia for the purpose of scientific research.

Applicant: World Center for Exotic Birds, Las Vegas, NV; PRT-38734A
The applicant requests a permit to purchase in interstate commerce one male captive-bred Andean condor (Vultur gryphus), for the purpose of enhancement of the species through conservation education and captive propagation.

Applicant: William Bowerman, University of Maryland, College Park, MD; PRT-48572A
The applicant requests a permit to import biological samples from jackass penguins (Spheniscus demersus) collected in the wild in the Republic of South Africa, for the purpose of scientific research.

Applicant: Richard Schurr, Philadelphia, PA; PRT-45128A
The applicant requests a permit to purchase through interstate commerce DNA samples from captive-bred non-human primates from the following species: lowland gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), white-cheeked gibbon (Hylobates leucogenys), Siamang (Hylobates syndactylus), ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta), bonobo (Pan paniscus), chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), and Sumatran orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus abelii) from Coriell Cell Repository, Camden, New Jersey, for the purpose of scientific research.

Applicant: Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT; PRT-120045
The applicant requests a permit to export and reimport non-living museum specimens of endangered and threatened species previously accessioned into the applicant's collection for scientific research. This notification covers activities to be conducted by the applicant over a 5-year period.

Multiple Applicants
The following applicants each request a permit to import the sport-hunted trophy of one male bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus) culled from a captive herd maintained under the management program of the Republic of South Africa, for the purpose of enhancement of the survival of the species.
Applicant: James Lindsay, Kosciusko, MS; PRT-50364A
Applicant: Jefferey Spivery, Kernersville, NC; PRT-46259A
Applicant: Rulon Anderson, Mesa, AZ; PRT-48778A

Full announcement:

New study shows extinct thylacine would not have been able to kill sheep
September 1, 2011 By Victoria Gill

The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus), otherwise known as the Tasmanian tiger, was hunted to extinction in during the end of the 19th Century, with the last individual dying in a Tasmanian zoo in 1936. The thylacine was the largest marsupial carnivore during its time, and was called the Tasmanian tiger due to the stripes along its back. It was thought to kill sheep, so the Australian government paid individuals to hunt the animal and exterminate the species in order to protect sheep farming, which was the country's main economic activity. However, new research has shown that thylacines wouldn't have been able to "snare a struggling adult sheep" as their jaws were too weak, and they most likely would have fed upon smaller animals such as opossums.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales in Sydney analyzed images of a thylacine skull, using the "same software...that you would use in engineering to investigate the stresses on man-made structures such as bridges and aircraft wings." What they discovered was that the thylacine's jaws were fairly weak, and made to "slice" rather than crush bone. Lead research Marie Attard explains that thylacines would have needed "to hunt a lot of small animals to survive," meaning that any disturbance to the ecosystem would have made it more difficult for the animal to find food.

Full article:

CITATION: Attard MRG, et al. 2011. Skull mechanics and implications for feeding behaviour in large marsupial carnivore guild: the thylacine, Tasmanian devil and spotted-trail quoll. Journal of Zoology. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2011.00844.x

Three new bat species discovered in Southeast Asia
September 1, 2011

Researchers from the Hungarian Natural History Museum and Fauna & Flora International described three new species of bats, all of which belong to the Murina group of tube-nosed bats. The researchers dubbed one of the species Murina beelzebub, as it is "diminutive but demonic-looking."

From the article:

“We chose the name Beelzebub to reflect the dark 'diabolic' coloration of the new species, and its fierce protective behavior”, said Gabor Csorba of HNHM in a statement.

Little is known about the new species, although Neil Furey of FFI, warns that there dependence on forest habitats leaves them "especially vulnerable to ongoing deforestation in the region."

The scientists still need to learn more about the bats' ecology in order to provide continued protection.

Full article:

CITATION: Csorba G, et al. 2011. Revealing cryptic bat diversity: three new Murina and redescription of M. tubinaris from Southeast Asia. Journal of Mammalogy 92(4):891-904. doi:10.1644/10-MAMM-A-269.1

Sierra magazine ranks top 10 green schools
September 1, 2011

Sierra magazine has named their list of top 10 green schools. At the top of the list is the University of Washington, which has earned LEED gold status for "every new building completed since 2006" and boasts a hydropowered campus, the conservation-research Pack Forest, and more. Number 3 in the list is the University of California, San Diego, which generates 85 percent of its own electricity. Other UC campuses to also make the list were Irvine (6th), Santa Cruz (7th), and Davis (8th).

Full article:

USFWS removes Sonoran Desert-area bald eagles from list of endangered and threatened wildlife
September 2, 2011 Federal Regsiter / Vol. 76, No. 171
FWS-R2-ES-2011-0069; 92220-1113-0000

From the announcement:

SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), are issuing a final rule to comply with a court order that removed regulatory protections under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act), for the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona. On July 9, 2007, we published a final rule to remove bald eagles in the lower 48 States from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife (List) due to recovery. However, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, by order dated March 6, 2008, enjoined the Service from removing the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona from the threatened species list under the Act pending the Service's status review and 12-month finding on a petition to classify the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona as a distinct population segment (DPS), list this DPS as endangered, and designate critical habitat. On May 1, 2008, to conform to the court's order, we published a final rule listing the potential Sonoran Desert bald eagle DPS as threatened under the Act. On February 25, 2010, the Service published its 12-month finding determining that the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona did not qualify as a DPS and were, therefore, not a listable entity under the Act. On September 30, 2010, as a result of the Service's completed status review and publication of the 12-month finding, the United States District Court for the District of Arizona lifted the injunction. We are issuing this final rule to amend the regulations for the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife by removing the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona from the list. This action amends the CFR to reflect the September 30, 2010, court order.

DATES: This rule amending the CFR to reflect the September 30, 2010, court order is effective September 2, 2011. However, the court order reinstating the provisions of the delisting rule for the bald eagles nesting in the Sonoran Desert area of central Arizona had legal effect immediately upon being filed on September 30, 2010.

ADDRESSES: This final rule is available on the Internet at at Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2011-0069.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Steve Spangle, Field Supervisor, Arizona Ecological Services Field Office, 2321 West Royal Palm Road, Suite 103, Phoenix, AZ 85021; telephone, 602-242-0210; facsimile, 602-242-2513.

Full announcement:

CuriOdyssey celebrates International Vulture Awareness Day
September 3, 2011

This Saturday, CuriOdyssey (formerly known as the Coyote Point Museum for Environmental Education) located in San Mateo, California, "will be joining nearly 100 zoos and wildlife centers across the globe to participate in International Vulture Awareness Day."

From the press release:

International Vulture Awareness Day is a chance for visitors to learn about these fascinating, and sometimes misunderstood, animals with the help of CuriOdyssey’s zoo keepers. CuriOdyssey is proud to be home to multiple Turkey Vultures. The vultures are non-releasable and live at CuriOdyssey because they were imprinted on humans and could not survive in the wild. 

Visit CuriOdyssey to take part in an array of exciting activities and celebrate this ecologically vital group of birds. Meet Scooter, our vulture Animal Ambassador at 11am, see a vulture enrichment activity at 3pm, and attend our Birds of Prey Animal Connections program at 1:30pm and 2:30pm.

The activities during the weekend are included with the cost of admission to CuriOdyssey. To learn more about International Vulture Awareness Day, visit:

Full press release: