Category: Animal News Stories

Australia Rejects Controversial Saltwater Crocodile Hunting Ban

Crocodile “Trophy Hunting” Plan Turned Down

A controversial plan to allow safari hunters in Australia’s Northern Territory state to kill crocodiles, has been rejected by the federal government in Canberra.  This is the latest set back for campaigners demanding a sustained and extensive cull of the many large, Saltwater crocodiles that inhabit water courses in the Northern Territory.

Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt said “trophy hunting” would not be appropriate.  The proposal, which was backed by the authorities and governors in Northern Territory, would have permitted up to fifty crocodiles to be shot for sport.  Currently, around five hundred crocodiles are culled in the region every year.

Those campaigners that put the proposal forward in the first place, argue the plan would bring in much-needed income for some of the indigenous people in the region.   The ability to put on such hunts would attract a lot of interest from shooting enthusiasts and this would give the State a considerable boost to its tourist incomes, but Greg Hunt’s decision to reject the plan has angered some Territorians living in some parts of Australia’s remote outback.

Australia’s Top Predator – The Saltwater Crocodile

Call for a re-introduction of hunting.

Call for a re-introduction of hunting.

Picture Credit: The Press Association

Bess Price, Minister for Wildlife and Parks commented:

“Greg Hunt has made a decision which will do nothing to improve the lives of indigenous Territorians living in remote communities.”

Saltwater crocodiles, otherwise known as Estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) can grow to a length in excess of seven metres and large males can weigh more than a tonne.  They are responsible for a number of attacks on people, pets and livestock in Australia each year, their numbers having bounced back dramatically since a hunting ban was imposed in 1971.  A number of these attacks prove fatal, once these crocodiles are over five feet in length they are regarded as man-eaters.  In January, two crocodiles were shot by park rangers as they tried to recover the body of a twelve year old boy that had been attacked.  In August of last year, team members from Everything Dinosaur reported on the recovery of the body of a twenty-six year old man who had been killed by a crocodile whilst attempting to swim across the Mary River during a birthday party.

Museum Victoria Scientists Discover New Species Thanks to Robotic Submersible

Remotely Operated Deep Sea Vehicle Explores the Ocean’s Depths

Three new species of sea cucumber have been discovered by Museum Victoria scientists almost a thousand metres beneath the surface of the ocean.  The sea cucumbers were discovered on a British-led expedition for new life on seamounts and hydrothermal vents 1500 kilometres  (940 miles) south of the island of Madagascar.  The project involved more than twenty international marine engineers and scientists, including Museum Victoria marine biologists Mark O’Loughlin and Melanie Mackenzie.

Commenting on the deep sea exploration mission, O’Loughlin stated:

“We were able to describe three species of sea cucumber totally new to science.  New technology provided the very rare opportunity to publish colour photos of the new species for fellow scientists.”

The identification of the sea cucumbers was made possible by the expedition’s remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, a remote-controlled robot capable of traversing the ocean floor, collecting samples, and taking video and photographs.  Operators back on the ship control the ROV’s robotic arm, guiding it to collect specimens as they appear on a video screen.  Samples are then sorted and preserved by the scientific team as part of this marine study.

One of the New Species of Sea Cucumber Discovered

New Sea Cucumber Species Discovered

Picture Credit: David Shale

Sea cucumbers belong to the Phylum called Echinodermata which also includes sea urchins, crinoids and starfish.  Sea cucumbers are a very ancient marine animal, so named as their elongated bodies superficially look-like a cucumber in appearance, although our team members at Everything Dinosaur can find no resemblance themselves.  These animals probably evolved in the Cambrian but their fossil preservation potential is relatively poor and very few fossil specimens have been found when compared to other members of the Echinodermata.

Melanie Mackenzie added:

“Specimens often lose their colour during the preservation process, so by the time they’re back at the lab, they look completely different.  The ROV allows us to not only access new environments and take samples, but also to take video and photographs of animals in their natural environments.”

The ROV is about the size of a small, family car  and can work at depths of up to six kilometres (over three and a half miles), opening up a whole new world for scientists.  But while the ROV is useful in exploring new environments, O’Loughlin insists that it is just one of many research tools available to marine scientists.

He stated:

“You still need the scientific expertise to interpret what you find down there, which is what we brought to this collaboration.  We’re proud to belong to a global community of such esteemed institutions.”

The project was led by Professor Alex Rogers (Oxford University) and funded through a grant from the UK-based Natural Environment Research Council.  The three new sea cucumbers will be housed at the British Museum of Natural History (London) for future research.

Australian scientists will soon have greater access to ROV technology, with the Marine National Facility’s new research vessel called “Investigator” due to be launched this year.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the support of Museum Victoria in the production of this article.

In Praise of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth

BBC Television Series “Life on Earth” Still Impresses

The BBC are repeating on Saturday morning (BBC 2), the ground breaking television series “Life on Earth”.  This thirteen part television series was first broadcast in 1979, the first episode entitled “The Infinite Variety” was first aired in the United Kingdom on the 16th January 1979.  In essence, this television series, voted one of the best television programmes of all time by British viewers, is celebrating its 35th birthday this week.

“Life on Earth: A Natural History”, narrated by David Attenborough may have reached middle age but the amazing imagery, fantastic photography and superb commentary makes it as fresh today as it was all those years ago.  It was the first in a long-line of natural history programmes made by the BBC and narrated by Sir David.  The format is very simple, the programmes, designed to fit into a typical quarter-year for a scheduler (hence thirteen episodes), traces the history of life on our planet with each programme telling the story of a major group of organisms or major evolutionary development.

Life on Earth Celebrates Its 35th Birthday This Week

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Life on Earth first shown in 1979.

Picture Credit: BBC

The series sees, Sir David travelling the world and it was made in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Reiner Moritz Productions.  The soundtrack music, which itself was highly regarded, was composed by Edward Williams.  For team members at Everything Dinosaur, this television series remains right up there with some of the best programmes that the BBC has ever made.  Some of us can recall watching this programme when it first was shown back in 1979.  It helped fuel our interest in the natural world and evolution.  Although, some of the information and imagery used in this television series has now been made redundant as our understanding of evolution and fossils has progressed somewhat, it is still compulsive viewing.

“Life on Earth” won the Broadcasting Press Guild Award for Best Documentary Series, it was also nominated for four BAFTA television awards in the following categories:

  • Best Television Factual Series (lost to Circuit 11 Miami)
  • Television Craft/Film Cameraman (lost to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy)
  • Television Craft/Film Editor (we are not sure who won the BAFTA in 1980)
  • Television Craft/Film Sound (lost to Speed King)

We are pleased that the dedicated team behind this series received recognition for their superb work, we think Sir David Attenborough was granted Fellowship of the BAFTA academy in 1980.  However, for us this television series is still a great pleasure to watch and it does bring back happy memories of when we first saw these programmes more than thirty years ago.

New Species of Slender-nosed Crocodile Discovered in Africa

African Crocodile Diversity Just Gets More and More Complicated

It seems that today’s extant reptiles have still got a lot to teach us about their phylogeny and taxonomic relationships as a team of scientists studying crocodiles in central Africa have discovered a new species of these ancient creatures.  According to a scientific paper published in the academic journal “The Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”, the rare Slender-snouted crocodile (Mescistops cataphractus) is actually two species and these two species diverged from each other at least seven million years ago.

An analysis of molecular data and genetic samples provided the University of Florida team, who working in collaboration with scientists from Gabon, with the evidence to suggest that there are two distinct species present in the central African crocodile population.

A New Species of Slender-nosed Crocodile May Have Been Identified

New species of Crocodilian discovered.

New species of Crocodilian discovered.

Picture Credit: Matt Shirley

Describing how the discovery was made, lead author of the paper Matthew Shirley stated:

“It was simply a matter of going to places people before us never wanted to go or thought possible to go.”

This part of Africa had been beset with civil war, local militias and lack of infrastructure, the sites where Slender-nosed crocodiles could still be found were remote and very difficult to get access to.

Post doctorate researcher Shirley and his team have not only identified two genetically different species, but they have noted anatomical and physical differences too.

The researcher explained:

“There were actually two different species of Slender-snouted crocodile, as well as one sub-species, described in the past.  Over the years these were all synonymised with Mecistops cataphractus, but we are now faced with the necessity of determining if any of these previous names is equally applicable to the new taxa.”

When it comes to the scientific names of organisms, any binomial name attributed in the past may take precedence, it will be a question of trawling through the archives to see if such a name exists.  This new discovery has very important implications for the conservation of these small, Africa crocodiles.  The split between the two species suggests that the West African Slender-nosed crocodile is on the verge of extinction.

Matthew Shirley commented on how vulnerable to extinction these crocodiles are:

“Over the past eight years of effort I and others have detected less than fifty Slender-snouted crocodiles in the wild in West Africa, and of these less than seven were adults, compared to nearly 2,000 in Central Africa over the same time period and survey effort.  We recently evaluated its status for the 2014 IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] Red List and found that it is Critically Endangered making it one of the top Crocodilian conservation priorities globally along with  the decline of Gharials, Siamese and Orinoco crocodiles.”

The research team called for drastic measures to help these critically endangered crocodiles.  It has been suggested that captive breeding programmes should be introduced with what crocodiles left in the wild being captured and put into zoos to permit the population to be boosted before any animals bred in captivity are released back into the wild.

Recently, crocodiles native to the African continent have gone through a considerable taxonomic revision.  Up until recently only three species of Crocodilian were recognised in Africa, the very dangerous Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus), the Slender-snouted nosed crocodile (Mescistops cataphractus) and the Dwarf crocodile, also often referred to as Broad-snouted crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis).  Studies (also involving staff from Florida University), have suggested that there are two distinct Nile crocodile species, and three, genetically different types of Dwarf crocodile.

Potentially Two Species of Nile Crocodile

Scientists research the dentition of Crocodilians.

Scientists research the genetic characteristics  of Crocodilians.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

If the scientific community recognises all of these new species then the species count for Africa will jump from three to seven.  These changes will mean a re-evaluation of total crocodile numbers in the wild and will have implications for future Crocodilian conservation.

DNA Study Suggest “Man’s Best Friend” Domesticated in Europe

European Origin of “Domesticated Dogs” At Least 18,000 Years Ago

The results of an extensive study of wolves and domesticated dogs including analysis of fossil material has led a team of scientists to conclude that dogs were first domesticated in Europe.  The likes of Charles Darwin did not know, after all, genetics was a branch of science that was unknown to the co-author of the theory of natural selection (Darwin and Wallace jointly presented their ideas in 1858 to the Linnean Society), but it is now widely accepted that all domesticated dogs are descended from the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus).  Just when dogs became a part of people’s lives and started to work in partnership with humans is a hotly debated subject.  The emergence of a form of “domesticated” dog has now been mapped and this new study points to an origin from Europe and at least 18,000 years ago.  It all depends on where you are in the world as to whether 18,000 years ago is classed as the Mesolithic “Middle Stone Age” or the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic), as these time periods are defined by the development and use of tools and other artefacts by indigenous populations, either way, mankind’s relationship with dogs goes back a very long way.

The team of researchers from Turku University (Finland) have somewhat “muddied the waters” when it comes to assessing when and where dogs began to have a much closer relationship with our own species.  Earlier studies had indicated that wolves began to attach themselves with human settlements in the Middle East or perhaps in the near Asia region as recently as 15,000 years ago.  This new data, based on the DNA samples, pushes our relationship with “man’s best friend” further back into prehistory and locates the first domestication as being in Europe.

Scientists Looked at Fossil Evidence from Dogs Buried Close to Human Settlements

Analysis of DNA may hold the key to unravelling the mystery of dog domestication.

However, fossil evidence has challenged this earlier research and indeed, a remarkable excavation site in southern Siberia, dated to around 33,000 years ago (definitely Palaeolithic but who’s counting), puts the date of dog domestication, or at least descendants of wolves having a close relationship with mankind, much further back in time than even this new Finnish study suggests.

To read an article about the discoveries from the southern Siberian dig site: It’s a Dog’s Life!

One of the problems associated with trying to identify exactly where and when dogs began to live alongside humans is that palaeontologists have found some distinctly dog-looking fossil evidence in various sites around both the Old and the New World.  For this research, the scientists looked at the mitochondrial genomes from present-day dogs and wolves, as well as from eighteen fossil Canids, whose remains date from between 1,000 and more than 36,000 years old.

Dr. Olaf Thalmann (Turku University) and his colleagues used genetic sequences from a wide range of fossil and extant sources in order to gain an understanding of the great diversity of dog breeds around today and how they relate to the remains of dogs excavated from various fossil sites.  The analysis revealed that modern dogs are most closely related to ancient European wolves or dogs, they are not closely related to any of the wolf groups from outside Europe.  Intriguingly, the research suggests that domesticated dogs have a link with a strain of ancient European wolf, one that is extinct.  The proposed “start point” for domestication going back beyond 18,000 years is certainly fascinating.  It suggests that dogs began to separate out of wolf populations when our species was nomadic.  Dog domestication may actually have occurred long before we began to settle in farming communities.  It seems that dogs may have come “walkies” with us when we were very much hunters and gatherers.

A spokes person from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“Both wolves and ourselves are diurnal hunters, perhaps the wolves that were the ancestors of the first domesticated dogs followed human hunting trips, to feed off the scraps that we left behind from the hunting of large, herbivorous mammals like Elk, Ox, Mammoth and Woolly Rhino.  Or indeed, it could have been the other way round with human hunting parties scavenging the kills of wolf packs.”

Over time, wolves and humans began to tolerate each other’s presence and the first steps on the long road to mutual co-operation and subsequent domestication were taken.

Explaining some of the reasoning behind the team’s work, Dr. Thalmann stated:

“You can see how the wolves benefitted from living near humans because they got to the carcases, but humans too would have benefitted.  You have to remember that 18,800 to 32,000 years ago, Europe had much bigger predators than even the wolves, animals such as bears and hyenas.  You can imagine that having wolves living close to you might prove to be a very useful alarm system.  It is a plausible scenario for the origin of the domestication of dogs.”

The precise details surrounding the origin of today’s domesticated canine remain unclear.  The genetic markers that can be traced are extremely difficult to interpret, not helped that due to mankind’s movements, dog populations have become very mixed over time.  In addition, it seems that some populations of dogs may have back-bred with wild wolves causing further confusion.  This particular study and indeed, the majority of the earlier studies, relied on so-called mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), a small sub-packet of genetic material in cells that is normally passed down through the generations solely on the maternal line, although incredibly useful,  mtDNA does not represent the fullest information possible.  The much larger DNA retrieved from the cell nucleus (nuclear DNA), could provide a lot more genetic information, but the DNA’s poor preservation ability, the risk of cross-contamination and the difficulty of retrieving substantial amounts from fossils are formidable barriers to progress.

The findings of this research, published in the academic journal “Science”, suggest that an ancient, extinct central European population of wolves gave rise to the domestic dog.  In addition, evidence from the mtDNA indicates that several other types of ancient dog found in the fossil record may represent ultimately doomed previous domestication attempts.   If enough nuclear DNA is recovered from the fossil record, a clearer understanding of our relationship with dogs can probably be obtained, but for the moment it looks like the origins of today’s pets and working dogs are in central Europe and the bond between man and dog goes back into the Palaeolithic.

Fisherman Claims to Have Spotted a Crocodile in a Hampshire Lake

Crocodilian Alert in Hampshire

There may be plenty of rumours of “Big Cats” lurking around some of the more remote parts of the British countryside, but a crocodile in a Hampshire lake is a new twist on all those strange sightings of wild animals.  However, for one fisherman, he may well have encountered a two foot crocodile, one that was lurking in the water and ready to snatch fish from the line as the quarry was reeled in.  Alan Pragnell, an experienced angler, was fishing from the banks of a lake near to Ringwood (Hampshire, southern England), when he had the strange encounter.  It may sound like a “fishy tale”, but we at Everything Dinosaur are aware that there are very probably a number of illegally kept exotic pets such as crocodiles in the UK and Alan could well be right.

Alan hooked a small roach, a freshwater fish that is common in England.  He was reeling in his catch when the mystery animal grabbed hold of the fish.  When the fish was let go, the animal was sitting right in front of him, claims Mr. Pragnell

In an interview, Alan stated:

“It was quite clear enough.  It was a matter of inches away, just lying there.  It was a crocodile”.

Another species of fish, the Pike, sometimes called the Northern Pike (Esox lucius), is known to take fish in this manner, but Alan is convinced what he saw was no Pike.

Alan added:

“It was about two foot long.  I was looking at it in disbelief.  It had four legs and a tail.  It was there for about ten seconds and then sunk down into the depths.  I know pike. I know what I saw.”

Although Mr Pragnell survived the encounter, his catch was left “shredded” describing the poor fish as having several deep parallel slashes.  The incident took place in the summer and the local angling association, the Ringwood District and Anglers Association has been informed.

There are many folk who might regard this as a bit of a “fisherman’s tale”, however, despite the derision that Alan has attracted, there may well be something in what he is saying.

Alan explained:

“I am as sure as sure is.  I’m 64 I have been fishing since I was six.  What would be the point in lying?  I reckon someone had it as a pet and just chucked it over the fence when it got too big.”

Such incidents although sounding bizarre to us, are becoming increasingly common in some parts of the world.  In the Northern Territory of Australia, Saltwater Crocodiles do frequently take fish off angler’s lines.  These animals are also responsible for a number of attacks on local fisherman each year, sadly some of these attacks are fatal.

To read an article about an Australia fisherman’s encounter with a Saltwater crocodile: Aussie angler catches crocodile

With no further sightings or evidence, the local angling association has closed the case.  Mr Peter Hutchinson, the club’s Vice President stated:

“Nothing’s been seen since and I’m sure that if was a crocodile it would have died during the winter because it was so cold.”

Well, Mr Hutchinson, I would not be too sure if I were you.  However, we agree about the sensible precaution of keeping the lake a secret, after all, nobody wants to attract would be crocodile hunters to the location.

Everything Dinosaur team members have reported on numerous occasions incidents where “pet” crocodilians have been abandoned by their owners.  In December 2011, we wrote a short article about a caiman being left outside an exotic pet shop in the West Midlands.

To read more about this story: Crocodiles Victims of the Economic Downturn

It is very likely that there are a number of crocodiles, caimans, and alligators being kept illegally as pets in the UK.  These animals are smuggled into the country and sold in a shady underworld of exotic pet sales.  Depending on the species, crocodiles can grow very quickly and soon become exceptionally dangerous.  A two foot specimen may not be a man-eater, but it would still be capable of inflicting a very nasty bite and capable of taking a finger off.  There may be something in what Mr Pragnell says, terrapins have been spotted in and around a number of British lakes and ponds.  These animals are not native to our shores, but they have either escaped captivity or most likely have been released by thoughtless owners who no longer wanted to look after them any more.

Could There Be a Crocodile Lurking in a Hampshire Lake?

Crocodiles do not make good pets

As for any crocodile not surviving the winter, this is no guarantee, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) which is found in the south-eastern United States can tolerate freezing temperatures, at least for a short while.  All crocodiles are cold-blooded and if there was a particularly cold, prolonged British water it is likely that a large number of exotic reptile pets that had been released into the wild would die. However, if the winter was quite mild, the crocodile may well enter a period of dormancy, not feeding until the warmer weather.  A crocodile could survive into the spring under such conditions.

This weekend there was a report from the UAE of another illegally obtained baby Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) being sold via a pet dealer in the local market.  The salesman claimed that as well as crocodiles, monkeys, chimpanzees and poisonous snakes even tiger cubs could be obtained – if the price was right!  We at Everything Dinosaur urge members of the public never to purchase any so-called exotic pets, not least without taking proper advice and checking to see if the sale would be legal in the UK.

Tracing the Descendants of the Iceman

Austrian Scientists Identify Living Relatives of Oetzi the 5,300 Year-Old Iceman

He may have lived during the Neolithic, otherwise known as the New Stone Age, but the frozen corpse of a man found in the Italian Alps back in 1991 has enabled scientists to determine that nineteen Tyrolean men alive today are related to this ancient human.  His body preserved in ice, has enabled scientists to discover a great deal about Europeans in the Neolithic, called Oetzi by the scientists, the genome of this individual has now been fully mapped and studies of the male population of the Tyrol reveals that a number can be identified as living descendants.

The ancestry was established by DNA analysis carried out by researchers from the Institute of Legal Medicine at Innsbruck Medical University (Austria).  The body of a middle-aged man was found in the Italian Alps more than twenty years ago.  At first, it was thought that the corpse was that of a climber who had got into difficulties and perished on the mountain, but tests later revealed that this was the remains of a man who had lived more than five thousand years ago.

International researchers have studied the body and those artefacts found with it, team members at Everything Dinosaur have written a number of articles regarding the progress of the research that reveals such fascinating insights into this person’s eye colour, their lactose intolerance and their predisposition to heart disease.

Oetzi the Iceman – Tracing the Relatives

Ancient body reveals amazing insights into the New Stone Age

Ancient body reveals amazing insights into the New Stone Age

Picture Credit: BBC News

To read a recent article on Oetzi the Iceman: Iceman Reveals His Secrets

As far as Everything Dinosaur team members can tell, the related individuals were identified from tests on blood donors in the Tyrol region.  These men have not been informed about their relationship to Oetzi, whom, according to some researchers may have been a tribal chief.

The Austrian Press Agency states that a particular, distinct genetic mutation was matched between the Iceman and the nineteen men.  Scientists from the Institute of Legal Medicine of the Innsbruck Medical University are confident that more related males will be found when tests are carried out on blood samples from males living in the Swiss region of Engadine and from the South Tyrol of Italy.

The genetic mutation that permitted the connection between a Stone Age man and people living today, is quite rare in modern populations.  Of the 3,700 samples of blood tested less than 0.52% of the population had the mutation.  Women were not included in this particular research project, as a different procedure would have been required to match their genes and confirm the ancestral connection.  Oetzi is the oldest, natural European mummy found to date and as such he has permitted scientists an unprecedented window into the world of New Stone Age people at around 3,300 BC.

Intriguingly, an arrow head was found embedded in his body, was this an old wound or was this how he was killed.? Researchers still debate whether he died approximately where his corpse was found or was he taken up the mountain pass to be buried by members of his tribe?

In Praise of those that Protect the “Beautiful Ugly”

Attempts to Save the Habitat of the Atlantic Bushmaster

Back in the mid 1970s one of Everything Dinosaur’s team members took part in a project to raise awareness on the plight of some of the less loveable animals and plants that we share our planet with.  Conservation groups have little trouble getting support for the cute and cuddly Panda or indeed the magnificent Amur Leopard et al, but when it comes to less attractive, non-fluffy endangered animals and plants things can be a little more difficult.  Today we acknowledge and honour the work of Dr. Rodrigo Souza from Brazil.  Dr. Souza has dedicated much of his spare time to helping to save the rare and endangered creatures that inhabit the ever shrinking rainforests of eastern Brazil.

The doctor moved to the north-eastern state of Bahia twelve years ago and over time he has developed a deep understanding and fascination of the creatures that call the Atlantic coast rainforest home.  His passion is for one particular animal, a member of the Squamata, which regularly top the list of the most hated creatures when people are surveyed on such matters.  For the doctor, the Atlantic Bushmaster (Lachesis muta), a snake and one of the most venomous in South America is the creature that he devotes the majority of his time to.  This snake is a member of the Pit Viper family and as it grows to lengths of more than two and half metres, it is one of the largest vipers on Earth.  Two sub-species are recognised and the Atlantic Bushmaster with its often lethal bite has a number of  local myths and stories associated with it throughout its range.  It is also known as the “Mapepire”.  It resembles a warty rattlesnake and it prefers primary, undisturbed rainforest where it hunts its preferred prey of small mammals.  The sensory heat-seeking pits under the snake’s eyes help it to detect warm-blooded mammals at night, the time when this snake is most active.  As a result, of this viper’s ability to detect heat, it is also known as the “fire extinguisher” as locals say that it is attracted to naked flames.

Dr. Souza Handling one of the Atlantic Bushmasters

The doctor and the venomous Bushmaster.

The doctor and the venomous Bushmaster.

Picture Credit: Dr. Rodrigo Souza/Serra Grande Centre

Doctor Souza keeps nearly three dozen of these venomous snakes at his own private sanctuary.  He has been able to successfully breed these reptiles in captivity and to “milk” them of their venom so that an antidote for bite victims.  The good doctor’s work is vitally important.  Not only is he raising awareness regarding the threat to the Atlantic rainforest habitat but he has also managed to educate the local people into seeing the wildlife and the rainforest as a precise natural resource that needs protecting.  In addition, he has been able to product substantial quantities of snake venom antidote, no mean feat as each “milking” requires him to handle a potentially lethal animal and in captivity the snakes are notorious for stopping production of venom when under stress.

The BBC Radio 4 programme “From our Own Correspondent” has featured the work of Dr. Souza, it also raised the problem of the continuing industrialisation of this part of Brazil.

There are now plans by ENRC, a British-Kazakh mining company, to build a railway right through one of the few remaining areas of virgin Atlantic rainforest.  ENRC’s aim is to transport iron ore from a mine in the interior to the port of Iheus, despite the region being named by UNESCO as a priority region for conservation.  The railway would of course bring jobs.  But for Dr. Souza, who has been battling for years to preserve this unique ecosystem, it’s a slap in the face.  For him the railway would be an ecological disaster for the rainforest and his beloved Atlantic Bushmasters.

This venomous snake with its fearsome reputation deserves our help, it is definitely a member of the “beautiful ugly” as one of the locals who was working with our colleague back in the 1970s stated.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of the BBC in the compilation of this article.

Little known fact about the Atlantic Bushmaster, the species name muta means “dumb”, not a reference to this viper’s intellectual ability, it has an array of super senses.  In this instance, the “dumb” refers to the fact that although it rattles its tail when threatened it lacks the hollow “rattle scales” of a true rattle snake and therefore in the laboratory the threat is silent or mute.  When an Atlantic Bushmaster is threatened in its native habitat the swishing and rapidly vibrating tail disturbs leaves and other debris and the “rattling” sound can be heard.

The Ecological Crisis at Lake Urmia

Drawing Attention to the Destruction of Lake Urmia (Iran and Southern Azerbaijan)

Social media sites are very powerful, they can highlight and draw attention to issues and the plight of peoples that would not necessarily be reported elsewhere.  For example, one of Everything Dinosaur’s many friends on the company’s Facebook page sent pictures and information about the crisis taking place in a region of the Middle East surrounding Lake Urmia, which is rapidly drying up and disappearing.  Lake Urmia, which is situated in northern Iran, close to the border of Azerbaijan was once regarded as the largest salt lake in the Middle East, however, its waters have been receding, threatening the livelihoods of the local population as well as the many millions of people in the surrounding area who depend on the Lake and its rivers for water.  The loss of such a habitat also has extremely grave consequences for the natural world. 

The Dramatic Reduction in the Volume of Water that Comprises Lake Urmia

The pictures (Google) show the dramatic decline in the water volume of Lake Urmia

The pictures (Google) show the dramatic decline in the water volume of Lake Urmia

Water levels have been dropping for many years, but the loss of water has really become accelerated over the last two decades or so.  A number of reasons have been given for this decline.  Something like thirty-nine dams are planned or have been built on the rivers flowing into the Lake Urmia.  The digging of thousands of wells for use in local industry or agriculture has depleted the water levels in the Urmia basin and a series of prolonged droughts has led to very little precipitation.  The Iranian Government, with the support of a number of international organisations including the United Nations, is trying to save the lake, which once was regarded as the third largest salt water lake on Earth.  Many experts on the environment say that what has been done so far and what steps are planned to take place in the near future will not be enough to save the flora and fauna of the region.

A project to divert over 600 million cubic metres of water from the Araz river into Lake Urmia was launched in 2010, this project, estimated to be costing approximately $1.2 billion USD may not be sufficient to counterbalance the loss of water.  A further $900 million USD was set aside by the Iranian Government to help in the Lake Urmia crisis the following year, although some informed commentators have questioned whether such sums have really been allocated to address the increasing problems in the Lake Urmia region.  It is believed that in  addition to other funding, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has allocated $135 million USD to help resolve environmental problems caused by the reduction in water volume.

It has been estimated that something around 76 million people live within 250 miles of the Lake’s basin, the drying up of this water resource could have devastating implications for the entire region.  The area is an exceptionally important wetland habitat, but as the water disappears what liquid that is left is becoming increasingly salty.  If the water goes altogether a huge salt pan would remain containing an estimated 8 billion tonnes of salt.  Winds could then transport and redeposit this salt over a wide area.  Scientists estimate that salt-toxicity could become a hazard in agricultural landscapes many hundreds of miles away from the Lake.  Farmland in Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Azerbaijan could be seriously affected.

Dramatic and Stark Photographs Reveal the Extent of the Environmental Damage

Stark photographs tell the story of Lake Urmia.

Stark photographs tell the story of Lake Urmia.

Picture Credit: Hamed Haghdoust (FARS)

Let us hope that the Iranian Government working in collaboration with environmental groups, the administrations of neighbouring countries and international bodies such as the United Nations are able to adopt effective solutions that can lead to the aversion of this potential environmental crisis.

Our thanks to Amin for his help in putting together this article.

Body Recovered after Saltwater Crocodile Attack

Crocodile Victim – Police Recover Body

A spokesperson for the police services in the Northern Territory (Australia) has confirmed that the body of a man snatched by a Saltwater crocodile has been recovered.  The victim, named as 26  year-old Sean Cole, was attacked by a large four metre plus crocodile as he and a friend attempted to swim across the Mary River during a birthday party.  Despite numerous signs indicating the danger of crocodile attacks and warnings from locals, it seems that Sean chose to go for a swim in a river renowned for having one of the highest densities of large crocodiles in the whole of Australia.

Crocodile Attack Victim

Fatal crocodile attack.

Fatal crocodile attack.

Picture Credit: NT News

Sean was celebrating a friends 30th birthday and he another male party goer decided to swim the river, Sean was attacked as he swam back having reached the opposite bank.  Onlookers watched in horror as Sean was suddenly attacked.  The attack took place on Saturday afternoon, the body was recovered today just a few yards from where the attack took place.  In a statement, the police claim that the body was recovered around 5.30am this morning (local time).

Senior Sergeant Geoff Bahnert stated:

“Several of the group in the party witnessed the male being taken in the jaws of the croc for a period of time, and then he was out of sight.  The Mary River is known worldwide to have the greatest saturation of adult Saltwater crocodiles in the world.  You don’t swim in the Mary River.”

At least four crocodiles have been shot in the area following the incident, rangers say, including one believed to be responsible for Mr Cole’s attack.  The Mary River Wilderness Retreat, just seventy miles south-east of Darwin is a popular destination for tourists and locals seeking a break from the city.  As there are a number of large crocodiles known to be in the vicinity there are plenty of warning signs alerting visitors to the potential danger of a crocodile attack.

Swimmers Ignored Warning Signs

Best to stay out of the river.

Best to stay out of the river.

Picture Credit: Michael Franchi

This latest fatal incident comes at a time when the Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management has released figures that show that there have been eighteen fatal Saltwater crocodile attacks since the legal protection of the species came into force in 1971.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not tourists who seem to be the most at risk from crocodile attacks.  Wildlife scientist Yusuke Fukuda, who compiled the report, said sixteen of those fatalities were Territorians (local residents).  The data is based on sixty-two confirmed attacks, fourteen of the victims were male.  The department’s figures do not include attacks by crocodiles in captivity or when capturing crocodiles or collecting their eggs.  The figures also do not include attacks with no reported injuries or unconfirmed attacks such as suspected drownings or missing persons.  The data excludes any attacks from the smaller Freshwater crocodile (C. johnstoni).

Map Showing Location of Crocodile Attacks 1971 to 2013

Map of crocodile attacks in the Northern Territory.

Map of crocodile attacks in the Northern Territory.

Picture Credit: Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

Reflecting on how the local crocodile population has recovered since hunting was banned, Charlie Manolis, chief scientist at Crocodylus Park, a tourist attraction and crocodile research station in the Northern Territory, commented that during the days of hunting from the 1940s to the end of the 1960s, the Mary River region was one of the best spots to find large crocodiles.  By the time the hunting ban came into force in 1971, there were very few crocodiles left in the river system.  He went onto add that large crocodiles were regularly seen in the Mary River these days, the vast majority have moved into the river system from other parts of the Northern Territory.

He stated:

“Slowly the population has increased.  In a lot of the areas, the Mary River is quite different from other rivers.  There is very little breeding that goes on, a lot of those animals that live there came from somewhere else.  They are a bit like ‘boat crocs’ I suppose.  That is why there are so many, there are a lot of large crocodile males, so the population is biased towards the males.  As the population has increased over the last ten years, so more of the reptiles are moving into the upper freshwater areas.”

When asked to consider the action of the birthday party guests who tried to swim across the river, the chief scientist added:

When you try and swim across a river that has ten crocs or one, there is still a chance you are going to get attacked.”

Dr. Manolis stated that culling opened the chance for people to get a false sense of confidence of going into the water and urged caution before considering a cull as a method of managing the crocodile population.  He also said the consumption of alcohol was a factor in about half the crocodile deaths nationwide.

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