Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘Bank’ the turtle dies after swallowing 900 coins thrown into her pond

Sea turtle that lived in public pond in Thailand dies of blood poisoning despite surgery to remove 5kg of loose change from her stomach

A sea turtle nicknamed Bank has died of complications following surgery to remove nearly 1,000 coins she swallowed during captivity, vets in Thailand have said.

The cause of death was blood poisoning from the loose change, doctors at the veterinary faculty at Bangkoks Chulalongkorn University confirmed.

She at least had the chance to swim freely and eat happily before she passed, said Dr Nantarika Chansue, who removed 5kg (11lbs) of coins from the turtles stomach in a lengthy operation on 6 March.

At 10.10am she went with peace, Chansue, the vet in charge of Chulalongkorn hospitals aquatic research centre, told reporters, adding: She is my friend, teacher and patient.

Thai media began publicising the turtles tale last month and members of the public donated about 15,000 baht (350) towards her surgery.

Coins
An officer shows the coins the turtle ate over many years. Some had corroded or partially dissolved. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Five surgeons from Chulalongkorn Universitys veterinary faculty removed the coins over four hours while the turtle was anaesthetised. The mass of coins was too big to take out through a 10cm incision, so they had to be removed a few coins at a time. Many of them had corroded or partially dissolved.

Chansue said when she discovered the cause of the turtles agony she was furious. I felt angry that humans, whether or not they meant to do it or if they did it without thinking, had caused harm to this turtle, the vet said at the time.

At first Bank appeared to be recovering well after the operation, but a checkup on Saturday revealed problems with its intestines. Doctors performed a second operation but Bank never woke up and died on Tuesday morning.

Bank lived for two decades in a public pond in Chonburi province, about 110 miles (175km) south-east of Bangkok. The turtle swallowed 915 coins that tourists threw into the pond. Eventually, the money formed a mass that cracked Banks shell.

Vets hope that media coverage of the stricken creature will make people think twice about throwing coins into ponds where animals live.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Star of anti-dolphin killing film The Cove held by Japanese immigration

Ric OBarry seen in documentary about slaughter in a Japanese village says government is waging a war on dolphins

The star of Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, about the killing of dolphins in a village in Japan, has been detained by immigration authorities at Tokyos Narita international airport.

Ric OBarry an American known for training the dolphins used in the TV series Flipper said immigration officials told him he could not enter Japan on a tourist visa because he was not a tourist, according to his lawyer, Takashi Takano.

Takano said officials accused OBarry of having close ties with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, which OBarry denies. Immigration officials said it was their policy not to comment on individual cases.

Takano said he was appealing against the detention, and that the Japanese government would decide on whether to allow OBarry into the country or deport him. It was not clear when a decision would be made.

The Cove, which won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary, shows the slaughter of dolphins herded into a cove in the fishing village of Taiji and bludgeoned to death.

The Japanese government is cracking down on those who oppose their war on dolphins, OBarry said in a statement sent to the Associated Press through his son, Lincoln OBarry.

Officials in Taiji, a small fishing village in central Japan, and fishermen have defended the hunt as a tradition, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different to eating beef or chicken.

Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. Many say they are horrified by the dolphin killing and there is a campaign against the Taiji hunt. Animal welfare activists say the hunt is driven mostly by the lucrative sale of dolphins to aquariums, with the income from the sale of meat simply an added extra.

OBarry has been stopped and questioned by Japanese immigration before. He has also been taken into custody by local police on the suspicion of not having proper travel documents before being released. But this is the first time he has been detained in this way. He has the support of high-profile celebrities, including Sting, the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, and the former Guns N Roses drummer, Matt Sorum.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘Not ashamed’: dolphin hunters of Taiji break silence over film The Cove

Members of the tiny Japanese community, which was vilified in the 2009 documentary, speak to the Guardian about fishing and their unique way of life

Taiji is still in darkness when a dozen men gather at the quayside and warm themselves over a brazier. While the rest of the town sleeps, they sip from cans of hot coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk in hushed tones.

As soon as the sun edges above the peninsula, they take to their boats, steering out to sea in formation in search of their prey: the dolphin.

It has been eight years since the Oscar-winning film The Cove propelled this community in an isolated corner of Japans Pacific coast to the centre of a bitter debate over the pursuit of dolphins for human consumption and entertainment.

The films graphic footage of dolphins being slaughtered with knives, turning the surrounding sea a crimson red, shocked audiences around the world.

Unaccustomed to international attention and wrong-footed by their social media-savvy opponents, the towns 3,200 residents simply went to ground. Requests for interviews with town officials went unanswered; the fishermen took a vow of silence.

But after years of keeping their counsel, Taijis fishermen have finally spoken out, agreeing to talk to the Guardian about their work, their whaling heritage, and their determination to continue hunting dolphins.

Weve mostly stayed silent since The Cove, and thats why our point of view was never put across in the media, says Yoshifumi Kai, a senior official with Taijis fisheries cooperative.

Taijis
Taijis dolphin hunters head out to sea Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

Kai attributes that reticence down to what he claims are attempts by activists from Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups to manufacture confrontations, which they film and post online, and challenges claims that the practice of slaughtering dolphins beneath tarpaulin sheets is proof that he and his fellow fishermen have something to hide.

Activists say we are concealing something because we know that what we are doing is immoral, but thats nonsense, he says. You never see cattle or other animals being slaughtered in public. Its not something you do out in the open.

The earliest recorded coastal whale hunts in Taiji can be traced back to the early 1600s. Scrolls on display in the towns whale museum depict dozens of boats decorated with symbols taken from Buddhism and Japans indigenous religion, Shinto, in pursuit of a whale big enough to sustain the entire community for months.

Foreign activists ask us why we kill these cute animals, but we see them as a vital source of food, even now, says Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen. When I was a boy, a third of the town would turn out to greet a whale being brought back to shore, because they were desperate to eat its meat. We are grateful to the whales we want Westerners to understand that.

Taiji Japan map

By killing dolphins and other small whales, fishermen are continuing a tradition that enabled their ancestors to survive before the days of mass transport and the availability of other sources of nutrition, adds Sangen.

We couldnt grow rice or vegetables here, and we had no natural water supply. We needed to kill whales to eat, and hundreds of people died doing so. This was a very difficult place to survive, and we will always be grateful to our ancestors for their sacrifice. Its because of them that we are all here today.

For Sangen, everything in Taiji from services for elderly residents to education and tourist infrastructure depends on the income it makes from the sale of dolphins to zoos and aquariums. Several times during the interview he refers to kujira no megumi literally, the blessing of the whale. Whaling enables this town to function, he says.

Using remote-controlled helicopters and hidden underwater cameras, The Cove provided graphic footage of Taijis infamous drive hunts, whose critics include the former US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Typically, fishermen pursue pods of dolphins across open seas, banging metal poles against their boats to confuse their hypersensitive sonar, before herding them into a narrow inlet. There, they are either slaughtered for their meat or selected and sold for large sums to aquariums and marine parks.

While dolphin meat for human consumption generates only modest profits, Taijis fishermen can reportedly sell a live specimen to brokers for about 8,000 US dollars. A fully trained dolphin can then fetch more than 40,000 US dollars if sold overseas, and about half that in Japan.

Minke
Minke whale sashimi served at a restaurant in Taiji Photograph: Justin McCurry

The 20 or so Taiji fishermen who take to the sea between September and April to hunt bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales and other small cetaceans have been emboldened by the release of Okujirasama (A Whale of a Tale) a documentary by the New York-based filmmaker Megumi Sasaki that counters what she describes as The Coves one-sided treatment of a complex issue.

While making her film, Sasaki concluded that the debate over Taiji is an irreconcilable clash of cultures between the global, and Western-led, animal rights movement and local traditions steeped in religion and ancestor worship.

Whaling is the glue that holds this town together

If dolphins are so important to the local community, then why kill them thats what many Westerners cant understand, Sasaki says. But we think of animals as a resource, not that they are special creatures that can do things humans cant do. Its a totally different way of thinking. Whaling is the glue that holds this town together its inseparable from local identity and pride.

Kai dismisses claims that that he and other fishermen employ a singularly cruel method to kill the dolphins. The way we work has changed with the times, he says. In response to criticism, fishermen now dispatch the animals by inserting a knife into their neck, severing their brain stem a method he claims is the most humane possible, but which some experts have said does not result in a painless or immediate death.

On a recent morning, the seafront in Taiji is free from confrontation, although activists have tweeted their regular early-morning photos of the banger boats heading out to sea.

The fishermen appear to have reached an uneasy truce with overseas campaigners, first from Sea Shepherd, and now from the Dolphin Project, a group formed by the dolphin trainer-turned activist Ric OBarry.

Warning
Warning signs near the cove in Taiji. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

But there is still little interaction between the two sides. They dont want to listen, only to provoke us, Mitsunori Kobata, president of Taijis dolphin-hunting association, says over a dinner of minke whale sashimi and steamed rice flavoured with thin strips of whale blubber.

Theyre here to do whatever they can to obstruct our business, so we dont see any point in engaging with them. Theyre never going to change their minds, whatever we say.

Pointing to slices of sauted meat, from the belly of a short-finned pilot whale, that he has brought from home, Kobata adds: In the days when there was no refrigeration, people preserved meat like this in salt. Of course, there are lots of other sources of protein around these days, but people of my generation and older still have the right to eat whale if we want to.

Both men hope Sasakis documentary will restore some equilibrium to a debate that has cast a shadow over Taiji for almost a decade.

They point out that they kill just under 2,000 small cetaceans a year, a tenth of Japans annual quota, adding that none of the species is endangered or covered by the 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Were not ashamed of hunting dolphins and would never consider stopping, Kai says. Its the most important part of our local tradition.

Just look around you if we didnt make a living from the sea, there would be nothing left. People keep telling us to stop whaling and find another way of earning a living. But what on earth would we do instead?

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Japan kills more than 300 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

Whaling fleet returns to port after slaughtering hundreds of minke whales, in defiance of moratorium on hunting and global criticism

A Japanese whaling fleet returned to port on Friday after an annual Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, as Tokyo pursues the programme in defiance of global criticism.

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, flouting a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

The fleet consisted of five ships, three of which arrived on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the countrys Fisheries Agency said.

More than 200 people, including crew members and their families, gathered in the rain for a 30-minute ceremony in front of the Nisshin Maru, the fleets main ship, according to an official of the Shimonoseki city government.

In a press release, the agency described the mission as research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (IJC) call that a fiction and say the real purpose is simply to hunt whales for their meat.

Anticipating the fleets return, animal protection charity Humane Society International called for an end to Japanese whaling. Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed, said Kitty Block, the groups executive vice-president.

It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.

Japan also caught 333 minke whales in the previous season ending in 2016 after a one-year hiatus prompted by an IJC ruling, which said the hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science and ordered Tokyo to end it.

Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.

Tokyo exploits a loophole allowing whales to be killed for scientific research and claims it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

But it also makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served in school lunches.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-second world war years, when the country was desperately poor. But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they never or rarely eat whale meat.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japans 2014-15 mission carried out only non-lethal research such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Past missions have been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalists Sea Shepherd. A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members by the group.

He attributed that partially to Japan dispatching patrol ships to protect the fleet.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Killing dogs for meat ruled illegal by South Korean court

Landmark decision against dog farm could pave way for eating of canines to be outlawed

A South Korean court has ruled the killing of dogs for meat is illegal, in a landmark decision that animal rights activists have said could pave the way to outlawing the eating of canines.

The meat has long been a part of South Korean cuisine, with about 1 million dogs believed to be eaten annually, but consumption has declined and the practice is now something of a taboo among younger generations amid increased pressure from activists.

A ruling from the city court in Bucheon on Thursday, in a case brought by the animal rights group Care against a dog farm operator, said meat consumption was not a legal reason to kill dogs.

The group accused the man, who was convicted and fined 3m won (2,050), of killing animals without proper reasons and violating building and hygiene regulations.

It is very significant in that it is the first court decision that killing dogs for dog meat is illegal itself, said Kim Kyung-eun, a lawyer for Care.

The precedent paved the way for outlawing dog meat consumption entirely, she added.

Dog meat consumption is a grey area in South Korean law. Despite no specific ban, authorities have invoked hygiene regulations or animal protection laws that ban cruel slaughter methods to crack down on dog farms and restaurants ahead of international events such as the Pyeongchang Olympics.

A lawmaker from the ruling Democratic party introduced a bill in parliament this week that would effectively ban killing dogs for meat. There are about 17,000 dog farms in South Korea, and operators have called for the government to bring in laws explicitly to legalise dog meat consumption and license dog slaughter houses.

A survey last year found that 70% of South Koreans do not eat dog meat, but only about 40% believe the practice should be banned.

Care said it would track down dog farms and slaughter houses across the country with a view to filing similar complaints against them to judicial authorities. The dog meat industry will take greater heat because of the court ruling, said its leader, Park So-youn.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘Bank’ the turtle dies after swallowing 900 coins thrown into her pond

Sea turtle that lived in public pond in Thailand dies of blood poisoning despite surgery to remove 5kg of loose change from her stomach

A sea turtle nicknamed Bank has died of complications following surgery to remove nearly 1,000 coins she swallowed during captivity, vets in Thailand have said.

The cause of death was blood poisoning from the loose change, doctors at the veterinary faculty at Bangkoks Chulalongkorn University confirmed.

She at least had the chance to swim freely and eat happily before she passed, said Dr Nantarika Chansue, who removed 5kg (11lbs) of coins from the turtles stomach in a lengthy operation on 6 March.

At 10.10am she went with peace, Chansue, the vet in charge of Chulalongkorn hospitals aquatic research centre, told reporters, adding: She is my friend, teacher and patient.

Thai media began publicising the turtles tale last month and members of the public donated about 15,000 baht (350) towards her surgery.

Coins
An officer shows the coins the turtle ate over many years. Some had corroded or partially dissolved. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Five surgeons from Chulalongkorn Universitys veterinary faculty removed the coins over four hours while the turtle was anaesthetised. The mass of coins was too big to take out through a 10cm incision, so they had to be removed a few coins at a time. Many of them had corroded or partially dissolved.

Chansue said when she discovered the cause of the turtles agony she was furious. I felt angry that humans, whether or not they meant to do it or if they did it without thinking, had caused harm to this turtle, the vet said at the time.

At first Bank appeared to be recovering well after the operation, but a checkup on Saturday revealed problems with its intestines. Doctors performed a second operation but Bank never woke up and died on Tuesday morning.

Bank lived for two decades in a public pond in Chonburi province, about 110 miles (175km) south-east of Bangkok. The turtle swallowed 915 coins that tourists threw into the pond. Eventually, the money formed a mass that cracked Banks shell.

Vets hope that media coverage of the stricken creature will make people think twice about throwing coins into ponds where animals live.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Paddles, First Cat of New Zealand and social media star, dies after being hit by car

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister, writes of her sadness after her pet was killed shortly after moving into the PMs home in Auckland.

The first ever First Cat of New Zealand has died after being hit by a car near the prime ministers home in Auckland.

When Jacinda Ardern became New Zealands new prime minister last month she also brought with her a polydactyl cat, named Paddles.

The cat had opposable thumbs and quickly became a social media presence.

Its @FirstCatofNZ Twitter account was started just days after Ardern was declared the prime minister-elect on 19 October. The cats Twitter bio read: Have thumbs, will tweet.

Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ)

Hi, I’m Paddles and I am the First Cat of New Zealand. I have opposable thumbs, I’m purrty special. pic.twitter.com/MPkxdhWCRu

October 21, 2017

Paddles was also responsible for nearly derailing Arderns first phone call with US President Donald Trump when the cat came into the lounge meowing loudly.

A spokesman for the prime minister said the ginger cat, adopted from the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), was hit by a car near Arderns Point Chevalier home and killed on Tuesday.

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Jacinda Ardern on Paddles the cat’s opposable thumbs – archive video

The driver of the car told a local who then took the cat to a vet, the New Zealand Herald reported. The vet declared the cat dead.

Adern wrote on Facebook: To anyone who has ever lost a pet, youll know how sad we feel. Paddles was much loved, and not just by us.

Thanks for everyones thoughts. And on behalf of Paddles, please be kind to the SPCA. They found her before we did, and we will always be grateful for that.

The person manning Paddles Twitter account said the cats father, Arderns partner Clarke Gayford, wanted gifts of condolences to be made in the form of a donation to the SPCA.

Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ)

Just spoke w Paddles Dad, @NZClarke. If you would like to remember Paddles you are most welcome and encouraged to donate to the NZ SPCA.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Guggenheim Museum pulls three artworks featuring animals after threats of violence

Works in an exhibition of Chinese art that included reptiles eating insects and dogs on a treadmill are removed from show in New York following outcry

New Yorks Guggenheim Museum will remove three art pieces from an upcoming show featuring Chinese conceptual artists, amid accusations of animal cruelty and repeated threats of violence.

The museum will not exhibit three pieces during Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World two videos featuring live animals and a sculpture that includes live insects and lizards over concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.

The Guggenheim has been embroiled in controversy since the show was publicised, with animal rights groups calling for the the works to be pulled and a chorus of celebrities condemning the museum.

One of the videos, titled Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, is a recording of a 2003 live performance in which two pairs of pit bulls faced each other on treadmills, held back by harnesses so they could never make contact. Over the course of the video, created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the dogs grow weary and can be seen salivating more and more.

Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary, the museum said. As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art.

The shows signature piece Theatre of the World involves an enclosure housing hundreds of insects and reptiles that devour each other over the course of the show. A reference to the animals eating each other was removed from the Guggenheims website.

The artist, Huang Yong Ping, withdrew the artwork from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after a local animal rights group requested modifications.

A second video, A Case Study of Transference, made in 1994 by Xu Bing, features a boar and a sow mating, both stamped with gibberish made by mixing Chinese characters and the Roman alphabet and is meant to represent the contrast between complex writing systems and the wild nature of the animals.

The three artworks are a tiny fraction of the roughly 150 pieces that are part of the exhibition, which is set to open in October.

Just last week the Guggenheim defended showing Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, saying it was an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control.

Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance, it added.

But those comments failed to assuage the anger of animal rights activists, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals saying the performance caused the dogs pain and distress.

Such treadmills are typical of brutal dog fighting training regimens, and the mere positioning of animals to face each other and encourage aggression often meets the definition of illegal dog-fighting in most states, the ASPCA said in a statement.

A petition condemning the exhibition had over 550,000 signatures by the time the Guggenheim decided to pull the works and accused the institution of several distinct instances of unmistakable cruelty against animals in the name of art.

Only sick individuals would enjoy watching Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other and the Guggenheim should not cater to their twisted whims, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), wrote in an open letter to the museum.

Celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Richard Marx also accused the museum of animal cruelty.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Star of dolphin-hunting film The Cove to be deported from Japan

Ric OBarry is accused of trying to enter the country using tourist visa to join campaign against slaughter of dolphins in Taiji

A leading US animal rights activist is to be deported from Japan after being accused of trying to enter on a tourist visa to support a campaign against the slaughter of dolphins.

Ric OBarry, who starred in The Cove, the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary about the annual dolphin cull in the town of Taiji, has been detained at Narita airport near Tokyo since Monday.

His son, Lincoln OBarry, said immigration authorities had turned down his fathers request to visit Japan using a tourist visa. They reportedly accused him of lying during questioning and of having links to the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, whose members have a constant presence in Taiji.

The 76-year-old, who trained dolphins for the 1960s TV series Flipper before devoting himself to conservation, reportedly denied the charges, saying he was going to observe dolphins as a tourist.

Taiji, on Japans Pacific coast, gained international notoriety as a result of The Cove, which followed OBarry and other activists as they attempted to document the killing of dolphins by local fishermen. The film, directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary.

The method used to kill the animals has been widely condemned by environmentalists. The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, has also voiced deep concern about the drive-hunt method.

Fishermen pursue pods of dolphins and bang metal poles together beneath the water to confuse their hypersensitive sonar. The dolphins are then driven into a large cove sealed off by nets, and taken to a secluded inlet to be killed with knives and spears.

Last year, aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live dolphins from Taiji after they were threatened with expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation. Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, later said the town would set up a new body that would continue to sell dolphins to aquariums.

OBarry, who heads the Dolphin Project campaign group, is a regular visitor to Taiji, where fishermen catch hundreds of dolphins during the six-month season, which starts in September. The most attractive specimens, usually bottlenoses, are sold to aquariums and sea parks, while others are killed and their meat sold in local restaurants and supermarkets.

In an email to his son seen by the Associated Press, OBarry said: Im incarcerated, on trumped-up charges. In a world where so much that is wild and free has already been lost to us, we must leave these beautiful dolphins free to swim as they will and must.

Fishermen

Fishermen drive bottlenose dolphins into a net during the annual hunt off Taiji, Japan. Photograph: AP

Media reports said OBarry was resisting deportation and had been transferred to another detention facility near Narita airport. His lawyer Takashi Takano visited him on Friday and said OBarry was being held alone but was in good spirits.

The Japanese government was expected to issue a formal warrant and physically deport him, Takano added.

The deportation order marks a hardening of attitudes among Japanese authorities towards environmental activists in Taiji. Police have increased their presence in the town in case of clashes between Sea Shepherd members and locals, who claim they are being unfairly vilified for maintaining a coastal whaling and dolphin-hunting tradition stretching back centuries.

OBarry was arrested near the town last September for allegedly failing to carry his passport, but was released the following day.

Takano said immigration officials refused to believe OBarrys claim that he was not planning to participate in any campaigns. They cited his presence last August at Japan Dolphins Day in Tokyo, despite having told them he would not attend the event.

Immigration officials said they were unable to comment on individual cases.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Vietnam mourns death of sacred turtle and fears for ruling party’s future

Demise of reptile venerated as symbol of independence struggle considered bad omen for forthcoming Communist congress

A sacred giant turtle venerated as a symbol of Vietnams independence struggle has died, state media have said, prompting an outpouring of grief and fears the death bodes ill for a forthcoming communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered swinhoe softshell turtle, occupies a key mythological role in the country in the past, the turtle surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Some scientists believe it was one of only four of the species better known as Yangtze giant softshells in existence. Two are in China; the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

The reptile was found dead in Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi on Tuesday, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said. The turtle, which weighed about 200kg (440lbs), was said to be 80-100 years old.

Its demise was widely mourned on Vietnamese-language blogs and social media, with many warning it was a bad omen for forthcoming changes in the ruling Communist party, which begins its five-yearly congress on Thursday.

Giant

The giant turtle surfaces in February 2011. The rare sightings of the reptile were deemed auspicious. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

This is bad news for many people in Hanoi, said the Thanh Nien newspaper. Vietnams authoritarian rulers will choose a new party leader, president and prime minister at the congress.

In a story taught to all Vietnamese school children, the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem is the custodian of the magic sword of Le Loi, a 15th-century rebel leader who vanquished Chinese invaders.

Although officially an atheist country, many Vietnamese are deeply superstitious. I feel empty. My children, grandchildren will only know the turtle from legend, online commentator Duong Nguyen wrote on the popular VNExpress site.

Reports about the turtles death first appeared in state media late on Tuesday, but some were removed, apparently under pressure from communist authorities.

The turtles body is being kept at a temple on a small island in the lake pending an official decision on how to proceed, state media said, adding that embalming was being considered.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

China’s ‘extinct’ dolphin may have returned to Yangtze river, say conservationists

Amateur expedition team claims it spotted the baiji known as the goddess of the Yangtze in a stretch of Asias longest river

Chinese conservationists believe they may have caught a rare glimpse of a freshwater dolphin that was declared functionally extinct a decade ago having graced the Yangtze river for 20 million years.

Scientists and environmentalists had appeared to abandon hope that Chinas baiji, or white dolphin, could survive as a species after they failed to find a single animal during a fruitless six-week hunt along the 6,300-km (3,915-mile) waterway in 2006.

But a team of amateur conservationists now claims it spotted the so-called goddess of the Yangtze last week on a stretch of Asias longest river near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province.

No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that, Song Qi, the leader of that expedition told Sixth Tone, a government-backed news website. All the eyewitnesses which include fishermen felt certain that it was a baiji.

Song told the Guardian the unconfirmed sighting occurred during a seven-day search mission down the Yangtze that began in the city of Anqing on 30 September.

At just after 9.20am on 4 October he recalled spotting a white dot emerge from the river. Soon after a white light appeared to puncture the surface of the water for a second time. Seconds later Song spotted what he believes was the baiji for the third and final time, swimming towards the rivers eastern bank.

The amateur conservationist, whose day job is as a publisher in Beijing, admitted he was not a baiji specialist and could not be totally sure the animal he had seen was the aquatic mammal. His group captured no images that might conclusively identify it.

But Song said local fisherman who had also seen the creature were 100% certain it was the baiji.

With the apparent confirmation of its demise, the narrow-beaked river dolphin has become a symbol of the devastating environmental price China has paid for decades of unbridled development.

In the 1950s, the Yangtze is thought to have been home to thousands of such animals. But by the end of the 1980s that number had fallen to perhaps 200 thanks to a lethal cocktail of dam-building, over-fishing, pollution and boat traffic. By the turn of the century just 13 remained, according to one survey.

In his book about the baijis plight, Witness to Extinction, biologist Samuel Turvey described how thousands of years of human activity had decimated the Yangtze basin, a bio-diverse area once regarded as the Amazon of the East. As well as the baiji, the ecosystem was once home to two species of rhinoceros, elephants, gibbons and giant pandas. All have now disappeared.

During the Great Famine of the late 1950s, when tens of millions of Chinese people starved to death as a result of Mao Zedongs rule, the goddess of the Yangtze became lunch, Turvey wrote.

It was the dolphins or it was our children, one Yangtze fisherman is quoted as telling a Hong Kong journalist. Which would you choose?

More recently, shipping and catastrophic levels of industrial pollution have taken their toll. Chinas official news agency, Xinhua, this week reported that more than 400,000 chemical enterprises were operating on the Yangtzes middle and lower reaches around half the countrys total.

Song said he hoped his teams unconfirmed baiji sighting would prompt renewed efforts to save the species. He vowed to launch another expedition along the Yangtze early next year. I want society to realise that the baiji is not extinct, he said.

However, Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London who took part in the unsuccessful 2006 search mission, said he was skeptical about the supposed sighting.

Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isnt it, the conservation biologist said in an email.

Ecologically, the question is: if this is a baiji, where has the species been hiding for the past decade? Turvey added, pointing out that a previous sighting, in August 2007, had turned out to be a finless porpoise.

Turvey said that rather than chasing the ghosts of baiji he believed the world should instead focus on the plight of the Yangtze finless porpoise which was now critically endangered.

This animal needs urgent media interest and conservation attention in order to combat its total population collapse, while there is still time to do something about it.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘Not ashamed’: dolphin hunters of Taiji break silence over film The Cove

Members of the tiny Japanese community, which was vilified in the 2009 documentary, speak to the Guardian about fishing and their unique way of life

Taiji is still in darkness when a dozen men gather at the quayside and warm themselves over a brazier. While the rest of the town sleeps, they sip from cans of hot coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk in hushed tones.

As soon as the sun edges above the peninsula, they take to their boats, steering out to sea in formation in search of their prey: the dolphin.

It has been eight years since the Oscar-winning film The Cove propelled this community in an isolated corner of Japans Pacific coast to the centre of a bitter debate over the pursuit of dolphins for human consumption and entertainment.

The films graphic footage of dolphins being slaughtered with knives, turning the surrounding sea a crimson red, shocked audiences around the world.

Unaccustomed to international attention and wrong-footed by their social media-savvy opponents, the towns 3,200 residents simply went to ground. Requests for interviews with town officials went unanswered; the fishermen took a vow of silence.

But after years of keeping their counsel, Taijis fishermen have finally spoken out, agreeing to talk to the Guardian about their work, their whaling heritage, and their determination to continue hunting dolphins.

Weve mostly stayed silent since The Cove, and thats why our point of view was never put across in the media, says Yoshifumi Kai, a senior official with Taijis fisheries cooperative.

Taijis
Taijis dolphin hunters head out to sea Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

Kai attributes that reticence down to what he claims are attempts by activists from Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups to manufacture confrontations, which they film and post online, and challenges claims that the practice of slaughtering dolphins beneath tarpaulin sheets is proof that he and his fellow fishermen have something to hide.

Activists say we are concealing something because we know that what we are doing is immoral, but thats nonsense, he says. You never see cattle or other animals being slaughtered in public. Its not something you do out in the open.

The earliest recorded coastal whale hunts in Taiji can be traced back to the early 1600s. Scrolls on display in the towns whale museum depict dozens of boats decorated with symbols taken from Buddhism and Japans indigenous religion, Shinto, in pursuit of a whale big enough to sustain the entire community for months.

Foreign activists ask us why we kill these cute animals, but we see them as a vital source of food, even now, says Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen. When I was a boy, a third of the town would turn out to greet a whale being brought back to shore, because they were desperate to eat its meat. We are grateful to the whales we want Westerners to understand that.

Taiji Japan map

By killing dolphins and other small whales, fishermen are continuing a tradition that enabled their ancestors to survive before the days of mass transport and the availability of other sources of nutrition, adds Sangen.

We couldnt grow rice or vegetables here, and we had no natural water supply. We needed to kill whales to eat, and hundreds of people died doing so. This was a very difficult place to survive, and we will always be grateful to our ancestors for their sacrifice. Its because of them that we are all here today.

For Sangen, everything in Taiji from services for elderly residents to education and tourist infrastructure depends on the income it makes from the sale of dolphins to zoos and aquariums. Several times during the interview he refers to kujira no megumi literally, the blessing of the whale. Whaling enables this town to function, he says.

Using remote-controlled helicopters and hidden underwater cameras, The Cove provided graphic footage of Taijis infamous drive hunts, whose critics include the former US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Typically, fishermen pursue pods of dolphins across open seas, banging metal poles against their boats to confuse their hypersensitive sonar, before herding them into a narrow inlet. There, they are either slaughtered for their meat or selected and sold for large sums to aquariums and marine parks.

While dolphin meat for human consumption generates only modest profits, Taijis fishermen can reportedly sell a live specimen to brokers for about 8,000 US dollars. A fully trained dolphin can then fetch more than 40,000 US dollars if sold overseas, and about half that in Japan.

Minke
Minke whale sashimi served at a restaurant in Taiji Photograph: Justin McCurry

The 20 or so Taiji fishermen who take to the sea between September and April to hunt bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales and other small cetaceans have been emboldened by the release of Okujirasama (A Whale of a Tale) a documentary by the New York-based filmmaker Megumi Sasaki that counters what she describes as The Coves one-sided treatment of a complex issue.

While making her film, Sasaki concluded that the debate over Taiji is an irreconcilable clash of cultures between the global, and Western-led, animal rights movement and local traditions steeped in religion and ancestor worship.

Whaling is the glue that holds this town together

If dolphins are so important to the local community, then why kill them thats what many Westerners cant understand, Sasaki says. But we think of animals as a resource, not that they are special creatures that can do things humans cant do. Its a totally different way of thinking. Whaling is the glue that holds this town together its inseparable from local identity and pride.

Kai dismisses claims that that he and other fishermen employ a singularly cruel method to kill the dolphins. The way we work has changed with the times, he says. In response to criticism, fishermen now dispatch the animals by inserting a knife into their neck, severing their brain stem a method he claims is the most humane possible, but which some experts have said does not result in a painless or immediate death.

On a recent morning, the seafront in Taiji is free from confrontation, although activists have tweeted their regular early-morning photos of the banger boats heading out to sea.

The fishermen appear to have reached an uneasy truce with overseas campaigners, first from Sea Shepherd, and now from the Dolphin Project, a group formed by the dolphin trainer-turned activist Ric OBarry.

Warning
Warning signs near the cove in Taiji. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

But there is still little interaction between the two sides. They dont want to listen, only to provoke us, Mitsunori Kobata, president of Taijis dolphin-hunting association, says over a dinner of minke whale sashimi and steamed rice flavoured with thin strips of whale blubber.

Theyre here to do whatever they can to obstruct our business, so we dont see any point in engaging with them. Theyre never going to change their minds, whatever we say.

Pointing to slices of sauted meat, from the belly of a short-finned pilot whale, that he has brought from home, Kobata adds: In the days when there was no refrigeration, people preserved meat like this in salt. Of course, there are lots of other sources of protein around these days, but people of my generation and older still have the right to eat whale if we want to.

Both men hope Sasakis documentary will restore some equilibrium to a debate that has cast a shadow over Taiji for almost a decade.

They point out that they kill just under 2,000 small cetaceans a year, a tenth of Japans annual quota, adding that none of the species is endangered or covered by the 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Were not ashamed of hunting dolphins and would never consider stopping, Kai says. Its the most important part of our local tradition.

Just look around you if we didnt make a living from the sea, there would be nothing left. People keep telling us to stop whaling and find another way of earning a living. But what on earth would we do instead?

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Star of anti-dolphin killing film The Cove held by Japanese immigration

Ric OBarry seen in documentary about slaughter in a Japanese village says government is waging a war on dolphins

The star of Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, about the killing of dolphins in a village in Japan, has been detained by immigration authorities at Tokyos Narita international airport.

Ric OBarry an American known for training the dolphins used in the TV series Flipper said immigration officials told him he could not enter Japan on a tourist visa because he was not a tourist, according to his lawyer, Takashi Takano.

Takano said officials accused OBarry of having close ties with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, which OBarry denies. Immigration officials said it was their policy not to comment on individual cases.

Takano said he was appealing against the detention, and that the Japanese government would decide on whether to allow OBarry into the country or deport him. It was not clear when a decision would be made.

The Cove, which won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary, shows the slaughter of dolphins herded into a cove in the fishing village of Taiji and bludgeoned to death.

The Japanese government is cracking down on those who oppose their war on dolphins, OBarry said in a statement sent to the Associated Press through his son, Lincoln OBarry.

Officials in Taiji, a small fishing village in central Japan, and fishermen have defended the hunt as a tradition, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different to eating beef or chicken.

Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. Many say they are horrified by the dolphin killing and there is a campaign against the Taiji hunt. Animal welfare activists say the hunt is driven mostly by the lucrative sale of dolphins to aquariums, with the income from the sale of meat simply an added extra.

OBarry has been stopped and questioned by Japanese immigration before. He has also been taken into custody by local police on the suspicion of not having proper travel documents before being released. But this is the first time he has been detained in this way. He has the support of high-profile celebrities, including Sting, the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, and the former Guns N Roses drummer, Matt Sorum.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘World’s saddest’ polar bear offered new home in UK

Bear made headlines after footage was released showing its cramped living conditions in a Chinese shopping centre

A polar bear dubbed the worlds saddest because of its cramped living conditions in a Chinese shopping centre has been offered a new home at a UK wildlife park, an animal welfare charity has said.

The Yorkshire Wildlife Park, in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, has made an offer to remove Pizza the polar bear from the Grandview Aquarium, in Guangzhou, Animals Asia said.

Animals Asia, which seeks to end cruelty to animals in Asia, has collected more than half a million signatures in a campaign to close the aquarium.

It released footage of the animal earlier this year, which made headlines around the world and led to Pizza being described as the worlds saddest polar bear.

Dave Neale, Animals Asias animal welfare director, said: The good news now for Grandview is that they now have the chance to put their mistake right.

Pizza
Pizza the polar bear in the Grandview Aquarium, in Guangzhou, China. Photograph: VCG via Getty Images

Thanks to this incredible offer from Yorkshire Wildlife Park, there can be a happy ending and the negative publicity they have suffered can yet be turned into a positive news story.

From talking to them I know they know that mistakes have been made in terms of their animal facilities and ongoing care.

As an organisation that works with animal carers to provide the best possible environment for animals, we have to say that we would be delighted to see Pizza end up at Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

There he would not only enjoy incredible facilities, he would also be part of a community of bears.

The charity said the offer has been made on condition of Grandview agreeing not to replace Pizza with another animal and that no payment has been offered for the bear.

If the offer is accepted, the cost of transferring the polar bear will be raised and it will be up to both Yorkshire Wildlife Park and Grandview to arrange and secure the transfer in the shortest possible time.

If Pizza moves to Yorkshire Wildlife Park, he will live in a specially created habitat for polar bears with 10 acres and two lakes.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Taiji legal battle: court backs activist over baby dolphin kept in aquarium

Victory for animal rights after Japanese court awards Australian activist 110,000 yen after museum refused her entry to check on captive bottlenose

Animal rights activists have claimed a significant victory in its battle to end Japans dolphin slaughter after a court ruled that an aquarium in Taiji where hundreds of dolphins are killed every year acted illegally when it refused entry to an Australian campaigner.

The court in Wakayama, western Japan, on Friday awarded 110,000 yen (690) to Sarah Lucas, head of Australia for Dolphins, who had attempted to enter the Taiji whale museum in 2014 but was turned away and shown a cardboard sign saying anti-whalers were not welcome.

Lucas had intended to check on the welfare of a baby albino bottlenose that had been kept at the museum since being separated from its pod and captured earlier in the year. The museum reportedly paid $500,0000 (354,000) for the animal.

Lucas said the rare dolphin, called Angel, was being kept in a tiny crowded tank full of chlorine, and was being bullied by other dolphins.

The legal battle to save Angel is much bigger than a rescue mission to save one albino dolphin calf, Lucas said after the verdict.

This win proves the Taiji whale museum, the institution at the heart of the dolphin hunting trade, behaved illegally. It also shows the Taiji dolphin hunts are not above the law, which means the Japanese legal system can be used to end the cruel dolphin hunts for good.

Tetsuo Kirihata, deputy chief of the Taiji museum, said he was satisfied with the verdict because the initial demand for damages had been for about 3m yen.

We feel much of our case was taken into account by the court, he told Associated Press. Kirihata said the dolphin was eating well and getting along with other dolphins, with regular blood tests showing it was healthy. What to some might look like bullying was, in fact, part of regular activity in nature, he added.

The museum is owned by the town government in Taiji, the setting for the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, which showed fishermen driving pods of dolphins into shallow water before killing them with knives.

Photo
Photo taken in 2014 by environmentalist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows bottlenose dolphins trapped in the cove during the selection process by fishermen in the Japanese town of Taiji. Photograph: Sea Shepherd Conservation Societ/AFP/Getty Images

The use of the drive method has attracted widespread criticism, including from the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

International pressure on Taiji to distance itself from the global trade in dolphins intensified last year when aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live specimens from the town to avoid expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation.

The move came after the Guardian revealed that the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza) had been targeted in a court action launched by Australia for Dolphins. The group accused Waza of being complicit in the hunts by failing to take decisive action against Japanese aquariums.

The museum in Taiji, however, quit the Japanese branch of the world association in protest, with local fishermen vowing to continue the hunts.

During the most recent season, which ended last month, Taijis fishermen killed 652 dolphins and took 111 into captivity, according to figures supplied by the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Animals die as Cambodia is gripped by worst drought in decades

Schools face water shortages and government says entire nation is affected as rainy season is forecast to be delayed by months

Behind a clutch of huts that hug the major route between Cambodias capital and its famed Angkor temples, rice farmers Phem Phean and Sok Khoert peer into a cement hollow.

It is several meters deep, and one has to crane over the top to see all the way down. At the bottom, all that is left is a small pool of warm, dirty-looking water; it has run all but dry, along with two other wells, meaning the farmers and four other families have just one working well left from which to drink. And that, too, is fast running out.

Behind them, hundreds of acres of parched earth bake under an unrelenting sun in a relatively cloudless sky. If a rice harvest is even possible this year, they fear it is set to be poor and their main concern right now is being able to get enough water to drink.

Cambodian
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen delivers drinking water to villagers in drought-hit northwestern Banteay Meanchey province. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Here in Kompong Thom provinces Kampong Svay district, about 200kms north of Phnom Penh, Phean and Khoert spin a familiar narrative being repeated and lamented the length and breadth of Cambodia, which is currently in the midst of its worst drought in decades.

According to Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, the severity of this drought cannot be overestimated.

Previous droughts only affected parts of the country, but the current drought is affecting the whole, he said on Tuesday.

Nineteen provinces have been classified as in a serious condition requiring immediate intervention from the government, he said, and while the authorities have held off on making an appeal for international aid, ministries, military units, NGOs, and everyone capable of helping have been asked to step up.

Vy also warned that people are now more exposed to illnesses such as cholera, but insisted that the government will not allow any Cambodian people to die of thirst.

In Ratanakiri province in the northeast, Unicef has found that 136 out 203 primary schools are facing water shortages, with high absenteeism of both students and teachers being reported.

Cambodian
Cambodian men use a net to catch fish in a nearly dried pond at a village in Kandal province. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Cambodias rainy season, as it is known, typically arrives in May and continues in earnest through to October. This year, Vy said the ministry of water resources is forecasting that the season will not begin until July. This, coupled with a poor wet season last year, has put farmers in a difficult bind.

Over the past few weeks, the toll on animal life has been significant. First, in Siem Reap province, came the death of a female elephant, which collapsed from heatstroke after years of carrying tourists around Angkor Wat.

In Battambang province in the northwest one of the hardest-hit regions in the country Radio Free Asia reported that at least 30 monkeys died after the heat claimed the last tracts of water in their flooded forest habitat. RFA also said at least 200 water buffalo and cows have perished in the northern province of Stung Treng.

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A Cambodian farmer prepares a pipe to pump water from an almost dried-up lake in Kandal province, Cambodia. Photograph: Mak Remissa/EPA

Back in Kompong Thom, Stoung district governor Prim Ratha told The Guardian that the loss of 70 tonnes of fish in the Boeng Tonle Chhmar lake, about 40kms west of Stoung town, was a great upset.

Fishing is banned at the protected lake, meaning fish numbers are dense, but with the water level now teetering at the 20cm mark, authorities have been trying to cool what is left by introducing more plants in a bid to save those that remain.

Ratha also said he and other local officials used their own pocket money to fund emergency relief measures, including the purchase of water bottles and water pumps, because bureaucracy has stymied the release of funding from central government. Reserves have been released into the local river, but the reservoir is now running low.

In spite of all this, Stoung district rice and chicken farmer Hean Sokkhim has still had to borrow money and pawn belongings to pay for bottled water. A pond at the back of her property is nearly empty and she is saving whatever rice seeds she has left for eating. Last years yield was poor. She and her family have enough to eat, she says, but her worry is acute. About two chicks are dying every day.

The few patches of rain that have passed over this scorched land in recent days have done little to mitigate the impact of months of drought. Next door to Pheam and Khoert, vegetable farmer Kin Tai points to a recently dug well behind her hut. Her efforts were in vain, as it yielded no water, and her cucumbers and pumpkins have all died. She said the loss is worth about $100 a significant sum in a country where the gross national income per capita is about $1,020, according to 2014 World Bank figures.

Pheam and Khoert say they have not even been approached by the Kampong Svay authorities, let alone offered any help.

We dont know what our fate will be; we dont know what to do.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Japan kills more than 300 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

Whaling fleet returns to port after slaughtering hundreds of minke whales, in defiance of moratorium on hunting and global criticism

A Japanese whaling fleet returned to port on Friday after an annual Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, as Tokyo pursues the programme in defiance of global criticism.

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, flouting a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.

The fleet consisted of five ships, three of which arrived on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the countrys Fisheries Agency said.

More than 200 people, including crew members and their families, gathered in the rain for a 30-minute ceremony in front of the Nisshin Maru, the fleets main ship, according to an official of the Shimonoseki city government.

In a press release, the agency described the mission as research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (IJC) call that a fiction and say the real purpose is simply to hunt whales for their meat.

Anticipating the fleets return, animal protection charity Humane Society International called for an end to Japanese whaling. Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed, said Kitty Block, the groups executive vice-president.

It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.

Japan also caught 333 minke whales in the previous season ending in 2016 after a one-year hiatus prompted by an IJC ruling, which said the hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science and ordered Tokyo to end it.

Under the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.

Tokyo exploits a loophole allowing whales to be killed for scientific research and claims it is trying to prove the population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting.

But it also makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served in school lunches.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-second world war years, when the country was desperately poor. But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they never or rarely eat whale meat.

In response to the ICJ ruling, Japans 2014-15 mission carried out only non-lethal research such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.

Past missions have been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalists Sea Shepherd. A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members by the group.

He attributed that partially to Japan dispatching patrol ships to protect the fleet.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Paddles, First Cat of New Zealand and social media star, dies after being hit by car

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister, writes of her sadness after her pet was killed shortly after moving into the PMs home in Auckland.

The first ever First Cat of New Zealand has died after being hit by a car near the prime ministers home in Auckland.

When Jacinda Ardern became New Zealands new prime minister last month she also brought with her a polydactyl cat, named Paddles.

The cat had opposable thumbs and quickly became a social media presence.

Its @FirstCatofNZ Twitter account was started just days after Ardern was declared the prime minister-elect on 19 October. The cats Twitter bio read: Have thumbs, will tweet.

Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ)

Hi, I’m Paddles and I am the First Cat of New Zealand. I have opposable thumbs, I’m purrty special. pic.twitter.com/MPkxdhWCRu

October 21, 2017

Paddles was also responsible for nearly derailing Arderns first phone call with US President Donald Trump when the cat came into the lounge meowing loudly.

A spokesman for the prime minister said the ginger cat, adopted from the Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), was hit by a car near Arderns Point Chevalier home and killed on Tuesday.

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Jacinda Ardern on Paddles the cat’s opposable thumbs – archive video

The driver of the car told a local who then took the cat to a vet, the New Zealand Herald reported. The vet declared the cat dead.

Adern wrote on Facebook: To anyone who has ever lost a pet, youll know how sad we feel. Paddles was much loved, and not just by us.

Thanks for everyones thoughts. And on behalf of Paddles, please be kind to the SPCA. They found her before we did, and we will always be grateful for that.

The person manning Paddles Twitter account said the cats father, Arderns partner Clarke Gayford, wanted gifts of condolences to be made in the form of a donation to the SPCA.

Paddles (@FirstCatofNZ)

Just spoke w Paddles Dad, @NZClarke. If you would like to remember Paddles you are most welcome and encouraged to donate to the NZ SPCA.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Vietnam mourns death of sacred turtle and fears for ruling party’s future

Demise of reptile venerated as symbol of independence struggle considered bad omen for forthcoming Communist congress

A sacred giant turtle venerated as a symbol of Vietnams independence struggle has died, state media have said, prompting an outpouring of grief and fears the death bodes ill for a forthcoming communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered swinhoe softshell turtle, occupies a key mythological role in the country in the past, the turtle surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Some scientists believe it was one of only four of the species better known as Yangtze giant softshells in existence. Two are in China; the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

The reptile was found dead in Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi on Tuesday, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said. The turtle, which weighed about 200kg (440lbs), was said to be 80-100 years old.

Its demise was widely mourned on Vietnamese-language blogs and social media, with many warning it was a bad omen for forthcoming changes in the ruling Communist party, which begins its five-yearly congress on Thursday.

Giant

The giant turtle surfaces in February 2011. The rare sightings of the reptile were deemed auspicious. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

This is bad news for many people in Hanoi, said the Thanh Nien newspaper. Vietnams authoritarian rulers will choose a new party leader, president and prime minister at the congress.

In a story taught to all Vietnamese school children, the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem is the custodian of the magic sword of Le Loi, a 15th-century rebel leader who vanquished Chinese invaders.

Although officially an atheist country, many Vietnamese are deeply superstitious. I feel empty. My children, grandchildren will only know the turtle from legend, online commentator Duong Nguyen wrote on the popular VNExpress site.

Reports about the turtles death first appeared in state media late on Tuesday, but some were removed, apparently under pressure from communist authorities.

The turtles body is being kept at a temple on a small island in the lake pending an official decision on how to proceed, state media said, adding that embalming was being considered.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Guggenheim Museum pulls three artworks featuring animals after threats of violence

Works in an exhibition of Chinese art that included reptiles eating insects and dogs on a treadmill are removed from show in New York following outcry

New Yorks Guggenheim Museum will remove three art pieces from an upcoming show featuring Chinese conceptual artists, amid accusations of animal cruelty and repeated threats of violence.

The museum will not exhibit three pieces during Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World two videos featuring live animals and a sculpture that includes live insects and lizards over concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.

The Guggenheim has been embroiled in controversy since the show was publicised, with animal rights groups calling for the the works to be pulled and a chorus of celebrities condemning the museum.

One of the videos, titled Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, is a recording of a 2003 live performance in which two pairs of pit bulls faced each other on treadmills, held back by harnesses so they could never make contact. Over the course of the video, created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the dogs grow weary and can be seen salivating more and more.

Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary, the museum said. As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art.

The shows signature piece Theatre of the World involves an enclosure housing hundreds of insects and reptiles that devour each other over the course of the show. A reference to the animals eating each other was removed from the Guggenheims website.

The artist, Huang Yong Ping, withdrew the artwork from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after a local animal rights group requested modifications.

A second video, A Case Study of Transference, made in 1994 by Xu Bing, features a boar and a sow mating, both stamped with gibberish made by mixing Chinese characters and the Roman alphabet and is meant to represent the contrast between complex writing systems and the wild nature of the animals.

The three artworks are a tiny fraction of the roughly 150 pieces that are part of the exhibition, which is set to open in October.

Just last week the Guggenheim defended showing Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, saying it was an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control.

Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance, it added.

But those comments failed to assuage the anger of animal rights activists, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals saying the performance caused the dogs pain and distress.

Such treadmills are typical of brutal dog fighting training regimens, and the mere positioning of animals to face each other and encourage aggression often meets the definition of illegal dog-fighting in most states, the ASPCA said in a statement.

A petition condemning the exhibition had over 550,000 signatures by the time the Guggenheim decided to pull the works and accused the institution of several distinct instances of unmistakable cruelty against animals in the name of art.

Only sick individuals would enjoy watching Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other and the Guggenheim should not cater to their twisted whims, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), wrote in an open letter to the museum.

Celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Richard Marx also accused the museum of animal cruelty.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Pterosaurs: record haul of egg fossils from ancient flying reptile found in China

Scientists unearth 215 eggs with preserved embryos of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis, providing fresh understanding of dinosaurs cousin

A discovery in northwestern China of hundreds of fossilized pterosaur eggs is providing fresh understanding of the flying reptiles that lived alongside the dinosaurs, including evidence that their babies were born flightless and needed parental care.

Scientists said on Thursday they unearthed 215 eggs of the fish-eating Hamipterus tianshanensis a species whose adults had a crest atop an elongated skull, pointy teeth and a wingspan of more than 11ft (3.5m) including 16 eggs containing partial embryonic remains.

Fossils of hundreds of male and female adult Hamipterus individuals were found alongside juveniles and eggs at the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region site, making this Cretaceous Period species that lived 120m years ago perhaps the best understood of all pterosaurs.

We want to call this region Pterosaur Eden, said paleontologist Shunxing Jiang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Pterosaurs were Earths first flying vertebrates. Birds and bats appeared later.

Until now, no pterosaur eggs had been found with embryos preserved in three dimensions. Researchers think up to 300 eggs may be present, some buried under the exposed fossils.

Some
Some of the 300 pterosaur eggs found at the Hami region, north eastern China. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA

The embryonic bones indicated the hind legs of a baby Hamipterus developed more rapidly than crucial wing elements like the humerus bone, said paleontologist Alexander Kellner of Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro.

Some birds can fly on the same day they break out from the egg, while some others will need a long period of parental care. Our conclusion is that a baby Hamipterus can walk but cant fly, Jiang said, an unexpected finding.

The researchers believe these pterosaurs lived in a bustling colony near a large freshwater lake. Kellner cited evidence that females gathered together to lay eggs in nesting colonies and returned over the years to the same nesting site.

They suspect the eggs and some juvenile and adult individuals were washed away from a nesting site in a storm and into the lake, where they were preserved and later fossilized.

The oblong eggs, up to about 3in (7.2cm) long, were pliable with a thin, hard outer layer marked by cracking and crazing covering a thick membrane inner layer, resembling soft eggs of some modern snakes and lizards.

There had been a paucity of pterosaur eggs and embryos in the paleontological record because it is difficult for soft-shelled eggs to fossilize.

The research was published in the journal Science.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

British couple celebrate after birth of first cloned puppy of its kind

West Yorkshire couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde enlisted South Korean firm offering dog-cloning service for £67,000

A British couple have made history after a surrogate dog gave birth to the first cloned puppy of its kind on Boxing Day.

In the first case of its kind, the boxer puppy was cloned from the couples dead dog, Dylan, almost two weeks after it died. The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.

Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, from West Yorkshire, were grief stricken after their boxer died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.

The pair decided to try to clone Dylan and enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service for $100,000 (67,000) per procedure. It is the only laboratory of its kind in the world. They have hailed the birth as a miracle.

The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques favourite film, Disneys Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined in three days time by a second cloned puppy this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.

Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.

Dylan,

Dylan, who died in June this year. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

The whole thing just feels surreal, she said. I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.

After they got him out I still couldnt quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I cant believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them.

Remde said: I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.

The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his mother. Im trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan, said Jacques. Its quite confusing but Im telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylans puppies.

I had had Dylan since he was a puppy, she said. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a blank dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time, he said. Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.

There are no regulations on the cloning of pets, although the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Hwang Woo-suk, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004, he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it. He was part of the team delivering the cloned puppy on Boxing Day.

The RSPCA expressed concern about dog cloning. A spokesperson said: There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company, Heritage Masonry & Conservation, had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory. Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples. They are now waiting for the birth of the second puppy and are hoping to adopt the puppies two surrogate mothers and bring four dogs back to the UK next July after the quarantine period has ended.

Key dates in the cloning of Dylan

11 June: Couple told their eight-year-old boxer dog Dylan has an inoperable brain tumour. They were told he might live for up to 18 months with treatment.

30 June: Dylan dies after a cardiac arrest.

1 & 2 July: Vet allows the couple to keep Dylan with them for a few days before burying him. Jacques starts researching the possibilities of cloning a dead dog.

2 July: Dylan is refrigerated in a funeral parlour. Couple purchase medical equipment from Boots to take a skin sample from Dylan to send to Sooam in South Korea in the hope that they can clone him.

4 July: Remde flies to South Korea with the samples, delivers them to laboratory staff waiting at the airport and immediately gets on a plane back to the UK.

5 July: Dylans remains are frozen until a date is fixed for his burial.

6 July: Sooam says it does not think the samples Remde has flown to South Korea could be used to create a cloned puppy.

7 July: Sooam asks whether the couple still have the dog and if so whether they want to try to extract more samples for cloning.

10 July: The couple struggle to take samples from Dylan, whose body remains frozen before burial. A small sample of cells is finally secured around midnight.

11 July: Remde flies to South Korea again to deliver the samples. Sooam receives the cells having never attempted to clone a dog 12 days after its death.

21t October: Sooam confirms the cells have grown to a sufficient degree that the cloning process could start.

23 November: Sooam says a pregnancy has been verified.

24 November: Sooam says a second pregnancy has been verified.

26 December: First boxer puppy is born on Boxing Day.

29 December: Second puppy due.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

China’s ‘extinct’ dolphin may have returned to Yangtze river, say conservationists

Amateur expedition team claims it spotted the baiji known as the goddess of the Yangtze in a stretch of Asias longest river

Chinese conservationists believe they may have caught a rare glimpse of a freshwater dolphin that was declared functionally extinct a decade ago having graced the Yangtze river for 20 million years.

Scientists and environmentalists had appeared to abandon hope that Chinas baiji, or white dolphin, could survive as a species after they failed to find a single animal during a fruitless six-week hunt along the 6,300-km (3,915-mile) waterway in 2006.

But a team of amateur conservationists now claims it spotted the so-called goddess of the Yangtze last week on a stretch of Asias longest river near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province.

No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that, Song Qi, the leader of that expedition told Sixth Tone, a government-backed news website. All the eyewitnesses which include fishermen felt certain that it was a baiji.

Song told the Guardian the unconfirmed sighting occurred during a seven-day search mission down the Yangtze that began in the city of Anqing on 30 September.

At just after 9.20am on 4 October he recalled spotting a white dot emerge from the river. Soon after a white light appeared to puncture the surface of the water for a second time. Seconds later Song spotted what he believes was the baiji for the third and final time, swimming towards the rivers eastern bank.

The amateur conservationist, whose day job is as a publisher in Beijing, admitted he was not a baiji specialist and could not be totally sure the animal he had seen was the aquatic mammal. His group captured no images that might conclusively identify it.

But Song said local fisherman who had also seen the creature were 100% certain it was the baiji.

With the apparent confirmation of its demise, the narrow-beaked river dolphin has become a symbol of the devastating environmental price China has paid for decades of unbridled development.

In the 1950s, the Yangtze is thought to have been home to thousands of such animals. But by the end of the 1980s that number had fallen to perhaps 200 thanks to a lethal cocktail of dam-building, over-fishing, pollution and boat traffic. By the turn of the century just 13 remained, according to one survey.

In his book about the baijis plight, Witness to Extinction, biologist Samuel Turvey described how thousands of years of human activity had decimated the Yangtze basin, a bio-diverse area once regarded as the Amazon of the East. As well as the baiji, the ecosystem was once home to two species of rhinoceros, elephants, gibbons and giant pandas. All have now disappeared.

During the Great Famine of the late 1950s, when tens of millions of Chinese people starved to death as a result of Mao Zedongs rule, the goddess of the Yangtze became lunch, Turvey wrote.

It was the dolphins or it was our children, one Yangtze fisherman is quoted as telling a Hong Kong journalist. Which would you choose?

More recently, shipping and catastrophic levels of industrial pollution have taken their toll. Chinas official news agency, Xinhua, this week reported that more than 400,000 chemical enterprises were operating on the Yangtzes middle and lower reaches around half the countrys total.

Song said he hoped his teams unconfirmed baiji sighting would prompt renewed efforts to save the species. He vowed to launch another expedition along the Yangtze early next year. I want society to realise that the baiji is not extinct, he said.

However, Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London who took part in the unsuccessful 2006 search mission, said he was skeptical about the supposed sighting.

Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isnt it, the conservation biologist said in an email.

Ecologically, the question is: if this is a baiji, where has the species been hiding for the past decade? Turvey added, pointing out that a previous sighting, in August 2007, had turned out to be a finless porpoise.

Turvey said that rather than chasing the ghosts of baiji he believed the world should instead focus on the plight of the Yangtze finless porpoise which was now critically endangered.

This animal needs urgent media interest and conservation attention in order to combat its total population collapse, while there is still time to do something about it.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

‘Not ashamed’: dolphin hunters of Taiji break silence over film The Cove

Members of the tiny Japanese community, which was vilified in the 2009 documentary, speak to the Guardian about fishing and their unique way of life

Taiji is still in darkness when a dozen men gather at the quayside and warm themselves over a brazier. While the rest of the town sleeps, they sip from cans of hot coffee, smoke cigarettes and talk in hushed tones.

As soon as the sun edges above the peninsula, they take to their boats, steering out to sea in formation in search of their prey: the dolphin.

It has been eight years since the Oscar-winning film The Cove propelled this community in an isolated corner of Japans Pacific coast to the centre of a bitter debate over the pursuit of dolphins for human consumption and entertainment.

The films graphic footage of dolphins being slaughtered with knives, turning the surrounding sea a crimson red, shocked audiences around the world.

Unaccustomed to international attention and wrong-footed by their social media-savvy opponents, the towns 3,200 residents simply went to ground. Requests for interviews with town officials went unanswered; the fishermen took a vow of silence.

But after years of keeping their counsel, Taijis fishermen have finally spoken out, agreeing to talk to the Guardian about their work, their whaling heritage, and their determination to continue hunting dolphins.

Weve mostly stayed silent since The Cove, and thats why our point of view was never put across in the media, says Yoshifumi Kai, a senior official with Taijis fisheries cooperative.

Taijis
Taijis dolphin hunters head out to sea Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

Kai attributes that reticence down to what he claims are attempts by activists from Sea Shepherd and other conservation groups to manufacture confrontations, which they film and post online, and challenges claims that the practice of slaughtering dolphins beneath tarpaulin sheets is proof that he and his fellow fishermen have something to hide.

Activists say we are concealing something because we know that what we are doing is immoral, but thats nonsense, he says. You never see cattle or other animals being slaughtered in public. Its not something you do out in the open.

The earliest recorded coastal whale hunts in Taiji can be traced back to the early 1600s. Scrolls on display in the towns whale museum depict dozens of boats decorated with symbols taken from Buddhism and Japans indigenous religion, Shinto, in pursuit of a whale big enough to sustain the entire community for months.

Foreign activists ask us why we kill these cute animals, but we see them as a vital source of food, even now, says Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen. When I was a boy, a third of the town would turn out to greet a whale being brought back to shore, because they were desperate to eat its meat. We are grateful to the whales we want Westerners to understand that.

Taiji Japan map

By killing dolphins and other small whales, fishermen are continuing a tradition that enabled their ancestors to survive before the days of mass transport and the availability of other sources of nutrition, adds Sangen.

We couldnt grow rice or vegetables here, and we had no natural water supply. We needed to kill whales to eat, and hundreds of people died doing so. This was a very difficult place to survive, and we will always be grateful to our ancestors for their sacrifice. Its because of them that we are all here today.

For Sangen, everything in Taiji from services for elderly residents to education and tourist infrastructure depends on the income it makes from the sale of dolphins to zoos and aquariums. Several times during the interview he refers to kujira no megumi literally, the blessing of the whale. Whaling enables this town to function, he says.

Using remote-controlled helicopters and hidden underwater cameras, The Cove provided graphic footage of Taijis infamous drive hunts, whose critics include the former US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Typically, fishermen pursue pods of dolphins across open seas, banging metal poles against their boats to confuse their hypersensitive sonar, before herding them into a narrow inlet. There, they are either slaughtered for their meat or selected and sold for large sums to aquariums and marine parks.

While dolphin meat for human consumption generates only modest profits, Taijis fishermen can reportedly sell a live specimen to brokers for about 8,000 US dollars. A fully trained dolphin can then fetch more than 40,000 US dollars if sold overseas, and about half that in Japan.

Minke
Minke whale sashimi served at a restaurant in Taiji Photograph: Justin McCurry

The 20 or so Taiji fishermen who take to the sea between September and April to hunt bottlenose dolphins, pilot whales and other small cetaceans have been emboldened by the release of Okujirasama (A Whale of a Tale) a documentary by the New York-based filmmaker Megumi Sasaki that counters what she describes as The Coves one-sided treatment of a complex issue.

While making her film, Sasaki concluded that the debate over Taiji is an irreconcilable clash of cultures between the global, and Western-led, animal rights movement and local traditions steeped in religion and ancestor worship.

Whaling is the glue that holds this town together

If dolphins are so important to the local community, then why kill them thats what many Westerners cant understand, Sasaki says. But we think of animals as a resource, not that they are special creatures that can do things humans cant do. Its a totally different way of thinking. Whaling is the glue that holds this town together its inseparable from local identity and pride.

Kai dismisses claims that that he and other fishermen employ a singularly cruel method to kill the dolphins. The way we work has changed with the times, he says. In response to criticism, fishermen now dispatch the animals by inserting a knife into their neck, severing their brain stem a method he claims is the most humane possible, but which some experts have said does not result in a painless or immediate death.

On a recent morning, the seafront in Taiji is free from confrontation, although activists have tweeted their regular early-morning photos of the banger boats heading out to sea.

The fishermen appear to have reached an uneasy truce with overseas campaigners, first from Sea Shepherd, and now from the Dolphin Project, a group formed by the dolphin trainer-turned activist Ric OBarry.

Warning
Warning signs near the cove in Taiji. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian

But there is still little interaction between the two sides. They dont want to listen, only to provoke us, Mitsunori Kobata, president of Taijis dolphin-hunting association, says over a dinner of minke whale sashimi and steamed rice flavoured with thin strips of whale blubber.

Theyre here to do whatever they can to obstruct our business, so we dont see any point in engaging with them. Theyre never going to change their minds, whatever we say.

Pointing to slices of sauted meat, from the belly of a short-finned pilot whale, that he has brought from home, Kobata adds: In the days when there was no refrigeration, people preserved meat like this in salt. Of course, there are lots of other sources of protein around these days, but people of my generation and older still have the right to eat whale if we want to.

Both men hope Sasakis documentary will restore some equilibrium to a debate that has cast a shadow over Taiji for almost a decade.

They point out that they kill just under 2,000 small cetaceans a year, a tenth of Japans annual quota, adding that none of the species is endangered or covered by the 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling.

Were not ashamed of hunting dolphins and would never consider stopping, Kai says. Its the most important part of our local tradition.

Just look around you if we didnt make a living from the sea, there would be nothing left. People keep telling us to stop whaling and find another way of earning a living. But what on earth would we do instead?

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/us

China’s ‘extinct’ dolphin may have returned to Yangtze river, say conservationists

Amateur expedition team claims it spotted the baiji known as the goddess of the Yangtze in a stretch of Asias longest river

Chinese conservationists believe they may have caught a rare glimpse of a freshwater dolphin that was declared functionally extinct a decade ago having graced the Yangtze river for 20 million years.

Scientists and environmentalists had appeared to abandon hope that Chinas baiji, or white dolphin, could survive as a species after they failed to find a single animal during a fruitless six-week hunt along the 6,300-km (3,915-mile) waterway in 2006.

But a team of amateur conservationists now claims it spotted the so-called goddess of the Yangtze last week on a stretch of Asias longest river near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province.

No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that, Song Qi, the leader of that expedition told Sixth Tone, a government-backed news website. All the eyewitnesses which include fishermen felt certain that it was a baiji.

Song told the Guardian the unconfirmed sighting occurred during a seven-day search mission down the Yangtze that began in the city of Anqing on 30 September.

At just after 9.20am on 4 October he recalled spotting a white dot emerge from the river. Soon after a white light appeared to puncture the surface of the water for a second time. Seconds later Song spotted what he believes was the baiji for the third and final time, swimming towards the rivers eastern bank.

The amateur conservationist, whose day job is as a publisher in Beijing, admitted he was not a baiji specialist and could not be totally sure the animal he had seen was the aquatic mammal. His group captured no images that might conclusively identify it.

But Song said local fisherman who had also seen the creature were 100% certain it was the baiji.

With the apparent confirmation of its demise, the narrow-beaked river dolphin has become a symbol of the devastating environmental price China has paid for decades of unbridled development.

In the 1950s, the Yangtze is thought to have been home to thousands of such animals. But by the end of the 1980s that number had fallen to perhaps 200 thanks to a lethal cocktail of dam-building, over-fishing, pollution and boat traffic. By the turn of the century just 13 remained, according to one survey.

In his book about the baijis plight, Witness to Extinction, biologist Samuel Turvey described how thousands of years of human activity had decimated the Yangtze basin, a bio-diverse area once regarded as the Amazon of the East. As well as the baiji, the ecosystem was once home to two species of rhinoceros, elephants, gibbons and giant pandas. All have now disappeared.

During the Great Famine of the late 1950s, when tens of millions of Chinese people starved to death as a result of Mao Zedongs rule, the goddess of the Yangtze became lunch, Turvey wrote.

It was the dolphins or it was our children, one Yangtze fisherman is quoted as telling a Hong Kong journalist. Which would you choose?

More recently, shipping and catastrophic levels of industrial pollution have taken their toll. Chinas official news agency, Xinhua, this week reported that more than 400,000 chemical enterprises were operating on the Yangtzes middle and lower reaches around half the countrys total.

Song said he hoped his teams unconfirmed baiji sighting would prompt renewed efforts to save the species. He vowed to launch another expedition along the Yangtze early next year. I want society to realise that the baiji is not extinct, he said.

However, Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London who took part in the unsuccessful 2006 search mission, said he was skeptical about the supposed sighting.

Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isnt it, the conservation biologist said in an email.

Ecologically, the question is: if this is a baiji, where has the species been hiding for the past decade? Turvey added, pointing out that a previous sighting, in August 2007, had turned out to be a finless porpoise.

Turvey said that rather than chasing the ghosts of baiji he believed the world should instead focus on the plight of the Yangtze finless porpoise which was now critically endangered.

This animal needs urgent media interest and conservation attention in order to combat its total population collapse, while there is still time to do something about it.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/11/china-extinct-dolphin-returned-yangtze-river-baiji

Vietnam mourns death of sacred turtle and fears for ruling party’s future

Demise of reptile venerated as symbol of independence struggle considered bad omen for forthcoming Communist congress

A sacred giant turtle venerated as a symbol of Vietnams independence struggle has died, state media have said, prompting an outpouring of grief and fears the death bodes ill for a forthcoming communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered swinhoe softshell turtle, occupies a key mythological role in the country in the past, the turtle surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Some scientists believe it was one of only four of the species better known as Yangtze giant softshells in existence. Two are in China; the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

The reptile was found dead in Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi on Tuesday, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said. The turtle, which weighed about 200kg (440lbs), was said to be 80-100 years old.

Its demise was widely mourned on Vietnamese-language blogs and social media, with many warning it was a bad omen for forthcoming changes in the ruling Communist party, which begins its five-yearly congress on Thursday.

Giant

The giant turtle surfaces in February 2011. The rare sightings of the reptile were deemed auspicious. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

This is bad news for many people in Hanoi, said the Thanh Nien newspaper. Vietnams authoritarian rulers will choose a new party leader, president and prime minister at the congress.

In a story taught to all Vietnamese school children, the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem is the custodian of the magic sword of Le Loi, a 15th-century rebel leader who vanquished Chinese invaders.

Although officially an atheist country, many Vietnamese are deeply superstitious. I feel empty. My children, grandchildren will only know the turtle from legend, online commentator Duong Nguyen wrote on the popular VNExpress site.

Reports about the turtles death first appeared in state media late on Tuesday, but some were removed, apparently under pressure from communist authorities.

The turtles body is being kept at a temple on a small island in the lake pending an official decision on how to proceed, state media said, adding that embalming was being considered.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/20/vietnam-mourns-death-of-sacred-giant-turtle

Chinese museum accused of racism over photos pairing Africans with animals

More than 141,000 people visit the exhibit in Wuhan before it is eventually removed after sparking complaints from Africans

A museum in China has removed an exhibit this week that juxtaposed photographs of animals with portraits of black Africans, sparking complaints of racism.

The exhibit titled This Is Africa at the Hubei Provincial Museum in the city of Wuhan displayed a series of diptychs, each one containing a photo of an African person paired with the face of an animal. In a particularly striking example, a child with his mouth wide open was paired with a gorilla and other works included baboons and cheetahs.

The exhibit was eventually removed after complaints by Africans, including some living in China, the curator said. All the photographs were taken by Yu Huiping, a construction magnate who has travelled to Africa more than 20 times, has previously won awards for his work and is vice-chairman of the Hubei Photographers Association.

Racial sensitivities are often muddled in China, where about 92% of the population belongs to the dominant Han ethnicity and ethnic minorities mostly live in the sporadically populated far west of the country. African countries are increasingly important trading partners, but cultural stereotypes dominate Chinese popular discourse on the continent.

Wang Yuejun, one of the exhibits curators, said that comparisons to animals were typically seen as a compliment in Chinese culture, pointing to the zodiac signs that identify people with animals according to their birth year.

The target audience is mainly Chinese, Wang said in a statement. But the museum understood the images offended our African friends and the pictures were removed to show respect for their concerns, Wang added.

The offensive nature was first notices by a Nigerian Instagram user, Edward E Duke. In a post, which was later removed, he asked why the museum put pictures of a particular race next to wild animals.

More than 141,000 people visited the show, which opened just before Chinas week-long National Day holiday.

China is rife with examples of tone deafness when it comes to race. Chinas most popular chat app, WeChat, was forced to apologise this week after its software used the English N-word to translate a Chinese phrase that commonly means black foreigner.

Last year a television advert for laundry detergent showed a black man covered in paint going into a washing machine and coming out as a sparkling Asian man. The video went viral around the world and caused outrage for its insensitive messaging.

Over the summer Chinas state news agency published a video during a border standoff with India featuring an offensive parody of a Sikh man, complete with a turban and fake beard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/14/chinese-museum-accused-of-racism-over-photos-pairing-africans-with-animals

Guggenheim Museum pulls three artworks featuring animals after threats of violence

Works in an exhibition of Chinese art that included reptiles eating insects and dogs on a treadmill are removed from show in New York following outcry

New Yorks Guggenheim Museum will remove three art pieces from an upcoming show featuring Chinese conceptual artists, amid accusations of animal cruelty and repeated threats of violence.

The museum will not exhibit three pieces during Art and China after 1989: Theatre of the World two videos featuring live animals and a sculpture that includes live insects and lizards over concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.

The Guggenheim has been embroiled in controversy since the show was publicised, with animal rights groups calling for the the works to be pulled and a chorus of celebrities condemning the museum.

One of the videos, titled Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, is a recording of a 2003 live performance in which two pairs of pit bulls faced each other on treadmills, held back by harnesses so they could never make contact. Over the course of the video, created by artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, the dogs grow weary and can be seen salivating more and more.

Although these works have been exhibited in museums in Asia, Europe, and the United States, the Guggenheim regrets that explicit and repeated threats of violence have made our decision necessary, the museum said. As an arts institution committed to presenting a multiplicity of voices, we are dismayed that we must withhold works of art.

The shows signature piece Theatre of the World involves an enclosure housing hundreds of insects and reptiles that devour each other over the course of the show. A reference to the animals eating each other was removed from the Guggenheims website.

The artist, Huang Yong Ping, withdrew the artwork from a show in Vancouver in 2007 after a local animal rights group requested modifications.

A second video, A Case Study of Transference, made in 1994 by Xu Bing, features a boar and a sow mating, both stamped with gibberish made by mixing Chinese characters and the Roman alphabet and is meant to represent the contrast between complex writing systems and the wild nature of the animals.

The three artworks are a tiny fraction of the roughly 150 pieces that are part of the exhibition, which is set to open in October.

Just last week the Guggenheim defended showing Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other, saying it was an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control.

Contrary to some reports, no fighting occurred in the original performance, it added.

But those comments failed to assuage the anger of animal rights activists, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals saying the performance caused the dogs pain and distress.

Such treadmills are typical of brutal dog fighting training regimens, and the mere positioning of animals to face each other and encourage aggression often meets the definition of illegal dog-fighting in most states, the ASPCA said in a statement.

A petition condemning the exhibition had over 550,000 signatures by the time the Guggenheim decided to pull the works and accused the institution of several distinct instances of unmistakable cruelty against animals in the name of art.

Only sick individuals would enjoy watching Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other and the Guggenheim should not cater to their twisted whims, Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), wrote in an open letter to the museum.

Celebrities including comedian Ricky Gervais and singer Richard Marx also accused the museum of animal cruelty.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/sep/26/guggenheim-museum-artworks-animals-threats-violence

Manny Pacquiao provokes storm by calling gay people worse than animals

Boxer Manny Pacquiao has provoked a storm in his home country after saying people in same-sex relationships are worse than animals

The eight-times world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has provoked a storm of controversy in his home country after saying people in same-sex relationships are worse than animals.

Pacquiao, 37, who is running for a seat in the Philippines senate in Mays elections as a conservative Christian, made the remark in a video posted on local TV5s election site.

Its common sense, he said. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women they are worse than animals.

The countrys most popular gay comedian, Vice Ganda, posted #PrayForMannyPacquiao to his 6.7m followers on Twitter as he hit back at the boxer, adding: Some people think they can judge people like God just because theyve attended a prayer meeting and read the bible. The senate needs experts on politics and law, not blind prophets.

jose marie viceral (@vicegandako) February 16, 2016

The LGBT is a group of people. We are humans. But not animals. Though we’re no saints we will pray for Manny Pacquiao.

The singer Aiza Seguerra, who recently married her actress-girlfriend, called on voters to boycott Pacquiao, who is also preparing for his last fight in April, calling him an ignorant, bigoted hypocrite. Seguerra added: You might have done our country proud but with your statement, you just showed the whole country why we shouldnt vote for you.

Pacquiao, beaten by Floyd Mayweather in May last year, currently represents the province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives, though is often absent. In one of his few speeches, Pacquiao quoted heavily from the bible as he attempted to stop a proposed law, since passed, giving free condoms to the poor.

Responding to the controversy via Instagram, Pacquiao initially posted an image of himself with his wife, quoting the bible and writing: I rather obey the Lords command than obeying the desire of the flesh. Im not condemning anyone, but Im just telling the truth of what the bible says.

Manny Pacquiao responded to the controversy via Instagram.

Later, though, he added an apology, saying: Im sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those Ive hurt. I still stand on my belief that Im against same sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but Im not condemning LGBT. I love you all with the love of the Lord. God Bless you all and Im praying for you.

In January fighter Tyson Fury was reminded of his heavy responsibilities by the British Boxing Board of Control for his controversial remarks about homosexuality.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/feb/16/manny-pacquiao-gay-people-worse-than-animals

Animals die as Cambodia is gripped by worst drought in decades

Schools face water shortages and government says entire nation is affected as rainy season is forecast to be delayed by months

Behind a clutch of huts that hug the major route between Cambodias capital and its famed Angkor temples, rice farmers Phem Phean and Sok Khoert peer into a cement hollow.

It is several meters deep, and one has to crane over the top to see all the way down. At the bottom, all that is left is a small pool of warm, dirty-looking water; it has run all but dry, along with two other wells, meaning the farmers and four other families have just one working well left from which to drink. And that, too, is fast running out.

Behind them, hundreds of acres of parched earth bake under an unrelenting sun in a relatively cloudless sky. If a rice harvest is even possible this year, they fear it is set to be poor and their main concern right now is being able to get enough water to drink.

Cambodian
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen delivers drinking water to villagers in drought-hit northwestern Banteay Meanchey province. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Here in Kompong Thom provinces Kampong Svay district, about 200kms north of Phnom Penh, Phean and Khoert spin a familiar narrative being repeated and lamented the length and breadth of Cambodia, which is currently in the midst of its worst drought in decades.

According to Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, the severity of this drought cannot be overestimated.

Previous droughts only affected parts of the country, but the current drought is affecting the whole, he said on Tuesday.

Nineteen provinces have been classified as in a serious condition requiring immediate intervention from the government, he said, and while the authorities have held off on making an appeal for international aid, ministries, military units, NGOs, and everyone capable of helping have been asked to step up.

Vy also warned that people are now more exposed to illnesses such as cholera, but insisted that the government will not allow any Cambodian people to die of thirst.

In Ratanakiri province in the northeast, Unicef has found that 136 out 203 primary schools are facing water shortages, with high absenteeism of both students and teachers being reported.

Cambodian
Cambodian men use a net to catch fish in a nearly dried pond at a village in Kandal province. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Cambodias rainy season, as it is known, typically arrives in May and continues in earnest through to October. This year, Vy said the ministry of water resources is forecasting that the season will not begin until July. This, coupled with a poor wet season last year, has put farmers in a difficult bind.

Over the past few weeks, the toll on animal life has been significant. First, in Siem Reap province, came the death of a female elephant, which collapsed from heatstroke after years of carrying tourists around Angkor Wat.

In Battambang province in the northwest one of the hardest-hit regions in the country Radio Free Asia reported that at least 30 monkeys died after the heat claimed the last tracts of water in their flooded forest habitat. RFA also said at least 200 water buffalo and cows have perished in the northern province of Stung Treng.

A
A Cambodian farmer prepares a pipe to pump water from an almost dried-up lake in Kandal province, Cambodia. Photograph: Mak Remissa/EPA

Back in Kompong Thom, Stoung district governor Prim Ratha told The Guardian that the loss of 70 tonnes of fish in the Boeng Tonle Chhmar lake, about 40kms west of Stoung town, was a great upset.

Fishing is banned at the protected lake, meaning fish numbers are dense, but with the water level now teetering at the 20cm mark, authorities have been trying to cool what is left by introducing more plants in a bid to save those that remain.

Ratha also said he and other local officials used their own pocket money to fund emergency relief measures, including the purchase of water bottles and water pumps, because bureaucracy has stymied the release of funding from central government. Reserves have been released into the local river, but the reservoir is now running low.

In spite of all this, Stoung district rice and chicken farmer Hean Sokkhim has still had to borrow money and pawn belongings to pay for bottled water. A pond at the back of her property is nearly empty and she is saving whatever rice seeds she has left for eating. Last years yield was poor. She and her family have enough to eat, she says, but her worry is acute. About two chicks are dying every day.

The few patches of rain that have passed over this scorched land in recent days have done little to mitigate the impact of months of drought. Next door to Pheam and Khoert, vegetable farmer Kin Tai points to a recently dug well behind her hut. Her efforts were in vain, as it yielded no water, and her cucumbers and pumpkins have all died. She said the loss is worth about $100 a significant sum in a country where the gross national income per capita is about $1,020, according to 2014 World Bank figures.

Pheam and Khoert say they have not even been approached by the Kampong Svay authorities, let alone offered any help.

We dont know what our fate will be; we dont know what to do.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/05/animals-die-cambodia-worst-drought-decades

Star of dolphin-hunting film The Cove to be deported from Japan

Ric OBarry is accused of trying to enter the country using tourist visa to join campaign against slaughter of dolphins in Taiji

A leading US animal rights activist is to be deported from Japan after being accused of trying to enter on a tourist visa to support a campaign against the slaughter of dolphins.

Ric OBarry, who starred in The Cove, the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary about the annual dolphin cull in the town of Taiji, has been detained at Narita airport near Tokyo since Monday.

His son, Lincoln OBarry, said immigration authorities had turned down his fathers request to visit Japan using a tourist visa. They reportedly accused him of lying during questioning and of having links to the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, whose members have a constant presence in Taiji.

The 76-year-old, who trained dolphins for the 1960s TV series Flipper before devoting himself to conservation, reportedly denied the charges, saying he was going to observe dolphins as a tourist.

Taiji, on Japans Pacific coast, gained international notoriety as a result of The Cove, which followed OBarry and other activists as they attempted to document the killing of dolphins by local fishermen. The film, directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary.

The method used to kill the animals has been widely condemned by environmentalists. The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, has also voiced deep concern about the drive-hunt method.

Fishermen pursue pods of dolphins and bang metal poles together beneath the water to confuse their hypersensitive sonar. The dolphins are then driven into a large cove sealed off by nets, and taken to a secluded inlet to be killed with knives and spears.

Last year, aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live dolphins from Taiji after they were threatened with expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation. Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, later said the town would set up a new body that would continue to sell dolphins to aquariums.

OBarry, who heads the Dolphin Project campaign group, is a regular visitor to Taiji, where fishermen catch hundreds of dolphins during the six-month season, which starts in September. The most attractive specimens, usually bottlenoses, are sold to aquariums and sea parks, while others are killed and their meat sold in local restaurants and supermarkets.

In an email to his son seen by the Associated Press, OBarry said: Im incarcerated, on trumped-up charges. In a world where so much that is wild and free has already been lost to us, we must leave these beautiful dolphins free to swim as they will and must.

Fishermen

Fishermen drive bottlenose dolphins into a net during the annual hunt off Taiji, Japan. Photograph: AP

Media reports said OBarry was resisting deportation and had been transferred to another detention facility near Narita airport. His lawyer Takashi Takano visited him on Friday and said OBarry was being held alone but was in good spirits.

The Japanese government was expected to issue a formal warrant and physically deport him, Takano added.

The deportation order marks a hardening of attitudes among Japanese authorities towards environmental activists in Taiji. Police have increased their presence in the town in case of clashes between Sea Shepherd members and locals, who claim they are being unfairly vilified for maintaining a coastal whaling and dolphin-hunting tradition stretching back centuries.

OBarry was arrested near the town last September for allegedly failing to carry his passport, but was released the following day.

Takano said immigration officials refused to believe OBarrys claim that he was not planning to participate in any campaigns. They cited his presence last August at Japan Dolphins Day in Tokyo, despite having told them he would not attend the event.

Immigration officials said they were unable to comment on individual cases.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/star-dolphin-hunting-film-cove-ric-obarry-deported-japan

An insider’s guide to Beijing: caged birds, smog and internet satire

Chinas capital is home to nearly as many people as the entire population of Australia. Concrete sprawl might be prevalent but so too are buckwheat pancakes, traditional theatres and oases filled with birdsong

In five words

Alleys, imperial architecture, concrete sprawl

Sound of the city

Old Beijingers have a hobby of keeping caged birds that sing their bright, melodic chirps are a pleasant wake-up call, even if youre not an early riser. In the narrow hutongs, their tones echo alongside the boisterous conversations of residents, the thick Beijing accent unmistakable anywhere. But these oases are never far away from wide-scale chaos: bad urban planning from the Mao era means that huge roads cut across the fabric of the city, so the sound of cars is a constant in the capital.

Best building

Wooden
Gives you goosebumps Zhengyici wooden theatre

Hidden in the southern part of the historical area of Qianmen, is one of the most wonderfully preserved wooden theatres in China, Zhengyici, built in 1688. The outside, in keeping with Beijings traditional courtyard home style of siheyuan, is inconspicuous. But inside, its a two-floor space with fantastic acoustics for classical performances, and fewer than 100 seats. The roofed stage, when flooded with light, flushes bright red so atmospheric it can give you goosebumps. The theatre has hosted Beijing Opera from masters such as Mei Lanfang, and today it puts on some of the most original performing arts youll see in the city, doing classical with a contemporary twist very well indeed.

Worst building

Beijings
Even worse than the big underpants housing blocks in the hutongs. Photograph: Yuan Ren

The ugliest building in Beijing isnt Rem Koolhaass controversial CCTV tower, known commonly as the big underpants due to its shape. More repulsive are a series of residential apartment blocks bland, occasionally communist in style and akin to the UKs giant housing estates which can be found bang in the city centre.

These blocks were built in the 90s and 00s after the one-storey housing in the hutongs was torn down for being too old, ironic given that many of their rapidly erected replacements have already fallen into disrepair. The complexes on the west side of Beixinqiao station, as well as Min An Xiaoqu nearby, are particularly oppressive.

Biggest controversy

A year ago it was used to be pollution. But since hazy skies are less of a pain in the backside now, everyone is talking about how unaffordable the city has become. Housing prices in Beijing have skyrocketed in the last decade, and continue to soar inside the fifth ring road. Prices are closing in on those of London and New York; completely absurd given that the average salary in Beijing is merely a fraction of what it is in these cities (around 500 a month).

Only residents with a Beijing household registration, known as a hukou, or who have paid taxes and national insurance for at least five years, can even think about buying. For the migrant workers that prop up much of the labour industry, many dont even get basic social benefits and are in danger of being kicked out.

Young people from outside Beijing often rent shared rooms, or even dormitory housing (as cheap as 30 or 40 a month), some of them in illegal underground basements.

Laws imposing higher taxes and deposits on second homes have seen buyers circumventing regulations by getting fake-divorced a privilege given many dont even have the right to buy property in the capital.

Homegrown talent

Theres not much in the way of English-speaking talent, but Papi Jiang has become Chinas biggest internet sensation after her satirical rants on topics of popular culture went viral on Youku (A Chinese version of YouTube) earlier this year. In her classic survival guide for males, she enacts what Chinese women really mean when they say reply nothing to their partners questions, including the line: You dont know my menstrual cycle and you dare say you love me?

Although shes originally from Shanghai, the capital is where Papi Jiang learnt her trade, honing her performance skills at the prestigious Central Academy of Drama, where she returned for graduate studies.

Papi Jiang doesnt do live shows the whole point is that shes a web celebrity. You may not understand what she is saying, but this mouthy student at the Central Academy of Film is clearly offering Chinese people something they crave.

Look on the street

Beijing
Street style, the Beijing way. Photograph: Yuan Ren

Simplicity is a work-in-progress when it comes to high street fashion. While the nation is slowly coming round to the idea of less is more Beijing is at the forefront of the transition.

Long, drapey but slightly old-fashioned dresses are a popular style; for colder days, skinny jeans and sports trainers is a favourite combination with young women. In the summer, legs out is go-to for girls thigh-gripping jeans shorts paired with platforms or high heels (with socks) are everywhere. But while high on the leg is OK, low cuts on top will still get you a stare.

What is your citys most under-rated location?

Duan
Haunting the former Duan Qirui government building. Photograph: Jens Schott Knudsen

Next to Zhangzizhonglu underground station is a complex that is mysterious and spectacular. The Duan Qirui Former Government Building, constructed in the early 20th century, is unkempt. Many of the buildings are disused, with the back ones acting as dormitories for Beijings Renmin University (a bit underutilised, you would think, given the historical value of the site). Anyone can stroll in, although the complex is gated say youre visiting Peanut Cafe and keep striding along.

What does Beijing do better than anywhere else?

The Jianbing. These are crispy folded pancakes with an egg cracked on to them and spread out with a wooden spatula, all on a flat round pan. A layer of deep fried crispy dough is later added in the middle, sprinkled with hot and savoury sauces, spring onions and coriander, and then folded over. Different types of pancakes are often on offer, including wholegrain, purple rice and buckwheat rice.

Best Instagram

Jens Schott Knudsen is a lawyer and freelance photographer who has lived in the Chinese capital since 2012 and has collaborated with historians and urban planners to document the citys rapid change. He likes to shoot early or late in the day, when Beijing feels like a different world, he says. At 6am its quieter, less crowded, but there is still a lot of life on the streets from sleepy eyed workers to school children lining up for breakfast snacks.

How green is your city?

Not very. Beijing is known for its smoggy days, but things are improving since the government decided something had to be done all the news coverage from abroad was becoming an embarrassment. There has been an effort to shut down polluting industries around the city since, or at least move them elsewhere.

While no congestion charge exists, different digits on vehicle number plates are banned from the roads on different days of the week. The city that was once home to a million bicycles is forgoing them for public transport and cars though.

And to shortcut the route of cleaning up pollution, the city has plans to literally blow away urban smog, particularly in winter when its worse, by creating ventilation corridors, channels for the wind through the citys green spaces.

Moment in history

Beijing was a fortified city with an extensive system of inner and outer city walls, gates, watchtowers and defence that was not just mechanically advanced, but architecturally spectacular.

That all changed in 1949 when, with a view to making Beijing the next Moscow, Mao ordered the tearing down of Beijings city wall, which ran in a circle along what is now the inner ring road. With the citys defence destroyed (it took decades to pull down), much of the inside also underwent reconstruction in the 90s historical areas were heavily rebuilt and turned into featureless apartment blocks. Parts of the inner city have since become heavily commercialised, with the area near the Drum and Bell tower, the old clock towers of Beijing, and the nearby old Nanluoguxiang street, made into snack streets that are now forever chockablock with people and waste no-go areas for locals.

Top insiders tip

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/17/insiders-guide-beijing-caged-birds-smog-internet-satire

China’s ‘extinct’ dolphin may have returned to Yangtze river, say conservationists

Amateur expedition team claims it spotted the baiji known as the goddess of the Yangtze in a stretch of Asias longest river

Chinese conservationists believe they may have caught a rare glimpse of a freshwater dolphin that was declared functionally extinct a decade ago having graced the Yangtze river for 20 million years.

Scientists and environmentalists had appeared to abandon hope that Chinas baiji, or white dolphin, could survive as a species after they failed to find a single animal during a fruitless six-week hunt along the 6,300-km (3,915-mile) waterway in 2006.

But a team of amateur conservationists now claims it spotted the so-called goddess of the Yangtze last week on a stretch of Asias longest river near the city of Wuhu in Anhui province.

No other creature could jump out of the Yangtze like that, Song Qi, the leader of that expedition told Sixth Tone, a government-backed news website. All the eyewitnesses which include fishermen felt certain that it was a baiji.

Song told the Guardian the unconfirmed sighting occurred during a seven-day search mission down the Yangtze that began in the city of Anqing on 30 September.

At just after 9.20am on 4 October he recalled spotting a white dot emerge from the river. Soon after a white light appeared to puncture the surface of the water for a second time. Seconds later Song spotted what he believes was the baiji for the third and final time, swimming towards the rivers eastern bank.

The amateur conservationist, whose day job is as a publisher in Beijing, admitted he was not a baiji specialist and could not be totally sure the animal he had seen was the aquatic mammal. His group captured no images that might conclusively identify it.

But Song said local fisherman who had also seen the creature were 100% certain it was the baiji.

With the apparent confirmation of its demise, the narrow-beaked river dolphin has become a symbol of the devastating environmental price China has paid for decades of unbridled development.

In the 1950s, the Yangtze is thought to have been home to thousands of such animals. But by the end of the 1980s that number had fallen to perhaps 200 thanks to a lethal cocktail of dam-building, over-fishing, pollution and boat traffic. By the turn of the century just 13 remained, according to one survey.

In his book about the baijis plight, Witness to Extinction, biologist Samuel Turvey described how thousands of years of human activity had decimated the Yangtze basin, a bio-diverse area once regarded as the Amazon of the East. As well as the baiji, the ecosystem was once home to two species of rhinoceros, elephants, gibbons and giant pandas. All have now disappeared.

During the Great Famine of the late 1950s, when tens of millions of Chinese people starved to death as a result of Mao Zedongs rule, the goddess of the Yangtze became lunch, Turvey wrote.

It was the dolphins or it was our children, one Yangtze fisherman is quoted as telling a Hong Kong journalist. Which would you choose?

More recently, shipping and catastrophic levels of industrial pollution have taken their toll. Chinas official news agency, Xinhua, this week reported that more than 400,000 chemical enterprises were operating on the Yangtzes middle and lower reaches around half the countrys total.

Song said he hoped his teams unconfirmed baiji sighting would prompt renewed efforts to save the species. He vowed to launch another expedition along the Yangtze early next year. I want society to realise that the baiji is not extinct, he said.

However, Turvey, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London who took part in the unsuccessful 2006 search mission, said he was skeptical about the supposed sighting.

Extreme claims for the possible survival of probably extinct species require robust proof, and while I would deeply love there to be strong evidence that the baiji is not extinct, this isnt it, the conservation biologist said in an email.

Ecologically, the question is: if this is a baiji, where has the species been hiding for the past decade? Turvey added, pointing out that a previous sighting, in August 2007, had turned out to be a finless porpoise.

Turvey said that rather than chasing the ghosts of baiji he believed the world should instead focus on the plight of the Yangtze finless porpoise which was now critically endangered.

This animal needs urgent media interest and conservation attention in order to combat its total population collapse, while there is still time to do something about it.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/11/china-extinct-dolphin-returned-yangtze-river-baiji

Rare bird being driven to extinction by poaching for its ‘red ivory’ bill

Helmeted hornbills solid red beak sells for several times the price of elephant ivory due to soaring demand on the Chinese black market

A virtually unknown ivory poaching crisis is rapidly driving one of the worlds most spectacular birds to extinction, a global wildlife summit has heard.

The helmeted hornbill, found mainly in Indonesia, Borneo and Thailand, has a solid red beak which sells as a red ivory on the black market, for several times the price of elephant ivory. The huge birds have been caught for centuries for their tail feathers, prized by local communities, but since 2011 poaching has soared to feed Chinese demand for carving ivory, even though the trade is illegal, sending the hornbill into a death spiral.

The bird, which can have a wingspan of 2m, was officially listed as near threatened in 2012 but within three years had plunged three danger levels to critically endangered. Over 2,100 heads were seized in Indonesia and China in the two years up to August 2014, according to the Species Survival Network, and some estimates suggest 6,000 a year are killed.

The government of Indonesia set out the hornbills plight on Tuesday in front of the 182 nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa. Cites had already given its highest level protection to the hornbill in 1975 all trade is illegal. But Indonesia demanded more international action to break the crime syndicates that smuggle the beak ivory, known as casques.

The high price reached by the casques motivates hunters to kill all the hornbills they cross, including juvenile birds, said the Cites delegate from Indonesia, where police have arrested and prosecuted 15 hornbill traffickers since 2015. The illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn has been well documented, however, the illegal trade in casques has been little known. If this highly profitable illegal trade is not curbed, the existence of this majestic species is in danger and is likely to lead to extinction.

It is in huge trouble, said Elizabeth Bennett, from the Wildlife Conservation Society. They have this fabulous call, that ends in cackling laughter, which you can hear from a mile away. But they are incredibly easy to hunt because of that call: it must be the most spectacular bird call on the planet.

The Cites nations agreed urgent action was needed and will decide on its precise form in the coming days. Indonesia is calling on other countries to take hornbill ivory as seriously as the other ivory, Bennett said. The Cites action is a big red flag, she said, which will be very valuable in pressuring governments, including China, to act.

Bennett said the slow-breeding birds were particularly vulnerable to poaching. They mate for life, and when ready to lay their one or two eggs per year, the male uses mud to seal the female into a protective hole in a tree. The male then feeds the female and chicks through a slit, meaning if the male is shot, the whole family starves. The birds casque is used to hammer out insects from rotting wood, or to fight.

The hornbill has also been harmed by the loss of much of its habitat to palm oil plantations. It has not been helped by the vast clearances of lowland forest in Borneo and Sumatra, said Bennett.

Only global cooperation can stop the illegal trade in hornbill ivory before it is too late, said the Cites delegate from the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society. I have witnessed the rampant illegal poaching in the rainforest.

Handcuffed
Handcuffed suspects hold parts of helmeted hornbills in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Photograph: Dewantoro/AP

On Monday, the Guardian exposed the central role of international organised crime groups in wildlife trafficking in Asia and linked the illegal trade to corrupt officials at the highest levels. The investigation also revealed the crime family at the centre of Asias animal trafficking network.

Responding to the investigation, Heather Sohl, WWF-UKs chief advisor on wildlife, said: This highlights the necessity to tackle the organised criminal networks that are so entrenched in wildlife trafficking, which is estimated to be worth over 12bn a year. Corruption often goes hand in hand with these large-scale criminal operations and for the first time ever corruption will be discussed this week at Cites.

Iris Ho, of Humane Society International, said: No governments should give cover to these exposed wildlife traffickers who have profited, making tens of millions of dollars from the slaughter of elephants, lions, pangolins and rhinos.

We urge the Cites [nations] to give these animals the highest level of protection possible and ensure that this nexus of Africa-Asia wildlife traffickers are swiftly brought to justice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/28/rare-bird-being-driven-to-extinction-by-poaching-for-its-red-ivory-bill

Japan safari park worker killed in bear attack

Kiyomi Saito died from her injuries after a black bear climbed into her car in Gunma safari park and attacked her, say police

A safari park employee in Japan has been killed by a bear that climbed into her car and attacked her.

The Asian black bear was seen clambering into the vehicle at Gunma safari park, north-west of Tokyo, and mauling Kiyomi Saito, a police spokesman said.

Saito, 46, sustained fatal injuries to her chest and stomach.

The details are not yet known, including how the bear got inside the car, the spokesman said. The animal was believed to be a five-year-old male weighing 160 kg (25st 3lb).

The park remains under police investigation and no details can be confirmed at this point, said Yusuke Yamazaki, a park employee.

Japan has been hit by a spate of wild bear attacks this year. Four people in the north were killed in separate incidents in May and June.

In 2012, several bears escaped from Hachimantai bear park in northern Akita prefecture, which had kept 38 animals, most of them brown bears. Two female workers at the facility were later found dead.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/16/japan-safari-park-worker-killed-bear-attack-gunma

Is your leather from China? It might be made of dog or cat skin

Difficulty of distinguishing from legal animal hide means US probably imports plenty, but pressure from activists and US Congress may be about to change that

When American consumers shop for leather goods, it probably doesnt enter their minds that their new belts, bags or shoes could be made not from cows or pigs but from cats and dogs. But not only is it a possibility, its hard for consumers to know what they have been sold.

Almost all that dog or cat leather comes from China. Now changes in Chinese culture, more pressure from the US and an upcoming trade agreement are combining to undermine this contraband trade.

The US banned the importation of dog and cat fur and skin, which is punishable by fines up to $10,000, as part of the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000. But distinguishing dog and cat leather from cow, sheep and pig leather is no easy matter, making it possible for unscrupulous manufacturers to pass off leather from dogs as leather from legal animals. A report by the Congressional Research Service shows that in 2014, the US imported $8.5bn in leather articles from China. It is unknown how much of each years total might be dog or cat leather.

The controversy over dog leather reached new heights in 2014 when an undercover investigator working for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia discovered that dogs were being killed for leather production in China. According to Peta, which is calling on American consumers to forgo all leather goods in favor of vegan substitutes, employees at the facility said that 100-200 dogs were killed there a day and confirmed that the resulting leather was intended for export to and sale in the US market. The investigation shone a light on the underreported underbelly of the animal industry in China, which currently has no comprehensive animal welfare law.

The dog leather investigation we did, groups that are in the country with us really had no idea, said Jason Baker, Peta Asias vice-president of international operations. While [the investigations] shock people internationally, they also shock people in China.

Petas footage of the dog slaughterhouse spurred congressional interest. In December 2015, Democratic congressman Alcee Hastings joined colleagues Dina Titus and Steve Cohen in sending a letter to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner, R Gil Kerlikowske, calling for better regulation of leather importation to combat the use of dog leather.

In American culture, dogs are cherished pets and are considered a member of the family, the letter states. Accordingly, Americans would not want to hold their four-legged companions leash with a dog-skin glove.

Hastings, Titus and Cohen all have strong track records when it comes to animal welfare issues, and Titus and Hastings, in interviews, both separately described the footage as disturbing; the graphic undercover footage taken by the Peta Asia investigator showed dogs being bludgeoned before having their throats cut and their skin removed, sometimes, seemingly, while still alive.

Despite the horrors of Petas investigation, Peter Li, associate professor of east Asian politics at University of Houston-Downtown and a China policy specialist and consultant for Humane Society International, says dog fur facilities are few and far between in China. Li said that the dog leather trade is dependent on the dog meat trade; since killing dogs for meat is not illegal in China, the byproducts, including skin and fur, may be used for other purposes.

Dog leather or dog fur use in garments or other products are not that common in China. While there are a few sweatshops producing dog furs in different places, dog fur is largely a byproduct of dog meat trade, Li said in an email. When China outlaws dog eating and the dog meat trade, dog leather as a product shall be gone.

The dog meat trade has become a focal point in the conversation around Chinese animal welfare, with local animal activists organizing to rescue hundreds of dogs bound for the meat market and protesting against dog consumption; Peta Asia has also focused its efforts on promoting veganism and vegetarianism in the country, and the consumption of dog meat is believed to be declining as pet ownership booms.

Though China, which is the worlds largest leather and fur producer, exporter and consumer, lacks anti-animal abuse legislation, the animal welfare movement has been growing: China ended mandatory animal testing of domestic cosmetics in 2014, local groups have worked to enforce spay and neuter programs, and Bloomberg News reported that in 2014 there were more than 100 animal welfare groups active in the country. Baker, of Peta, said that China was where Peta is shining the most, but its also where the movement as a whole is shining.

China seems to be the center of animal protection movement in East Asia The momentum in China is more robust than in Korea and Japan, Li said. But he added that government resistance to animal welfare legislation in China remains, due to economic concerns. The concern of the Chinese government is that such a law could force a lot of the Chinese firms out of business, he said. The Chinese authorities remain obsessed with GDP growth and employment.

While the dog meat and leather trades persist for now, the USs new interest in preventing the importation of dog leather could help curtail its production, and the terms of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, of which China is not a member nation, may also have an impact. Although TPP is expected to provide significant new access to certain leather markets, it also includes an environment chapter which, though criticized by some for not doing enough to protect farm and livestock animals, nevertheless represents a significant step forward for animal protection and sustainability.

I believe China would listen to concerns over dog leather export if the issue was raised by foreign governments including the US, Li said. Animal welfare consideration in TPP should alert the mainland Chinese authorities that how we treat animals is as much as an international trade issue as a domestic issue. This will force the Chinese authorities to give up the old thinking that animal welfare is used as a trade tool against Chinese exports.

Likewise, Titus, who worked on last years US congressional letter, believes that public advocacy in the US could be a powerful tool to help end the practice of the dog leather trade.

Pets are a part of peoples lives here and animal protection is something thats a very emotional and serious issue. I think it should be an issue for animal lovers to kind of put pressure on the Customs [and Border Protection] commissioner [R Gil Kerlikowske] to be sure that they do everything they can to prevent this from happening, and I think there would be a public uproar about it, Titus said. It is possible [that Americans are inadvertently using dog leather], and I think theyd be horrified.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jul/31/dog-cat-leather-china-us-congress-trade-peta

‘Worlds saddest polar bear’ exhibited in Chinese shopping centre

Lethargic bear called Pizza is on show at an ocean theme park inside the Grandview shopping centre in Guangzhou

More than 285,000 people have signed a petition calling for the closure of an aquarium in southern China that is home to an animal dubbed the worlds saddest polar bear.

The lethargic bear, whose name is Pizza, is on show at an ocean theme park located inside the Grandview shopping centre in the city of Guangzhou.

The aquarium made international headlines after its opening in early January with one Hong Kong-based animal rights charity denouncing it as a horrifying animal prison.

The parks management initially rejected claims that Pizza was being mistreated. The polar bear in the aquarium is very happy, Li Chengtang, its deputy manager, told the Guangzhou Daily newspaper.

However, amid outrage over the dismal conditions in which the animals were being forced to live, as tourists posed for selfies beside them, members of the Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia were invited to visit the aquarium in April.

The activist group said the theme parks management had been genuinely shocked by the international outcry and had sought advice on how to improve conditions.

Animals Asia said there was no indication the aquarium would be closed or its animals, which also include arctic wolves, beluga whales and walrus calves, rehoused.

However, writing last week, Dave Neale, the groups animal welfare director, said the parks directors had promised a better life for its animals as a result of pressure.

Neale said engagement had previously led to positive changes at a zoo in Hanoi where the charity convinced zoo keepers to unchain elephants, end animal circuses and provide better living conditions for bears and tigers.

Threatening frequently changes little while walking away changes nothing. Staying and talking and working together means theres an on-going chance for positive change, Neale argued.

While Chinas economic boom is fading, the countrys amusement park industry is booming as an increasingly affluent middle-class seeks new forms of entertainment. According to one campaigning group, China is currently home to at least 39 ocean theme parks. More than a dozen more are scheduled to open over the next two years.

Calls for the aquariums closure continued this week on Chinese social media. It is torture! Please boycott it! read one comment on Weibo, Chinas Twitter.

Animal Asia said it would continue to fight to improve conditions in such attractions.

The sad truth is, in this instance, we cant immediately shut down Grandview. And they are unlikely to free this bear, or any of the other animals they house, at least not in the short-term, Neale admitted, adding: If our experience has taught us anything first you open doors, then you open cages.

Additional reporting by Christy Yao

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/worlds-saddest-polar-bear-chinese-shopping-centre

Vietnam mourns death of sacred turtle and fears for ruling party’s future

Demise of reptile venerated as symbol of independence struggle considered bad omen for forthcoming Communist congress

A sacred giant turtle venerated as a symbol of Vietnams independence struggle has died, state media have said, prompting an outpouring of grief and fears the death bodes ill for a forthcoming communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered swinhoe softshell turtle, occupies a key mythological role in the country in the past, the turtle surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Some scientists believe it was one of only four of the species better known as Yangtze giant softshells in existence. Two are in China; the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

The reptile was found dead in Hoan Kiem lake in central Hanoi on Tuesday, the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper said. The turtle, which weighed about 200kg (440lbs), was said to be 80-100 years old.

Its demise was widely mourned on Vietnamese-language blogs and social media, with many warning it was a bad omen for forthcoming changes in the ruling Communist party, which begins its five-yearly congress on Thursday.

Giant

The giant turtle surfaces in February 2011. The rare sightings of the reptile were deemed auspicious. Photograph: Luong Thai Linh/EPA

This is bad news for many people in Hanoi, said the Thanh Nien newspaper. Vietnams authoritarian rulers will choose a new party leader, president and prime minister at the congress.

In a story taught to all Vietnamese school children, the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem is the custodian of the magic sword of Le Loi, a 15th-century rebel leader who vanquished Chinese invaders.

Although officially an atheist country, many Vietnamese are deeply superstitious. I feel empty. My children, grandchildren will only know the turtle from legend, online commentator Duong Nguyen wrote on the popular VNExpress site.

Reports about the turtles death first appeared in state media late on Tuesday, but some were removed, apparently under pressure from communist authorities.

The turtles body is being kept at a temple on a small island in the lake pending an official decision on how to proceed, state media said, adding that embalming was being considered.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/20/vietnam-mourns-death-of-sacred-giant-turtle

Star of anti-dolphin killing film The Cove held by Japanese immigration

Ric OBarry seen in documentary about slaughter in a Japanese village says government is waging a war on dolphins

The star of Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, about the killing of dolphins in a village in Japan, has been detained by immigration authorities at Tokyos Narita international airport.

Ric OBarry an American known for training the dolphins used in the TV series Flipper said immigration officials told him he could not enter Japan on a tourist visa because he was not a tourist, according to his lawyer, Takashi Takano.

Takano said officials accused OBarry of having close ties with the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd, which OBarry denies. Immigration officials said it was their policy not to comment on individual cases.

Takano said he was appealing against the detention, and that the Japanese government would decide on whether to allow OBarry into the country or deport him. It was not clear when a decision would be made.

The Cove, which won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary, shows the slaughter of dolphins herded into a cove in the fishing village of Taiji and bludgeoned to death.

The Japanese government is cracking down on those who oppose their war on dolphins, OBarry said in a statement sent to the Associated Press through his son, Lincoln OBarry.

Officials in Taiji, a small fishing village in central Japan, and fishermen have defended the hunt as a tradition, saying that eating dolphin meat is no different to eating beef or chicken.

Most Japanese have never eaten dolphin meat. Many say they are horrified by the dolphin killing and there is a campaign against the Taiji hunt. Animal welfare activists say the hunt is driven mostly by the lucrative sale of dolphins to aquariums, with the income from the sale of meat simply an added extra.

OBarry has been stopped and questioned by Japanese immigration before. He has also been taken into custody by local police on the suspicion of not having proper travel documents before being released. But this is the first time he has been detained in this way. He has the support of high-profile celebrities, including Sting, the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, and the former Guns N Roses drummer, Matt Sorum.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/star-of-anti-dolphin-killing-documentary-the-cove-ric-o-barry-held-by-japanese-immigration

Star of dolphin-hunting film The Cove to be deported from Japan

Ric OBarry is accused of trying to enter the country using tourist visa to join campaign against slaughter of dolphins in Taiji

A leading US animal rights activist is to be deported from Japan after being accused of trying to enter on a tourist visa to support a campaign against the slaughter of dolphins.

Ric OBarry, who starred in The Cove, the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary about the annual dolphin cull in the town of Taiji, has been detained at Narita airport near Tokyo since Monday.

His son, Lincoln OBarry, said immigration authorities had turned down his fathers request to visit Japan using a tourist visa. They reportedly accused him of lying during questioning and of having links to the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, whose members have a constant presence in Taiji.

The 76-year-old, who trained dolphins for the 1960s TV series Flipper before devoting himself to conservation, reportedly denied the charges, saying he was going to observe dolphins as a tourist.

Taiji, on Japans Pacific coast, gained international notoriety as a result of The Cove, which followed OBarry and other activists as they attempted to document the killing of dolphins by local fishermen. The film, directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary.

The method used to kill the animals has been widely condemned by environmentalists. The US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy, has also voiced deep concern about the drive-hunt method.

Fishermen pursue pods of dolphins and bang metal poles together beneath the water to confuse their hypersensitive sonar. The dolphins are then driven into a large cove sealed off by nets, and taken to a secluded inlet to be killed with knives and spears.

Last year, aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live dolphins from Taiji after they were threatened with expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation. Taijis mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, later said the town would set up a new body that would continue to sell dolphins to aquariums.

OBarry, who heads the Dolphin Project campaign group, is a regular visitor to Taiji, where fishermen catch hundreds of dolphins during the six-month season, which starts in September. The most attractive specimens, usually bottlenoses, are sold to aquariums and sea parks, while others are killed and their meat sold in local restaurants and supermarkets.

In an email to his son seen by the Associated Press, OBarry said: Im incarcerated, on trumped-up charges. In a world where so much that is wild and free has already been lost to us, we must leave these beautiful dolphins free to swim as they will and must.

Fishermen

Fishermen drive bottlenose dolphins into a net during the annual hunt off Taiji, Japan. Photograph: AP

Media reports said OBarry was resisting deportation and had been transferred to another detention facility near Narita airport. His lawyer Takashi Takano visited him on Friday and said OBarry was being held alone but was in good spirits.

The Japanese government was expected to issue a formal warrant and physically deport him, Takano added.

The deportation order marks a hardening of attitudes among Japanese authorities towards environmental activists in Taiji. Police have increased their presence in the town in case of clashes between Sea Shepherd members and locals, who claim they are being unfairly vilified for maintaining a coastal whaling and dolphin-hunting tradition stretching back centuries.

OBarry was arrested near the town last September for allegedly failing to carry his passport, but was released the following day.

Takano said immigration officials refused to believe OBarrys claim that he was not planning to participate in any campaigns. They cited his presence last August at Japan Dolphins Day in Tokyo, despite having told them he would not attend the event.

Immigration officials said they were unable to comment on individual cases.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/star-dolphin-hunting-film-cove-ric-obarry-deported-japan

Manny Pacquiao provokes storm by calling gay people worse than animals

Boxer Manny Pacquiao has provoked a storm in his home country after saying people in same-sex relationships are worse than animals

The eight-times world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has provoked a storm of controversy in his home country after saying people in same-sex relationships are worse than animals.

Pacquiao, 37, who is running for a seat in the Philippines senate in Mays elections as a conservative Christian, made the remark in a video posted on local TV5s election site.

Its common sense, he said. Do you see animals mating with the same sex? Animals are better because they can distinguish male from female. If men mate with men and women mate with women they are worse than animals.

The countrys most popular gay comedian, Vice Ganda, posted #PrayForMannyPacquiao to his 6.7m followers on Twitter as he hit back at the boxer, adding: Some people think they can judge people like God just because theyve attended a prayer meeting and read the bible. The senate needs experts on politics and law, not blind prophets.

jose marie viceral (@vicegandako) February 16, 2016

The LGBT is a group of people. We are humans. But not animals. Though we’re no saints we will pray for Manny Pacquiao.

The singer Aiza Seguerra, who recently married her actress-girlfriend, called on voters to boycott Pacquiao, who is also preparing for his last fight in April, calling him an ignorant, bigoted hypocrite. Seguerra added: You might have done our country proud but with your statement, you just showed the whole country why we shouldnt vote for you.

Pacquiao, beaten by Floyd Mayweather in May last year, currently represents the province of Sarangani in the House of Representatives, though is often absent. In one of his few speeches, Pacquiao quoted heavily from the bible as he attempted to stop a proposed law, since passed, giving free condoms to the poor.

Responding to the controversy via Instagram, Pacquiao initially posted an image of himself with his wife, quoting the bible and writing: I rather obey the Lords command than obeying the desire of the flesh. Im not condemning anyone, but Im just telling the truth of what the bible says.

Manny Pacquiao responded to the controversy via Instagram.

Later, though, he added an apology, saying: Im sorry for hurting people by comparing homosexuals to animals. Please forgive me for those Ive hurt. I still stand on my belief that Im against same sex marriage because of what the Bible says, but Im not condemning LGBT. I love you all with the love of the Lord. God Bless you all and Im praying for you.

In January fighter Tyson Fury was reminded of his heavy responsibilities by the British Boxing Board of Control for his controversial remarks about homosexuality.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/feb/16/manny-pacquiao-gay-people-worse-than-animals

Japan admits to killing more than 300 whales in Southern Ocean

Austalian politicians decry Japans sickening actions, which are at odds with UN legal decision

Japan has confirmed that more than 300 whales, including 200 pregnant females, were slaughtered in the countrys latest whaling mission in the Southern Ocean.

The kill was confirmed by Japans Institute of Cetacean Research as its ships returned from their scientific expedition in the Antarctic region on Thursday.

Four ships were sent to the Antarctic region over a period of 115 days from 1 December last year and killed 333 minke whales.

Japans actions are in defiance of international criticism and despite a 2014 UN legal decision that ruled so-called scientific whaling activity in the Southern Ocean was a front for commercial hunts.

Darren Kindleysides, the director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the 2014/15 summer was the first time in 70 years Japan had stopped its whaling program but the break was short-lived.

He said Australias leading international experts had examined Japans new so-called scientific research program this year and found it was also a guise for killing whales and a breach of international law.

That puts the onus on the Australian government to make sure this is the first and the last season of Japans new so-called scientific program, he said.

The Australian government in December described Japans decision to resume whaling over the summer as deeply disappointing and insisted it raised concerns at the highest level of the Japanese government.

It had said it would consider sending a customs patrol vessel to the Southern Ocean and explore options for legal action.

But the conservation group Sea Shepherd in February said the Japanese fleet had faced little or no scrutiny over the summer and Australia and New Zealand seemed unwilling to send a ship to intercept them.

Sea Shepherd Australias managing director, Jeff Hansen, said: Once again false promises from the Australian and New Zealand governments have resulted in whales being killed illegally in the Australian Whale Sanctuary.

The majority of Australians wanted the Australian government to send a vessel to oppose the slaughter. They did not.

The Australian Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the government had turned its back on Japans sickening illegal activity.

Not in 40 years has an Australian government done so little to prevent whaling on our watch and in our waters, he said.

The government has repeatedly refused to confirm whether it undertook any monitoring missions in the Southern Ocean this summer.

Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, said the Australian government opposes whaling clearly, absolutely and categorically.

It is in my view abhorrent and a throwback to an earlier age, he said. There is no scientific justification for lethal research.

Hunt criticised Japan for going ahead with the killings in spite of a resolution by the [International Whaling] commission calling on it not to go whaling.

Tokyo claims it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting but the meat still ends up on dinner tables and is served up in school lunches.

Some experts say that Japans refusal to give up the Antarctic mission despite censure by the international court is largely due to a small group of powerful politicians.

Australian Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/mar/25/japan-admits-to-killing-more-than-300-whales-in-southern-ocean

Taiji legal battle: court backs activist over baby dolphin kept in aquarium

Victory for animal rights after Japanese court awards Australian activist 110,000 yen after museum refused her entry to check on captive bottlenose

Animal rights activists have claimed a significant victory in its battle to end Japans dolphin slaughter after a court ruled that an aquarium in Taiji where hundreds of dolphins are killed every year acted illegally when it refused entry to an Australian campaigner.

The court in Wakayama, western Japan, on Friday awarded 110,000 yen (690) to Sarah Lucas, head of Australia for Dolphins, who had attempted to enter the Taiji whale museum in 2014 but was turned away and shown a cardboard sign saying anti-whalers were not welcome.

Lucas had intended to check on the welfare of a baby albino bottlenose that had been kept at the museum since being separated from its pod and captured earlier in the year. The museum reportedly paid $500,0000 (354,000) for the animal.

Lucas said the rare dolphin, called Angel, was being kept in a tiny crowded tank full of chlorine, and was being bullied by other dolphins.

The legal battle to save Angel is much bigger than a rescue mission to save one albino dolphin calf, Lucas said after the verdict.

This win proves the Taiji whale museum, the institution at the heart of the dolphin hunting trade, behaved illegally. It also shows the Taiji dolphin hunts are not above the law, which means the Japanese legal system can be used to end the cruel dolphin hunts for good.

Tetsuo Kirihata, deputy chief of the Taiji museum, said he was satisfied with the verdict because the initial demand for damages had been for about 3m yen.

We feel much of our case was taken into account by the court, he told Associated Press. Kirihata said the dolphin was eating well and getting along with other dolphins, with regular blood tests showing it was healthy. What to some might look like bullying was, in fact, part of regular activity in nature, he added.

The museum is owned by the town government in Taiji, the setting for the Oscar-winning 2009 documentary The Cove, which showed fishermen driving pods of dolphins into shallow water before killing them with knives.

Photo
Photo taken in 2014 by environmentalist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society shows bottlenose dolphins trapped in the cove during the selection process by fishermen in the Japanese town of Taiji. Photograph: Sea Shepherd Conservation Societ/AFP/Getty Images

The use of the drive method has attracted widespread criticism, including from the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

International pressure on Taiji to distance itself from the global trade in dolphins intensified last year when aquariums in Japan voted to stop buying live specimens from the town to avoid expulsion from the worlds leading zoo organisation.

The move came after the Guardian revealed that the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (Waza) had been targeted in a court action launched by Australia for Dolphins. The group accused Waza of being complicit in the hunts by failing to take decisive action against Japanese aquariums.

The museum in Taiji, however, quit the Japanese branch of the world association in protest, with local fishermen vowing to continue the hunts.

During the most recent season, which ended last month, Taijis fishermen killed 652 dolphins and took 111 into captivity, according to figures supplied by the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/26/taiji-legal-battle-court-backs-activist-over-baby-dolphin-kept-in-aquarium

Animals die as Cambodia is gripped by worst drought in decades

Schools face water shortages and government says entire nation is affected as rainy season is forecast to be delayed by months

Behind a clutch of huts that hug the major route between Cambodias capital and its famed Angkor temples, rice farmers Phem Phean and Sok Khoert peer into a cement hollow.

It is several meters deep, and one has to crane over the top to see all the way down. At the bottom, all that is left is a small pool of warm, dirty-looking water; it has run all but dry, along with two other wells, meaning the farmers and four other families have just one working well left from which to drink. And that, too, is fast running out.

Behind them, hundreds of acres of parched earth bake under an unrelenting sun in a relatively cloudless sky. If a rice harvest is even possible this year, they fear it is set to be poor and their main concern right now is being able to get enough water to drink.

Cambodian
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen delivers drinking water to villagers in drought-hit northwestern Banteay Meanchey province. Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Here in Kompong Thom provinces Kampong Svay district, about 200kms north of Phnom Penh, Phean and Khoert spin a familiar narrative being repeated and lamented the length and breadth of Cambodia, which is currently in the midst of its worst drought in decades.

According to Keo Vy, spokesman for the National Committee for Disaster Management, the severity of this drought cannot be overestimated.

Previous droughts only affected parts of the country, but the current drought is affecting the whole, he said on Tuesday.

Nineteen provinces have been classified as in a serious condition requiring immediate intervention from the government, he said, and while the authorities have held off on making an appeal for international aid, ministries, military units, NGOs, and everyone capable of helping have been asked to step up.

Vy also warned that people are now more exposed to illnesses such as cholera, but insisted that the government will not allow any Cambodian people to die of thirst.

In Ratanakiri province in the northeast, Unicef has found that 136 out 203 primary schools are facing water shortages, with high absenteeism of both students and teachers being reported.

Cambodian
Cambodian men use a net to catch fish in a nearly dried pond at a village in Kandal province. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images

Cambodias rainy season, as it is known, typically arrives in May and continues in earnest through to October. This year, Vy said the ministry of water resources is forecasting that the season will not begin until July. This, coupled with a poor wet season last year, has put farmers in a difficult bind.

Over the past few weeks, the toll on animal life has been significant. First, in Siem Reap province, came the death of a female elephant, which collapsed from heatstroke after years of carrying tourists around Angkor Wat.

In Battambang province in the northwest one of the hardest-hit regions in the country Radio Free Asia reported that at least 30 monkeys died after the heat claimed the last tracts of water in their flooded forest habitat. RFA also said at least 200 water buffalo and cows have perished in the northern province of Stung Treng.

A
A Cambodian farmer prepares a pipe to pump water from an almost dried-up lake in Kandal province, Cambodia. Photograph: Mak Remissa/EPA

Back in Kompong Thom, Stoung district governor Prim Ratha told The Guardian that the loss of 70 tonnes of fish in the Boeng Tonle Chhmar lake, about 40kms west of Stoung town, was a great upset.

Fishing is banned at the protected lake, meaning fish numbers are dense, but with the water level now teetering at the 20cm mark, authorities have been trying to cool what is left by introducing more plants in a bid to save those that remain.

Ratha also said he and other local officials used their own pocket money to fund emergency relief measures, including the purchase of water bottles and water pumps, because bureaucracy has stymied the release of funding from central government. Reserves have been released into the local river, but the reservoir is now running low.

In spite of all this, Stoung district rice and chicken farmer Hean Sokkhim has still had to borrow money and pawn belongings to pay for bottled water. A pond at the back of her property is nearly empty and she is saving whatever rice seeds she has left for eating. Last years yield was poor. She and her family have enough to eat, she says, but her worry is acute. About two chicks are dying every day.

The few patches of rain that have passed over this scorched land in recent days have done little to mitigate the impact of months of drought. Next door to Pheam and Khoert, vegetable farmer Kin Tai points to a recently dug well behind her hut. Her efforts were in vain, as it yielded no water, and her cucumbers and pumpkins have all died. She said the loss is worth about $100 a significant sum in a country where the gross national income per capita is about $1,020, according to 2014 World Bank figures.

Pheam and Khoert say they have not even been approached by the Kampong Svay authorities, let alone offered any help.

We dont know what our fate will be; we dont know what to do.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/05/animals-die-cambodia-worst-drought-decades