Rare gorilla birth recorded in Congo
March 3, 2007, 12:54 pm
Filed under: Gorillas


By TODD PITMAN, Associated Press Writer Thu Mar 1, 7:35 PM ET

DAKAR, Senegal – Conservationists on Thursday announced the birth of a rare mountain gorilla in eastern Congo, where rebels have been accused of killing and eating the endangered animals.

The tiny gorilla, named Ndeze, was born Feb. 17 in Congo’s Virunga National Park, home to some of the world’s last 700 mountain gorillas, said Samantha Newport of the conservation support group WildlifeDirect

“It’s incredibly positive. These gorillas have managed to survive a 10-year civil war,” Newport told The Associated Press by telephone from the park. It is “an absolute miracle and testament to the work of the rangers, who worked throughout the war without receiving a salary, and to conservationists from all over the world.”

Last month, the London-based Africa Conservation Fund and local park officials accused rebels loyal to renegade army commander-turned-warlord Laurent Nkunda of slaughtering two of the animals for food. Nkunda commands thousands of fighters in the vast country’s lawless east who have clashed sporadically with government troops.

Local park ranger Paulin Ngobobo met with rebel officials in late January and brokered a verbal agreement to stop the killings, Newport said.

Ndeze is the 12th member of a gorilla family living in a sector of the park called Mikeno that is home to about 80 gorillas, though a precise census has been impossible to carry out because of ongoing insecurity.

It was not known whether Ndeze was male or female, as it would be difficult to visually determine the baby’s sex for several months, Newport said.

About 380 mountain gorillas live in Virunga Volcanoes Conservation Area, which is shared by Congo and neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. The other 320 of the gorillas live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Despite the constant threat of poaching and war, the population in Mikeno is estimated to have risen by about 14 percent, Newport said.

Richard Leakey, a conservationist credited with helping end the slaughter of elephants in Kenya during the 1980s who now chairs WildlifeDirect, also praise the birth.

“The Mountain Gorillas have been under enormous pressure for many years, and a newborn is always a positive step toward protecting these animals,” Leakey said. “We should not forget that this is the product of enormous effort and sacrifice on the part of African rangers, many of whom have paid the price of this success with their lives.”

Some 97 rangers working in Virunga park alone have been killed over the last decade by armed groups and poachers.

Virunga Park was established in 1925 as Africa’s first national park and was classified as a U.N. World Heritage Site in 1979. The 1994 Rwandan genocide saw millions of refugees spill across the border into Congo, marking the beginning of an era of unrest, lawlessness and clashes between militias and myriad rebel groups. Since then, the park has been ravaged by poachers and deforestation.

The last remaining hippo populations in Congo are in Virunga and are also on the verge of being wiped out. Conservationists have blamed rebels and militias for slaughtering them, and say more than 400 were killed last year, mostly for food. Only 900 hippos are left, a huge drop from the 22,000 reported there in 1998.

Mineral-rich Congo, which held its first democratic elections in more than four decades last year, is struggling to recover from a broader 1998-2002 war that drew in the armies of more than half a dozen African nations.


Lack of efficacy of using chimps in Research
March 3, 2007, 12:43 pm
Filed under: Chimpanzee Welfare


Project R&R (Release and Restitution for chimps in US Laboratories) has completed the first of a number of studies to examine the efficacy – or lack thereof – of using chimpanzees in biomedical research and testing. An initial analysis found that chimpanzee studies contributed little, if at all, to tangible human clinical progress and practice.

Between 1995 and 2004 inclusive, 749 studies involving captive chimpanzees were published; 95 were randomly selected and reviewed to determine how often they were cited by subsequent papers.

Of this sample, 49.5% had not been cited at all by other scientific papers. A further 35.8% were cited only by papers that did not describe well-developed prophylactic, diagnostic or therapeutic methods for combating human diseases.

Only 14.7% of our random sample of chimpanzee studies were cited – specifically, 14 papers were cited by 27 subsequent papers. An in-depth analysis of these studies revealed that the chimpanzee experiments had contributed precious little, if anything at all, to the outcome of those papers reporting advances in human clinical practice.

For example, the chimpanzee studies had been conducted concurrently to human studies or to “confirm” previous human investigations; the results from them conflicted with results in other non-human primates or in human trials; the cited chimpanzee studies were peripheral to the human clinical study and/or cited purely as points of information; they illustrated historical findings with no direct relevance to current practice; or, the chimpanzee findings were purely speculative in nature.

Rather, the methods in those 27 papers that were pivotal to the development of human prophylactic, diagnostic or therapeutic methods included: in vitro studies, human clinical and epidemiological studies, molecular assays and methods, and genomic studies.

Specific areas of chimpanzee use in research are currently being systematically reviewed.

“Results are largely ignored, and even those that aren’t do not contribute significantly to human medicine. We must use the millions of dollars chimpanzee research costs more wisely, ethically and humanely and Project R&R will continue to investigate its efficacy – or lack thereof – until it is.” Jarrod Bailey, PhD, Science Director.

A world first: Great Ape trial in Austria
March 3, 2007, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories

Arkangel for animal liberation

Are the Great Apes our blood brothers?

In a groundbreaking case at the Mödling district court, just southwest of Vienna, Austria, a judge is to rule whether a chimp deserves a legal guardian. The chimpanzee in question is called Hiasl. But is he actually a chimp or a human, biologically speaking? This is one of the questions that will be addressed during the trial.

Hiasl was only a year old in 1982 when a poacher shot his mother and sold him to an animal trader. He was taken from his home in the Sierra Leone jungle in West Africa, then crated and shipped to Austria, destined for a vivisection lab 30 km East of Vienna. But by 1982, the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) agreement already forbade the import of wild caught chimps, and so Hiasl and 7 other chimps were taken in by customs officers and handed over to an animal sanctuary.

The vivisection lab paid their fine and 4 years later, successfully sued the sanctuary to get Hiasl back as a research tool. 200 animal rights activists intervened to prevent his seizure, and Hiasl has remained safely at the sanctuary ever since. Now, courts are being asked to rule whether he is not just an endangered ape, but a person, entitled by law to a legal guardian.

The trial has been many years in preparation. Austria’s best-known primatologist, (who is in charge of the rehabilitation of 44 ex-laboratory chimps released in 2002 by US pharmaceutical company, Baxter, from their biomedical lab in Orth an der Donau), agreed to write an expert report supporting the demand for legal guardianship. Similarly, the world-renowned expert on wild chimps, London University’s Prof. Volker Sommer, dictated a statement by phone directly from the African jungle in support of Great Ape rights. In his view, chimps are not just one of the genus homo; he believes they should be considered as being of the same species as contemporary humans.

Surprisingly, 2 Professors at Vienna University also argued that in their expert opinion, a chimp could be considered a person before the law and, if not, would at least deserve a legal guardian to safeguard his/her interests. This work has even been published in a magazine on contemporary legal issues.

A few weeks ago, the sanctuary, which has been Hiasl’s home for so many years, went bankrupt. In order to ensure that he would not be sold to a zoo, a benefactor donated 5000€ to Hiasl and another named person, on the proviso that they both agree on how the money should be spent. This trick provided Hiasl’s co-beneficiary with the legal loophole to exercise his right to demand a legal guardian for Hiasl. How otherwise could one evaluate how the legacy should be spent?

In an unprecedented move, the unnamed individual applied to the Mödling district court (which has jurisdiction over the area where Hiasl’s home is located), to have a legal guardian appointed. In a 50-page statement, their solicitor summarized the arguments and quoted from the 4 expert statements, which argued on behalf of Hiasl’s personhood.

The initial response from the head of the district court was to file for the solicitor’s dismissal from the solicitor registry. Apparently, the attempt to scare him into withdrawing the case did not have the desired effect as the solicitor remained resolute.

On the 20th February, the judge – herself a member of the animal rights group VGT in Austria since 1998 – called the first hearing. She has halted proceedings until documents to prove Hiasl’s identity can be provided. But since Hiasl was abducted illegally from West Africa at a very early age, and seeking asylum in Austria, any such documents cannot be provided. The solicitor running the case is stressing that the law does not see such documents as a necessary prerequisite for a legal guardian to be appointed. The coming weeks will show how this historic case is proceeding. If Hiasl is granted human status, the long-term implications could be far reaching for all other primate species.

For First Time, Chimps Seen Making Weapons for Hunting
March 3, 2007, 12:12 pm
Filed under: Interesting Chimp Stories




By Rick Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007; Page A01

Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the tools to hunt small mammals — the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans.

The multistep spearmaking practice, documented by researchers in Senegal who spent years gaining the chimpanzees’ trust, adds credence to the idea that human forebears fashioned similar tools millions of years ago.

The landmark observation also supports the long-debated proposition that females — the main makers and users of spears among the Senegalese chimps — tend to be the innovators and creative problem solvers in primate culture.

Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long, straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end. Then, grasping the weapons in a “power grip,” they jabbed them into tree-branch hollows where bush babies — small, monkeylike mammals — sleep during the day.

In one case, after repeated stabs, a chimpanzee removed the injured or dead animal and ate it, the researchers reported in yesterday’s online issue of the journal Current Biology.

“It was really alarming how forceful it was,” said lead researcher Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University, adding that it reminded her of the murderous shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie “Psycho.” “It was kind of scary.”

The new observations are “stunning,” said Craig Stanford, a primatologist and professor of anthropology at the University of Southern California. “Really fashioning a weapon to get food — I’d say that’s a first for any nonhuman animal.”

Scientists have documented tool use among chimpanzees for decades, but the tools have been simple and used to extract food rather than to kill it. Some chimpanzees slide thin sticks or leaf blades into termite mounds, for example, to fish for the crawling morsels. Others crumple leaves and use them as sponges to sop drinking water from tree hollows.

But while a few chimpanzees have been observed throwing rocks — perhaps with the goal of knocking prey unconscious, but perhaps simply as an expression of excitement — and a few others have been known to swing simple clubs, only people have been known to craft tools expressly to hunt prey.

Pruetz and Paco Bertolani of the University of Cambridge made the observations near Kedougou in southeastern Senegal. Unlike other chimpanzee sites currently under study, which are forested, this site is mostly open savannah. That environment is very much like the one in which early humans evolved and is different enough from other sites to expect differences in chimpanzee behaviors.

Pruetz recalled the first time she saw a member of the 35-member troop trimming leaves and side branches off a branch it had broken off a tree.

“I just knew right away that she was making a tool,” Pruetz said, adding that she suspected — with some horror — what it was for. But in that instance she was unable to follow the chimpanzee to see what she did with it. Eventually the researchers documented 22 instances of spearmaking and use, two-thirds of them involving females.

In a typical sequence, the animal first discovered a deep tree hollow suitable for bush babies, which are nocturnal and weigh about half a pound. Then the chimp would break off a branch — on average about two feet long, but up to twice that length — trim it, sharpen it with its teeth, and poke it repeatedly into the hollow at a rate of about one or two jabs per second.

After every few jabs, the chimpanzee would sniff or lick the branch’s tip, as though testing to see if it had caught anything.

In only one of the 22 observations did a chimp get a bush baby. But that is reasonably efficient, Pruetz said, compared with standard chimpanzee hunting, which involves chasing a monkey or other prey, grabbing it by the tail and slamming its head against the ground.

In the successful bush-baby case, the chimpanzee, after using its sharpened stick, jumped on the hollow branch in the tree until it broke, exposing the limp bush baby, which the chimp then extracted. Whether the animal was dead or alive at that point was unclear, but it did not move or make any sound.

Chimpanzees are believed to offer a window on early human behavior, and many researchers have hoped that the animals — humans’ closest genetic cousins — might reveal something about the earliest use of wooden tools.

Many suspect that the use of wooden tools far predates the use of stone tools — remnants of which have been found dating from 2 1/2 million years ago. But because wood does not preserve well, the most ancient wooden spears ever found are only about 400,000 years old, leaving open the question of when such tools first came into use.

The discovery that some chimps today make wooden weapons supports the idea that early humans did too — perhaps as much as 5 million years ago — Stanford said.

Adrienne Zihlman, an anthropologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, said the work supports other evidence that female chimps are more likely than males to use tools, are more proficient at it and are crucial to passing that cultural knowledge to others.

“Females are the teachers,” Zihlman said, noting that juvenile chimps in Senegal were repeatedly seen watching their mothers make and hunt with spears.

Females “are efficient and innovative, they are problem solvers, they are curious,” Zihlman said. And that makes sense, she added.

“They are pregnant or lactating or carrying a kid for most of their life,” she said. “And they’re supposed to be running around in the trees chasing prey?”

Frans B.M. de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, said aggressive tool use is only the latest “uniquely human” behavior to be found to be less than unique.

“Such claims are getting old,” he said. “With the present pace of discovery, they last a few decades at most.”

See video http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2007/02/070222-chimp-video.html