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Scientists Develop Better Understanding Of Origins Of Bornean Elephant

Rare Elephant Twins Born At South African Game Reserve

Genetic analysis of the Bornean elephant has provided new insights into how the Asian elephant subspecies made its way to occupy a small sliver of the island of Borneo in South-East Asia. Until recently the origins of the species remained a complete mystery, however the recent analysis shed some light suggesting that elephants crossed over to the island on the last land bridge that linked the mainland with the Sundra Islands.

Smaller than its Asian cousin

The Bornean elephant is tiny in comparison to its Asian elephant cousin and grows to a height of eight feet which is as much as 2 feet shorter than the average height of an Asian elephant. The species is known for their baby face and massive ears and live in the Malaysian state of Sabah. It had previously been speculated that humans were responsible for bringing elephants to the island over 300 years ago.

Using new DNA analysis techniques

DNA analysis which had been undertaken previous disproved this thesis showing that the Bornean elephant is genetically unique and arrived on the island over 300,000 years ago. The latest analysis of the genetic data used advanced modelling techniques that were previously unavailable. Scientists compared the results from these models with the genetic data that already existed and used statistics to develop a theory that produced the best explanation for the genetic diversity of the Bornean elephant.

Humans not involved in introduction

According to the latest models it is estimated that the Bornean elephant arrived on the island somewhere between 18,300 and 11,400 years ago and this is the reason why scientists have failed to find elephant bones amongst more ancient strata. The estimated period corresponds with the same time sea levels were extremely low and elephants could easily migrate between the Sundra Islands. Scientists say they do not completely exclude more complex scenarios but it is extremely unlikely that either humans were involved in their introduction, or their arrival was extremely ancient.

Better conservation

Scientists hope they well be able to develop a better understanding of the origins of the Bornean elephant which will allow them to implement more effective conservation plans for a subspecies that is incredibly endangered. The Bornean elephant faces all the same threats all species face which is habitat destruction and fragmentation as well as human predation. Bornean elephants are routinely poisoned by palm oil farmers who consider the species a pest.

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Killer Whales Have Started To Hunt Great White Sharks

Killer Whale

There is an intense battle raging under water off the coast of South Africa as killer whales hunt and kill one of the world’s most iconic apex predators, the great white shark. The killings began in May last year when scientists spotted a couple of killer whales cruising off South Africa’s South-Western coast. A few days later bodies of great white sharks began washing up ashore. Shark biologists say that from a scientific perspective the trend is completely without precedent.

Missing livers

Five great whites washed up on shore ranging in size from between 9 to 16 feet. Each shark had a large tear below one of their pectoral fins and what was most interesting is that all sharks were missing their entire livers. Their livers had been removed with almost surgical precisions and the scientists that examined the bodies say the injuries clearly indicate orca predation. Researchers say they have never ever seen predation from killer whales before.

So how exactly does an orca hunt a great white?

The primary theory is the killer whales cease all communications and then sneaks up behind the shark and stuns it by slapping it using its massive tail. The shark is then flipped on to its back which causes it to become momentarily paralysed. The shark is then pushed through the water until it suffocates. The orca completes its kill by tearing a hole in the shark and removing its liver which is the shark’s largest and most nutrient rich organ.

A large number of sharks have probably been killed

So far only a number of sharks have washed up on beaches but most researchers believe that it is probable that many more were killed and their bodies sank to the sea bed. The sharks that did wash up on beaches were probably swimming close to shore when they were attacked and the tide helped to push their carcasses up on to the beach.

Killer whales learned how to hunt great whites

Killer whales are extremely specialised hunters, and usually feed on seals, some whales and sharks. It is very rare for them to target great whites. Experts believe the pair that was spotted in South Africa probably began hunting smaller sharks and then migrated towards hunting the great white. Now that they have learned how to hunt the great white, the trend will probably not stop any time soon.

Orcas have one big advantage over the great white

Both great whites and killer whales are considered to be apex predators which means there are no other marine animals that hunt them. Both species are fast and have the ability to swim at speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Orcas are slightly longer and twice as heavy. There have only been two cases of killer whales attacking great whites in the past. Once of the coast of California and the other in Australia. No cases of great whites hunting killer whales have ever been recorded. The big advantage that killer whales have over great whites is that they hunt in teams, unlike any other marine creature.

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Indian Forest Guard Heroically Saves Baby Elephant

elephant calf had to be euthanized

A forest guard patrolling the jungles of Southern India recently made headlines by saving a baby elephant that had become separated from its mother and found itself trapped in a ditch. Palanichamy Sarathkumar who is just 28 years old has been lauded since it emerged that he rescued the baby elephant by carrying it on his back. People wanted to find out how he managed to carry an animal that weighs more than he does to safety.

Spur of the moment

Mr Sarathkumar said whilst the animal was extremely heavy he carried it on the spur of the moment. Fortunately for the critter, the calf was reunited with its mother later on.  Local television channels began showing a video of the guard lifting the video, which later made its way on to social media. Mr Sarathkumar said when he lifted the elephant he was afraid of losing his balance but fortunately colleagues helped to restrain the calf which enabled him to carry the animal.

Mama elephant alerted the team

The rescue took place last month following a call Mr Sarathkumar received as he was heading home following the end of the shift. The caller told him that a female adult elephant was blocking a road near a temple. Mr Sarathkumar and his team drove the elephant back into the jungle using firecrackers. The team then realised there was a calf trapped in a small ditch. He says the calf seemed tired and confused, so the rescue began by moving a big boulder that was blocking its path and then carried it out.

Tried to reunite mother and child

The team then realised the calf was the reason for the adult female elephant’s distress so they sought to reunite mother with child. To begin with four people tried to carry the calf to the other side of the road where they thought the calf’s mother could be found. But they were worried that she may attack since she was nearby. As a result, instead of risking the lives of four people Mr Sarathkumar decided to carry the calf across the road by himself.

Mother could not be found

He carried the calf for about 50 metres, eventually putting him down by a watering hole in the hopes that the mother would find her baby. The team waited a few hours but unfortunately she did not turn up. They thought perhaps the mother sensed the presence of humans and was reluctant to appear so the team left the spot. The next day when they went back to check, the calf was no longer there but they did find the track marks of an adult elephant on the forest floor so it is believed that perhaps they were reunited before dawn and retreated into the forest.

The guy is a hero

Elephants are extremely evolved animals that are very social, living in large herds. Forest officials say the baby elephant would have most certainly died had there not been an intervention. Mr Sarathkumar works in the Anti-Poaching Squad and made the decision to join the forest department after witnessing first hand the kind of conflict that can occur between humans and elephants. In case you are wondering, he weighs just 80 kilograms and the calf weighed over 100 kilos.

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UN Withdraws Funding For Asiatic Cheetah Conservation Dooming The Species To Extinction

Sick Cheetah Cub Becomes Best Friends With Puppy

The UN has decided it will no longer fund conservation efforts to protect the Asiatic cheetah and experts are warning that species is on the brink of extinction. There are less than 50 wild Asiatic cheetahs left and all of them are in Iran. Conservationists are worried that unless immediate action is taken there is almost no chance that one of Earth’s most distinctive and graceful hunters will survive.

Hunted to extinction across Asia

Both the African and Asian cheetah are the fastest land animals on the planet and they use their speed to hunt antelope and other moderately large prey. The Asiatic cheetah used to roam across the entire continent but were hunted to extinction in India for sport and as farming became more widespread their habitat was destroyed, reducing their numbers even further during the 19th and 20th centuries. Ultimately the species was wiped out across all the countries it was native too, bar a few areas in Iran.

Human animal conflict

Conservationists have fought hard to maintain their population in these areas but face several hardships. There are a number of threats such as retaliatory killings by local sheep and goat herders who have lost animals to the cheetah. Farmers use dogs to hunt the big cat or use traps. Aside from this the Asiatic cheetah roam over wide areas of Iran often crossing highways where they are killed after being run over by cars. Many have been killed despite signs being posted along highways warning motorists of the risk.

Numbers continue to decline

Over the last few years a number of measures have been introduced in order to raise awareness of the plight of the species. Unfortunately, their numbers have continued to decline. There used to be three main protected areas where Asiatic cheetahs could be found, now there are none left in the Western area of Kavir whilst in the Southern region of Iran not enough cheetahs exist to meet and breed. It is only in the Northern part of Iran where numbers are high enough for a breeding population to remain.

Iran cannot fund conservation because of sanctions

The government of Iran is keen to protect the species but it has been extremely difficult because the country has faced economic sanctions since the 1980’s and this means international agencies have experienced lots of problems sending money to the country. The money is there to provide some protection, unfortunately it cannot be used for conservation. To add to the species woes, the Iranian government has had to cut the budget of the its environment department which is responsible for the protection of the species. The UN has the ability to fund the cheetah conservation project because its development program (UNDP) is able to get money into the country relatively easily and that aid was critical.

UNDP decision puzzling

Unfortunately, that support no longer exists because the UNDP has decided it has had to make major cuts to its own budget and the agency announced that it would not be continuing to support the Asiatic cheetah conservation from this year onwards. This means that Iran now has sole responsibility for funding cheetah conservation programs. The decision is a little controversial because the UNDP has spent less than US$800,000 on the project over the last few years which is a pittance compared to the overall budget.

Without funding there is no hope

Conservationists are warning that without the support of the UNDP there is almost no hope for the survival of the Asiatic cheetah. Conservation efforts will totally depend on funding by the Iranian government’s department of environment which has already declared the species doomed. Conservationists are arguing that as much support as possible must be provided to Iran because it is the only country where the Asiatic species has managed to survive. The warning is stark. Unless something is done within the next couple of years, the species will become extinct. Right now, it is five minutes to midnight for the Asiatic cheetah and very soon it will be the end.

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Sumatran Rhinos Have Been On The Decline Since The Last Ice Age

Rare Sumatran Rhino Discovered In Borneo

Scientists have managed to decode the Sumatran rhino’s genome. The species is one of the most endangered on the planet and according to its genetic blueprint, its population has been steadily falling for quite a while now. The species population decline began to occur during the last Ice Age when its habitat effectively shrank. Since then humans have been the problem causing populations to fall further. It is estimated that there are fewer than 250 wild Sumatran rhinos left.

Roller-Coaster Ride

Terri Roth a researcher from the Cincinnati Zoo says the species has been under pressure for a very long time now. According to the genome sequence data, its been a roller-coaster ride for the Sumatran rhino. The most recent ice age lasted between 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago and is known as The Pleistocene geological time period.

Sequencing the genome

The researchers sequenced the Sumatran rhino’s genome using a sample taken from a well-known male that used to reside at Cincinnati Zoo. The male rhino known as Ipuh died four years ago but fathered three offspring, more than any other rhino of his kind in the world. His genetic material was then deposited in a gene bank. Using his DNA scientists were able to infer a lot about the history of the rhino population.

Population started to bottom about 9,000 years ago

The researchers estimate that about 950,000 years ago, there was a 60,000-strong population, but by 12,000 years ago the end of the Pleistocene, like many other large mammals, the Sumatran rhino had lost much of their suitable habitat.  By about 9,000 years ago, the population reached a bottom and has never recovered. The researchers say the species now hangs on by a thread and humans should do more to try and save the species.

Human hunting

The Sumatran rhino used to be ubiquitous across virtually all of Asia, but as its name suggests it is now confined to Sumatra. The species is listed by the IUCN as being critically endangered and according to the agency the reason for this is because the rhinos are hunted for their horns and other body parts which are used in traditional Eastern medicine. At present there are 20 Sumatran rhinos housed in zoos mainly in Indonesia and Malaysia, with a few in the United States.

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