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Rare Snake Venom Could Be Used To Treat Pain

blue coral snake

Scientist have discovered that the snake which has the world’s largest venom glands could provide a solution to pain relief. The long-glanded blue coral snake whose nick-name is the “killer of killers” is known to feed on the likes of the king cobra. The snake is 2 metres long or 6 feet 6 inches and is found in South-East Asia. Its venom acts almost immediately causing its prey to spasm. According to the latest research which was recently published in the scientific journal Toxin the toxin targets receptors which are critical to pain in human beings which means the venom could potentially act as a pain killer.

“Most snakes have a slow-acting venom that works like a powerful sedative. You get sleepy, slow, before you die, this snake’s venom, however, works almost immediately because it usually preys on very dangerous animals that need to be quickly killed before they can retaliate. It’s the killer of killers.” said researcher Dr Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland.

Turning into medicine?

There have been a number of invertebrates whose venom has been studied for medicinal purposes. However, the snake is a vertebrate which means it is evolutionary closer to humans and therefore a medicine developed using venom may well turn out to be more effective. Dr Fry adds that the venom targets the sodium channels of its prey which is central to the transmission of pain in humans. This means it could potentially be converted into a something that could help treat pain. According to Dr Fry the blue coral snake is the first vertebrate in the world which has venom acting in this way that we know about.

Extremely rare

Whilst all that sounds really great, the snake is extremely rare with 80 per cent of them having been destroyed. Dr Fry says he has only ever seen two of them in the wild. This is because much of their habitat has been cleared to make was for palm plantations in South East Asia. We have no idea what other secrets those forests may have held that could well have saved lives. Dr Fry and his team are looking to study relatives of the blue coral snake in Singapore.

“We’re trying to see if there are any relatives of the long-glanded blue coral snake that would possess any different properties. Some people say the only good snake is a dead snake but we’re trying to do the opposite here.”

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Wild Elephants Only Get A Couple Of Hours Of Sleep A Night

WWF Helps Break Up Major Ivory Trafficking Network

According to the results of a new study wild African elephants sleep the least amount of time of any mammal. Scientists looked at two Botswanan elephants to elicit more information about the pachyderm’s natural sleep patterns. In captivity, elephants sleep between four to six hours a day, however in the wild, elephants sleep for only a couple of hours and mainly during the night. The elephants that were studied were both matriarchs of their herds and sometimes stayed awake for days at a time.

Travel large distances

During the time spent awake, they tended to travel huge distances. The researchers speculated that this was perhaps to escape lions or poachers. The elephants entered into rapid eye movement (REM or dream sleep) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Professor Paul Manger, author of the study says elephant sleep is unique because they are shortest sleeping mammal and there appears to be a relationship with their large body size.

“It seems like elephants only dream every three to four days. Given the well-known memory of the elephant this calls into question theories associating REM sleep with memory consolidation.” Dr Manger said.

Lots of studies done of elephants in captivity

There have been numerous studies undertaken of elephants living in captivity. In order to accumulate more information about the sleeping habits of wild elephants, professor Manger and his team fitted a device under the skin of the animal’s trunk. The device essentially recorded when the elephants were sleeping based on whether their trunks stayed still for five minutes or longer. Gyroscopes were also fitted to the two elephants to determine their sleeping position. The elephants were then tracked for five weeks and this gave the researches new insights into their natural sleep patterns.

“We had the idea that elephants should be the shortest sleeping mammal because they’re the largest. Why this occurs, we’re not really sure. Sleep is one of those really unusual mysteries of biology, that along with eating and reproduction, it’s one of the biological imperatives. We must sleep to survive.” Professor Manger said.

Dreaming sleep

In nature, the rule is that smaller bodied animals generally sleep for longer than larger one. One example of this is the sloth which sleeps for 14 hours a day whilst humans sleep for about 8 hours. How elephants are able to survive on such a low amount of sleep remains a mystery. The researchers intend to conduct further studies including on males and they wish to learn more about REM sleep in elephants. It is believed that REM sleep is critical in the formation of memories. It is a type of sleep that is ubiquitous across the animal kingdom, including in mammals, birds and even reptiles. Most mammals enter into REM sleep on a daily basis.

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Blind Orangutan Receives Life Changing Surgery To Recover Eyesight

orangutan

An orangutan who was shot 104 times by an air rifle and was blinded has undergone surgery in order to restore her sight. The ape name Aan had to have her left eye removed after it was ruptured in a cruel attack on a Bornean oil plantation back in 2012. Aan was showered with pellets and vets were able to remove most of them though 37 were left in her head effectively leaving her blind. A British vet has undertaken the task of restoring her sight by performing surgery on her right eye.

Prognosis positive

Claudia Hartley a veterinarian ophthalmologist performed the surgery which lasted three hours said the procedure could not have gone any better and the prognosis was very promising. Dr Hartley said the surgery went well which has pleased her and her team, though Aan still needs to be assessed when she is behaving slightly more normally. Immediately following her surgery, she was still quite sleepy which meant her right eye remained shut so it wasn’t not possible to tell how much she is able to she

“If we shone a bright light in she would then scrunch her eye up, so I’m pretty sure she can recognise the light. But we can’t assess how well she sees food and trees and obstacles and those sort of things, which is the more critical thing that we need to do.”

Surgery was made possible by generous donors

Dr Hartley volunteered to travel to Borneo with her team to perform the surgery. She plans to continue monitoring Aan in her enclosure. The Orangutan Foundation launched an appeal to pay for the surgery. Ashley Leiman director of the foundation said it would be fantastic if Aan was able to be released. This is because as a blind ape she would have had to spend the rest of her life in a cage. Aan has been described as a clever primate and will now live in an enclosure in a sanctuary for just a few weeks to make sure that she continues to receive her post-op medication. After her recovery, she will be released back into the wild.

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Polar Bears Under Threat From Killer Whales And Sharks As Arctic Ice Melts

New Home Could Be Found For Sad Polar Bear

Polar bears already face the threat of receding ice levels which means shrinking supplies of food in the Arctic. There is however another danger they face also because of global warming. They are increasingly becoming prey to killer whales and sharks. As the ice in the Arctic recedes polar bears are finding it more difficult to hunt the seals that typically comprise their diet and this means they are being are forced to swim further distances to find food. The swimming means these predators are now at risk of becoming the prey of Greenland sharks and killer whales which are moving northwards as the ice recedes.

No longer protected by ice

Kit Kovacs who studies marine biology at the Norwegian Polar Institute says he has seen the jaw of a polar bear in the stomach of a shark, though he is unable to determine whether the shark had killed the bear or it was already dead. Killer whales also prey on seals as well as beluga whales, narwhals, and bowhead whales. These species are usually protected from the killer whale by the thick ice for much of the year. Killer whales don’t like swimming near ice because of the damage it could cause their long fins.

Killer whales are now the apex predator in Arctic

As the ice disappears so does protection. Estimates suggest that there will be no ice in the Arctic at all within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that within Hudson Bay, 57,000 beluga whales are being hunted by killer whales. Steve Ferguson of Manitoba University said at a recent scientific conference that in the Arctic, killer whales could become the apex predator which does not bode well for the polar bear whose numbers are expected to decline by a third by 2050.

Smaller species also affected

The polar ice cap melting is also having an impact on smaller fish such as polar cod which spend a large part of their early lives in small ice holes that keep them protected from predators. Mr Kovacs says that polar cod make up to 80 per cent of the diet of ringed seals which in turn form the main prey for polar bears. If the ice disappears Kovacs adds, so do the fish which means the seals starve and that in turn means the bears end up starving as well.

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One Of The World’s Oldest Elephant Dies

African Elephants Could Become Extinct Within Decades

One of the oldest elephants in the world recently passed away. The elephant named Indira was in her eighties and died in the Southern part of India according to forest officials. The officials said she had been unwell for quite some time and earlier in the month had stopped eating. A veterinarian at the elephant camp in the state of Karnataka that was caring for Indira estimated her age at between 85 to 90 years old. Elephants generally have a lifespan of about 70 years.

Other old elephants

According to records the oldest elephant to have ever lived in captivity died in 2003 at the grand old age of 86. The elephant’s name was Lin Wang and he lived in a zoo in Taipei. There is another elephant in the Indian state of Kerala who is also thought to be of a similar age. Indira arrived at the Sakrebailu camp in Karnataka which is a rehabilitation and training centre for captive elephants where she has lived for nearly 50 years.

Great diet the secret

It is thought that the secret to her long life was her diet which consisted of a lot of greens. Indira stopped eating at the start of January and quickly became weak according to camp vet Dr Vinay. She died as a result of an acute inflammation of the peritoneum and following a post mortem was buried. Dr Vinay said she must have been between 85 to 90 years because usually elephants tend to lose their molars between the ages of 60 to 65 years.

Topic for study

Indira was captured in a forest back in 1968 and was used to aid in the capture and taming of wild elephants. Dr Vinay says she was extremely disciplined and very docile. Aside from greens Indira also ate paddy stock, raw rice, sugar cane and salt. Forest officials reckon her healthy diet was the secret to her longevity. Dr UV Singh a senior forest official says it is certainly a topic for study.

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Genetic Copy Of Extinct Caspian Tiger Could Be Reintroduced

Tiger Poaching On The Rise

Soon you could spot a wild tiger roaming in Central Asia once again. One of the largest of big cats to ever live was the Caspian tiger which used to wander throughout large swathes of Central Asia, Iran, Turkey and North West China before becoming extinct. Researchers now reckon they have the ability to bring back a sub species that is genetically nearly identical to the Caspian tiger. Scientists have been discussing this possibility for more than ten years, however a recent study that was authored by researchers from the State University of New York and the World Wild Life Fund actually suggests a plan for the very first time.

Caspian and Siberian tigers nearly identical

Previous studies have already proven that Caspian tigers and Amur tigers have a near identical genetic structure. The most recent study highlights two specific areas in Kazakhstan where the subspecies could well flourish. There are however a number of obstacles such as water regulation by Kazakhstan and its neighbour China, plus there needs to be a restoration of the tiger’s prey and safety of local populations must also be considered. All of this needs to be dealt with before beginning the experiment. Researchers reckon that once they receive approval they can increase the tiger’s population from 40 to about a 100 within 50 years.

Questions remain

It is still not known exactly when and why the Caspian tiger went extinct. The IUCN declared the species extinct 14 years ago, although some people claim no one has seen a Caspian tiger since the 1950’s. The species probably went extinct due to Soviet policy which funded bounty hunters and developed irrigation projects that destroyed their habitats. According to James Gibbs who was part of the research team, the Caspian tiger roamed through a vast territory and when they went extinct, the number of countries that hosted tiger populations dropped by 50%. The estimate for the global population of wild Amur tigers is between 520 and 540 and they are the only subspecies that has increased in population over the last 65 years. Kazakhstan supports the idea of tigers living in its territory because it believes it will create jobs and increase wildlife tourism.

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Experts Worried About Decline In Cheetah Numbers

Sick Cheetah Cub Becomes Best Friends With Puppy

It’s no secret that many wildlife species in Africa are experiencing population declines. However, conservationists are particularly worried about the cheetah, the fastest land animal on the planet. It is estimated that there are about 7,100 cheetahs living in the wild, spread out across Africa and in a tiny sliver in Iran. The sad reality however is humans have been encroaching on their historic habitat pushing them out of 91 per cent of land they previously used to roam in.

Status needs to be redefined

A new study says that the cheetah’s status should be defined as “endangered” rather than the less serious “vulnerable” on the IUCN official watch list of globally threatened species. Sarah Durant an expert on the cheetah at the Zoological Society of London who was is also lead author of the report says this period is crunch time for species that require lots of land to roam around in such as cheetah’s.

The species is not protected

According to the results of the study, 77 per cent of the habitat’s cheetah’s roam around in fall outside wildlife reserves or other protected areas. This means governments and villages alike need to be educated to protect a carnivore that sometimes feed on livestock. Aside from the loss of their habitat, cheetahs are often attacked by villagers angry at the loss of antelopes or other prey that are killed by people for their meat. They are also poached for their skins and baby cheetah cubs are often taken for illegal trafficking.

No certainty on population

The vast majority of the world’s cheetahs live in Southern Africa where human populations tend to be relatively sparse. The species has been completely wiped out in Asia aside from 50 cats that live in Iran. Ms Durant says there was no certainty on the estimate of 7,100 cheetahs living in the wild. The estimate is based on data from experts in areas where cheetahs are known to live as well as other areas. Cheetahs are hard to find because they roam throughout vast regions.

Some protection measures being taken

Zimbabwe’s cheetah population fell from an estimated 1,500 in 1999 to between 150 and 170 according to the results of a survey that was conducted between 2013 and 2015. Angola is in the process of developing a strategy to protect cheetahs and African wild dogs that may yield more reliable data for the species in a country that produces relatively thin data. Despite habitat loss throughout Africa Kenya’s Mara area and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania still provide sanctuary for the cheetah.

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Polar Bears Being Poisoned By Toxic Chemicals

New Home Could Be Found For Sad Polar Bear

Apex predators in the Arctic that are already struggling to cope with climate change are also at risk of chemical poisoning by as much as 100 times above levels that would ordinarily considered safe for adult polar bears according to the results of a new study. The situation is even worse for bear cubs who are being forced to feed on milk that is 1,000 times more contaminated the researchers said in the report which was published in the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry journal.

“This work is the first attempt to quantify the overall risk of persistent organic pollutants” — known as POPs — “for the Arctic ecosystem,” said lead author Sara Villa, a toxicologist at the University of Milano Bicocca in Italy.

4 decades of data examined

The researchers looked at 40 years’ worth of data on the exposure of polar bears, seals and Arctic cod to deadly compounds. The sample examined bears that lived between Alaska and the Svalbard Islands above Scandinavia. POP’s are easily transmitted throughout an ecosystem and can remain with natural environments for decades. As time passes they become more concentrated as they pass upwards through the food chain. By the time they reach polar bears, the compounds transform into highly toxic doses.

Toxic chemicals are ubiquitous

Persistent organic pollutants are used in both agriculture and industry and you can also find them in many consumer products such as fabric flame retardants. During the 1970’s industrial chemicals known as PCB’s were banned after it emerged that they cause cancer and do damage to hormones. Despite the ban concentrations in Arctic mammals such as polar bears continue to remain at high levels, well into the 1990’s and traces remain even till today.

Extremely high concentrations found in polar bears

Whilst PCB levels have fallen a new source of toxic chemicals have emerged to take their place and pose an even greater threat to polar bears according to the results of the study. The study notes that Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) is considered extremely toxic for mammals and the concentration of such chemicals in the bodies of polar bears is surprisingly high. It is estimated they are 100 times higher than the concentration found in seals. This is because the bears are eating contaminated seals which results in the concentration increasing by 34 times. In contrast to PCB’s, the polluting chemicals continue to be produced and accumulate.

Climate change the main threat

The Canadian government has come to its own conclusion that these chemicals pose a threat to the environment and wildlife. Even with the risk of these chemicals, recent studies suggest that the total polar bear population which is estimated at 26,000 will decline by a third by the middle of the century. The main issue is climate change which is causing a rapid decline in sea ice which the bears use to hunt seals. Global warming in the Arctic is occurring at twice the pace of the global average and could end with completely ice free summers in the Arctic Ocean with twenty years.

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World’s Oldest Killer Whale Believed To Be Dead

Killer Whale

The world’s oldest killer whale known as Granny, estimated to be 105 years old and matriarch of small pod of Puget Sound orcas has not been seen for months and is presumed dead. Researchers say her death is a huge blow to what is already a struggling population. Ken Balcomb of the Centre for Whale Research in North America’s Pacific Northwest says his organisation considers her deceased. Mr Balcomb has been studying the pod for nearly forty years says he had last seen Granny with her pod North through the Haro Strait as they were on the hunt for food.

Easy to identify

Over the last few years’ researchers had witnessed Granny assume the leadership role of the J-pod which is one of three family groups that comprise the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. These killer whales are genetically unique and are made up of about 80 or so orcas that are classified as endangered in both the US and Canada. Granny was easy to tell apart from other killer whales thanks to her half-moon nick on her dorsal fin. Researchers first identified Granny during the 1970’s and estimated she had been born in 1911 with a 12-year margin of error.

Been a bad year for killer whales

The disappearance of Granny marks the end of a difficult year for orcas that ply the Salish sea. There have been at least six other whales from the population that researchers say are either missing or presumed dead. This stands in sharp contrast to 2015 when the population added eight new baby orcas. The population has not had an easy relationship with its neighbours on the West Coast. During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s dozens of killer whales were caught and sold to aquariums and theme parks all over the world. The ones that were left behind had to deal with exposure to chemicals that local industry allowed to run off into the sea. This made the population some of the world’s most contaminated marine mammals.

Struggle to survive

In the most recent years the killer whales have faced a struggle to survive which has intensified as a result of declining stocks of salmon and an increase of vessel traffic in the waters they swim through. Canadian researchers have also warned that an oil pipeline project that was recently approved by the Canadian government would result in a huge increase in oil tanker and barge traffic which would pose a further threat to the population.

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Man Fends Off Cougar Attack On His Pet Dog

Cougar Attack

If anyone should be considered for “Pet Owner of the Year” it should be Will Gibb. Mr Gibb deserves the award after managing to save his dog named Sasha by fighting off multiple attacks from a cougar. Yes, you heard that correctly! He single-handedly managed to ward off a cougar in attack mode. Mr Gibb rather innocently allowed his two husky’s Sasha and Mongo off his truck and into a Tim Horton’s parking lot where he was meeting his friend. A cougar suddenly appeared and attacked Sasha and Mr Gibb heard his cries and ran to investigate.

“I saw something wrapped around her so I ran up and punched it in the side of the head. at that point I realised it was a cougar.” Gibb said, in an interview.

Punching a cougar

He then punched the cougar on its head to save Sasha. If the story ended there it would still be incredible but that is only half the tale. After punching the cougar Mr Gibb tried to shoo the big cat back into the woods following which he turned his back to tend to his dog who naturally was quite rattled from the attack and ended up biting him. The cougar then reappeared and began its attack on Sasha again.

“[Sasha] was fighting for her life, and I was trying to keep the cougar at bay with my right, and it was pawing at me and I was throwing punches at it.”

To summarise, on boxing day there was a man in a Tim Horton’s parking lot with a dog latched on to his right hand trying to fend off a cougar attack with his left hand. The story continues with Sasha running off at which point the cougar turned its attention to Mr Gibb second dog Mongo who was also in the parking lot.

“I could see the cougar going for him, so I got between him and the cougar and started swinging and screaming at it, and called for my brother and friend to come give a hand,” Gibb said. “And then I reached down for the closest, biggest stick that I could find and I ran back into the trees to go fight the cougar.”

All’s well that ends well

After managing to fend off three attacks from a big cat, the animal made a retreat back into the woods. Mr Gibb rushed his dog to a vet who treated her for bite wounds and cuts but is otherwise unharmed and recovering well. Mr Gibb had some cuts on his arms. The cougar was found by police in the woods and put down.

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