Friday, 30 December 2011

Ayers Rock (Uluru) dingoes under the microscope

One of Australia's most infamous deaths - the disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain at Ayers Rock (now known as Uluru) - saw an innocent woman sent to jail before the real culprit, a dingo, was put firmly in the frame.

The inquest will be the fourth into the infant's death, which drew international attention after her mother, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, was convicted of murder in 1982 and sentenced to life imprisonment. She was later freed and the conviction quashed.

Azaria's parents have always maintained she was taken from their tent by a dingo. The case has gripped the public imagination for decades, prompting several dramatisations, including a 1988 movie starring Meryl Streep.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

More devils join mainland Ark project

Another 50 Tasmanian devils were released at the Devil Ark sanctuary in the Barrington Tops, in NSW last week in preparation for the breeding season.

Ten of the devils were brought from Tasmania, and will help to boost the genetic stock at the park.

The devils have been configured into breeding groups of between six and eight for the breeding season, which starts in February.

About 90 devils now live at the Devil Ark project.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Croc cuts lawnmower's grass

Zookeeper Billy Collett was one of two men attacked by a five-metre croc named Elvis at a reptile park north of Sydney after they went into its enclosure about 8am today.

The men - who used their lawnmowers as a barrier when the hulking beast lunged - escaped unharmed, before later executing a daring rescue mission to retrieve the mower.

"It happened that fast, it was that scary. I'm just glad to be alive," Mr Collett told reporters in Gosford.

"We'd just started mowing, the croc's sitting about five foot away from me in the water, then next second he's attached to the end of the mower, dragging it in, and almost taking me into the drink with him.

"My heart almost jumped out of my chest."

Tim Faulkner, who was also inside the enclosure at the time of the attack, said his co-worker was lucky to be alive.

"I had to scream at Billy to let the mower go, because he was thinking about the mower preservation more than his own self-preservation," Mr Faulkner told reporters.

"The croc obviously had a hold of it and both of them would have gone in the water.

"When a croc's got something like that you let him have it ... it's 500 kilos of muscle."

Elvis - who lost two teeth in the encounter with the mower - was acquired by the park in 2008 after causing grief in Darwin harbour by climbing onto fishing boats.

Some of the croc's teeth measure up to 9cm in length.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Mystery of 25 dead ponies solved

A man has been charged with animal cruelty after 25 dead ponies were found near a cliff in northern NSW last week.

The bodies of the 25 ponies were discovered by police at a cliff near a truck parking bay about three kilometres south of Old Ben Lomond Road, off the New England Highway on the Ben Lomond Range in Glen Innes on Saturday, December 16.

Investigators allege 35 ponies were being transported in a removalist truck from Kingstown on the Northern Tablelands to the north coast when some of them died from inadequate ventilation in the vehicle. Two ponies survived and were inspected by investigators in northern NSW, police said.

Michael Sharland and the search for the Thylacine

In 1938, Michael Sharland led a Royal Zoological Society trip to the western Tasmania in search of the thylacine. They found evidence of existence of the thylacine, bringing back stories, photographs and casts of footprints (though they did not see an actual animal). 

In his report, Sharland recommended that an area of the NW be reserved for the protection of the thylacine. These photographs were taken by Sharland of thylacines in the Hobart Zoo (above) and of the hunt (below).


Tasmanian Expedition Described

Describing an expedition made late In 1938 to the country between the Gordon River and the Frenchman's Cap, a booklet by M. S. R. Sharland, of Sydney, entitled "In Search of the Thylacine," contains much interesting information about the fast-disappearing marsupial wolf, or, as it is more commonly known, the Tasmanian "tiger".

Mr. Sharland explains that the thylacine exists today as but a remnant of the numbers which, 50 or so years ago, roamed the countryside, feeding on marsupials and sheep. Today it is seen only by the few trappers and prospectors who venture into the remote parts of Tasmania.

Mr. Sharland is an expert on Tasmanian fauna, and his opinions and recommendations must he seriously considered. On this expedition he represented the Royal Zoological Society, and his principal object was to determine to what extent the country was inhabited by the thylacine and to examine the area generally to decide whether it was suitable for a faunal sanctuary.

Mr. Sharland stresses the fact that the thylacine is no longer a menace to   sheep owners, since it is now isolated in remote parts of the State, and that the animal possesses a unique scientific value. Sanctuaries are needed for its protection in areas whore it is likely to be affected adversely by encroaching settlement. He suggests that the area comprising the Raglan and Collingwood ranges and the north-western slopes of the Frenchman's Cap might be set aside as a sanctuary.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tasmanian beach yields familiar fossil

When Hobart couple Bob and Penny Tyson went fossil-hunting on a Tasmanian beach, they weren't expecting to find a rare 250-million-year-old specimen embedded in the rocks.

The remains were of a dicynodont, an early ancestor of modern-day mammals, and it was the first specimen to ever be discovered so far south.

Roughly the size of a cow, the plant-eating animal had two tusks and a horny beak.

Queensland Museum palaeontologist Andrew Rozefelds says they lived on every continent, including Antarctica. But until now, the only Australian specimen was found in Queensland almost 30 years ago.

The fossil is now being stored at the Tasmanian Museum.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Mystery surrounds discovery of 25 dead ponies

The discovery of 25 dead ponies in remote bushland has stumped police and veterinarians and horrified locals.

The gruesome discovery, just off the New England Highway near Glen Innes, in the state's north-west, was made after police received a tip-off at the weekend. Twenty-two of the bodies were grouped together while a smaller group of three lay a few metres away at the bottom of a cliff.

The carcasses were too decayed for any kind of toxicology testing, and there were no obvious wounds or injuries that might account for how the animals died.

The animals also bore no brands or other identifying marks that might help trace ownership.

"I've never seen anything of this magnitude. It was a disturbing scene," Inspector Rod Shoesmith, of Armidale police station, said.

Officers photographed the animals then buried their remains at the site. They believe a small- to medium-sized truck was used to dump the ponies.

Anyone who noticed suspicious or unusual behaviour in the area is urged to contact Glen Innes Police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rogue human-killing sharks 'only in Hollywood'

Monster serial-killing sharks only belong in Hollywood, according to shark expert Christopher Neff, who says there is no scientific basis for the fear instilled in people by the famous Jaws films.

Neff's October article was rehashed this week in part for an article for WA Today about the string of fatalities in Western Australian waters during 2011 that sparked fears of a "rogue shark" operating along its coast. But Neff poo-poos the theory:

"Following a string of fatal shark attacks in the 1920s, the NSW government commissioned a Shark Menace Committee. It concluded that "sharks do not patrol the beaches on the off-chance of occasionally devouring human prey" and the government said the best way to reduce risk was to educate people about where they went swimming and what times of day.

"The messages of 1929 still provide options today. Sharks are following prey, such as whales, dolphins, bait fish and seals, and governments have choices following shark attacks that can educate the public to reduce personal risk based on their behaviour.

"Four factors can be reviewed to reduce risk: environmental conditions (stay out of the water after or before storms, at dawn or dusk); ecological conditions (avoid areas with bait fish, dolphins, seals and whales); personal behaviour (be conscious of how far out you are and how long you've been in the water, and avoid shiny jewellery); and lastly shark behaviour (sharks are curious and defensive; we are in the way, not on the menu)."

Monday, 19 December 2011

This Bearded Dragon loves his iPad...

Here's a short video that's been immensely popular lately on Youtube - an Australian bearded dragon 'going for broke' trying to eat digital ants as they run down the screen of its owner's iPad in the game 'Ant Crusher'.

Now we've seen everything!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Revisiting the Mt George Yowie

A sketch of the hairy creature the women saw.
Yesterday we brought you the story of a potential case of mistaken identity involving the 2009 yowie sighting at Mt George, NSW.

The witnesses recreate what they saw at the roadside.
Manning River police now believe that the two witnesses, Faye Burke and Alana Garrett, may have actually seen the afro-enhanced silhouette of fugitive Malcolm Naden.

But let's revisit what the two women claimed in the aftermath of their sighting:

"I looked back up at the road and I saw ahead in the headlights this big hairy animal thing on the side of the winding road," Faye said. "It was about eight foot tall and four foot wide."

Alana said they yelled out "holy hell" along with a list of other unmentionable words. "We panicked," they said.

"I couldn't turn the car around because I had the trailer and the road was too narrow," Faye said. "I was s**t-scared and thought I better not mess with this thing in case it lifts the trailer up and tips us over the bank edge."

Keeping her foot on the accelerator and speeding past the thing, Faye said she turned to Alana and said: "Did you see that? She said in a scared voice: 'Do you mean that thing that looked like a Big Foot?' I said: No it was a Yowie." And Alana screamed back: "Same thing!".

"After we reached the top of the hill I wanted to turn around and get a photo with my mobile phone," Faye said.

But Alana was too scared to go back. She said if the passenger window had been wound down she could have reached out and touched it.

Faye and Alana said the hairy thing stood perfectly still "like it was at attention".

"Its back was facing us and it was looking into the embankment next to the road and it had dark chocolate brown hair which was all matted," Alana said.

They described the creature that they saw as being "eight foot tall, four foot wide" with dark matted hair.

Hardly comparable to Naden's description, which has him at 177cm tall - five foot 10 in the old scale.

The pair also mention they were fearful the creature might lift the trailer and tip their car over the edge of the steep embankment.

It seems unlikely that driving past a man of average height would invoke the same level of fear. And even given the fact Naden now apparently sports an impressive afro, grown during his years on the run, could his new 'do really be mistaken for a thick body-covering coat of hair?

So once again we revisit yesterday's question - Hairy Man or hairy man?

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Yowie may have been 'most wanted' fugitive

One for the 'Hmmmmmm' files...

Bush fugitive Malcolm Naden (pictured below) may have been as far east as Mount George in August 2009 when two women saw what they believed was a "yowie" on Nowendoc Road, police believe.

The Manning River Times reported at the time that the two women were approaching Connelly's Creek Gap "just the other side of Mt George" at 7.30pm and saw "a big hairy animal thing" illuminated in their headlights on the side of the winding road.

Faye Burke and Alana Garnett from Wingham said the hairy thing stood perfectly still "like it was at attention" and had dark "chocolate brown hair which was all matted."

Researcher Paul Cropper investigated the Mount George sighting in 2009 and you can read about the case over at his excellent site, (in fact, you should really buy the book he co-authored with Tony Healy on the subject of bipedal beasts, The Yowie: In Search of Australia's Bigfoot).

So what do you think? Hairy Man or a hairy man?

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Facial tumour disease spreads in Tasmania

The deadly facial tumour cancer plaguing the Tasmanian Devil has been found in an area thought to be free of the disease.

The disease has been confirmed across more than 60 percent of Tasmania, but it came as a surprise that it was found in one animal in the Zeehan area in the state's west.

The furry marsupials were declared endangered in 2009 after the contagious cancer began sweeping through the population, disfiguring their faces so badly they are unable to eat and starve to death.

Estimates suggest that some 70 percent of devils have already been lost to the infectious disease, which is spread by biting.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Cut the Devil some slack for Christmas

The folk at the Devil Ark are looking for help in supporting their 90 endangered charges.

Almost a year after it was established on a 500hectare site in the Upper Hunter, the ark is playing a vital role in ensuring the survival of the Tasmanian devil.

It costs about $2 a day to feed a devil and $200 a year to treat it for parasites, ticks and worms. All up, it costs about $900 year to keep each devil healthy.

Visit the Devil Ark here.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Platypus pays the price for litterbugs

Why pollution and wildlife in Australia don't mix well.

This small, perfectly formed platypus was found dead in a creek by a Richmond, NSW resident, the second platypus to be discovered dead in the western Sydney local catchment area in recent weeks - a victim of discarded rubbish.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The cheeky fox and the yowie men

If you spend enough time in the Australian bush you'll see all kinds of animals - many of them not native. This very tame - or game - fox made friends with some Canberra yowie hunters and visited their campsite for a cheeky feed of bacon and sausages!

The intrepid cryptid hunters did come across a bit of strangeness in the wilderness - what looked to be an unusual print and a strange 'structure' of sticks. Or was it?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Cane toads invading Sydney

The Daily Telegraph has a great story about the steady southern migration of the Cane Toad, an introduced and highly destructive creature that is now turning up all over Sydney - a long way from where it was first introduced in the cane fields of Queensland (via Hawaii).

The story is based on the collection of a single specimen - a chihuahua-sized toad found in a Quakers Hill backyard - but CFZ Australia has reported on the invasion of the city by the tenacious toad before.

Thylacine continues to be a frustrating mystery has an interesting essay on the Thylacine entitled Not a Wolf but a Tiger.

"Thylacinus cynocephalus goes by a few different names – the marsupial wolf, the Tasmanian tiger, or, simply, the thylacine. Whatever you choose to call the species, though, this peculiar, striped marsupial is simultaneously a potent symbol of convergent evolution and the ecological destruction our own species is capable of. Thousands of years of competition with dingoes and humans contributed to the predator’s extinction on mainland Australia, and intense hunting by Tasmanians intent on protecting their sheep – combined with supplementary pressures like habitat destruction – wiped out the last of the thylacines during the 1930’s. (Some believe that a few of these marsupials might still survive, but these hopes are likely in vain.)"

The interesting article goes on to discuss the Thylacine's elbow bones and the likelihood it was in fact an ambush predator rather than a pursuit predator, which gives us all something to think about - in other words it may have had more in common with the felis family than the canid when hunting. Read on here.

Fans of all things Thyacine might also enjoy CFZ Australia's video celebrating the enigmatic marsupial.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Are modern-day monsters just primal memories?

Bigfoot. Werewolves. Vampires. Succubi. Water monsters. Dragons. Are they merely all embroidered primal memories, part of an innate 'predator identification' system that keeps modern humans hyper vigilant to the threat of potential predators?

Do these frightening creatures only exist in our imaginations - terrifying memories of a time when humans were prey for a range of fierce predators? this week has an interesting article entitled 'why we invented monsters', revisiting a not entirely original premise that stories about dragons, ape men and other frightening beasts are merely echoes from the days of our primitive ancestors, who regularly witnessed dinosaurs and other creatures attacking and eating their brethren. The article's author Paul A. Trout, in discussing his new book on the same subject, Deadly Powers: Animal Predators and the Mythic Imagination, writes:

"Monsters fill the mythic landscape. In Hawaiian myth, there is a human with a “shark-mouth” in the middle of his back. In Aboriginal myth, there is a creature with the body of a human, the head of a snake, and the suckers of an octopus. In South American myth, there is the were-jaguar; in Native American myth, there are flying heads, human-devouring eagles, predatory owl-men, water-cannibals, horned snakes, giant turtles, monster bats, and even a human-eating leech as large as a house. In Greek myth, one finds Polyphemus, the one-eyed cannibal giant; the Minotaur, a monstrous human-bull hybrid that consumes sacrificial victims in the “bowels” of the subterranean Labyrinth; and Scylla, the six-headed serpent who wears a belt of dogs’ heads ravenously braying for meat...

"Every day over the course of several million years, our ancestors saw (and heard) living creatures being torn apart and devoured by hungry animals — with some victims still kicking as they were eviscerated and dismembered. No wonder our brains are wired to make us dread this awful fate, and that the stories we tell ourselves reflect this dread and attempt to express it — press it out.

"The archetype of the monster is an expression of this primal fear writ large, exaggerated and intensified to an outlandish degree. But why does this primal fear take the form of a “monster,” that is, a predatory creature that grotesquely mixes animal or human-and-animal physical features? In what way did our experiences as a prey species contribute to the formation of the mythic monster ?"

Trout's article reminded us of another book recently brought to our attention, out for a couple of years now, Them and Us by Danny Vendramini, which raises the spectre of cannibal neanderthals, who he argues terrorised early man, raping and killing (and in some cases eating) hapless humans.

We're still awaiting our copy in the mail, but in his book, the Australian-based Vendramini examines, among other things, the pervasive belief in ferocious nocturnal predators that prey on humans after dark. He reveals it to be yet another vestige of Neanderthal predation. We fear dark forests because Neanderthals were nocturnal hunters. You can download sample chapters for here.

Vendramini, a self-described Darwinian scholar, has put together this short video about his book, and it makes for interesting viewing - 

But his refreshing treatise doesn't quite stretch to explaining, for example, anything about multiple witness sightings or physical trace evidence left behind in many bigfoot (and other cryptid) cases. Or deal in yet-to-be-discovered species of ape, for that matter. Yet. The book may well cover those topics, in which case we will update this post with our thoughts.

So is Bigfoot a living breathing archetype perhaps? If we all mimic storybook hero Peter Pan and say "I do believe in Bigfoot! I do! I do!" will it make it thus? We'd love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tiger mascot puts on a grrrrreat show

Well here's something you don't see every day - and for those intrigued by the legendary 'American troop mascot theory' often mentioned in Australian big cat lore, it's quite a treat to see an actual big cat getting up close with some military hardware.

Australian Royal Navy sailors from 816 squadron, also known as the Fighting Tigers, dropped into Australia Zoo on Sunday to play with teenage tiger Bashii.

But the eight-man crew from HMAS Albatross at Nowra in New South Wales were kept at bay until the 98kg four-year-old Sumatran tiger had checked out their chopper.

After the sailors’ dramatic arrival, landing their 10-tonne chopper behind the Beerwah tourist attraction, they made a $500 donation to the Wildlife Warriors tiger conservation program. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Scientists save Tasmanian Devil eggs, sperm

The eggs and sperm of Tasmanian devils have been collected and frozen for the first time by scientists at Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, in NSW, according to The Age.

With the species threatened by a virulent facial cancer, scientists hope to carry out an artificial insemination trial among captive devils to try to ensure that they do not become extinct like the Tasmanian tiger.

Thylacine exhibition the jewel in new museum's crown

Artefacts from the days when Thylacines still called Tasmania home form the centre piece of a revamped museum in Swansea, Tasmania.

Labor member for Lyons, Rebecca White MP, tonight praised the Glamorgan Spring Bay community for their work at the official opening of the revamped East Coast Heritage Museum and Visitor Centre in Swansea.

“To have this significant heritage building redeveloped to provide the community with this resource is a wonderful achievement,” Ms White said.

“The East Coast Heritage Museum is the custodian of an important and significant collection representing the history of Swansea and the Glamorgan area.

“It was first used as a museum as early as 1923, when it was known as the War Memorial Museum, and today the collection continues to include a compelling display incorporating all of Australia’s military conflicts.”

Ms White said the museum’s displays had also been enhanced by items loaned from the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery.

“The museum’s Thylacine exhibition includes a Thylacine jawbone pincushion, c.1900, from TMAG’s collection and a cast of a Thylacine skull kindly loaned by QVMAG,” Ms White said.

“Highlights of the museum’s collection on display include a beautifully crafted 18th century dress from the Louisa Meredith collection, and a vicious Tasmanian Tiger trap as used on the local property The Bend.”

Ms White said the redevelopment had been made possible with funding from the Tasmanian Community Fund, Arts Tasmania, Glamorgan Spring Bay Council, and guidance and advice from Heritage Tasmania, Arts Tasmania’s Small Museums and Collections Program and a range of organisations and individuals.

The East Coast Heritage Museum and Visitor Centre is open to the public seven days a week from this week.

Friday, 2 December 2011

On the Track - Episode 52

It's here - the last one for the year!

And for those who love a dash of Monkees with their monkeys, or rather, mystery apes, you'll be very entertained! I must confess to being a fan of both :-)

So here it is, the latest episode of the CFZ's monthly webTV show, bringing you the latest cryptozoological, and monster hunting news from around the world.

This episode brings you:

CFZ in winter
Rutland Falconry Centre
Barn Owls across the Atlantic
Eagle Owls
Sahar Dimus obituary and appeal
Dezy Marak obituary and appeal
Uncon 2011
CFZ Library
Meet Morticia
Thylacine skulls
Orang Pendek
Hey hey we're not the Monkees
Corinna looks at out of place birds
New and Rediscovered: Rediscovered frog
New and Rediscovered: New ferret badger
New and Rediscovered: New bat

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Dean Harrison talks about his terrifying yowie encounter

Australian Yowie Research's Dean Harrison gave this interview to CFZ Australia's Mike Williams about his unusual Yowie encounter.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Donate to the Sahar Dimus appeal

Christmas is a time for families, and - sadly - this Christmas there are two members of the CFZ family who will be missing, leaving a widowed spouse and young children. Within the last few weeks Sahar Dimus, our guide on four CFZ Sumatra expeditions, died of liver failure leaving a widow Lucy and four children.

The average West Sumatran earns 800,000 Indonesian Rupiah a month - that's $85 in Australian money. Many are self-employed and work is scarce. Small sums of money go very far in Indonesia.

You can donate to an appeal for Sahar's family here.

Natural history treasures return to Australia

A rare collection of 210-year-old natural history drawings will shortly go on display at the State Library of NSW.

The collection of 741 exquisite natural history drawings and watercolours – many previously unknown and created during the earliest years of British settlement - remained in private hands in the UK for 200 years.

It is one of only two surviving comprehensive natural history collections of such substance from this period - the other major collection resides in London’s Natural History Museum.

The artworks, depicting local plants, birds and fish, are elaborately bound in six albums, and were compiled in the 1790s by the leading naturalist and botanist Aylmer Bourke Lambert. In 1842, the albums were purchased by the 13th Earl of Derby, a legendary natural history collector.

This landmark $7.1 million acquisition – the most expensive in the Library’s history – was made possible through the financial support of TAL (formerly Tower Australia) and its parent company Dai-ichi Life, the NSW Government and the State Library Foundation.

The collection is part of Australia's national heritage. The hundreds of drawings in the TAL & Dai-ichi Life Collection, as it is now known, tell us much about plant and animal species and habitats during the early years after the arrival of the First Fleet. They are a valuable record of Australian flora and fauna including now extinct or endangered birds such as the White Gallinule and the Blue-bellied parrot.

Highlights from the TAL & Dai-ichi Life Collection will go on public display for the first time at the State Library from 10 December 2011 to mid-February 2012. A major free exhibition and regional tour is being planned for 2013.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Culling not the answer in fight to save devil

The Tasmanian Devil is a unique animal, claiming the title of the world's largest surviving marsupial carnivore after the extinction of the Tasmanian tiger. Its survival is being threatened by an equally unique disease - Devil facial tumour disease, or DFTD, is one of only two or three infectious cancers in the world.

DFTD looks likely to cause the extinction of the Tasmanian devil without human intervention. The devil could become extinct on the Tasmanian mainland in as little as 25 years - a terrifying prospect when it is considered that the disease was first confirmed in 1997, only 14 years ago.

Science magazine Cosmos argues selective culling of sick devils is not the answer to saving the feisty marsupial. Read the entire article here.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Komodo Dragon doesn't slay by venom alone

A new study has shown that the effectiveness of the Komodo Dragon bite is a combination of highly specialized serrated teeth and venom. The authors also dismiss the widely accepted theory that prey die from septicemia caused by toxic bacteria living in the dragon’s mouth.

Using sophisticated medical imaging techniques, an international team led by Dr Bryan Fry from the University of Melbourne have revealed that the Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis) has the most complex venom glands yet described for any reptile, and that its close extinct relative Megalania was the largest venomous animal to have lived.

The work will be published in the next issue of the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ and will be available in the Online Edition this week.

“These large carnivorous reptiles are known to bite prey and release them, leaving the prey to bleed to death from the horrific wounds inflicted. We have now shown that it is the combined arsenal of the Komodo Dragon's tooth and venom that account for their hunting prowess,” said Dr Fry from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne.

“The combination of this specialized bite and venom seem to minimise the Dragon's contact with its prey and this allows it to take large animals.”

Komodo Dragons are native to the islands of Indonesia, with adult males weighing over 100kg, and exceeding 3 metres in length. They have around 60 highly serrated teeth which are frequently replaced during their lifetime.

The researchers conducted a comprehensive study of the Komodo Dragon bite, employing computer techniques to analyze stress in a dragon's jaws and compare them to those of a crocodile. The dragons were found to have much weaker bites than crocodiles, but magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of a preserved dragon head revealed complex venom glands and specialised serrated teeth which create deep lacerations for entry of the venom.

“We believe that the dragon is able to weaken and immobilize their prey with a venomous bite that increases the damage done by their long serrated teeth,” said Dr Fry.

The researchers located and surgically excised the glands from a terminally ill dragon at the Singapore Zoo, and used mass spectrometry to obtain a profile of the venom molecules. The team also analysed which toxin genes were expressed in the dragon’s venom gland.

The effects of venom were also tested by the team and found to be similar to that of the gila monster and many snakes which cause a severe loss in blood pressure by widening blood vessels, thereby inducing shock in a victim. These findings may explain the observations by Dr Fry and others that Komodo
Dragon prey become still and unusually quiet soon after being bitten. Bitten prey also bleed profusely, consistent with the team’s discovery that the venom was also rich in toxins that prolong bleeding.

The researchers also examined fossils of the Dragon's giant extinct relative Megalania (Varanus priscus). From similarities in skull anatomy they determined that this seven metre lizard would have used a similar venom and bite system, making it the largest venomous animal to have ever lived.

The work will be published in the next issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Thylacines prey for the wrong reasons

We've reported before on the exciting findings of a new examination of the skull of an extinct Tasmanian tiger, reported recently in the Journal of Zoology, that suggests that the dog-like marsupial, also known as a thylacine, was mistakenly branded as a livestock killer and wrongfully hunted to extinction by Australian and Tasmanian farmers in the early 20th century.

But we're quite happy to flag a new story on the study over at the Science Line website that further explores the skull examinations by biologist Marie Attard of the University of New South Wales, which indicate that the carnivore was also vulnerable to extinction because it had a very narrow range of prey, probably consisting of animals smaller than itself, like wallabies, bandicoots, and possums. 

Limitations in killing larger prey would have increased the thylacine’s vulnerability to extinction, unless smaller prey was consistently abundant. If Attard is correct, thylacines did not regularly hunt cattle or sheep and thus were wrongfully eradicated by farmers. You can read the whole thing over here. Thanks to Paul Cropper for pointing it out.

Plight of the Orang-utan in focus

In searching for the Orang Pendek, which some believe is a sub-species of Orang-utan, it's worth focusing on the plight of its iconic orange-furred cousin - and a new book out.

In the 1960s, it was believed that no more than about 4000 orang-utans remained in the wild. Consequently, IUCN - The World Conservation Union - declared the ape an endangered species, demanding its world-wide protection.

Nevertheless, the orang-utan today faces extinction because it is dependent on a rain-forest habitat that is rapidly being demolished due to human greed, and a growing human population.

Rijksen was among the first to make a detailed study of the ape in the wild, emerging as an authority on orang-utan conservation. In the late 1980s he became so alarmed by local rumours of the rapid decline of wild orang-utans that he initiated the study leading to this book. Meijaard conducted the ambitious, island-spanning surveys in Borneo and Sumatra to reveal the ape's whereabouts.

This is the story of their findings. It is the first comprehensive study of the ape's distribution and status based on a wealth of first-hand field data, and a frank, disturbing account of a mixture of good intentions, ignorance and greed, spelling doom for our Asian relative.

Nevertheless, the authors emphasise that the orang-utan can survive. A realistic plan to save the ape, and with it thousands of unique wild animals and plants, does exist. It is the authors' hope that Our Vanishing Relative, so urgent and eloquent in its description of the deadly net of problems descending over our helpless relative, will awaken attention and empathy in order to safeguard the future of the orang-utan.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Cryptozoologist's Christmas wish list

Your average armchair cryptozoologist's Christmas wish list is long and complicated, usually starting off with alive-and-kicking specimens of their favourite species - but they're a bit hard to fit in the Christmas stocking!

Instead, we've chosen our top 10 picks of books and products that have come out in the past year for what would make the Christmas of anyone interested in cryptozoology. Of course it's a wee bit biased, but we'd never recommend anything we didn't like!

Happy shopping :-)

Savage Shadow: The Search for the Australian Cougar by David O'Reilly - the early '80s big cat cult classic is back with a slick new cover, more photographs and two forewords that contextualise its contents and profile the journalist who became intrigued by the shadowy assassins of the Outback. It's a handsome shelf-fellow for...

Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panther by Michael Williams and Rebecca Lang - launched last year to great acclaim, the book documents the past 150 years' of big cat sightings, unusual livestock killings and government investigations into the continent's own Alien Big Cats phenomenon. Also features a dedicated chapter on New Zealand big cat sightings.

Orang Pendek: Sumatra's Forgotten Ape by Richard Freeman - a long-awaited tome which includes the findings of this year's Centre for Fortean Zoology expedition to Sumatra in search of the aforementioned cryptid. Freeman has made many trips to Sumatra in search of the Orang Pendek, and we can't think of anyone better who could have authored this epic work.

Searching for Sasquatch by Brian Regal - the book we wish we had written! And the talk at the Fortean Times Unconvention 2011 we would have happily flown all the way to the UK just to see. Regal examines the relationship between professional scientists and amateur naturalists who hunt for man-beasts (you know, Yeti, Bigfoot, Sasquatch and our own Yowie) - and their place in the history of science. The author pulls no punches, and that's just how we like it.

Big Cats: Facing Britain's Wild Predators by Rick Minter - we know Rick, and he's a passionate researcher and cataloguer of big cat sightings in the UK. This book has been a long time in the works and we can't wait to get our paws on a copy - that's right, we're buying this one for ourselves for Christmas!

Tetrapod Zoology Book 1 by Darren Naish - actually, we already read someone else's copy in Sumatra and LOVED it, so we will be tracking down our own copy for our library. For anyone unfamiliar with Darren Naish's popular blog, some of the posts of which make up this book, visit Tet Zoo here.

The Ltl Acorn trail camera - we took this little beauty away with us to Sumatra and really can't rave about it enough. From the excellent resolution stills and video to its compact, lightweight nature and camouflage casing complete with mounting brace, it's great value for money and the ideal choice for expeditions.

CFZ Expedition Report: India 2010 - in November 2010, a five-person team went to India in search of the Mande burung or Indian yeti. Dr Karl Shuker has written the foreword to this latest in a series of expedition reports published by the CFZ Press.

Weird Waters: The Lake and Sea Monsters of Scandinavia and the Baltic States - aquatic monsters have a long and venerable history in the waters of northern Europe. Author Lars Thomas tells us the very same monsters are still very much alive, in tradition as well as in reality.

When Bigfoot Attacks: A Global Survey of Alleged Sasquatch/Yeti Predation - Michael Newton's latest cryptozoology book takes a look at those toey man-beasts who don't mind putting humans on the menu. Tall tales or true? Over to you!

Happy Christmas shopping!


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