Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Shuker shares top three zoological discoveries

Monga Bay has an interview with Dr Karl Shuker about his new book The Encycloapedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.

In an interview with www.MongaBay.com, Shuker says the top three zoological discoveries since 1900 would have to be the okapi, the coelacanth, and the saola, also known as the Vu Quang ox. His new book highlights these three discoveries along with hundreds of others, including species discovered as recently as last year.

Read more at Mongabay.com.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Maria Island considered for 'insurance' Devil colony

Tasmania’s Parks and Wildlife Service is considering a proposal to set-up a healthy population of Tasmanian Devils on Maria Island.

The PWS is seeking community comment on the translocation proposal, put forward by the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program.

The Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, said the proposal would initially release up to 50 devils into Maria Island National Park, to establish a wild, free-ranging, disease-free population.

“Our scientists are thinking creative and working extremely hard to help save this precious iconic species,” Mr Wightman said.

“The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program has identified Maria Island as a potential site because of its size, appropriate habitat, and a large suite of prey species for the Tasmanian devil.

“Other benefits include full-time Parks and Wildlife Service staff, and the fact that the only vehicles on the island are PWS ones – reducing the threat of road-kill,” he said.

The Maria Island National Park Plan of Management requires a comprehensive assessment before introducing a new animal to the island - to examine possible environmental, social and economic impacts, along with possible mitigation efforts.

A Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan will be advertised on Saturday 24 March. It examines the possible impacts of introducing Tasmanian Devils to the Island, and provides an opportunity for community comment on the proposal.

The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program has been carrying out extensive wildlife monitoring and impact assessments, as well as seeking required approvals under State and Commonwealth legislation.

As the land manager of Maria Island, the PWS also has requirements to follow as part of assessing these type of proposals.

“We make these decisions cautiously, and with extensive research, to ensure it’s the right decision for both the Tasmanian Devils and the environment of Maria Island,” Mr Wightman said.

The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program Manager, Andrew Sharman, said the assessment process being undertaken by the Parks and Wildlife Service is the next step in the assessment and approvals process.

“We have been undertaking wildlife monitoring on the island over the last 18 months to ensure we have the best information available for monitoring long-term impacts on the island’s species,” Mr Sharman said.

“An extensive planning process has been also undertaken which has provided scientific and wildlife expert input. The translocation proposal has also been assessed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and has been approved to proceed,” he said.

Mr Sharman said the proposal is another measure for securing the ongoing survival of the Tasmanian devil in the wild.

“Tasmanian devils are facing a major threat to their long term survival in the wild, with the Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) resulting in a population decline of more than 80 per cent since the disease was first recorded in 1996,” Mr Sharman said.

“Despite major advances in knowledge about this disease, the only tool currently available to break the transmission cycle of the disease is to place healthy devils in situations where they will not encounter diseased individuals.

“The aim of translocating Tasmanian devils to Maria Island is to establish a wild, breeding, DFTD-free population to preserve important traits that may be required for future introductions of devils back to the Tasmanian mainland.

“Island translocations such as this one could provide an ecologically and economically sustainable solution to managing insurance populations,” he said.

The Development Proposal and Environmental Management Plan is available at the PWS website at www.parks.tas.gov.au.

Hard copies are available at Service Tasmania shops.

The public comment period closes on 27 April, 2012.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Humans behind megafauna extinction - not climate change

Humans wiped out Australia's megafauna, according to a new study published in the journal Science.

Hunting was behind the demise of the giant diprotodons, towering kangaroos, marsupial lions and birds twice the size of emus, and not climate change.

One of the report's authors Prof Barry Brook said "Debate about the possible cause of these late Pleistocene extinctions has continued for more than 150 years, with scientists divided over whether climate change or the arrival of humans has been responsible for their demise...Australia was colonised during a time when the climate was relatively benign, supporting the view that people, not climate change, caused the extinctions here."

But one site in western NSW - Cuddie Springs - stood out as an anomaly. Fossils of super-sized kangaroos, giant birds and the rhino-sized Diprotodon (the largest marsupial ever to roam Australia) were found in the same sedimentary layers as stone tools, leading some scientists to previously claim "unequivocal evidence" of a long overlap of humans and megafauna.

However, Professor Roberts - the lead author of the Science paper "And Then There Were None?" - says direct dating of fossils shows that the artefacts and megafauna fossils at the Cuddie Springs site were mixed together over many thousands of years, long after the giant animals had died.

"These results provide no evidence for the late survival of megafauna at this site," Professor Roberts says.

"Given that people arrived in Australia between 60,000 and 45,000 years ago, human impact was the likely extinction driver, either through hunting or habitat disturbance," he says.

Professor Brook says previous claims for sites containing younger megafauna - such as in Kangaroo Island, eastern Victoria and the highlands of Papua New Guinea - should also be considered suspect in the light of these revised, older dates for the Cuddie Springs fossils.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Live Science website has made this cracker graphic freely available to promote its story on bigfoot-type creatures, so pop on over and check it out!

"The big hairy monster we call Bigfoot has both eluded and fascinated many, with blurry photos and even blurrier video being some of the best evidence the creature exists.

"The Down Under variety, dubbed Yowie, reportedly stands anywhere from 5 to 11 feet (1.5 to 3.4 meters) tall, and has yellow or red eyes deeply set inside a dome-shaped head."

We wonder what a similar survey would turn up in Australia?

Read more here.

Black Fox Sighted near Ballarat

A Victorian woman, Diane, living near Ballarat recently reported having seen a black fox on her way to Beaufort from Ballarat.

She commented: “I saw the fox when I was driving out to my sisters out at beaufort, it ran out right in front of me, it didn't have the white tip on the tail though. It was last Tuesday 6th March 2012 at approx’ 6pm. It was just after Trawalla.”

While a very rare animal in Australia, black foxes are nonetheless a known part of Australia’s introduced fauna; being a melanistic version of the red fox, known colloquially as a darker variant of the silver fox. These animals have been reported in Australia since the 1920s and on some occasions have been mistaken for melanistic leopards (panthers) and occasionally described as a melanistic puma. One particularly pertinent example was a “Black Panther” reported shot by two youths near Frankston that was later described as a large Black Fox upon investigation by police.[1]

Rebecca Lang, co-author of Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers raised the issue of rare Black Foxes being mistaken for dark coloured big cats. She describes, in particular, an incident where she saw a quadruped which, while moving with a somewhat cat like grace was clearly neither a cat nor a dog. The books then goes on to further refer to a University of Western Australia Fox DNA project after one was shot and brought in for investigation on a property in South Australia.[2]

In the United States the melanistic phase of the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) is much more common than in Australia. The American Red Fox in its Black Colour Morph is described in detail in the Journal of Mammology in terms of, “The Silver-Black fox has the red and fulvous fur replaced by black. White banded guard hairs, which may be present in varying proportions, are responsible for the “silver” effect. The tip of the tail is usually white in all three phases.” [3]

Further to this the article claims that in the United States, Europe and Asia that, “This range in variation of these colour phases constitutes an almost perfect gradation in colour from the Red to the Black Fox. The normal colour of the Red Fox merges through graded bastard foxes into lighter coloured cross foxes, on through progressively darker foxes to full silvers and so through animals having less and less silver to the pure black individual.”

Silver Foxes, a rare but naturally occurring colour variation in Red Foxes, are far more prevalent in Europe and the United states due to their high status as a fur. Their value has led to their being deliberately bred with others of the same colour morph to produce higher quantities of the rare silvery black fur which sold for exorbitant amounts to fur dealers in the 19th century. Silver Foxes bred together invariably lead to a continuation of the colour, particularly after the third generation whereas in mixing with a Red Fox they will produce mixed offspring.[4] The lack of deliberate breeding and harvesting in Australia for the fur trade is a large component of their comparative rarity here in comparison with their European, Asian and American counterparts.

That being said they are, like the far more common red variety, now part of Australia’s ecosystem. If you see one of these rare, beautiful and unique animals consider yourself very lucky indeed, though the impact on native fauna of these introduced species is another matter entirely.


[1] Townsville Daily Bulletin April 26 1940, p7; The Argus April 29 1940, p7.

[2] Williams, M & Lang, R. Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers. Strange Nation Publishing: Hazelbrook. 2010. pp 279-280.

[3] E. C. Cross. “Colour Phases of the Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) in Ontario”. Journal of Mammalogy. Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1941), pp. 25-39

[4] The Fur Trade of America by Agnes C. Laut, published by Kessinger Publishing, 2004

Monday, 19 March 2012

Jesus Christ and the (Tasmanian) Devil

Australian singer and actor Jon English, who is an ambassador for the Save the Tasmanian Devil program, is performing with the Tasmanian Encore Theatre Company in Jesus Christ Superstar 40 years after the show debuted.

All proceeds from the recent preview of the production in Launceston will go towards the Save the Tasmanian Devil fund. The show has raised about $10,000 so far.

English, who played Judas in the original 1972 production, is now performing the role of Pilate and said he was excited to be combining two of his passions, the stage and the Save the Tasmanian Devil program.

English's enthusiasm for his role as ambassador has been invaluable, Save the Devil program manager Andrew Sharman said.

"Not only has he raised significant funds already through his rock show and now Jesus Christ Superstar, his profile, energy and enthusiasm for the cause makes him a fantastic ambassador," Mr Sharman said.

"He genuinely cares about the devils too."

Awwww, what a guy - go Jon!

Friday, 16 March 2012

New human-like species found in China

Red Deer Man, as depicted by Peter Schouten.
The cryptozoological world is buzzing with the discovery of a new human-like species in China, and what this could mean in relation to Bigfoot-style sightings all over the world. It seems we're discovering new relatives all over!

Of course China has had its fair share of 'manbeast' sightings with the Yeren or Wildman reportedly sighted in Yunan Province, about  day's drive away from where these fossils were discovered.

The Red Deer People, so-called after an analysis of the previously unearthed bones yielded evidence of a mixture of modern and ancient anatomical traits, were cave-dwelling, deer-eating people who lived 11,000-15,000 years ago.

Neanderthal Man as depicted in a recreation.

Fossils from two caves in south-west China revealed the previously unknown Stone Age people and give a rare glimpse of a recent stage of human evolution with startling implications for the early peopling of Asia.

The fossils are of a people with a highly unusual mix of archaic and modern anatomical features and are the youngest of their kind ever found in mainland East Asia.

One of the skulls thought to be of the 'Red Deer People'. Photo: David Curnoe 
Dated to just 14,500 to 11,500 years old, these people would have shared the landscape with modern-looking people at a time when China's earliest farming cultures were beginning, says an international team of scientists led by Associate Professor Darren Curnoe, of the University of New South Wales, and Professor Ji Xueping of the Yunnan Institute of Cultural Relics and Archeology.

Details of the discovery are published in the journal PLoS One. The team has been cautious about classifying the fossils because of their unusual mosaic of features.

"These new fossils might be of a previously unknown species, one that survived until the very end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago," says Professor Curnoe.

"Alternatively, they might represent a very early and previously unknown migration of modern humans out of Africa, a population who may not have contributed genetically to living people."

The remains of at least three individuals were found by Chinese archaeologists at Maludong (or Red Deer Cave), near the city of Mengzi in Yunnan Province during 1989. They remained unstudied until research began in 2008, involving scientists from six Chinese and five Australian institutions.

A Chinese geologist found a fourth partial skeleton in 1979 in a cave near the village of Longlin, in neighbouring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. It stayed encased in a block of rock until 2009 when the international team removed and reconstructed the fossils.

Scientists removing and examining the fossils.
The skulls and teeth from Maludong and Longlin are very similar to each other and show an unusual mixture of archaic and modern anatomical features, as well as some previously unseen characters.

While Asia today contains more than half of the world's population, scientists still know little about how modern humans evolved there after our ancestors settled Eurasia some 70,000 years ago, notes Professor Curnoe.

The scientists are calling them the "Red-deer Cave people" because they hunted extinct red deer and cooked them in the cave at Maludong.

The Asian landmass is vast and scientific attention on human origins has focussed largely on Europe and Africa: research efforts have been hampered by a lack of fossils in Asia and a poor understanding of the age of those already found.

Homo Floriensis.
Until now, no fossils younger than 100,000 years old have been found in mainland East Asia resembling any species other than our own (Homo sapiens). This indicated the region had been empty of our evolutionary cousins when the first modern humans appeared. The new discovery suggests this might not have been the case after all and throws the spotlight once more on Asia.

"Because of the geographical diversity caused by the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, south-west China is well known as a biodiversity hotspot and for its great cultural diversity. That diversity extends well back in time" says Professor Ji.

In the last decade, Asia has produced the 17,000-year-old and highly enigmatic Indonesian Homo floresiensis ("The Hobbit") and evidence for modern human interbreeding with the ancient Denisovans from Siberia.

"The discovery of the red-deer people opens the next chapter in the human evolutionary story – the Asian chapter – and it's a story that's just beginning to be told," says Professor Curnoe.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

More on the Warburton big cat

Dozens of residents have contacted the Knox Leader since, saying they have seen pumas or big cats in Dixons Creek, Gruyere, Gembrook, Emerald, Upwey and Silvan.

The sightings have fascinated Boronia resident and former member of Rare Fauna Research (now Australian Rare Fauna Research Association) Nick Costello, author of Big Cats in the Back Paddock.

He said during the 1980s the group investigated the big cat phenomenon in the Dandenong Ranges, with some 300 sightings recorded.

“Various members of our research team came into close contact with the animals at several times,” Mr Costello said.

He said he thought the felines were extinct because reports of big cat sightings had dwindled since the 1990s.

Now, Mr Costello said that was clearly not the case and he was delighted the animals were back in the spotlight. He saw the big cat many years ago and painted a picture of it.

“We were able to prove on paper that they were present in the Dandenongs at that time,” he said.

Healesville resident Naomi Wynd said last week she saw a black feline in Upper Ferntree Gully while driving with her sister along Old Belgrave Rd at dusk.

At first she thought it was a dog.

“I realised it was padding along and, as it turned and the light shone in its eyes, we both said, ‘Oh my God that’s not a dog’,” she said.

Though it was a few years back, Ms Wynd still clearly remembers watching the big cat run under a house.

“A neighbour said to us that a lady down the road complained the big cat would go underneath her house and grunt and scratch around down there,” Ms Wynd said.

Healesville farmer Ken Lang said he believed leopards and pumas lived in the area.

He said his neighbour complained he once found two dead lambs he believed had been savaged by big cats and left high up in the fork of a tree.

And a few years ago a big cat tried to pull down a pony in Badger Creek, leaving claw marks on its flanks.

The book Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers documents many Victorian big cat sightings going back more than 100 years.

Hunt is on for 'extinct' Javan tiger

A Javan tiger captured on film in 1938.
Meru Betiri National Park officers have installed five trap cameras to establish the existence of Javanese tigers (Panthera tigris sondaica), now believed to be extinct, according to Antara News.

In the past two months, efforts to find Javanese tigers have been stepped up at the national park, according to chairman of the TNMB Bambang Darmadja.

"Many people believe that Javanese tigers are extinct. So we are trying to prove that the endangered animal still exist at Meru Betiri, by installing trap cameras," he said.

The national park covering a total area of 58,000 hectares is located in Jamber and Banyuwangi District, East Java Province.

According to a research conducted in 1997, officers found footprints and dung strongly believed to be that of Javanese tigers.

Meet the 'cane toad of turtles'

The red-eared slider turtle, one of the world’s most invasive pests, has been discovered in a NSW waterway.

DPI invasive species strategy officer Nathan Cutter said the dangerous pest could carry disease and adversely affect native wildlife.

“The turtles pose a serious threat to aquatic biodiversity,” Mr Cutter said.

“It is often compared to a fox, myna birds and cane toads in terms of its invasiveness and the ability to devastate native ecosystems.”

Read more here.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Victorian wildlife in the firing line

Thousands of Australian native animals and birds have been killed or 'moved on' under permits granted by a Victorian city council.

Permits in the City of Greater Geelong area in 2011 were issued for the control of 81 emus, 100 possums and 235 eastern grey kangaroos.

Other permits related to birds, including galahs, corellas, gulls and cape barren geese.

Landowners who cannot resolve a wildlife issue can apply for a permit to the Department of Sustainability and Environment. Control methods include "scaring; trap and release; trap and destroy; culling; and egg and nest destruction".

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Doon Doon panther stalks the Kimberley

The ABC's Rural Report has been receiving reports of a 'panther-like' creature roaming the rangelands near Doon Doon in the East Kimberley.

This week the show heard from 'Ben' who says he saw the creature last year, and spoke to the manager of the Doon Doon roadhouse who says truckies have been reporting seeing a big cat near the Dunham River.

Ben saw a large slender black cat slinking through the bush, and later a 17cm paw print, some 150km from Kununurra in the East Kimberley.

Have you seen the Doon Doon panther? Let us know.

The book Savage Shadow: The Hunt for the Australian Cougar recounts the wave of big cat sightings in Western Australia during the 1970s and 1980s.

Following in its tracks is Australian Big Cats: An Unnatural History of Panthers, which documents big cat sightings all over Australia including across Western Australia.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Golden Possum no illusion

Baby brushtail possum Bailey is already turning heads at a new Sydney zoo with her beautiful golden coat. The latest addition to Wild Life Sydney, in Darling Harbour, is a species rarely seen in the wild except for remote pockets of Tasmanian wilderness.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Spiders take over flood-affected Wagga

Spiders are on the move in the wake of flooding rains covering most of New South Wales, the ABC reports.

Millions of spiders around Wagga Wagga are heading for higher ground.

Residents taking refuge from flood and spider in the Red Steer pub say you cannot walk down the road without swarms of tiny brown spiders crawling up your legs, and in their escape they have left entire paddocks and trees swathed in silver silk.

Dennis Lane, who lives at Cartwrights Hill in north-east Wagga, says the spectacle has attracted many visitors to the area to take photos.

"It's all silver. It's like snow in the trees. With the wet it's all silk," he said.

"Just down the bottom of the hill from my place, the trees are covered in them. They're just all walking out of the water down the road."

According to spider expert Graham Milledge, the spiders are most likely harmless.

Mr Milledge is collection manager in arachnology at the Australian Museum.

He says the spiders look like wolf spiders.

"It's not possible to say precisely what they are unless we can get some samples and examine them," he said.

"After seeing the photos, they look to me like they might be juvenile wolf spiders.

One way spiders can move around is by what they call ballooning, so they let out lengths of silk in the hope that the wind will catch them and carry them away to another place.

"Wolf spiders are a very common type of spider in open country like that. They're ground-dwelling spiders."

Mr Milledge says the silky layer the spiders are leaving across parts of Wagga Wagga is a product of "ballooning".

"One way spiders can move around is by what they call ballooning, so they let out lengths of silk in the hope that the wind will catch them and carry them away to another place," he said.

"But if there's not enough wind around, what happens is they don't get very far and they all end up in the same place. They'll keep trying and that's why you'll get all that silk."

Thursday, 8 March 2012

New Journal of Cryptozoology announced

A new peer-reviewed scientific journal devoted to mystery animals is being published by the CFZ Press.

The journal fills a void left by the closure of the International Society of Cryptozoology in 1998 and the cessation of its journal Cryptozoology, which folded in 1996.

According to the journal Cryptozoology, the ISC served "as a focal point for the investigation, analysis, publication, and discussion of all matters related to animals of unexpected form or size, or unexpected occurrence in time or space."

It's an exciting development for the world of cryptozoology, and a boon for Australia - two of the peer review panel members are Australians: Colin Groves (ANU) and David Waldron (Ballarat University). The panel will also include Tom Gilbert, Christine Janis, Paul LeBlond, Adrienne Mayor, Darren Naish, Charles Paxton, Brian Regal, and Lars Thomas.

Announcing the new journal, editor Dr Karl Shuker said it would "fill a notable gap in the literature of cryptids and their investigation. For although some mainstream zoological journals are beginning to show slightly less reluctance than before to publish papers with a cryptozoological theme, it is still by no means an easy task for such papers to gain acceptance, and, as a result, potentially significant, serious contributions to the subject are not receiving the scientific attention that they deserve. Now, however, they have a journal of their own once again, and one that adheres to the same high standards for publication as mainstream zoological periodicals."

Dr Shuker also outlined the accepted definition of a cryptid for the purposes of the journal: "For the purposes of relevance to this journal, a cryptid is a creature that is known to the local people sharing its domain (ethnoknown) but unrecognised by scientists. Such a creature may be any of the following:

1) A species or subspecies apparently unknown to science, including alleged prehistoric survivors (e.g. mokele-mbembe).

2) A species or subspecies presently unknown to science in the living state, but which is known to have existed in historical times and allegedly still persists today (e.g. thylacine).

3) A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as a natural occurrence in a location outside its scientifically-recognised current geographical distribution (e.g. puma in the eastern USA).

4) A species or subspecies known to science but allegedly existing as an artificial occurrence (i.e. due to human intervention) in a location outside its scientifically-recognised geographical distribution (e.g. alien big cats in Britain).

5) An unrecognised non-taxonomic variant of a known species or subspecies (e.g. Fujian blue tiger; prior to its scientific recognition, the journal's logo creature, the king cheetah, was another example from this category).

In addition, papers dealing with fabulous, mythological beasts will be considered for publication in the journal if their subjects have direct relevance to cryptids (e.g. reviewing the similarity between a given lake monster from folklore and cryptids reported in that same lake in modern times)."

Read more about the journal's submission guidelines here.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

On the Track of Unknown Animals - Episode 55

It's On The Track time again (well, actually we're a little behind in sharing it - this ep actually came out last week!). Jon and the CFZ have put together another entertaining and educational episode of the cryptozoological world's favourite monthly program.

This episode brings you:

  • CFZ in spring
  • Waders on Northam Burrows: Shelduck/redshanks/dunlin/curlew/whimbrel
  • Starling flocks
  • Great ape prints
  • Orang pendek research
  • The mammoth hoax
  • The Iceland wurm,
  • mystery tracks,
  • CFZ at Batnstaple Museum
  • Chupacabras that isn't
  • Playing with chainsaws
  • frogspawn
  • The ditches of Huddisford
  • Corinna looks at out of place birds
  • New and Rediscovered: New chameleon
  • New and Rediscovered: New seasnake
  • New and Rediscovered: New bat
  • New and Rediscovered: New caecilians
  • New and Rediscovered: New moth
  • New and Rediscovered: New lizard
  • Searching for Lars' wife
  • WW2012
  • Fortean Fiction
  • Journal of Cryptozoology

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Did dingoes play a role in Thylacine extinction?

A new academic paper is out...

Impact of the dingo on the thylacine (Tasmanian Tigers)

Fillios, Melanie, Mathew S. Crowther, and Mike Letnic. 2012. “The Impact of the Dingo on the Thylacine in Holocene Australia.” World Archaeology 44 (1): 118–134.

"The thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was one of Australia’s largest predators, but became extinct in mainland Australia soon after the arrival of a new predator, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) around 3500 bp. Evidence implicating the dingo in the thylacine’s extinction has been equivocal, largely because thylacines are thought to be considerably larger than dingoes. Thus, other concurrent factors, such as shifts in human technology and population increase as well as climate change, have been cited to explain their extinction. Here we present new morphological evidence that female mainland Holocene thylacines were actually smaller than dingoes. We discuss these findings against archaeological and contemporary ecological evidence concerning dingoes’ environmental impacts, and provide evidence that, as novel predators, dingoes induced a trophic cascade that had dramatic impacts on the fauna and economy of Holocene Australia. We suggest that dingoes, owing to their larger brains and body size, were likely a primary agent for the extinction of the thylacine from mainland Australia."

Read more here.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Another panther sighting in Yarra Ranges

Another Yarra Ranges big cat story has popped up in the Free Press...

You may recall a recent sighting mentioned on this blog.

The elusive black puma whose various sightings have mystified residents has again been spotted roaming in Yarra Ranges.

This time Millgrove resident Kym Burton, pictured, saw the big cat, which she said looked like a panther, strutting along Warburton Highway towards Seville.

Ms Burton was driving along the deserted road at 2am on February 6 when she noticed a big black cat walking along the road side.

“I was coming around the bend and I saw a great big black panther on the side,” Ms Burton said.

She said the cat reached the height of the bottom of her car window and she noticed its big yellow eyes when she flashed her high beams to get a better look.

Ms Burton’s sighting is the latest in a series of reports of large cats or pumas over the past 50 years.

The Australian Rare Fauna Research Association reports manager Dorothy Williams said the organisation had received thousands of reports of big cat sightings.

New species discovered off Australian coast

A new species of venomous sea snake mysteriously covered head to tail in spiny scales has been discovered in treacherous seas off northern Australia, according to a new study.

Though some other sea snakes have spiky scales on their bellies, "no other [known] sea snake has this curious feature," study leader Kanishka Ukuwela, an ecologist at the University of Adelaide, said by email.

Normally snakes have smooth scales, but each of the newly named Hydrophis donaldi's scales has a spiny projection, he said.

Scientists cruising shallow seagrass beds in the Gulf of Carpentaria (map) recently captured nine of the rough-scaled reptiles, National Geographic reported.

"The minute the first one landed on the deck, I knew we had something special," study co-author Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, said by email. "It was quite unlike any of the sea snakes I have seen."

Each of the specimens was found on the rocky seafloor, a habitat that could explain the new species' uniquely strong scales, Fry noted.

Overall, though, "we don't know why this interesting feature evolved in this species, or what they are used for," study leader Ukuwela said.

The new Hydrophis—literally "water serpent"—likely eluded notice for two reasons. The species is apparently rare, and it lives in coastal habitats largely avoided by fishers, Ukuwela said. Many Australian sea snake species live in the open ocean and are often accidentally caught in prawn trawls. (See snake pictures.)

Little is known about the yellowish brown reptile, other than that it gives birth to live young and, like nearly all live-bearing sea snakes, is "venomous and potentially dangerous to humans," according to the study, published February 21 in the journal Zootaxa.

Furthermore, venom is just one obstacle to unraveling the new species' mysteries, the University of Queensland's Fry noted.

"Field observations are impossible, because the water is very murky and filled with lots of very large bull sharks and saltwater crocodiles, in addition to [highly poisonous] box jellyfish," he said.

"If we tried to dive there, our life expectancy would be measured in minutes. The only question is which animal would kill us.

"My money is on the bull sharks."

Friday, 2 March 2012

Love is in the air @ Devil's Ark

Following the first successful breeding season at Devil Ark last year, the next season is almost upon us.

The female Tasmanian devil is preparing her body for the mating season, which commences this month and sees the skin around her neck thicken and her pouch deepen to accommodate her joeys. The female breeds at age two years and can rear up to four joeys a year for an average of three years.

The female chooses the male and mating occurs over about a 7 day period. If she doesn’t get pregnant with her first ovulation, she’ll have two more cycles before the end of June. The species is not monogamous and she could have many partners if not guarded by the male.

The process is called “mate guarding” and sees the male sprawled across the entrance of the den in which the female resides to prevent other unwelcome male visits. Gestation is a short 21 days, and then around 30 tiny devils are born. The mother has only four teats, so only the first to arrive and fuse themselves to her survive. They will feed from their mother for six months and venture outside of the den in Spring.

The juvenile devils will become fully independent by December. Last year’s Devil Ark babies are now in the crèche at Devil Ark and will be moved into free range enclosure when they reach breeding age next year.

Devil Ark’s first breeding season last year resulted in 26 baby devils. This is the highest number of joeys born in captivity.

Devil Ark is the largest breeding facility for the endangered Tasmanian devil and is now home to almost 100 devils in large free range enclosures that mimic the natural landscape of their native Tasmania. With the insidious DFTD (Devil Facial Tumour Disease) now in the Tasmania’s North West, the devil’s last stronghold, extinction in the wild seems inevitable.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Turning back extinction clock

The fruit of a narrow-leaved campion, buried in permafrost by a ground squirrel 32,000 years ago on the banks of the Kolyma river in Siberia, has been coaxed into growing into a new plant, which then successfully set seed itself in a Moscow laboratory.

Although this plant species was not extinct, inch by inch scientists seem to be closing in on the outrageous goal of bringing a species back from the dead.

The mammoth is the best candidate for resurrection mainly because flash-frozen ones with well-preserved tissues are regularly found in the Siberian permafrost.

Read more here.


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