Sunday, March 30, 2003


You're mostly a monkey
Robin McKie is impressed by Nature via Nurture, Matt Ridley's eloquent explanation of how we can be so different from other primates despite sharing 99% of their genetic material

Try this little literary exercise. Take the opening paragraphs of David Copperfield and compare them with those of The Catcher in the Rye. Note the similarities, some of which are intentional... Very different works can clearly be created from identical materials.

Which takes us, logically, to the chimpanzee. Scientists have recently shown these animals share all but a handful of the 30,000 genes that combine to create a human being. Yet the two species are not alike, despite superficial similarities. So how is this possible? baffled writers and pundits have asked. How can a creature that is 99 per cent genetically identical to ourselves be coated in thick pelts of hair, swing from the trees and live on a diet of raw termites and fruit?

Simple, says Ridley. It is just a matter of order, for just like words, genes come in an infinite variety of patterns. Change their sequence a little bit and you can turn Pan troglodytes into Homo sapiens, just as Dickens can be transformed into Salinger. There is no need to invent genes, he says, just as there is no need to invent words to write an original novel. 'All you need to do is switch the same ones on and off in different patterns.'...

Friday, March 28, 2003


Rescue to death
Circus chimpanzee perishes in zoo

In death it generated more controversy than during its 'rescue' from a circus earlier this year. Shiva, a 22-year-old male chimpanzee that animal rights activists took away from Royal Cicus and put in the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Chennai, died on March 15 after a week-long illness. At the time of death it was suffering from mouth ulcers and severe enteritis. The zoo said the circus, which had reared the chimp for 20 years, had overworked and underfed it....

It was two months ago, on January 9, that the People for Animals (Chennai) Charitable Trust took away Shiva and two other chimps from the circus with the help of the police. A few days later, the volunteers of the trust took away a fourth chimp, 10-year-old Guru.

At the zoo, the chimps were unhappy and restless, and on January 13, the secretary of the People for Animals wrote to the circus manager to spare the handlers of the chimpanzees on a daily pay of Rs 100....

After Shiva's death, people were concerened about the health of the other chimps lodged in the zoo. The condition of 43-year-old female chimp, Ganga, was said to be worsening and she was refusing to eat enough.

The circus authorities said the animals were in good shape when they were with them. On January 8, an associate professor of the Madras Veterinary College had certified all the animals in the circus were in "sound condition, good health (except the chimpanzee by name Laxmi, which is under treatment for recumbent ulcer) and apparently free from infectious diseases". They have moved the High Court to get the remaining chimps released.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003


Evolution Explains Why Chimps Beat us by a Nose

New research shows that humans' sense of smell is much less acute than that of other primates....

In the past, humans likely carried noses as keen as modern species with more acute senses of smell, he said. People then probably lost that ability over time.

"Immediately after the separation of the human and chimpanzee species, they both had an identical sense of smell," Gilad explained....

Sunday, March 23, 2003


Are humans hard-wired to behave aggressively?
Y chromosome could be the culprit in war But we are in process of getting domesticated

When technology has made the world smaller than ever, why does mankind still resort to settling international differences with the blunt instrument of war?

The clues may be in our genes. An emerging and controversial branch of science suggests that humans are, at least in part, hard-wired for aggression and other troublesome behaviours....

In his book Demonic Males: Apes And The Origins Of Human Violence, Wrangham argues that more aggressive men were the most successful breeders back in our dim evolutionary past....

Wrangham bases his work in part on observations of chimpanzees, one of humanity's closest evolutionary cousins. Male chimps fight one another directly for access to females, he says. But they also make group raids into neighbouring clans, killing out-of-group males without provocation or apparent immediate gain. In other words, they wage war....

In Bonbono monkeys, he said, females keep male aggression in check by travelling in packs and defending one another. While he doesn't suggest women do the same, he thinks they could use the ballot box to shift foreign policy.

But waiting for evolution to breed out our bad traits can take a long time.

Bonbono monkeys, famous for their loving societies, split off from chimpanzees some 2.5 million years ago, Wrangham said; biologists guess they evolved their peaceful leanings only about 10,000 years ago....

Not coincidentally, Wrangham said, modern humans have lost about 10 per cent of their brain mass in the last 30,000 years. While most biologists explain the difference by body size — ancient humans had larger bodies and thus larger brains — Wrangham thinks we're simply in the process of domesticating ourselves.

"We couldn't possibly live in big cities if we were chimps. We'd attack each other all the time," he said. "We are species that are learning to control our violent behaviour, at least inside groups."

Comparing Bush to a chimpanzee has become very popular of late, although clearly it is unfair - to the chimpanzees.


War theme abundant in creative poetry slam

...Freshman Jody Zink's poem "Our 'Esteemed' President" described Bush as "the meanest chimp you ever saw," and said "his foreign policy is enough to make anyone vomit / he can't see another country without wanting to bomb it."...


Start of war in Iraq has Goodall worried
Chimp expert fears terrorism against U.S. will increase

The war with Iraq will fuel anti- American hatred across the Muslim world and could trigger a "conflagration of terrorism" against the United States, chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall said Friday in Denver.

"There's a hatred of the American administration that I've felt really strongly as I've traveled around the world, and this is just the kind of thing that could trigger massive retaliation against Americans," said Goodall, who was named a United Nations "Messenger of Peace" by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year....

She spoke Friday at a museum news conference, where she took questions from reporters and from some of the dozens of children sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her.

Here are some of the kids' questions and Goodall's replies:

• Can chimps swim? No....

Oh, please!


Zoo chimps given wedding

Two chimpanzees have been 'married' at a zoo in Brazil to encourage them to start a family.

The 'couple' wore wedding gowns and even had a wedding cake...

"The male, Pipo, has been single for 10 years and it's time for him to give up his bachelor life and give us little chimps. We hope the whole wedding party atmosphere helps them to breed."

The new couple have been given their own cage and zookeepers expect them to start breeding soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003


...Chimp talk: My musings about the possibility of chimpanzees developing into a more intelligent species struck a chord with several Cosmic Log readers — including a few who pointed out that the idea has spawned more than one science-fiction saga.
Of course we’re all familiar with the “damn dirty apes” who wised up in “Planet of the Apes,” the Pierre Boulez novella that has been turned into a veritable shrewdness of ape movies. But there’s also David Brin’s “Uplift” saga, in which humans lend a hand to bring chimpanzees as well as dolphins into the realm of full-fledged intelligence.
Here are some additional recommendations and reflections from Cosmic Log readers:
Charles Pattison, San Diego: “The book ‘Next of Kin' deals with the cross-fostering of genus Pan troglodyte. Interestingly, the chimp, who is a 98.4 percent DNA match with human, has learned to speak through use of American Sign Language. Equally as interesting is their ability to speak with complex sentence structure. I have often thought that we as humans are merely one form of intelligence in a much larger world of thought. What we are only now beginning to achieve is an ability to communicate with other species on an intelligent level of understanding. Through science and understanding this communication link will continue to evolve.”...


[Photo] Ganga, a 43-year-old chimpanzee looks out of the cage at the Vandalur National Zoological Park near Madras, India, Sunday March 16, 2003. Ganga, who belonged to a circus company called 'The Great Royal Circus', was rescued by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Jan. 9, 2003 and handed over to the zoo authorities.

Monday, March 17, 2003


The science of flirting

The reason men often mistake the slightest sign of friendliness from a woman as amorous invitation has been resolved by social scientists.

Male over-optimism - often followed by a clumsy chat-up attempt - is triggered by women sending out a series of subtle and highly deceptive flirting signals known as "proteans" when they meet a prospective mate....

Surprisingly, the researchers found two-thirds of flirtatious encounters are initiated by women. They share the characteristic - known as "female proceptivity" - with other species, such as chimpanzees.

"Chimpanzee females, for example, actively solicit sex with males, going so far as to pull a resting male to his feet and insist on copulation," the report says....

Saturday, March 15, 2003


Congress Probing NIH Management of Grants

WASHINGTON (Reuters Health) - The chairmen of a powerful House committee and subcommittee said late Thursday they are examining how the National Institutes of Health (news - web sites) manages its grantees, suggesting that there may be fraud or mismanagement of the billions of dollars Congress has given the agency in the last five years....

The congressmen noted that NIH has received large appropriations increases over the last five years, boosting the agency's budget from $13.6 billion in 1998 to $23.1 billion for fiscal 2002.

Given these increases, "the Committee is conducting an examination of NIH management and oversight of its federally funded research," wrote Tauzin and Greenwood....

The Committee also said it's looking into grants the NIH provided to the now-defunct Coulston Foundation. The Alamagordo, New Mexico-based center, which closed in September 2002, once housed hundreds of chimpanzees and monkeys.

The Foundation, which was targeted by animal rights and anti-vivisectionist groups, ended up being cited by the Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) and the Dept. of Agriculture for substandard care and other regulatory violations. It filed for bankruptcy after NIH ceased funding in July 2001.


You Yawn, We All Yawn--And Empathy May Explain Why

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Why does just glimpsing a stranger's yawn trigger yawning in others? One group of researchers lays the blame on a very human trait: empathy.

Dr. Steven M. Platek at Drexel University in Philadelphia and his colleagues found that people who are prone to so-called contagious yawning also tend to score highly on tests that measure levels of empathy, or fellow-feeling with others....

Only humans, chimpanzees, and orangutans are able to show signs of empathy, he noted, and this trait may confer certain advantages to the species: namely, binding social groups through their feelings for each other, and bringing everyone closer together.

Based on the findings from the current study, Platek and his colleagues suggest that chimps and orangutans may also engage in contagious yawning....

Over 1000 were exported as pets in the last decade. And how many mothers and community members died trying to prevent the kidnapping of these infants?


[Photo] A rescued baby Chimpanzee brought from South Sudan to Kenya, one of the four chimpanzees that Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) officials confiscated from pet dealers at a Kenyan airport while on transit, shows off a piece of bread in its quarantine facility at KWS in Nairobi March 13, 2003. Chimpanzees are listed on CITES list as endangered species and trading in them and their products is prohibited worldwide though it is estimated that more than 1000 chimpanzees from West and Central Africa were exported from Africa as pets during the past decade. KWS officials plan to transfer the chimps to a Zambian sanctuary - the Chimfunshi facility, once they acquire relevant export documents.

Friday, March 14, 2003

"They pay the price for their beauty, poor beasts. Mankind wants to catch anything beautiful and shut it up, and then come in thousands to watch it die by inches." David Garnett, A Man in the Zoo. Read Zoos and The End of Nature.


Baby boom at the zoo

[Photo] Taronga Zoo's new baby chimp and bongo go on display.

Taronga Zoo's newest star, baby chimpanzee Furahi, was too busy lazing in a hammock with Mum to perform tricks for the media throng in Sydney today....

When feeding time came around, Furahi's friends put on a show of squabbles and spectacular banana catches, but 13-day-old Furahi was too little for theatrics and clung tight to Mum.

"For the first three months of a chimp's life, it stays just on Mum's stomach," the zoo's Africa Division manager Maria Finnigan told AAP.

"Then when the baby gets more confident at around five or six months of age, the mother will move it around to her back."...

Thursday, March 13, 2003


Chimpanzees with little or no human contact found in remote African rainforest

It's been called "The Last Place on Earth" by National Geographic magazine, and Time describes it as the "Last Eden."

Photo] This photo of an adult female with her infant son in the Goualougo Triangle was taken during their first contact with humans. The researchers said that the chimpanzees had relaxed and begun to rest in their presence.

The Goualougo Triangle, nestled between two rivers in a Central African rain forest, is so remote that primate researchers who traveled 34 miles, mostly by foot, from the nearest village through dense forests and swampland to get there, have discovered a rare find: chimpanzees that have had very little or no contact at all with humans.

The chimpanzees' behavior when first coming in contact with the researchers was a telltale sign of lack of human exposure -- the chimpanzees didn't run and hide....

Wednesday, March 12, 2003


Ebola kills 100 in Congo, wipes out gorillas

BRAZZAVILLE, Congo Republic - The deadly Ebola virus has killed 100 people in the remote forests of Congo Republic and wiped out nearly two-thirds of the gorillas in a reserve....

Scientists believe this outbreak was triggered by the consumption of infected monkey meat. Bush meat is a staple among remote forest communities and deemed a delicacy in many cities.

Monkeys, chimpanzees, and gorillas started dying in large numbers towards the end of last year, and primatologists say the impact has been devastating on the Lossi park in Cuvette-Ouest....

Despite scientists' efforts to change villagers' eating habits and burial rites, which can involve handling the internal organs of corpses, many believe occult forces are at work. Four teachers accused of casting a spell to cause the latest Ebola outbreak were stoned and beaten to death in February.

Monday, March 10, 2003


Dawkins versus the priests and New Age shamans? No contest
Richard Dawkins is suitably knockabout in A Devil's Chaplain - but he should stop pulling his punches, writes Robin McKie

...Consider this experiment in temporal ingenuity. You are holding your mother's left hand. At the same time, she clutches her own mother, your grandmother, with her right. Your grandmother then holds her mother's hand, and so on into the past.
With each individual allocated a yard of private space, your ancestral queue snakes off into the Industrial Revolution, through the Middle Ages and on into prehistory, until, 300 miles down the line, it eventually reaches the missing link, the common ancestor that humans shared with chimpanzees six million years ago.

Now imagine a similar, parallel queue emerging from that common ancestor, this time following the chimpanzee side of her family - until it reaches the present day. 'You are now face to face with your chimpanzee cousin, and you are joined to her by an unbroken chain of mothers holding hands,' Dawkins observes....

Saturday, March 08, 2003


Animals fast dying off at Baghdad's lone zoo; at risk in any war

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The entrance gate at Baghdad's only working zoo is painted with cheery pictures of elephants, lions and tigers grazing on a vast savanna, but the schoolchildren rushing inside see none.

They gape at eight chickens, two cocker spaniels and a family of goats. They taunt a northern Iraqi bear and a dirt-caked, bone-thin camel with bald spots on its legs and neck, and laugh as two tired chimpanzees unwrap pieces of chewing gum passed through a chain-link fence....

The animals' conditions are bad — but could soon get worse. There are few plans for their care if a threatened U.S.-led war on Iraq begins, and Jolan conceded that even what plans there are could easily fall apart....

Jolan said conditions at the zoo started to decline when the United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq 13 years ago for invading its neighbor, Kuwait. Medicine and specialized food became more expensive, and more difficult to import....

Blame also rests on Jolan and his workers. Animals sit in cages without water. Attendants feed candy bars to the bear and poke the hyena with a stick to make it more lively....


Ecotours hope to save Uganda chimp habitat

A chimpanzee habitat in Uganda will be protected from deforestation thanks to an ecotourism project proposed by Japanese researchers....

According to the researchers, including Chie Hashimoto of the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, revenue raised from ecotours of the forest will compensate local residents for halting their logging of Kalinzu Forest, in the southwest of the African nation....


Chimpanzees seem almost human, and scientists have maintained for decades that chimps are, in fact, 98.5 percent genetically identical to humans.

But the results of a new study call that figure into question, with a finding that there are actually large chunks of the human and chimp genomes that are vastly different....


Evolutionary Difference, 2 Legs or 4

...Chimpanzees lope along carrying an infant on one arm, using two feet and the other hand to propel themselves....

Human beings are members of a group of animals called primates, which includes animals like monkeys, gibbons, baboons, gorillas, chimpanzees. But we are the only true bipeds of the bunch.

Most primates spend much of their time in trees, and so are suited to life above ground. Gibbons swing from limb to limb, hanging by long, strong arms and using powerful hand grips. Moving along the tops of branches, they run on two legs.

Chimpanzees and gorillas, when on the ground, walk on their knuckles. But they often rise to stand nearly upright. Anyone who's ever seen a movie chimp dressed in human clothes knows that chimpanzees can walk on two legs.

But it isn't their preferred method of getting around - they simply aren't built for it.

Human beings, on the other hand, possess nearly perfect bodies for a two-legged lifestyle. We have straight spines. Chimpanzees have spines that bend at an angle to their hips....

Friday, March 07, 2003


Congolese Cooks Shun Bush Meat for Fear of Ebola

[Photo] Bonobos like this one are eaten although they may carry the Ebola virus.

Bush meat vendors in Ouesso, the largest town in the Republic of Congo's region of Sangha, have reported a sharp drop in sales due to consumers having been frightened by the Ebola virus ravaging a nearby area, a market administrator says.

This situation has created new consumer patterns with people switching to fish, beef or chicken, Odi-Aya, a teacher in Ouesso, said Tuesday. They are avoiding bush meat animals such as bonobos and other primates that might be infected....

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


Health: Danger of keeping primates
Dr S. Vellayan

March 4: Primates should not be kept as pets because they are not only unpredictable but can also transmit infections such as dysentry, herpes virus, hepatitis, scabies, helminths and even tuberculosis to humans....

Monkeys and the larger apes are easily enraged, strong, temperamental, unpredictable and dangerous. They will readily attack and bite. Completely tame and trustworthy monkeys are rare....

Veterinarians should discourage the public from keeping monkeys and apes as they drain the natural population and do not make good pets. Today's gentle pet may give a nasty bite tomorrow.

Sunday, March 02, 2003


Celebrity chimp heads to Big Banana Tree in Sky

Jahnie, the second-oldest chimpanzee in Japan, has died of natural causes at age 46, officials from Tokyo's Tama Zoo said.

Jahnie, who arrived in Japan from central Africa in 1958, was the star of a series of commercials for Birely's carbonated drinks during the 1960s.

He is survived by the 10 children he sired....