Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wildlife Bytes 26/1/12

Editorial; 2011, Sad year for Wildlife

Many wildlife lovers know about an incredibly bizarre incident involving animals who ran rampant after being released from a private animal reserve near Zanesville, Ohio after one of the owners of the reserve released them and then apparently shot himself. At least 49 of the animals have been shot and killed, most of them within 1500 feet of their pens, six tranquilized, and one hit by a car. Summary by Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
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Then in December in Australia, near Gympie, 20 kangaroos are killed by a Police Officer....... without a Permit. Inquiries are ongoing. Permits are being granted to "relocate" flying foxes, in spite of the stress and confusion these relocation attempts cause the flying foxes. One loudmouthed, environmentally bereft politician wants to wipe them out. And we are losing our warrior activists as well. Earlier this year our Elsie Quinn passed away, a stalwart Sydney action lady for all animals. Then Joan Papayani from WLPA passed away in Sydney, closely followed by her husband Cliff. Cliff acted as our Pro Bono barrister in one of our earlier appeals against the commercial kangaroo kill. Even now I can still vividly remember after we lost the Appeal, and the Judgement was handed down, Cliff calling out "its a whitewash!" Another koala has been shot in Queensland, the commercial kangaroo Industry continues to push its disgusting wheelbarrow, and we the taxpayers, are paying for it through Federal Government grants to the Industry. Many of our hardworking wildlife carers are getting out, plagued by a lack of funding and lack of support from Government Environment Departments. Will 2012 be any better for wildlife? We doubt it..........

Bush Food for Captive Wildlife

The Alice Springs Desert Park in Central Australia has been growing native foods for its animals and hopes to eventually become entirely self-sufficient. *ABC
Watch the video ..

Getup Survey

With an election around the corner in 2013, this year will be critical as Parliament considers a range of progressive reforms. Can you take a few minutes to help set GetUp’s priorities for the year ahead? Can we suggest the commercial kangaroo kill is an issue Getup could work on?
The Survey is here...

Wildlife Rally

A Wildlife rally for dugongs and sea turtles is to be held in Brisbane in February, and all native animal/marine groups are invited to the rally. The rally in Brisbane is held under Earthrace Conservation Australia banner . It is one of three Earthrace Rallys being held in 2012. One in London January 19th, One in new Zealand 20th January, And one in Brisbane Feb 14th . The Rallys are designed to embarrass our governments on dugong and turtle hunting, and also to highlight what the existing government or the incoming government needs to do to help our wildlife causes. Earthrace have invited a lot of animal groups, including Fraser Island dingoes, Koala groups, Wildlife Protection Association of Australia Inc., and Opposition members of the LNP will speak at the rally at our invitation. Bob Irwin will be there in person. It will be Tuesday February 14th, at 2.30 PM on Speakers Corner outside the Old Parliament. Contact is to director of operations Alan Winstanley or ColinwhoCares at 0427632208 More info on facebook at

Climate Change

There are concerns residents of the outer islands in the Torres Strait will soon be forced to flee their homes by encroaching seas. Late last year the Federal Government backflipped on a commitment to restore seawalls on the islands. Scientists say without those seawalls infrastructure on the shoreline could be inundated, exposing locals to water-borne diseases. It's just a few days before the king tide season when many island communities in the Torres Strait are expected to flood once again. The rise in sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events in the region make the islands at this time of the year particularly vulnerable. *ABC
Read more; ...

Kangaroos Shot by Police Officer

Last issue of WildIife Bytes we carried a story about the Police Officer who went kangaroo shooting near Gympie, and killed 20 or so kangaroos, many which had been considered "pets" by the locals, and some were even named. The Police Officer is a 42 year old senior officer who took a young teenager out with him in mid December to carry out this senseless attack. This officer, who reportedly killed these kangaroos, has been issued only with an "Infringement Notice," which amounts to a "slap on the wrist." However, in a response to our letter to the Qld Police Commissioner, he states that he (the Commissioner) is unable to comment further as the matter is still under investigation. He did say that the Matter has been referred to the Qld CMC, and the Police Ethical Standards Committee is also investigating. AWPC have set up a petition to get this Policeman properly tried in a court of law because in Australia if you shoot just one kangaroo without a Permit, a native protected species, there carries with it a $10,000 Australian dollar penalty per animal. As the Qld Government has called an election for March 24th, its likely that this matter will be buried, unless we keep up the pressure. If you havent done so already, please take some action now to ensure this matter doesnt get "shoved under the carpet". You could also contact your local Candidates about this too.
Petition here
Contact the Qld Crime and Misconduct Commission here Please take some action over this outrage.


Post-mortem examinations conducted on New Zealand fur seals found dead on a remote South Australian beach are inconclusive but may point to infection as a cause of death. Staff at Adelaide University's vet school have today completed necropsies on the remains of three of 51 seal pups found dead on the Eyre Peninsula on Sunday, Adelaide University spokesman David Ellis said. One adult and one juvenile were also found dead, taking the total to 53. "The seal pups are quite badly decomposed," Mr Ellis said today. "They can't rule out people doing the wrong thing or foul play but they're leaning towards there potentially being some kind of infection." The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said seals washed up along six kilometres of coastline in the Wanna Beach area of Lincoln National Park on Sunday. The protected species is found along Australia's south coast and along the coast of New Zealand's South Island. The seals can weigh up to 250kg but males usually average about 125kg. They are generally considered docile but will attack if provoked. AAP


More than five years since the deadly white-nose fungus was first detected in a New York cave where bats hibernate, up to 6.7 million of the animals are estimated to have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday. The estimate, drawn from surveys by wildlife officials mostly in Northeastern states where the disease thrives, confirmed the worst fears of biologists who have been counting dead bats covered in the powdery fungus in mines and caves every winter and worrying whether the little brown bat, the northern long-eared bat and the tricolored bat will survive. “We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals,” said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Tex. “The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species,” Bayless said. “Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.” Washington Post


A video of a fun-loving crow seemingly using a jar lid to 'snowboard' down a snow-covered roof has gone viral on YouTube. The one minute 24 second clip of the bird, captured by a family in Russia, has notched up nearly 250,000 hits in just two days. The hooded crow is seen taking advantage of the chilly winter weather to repeatedly slide down the roof on the round jar lid. After the enterprising bird successfully slides down the roof, he picks up his lid and flies back to the top to try again. The second time around, it tries sliding over a bare patch of roof but quickly realises that snow works much better than roof tiles. The family who captured the moment watched the bird in awe. "Maybe it is teasing us," one of the children says.
Research has revealed that crows are fiercely intelligent, with powerful memories, planning skills and the ability to trick other animals.
Watch the Video ......!

Black Cockatoos

Black cockatoos are on a death march north says the chair of the Black Cockatoo Preservation Society The WA government should stop logging immediately in old growth forest in order to save the lives of black cockatoos. That's the opinion of Glenn Dewhurst, chair of the Black Cockatoo Preservation Society Australia. Cockatoo numbers of both white-tailed and red-tailed species are decreasing in the South West and the metropolitan area, he says, and lack of food is one of the reasons. Marri, jarrah nuts, hakea and banksia form part of the bird's normal diet, explains Glenn, "Unfortunately it is becoming more scarce." Glenn, who is also Chair of Wildlife Australia, has been looking after injured birds since 2004. "(We would) get up to 300, 400 rescues a year," he says. "We have 200 at the moment." *ABC
Read more ...

Allan the Dollarbird

Found hopping and flapping on the side of a road in Landsborough, and transported to: The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital by the concerned local resident who found Allan. Dr Claude assessed Allan and noted weakness, but a good body score overall. X-rays revealed Allan had no fractures, however there were several foreign objects located in his stomach, including what looked like a can ring pull. Dr Claude gave Allan fluids, pain relief and antibiotics, and prepared for surgery the following day. However in the morning, Dr Claude discovered that overnight Allan had passed three can ring pulls, a rock, and a piece of plastic! Outcome: Allan is still having a little trouble standing, however is now able to be sent to a registered wildlife carer for hand-raising before being released back into the wild. AZWH Statistic: Please dispose of your rubbish carefully! Many patients are brought to us after eating what they mistake for food, and not all are as lucky as Allan. *AZWH

Feral Pythons

The United States is banning the import of Burmese pythons and three other species of giant constrictor snakes due to the danger they pose to local wildlife. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement Tuesday as he visited the Everglades National Park in Florida, saying the ban will take effect in about 60 days. The move will make it illegal to import the snakes or transport them across state lines. In addition to the python, the new policy refers to the yellow anaconda as well as the northern and southern African pythons as injurious wildlife. Salazar said in a statement that the nonnative, invasive snakes pose a real and immediate threat to the Everglades and other ecosystems in the United States. He said the Burmese python has already gained a foothold in the Everglades. * Voice of America
Read more ...

New Primate Rediscovered!

Scientists working in the dense jungles of Indonesia have "rediscovered" a large, grey monkey so rare it was believed to be extinct. They were all the more baffled to find the Miller's grizzled langur - its black face framed by a fluffy, dracula-esque white collar - in an area well outside its previously recorded home range. The team set up camera traps in the Wehea Forest on the eastern tip of Borneo island in June, hoping to capture images of clouded leopards, orang-utans and other wildlife known to congregate at several mineral salt licks. The pictures that came back caught them all by surprise: groups of monkeys none had ever seen. With virtually no photographs of the grizzled langurs in existence, it at first was a challenge to confirm their suspicions, said Brent Loken, a PhD student at Simon Fraser University in Canada, and one of the lead researchers. The only images out there were museum sketches.
Read more:


Rising wealth in Asia and fishing subsidies are among factors driving overexploitation of the world's fish resources, while fish habitat is being destroyed by pollution and climate change, UN marine experts said Tuesday. Up to 32 per cent of the world's fish stocks are overexploited, depleted or recovering, they warned. Up to half of the world's mangrove forests and a fifth of coral reefs that are fish spawning grounds have been destroyed. The UN Environment Programme says less-destructive ways of fishing that use more labour and less energy are needed to help restore the health of the world's oceans and coasts. The agency is leading a five-day conference in Manila of experts and officials from 70 governments.

Become a Wildlife Warrior

By making a one-off donation or joining our monthly giving program you can become part of a global wildlife force that is working hard to preserve our natural environment. Monthly Giving Program; Sign up to become a regular giver for wildlife conservation! Donations start from as little as $2.50 a week and can go to helping our native wildlife at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital. Nearly 100 wildlife emergency calls are received every day at the Hospital, Up to 30 different species are admitted to the hospital every day, Currently around 80 koalas undergoing treatment, Approximately 70% of patients are victims of car accidents or domestic pet attacks, The cost to treat one animal ranges from $100 to thousands of dollars To sign up or find out more please visit *

Wildlife Caring

The Gold Coast's wildlife has a good friend in 2012's Citizen of the Year. Founder of the ABC and Wildlife Trauma Centre Trish Wimberly took out the top gong at the annual Gold Coast City Council Australia Day Awards. Mayor Ron Clarke said the awards were all about recognising and celebrating the city's outstanding community members and organisations. "It is so pleasing that our community has embraced the challenge of looking after our environment as shown by this year's recipients of the Gold Coast Citizen of the Year and the Environmental Achievement Award," Cr Clarke said. Mrs Wimberly and her husband provide medical care to all species of sick, injured and orphaned bats and Australian native fauna. Since 2000 their not-for-profit organisation has rescued most of the non-domesticated animals injured on the Coast's roads. The centre's operation requires a 24/7 commitment, houses up to 500 animals and is well deserving of Mrs Wimberly's accolade. *MyDaily News

Injured wallaby joeys are slowly bouncing back thanks to the care of a Townsville volunteer carer. Louella and Reidy, as featured on the front page of today's Bulletin, are among 13 joeys cared for by North Queensland Wildlife Care's Margaret Neihoff at Kirwan. "They're not ready to live independently until about 12 months old but they will leave the substitute pouches in the next few weeks," she said. It takes the 71-year-old retiree up to eight hours to feed the joeys five times each day. "It takes about 90 minutes to feed them once I make the milk and get the bottles ready," she said. "I take them to the toilet and keep them clean and wash the bottles too." Named after Reid River, Reidy was found with a broken tail off the highway near Charters Towers. "He was found like that on the side of the road but he's recovering and it's not going to impede his mobility," she said. Found in her dead mum's pouch, Louella was given to Ms Neihoff by a family at Alligator Creek."She came here last Sunday, the family saw the mother on the side of the road, the body was decomposing after she'd been hit by a car," she said. "I think people should not assume there won't be a joey inside even if the body doesn't look fresh - they should really check the pouch." A carer of 30 years, Ms Neihoff said North Queensland Wildlife Care needed more people willing to rehabilitate animals. "We have basic training on February 18 to become registered, people can sign up online," she said. * Cairns Post More info:

Although Wildlife Victoria has closed its overnight emergency service, other local services are available for injured animals and birds. Leader revealed in December that despite receiving a massive $4.3 million in donations after 2009’s Black Saturday fires, financial statements showed Wildlife Victoria could be bankrupt within three years. Chief executive Karen Masson revealed in an email sent to the organisation’s membership last week that the 24-hour rescue service would become a day service from February 1. Between 9pm and 7am the hotline would provide “information only” and no longer answer emergency calls. “We trust that with suitable funding in place we will be able to offer a service to cover these hours, if possible, later in the year,” Ms Masson said in the email. However, local wildlife carers said this decision would not affect services around the peninsula. Wildlife Help On Mornington Peninsula (WHOMP) treasurer, Una Merrick, said her organisation’s phone number was monitored 24 hours. “WHOMP is the main group here and, combined with Help for Wildlife, we have covered the peninsula for many years,” Ms Merrick said. Wildlife Victoria has also withdrawn food and fuel subsidies to carers and rescuers, who rely on a 50 per cent rebate on the cost of specially formulated milk and 10c a kilometre when attending callouts. Food rebates will cease from January 31, while fuel will no longer be subsidised after March 31. Ms Merrick said she had always paid for all food given to animals and, up until recently, all petrol costs in transporting many of the larger wildlife to Healesville’s animal hospital. Anyone who finds injured wildlife can phone WHOMP on 0417 380 687. * Leader

Nicola Vaughan, 35, Willliamstown, of Wildlife Victoria, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, is one of 12 community workers recognised in the Victorian Australia Day awards. "In four years working with Wildlife Victoria I have helped transport and foster hundreds of native animals - such as possums, native birds, goannas, kangaroo joeys, micro bats and small mammals. "In feel a responsibility because in my generation we have expanded our urban boundaries so much that it is badly affecting wildlife. "I keep my summer free of paid work so I can help with wildlife." she said. * Herald Sun

The next workshop on Pelicans & Seabirds,which will be presented by Julie Dunn, Founder & Coordinator of Australian Seabired Rescue South Coast. To be conducted in beautiful Bermagui on the 25th February 2012, this workshop will teach you how to recognize pelicans, seabirds & shorebirds that are sick, injured or orphaned. Also how to rescue and provide immediate first aid in the field. If you could please distribute the flyer amongst your work colleagues, associates, friends or whoever you think may be interested in attending it would be appreciated. I would encourage anyone interested in reducing the human impact on our coastal wildlife to attend. Should you have any queries please do not hesitate in contacting me on the ASR Hotline 0431282238 .Julie Dunn, Founder & Co-ordinator, Australian Seabird Rescue South Coast, Mob: 0431272237 email:


Activists and the Coalition say a broken promise by the federal Labor government led three Australian anti-whaling protesters to board a Japanese whaling vessel. West Australians Glen Pendlebury, Simon Peterffy and Geoffrey Tuxworth boarded the Shonan Maru No.2 off Bunbury, WA, on January 7 and demanded the crew take them back to Australia. The action was a futile attempt to divert the whaling fleet's security vessel from shadowing a Sea Shepherd anti-whaling boat. In diplomatic talks, Japan agreed not to charge the men with trespass and allowed them to be picked up by an Australian customs boat, which brought them to the WA port of Albany on Monday.
Read more:

Anti-whaling campaigners and the crew of a Japanese whaling ship have had a violent clash at sea, with the activists hurling containers of rotten butter and paint and getting sticks and teargas in return. Sea Shepherd's Steve Irwin vessel was shadowing the Yushin Maru 2 in the Antarctic Ocean when the confrontation occurred on Sunday. The Japanese Fisheries Agency says the activists threw more than 40 bottles of rotten butter and paint at the whaling ship. Steve Irwin captain Paul Watson told the ABC that the Japanese returned fire with concussion grenades and teargas. "They have been using concussion grenades on us," Mr Watson said. "Today they used, also for the first time, teargas which they have in these large canisters on backpacks." It was the latest incident in the long-running battle between the activists and Japanese. Two weeks ago three Australians illegally boarded the Shonan Maru 2 off the West Australian coast in an effort to disrupt the Japanese whalers. "We're chasing the Japanese whaling fleet. They're running and it's a constant confrontation," Mr Watson said. He said the Australian and New Zealand governments should have ships in the area to monitor the situation. "But our objective is to save as many whales as we possibly can and their objective is to kill as many whales as they possibly can," Mr Watson said. * Age

Taxpayers forked out $155,000 to retrieve the three environmentalists who boarded a Japanese whaling security vessel off the coast of Bunbury. The Federal Government announced the costs yesterday, saying the total included fuel for customs vessel the Ocean Protector, which picked up the men, a port berth and support services. That was in addition to the vessel's usual running costs. The sum comes in addition to the regular operating costs of running the Ocean Protector over the time it took the vessel to go fetch the trio, which amounted to about $900,000. WA men Geoffrey Tuxworth, Simon Peterffy and Glen Pendlebury were dropped in Albany on Monday. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was deeply critical of the men, and complained taxpayers would have to foot the bill for their hi-jinks. But activist group Sea Shepherd say the Australians would not have had to cough up had the Government allowed one of its vessels to retrieve the men. However the Japanese refused to consider such a plan, fearing what might happen should a Sea Shepherd boat be allowed to get too close to one of its vessels. *WA News

Ed Comment; Of course there has been much criticism of the boarding by anti-environment ratbags, but if the Feds had done what almost all Australians want them to do...send a boat down there the incident may not have happened. Instead the Government criticises those that are prepared to take action, and waffle on about an "International court case" that just doesnt seem to happen. If women hadn't hit the streets pre 1926, protested and been arrested, women would not be able to vote today. Nor could the First People vote until 1962, until protest action forced the Governemts hand. Nothing good happens from Government without Protest action, it's been that for many decades, and will continue while we have Governments that put money, power, and their own interests before what the Community wants. *


Bathurst Regional Council has confirmed there are no plans to cull kangaroos on Mount Panorama ahead of next month’s Bathurst 12 Hour. Bathurst Regional Council came under fire in 2009 for culling 140 kangaroos in the interest of track safety ahead of that year’s Bathurst 1000, although it was later cleared of any wrongdoing. Now the council has a policy of zero cullings and has turned to other methods of controlling the large kangaroo population on the mountain during race meetings. That’s good news for the dozens of roos that have been seen on the Mount just weeks out from the Bath-urst 12 Hour from February 24 to 26. Acting general manager Bob Roach yesterday said council would put in place a number of procedures to ensure the safety of drivers during the 12 Hour, including additional fencing and deploying extra staff to appropriate areas of the track to control the movement of kangaroos away from the circuit. “These staff stay in place for the duration of the race,” Mr Roach said. “That’s how we control them now.”

Meanwhile, council’s fauna management strategy should be released for public comment in the next couple of months. Dr Anne Kerle, who has been studying kangaroo behaviour on Mount Panorama, said the strategy aimed to ensure the survival of native species and allow for the continuation of human activities. She said she doesn’t believe the full range of strategies have been explored yet. Australian Society for Kangaroos president Nikki Sutterby yesterday said the organisation had been assured by council there would not be any more killing. “It’s good to see,” she said. “They said they will not use terminal means and we are hoping they stick to that commitment. “The local, national and international community were outraged by what happened. “The international community values these animals. “We hope the race organisers will work with the local council to ensure everyone is protected.” Ms Sutterby said Bathurst Regional Council’s policy of herding the kangaroos away from the track during races had certainly proved effective. *Western Advocate

Flying Foxes

Flying foxes have officially won the war in Charters Towers, claiming the town's historic park as their own. Charters Towers Mayor Ben Callcott has conceded defeat against the thousands of bats that invaded Lissner Park about 11 years ago and have since refused to leave. He said unless state legislation was changed, which prevented the council from interfering with the colony, the council had simply run out of options. Locals claim the bats are a major health hazard, fearing they may spread disease, and are fed up with living with the stench and noise from the colony, which now numbers about 15,000. Charters Towers Regional Council has been granted 15 damage mitigation permits by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) over the years, to disperse the bats using noise, fogging and lighting.

An attempt to muster the bats using a helicopter was scuttled late last year by the Civil Aviation and Safety Authority over safety concerns. The council has applied for a 16th permit to move the bats, but Cr Callcott said their best efforts had simply shifted the animals to other parts of the town, where they had become even more of a problem. ``Charters Towers City Council spent $250,000 harassing them and it didn't do anything other than distributing them into suburbia,'' Cr Callcott said. ``I'm not prepared to spend that kind of money to achieve the same ending. ``We may never get permission to muster them, so in that case, let them lodge in Lissner Park, where at least people can choose whether they get underneath them.
LNP leader Campbell Newman, who visited Charters Towers last year, promised the town ``the bats in Lissner Park will go''.

Cr Callcott said a law change was the only solution. ``The bats under the present legislation have defeated us,'' he said. Charters Towers Action Group Against Flying Foxes spokesman Jim Henderson, who lives near the park, said the bats were creating a health hazard and preventing locals and visitors from enjoying public facilities. ``Nobody wants to come into the park and sit under those tables,'' he said. Mr Henderson said residents' pleas to the State Government for help moving the flying foxes on had fallen upon deaf ears. ``They've ignored us and ignored us since I've been fighting it,'' he said. Vikki King, who lives opposite the colony, said she wanted the right to remove the bats from her own backyard. ``Three or four weeks ago, every tree was chock-a-block in my yard here,'' she said. ``The bat shit is everywhere and it just eats everything.'' *Townsville Bulletin

Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of another outbreak of the coral-devouring crown of thorns starfish and Cairns tourism operators are calling on the Federal Government to support their efforts to stop the pest. The starfish is the biggest threat to the Reef because they eat their size in coral cover every day – and some weigh as much as 80kg, executive director of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, Col McKenzie, said. Hundreds of crown of thorns starfish have been found on reefs off Cairns, near Lizard Island, Green Island and Opal Reef off Port Douglas, he said. "We’re at the very start of another outbreak," Mr McKenzie said. "We want to get early action – if we don’t it will get worse." Australian Institute of Marine Science research director Dr Peter Doherty said conditions were ripe for another outbreak because major floods prompt increased spawning of crown of thorns starfish.

"We feel at this time there is a real and renewed threat of new outbreaks," he said. "We have certainly seen an abundance in the number of crown of thorns starfish in the Cairns sector of the Great Barrier Reef." Past outbreaks have started on reefs near Cairns and spread to the southern tip of the Reef, Dr Doherty said. There have been three major crown of thorns starfish outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef in the past 40 years, he said. Another outbreak is particularly concerning because coral cover on the Reef is at its lowest point since the institute began keeping records in 1985. Mr McKenzie is drafting a letter to send to Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to request $1.2 million for an intensive three-year eradication program. Cairns tourism operators have invested $1.7 million since 2010 to fight the invasive species in collaboration with the State Government, which has contributed $2.5 million. The money has been used to train crown of thorns control divers, who injecting sodium bisulphate into the invasive pest to kill them. Cairns Post


Researchers are finding clues on how and why noisy miners work together to fend off threats to their colony. Dr Paul McDonald of the University of New England reports his findings on the birds (Manorina melanocephala) today in the journal Biology Letters. "Miners co-operate in lots of different ways. They feed offspring that aren't their own and they also co-operate to help mob predators," says McDonald. "If a raven comes into the colony they all work together to drive it away. We call that mobbing." Many animal societies show such behaviour but there is much to learn about how co-operation is co-ordinated, says McDonald. He says noisy miners appear to co-operate with each other regardless of whether they are related. This presents a bit of puzzle for biologists because evolutionary theory suggests an animal must get a benefit in return for the cost of helping others. "If you're helping relatives then you are essentially helping part of yourself - your own genes - and that tends to offset that cost. But if you are helping non-relatives then that benefit is not there," says McDonald.

He says one of the many hypotheses put forward to explain the evolution of co-operative behaviour is a 'tit-for-tat' system in which birds keep track of who helps them so they can help them back. But before hypotheses like this can be tested, the birds must first to be shown to have the ability to differentiate between individuals. McDonald tested wild birds in the lab using a technique pioneered on humans, for their ability to distinguish the calls for help from different birds. Each bird was played repeated recorded 'recruitment calls" from a first bird until they became habituated, that is, they stopped responding to the call by turning their head towards the speaker. They were then played a recording of a call from a second bird. In all cases the test birds responded to the second bird call, showing they could differentiate between the calls of the first and second bird.

The experiment involved 34 test birds, half of which were played calls from a bird from their area they were familiar with, and half of which were played calls from a completely unknown bird. "They were just as good at differentiating between the calls of new birds as the ones that they were familiar with," says McDonald. He says a second experiment confirmed the birds were using differences in bird call characteristics to differentiate between the calls. McDonald says he is yet to check whether the birds can attach different calls to particular individuals, but assuming they can, the findings show a potential mechanism that birds can use to co-operate. "To show that they are capable of differentiating calls - even of birds they've never heard before - is really quite new and exciting," he says. "It opens up the possibility of a whole range of different scenarios for organising that society." He says future genetic tests could also still determine that the birds preferentially help those they are closely related to, but help unrelated birds less frequently. This is known to be the case in a related species. *ABC


Boa constrictors can sense the heartbeat of their quarry as they suffocate it, thus giving them the signal to know when the prey is dead, scientists say. In a study published on in the journal Royal Society Biology Letters, snake experts at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania pondered how the boa can tell when its target is lifeless and can then be swallowed.
Timing the constriction is vital for these snakes. Squeezing is a huge drain on their energy reserves, for their metabolic rate rises seven-fold during the operation. And while they are coiled around the prey, they themselves are vulnerable to other predators. The team used a clever idea, 'warm cadaveric rats', to monitor the boas. These were lab rats that had been humanely killed, frozen and then re-warmed to 38°cusing an electric blanket. The rodents' bodies were then fitted with two tiny gauges: a sensor to monitor external pressure and a replica heart, comprising a water-filled bulb that was connected by a tube to an external pump, which imitated a heartbeat. Primed for action, the hi-tech rats were placed within striking range of seven captive-born snakes which had never been exposed to live prey and nine wild-caught counterparts.

The herpetologists carried out three experiments, each time controlling the rat's fake heartbeat, to see how long the boa kept up its squeeze. When they shut off the heartbeat for 10 minutes, the snakes continued their constriction for another seven minutes or so and then released the rat, presuming it to be dead. But snakes confronted with a rat with a continuously beating heartbeat doubled the pressure and kept up the squeeze for around 22 minutes. This is a phenomenal achievement, and the longest ever observed for any snake, says the paper.
Rats without a heartbeat were constricted for about 12 minutes on average. But the snake notably did not adjust its coils or apply periodic bursts of pressure, as it did with rats with a beating heart. Overall, wild snakes were cannier about how long and how much to squeeze. "Our findings suggest that the ability to respond to a heartbeat is innate, whereas the magnitude of the response is guided by experience," says the study. "We suggest that the capacity to improve performance through learning enables snakes to become efficient predators of variable and unpredictable prey animals." *ABC/AFP


Hunters would be allowed to shoot cats that stray from houses on to public land under a controversial plan being pushed by a Victorian gun group. The Sporting Shooters Association of Victoria wants the State Government to change the law to allow hunters to kill any cat it considers a risk to native fauna. The push to legally destroy family pets and feral cats is among a range of changes the group is seeking. They include new hunting seasons for cockatoos and galahs, the vulnerable crested pigeon and new regulations for slaying of eastern grey kangaroos. In a report requesting amendments to wildlife regulations, the association says destruction of native wildlife in Victorian forests could be "partly mitigated if there was a provision to destroy cats within specified distances of dwellings.

"Cats within 200 metres of dwellings or on public land should be considered a danger to native fauna. Such animals within these areas should be able to be legally destroyed," the report says. The cat killing push has angered animal rights groups and comes as Bendigo residents were warned last week to keep pets inside after threats on public notice boards vowing to trap cats after dark and tan their hides. Upper House Greens leader Greg Barber said the cat owners would be horrified shooters had their pets in their sites: " ... this shows they are out of touch with community values and they don't care about people because it would be absolutely devastating to people if they lost their cat in this way," he said. The report is expected to be given to the Baillieu Government mid-year. *