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Wed, 21 Nov 2018
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Bizarro Earth

Animals the forgotten victims of Australian fires

© Unknown
Sheep search for any patch of fresh grass left after a fire raged through the community of Kinglake, northeast of Melbourne on February 9, 2009.

Overlooked amidst the human tragedy, thousands of animals -- kangaroos and koalas as well as cattle and sheep -- also perished in the scorching fires that have swept through southeast Australia.

At least 130 people died in the flames, official figures showed, but nobody was prepared to venture an estimate on the animal losses.

"It's been absolutely devastating," the president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia, Pat O'Brien, told AFP.

"We've lost huge numbers of wildlife in the forest. By all reports we've got animals dying even before the flames reach them.

"Kangaroos, wallabies, all the animals that live in the trees -- the possums, koalas -- just gone, it's been a terrible, terrible thing for wildlife, total devastation," he said.

"There have been huge losses of farm animals as well, but those reports are still coming in."

Bizarro Earth

'Hundreds' of dolphins beached in Philippines

More than 200 dolphins have beached themselves on Manila Bay, officials in the Philippines said Tuesday as they tried to work out why the marine mammals had come ashore.

Residents saw huge pods of dolphins near the towns of Pilar and Abucay on the Bataan peninsula west of Manila.

Bataan governor Enrique Garcia said at least three have died.

"This is an unusual phenomenon," Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Malcolm Sarmiento told local radio, estimating the number of dolphins at "more than 200."

He said they could be reacting to a "heat wave or disturbance at sea" such as a possible major underwater earthquake.


Three New Species Discovered on Deep-sea Voyage

sea squirt
© Jess Adkins, Caltech
New species of carnivorous sea squirt that "looks and behaves like a Venus fly trap," according to researchers.
Scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and an international team of collaborators have returned from a month-long deep-sea voyage to a marine reserve near Tasmania, Australia, that not only netted coral-reef samples likely to provide insight into the impact of climate change on the world's oceans, but also brought to light at least three never-before-seen species of sea life.

"It was truly one of those transcendent moments," says Caltech's Jess Adkins of the descents made by the remotely operated submersible Jason. Adkins was the cruise's lead scientist and is an associate professor of geochemistry and global environmental science at Caltech. "We were flying--literally flying--over these deep-sea structures that look like English gardens, but are actually filled with all of these carnivorous, Seuss-like creatures that no one else has ever seen."


Boy feared snatched by crocodile in Australian floodwaters

A five-year-old boy is feared to have been snatched by a crocodile in floodwaters in northern Australia while walking with his dog on Sunday, police said.

"The boy was walking with his seven-year-old brother earlier this morning when he followed his dog into floodwaters," police said in a statement.

"He disappeared in the water and his brother saw a large crocodile in the vicinity of his disappearance."

A large-scale search for the boy has been launched at Cape Tribulation in far north Queensland.

Police were also searching for two people missing after their car was washed away as they tried to drive through floodwaters south of Tully in Queensland.

Much of the state has been declared a disaster zone, with an area of more than a million square kilometres (386,100 square miles) and 3,000 homes affected by floods due to torrential rains.


Nightmarish Caterpillar Swarm Defies Control in Liberia

They came by the millions out of the forest.

© Unknown
Achaea catocaloides, the caterpillar that began devouring Liberia's trees and crops in January 2009, turns into a moth that can lay 500 to 1,000 eggs if not killed beforehand. Experts fear the cycle could begin anew if the caterpillars are not contained.
From off in the bush, townspeople at the epicenter of the plague heard a low roar, like the sound of heavy rain cascading down through the leaves. It was caterpillar droppings.

In early January, when the long, black caterpillars reached the creeks that serve as the main water sources for the town of Belefanai in north-central Liberia, the creatures' feces instantly turned streams dark and undrinkable.

Moving through the forest canopy on webs, devouring the leaves as they went, the caterpillars advanced like nothing the townspeople had ever seen.


Deadly H5N1 avian flu found in Hong Kong birds

Scientists check ducks
© AFP/de
HK officials check ducks for avian bird flu.
Hong Kong: A dead goose and two dead ducks found on a Hong Kong island last week have tested positive for the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu, officials said on Wednesday.

The birds were found on January 29 and 31 on a beach on Lantau island and preliminary tests showed they had tested positive for H5 avian influenza.

Further tests confirmed it was the H5N1 strain of the virus, a spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said in a statement.


China's Drought May Make Birds More Susceptible to Avian Flu

A drought in northern China that has limited drinking water to almost 4 million people may also be making birds more susceptible to the deadly H5N1 avian-flu strain.

The lack of rainfall in Shandong, Shaanxi and other northern provinces since October causes stress for local fowl, said Hong Kong Veterinary Association President Veronica Leong, who specializes in birds. "Any sort of stress would make birds more susceptible to disease," she said by e-mail today.

Bird flu killed five people in China last month, three of whom were from regions experiencing drought. Lo Wing-Lok, a health adviser to the Hong Kong government, said yesterday China has an outbreak of bird flu among poultry that its government hasn't reported.

Bizarro Earth

Australia Battles Floods in North as Crocodiles Enter Towns

Emergency services in northern Australia are battling the worst floods in three decades as residents report shortages of supplies and crocodiles swimming through towns inundated by water.

Almost 3,000 homes have been flooded and 30 people evacuated in the northwest of Queensland state, the Department of Emergency Services said. Supplies are being airlifted to towns cut off by rising waters in the region west of Cairns, it said.

"It's like looking out into an ocean," Donna Smith, acting manager of the Albion Hotel in Normanton, a town inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria, said by telephone today. "There is a 5-meter crocodile swimming by, but the biggest problem is that we're running out of beer."


US: Bat-killing syndrome spreads in Northeast

A mysterious and deadly bat disease discovered just two winters ago in a few New York caves has now spread to at least six northeastern states, and scientists are scrambling to find solutions before it spreads across the country.

White-nose syndrome poses no health threat to people, but some scientists say that if bat populations diminish too much, the insects and crop pests they eat could flourish. Researchers recently identified the fungus that creates the illness' distinctive white smudges on the noses and wings of hibernating bats, but they don't yet know how to stop the disease from killing off caves full of the ecologically important animals.

"The cause for concern is that this is going to race across the country faster than we can come up with a solution," said Alan Hicks, a wildlife biologist with New York state's Department of Environmental Conservation.


Ten new amphibian species discovered in Colombia

© REUTERS/Marco Rada-Conservation International Colombia/Handout
An undated handout image shows a glass frog of the Nymphargus genus, which is potentially new to science, that was discovered in the mountains of the Darien region in Colombia. Ten new species of amphibians -- including three kinds of poisonous frogs and three transparent-skinned glass frogs -- have been discovered in the mountains of Colombia, conservationists said on February 2, 2009.

Ten new species of amphibians -- including three kinds of poisonous frogs and three transparent-skinned glass frogs -- have been discovered in the mountains of Colombia, conservationists said Monday.

With amphibians under threat around the globe, the discovery was an encouraging sign and reason to protect the area where they were found, said Robin Moore, an amphibian expert at the environmental group Conservation International.

The nine frog species and one salamander species were found in the mountainous Tacarcuna area of the Darien region near Colombia's border with Panama.