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Thu, 08 Dec 2022
The World for People who Think



Homo naledi may have lit fires in underground caves at least 236,000 years ago

Remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges found in South African cave system.
Homo Naledi Skull
An ancient southern African hominid called Homo naledi, represented here by a child’s partial fossil skull, possibly used fire sometime between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago, new cave finds suggest.
An ancient hominid dubbed Homo naledi may have lit controlled fires in the pitch-dark chambers of an underground cave system, new discoveries hint.

Researchers have found remnants of small fireplaces and sooty wall and ceiling smudges in passages and chambers throughout South Africa's Rising Star cave complex, paleoanthropologist Lee Berger announced in a December 1 lecture hosted by the Carnegie Institution of Science in Washington, D.C.

"Signs of fire use are everywhere in this cave system," said Berger, of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

H. naledi presumably lit the blazes in the caves since remains of no other hominids have turned up there, the team says. But the researchers have yet to date the age of the fire remains. And researchers outside Berger's group have yet to evaluate the new finds.

H. naledi fossils date to between 335,000 and 236,000 years ago (SN: 5/9/17), around the time Homo sapiens originated (SN: 6/7/17). Many researchers suspect that regular use of fire by hominids for light, warmth and cooking began roughly 400,000 years ago (SN: 4/2/12).

Bizarro Earth

1,700 endangered seals wash ashore on Russia's Caspian Sea shore

dead seals russia caspian sea
© Ministry of Environment of Dagestan / Telegram
1,700 endangered seals wash ashore in the Dagestan Republic
The mammals were found dead on the Caspian Sea coast and are presumed to have succumbed to natural causes

Over a thousand seals have been found dead on the coast of the Caspian Sea, local authorities in Russia's southern Dagestan Republic said on Sunday. The region's Ministry of Environment says natural factors are likely behind the incident.

Zaur Gapizov, the general director of the Caspian Nature Protection Center, said the mammals seem to have perished at least two weeks ago and been washed ashore by a storm. "There are no signs that they were killed, no remains of fishing nets have been found," he noted, adding that local authorities are continuing to examine the coast. Gapizov estimated that "most likely, the number of dead seals is much higher" than the 1,700 already found.

Eye 2

Malaysian crocodile kills 1-year-old boy, injures father attempting rescue

A 1-year-old boy was snatched and eaten alive by a crocodile while fishing with his father in Malaysia.

On Thursday morning, the boy was on a canoe with his 45-year-old father, identified as Moherat, off the coast of Lahad Datu in Sabah when the 11-foot crocodile grabbed him.

The father immediately tried to fight off the reptile but was not able to rescue his son.

"Despite the man's best efforts, he ended up with numerous bite wounds and could not stop his son being dragged underwater," said Sumsoa Rashid, head of the Lahad Datu Fire and Rescue Agency. "There are several viral videos showing how the victim was attacked by the crocodile and then grabbed before being dragged to a nearby river."


Raccoon mauls girl in vicious attack in Canterbury, Connecticut

The mum picked up her daughter as she wrestled with the raccoon

The mum picked up her daughter as she wrestled with the raccoon
A mum hurled a raccoon across a garden after her 7-year-old daughter's leg was mauled during a vicious attack.

Schoolgirl Rylee MacNamara, from Connecticut, was standing outside her family home on Friday at 7.45am waiting for her parents to take her to school when a raccoon came out of nowhere and attacked the student.

In the unprovoked attack, the savage beast attacked the girl's leg and sunk its claws into her foot as she was forced to try and shake off the animal.

After several attempts to free herself from the wild beast, Rylee began to scream in terror as the raccoon clung on to her leg in the frightening ordeal.

The child was screaming from the top of her lungs as the animal persisted in attacking her leg which left her terrified.


Coyote attacks toddler outside home in Woodland Hills, California

A terrifying sight for a parent as a young child was attacked by a coyote outside their Woodland Hills home.

The incident, which occurred Friday evening on Martha Street near Capistrano Avenue, was caught on surveillance cameras.

The child and her father got home, parked in the driveway and started to get out of the vehicle. As the father reaches into the car to grab something, the coyote comes along and appears to bite the toddler. The little girl screams and her father rushes to her side and the coyote starts backing away.

According to California Fish and Wildlife, they have received several calls regarding an aggressive coyote in the neighborhood weeks prior to this incident.


Pit bull mauls man to death in South Africa - 5th such fatality within 3 weeks

A pit bull mauled a 39-year-old man to death in the early hours of Saturday in Mogwase near Rustenburg in the North West.

Police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Amanda Funani said Floyd Metsileng was a patron of the tavern.

"When the time came to close the tavern, the owner did so. He allegedly alerted the people to leave, closed [the tavern] and left the premises. It is alleged that the owner unleashed his dogs, as he normally does, after closing [the tavern]," she said.

It was alleged that Metsileng went back to the tavern, Funani said.

Comment: Details of the other attacks:


Pack of dogs viciously maul man to death as he checked electricity meter in Queensland, Australia

dog attack
A contractor for an energy company has died after he was attacked by multiple dogs at a home in Greenbank, Queensland.

Emergency services were called to a home on Ison Road about 10.45am on Saturday morning, where paramedics located a 42-year-old Marsden man with critical injuries.

He died at the scene despite the best efforts of emergency services.

The man is understood to have been a contractor for Energex and was sent to read a meter box at a house when he was set upon by three Bull Arabs.

Blue Planet

Toxoplasmosis turning wolves into pack leaders, new research suggests

Mexican wolves Brookfield zoo
© Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune
Mexican wolves wrestle in their habitat at Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield on Feb. 7, 2018.
It seems that grey wolves are yet more victims of the strange and poorly-understood toxoplasma gondii parasite — but in their case, the effects of this brain worm seem to be driving the wolves toward leadership roles.

A new study in the journal Communications Biology details how an analysis of 27 years of data found that grey wolves in Yellowstone National Park that were infected with the T. gondii parasite were, like most animals who get the associated toxoplasmosis disease, driven toward risk-taking behaviors.

While that often plays out poorly in other animals — including humans, who can catch toxoplasmosis from cat crap, some scientists say — the infected canids surveyed by the Yellowstone Wolf Project for the study appeared to be up to 46 times more likely to become pack leaders in the wake of infection. This may be because T. gondii has been shown in other mammals — including, in humans in particular — to increase testosterone levels, the research notes.


6 pilot whales found stranded on Cape Cod, Massachusetts

The pilot whales were found stranded on a Massachusetts beach

The pilot whales were found stranded on a Massachusetts beach
After three days trying to save several beached pilot whales in Cape Cod, rescuers' efforts came to an end Wednesday.

Six whales were found stranded on an Eastham beach on Monday afternoon. Rescuers' efforts to get the whales back in water in the high tide were initially successful, but they found the youngest whale dead on Tuesday and then discovered four of the other whales had turned back toward the shore and gotten stranded again.

Misty Niemeyer, an animal rescue officer and stranding coordinator with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which led the response, said they were cautiously optimistic about the effort but in the end it was not possible to save those four whales that re-stranded. She said all of them were in poor health and were located in an area where it was hard to work. That combined with today's gale force winds and high tide after dark led veterinarians and biologists determine the best course of action was to euthanize the whales.


Over 1.1 million farm animals lost in floods across Pakistan, seminar told

Highlighting their concerns over incidents of animal cruelty and absence of any state initiatives for animal welfare in decades, speakers at a seminar held on Wednesday shared that animals suffered a lot more than humans in this year's devastating floods and much of their ordeal still remained undocumented.

The event — Floods 2022 and Animal Welfare in Pakistan — was jointly organised by the provincial livestock and fisheries department and Brooke Pakistan, an international non-profit organisation working since 1991 for the welfare of equine animals belonging to the poor.

Citing official and international data, the speakers stated that the loss of livestock alone had been estimated to be over 1.1 million in the devastating floods, which had the greatest impact on Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.