Britain’s biggest wild animal ‘killed for antlers’

LONDON (AFP) – A giant red stag thought to be Britain’s biggest wild animal was killed for its antlers, according to reports on Tuesday.

The body of the “Exmoor Emperor,” named after the southwestern area where the stag was frequently sighted, was found close to a road in the county of Devon.

It is believed that a licensed hunter is responsible for legally killing the stag, which stood nine feet (2.75 metres) to the tips of its antlers.

An industry source claimed hunters would have paid up to 10,000 pounds (15,800 dollars, 11,300 euros) to the landowner for the opportunity to shoot the creature.

But the action still drew condemnation from deer-lovers who believe hunting should be banned during the mating season.

“It could be that he didn’t get a chance to rut properly this year, therefore his genes have not been passed on this time round,” Peter Donnelly, an Exmoor-based deer management expert, said.

“The poor things should be left alone during the rut, not harried from pillar to post.”

The identity of the marksman remains a mystery, but it is believed to be one of the increasing number of wealthy sportsmen who are flooding to the area in search of a trophy.

“There are people who are prepared to spend quite ridiculous sums of money to have a trophy on their wall,” Donnelly added.

“People talk about 1,000 pounds for a good head, but I’ve heard there are those who will pay a lot more.”

One source from the hunting industry told AFP: “I think they would have paid around 10,000 pounds for the privilege.”

Although not illegal, hunting during the mating season is frowned upon as the mating stags are often underfed and tired due to their exertions, presenting an easy target.

Older stags are regularly culled due to the historic eradication of any natural predators but at around 12 years old, the Emperor is thought to have had more productive mating seasons left in him.

Original article here

Antarctic helicopter crash kills four French nationals

From Ben Brumfield, CNN
October 30, 2010

(CNN) — Four French nationals aboard a helicopter that crashed in Antarctica did not survive, rescuers said Saturday.

The helicopter went missing on Thursday evening.

French and Australian crews are conducting recovery operations, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.

The victims were found after a helicopter with a doctor flew from a base in Antarctica to the scene of the crash.

Once recovery operations are complete, coordination will be handed over to French authorities, the statement said.

Original article here

Starchy Wild Plants Added Carbs To Ancient Man’s Meaty Diet

Istituto Italiano di Preistoria e Protostoria. Scientists discovered stones for grounding flour in Italy used 30,000 years ago by hunter gatherers.

by CHRIS JOYCE, National Public Radio

Here’s a 30,000-year-old recipe:

Dig up cattails.  Remove starchy roots and rhizomes.  Peel outer layer, dry, and grind into flour with two rocks.  Mix with water and cook. Bon appetit!

The Paleolithic diet, it turns out, may have consisted of more than just meat and berries.  At three sites in Italy, Russia and the Czech Republic, scientists have discovered tools that would make a Stone Age Crate and Barrel manager burst with pride:Mortars and pestles for grinding grains.

The mortars are flat stones, while the pestles are pointed andshaped to fit the hand.  They all show wear from grinding, as well as microscopic bits of “flour” embedded in them.  The flour appears to have been ground from the starchiest, underground parts of cattails, ferns and other plants.

Anthropologists have assumed that early humans supplemented their meaty, protein-heavy diet with nutrients from plants.  Plant starches are energy-rich carbohydrates, but aren’t exactly “ready-to-eat.”  The latest discovery confirms that humans as far back as 30,000 years had figured out how to “process” some of those starches before consuming them.

Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists suggest that the flour ground in the mortar and pestle would eventually have been cooked.  Raw starch is pretty hard to stomach and doesn’t offer much nutrition until the tough grains are broken down by heat. (See Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham’s book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human for more on this.)

In terms of the energy it provided, the cattail flour is pretty similar to Emmer wheat (known as farro in Italy). It’s been a staple of European cooking for millennia that’s believed to have fed the marching Roman legions.

As for taste, the researchers didn’t report results.  But without yeast or sugar or even salt, chances are cattail bread wasn’t terribly tasty.

But memorable?  Well, we’re still writing about it.

Original article here

Pouches, pockets and sacs in the heads, necks and chests of mammals, part IV: reindeer and a whole slew of others

Reposted from the science blog of Darren Naish

I really must get this series on pouches, sacs and pockets finished. Last time, we looked at baleen whales (and then I got distracted by Caperea): in these animals, a large, inflatable laryngeal sac is used in producing loud, resonating noises (though roles in gas storage or the mechanics of exhalation have also been suggested).


Another ventrally located laryngeal sac is present in the Reindeer Rangifer tarandus [photo above, by Karen Laubenstein, from wikipedia, shows an Alaskan reindeer with wonderfully elaborate antlers]. The sac originates from the trachea close to the epiglottis, is present in both sexes (though is much larger in males, reaching 4000 cubic cm when inflated), and can extend asymmetrically either along the left or right side of the neck (Frey et al. 2007).


During the rut, males adopt a characteristic posture where the head and neck are kept low and the throat is extended [shown here, from Frey et al. (2007)]. Because the air sac is seen to inflate and deflate as the deer calls, an acoustic role for the sac is obvious (the noises made by calling reindeer are difficult to describe: they make hoarse, repetitive guttural noises).

Exactly what effect the throat sac has on the sounds generated in the larynx is unclear. One suggestion is that the sac augments the acoustic output of the vocal tract, such that the resulting noise combines output from the mouth and nose with output from the sac, emitted via the soft tissues of the neck. In other words, the sac ‘filters’ the sounds produced in the vocal tract (in acoustics, a filter is “a resonator that absorbs energy at certain resonance frequencies” (Freyet al. 2007, p. 151)). Because displaying males approach females broad-side in what’s been called a ‘broadside acoustic display’, it appears likely that the sounds generated by these deer mostly emanate sideways.

Other acts of acoustic weirdness in Cervidae

The evolution of this remarkable laryngeal structure is made all the more, err, remarkable by the fact that it’s (so far as we know) completely novel within Cervidae, this despite the fact that other deer lineages have evolved profound modifications to enhance their calls [calling male Red deer shown below, image by Bill Ebbesen, from wikipedia. That lump in the throat corresponds to a highly mobile larynx that descends way down in the neck during vocalisation. Read on].


As we’ve seen before, Red deer Cervus elaphus and Fallow deer Dama dama use laryngeal retractors and an elastic thyrohyoid linkage to pull the larynx down toward the chest and thereby decrease the formant frequencies of their calls (Fitch & Reby 2001, McElligott et al. 2006) (and formant frequencies are known to correlate with female preference and mating success in both Red and Fallow deer: see Charlton et al. (2007), Vannoni & McElligott (2008) and Reby et al. (2010). Incidentally, it’s probably true to say – as some have – that the vocal behaviour of Red deer has been more studied than that of any other mammal outside of Primates). Wapiti C. canadensis retract the larynx markedly as well (and I follow Geist (1999) and Groves (2005) in regarding the Wapiti as a separate species from Red deer*). Phylogenies show that Red deer and Wapiti belong to a disparate lineage relative to Fallow deer (e.g., Pitra et al. 2004): even if Cervus and Dama are sister-taxa, there are still numerous taxa in the Cervus clade that lack the laryngeal structures seen in the C. elaphusC. canadensis clade, and seen in D. dama. Their similar laryngeal anatomies must therefore have evolved convergently.

* Some other deer traditionally included in C. elephus also deserve to be recognised as separate species: I will avoid discussing this mess for now and point the interested reader to Pitra et al. (2004) and Groves (2005).

Similar elastic structures are absent in reindeer: there’s no indication that they can move the larynx in the same way.

Peculiar noises are also made by some other large deer, but in this case I’m not talking about vocal noises; White-lipped deer Przewalskium albirostre, Père David’s deer Elaphurus davidianus, Red deer, Wapiti and Reindeer all produce clicking or cracking noises in their joints as they walk (McCullough 1969, Thomas & Toweill 1982, Geist 1999). Red deer only seem to produce the cracking noise in the forelimbs, while Reindeer at least produce cracking in both fore- and hindlimbs.

We looked some time ago at joint-clicking in eland: remarkably, the noises made by the joints of these antelopes form part of their dominance displays (Bro-Jørgsen & Dabelsteen 2008). Could the same be true of the joint-clicking deer? A popular idea is that the clicking noises provide information on the whereabouts of other herd members, and also on the approach of possible danger. I don’t know if anyone has studied this (though humans who hunt deer have certainly been very interested in it) – let me know.

One more interesting thing to note on deer and acoustics: it has been suggested that the enormous palmate antlers of Moose Alces alces may work as parabolic reflectors that help collect sound (Bubenik & Bubenik 2008) [spectacular Alaskan moose shown below; photo by Donna Dewhurst, from wikipedia. Note the profound asymmetry in the antlers… fluctuating asymmetry, another subject I must cover some time].


Moose ears are large and sensitive, but these authors showed that a moose can increase the acoustic pressure in its ears by about 19% if it points the ears towards the antlers rather than toward the sound source. I would assume that this effect is incidental given that the antlers are still shed annually, mostly play a role in sexual combat and display, and are absent in females (one would assume that they would be retained year-round, and be present in females, if an acoustic role provided a selective advantage). However, moose that inhabit Alaskan tundra environments have the biggest antlers, and this is a habitat where sound travels furthest. Then again, visual signals would also travel furthest, so – as usual – things are not clear-cut.

Reindeer are ‘grotesque giants’

Having shown that Reindeer are unexpectedly weird by virtue of their laryngeal sacs, it’s only right to say that they’re really interesting for lots of other reasons: with their elaborate antlers (proportionally, the biggest of any deer), cursorial specialisations, large body size (second largest New World deer), long neck manes, large fat stores and highly peculiar, complex pigmentation (they have capes, rump patches, lateral stripes, forehead patches, eye rings and ‘socks’*), they’re flamboyant animals that can be regarded as ‘extreme’ members of their group (incidentally, the neck mane might be a visual signal linked to the neck sac) [Rangifer and Alces are shown in the diagram below as extreme members of the mostly New World deer clade that includes brockets, roe deer, reindeer and moose (from Geist (1999))].


Geist (1999) referred to animals of this sort as ‘grotesque giants’ and noted that they tend to have evolved in cold, harsh Ice Age environments. Gould used the term ‘asynchronous hypermorphs’ for the same set of species. Other examples – according to Geist – include moose, wapiti, muskox, woolly rhinos, short-faced bears and humans.

* Pigmentation patterns are highly variable in reindeer, with some forms being far more elaborately patterned than others. Eurasian tundra reindeer are the most elaborate.

More laryngeal bullae than you can shake a stick at


So far in this series of articles, we’ve looked at primates, baleen whales and reindeer. But these are far from the only mammals with laryngeal diverticula located on the midline of the throat: small sac-like structures located on the ventral surface are also present in opossums (Didelphis), quolls (Dasyurus), some phalangers (Trichosurusand Phalanger), swamp wallabies (Wallabia), hedgehogs (Erinaceus), squirrels (Sciurus), marmots (Marmota), water voles (Arvicola), tapirs (Tapirus), horses (Equus), boar (Sus), eland (Tragelaphus), saiga (Saiga), takin (Budorcas), some bears (Ursus), wolves (Canis lupus), southern sea lions (Otaria) and various others (see Frey et al. (2007) for a complete list: their table, with adjacent diagrams showing laryngeal diverticula position, is shown here).

In some taxa, these structures are associated with enlarged hyoid bullae (like those looked at previously in apes and howler monkeys), but in others they are not. And in some of these mammals, these diverticula are paired; in others they are single. In the marsupials with a laryngeal diverticulum, and also in eland, saiga and takin, the structures are housed inside an inflated bulla formed from the thyroid cartilage (and are thus contained within the larynx). As yet, the role that these many diverticula might play in vocalising and other aspects of behaviour has been little investigated for most of the species concerned. Roland Frey and his colleagues have, however, been publishing some great studies on the laryngeal anatomy and vocalisation in such species as muskox, takin and weird gazelles. More soon!

For the previous articles on pouches, pockets and sacs in mammal heads, necks and chests, see…

And for previous Tet Zoo articles on deer, see…

Refs – –

Bro-Jørgsen, J. & Dabelsteen, T. 2008. Knee-clicks and visual traits indicate fighting ability in eland antelopes: multiple messages and back-up signals. BMC Biology 2008, 6: 47 doi:10.1186/1741-7007-6-47

Bubenik, G. A. & Bubenik, P. G. 2008. Palmated antlers of moose may serve as a parabolic reflector of sounds. European Journal of Wildlife Research 54, 533-535.

Charlton, B., Reby, D. & McComb, K. 2007. Female red deer prefer the roars of larger males.Biology Letters 3, 382-385.

Fitch, W. T. & Reby, D. 2001. The descended larynx is not uniquely human. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 268, 1669-1675.

Frey, R., Gebler, A., Fritsch, G., Nygrén, K., & Weissengruber, G. E. (2007). Nordic rattle – the hoarse phonation and the inflatable laryngeal air sac of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)Journal of Anatomy, 210, 131-159

Geist, V. 1999. Deer of the World. Swan Hill Press, Shrewsbury.

Groves, C. 2005. The genus Cervus in eastern Eurasia. European Journal of Wildlife Research52, 14-22.

McCullough, D. R. 1969. The Tule Elk. Its History, Behavior and Ecology. University of California Press, Berkeley.

McElligott, A. G., Birrer, M. & Vannoni, E. 2006. Retraction of the mobile descended larynx during groaning enables fallow bucks (Dama dama) to lower their formant frequencies.Journal of Zoology 270, 340-345.

Pitra, C., Fickel, J., Meijaard, E. & Groves, C. 2004. Evolution and phylogeny of old world deer. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 33, 880-895.

Reby, D., Charlton, B., Locatelli, Y. & McComb K. 2010. Oestrous red deer hinds prefer male roars with higher fundamental frequencies. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 277, 2747-2753.

Thomas, D. C. & Toweill, D. E. 1982. The Elk of North America; Ecology and Management. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.

Vannoni, E. & McElligott, A. G. 2008. Low frequency groans indicate larger and more dominant Fallow deer (Dama dama) males. PLoS ONE 3(9): e3113. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0003113

Finland’s Reindeer Sperm in High Demand


Mongolia hopes Finnish reindeer will help infuse its population of the animal. Image: YLE Lappi / Tapio Nykänen


Mongolia’s President has requested a delivery of Finnish reindeer sperm to help revive the country’s dwindling reindeer population, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

The matter came up during a visit by Prime Minister Mari Kiviniemi to Mongolia.

Collecting the sperm could prove difficult, according to Mauri Nieminen, a research manager at the Reindeer Research Station of the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute.

Nieminen is skeptical of Mongolia’s actual need for the sperm, as the country has received new reindeer flocks from Russia. Information on inbreeding is also conflicting, he says.

A few decades ago, Finland transported 170 reindeers to Hokkaido, Japan. Nieminen also believes that it would in this case make more sense to ship the animals. He will soon head to Mongolia to investigate the reindeer situation there.


Original article here

Nuclear cargo secretly shipped around Norway

(BarentsObserver, 12 October 2010) — The containers with weapon-grade spent uranium fuel were heavily guarded by armed police on ground and in helicopters on its way to the harbor in Gydnia in Poland. After loaded on board the vessel the deadly nuclear waste secretly sailed around the coast of Northern Norway before it arrived in Murmansk last week.

Heavily armed special police forces guarding the containers with the uranium fuel before it is onloaded to the vessel sailing it to Murmansk via the coast of Norway. Photo: National Nuclear Security Administration.

The uranium cargo was sent from a research reactor in the forest outside Warsaw towards Russia’s top-secured reprocessing plant Mayak in the South-Urals. There are likely two reasons why such nuclear cargo are shipped the longer route around Norway to Murmansk, instead of sailing the much shorter route through the Baltic Sea and St. Petersburg on its way to Mayak. First of all it is important to keep the vulnerable cargo as far away from possible terrorists as possible, and secondly because Murmansk has an excellent harbor facility for receiving such nuclear waste. The harsh seas off the coast of northern Norway and Russia’s Kola Peninsula are not an easy attack point for al-Quaida or other non-state terrorist groups that might want to blow up or get access and steal weapon-grade uranium, such as this cargo from Poland. … The first time such nuclear cargo sailed from Poland to Murmansk in transit along the coast of Norway  was last fall. Then, the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authorities was not aware about the uranium load before being informed by BarentsObserver. The issue was then bought up with Polish nuclear authorities and the following shipment in April this year happened with the knowledge of the Norwegian Authorities. … Last week, at the same time as the nuclear waste cargo ship arrived in Murmansk, Norwegian and Russian authorities were sitting on board the former nuclear powered icebreaker “Lenin” in Murmansk discussing nuclear safety cooperation between the two countries. … Nothing is said about the fact that simultaneously a secret cargo of nuclear waste was arriving in the port of Atomflot, just some few kilometers from where the Norwegian-Russian top nuclear officials where meeting. Norway has over the last 16 years granted some NOK 1,5 billion (€187 million) for nuclear safety in Northwest Russia. Ironically, the harbor facility where last week’s nuclear cargo was offloaded is partly financed with Norwegian assistance grants. Norway partly paid for the special designed pad for uranium fuel containers as an effort to secure spent nuclear fuel from the Northern fleet’s decommissioned submarines. Upon arrival at the Atomflot facilities in the northern part of Murmansk city, the uranium fuel was reloaded to railway wagons and sent all the 3,000 kilometers through European Russia to Mayak.