Even the best-planned documentaries can go wrong, especially when there are curious polar bears involved.
In this case, the BBC was spying on the polar bears of the Arctic islands of Svalbard for a documentary called “Polar Bear: Spy on The Ice,” but their spy-tactics could have used a bit of help. The cameras were “camouflaged” as icebergs and snow drifts, but that didn’t fool these curious bears, who caught on pretty quickly that snow and ice aren’t supposed to move that quickly.
The cameras worked just fine in in the -40 Fahrenheit weather–it was the bears who ripped the cameras to pieces, destroying about $200,000 worth of equipment. The documentary, directed by John Downer, aired on BBC One on December 29th, but you can see it here at the BBC’s iPlayer (sadly, UK only).
Discoblog: Ape Auteurs: BBC to Premiere Documentary Shot Entirely by Chimps
Not Exactly Rocket Science: For polar bears, the price of rapid evolution is a weaker skull
80beats: Study: We Still Have a Chance to Save the Polar Bears
80beats: Bear Fight! Grizzlies Are Creeping Into Polar Bears’ Canadian Turf
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Movie Scientists
The blue pepper-pot beetle, St. John’s jellyfish, and the queen’s executioner beetle–these distinctly British-sounding organisms share a few things in common. For one, they all have brand new names, thanks to the ingenuity of the British public.
The trio received these new names from public entries in a competition organized by The Guardian, Natural England, and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Other similarities include (perhaps unsurprisingly) that they all live in the UK, and that they’re all threatened with extinction.
One usually pictures an organism’s discoverer naming her find, or the organism’s common name coming from obvious characteristics (like lighting bugs or fireflies, for example), but sometimes critters just slip through the cracks; these ten were previously known only by their official scientific classifications. That made it hard, the competition’s organizers suspected, for the public to care whether or not these rare creatures disappeared. The naming competition, thought up by Guardian columnist George Monbiot, was meant to make the threatened organisms more identifiable and relatable to the public.
One pied tamaran turns to another: Do you hear that infant monkey call?
That’s one weird-sounding baby, the other responds. Shrugging their shoulders, the pair goes to investigate. Surprise! It’s not a baby monkey at all, but a margay cat doing impersonations. Then it’s up to the monkeys to escape becoming a snack.
In the domain of jungle tricks, monkeys usually take center-stage. They may give false alarms to steal bananas or (shamelessly) carry an infant to strike up a conversation. But the above fake-out scene, documented in 2005 by Wildlife Conservation Society researchers, hinted that at least one feline is giving monkeys a dose of their own medicine.
Gorilla conservationists in Nigeria have a new ally–snails.
The critically endangered Cross River gorilla is under constant threat from poachers in this poor nation, as poachers kill the animals for their bushmeat or sell them illegally to traffickers in the exotic pet trade. With just 300 Cross River gorillas left, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) hopes to offer locals an alternate source of both food and revenue so they’ll leave the poor apes alone. Enter the snail.
For this conservation project, the WCS picked eight former gorilla poachers and got them to start farming African giant snails, a local delicacy. The WCS helped the poachers construct snail pens and stocked each pen with 230 giant snails, writes Scientific American. As the snails breed quickly, farmers can expect a harvest of 3,000 snails per year. Scientific American adds:
According to WCS, this should end up being a fairly profitable enterprise for local farmers. Annual costs are estimated at just $87 per farmer, with profits around $413 per year. The meat of one gorilla, says the WCS, would net a poacher around $70.
80beats: Bushmeat Debate: How Can We Save Gorillas Without Starving People?
80beats: New Threat to Primates Worldwide: Being “Eaten Into Extinction”
DISCOVER: Extinction–It’s What’s for Dinner
You know the prevailing posture of a bat in repose—hanging upside down. All but six of the known 1,200 bat species in the world roost with their heads down, but now naturalists have had the chance to study a Madagascar bat that not only roosts right-side-up, it hangs onto surfaces in a totally unexpected way.
Myzopoda aurita is endangered and listed as vulnerable to extinction. But a team lead by Brown University’s Daniel Riskin got to travel to Madagascar and found colonies of the bat in newly grown forests. There they found that the bat roosts right side up by deploying a kind of liquid adhesive.
Conservationists in southeast Asia are running a high stakes dating service for apes—gibbons specifically, of which 15 of the 16 species are endangered.
Gibbons are being captured and illegally adopted as pets throughout Borneo, so Chanee Brule, who has had a life long fascination with gibbons—he authored a guide to their care at age 13—has taken it upon himself to return rescued gibbons to the wild. He hosts a radio show known as “Radio Gibbon” from his gibbon sanctuary, which intersperses pop hits with public service announcements about ape conservation. When listeners tip him off about abandoned pet gibbons, he rescues these apes and cares for them at his team’s sanctuary, with the ultimate goal of reintroducing them into the wild. However, his task is even harder than it sounds.
Here at DISCOVER, we’re major science tattoo aficionados. In addition to hosting blogger Carl Zimmer’s ever-expanding Science Tattoo Emporium, we engaged Bad Astronomy blogger Phil Plait and our CEO and publisher Henry Donahue in an agreement to get tattoos themselves if the Web site’s traffic tripled (Henry’s resulting tat is seen to the left). So we were understandably excited to learn that the newest plan to save Britain’s endangered species involves needles and ink.
ExtInked, a project out of an arts collective in Manchester, England, chose 100 of the U.K.’s most endangered plants and animals and spent much of last weekend tattooing the images of those flora and fauna onto the bodies of 100 volunteers. Jai Redman, one of the project leaders, drew all the life-forms himself.
If your everyday ham and bacon have become boring, look no further than the Hungarian Mangalica pig. It’s a rare breed; in fact, 20 years ago, there were fewer than 200 of them left worldwide. But the Hungarian Mangalica has since been bred for food, and in the process, the population has swelled to 20,000 in Hungary and Spain.
The curly-haired oinker needs space to roam and grows very slowly, making it incompatible with modern pig farms. Luckily, other pig-ophiles stepped in to keep the breed afloat. Scientific American reports:
The resurrection of the Mangalica has been the mission of Juan Vicente Olmos, the head of Spain’s Monte Nevado ham company, and geneticist Peter Tóth, who tracked and purchased the last pigs from farms scattered throughout Hungary. After less than two decades of intense breeding, the Mangalica population has now increased one-hundred-fold, with 20,000 pigs living in Spain and Hungary.
Of course, a breed (like the Mangalica) is not a species, so it couldn’t technically go extinct. Still, the salvation of the pig and its unique genes remains a victory. The Mangalica may not be suited to modern commercial livestock production, but it does contain genes that don’t exist elsewhere. Some of those genes make it more suitable to cold, mountainous regions. Who knows when and where those rare genes could be of use?
Keep in mind that rare pork comes at a price: At nearly $55 per pound, an eight-to-10 pound ham will set you back $490.
Discoblog: Charge by the Hour? Scottish Volunteers Build Mating Motel for Frogs
Discoblog: Empty Nesters: Pigeons on the Pill See Their Egg-Laying Thwarted
Discoblog: Afghanistan’s Lone Pig Quarantined for Swine Flu
Image: flickr / Ken Wilcox.
Robots really seem to be catching on as a tool for environmental defense. Even if they’re animal decoys: robot animals that look—and act—just like the real things. Why would such a machine be useful? Well, for one, they’re great at trapping would-be poachers.
Wildlife officials are up against a hunting season where for every animal killed legally, there’s another one killed illegally. State officers hide out near the strategically-placed decoys, and when poachers approach, the officers act quickly, jumping from bushes and shouting things like, “Game and Fish Department! Cease fire! Put down your weapon!”
In the eco-irony of the day, the dreaded un-biodegradable Styrofoam may be able to make a contribution (albeit small) to the environment after all. Scientists have found that adding polystyrene (the generic term for Styrofoam) to biodiesel can improve auto performance.
According to new research, polystyrene dissolves in biodiesel “like a snowflake in water” and increases its viscosity, building pressure inside the fuel injector and causing fuel to be injected into the engine sooner, increasing overall output.