On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope

An adult female Mountain Bongo feeds from a trough in a breeding pen at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy where five of the antelopes were released into protected sanctuary. (Tony Karumba/AFP)
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Updated 10 March 2022
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On brink of extinction, a new hope for Kenya’s forest antelope

  • A combination of disease, poaching and loss of forest habitat from illegal logging and agriculture have left fewer than 100 mountain bongos in the wild

MAWINGU, Kenya: Still dizzy from the transquilizer, a mountain bongo made its first uncertain steps outside captivity as conservationists in Kenya opened a sanctuary they hope can bring the endemic forest antelope back from the brink of extinction.
A combination of disease, poaching and loss of forest habitat from illegal logging and agriculture have left fewer than 100 mountain bongos in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But this week conservationists released five of the large chestnut-colored antelopes, which is native to the equatorial forests of Kenya, into the 776 acre (3.1 square kilometer) Mawingu Mountain Bongo Sanctuary in the foothills of Mount Kenya.
“The mountain bongo is one of Kenya’s most important iconic animals,” said Najib Balala, minister of tourism and wildlife, after cutting the ribbon at the sanctuary’s opening ceremony on Wednesday.
The bongo’s release is the culmination of a breeding and rewilding program that began in 2004, which aims to have 50-70 fully rewilded bongos in the sanctuary by 2025, and 750 by 2050, according to the government.
“This is like the first step in the recovery,” said Isaac Lekolool, head of veterinary services at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
Mountain bongos once roamed widely in large numbers, but the few remaining animals, whose coats are streaked with distinctive thin white stripes, live in isolated pockets of forest scattered around Kenya.
Among the threats, the IUCN says there has been an increase in hunting of mountain bongo by local people, including hunting with dogs.
“This species is being driven to extinction in the wild unless something is done quickly,” said Robert Aruho, head of vetinary services at the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy (MKWC), a charity.
MKWC has set up community conservation, education, and empowerment programs to raise awareness and help reduce human threats to the animal.
MKWC has also involved local communities in planting over 35,000 indigenous tree species around Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak, to restore the degraded forest ecosystem.
To help maintain genetic diversity in the breeding program, approval has been given to import bongos from Europe and America, Aruho said.


New research explores how a short trip to space affects the human body

Updated 12 June 2024
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New research explores how a short trip to space affects the human body

  • Research on four space tourists is included in a series of studies on the health effects of space travel, down to the molecular level

DALLAS: Space tourists experience some of the same body changes as astronauts who spend months in orbit, according to new studies published Tuesday.
Those shifts mostly returned to normal once the amateurs returned to Earth, researchers reported.
Research on four space tourists is included in a series of studies on the health effects of space travel, down to the molecular level. The findings paint a clearer picture of how people — who don’t undergo years of astronaut training — adapt to weightlessness and space radiation, the researchers said.
“This will allow us to be better prepared when we’re sending humans into space for whatever reason,” said Allen Liu, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan who was not involved with the research. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with four private citizens onboard, lifts off in this time-exposure photo from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39-A, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. New research presents the largest set of information yet regarding how the human body reacts to spaceflight. (AP/File)


NASA and others have long studied the toll of space travel on astronauts, including yearlong residents of the International Space Station, but there’s been less attention on space tourists. The first tourist visit to the space station was in 2001, and opportunities for private space travel have expanded in recent years.
A three-day chartered flight in 2021 gave researchers the chance to examine how quickly the body reacts and adapts to spaceflight, said Susan Bailey, a radiation expert at Colorado State University who took part in the research.
While in space, the four passengers on the SpaceX flight, dubbed Inspiration4, collected samples of blood, saliva, skin and more. Researchers analyzed the samples and found wide-ranging shifts in cells and changes to the immune system. Most of these shifts stabilized in the months after the four returned home, and the researchers found that the short-term spaceflight didn’t pose significant health risks.
“This is the first time we’ve had a cell-by-cell examination of a crew when they go to space,” said researcher and co-author Chris Mason with Weill Cornell Medicine.
The papers, which were published Tuesday in Nature journals and are now part of a database, include the impact of spaceflight on the skin, kidneys and immune system. The results could help researchers find ways to counteract the negative effects of space travel, said Afshin Beheshti, a researcher with the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science who took part in the work.


Russia races to save entangled humpback whale in the Arctic

Updated 11 June 2024
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Russia races to save entangled humpback whale in the Arctic

  • Video shot by a marine biologist shows the whale with some sort of net and rope wrapped tightly around its body near the flippers

MOSCOW: Russian marine specialists are racing to save a humpback whale which has become entangled in a fishing net north of the Arctic circle.
Video shot by a marine biologist shows the whale, who has been named Stanislav, with some sort of net and rope wrapped tightly around its body near the flippers.
After tourists on the Kola Peninsula, in Russia’s far north, spotted the stricken mammal, biologists searched over 120 km (75 miles) of coastline before identifying it, according to Svetlana Radionova, head of Russia’s natural resources watchdog Rosprirodnadzor.
“The whale entangled in the nets has been found alive,” Radionova said on Telegram, adding that specialists would try to get close to it and cut off the net.


Turkish student arrested for using AI to cheat in university exam

Updated 11 June 2024
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Turkish student arrested for using AI to cheat in university exam

ISTANBUL: Turkish authorities have arrested a student for cheating during a university entrance exam by using a makeshift device linked to artificial intelligence software to answer questions.
The student was spotted behaving in a suspicious way during the exam at the weekend and was detained by police, before being formally arrested and sent to jail pending trial.
Another person, who was helping the student, was also detained.
A video released by police in the southwestern province of Isparta showed how the student used a camera disguised as a shirt button linked to artificial intelligence software via a router hidden in the sole of the person’s shoe.
A police officer in the video scans a question to show how the system works, with the AI software generating the correct answer, which is recited through an earpiece.


Rare elephant twins born in dramatic birth in Thailand

Updated 11 June 2024
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Rare elephant twins born in dramatic birth in Thailand

AYUTTHAYA: An elephant in Thailand has delivered a rare set of twins in a dramatic birth that left a carer injured after he tried to rescue one of the newborns.
The 36-year-old Asian elephant named Jamjuree gave birth to an 80-kilogramme (176-pound) male at the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace and Royal Kraal north of Bangkok on Friday night.
But when a second, 60-kilogramme female calf emerged 18 minutes later, the mother went into a frenzy and attacked her new arrival.
“We heard somebody shout ‘there is another baby being born!’” said veterinarian Lardthongtare Meepan.
An elephant keeper, also known as a mahout, moved in to prevent the mother from attacking her newborn, and took a blow to his ankle in return.
“The mother attacked the baby because she had never had twins before — it’s very rare,” said Michelle Reedy, the director of the Elephant Stay organization, which allows visiting tourists to ride, feed and bathe elephants at the Royal Kraal center.
“The mahouts who are the carers of the elephants jumped in there trying to get the baby away so that she didn’t kill it,” Reedy told AFP.
Jamjuree has now accepted her calves, who are so small that a special platform has been built to help them reach up to suckle.
They are also being given supplemental pumped milk by syringe, said Lardthongtare.
Twin elephants are rare, forming around only one percent of births, according to research organization Save the Elephants, and male-female twin births are even more unusual.
Mothers often do not have enough milk for both calves and the pair might not have survived in the wild, said Reedy.
“Whether the rest of the herd may have intervened — they may have, but the baby may have been trampled in the process,” she said.
Reedy said many of the 80 elephants at the center were rescued from street begging, a practice that became increasingly common after a logging ban in 1989 that left mahouts working in the industry with their elephants seeking alternative income.
The practice, which was outlawed in 2010, involved the animals performing tricks like playing with footballs or carrying baskets of fruit.
Some elephants at Royal Kraal carry tourists to the nearby ruins and temples of Ayutthaya, the historic former capital of Siam.
Many conservation groups oppose elephant riding, arguing it is stressful for the animals and often involves abusive training.
The center argues the rides allow the animals to socialize and exercise, and promote conservation of the species, which is endangered in Southeast Asia and China.
Only about 8,000-11,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild, according to the WWF.
The animals were once widespread, but deforestation, human encroachment and poaching have decimated their numbers.
The twin calves, whose father is a 29-year-old elephant named Siam, will be named seven days after their birth, in accordance with Thai custom.


African elephants call each other by unique names, new study shows

In this undated photo, an African elephant matriarch leads her calf away from danger in northern Kenya. (AP)
Updated 11 June 2024
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African elephants call each other by unique names, new study shows

  • Researchers tested their results by playing recordings to individual elephants, who responded more energetically, ears flapping and trunk lifted, to recordings that contained their names

WASHINGTON: African elephants call each other and respond to individual names — something that few wild animals do, according to new research published Monday.
The names are one part of elephants’ low rumbles that they can hear over long distances across the savanna. Scientists believe that animals with complex social structures and family groups that separate and then reunite often may be more likely to use individual names.
“If you’re looking after a large family, you’ve got to be able to say, ‘Hey, Virginia, get over here!’” said Duke University ecologist Stuart Pimm, who was not involved in the study.
It’s extremely rare for wild animals to call each other by unique names. Humans have names, of course, and our dogs come when their names are called. Baby dolphins invent their own names, called signature whistles, and parrots may also use names.
Each of these naming species also possesses the ability to learn to pronounce unique new sounds throughout their lives — a rare talent that elephants also possess.
For the study in Nature Ecology & Evolution, biologists used machine learning to detect the use of names in a sound library of savanna elephant vocalizations recorded at Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve and Amboseli National Park.
The researchers followed the elephants in jeeps to observe who called out and who appeared to respond — for example, if a mother called to a calf, or a matriarch called to a straggler who later rejoined the family group.
Analyzing only the audio data, the computer model predicted which elephant was being addressed 28 percent of the time, likely due to the inclusion of its name. When fed meaningless data, the model only accurately labeled 8 percent of calls.
“Just like humans, elephants use names, but probably don’t use names in the majority of utterances, so we wouldn’t expect 100 percent,” said study author and Cornell University biologist Mickey Pardo.
Elephant rumbles include sounds that are below the range of human hearing. The scientists still don’t know which part of the vocalization is the name.
Researchers tested their results by playing recordings to individual elephants, who responded more energetically, ears flapping and trunk lifted, to recordings that contained their names. Sometimes elephants entirely ignored vocalizations addressed to others.
“Elephants are incredibly social, always talking and touching each other — this naming is probably one of the things that underpins their ability to communicate to individuals,” said co-author and Colorado State University ecologist George Wittemyer, who is also a scientific adviser for nonprofit Save the Elephants.
“We just cracked open the door a bit to the elephant mind.”