Author Archives: Henry

The Island Where Scientists Bring Extinct Reptiles Back to Life

Reviving a long-dead Galapagos tortoise will take Jurassic Park-esque tactics—but have humans already intervened too much?

Today’s Galapagos tortoises mostly feature dome-shaped shells, like the one shown here. But researchers have found some that have the saddleback-shaped shells and longer necks that once characterized extinct Floreana and Pinta tortoises. (Sunshine Pics / Alamy)

On a remote tropical island in the middle of the ocean, researchers have managed to succesfully extract the DNA of long-extinct reptiles. Now, these genetic pioneers are working to bring them back to life. No, this isn’t the latest sequel to Jurassic Park. It’s an ambitious conservation effort to bring back the Galapagos Islands’ extinct Floreana tortoise, after conservationists discovered their distant genetic relatives on nearby islands.

Nor is the plot of the original Jurassic Park likely to play out on Floreana Island. However, for conservation biologists working to avoid disrupting the balance between humans and their natural surroundings, there are some instructive parallels. In fact, the InGen scientists on the fictional Isla Nublar might have learned a thing or two from the groups working to save the Floreana tortoise today.

This real life sci-fi plot all began when Gisella Caccone, senior research scientist at Yale University, took her first exploratory trip to the Galapagos Islands over 20 years ago to gather tortoise blood samples for genetic analysis. On one island, her team noticed a group of tortoises with saddleback-shaped shells rather than the prevalent dome-shaped shells, a morphological distinction reminiscent of the extinct Floreana and Pinta tortoises.

When they looked at the genomes of the tortoises on Wolf Island, over 200 miles away from Floreana Island, they noticed genetic divergences that did not match any known tortoise species. “I called them aliens because I thought they were from Mars or something,” she laughs.

Intrigued, her team headed to the museums, where bone samples from the rich history of humans mingling with Galapagos tortoises yielded DNA samplesthe team’s very own mosquitos in amber. Using bone samples of tortoises at different museums including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Caccone and her team built genetic profiles for several extinct species.

In comparing them to the “alien” animals, the scientists noticed components of new genome that were closely related to two extinct species: Floreana and Pinta.

In the film, Jurassic Park was built on an island because isolation is key to developing new species and keeping them distinct. Similarly, the Galapagos naturally lends itself to speciation (hence, Darwin’s famous finches). The islands’ closed ecosystems allow species that arrive on this volcanic archipelago some 800 miles away from mainland Ecuador to interbreed and adapt to the specific islands’ geography until they no longer resemble their mainland relatives—or even their neighboring relatives on other islands.

That all changed, however, when humans arrived.

Logbooks from some of the Galapagos’ earliest visitors, in the late 17th century, reveal that mariners brought tortoises onto their boats for food, but would drop them onto other islands if their cargo was full of whale meat or other economically viable resources. The haphazard movement of tortoises from island to island allowed the species to intermingle and create hybrid populations like the ones found of Wolf Island.

The human impact on the fragile, isolated Galapagos was profound. Besides killing and cooking critters, mariners and buccaneers also brought rats and other pests with them to the islands that decimated the local populations. The last pure Floreana tortoise died out some time not long after Darwin visited in 1835—leaving him just enough time to enjoy some delicious tortoise soup.

But the same human carelessness that destroyed the Floreana tortoise now gives modern scientists the opportunity to bring it back: The transfer of tortoises from island to island ensured that their genes were distributed enough for today’s scientists to find them.

After identifying the genes from the extinct tortoises in the Wolf Island population, Caccone and her team returned to gather more DNA samples. They focused on Banks Bay Harbor on Wolf Volcano, a perfect spot for mariners to drop off wayward tortoises. They gathered 1,600 blood samples from tortoises by flipping the giant reptiles, drawing blood from a vein in their leg, equipping them with a microchip for tracking and sending them on their merry way.

Though the tortoises strongly exhibited Floreana genes, it seemed Pinta genes had all but disappeared (at least, based on the specimens Caccone and her team collected when they returned in 2008). When the results were published in 2013, locals and tortoise-loving scientists alike couldn’t help but be a little disappointed; the last Pinta tortoise, the beloved Lonesome George, died in 2012.

But Caccone is optimistic. Her earlier studies show that the Pinta genes are out there—her team just has to focus their efforts.

The next step in reviving the Floreana tortoise is a simple captive breeding program, which is being run by the Galapagos Conservancy and the National Park. The scientists play matchmaker with male and female tortoises to bring the Floreana gene expression to the forefront. Though breeding programs have been successful in the past—15 Española tortoises once brought their species back from the brink of extinction—such selective breeding has not been done before with tortoises in the Galapagos.

The conservationists in the Galapagos have something that those in Jurassic Park did not: purpose, and one grander than human entertainment. The Floreana tortoise is crucial for helping to restore the island ecosystem, explains Linda Cayot, science advisor at the Galapagos Conservancy explains. Cayot calls them the island’s “ecological engineers”; as they amble around, they plow trails, graze and deposit plants in their path.

“Tortoises are the dominant herbivore in the Galapagos,” she says. “They are incredibly important to maintaining the island ecosystems.”

Floreana is one of the islands that the National Park hopes to restore to its natural diversity—or at least get close. In an ideal world, the tortoises would be bred in captivity until the Floreana genes were brought to prominence, but tortoises mature slowly and the habitat restoration cannot wait. “I will not be alive to see a ‘pure’ Floreana tortoise,” Caccone says. It’s likely that no one will.

The first generation of Floreana tortoises will be raised in captivity on Santa Cruz Island for five years (any less, and the tortoises are small enough to be easy snacks for other Galapagos species). Once they are released, evolution will run its course and some genetic combinations that are favored for Floreana will reign supreme. The Galapagos will once again have a tortoise species tailored to the Floreana environment.

“It’s hugely exciting to even come close to something that we thought was extinct for 150 years,” Cayot says.

But another human-caused island disaster stands in the way first: pests. Floreana Island is overrun by invasive cats and rats, which carry diseases and dine on hatchlings tortoises and eggs. They have already wreaked havoc on unique endemic species like the Floreana mockingbird, whose population has been reduced to the hundreds on fringe islets near the island they once called home.

“The majority of extinctions occur on islands with animals with invasive species,” explains Paula Castaño, a restoration specialist at Island Conservation, an organization that aims to eliminate invasive pests from the Galapagos. Island Conservation successfully removed rodents from Pinzón Island to save their endemic giant tortoise, but this the first time such would be done on an island with human inhabitants.

Though they only inhabit about 2 percent of the land on Floreana, the island’s 150 human residents have played an enormous role in helping rebuild the habitat to make it more suitable for the tortoise and other native species driven out by pests. It is in their best interest for the agriculture and ecotourism industries that serves as the economic lifeblood of the community.

“Our target is not just to provide healthy ecosystems for tortoises. We are looking to provide a balanced, healthy ecosystem for all the nature on Floreana and the community that is living there,” says Gloria Salvador, Island Conservation’s Floreana project facilitator. “People are living on Floreana, have been living there for many years and have a relationship with the environment.”

Which is good because, as Jurassic Park so neatly illustrated, in our world there must always be a balance between humans and nature. Humans never have total control; that’s the illusion.

Yes you can buy a full size lifelike tortoise made from sturdy high quality fibreglass HERE

Henry Sapiecha

FIBRE-GLASS QUALITY REALISTIC LIFE-SIZED ANIMALS FOR SALE-Section 2

Section 1 earlier in my site depicted a range of fibreglass animasls available from an earlier supplier. This section caters for fibreglass animals from another supplier. So enjoy the journey.

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8…FROGS & MORE

9…AUSTRALIAN ANIMALS & MORE

10…CROCS & MORE

11…APES & MORE

12…BEARS & MORE

13…TURTLES &  TORTOISES & MORE

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Henry Sapiecha

 

Hulk Like Workout ‘bodybuilder’ kangaroo with rippling biceps squares up to stunned gardener in Australia

THIS is the bizarre moment a gardener spotted a threatening ‘bodybuilder’ 100kg kangaroo bathing its bulging biceps in an Australian creek.

Jackson Vincent snapped these astounding photographs of the huge roo tensing its rippling muscles in Boodjidup Creek in Margaret River, Western Australia.

The 27-year-old couldn’t believe his eyes when he clocked the mammoth two metre mammal standing in the water – and feared it could be preparing to attack beloved pet dog Dharma.

Jackson Vincent snapped these astounding photographs of the huge roo tensing its rippling muscles in Boodjidup Creek in Margaret River, Western Australia Picture: Jackson Vincent/Caters News

Jackson, from Freemantle, Perth, had been visiting his grandmother in Margaret River and saw the gargantuan animal on her property at about 11.30am.

He said: “I have been going to that creek since I was a little boy and there have always been kangaroos on the property.

“I was walking my dog and we saw this huge roo standing in the water. I have never seen a kangaroo standing in the water like that, we could just see his head at first.

“As I ran around him to take a picture he came closer and that was when I realised he was coming right at me and he was really big – one of the biggest I have ever seen.

“I am pretty confident around animals but the moment when he started to come out of the water my heart definitely jumped and I decided to take a few steps back.

“He looked to be at least two metres tall or taller and must have weighed at least 100 kg

The 27-year-old couldn’t believe his eyes when he clocked the mammoth 6ft 5in mammal standing in the water and feared it could be preparing to attack beloved dog Dharma. Picture: Jackson Vincent/Caters News

“He had a really big body and was taller than me. There are a lot of roos at my grandma’s place but I have never seen one that muscular before – he was a big macho male.

“I decided to get Dharma out of there as we thought the kangaroo was going to lure her into the water to drown her.”

Jackson’s Facebook post with his images of the kangaroo’s muscular physique instantly went viral, racking up thousands of likes and shares.

Online commenters were quick to point out the animal’s impressive bodybuilder-like muscular shoulders, biceps and chest and threatening posture.

After dropping Kelpie Dharma back at his grandmother’s house Jackson returned to the creek to see the roo was still there.

Wat M8. I’ll box ya. Picture: Jackson Vincent/Caters News

Jackson added: “His claws were really big – they were as long as my hand. That for me was even scarier than his muscles, they looked nasty.

 

“I have never seen a kangaroo be so defensive – it definitely looked like he was puffing his chest muscles up.

“I definitely wouldn’t like to take him on in a boxing match.”

Henry Sapiecha

Extremely Rare white giraffes seen & filmed in Kenya

Two White Giraffes—A Mom and a Calf—Are Thrilling Wildlife Fans in Kenya

A mother and a calf were spotted by the Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy in Garissa County, Kenya. The giraffes have leucism, a genetic condition that reduces the ability to produce pigment.

Unlike albinism, animals with leucism may display ghostly traces of their normal patterns

The Ishaqbini Hirola Conservancy in Garissa County, Kenya, is famous for its rare hirola antelopes: quick, sharp-horned ungulates endemic to the area. Back in early June, though, a resident walking near the conservancy saw something else unusual: a ghostly, tall animal, stepping through the brush.

The villager informed a ranger, who ferried the news to researchers at the nearby Hirola Conservation Program. “We hurriedly headed to the scene as soon as we got the news,” one researcher recalled recently, on the Program’s blog. “And lo! There, right [in front] of us, was the so hyped ‘white giraffe’ of Ishaqbini conservancy!” Just seconds later, another surprise was in store. There were not one, but two white giraffes: a mother and a calf.

As the researcher explains, these two giraffes have what is called leucism, a heritable genetic condition that reduces an animal’s ability to produce pigment. Unlike albinism, leucism doesn’t disrupt pigmentation entirely: affected individuals may display ghostly traces of their normal patterns. That’s true of the young giraffe in this video, whose spots remain slightly visible (he looks a bit like he’s just rolled around in flour).

Leucism has been noted in many different animal species, from pythons and crocodiles to lions and tigers. Although leucistic giraffes seem to be fairly rare, the wildlife biologist Zoe Muller writes that sightings have been reported as far back as 1938, and again in 1956, 2005, 2011, and 2015. (Muller points out that several of these leucistic giraffes were originally mischaracterized as albinos.)

In early 2016, camel herders in Garissa County started spotting another white giraffe, which researchers managed to photograph in April of that year. (It’s unclear whether this is the same giraffe as the mother with the calf.)

Since then, the HCP researcher writes, “sightings have become a common occurrence,” and community members are keeping their eyes peeled. “‘This is new to us,’ the researcher quotes a local ranger as saying. ‘I remember when I was a kid, we never saw them.’” Now, they have at least two to look out for.

Henry Sapiecha

Port Douglas’ Cannibal Croc Charlie strikes again in Queensland Australia.See pics here.

IT’S a croc eat croc world.It is a deadly hannibal cannabil alt water crocodile

These extraordinary images show the moment a monster 4m saltwater crocodile bites the head off a 2m croc and eats it.

Known as “Charlie”, the cannibal croc is a prime tourist attraction in the mangrove-clad wetlands of Dickson Inlet in Port Douglas.Qld Australia

Rangers have been trying to capture and relocate Cannibal Croc Charlie with no luck

Weighing more than half a tonne, he’s been the dominant male of his territory for at least nine years and is known to have killed at least two big rival males.

Lady Douglas paddleboat skipper Drew Weyand, an amateur wildlife photographer, took the shots on one of his river cruises as a group of tourists watched on in fascinated horror.

“He’d ripped the head off the little male and was just guzzling it down,’’ the riverboat skipper said yesterday.

“It’s coming up to breeding season in September, so he was showing it who is boss, and made a meal of it.”

Even the experienced tourist boat skipper was shocked by the brutality of this killing machine.

He said crocs were known to be cannibalistic but he’d never seen such a raw spectacle of brutal killing power.

“It is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen in the wild,’’ Mr Weyand said.

“He was smashing it down on the bank to break it up to eat it, the noise was phenomenal, it was such a loud whacking noise.

Charlie does not let a good meal go to waste.

“Water and croc was going everywhere, there was blood and guts, and him just gulping it down his throat.”

“Most of the tourists loved it except for one girl who found it very overwhelming.”

Giant crocs to battle for river domination

Queensland Wildlife rangers removed a crocodile trap from Dickson Inlet on Thursday after catching two 2.5m female crocodiles as the elusive Charlie again evaded attempts to capture and relocate him.

Authorities warn visitors and locals to be croc-wise in croc country anywhere north of Bundaberg.

Originally published as ‘He ripped its head off and guzzled it’

Henry Sapiecha

Snake catchers remove enormous roo-filled python from Cairns property Qld Australia

CAIRNS snake catchers have removed an amethystine python so huge it was mistaken for a crocodile.

A neighbour poked his head over Whiterock resident Rini Steenwinkel’s fence, telling her and husband Platon Zapantis to he had found a five-metre reptile metres from their yard.

The well-fed serpent’s length and wallaby-fed girth caught the expert from Cairns Snake Removals expert by surprise upon his arrival.

5m Amethystine python eats fully grown Wallaby. Snake and Wallaby weighing in at around 40 kg. Quite a handful for 2 of us to pickup. This snake was too large to bag. We decided it would be best to try & carry the snake out of the open yard and take him down to a nearby creek.

VIEW VIDEO BELOW

https://www.facebook.com/cairnssnakes/videos/1180977715365215/

“The snake catcher didn’t believe me when I described how big it was, but he turned up and said, ‘Holy crap’,” Ms Steenwinkel said.

“He rang up his friend because and they ended up having to put it in the boot of his car because it was so big.

“He said it would have been very capable of swallowing a six-year-old child.

“They were so impressed, they did it for free.”

The grassed area where it was found is popular with children, including Ms Steenwinkel’s neighbours who use it to ride their motorbikes.

The whopping python was resettled into a nearby creek.

Henry Sapiecha