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Sierra Leone’s Missing Crab Found Again

Most biologists dream of being that one scientist who is able to find a species already declared extinct and being able to prove it’s still alive and hanging on. Typically, biologists and similar can spend a career chasing after a single species and not finding anything. However, in the case of a particular crab, Pierre A Mvogo Ndongo seemed to have won the scientific world’s version of a lottery ticket prize.

In January 2021, Ndongo was in Sierra Leone trying to track down a particular type of land-based crab. The last time the given species had actually been recorded as observed was as far back as 1796, some 225 years earlier. Given the lack of siting for more than two and a half centuries, the Afzelius’ crab was considered officially extinct. The last one was seen in Sierra Leone, so Ndongo decided that was the place to start on a blind treasure hunt otherwise.

Officially known as Afrithelphusa leonensis by scientific record, the suspect land crab was clearly a prize in the biology world, and a good number of other scientists had been working to find it for years. This particular creature was even more challenging. Typically, inland crabs can be found near or in freshwater, generally living in burrows in the bank. The Afzelius’ crab was different; it could easily travel far from water being able to breathe air just as well on land as it did in water. Even more notable, the species had the ability to climb, which could easily locate it up in trees, between rocks, marshes and deep in natural holes. Essentially, just about anywhere the crab could fit it could get to.

However, the Afzelius’ crab is only found in a few regions. Sierra Leone and Liberia make up two locations, while Guinea is the other. When Ndongo arrived, the first three weeks pretty much ended up with no results. He had an additional disadvantages – where many research projects have extensive notes and prior research to work with, Ndongo had nothing except a very dated record from two and half centuries earlier.

Some logic did apply. Knowing that motor vehicles didn’t exist at the time, a foreigner would have had to find the animal within walking distance. Freetown was the most likely location a visitor researcher would have been based out of at the time, so that was a rational starting point. Ndongo spent much of his early time in the nearby forests as a result. Additionally, the research teach he led canvassed the area for anyone seeing anything remotely looking like a land crab. As it turned out, one fellow on a farm had seen something. Ndongo and staff went to the farm, talked with the owner, and began searching the location intensively. The tip paid off.

The particular land crab was found in a nearby forest near Guma Lake. They were a hardy bunch and well-talented at hiding. The crew had to practically dig the creatures out of their burrows with shovels and picks. Then, after cleaning off the crabs, the suspicion was confirmed. Ndongo had indeed rediscovered the “extinct” crab once again. Ndongo’s work has now re-established the endangered status of the species, as well as confirmation of related types of crabs in the area as well. All are threatened by local development as well, a classic story. Whether they survive now depends on local conservation efforts in Sierra Leone, a region that for decades as been torn apart by war. It’s going to be a tough road ahead.

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South Africa Plans to Stop Lion Breeding for Hunts

Renee Yates

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South Africa announced its plan on Wednesday to gradually stop the breeding of lions for hunting. This decision aims to end the business that has been criticized for a long time. This business involves raising big cats so that rich hunters, who pay a lot of money, can hunt them. These hunters often take parts of the lions, like their heads or skins, as trophies to keep.

The South African government had already shown its desire to stop lion breeding for hunts in 2021. A special group has been working on this matter for two years. Environment Minister Barabara Creecy, during a news conference in Cape Town, said that this group suggested shutting down the industry. This includes stopping the breeding of lions, keeping them captive, or selling anything obtained from captive lions.

Lion breeders have two years to stop their activities voluntarily and find a different business to do before this new rule is enforced. Even though this plan has met with resistance from the industry, which makes a lot of money, the government approved it recently. However, it’s not yet an official law.

This step is taken as more people, especially in Western countries, are against trophy hunting. Efforts to stop trophy imports are gaining support in the United States, Australia, and some European countries. Kamalasen Chetty, who leads the special group, mentioned that the lion breeding industry is big and complicated. It has a long history but doesn’t fit with the latest international trends or changes in local conservation policies.

Animal rights organizations estimate that there are between 8,000 and 12,000 lions on around 350 farms in South Africa. These groups often criticize the way these animals are kept. In contrast, there are only about 3,500 wild lions, as reported by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, an organization based in South Africa.

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Research Finds That Birds Can Be Polite

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Did you know that birds can be polite, just like humans? Researchers have found that the Japanese tit, a small bird found in Japan, has a unique way of showing politeness through its wing gestures. This fascinating discovery gives us a glimpse into the complex world of bird communication.

At the University of Tokyo, Professor Toshitaka Suzuki and his team studied these birds and made some amazing discoveries. They noticed that when a pair of Japanese tits arrives at their nest box with food, they don’t rush in. Instead, they wait on nearby perches. What happens next is intriguing: one bird flutters its wings toward the other, as if to say, “After you.” This gesture is like holding the door open for someone, showing respect and care.

The Japanese tit, scientifically known as Parus minor, is not just any bird; it’s known for its intelligence and complex behaviors. Professor Suzuki, who has been studying these birds for over 17 years, found that they use specific calls and even combine these calls into phrases, much like how we form sentences. This shows how advanced their communication skills are.

In their study, published in the journal Current Biology, the researchers observed that these wing-fluttering gestures happened mainly between mates and were a clear sign for one to enter the nest before the other. Interestingly, it was usually the female that made the gesture, inviting the male to go first.

This behavior has led scientists to think about how gestures evolved in the animal kingdom. Just like humans developed gestures by using their hands more when they started walking on two legs, birds might have developed gestures by using their wings while perching.

The research on the Japanese tit is part of a larger effort to understand how animals communicate, not just with sounds but also with physical movements. This could help us learn more about how language and communication developed, even in humans.

So, the next time you see birds, think about the complex and polite ways they might be communicating right in front of your eyes!

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Volunteers and Camels Team Up to Restore Mojave Desert’s Joshua Trees

Kevin Wells

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The Mojave Desert, with its vast, arid landscape, is home to the iconic Joshua tree. These unique trees have a fascinating history, once coexisting with Giant Ground Sloths during the ice age and now relying on rodents for their slow dispersal. However, a devastating wildfire in 2020 burned a significant portion of the desert, including many Joshua trees, posing a challenge for their restoration.

“Joshua trees seeds don’t spread very quickly,” explained Debra Hughson, deputy superintendent at the Mojave National Preserve. “They don’t move very fast or they don’t move very far with just small mammals around.” Despite these challenges, scientists were determined to help the Joshua trees recover, especially in areas like Cima Dome, where their survival could be crucial in the face of climate change.

To accelerate the recovery process, Hughson and her colleagues decided to plant Joshua tree seedlings in a more spaced-out pattern in the Dome’s burn scar. This approach aimed to distribute seed sources and promote the recovery of the entire area. However, the rugged terrain made it difficult for volunteers to reach the designated planting spots, requiring hours of hiking.

To address this challenge, the team came up with a unique solution — using camels to transport the seedlings and water into the wilderness. “Prehistoric camels were in the Mojave Desert, and the camels came through in 1857,” explained one of the volunteers, highlighting the historical connection between camels and the region. The camels, led by Herbie, Sully, and Chico, have been instrumental in carrying out these restoration efforts since 2021.

“Our goal is to protect natural systems and natural ecosystems — all the plants, all the animals, but then some animals and some plants wind up being just a little bit more ‘charismatic’ than other ones,” said Hughson, emphasizing the importance of charismatic species like the Joshua tree in garnering support for conservation efforts.

Through the dedication of volunteers and the help of these remarkable camels, the Mojave Desert’s Joshua trees are slowly making a comeback, offering hope for their future in this challenging environment.

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Apes’ Playful Teasing Behavior Mirrors Human Playfulness

Kelly Taylor

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Did you know that apes like to tease and prank each other, just like humans do? Researchers have found that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans engage in playful teasing behavior, such as poking, tickling, body slamming, hair pulling, and waving objects in front of faces. This behavior is usually one-sided, with one ape trying to get a reaction from another.

In a study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, researchers analyzed 75 hours of video footage of apes at the San Diego Zoo in California and the Leipzig Zoo in Germany. The apes studied were between the ages of 3 and 5. The researchers observed 284 instances of teasing behavior, with 129 meeting the criteria for playful and provocative behavior. They identified 18 different teasing behaviors.

Professor Erica Cartmill of UCLA, who led the study, said that teasers often waved or swung body parts or objects in front of the other ape, hit or poked them, stared closely at their face, disrupted their movements, pulled their hair, or performed other behaviors that were hard to ignore.

The researchers believe that playful teasing and joking may have evolved in human ancestors around 13 million years ago. This behavior has implications for the study of emotion, humor, and pretense, and the researchers hope that their study will inspire further research into playful teasing in other species to better understand its evolution.

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Ancient Rainforest Rising: How 100,000 Trees Will Breathe Life Back into Devon

Kevin Wells

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Imagine stepping into a world shrouded in mist, where towering trees, draped in green moss, reach towards the sun. Sunlight filters through the dense canopy, casting dappled patterns on the forest floor, alive with ferns, wildflowers, and scurrying creatures. This isn’t a scene from a fantasy novel; it’s the magic of a temperate rainforest, and soon, a piece of this ancient wonder will be reborn in Devon, UK.

Temperate rainforests aren’t like their tropical cousins. Found along the west coasts of continents in cooler climates, they’re like emerald jewels nestled between the ocean and rolling hills. They’re a treasure trove of biodiversity, bursting with unique plants and animals that have adapted to life in a world of constant drizzle and mild temperatures.

In the UK, these rainforests have a character all their own. Picture gnarled oaks and majestic ash trees, their branches intertwined like leafy arms. Underneath, carpets of mosses and ferns cushion the damp earth, while sunlight dances on the shimmering leaves of holly, hazel, and rowan. The air is alive with the buzz of insects, the flitting wings of butterflies, and the calls of birds like the evocative song thrush and the shy woodcock.

But these precious ecosystems are under threat. Centuries of land use have shrunk their footprints, leaving only scattered fragments of their former glory. Now, in a project to reclaim this lost magic, the National Trust is embarking on a grand mission: planting 100,000 trees across Devon.

From the rolling hills of Exmoor to the windswept cliffs of Woolacombe and Hartland, these saplings will breathe life back into the land. They’ll create new pockets of rainforest, stitch together existing fragments, and weave a vibrant tapestry of green across the landscape.

And it’s not just about beauty. These trees are nature’s silent heroes. They act as carbon sinks, trapping the harmful gas carbon dioxide in their leaves and wood, helping to combat climate change. They filter air and water, creating a haven for wildlife and providing a natural shield against soil erosion.

For the people of Devon, this project is a chance to reconnect with their natural heritage. It’s about creating spaces for quiet contemplation, for family adventures, and for rediscovering the magic of the ancient rainforests.

So, the next time you find yourself in Devon, keep your eyes peeled for a glimpse of this green revival. As the saplings rise towards the sun, they whisper a promise of a richer, wilder future, where nature reclaims its throne and the spirit of the ancient rainforest once again fills the air.

This is just the beginning. With more planting planned in the coming years, the future of Devon’s rainforests is looking brighter than ever. Let’s hope that this story inspires other communities to follow suit and work towards restoring and protecting these irreplaceable treasures of our planet.

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