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 Animals Are Persons Too | Op-Docs | The New York Times        23 April 2014


This short documentary follows the lawyer Steven Wise's effort

to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.


Produced by: Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker

































wild        USA






into the wild        UK






wildlife        UK












wildlife in danger





the wild





Britain's changing wildlife        UK






wildlife        USA







USA > Wildlife in the Florida Everglades        UK







wildlife > Our Highways’ Toll on Wildlife        USA






Park life: the wildlife of Britain's cities        UK






British wildlife        UK










freshwater wildlife        UK






wilderness        UK













USA > wilderness        UK / USA








USA > Wilderness Act        1964        UK






‘rewilding’ projects        UK
















a species,  species





Number of Earth's species

known to scientists rises to 1.9 million        UK         29 September 2009


The world's

most comprehensive catalogue

of plants and animals

has been boosted

by 114,000 new species in

the past three years






wildlife species





vertebrate species        UK






invasive species        UK






animals        USA










human-animal connection        USA
































wild pig        USA
















USA > Artic habitat        USA






habitat > ecotone        USA        2013






Timeline: 70 Years of Environmental Change        Published: April 21, 2010


Environmental milestones

over 13 presidential administrations






wild mustang        USA






bison        USA












Britain's mammals

hedgehog, water vole, hazel dormouse        UK
















hazel dormouse        UK






Britain’s native dormouse        UK
















mammal        UK






mammal        USA






mammal > wolverine        USA






mammal > bat        USA









tree-dwelling mammal















evolution        USA






evolution > Stephen Jay Gould        USA        1941-2002


(...) evolutionary theorist at Harvard University

whose research, lectures and prolific output of essays

helped to reinvigorate the field of paleontology (...)








British Naturalist Charles Robert Darwin

The Origin of Species        UK
















National Trust        UK
















































huckleberries        USA


Related to both blueberries and cranberries,

the fruit is so juicy that it has to be dried,

processed, or eaten soon after picking

– which makes huckleberry season

feel especially fleeting,

when it often only lasts

from August through September.


They were once a major food

for local Native Americans like the Yakama,

who helped huckleberry crops flourish through

an annual burning at the picking grounds,

and even sometimes move

 to stay close to prime picking locations.
















mushrooms        USA






wild mushrooms        UK








deadly mushrooms        UK
















Boston Globe > Big Picture > World Animal Day        2009
















Elderly Animals - in pictures        UK        2011


Photographer Isa Leshko

has set out to document

old age in the animal kingdom

with a series of beautiful photographs
















koala        USA
















tiger / the big cat        UK






Scottish wildcat        UK











a pride of lions




















bighorn sheep        USA

































donkey        USA


























beefalo        USA






herd of N         USA
















nature        UK






nature watchers        UK






The Guardian: Nature spotting        UK






naturalist > David Attenborough        UK









Britain's flora and fauna        UK






plants > photosynthesis        USA




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68b1HAIfX08 - 9 March 2015





plants > pollinators        USA






plants > evergreen holly > yaupon        USA































woodland > ferns and bracken        UK






fern        USA
















England's reindeer        UK






reindeer        USA






stag        UK






deer        USA










red deer        UK







deer hunting        UK









cull deer        USA






doe        USA






 Chronic Wasting Disease

- deadly neurological disorder similar to Mad Cow

that's found in deer, elk and moose.        USA















wild boar        UK







mountain hares        UK






pine marten        UK
















badger        UK












Badger culling        UK        2012-2013


culls > attempt to reduce number of cattle contracting bovine TB












badger culling > eradicate bovine TB        UK






opossum        USA



























grey squirrel        UK













red squirrel        UK










red and grey squirrels in Scotland        UK






pox        UK






be pushed to the verge of extinction        UK






cull        UK








eradicate        UK
















hedgehog        UK








water voles        UK






































wood mouse        UK






rat        UK






mole        UK






mole-rat        USA































beaver        UK











beaver        USA
















rodent        UK






rat        UK






lair        UK






plague        UK





















slug        UK
















bat        UK









bat        USA
















primates        UK
















coyote        USA / CAN



















moose        USA
















reptile        USA






snake        UK








rattlesnake        USA






python        USA








lizard > Argentine black and white tegu        USA






common lizard        UK






male sand lizard        UK






worm        USA























turtle        USA
















amphibians        USA






woodland salamanders        USA
















UK > fox        USA






urban fox        UK






USA > fox






fox hounds        UK






fox hunting        UK








fox hunt        UK






fox / foxes        UK












fox hunts and harriers










beagle packs





field sports






























ferret        UK






ferret        USA
















dog        UK






dog        USA










comfort dogs        USA






stray dog





breed        USA






mastiff        USA






135th Westminster Kennel Club dog show - in pictures        UK / USA







Crufts > the world's biggest dog show        UK        2008
















fur > fur coat        UK
















animal behaviour        UK






biologist        USA





















comparative anatomist















evolutionary biologist





Darwin's masterwork On the Origin of Species





Darwin's entire works go online        UK






natural selection operating on random mutation















stuffed mammal










On Mustang Range,

a Battle on Thinning the Herd


July 20, 2008

The New York Times



GERLACH, Nev. — Five mustangs pounded across the high desert recently, their dark manes and tails giving shape to the wind. Pursued by a helicopter, they ran into a corral — and into the center of the emotional debate over whether euthanasia should be used to thin a captive herd that already numbers 30,000.

The champions of wild mustangs have long portrayed them as the victims of ranchers who preferred cattle on the range, middlemen who wanted to make a buck selling them for horsemeat and misfits who shot them for sport. But the wild horse today is no longer automatically considered deserving of extensive protections.

Some environmentalists and scientists have come to see the mustangs, which run wild from Montana to California, as top-of-the-food-chain bullies, invaders whose hooves and teeth disturb the habitats of endangered tortoises and desert birds.

Even the language has shifted. In a 2006 article in Audubon magazine, wild horses lost their poetry and were reduced to “feral equids.”

“There’s not just horses out there, there’s other critters, from the desert turtle in the south to the bighorn sheep in the north,” said Paula Morin, the author of the book “Honest Horses.”

“We’ve come a long way in our awareness of the web of life and maintaining the whole ecology,” Ms. Morin said, adding, “We do the horses a disservice when we set them apart.”

Environmentalists’ attitudes toward the horses have evolved so far that some are willing to say what was heresy a few years ago: that euthanasia is acceptable if the alternatives are boarding the mustangs for life at taxpayers’ expense or leaving them to overpopulate, damage the range and die of hunger or thirst.

The federal Bureau of Land Management, the legal custodian of the wild horses and burros, recently proposed euthanization. For years, the bureau has been running the Adopt-A-Horse program, selling mustangs from the range to those who would care for them. But 30,000 once-wild horses were never adopted and are being boarded by the agency at facilities in Kansas and Oklahoma (another 33,000 run wild). As feed and gas grow more expensive, the rate of adoptions plummets.

Boarding costs ran to $21 million last year and are expected to reach $26 million this year, out of a $37 million budget for the bureau’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, which is intended to protect the animals. And drought lingers here in northern Nevada, where the mustangs were rounded up on a recent weekend morning to prevent them from starving.

The bureau “can’t do a good job of taking care of horses on the range if they have to take care of all the horses off the range,” said Nathaniel Messer, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Missouri and a former member of the federal Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Committee.

Steven L. Davis, an emeritus professor of animal science at Oregon State University, said: “Many of the wild horse supporters claim that the horses have a right to be there. I reject that argument.” He added: “They damage the water holes. They damage the grasses, the shrubs, the bushes, causing negative consequences for all the other plants and critters that live out there.”

For groups formed to protect the horses, the specter of euthanasia as a solution remains anathema. “It’s not acceptable to the American public,” said Virginie L. Parant, a lawyer who is the director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

The mustang, Ms. Parant said, “is part of the American myth. People want to know that they can come to the American West and know that they can see herds of wild horses roaming. It’s part of the imagery.”

As mustangs increasingly competed with cattle in the 1940s and 50s, many were rounded up and slaughtered. They found a champion in Velma Johnston, better known as Wild Horse Annie, who pushed Congress to act. In 1971, Congress gave the federal bureau the job of caring for them.

Shelley Sawhook, the president of the American Horse Defense Fund, argues, along with other horse defenders, that the federal government “mismanaged the program from the very beginning.” She added that “their proposal to euthanize is a stopgap measure” to cover what she believes is an overly aggressive policy of removing horses from the range for the benefit of cattle interests.

Accusations of mismanagement have dogged the bureau across Democratic and Republican administrations; a decade ago The Associated Press found that a few agency employees were adopting mustangs themselves and selling them to slaughterhouses. In the wake of lawsuits by the Fund for Animals and other groups, the bureau required anyone adopting a mustang to sign a binding pledge not to send it to a slaughterhouse. In 2001, the Earth Liberation Front took credit for the firebombing of an agency hay barn on the Nevada-California border.

Today, the fundamental rift between the bureau and its critics involves two judgment calls: how many horses can a range of 29 million acres support, and how should that level be maintained?

Arlan Hiner, an assistant field manager for the bureau in Nevada, said, “We’re supposed to be managing for ecological balance.” Over all, the bureau wants to cut the wild herd by about 6,000 horses. Ted Williams, the author of the Audubon article, argued that without euthanasia such a balance would be impossible.

Mr. Williams’s article infuriated the mustang advocates even more than the agency’s proposal to resume euthanasia. Ms. Parant laughs at the idea of attributing the range destruction to horses when cattle greatly outnumber them.

Jay F. Kirkpatrick, a scientist who is the director of the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Mont., wrote in a rebuttal to the Audubon article that Mr. Williams had not given sufficient weight to birth control options, which could make “serious inroads” on horse populations.

“The issue is not that the technology doesn’t exist, but that the B.L.M. is not investing in it,” Professor Kirkpatrick wrote.

Herd sizes, the bureau says, double every four years. And the agency is working with a contraceptive that is largely effective for two years in mares. Alan Shepherd, the official who helps run the contraceptive program, said that it showed promise but had limitations.

“The ultimate thing is you can’t catch them all,” Mr. Shepherd said.

The horses that came rushing into the corral ahead of the helicopter were taken to a holding facility and will eventually find their way into the Adopt-A-Horse program.

The bureau said it would be premature to discuss the criteria for culling horses or the means of euthanasia. Longtime observers believe that older, unadoptable horses would be the focus of such a program. And in past mustang-thinning operations at holding facilities, marksmen shot the horses, said Dr. Messer of Missouri.

After Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, raised questions this month about the euthanasia proposal, the bureau agreed to make no decision until after completion of a Congressional audit of the program, which is due in September.

On Mustang Range, a Battle on Thinning the Herd,






Efforts on 2 Fronts

to Save a Population of Ferrets


July 15, 2008

The New York Times



WALL, S.D. — A colony that contains nearly half of the black-footed ferrets in the country and which biologists say is critical to the long-term health of the species has been struck by plague, which may have killed a third of the 300 animals.

A much-publicized endangered species in the 1970s that had dwindled to 18 animals, the black-footed ferret had struggled to make a comeback and had been doing relatively well for decades. But plague, always a threat to the ferrets and their main prey, prairie dogs, has struck with a vengeance this year, partly because of the wet spring.

The ferrets are an easy target for the bacteria. “They are exquisitely sensitive to the plague,” said Travis Livieri, a wildlife biologist here who is trying to save the colony. “They don’t just get sick, they die. No ifs, ands or buts.” Humans can catch plague, but it is easily treated with antibiotics.

Mr. Livieri is working with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service’s black-footed ferret recovery team, the Forest Service and some volunteers to try to save the colony at Conata Basin by dusting prairie dog burrows with flea powder that kills the plague-carrying insects. Mr. Livieri is also working on a vaccination program, prowling the prairie all night to capture ferrets for injections.

But the fight is not only against the plague. While the federal Forest Service is part of the effort to protect ferrets, it has also, at the request of area ranchers, poisoned several thousands of acres of prairie dogs on the edge of the Conata Basin, a buffer strip of federal land adjacent to private grazing land. The buffer strip does not have ferrets, but it is good ferret habitat, experts say, and if they were to spread there it could help support the recovery.

But prairie dogs eat grass, and a large village can denude grazing land. The rodent, in fact, has long been detested in the West as a pest.

Of even more concern to biologists and environmentalists, though, is a Forest Service study of an expanded effort to kill prairie dogs in ferret habitat, which biologists say could be devastating to the restoration of the ferrets.

J. Michael Lockhart, the former director of the recovery effort for the Fish and Wildlife Service, retired in January in part to protest the poisoning of prairie dogs, believing that could jeopardize the fragile gains of the ferret. “I think it’s insane,” said Mr. Lockhart, now a wildlife consultant. “Those sites are so important. They need to preserve as much of that habitat as they can.”

A decision by the Forest Service on whether to poison prairie dogs on land that has no ferrets, but is suitable habitat for them, is due out soon. A decision on whether to poison prairie dogs in ferret habitat is being delayed, said the under secretary of agriculture, Mark Rey, to see how the spread of the plague plays out. “We’ll see how big it is, how far it is likely to spread and how many prairie dogs we have left as it runs its course,” Mr. Rey said. “Prudence dictates we collect this information.”

But Mr. Rey said that to not deal with prairie dogs could hurt the program. “Prairie dogs are spreading off federal land to private land,” he said. “And our goal is to keep the black-footed ferret program with broad public support, and one way to do that is to make sure prairie dogs don’t spread onto private land.”

Black-tailed prairie dogs, food for numerous prairie predators, may be threatened themselves. A few years ago the Fish and Wildlife Service, in response to a petition, decided they were warranted for listing as a protected species, but precluded because of higher priorities. That designation was later changed and is now being reconsidered.

For now, though, efforts are focused on stopping the disease.

Losing this population to the plague would be a blow for the entire ferret recovery program and personally heartbreaking, said Mr. Livieri, who has worked for 13 years to restore this population south of Badlands National Park. He started with the National Park Service, then worked for the Forest Service and now cobbles together financing for his own nonprofit organization, Prairie Wildlife Research.

Until now this was the most robust population of ferrets, so healthy it provided wild kits for other recovery efforts in Colorado, Montana, Utah, Mexico and elsewhere. “Last year 52 ferrets came out of here to supplement or start new populations,” Mr. Livieri said.

Most of those populations have struggled with plague and other problems. One population, near Shirley Basin, Wyo. — where the 18 surviving ferrets were found — has struggled with plague but now may have close to the number of ferrets here. There are thought to be about 1,300 ferrets extant, 1,000 or so in the wild and 300 in captivity.

Plague thrives in wet years, and this has been one of the wettest in the region in years. A combination of insecticide and vaccines can be very effective, said Dr. Dean Biggins, a research biologist with the United States Geological Survey, who has studied plague and ferrets. He said he had seen a plague outbreak hit a line of dusted burrows and stop cold. “There’s no question they can be protected,” he said. “It’s not whether we can do it, but are we willing because of cost and labor? It might have to be done every year or two.”

For now, the race is on to protect the heart of the ferret population. Mr. Livieri, often working by himself, drives from his home in Wellington, Colo., six hours away, and spends a week or two at a time scouring the prairie all night in hopes of injecting all of the ferrets.

Treating ferrets, though, is only half of the equation. Enough prairie dogs need to survive the plague to keep the ferrets from starving to death. One ferret eats 125 to 150 prairie dogs a year.

The landscape is pockmarked with burrows. Some have been marked with a streak of white dust to kill fleas, and then pinned with a small orange flag. Ferrets dwell in the prairie dog burrows among their prey, kill the prairie dogs at night and devour them underground.

On a recent night, glowing eyes were common, but not the right kind. At around 2 a.m., Mr. Livieri and others see their first shining ferret eyes. Mr. Livieri turns his truck and rumbles quickly to the burrow, and a tiny masked ferret peers up at him. He places a long slender trap in the hole and drives away. The ferret, which turns out to be a young female, crawls into it.

Mr. Livieri returns, and the trap is removed. Briskly, to minimize handling, plague vaccine is injected into the animal’s rump, hair dye is swabbed on her neck to indicate she has received her first injection, she is sprayed with flea spray and released into her hole. She turns and looks back up at her captor.

This is the 30th ferret of the estimated 150 that remain here that need to be captured and treated. Each animal must be caught a second time for a booster.

“You feel helpless when a disease like this comes in and threatens everything you worked for,” Mr. Livieri said. “That’s why I am going to be out here spotlighting, doing what I can.”

Efforts on 2 Fronts to Save a Population of Ferrets,
NYT, 15.7.2008,






How Darwin won the evolution race

It's 150 years since Darwin made one of the the most significant breakthroughs in scientific history - the theory of natural selection. But if it hadn't been for a young ornithologist on the other side of the world, his seminal work might never have appeared. Robin McKie tells the extraordinary story behind The Origin of Species


Sunday June 22, 2008
The Observer
Robin McKie
This article appeared in the Observer
on Sunday June 22 2008
on p6 of the Features and reviews section.
It was last updated at 01:59 on June 22 2008.


In early 1858, on Ternate in Malaysia, a young specimen collector was tracking the island's elusive birds of paradise when he was struck by malaria. 'Every day, during the cold and succeeding hot fits, I had to lie down during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me,' he later recalled.

Thoughts of money or women might have filled lesser heads. Alfred Russel Wallace was made of different stuff, however. He began thinking about disease and famine; about how they kept human populations in check; and about recent discoveries indicating that the earth's age was vast. How might these waves of death, repeated over aeons, influence the make-up of different species, he wondered?

Then the fever subsided - and inspiration struck. Fittest variations will survive longest and will eventually evolve into new species, he realised. Thus the theory of natural selection appeared, fever-like, in the mind of one of our greatest naturalists. Wallace wrote up his ideas and sent them to Charles Darwin, already a naturalist of some reputation. His paper arrived on 18 June, 1858 - 150 years ago last week - at Darwin's estate in Downe, in Kent.

Darwin, in his own words, was 'smashed'. For two decades he had been working on the same idea and now someone else might get the credit for what was later to be described, by palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, as 'the greatest ideological revolution in the history of science' or in the words of Richard Dawkins, 'the most important idea to occur to a human mind.' In anguish Darwin wrote to his friends, the botanist Joseph Hooker and the geologist Charles Lyell. What followed has become the stuff of scientific legend.

In order to preserve Darwin's claim on natural selection Hooker and Lyell arranged for a joint reading of both men's works at the Linnean Society in Burlington House, Piccadilly. On 1 July in a room that is now part of the Royal Academy, society members were summoned to hear the news of a theory that has gone on to cause more offence and trouble to our species than any other in our history. Exactly 150 years ago next week, a notion, more radical even than Marx's, was set loose on the world - though it certainly did not seem that way at the time.

For a start, Darwin and Wallace did not give eloquent lectures to a cheering mass of Linnean Society members who realised God was dead, as is often suggested. Neither scientist was present: Wallace was still in Malaysia while Darwin was at home grieving with his wife, Emma, over the death, on 28 June from scarlet fever, of their 19-month-old son, Charles.

Then there was the audience. It was made up of gentleman amateurs. For several hours they were bombarded with items of society business followed by readings of Darwin and Wallace's notebooks, papers and letters. At the end, members walked out 'not so much stunned by new ideas as overwhelmed by the amount of information loaded upon on them,' said historian JWT Moody in a 1986 study of the meeting. Bored silence greeted the news that humanity had been deposed from the centre of creation.

Months later, the intellectual penny had still not dropped. The Linnean society's president Thomas Bell, writing in his review of 1858, concluded the year had not been marked by 'any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionise the department of science' - presumably, the dethroning of God being insufficiently revolutionary for his liking.

Nevertheless the fuse had been lit. 'Wallace's letter gave Darwin a good kick up the backside,' says the geneticist Steve Jones. 'He had prevaricated for 20 years and would have done so for another 20 if he hadn't realised someone else was on the trail.' The summer of 1858 changed everything for Darwin. Although by no means an arrogant man, he knew his worth. He was already a Royal Society Gold Medal winner and was not going to be robbed by a whippersnapper specimen collector in Malaysia. So he sat down, with a board across his knee, on the only chair in his house that could accommodate his long legs, and wrote up the research he had been carrying out for the past 20 years.

The end result was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, whose 150th anniversary will be celebrated next year along with the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Remarkably, it is the only major scientific treatise to have been written, deliberately, as a piece of popular writing, a book whose interlacing story lines have been compared with those of George Eliot or Charles Dickens and which is peppered with richly inventive metaphor. 'Darwin was creating a lasting work of art,' as Darwin's biographer Janet Browne puts it.

This praise is echoed by Dawkins whose Channel 4 series Dawkins on Darwin will be screened this August. 'When you read The Origin of Species, you get a real feeling that Darwin was very keen to be understood. He did not want merely to persuade fellow scientists, he wanted to show to the public the truth of his ideas. He took great pains with it, which is why it is such a convincing book. Its sentences are perhaps a bit long-winded by modern standards, but for its time it must have been an easily understood work.'

This accessibility ensured natural selection came to the public's attention in a much more vivid form than might otherwise have been expected and hastened those anguished and outraged responses that Darwin had anticipated. 'Utterly false and grievously mischievous,' said Darwin's old teacher, Adam Sedgwick, in a letter to his former pupil. Darwin's supporters - Hooker, Lyell and Thomas Huxley - rallied to his defence, beginning a battle that culminated in the famous debate between Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford, in June 1860. Huxley is popularly credited with defeating Wilberforce - at an institution where two-thirds of graduates took holy orders. Not a bad show, though the decisive nature of Huxley's 'victory' is now questioned by many historians. It was more a score draw, they reckon. On the other hand, it is clear that change was in the air and the publication of The Origin of Species accelerated this transformation. The Church, until then the nation's authority about the natural world, was losing ground and science was taking over.

'Over the following decades, Darwin's defenders came to occupy influential niches in British and American intellectual life,' notes Browne. 'Toward the end they were everywhere, in the Houses of Parliament, the Anglican Church, the universities, government offices, colonial service, the aristocracy, the navy, the law and medical practice; in Britain and overseas.' These men ensured natural selection endured and saw to it that Darwin received a Westminster Abbey burial in 1882 - not bad for an avowed agnostic.

Darwin remains venerated to this day, his features appearing on the current £10 note. By contrast Wallace has been forgotten. He was happy to let Darwin and his friends promote natural selection. 'This assures me the acquaintance and assistance of eminent men on my return home,' he told his mother. A general suspicion remains that he got a raw deal, however. Self-educated and from a humble background, Wallace had none of the privileges accorded to university-educated Darwin, whose father was a prosperous doctor. He had had to make his way as an apprentice carpenter and then a trainee surveyor, before turning himself into a distinguished naturalist. He was also an early socialist, a supporter of women's rights, a backer of the land reform movement and a consummately skilful writer. Joseph Conrad kept a copy of The Malay Archipelago - Wallace's account of his eight years in the region - on his bedside table and drew on it for his own books, most notably Lord Jim

But Wallace was also blighted both in luck and in character. His first great specimen-gathering expedition - to the Amazon - ended in disaster when the ship returning him to Britain caught fire and sank, taking with it thousands of specimens and his hopes of an assured income. The collector survived with only a couple of notebooks and an indignant parrot.

And Wallace was impetuous. While Darwin fully understood the implications of his theory, holding back publication because he knew he would upset believers, including his wife, Wallace plunged in, happy to upset society. He didn't give a damn, said Jonathan Rosen, in an essay on Wallace in the New Yorker last year. 'This utter independence from public opinion is one of several reasons that he has all but vanished from popular consciousness.'

In addition, Wallace believed in spiritualism (which Darwin and his friends detested) and later campaigned against vaccination. 'Wallace was an admirable man and was almost saintly in his treatment of others,' says David Attenborough. 'However, as a scientist, he was no match for Darwin. Wallace came up with the idea of natural selection in a couple of weeks in a malarial fever. Darwin not only worked out the theory, he amassed swathes of information to support it.'

This point is backed by historian Jim Endersby. 'Natural selection was a brilliant idea but it was the weight of evidence, provided by Darwin, that made it credible. That is why we remember Darwin as its principal author.' On his round-the-world voyage on the Beagle, between 1831 and 1836, he had filled countless notebooks with observations, particularly those of the closely related animals he saw on the different islands of the Galapagos. And then, in his vast garden at Downe, Darwin had crossbred orchids, grown passionflowers and on one occasion played a bassoon to earthworms to test their response to vibrations. He collected masses of data about plant and animal breeding to support his arguments in The Origin of Species. Wallace could provide nothing like this.

This has not stopped accusations that Darwin and his supporters used some very dirty tricks indeed to scupper Wallace. According to these ideas, Darwin received Wallace's paper from Ternate several weeks earlier than he later claimed, filched its contents and then used them as his own in The Origin of Species. This argument is outlined in two American books - by Arnold Brackman and by John Langdon Brooks - that were published 20 years ago and depict Darwin as an unscrupulous opportunist and intellectual thief. Neither book provides anything like a convincing case, however, and the vast majority of academics have since concluded their claims are neither fair nor credible.

As Wallace's own biographer Peter Raby concludes: 'Never has an intriguing theory been built on slenderer evidence. As for the human factor, there is nothing in Darwin's life to suggest that he was capable of such massive intellectual dishonesty, even if he was not especially generous in acknowledging his sources and debts.'

Indeed, historians argue that had it not been for Darwin, the idea of natural selection would have suffered grievously. If he had not been the first to develop natural selection, and Wallace had been the one to get the kudos and attention, the theory would have made a very different impact. 'In the end, Wallace came to believe evolution was sometimes guided by a higher power,' adds Endersby, who has edited the forthcoming Cambridge University Press edition of The Origin of Species. 'He thought natural selection could not account for the nature of the human mind and claimed humanity was affected by forces that took it outside the animal kingdom.'

This is perilously close to the idea of Intelligent Design, the notion - put forward by modern creationists - that a deity had a hand in directing the course of evolution. By contrast, Darwin's vision was austere and indicated humanity as a mere 'twig on the enormously arborescent bush of life which, if replanted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again', as Stephen Jay Gould describes it. According to Darwin, there are no get-out clauses for humans. We are as bound to the laws of natural selection as a bacterium or a tortoise.

The roots of this unforgiving doctrine have a very human face, however. Darwin meshed his life and career tightly together. He was a family man to his core and while he was grief-stricken by the death of baby Charles in 1858, he had been left utterly shattered by the death from tuberculosis of his 10-year-old daughter, Annie, in 1851, as his great-great grandson, Randal Keynes points out in his book Annie's Box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution. Mustard poultices, brandy, chloride of lime and ammonia were all that medicine could then offer Annie when she started to sicken. None had any effect on her worsening bouts of vomiting and delirium until Annie 'expired without a sigh' on 23 April 1851, Darwin recalled. 'We have lost the joy of the household and the solace of our old age.'

Keynes argues persuasively that Annie's death had a considerable impact on Darwin's thinking. 'In her last days, he had watched as her face was changed beyond recognition by the emaciation of her fatal illness. You could only understand the true conditions of life if you held on to a sense of the true ruthlessness of natural forces.'

Thus Darwin's eyes had been opened to the unforgiving processes that drive evolution. 'We behold the face of nature bright with gladness,' he wrote years later. 'We do not see, or we forget, that the birds which are idly singing around us mostly live on insects or seeds, and are thus constantly destroying life, or we forget how largely these songsters, or their eggs, or their nestlings, are destroyed by birds or beasts of prey.' Or as he wrote elsewhere: 'All Nature is war.'

This pitiless vision - which stressed blind chance as the main determiner in the struggle for survival and the course of evolution - was upsetting for Victorians who put such faith in self-help and hard work. Nevertheless, this is the version of natural selection which has since been supported by a century and a half of observation and which is now accepted by virtually every scientist on earth.

It has not been a happy process, of course. Even today, natural selection holds a special status among scientific theories as being the one that it is still routinely rejected and attacked by a significant - albeit small - segment of society, mainly fundamentalist Christians and Muslims. Such individuals tend to have few views on relativity, the Big Bang, or quantum mechanics, but adamantly reject the idea that humanity is linked to the rest of the animal world and descended from ape-like ancestors.

'Twenty years ago, this was not a problem,' says Steve Jones, a professor of genetics at University College London. 'Today, I get dozens of students who ask to be excused lectures on evolution because of their religious beliefs. They even accuse me of telling lies when I say natural selection is backed by the facts. So I ask if they believe in Mendel's laws of genetics? They say yes, of course. And the existence of DNA? Again, yes. And genetic mutations? Yes. The spread of insecticide resistance? Yes. The divergence of isolated populations on islands? Yes. And do you accept that 98 per cent of DNA is shared by humans and chimps? Again yes. So what is wrong with natural selection? It's all lies, they say. It beats me, frankly.'

This dismay is shared by Dawkins. 'These people claim the world is less than 10,000 years old which is wrong by a great many orders of magnitude. Earth is several billion years old. These individuals are not just silly, they are colossally, staggeringly ignorant. I am sure sense will prevail, however.'

And Jones agrees. 'It's a passing phase. In 20 years, this nonsense will have gone.' Natural selection is simply too important for society to live without it, he argues. It is the grammar of the living world and provides biologists with the means to make sense of our planet's myriad plants and animals, a view shared by Attenborough whose entire Life on Earth programmes rests on the bed-rock of Darwinian thinking.

'Opponents say natural selection is not a theory supported by observation or experiment; that it is not based on fact; and that it cannot be proved,' Attenborough says. 'Well, no, you cannot prove the theory to people who won't believe in it any more than you can prove that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066. However, we know the battle happened then, just as we know the course of evolution on earth unambiguously shows that Darwin was right.'

Darwin and Wallace's theory: The four key parts
· Creatures of the same species differ from each other in ways that are inherited. This is known as variation. An example is provided by the giant tortoises of the Galapagos archipelago, which Darwin studied in detail. Among those born to the same parents, some will have longer necks than others.

· More creatures in a population are born than can survive. This is the struggle for existence.

· Some creatures of the same species possess characteristics that give them a better chance of surviving and reproducing than others in that species. In the case of Galapagos tortoises, those with longer necks will be able to reach up higher to feed off plants, a useful characteristic during droughts when grass is not available to provide food. This is natural selection.

· These favoured characteristics are passed on to future generations and accumulate. Over a long period, new forms of life evolve. This is the origin of species. For the Galapagos' more arid islands, it meant the appearance of tortoises capable of stretching up to higher branches.

Chance discovery: Darwin's lucky break
Charles Darwin's name is linked irrevocably with natural selection. Yet his involvement with the theory was not preordained. He initially turned down the chance to travel on the Beagle, and only later changed his mind. In addition, there was the origin of the post he filled onboard. The position of naturalist was privately funded by its captain, Robert Fitzroy. The latter, although a gifted seaman, was a melancholy man obsessed by the suicide of his uncle, Viscount Castlereagh, a Tory politician who committed suicide by cutting his throat on 12 August 1822.

Fitzroy was convinced he had inherited the same suicidal tendencies, which might claim him at any time on the voyage. So he paid for a companion - Darwin - to help keep him from despondency on the five-year trip. Darwin recalled Fitzroy's 'low spirits, on one occasion bordering on insanity'. Thus Darwin's odyssey came about only because of one man's dread of inherited insanity. Had a senior member of the Conservative government not killed himself, his nephew would not have worried about family madness and he would not have sought a learned companion to distract him.

The history of science would have been very different. The term Darwinism would be unknown, and we would most likely speak of Wallacism today when talking about natural selection. On the other hand, Darwin's presence seems to have been beneficial. Fitzroy returned intact and was later made head of the body that was to become the Meteorological Office. (The shipping forecast area Fitzroy is named after him.) His morbid fear of suicide was not misplaced, however. In a fit of melancholy, Fitzroy killed himself - by cutting his throat - on 30 April 1865.




A brief history of evolution
What they said - about where we come from - when


Sixth century BC

The idea that species could change and evolve into other species existed before Darwin and Wallace came up with their theory of natural selection. The ancient Greek philosopher Anaximander put forward early evolutionary ideas, for example. However it was not until the end of the 18th century, with the development of the sciences of botany and geology, that the idea of evolution was debated seriously. The problem for naturalists was simple, however. If God did not create every type of living creature, how did one type of animal or plant change into another? What process drove evolution?


One of the first proposed mechanisms was put forward by the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. He argued that characteristics acquired by an animal during its life were passed on to future generations. An animal which developed muscles or a long neck would pass these on to its offspring. The idea was the first decent shot at deriving a theory of evolution. Unfortunately for Lamarck, it has not survived the scrutiny of science. Generations of cats which have had their tails docked have not evolved into tail-less cats. Acquired characteristics are not inherited, though the idea persisted as a serious scientific concept into the 20th century.


Another key event in the development of a mechanism that could explain the evolution of species was the publication of the three volumes of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology between 1830 and 1833. Lyell argued that the history of the Earth was not one of short-term violent transformations or catastrophes but one of gradual changes that took place over extremely long periods. This vision of a planet shaped by tiny alterations - caused by erosion, sediment formation, the impact of wind and other factors - operating over aeons had a profound impact on naturalists.


The ideas of Wallace and Darwin were read at the Linnean Society in London. Both men had been deeply influenced by their observations of wildlife across the globe. On his round-the-world journey on the Beagle, Darwin had also carried a copy of Lyell's Principles of Geology, which provided a background to his studies of animals and plants in the Galapagos and other parts of the world. Wallace, for his part, had made his observations in the Amazon and Malayasia.


The Origin of Species, published in 1859, lacked one key feature: an understanding of genetics. That knowledge was provided by Gregor Mendel in 1865 when his studies of plants led him to develop the laws of genetics. The basic unit of this process is the gene,which is the focus of the forces of natural selection. Mendel's laws were overlooked by mainstream science until the start of the 20th century, however. Only then was it possible to understand the genetic mechanisms that underpin natural selection.


Francis Crick and James Watson unravel the structure - a double helix - of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the material from which the genes of all living creatures, from ants to whales, is constructed. The discovery allows scientists to begin detailed studies of the impact of natural selection at a molecular level.

How Darwin won the evolution race,






Op-Ed Contributors

A Wilderness, Lost in the City


May 29, 2008

The New York Times




MANY people are astounded to learn that there is a teeming wildlife preserve in New York City. Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border is an oasis where an amazing range of plant and animal species thrive in a verdant landscape of steep hills and narrow valleys amid the city’s paved sidewalks.

But what’s more astounding, the city’s Parks Department could wind up destroying it.

Ridgewood is an accidental wilderness, tucked alongside the Jackie Robinson Parkway. Built in 1858 to provide drinking water to Brooklyn, the reservoir was abandoned in 1989.

As the 50 acres reverted to wetlands, meadows and forests, tens of thousands of plants and trees took root and flourished. Turtles, fish, frogs and millions of insects moved in. Songbirds nested in the glades, transforming the area into a migratory rest stop. According to the National Audubon Society, 137 species of birds use the reservoir, including eight rare species. It is a place as close to unspoiled nature as you’re likely to find anywhere within city limits.

Yet, the New York City Parks Department is considering a $50 million “renovation” project that would cover more than 20 acres of the reservoir with athletic fields and facilities.

This plan flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s widely hailed environmental blueprint, which bemoans the loss of the city’s natural areas. The Parks Department’s own scientific consultants have warned against disturbing the reservoir, an area they call “highly significant for the biodiversity of New York City and the region.”

The parks commissioner has said the city needs the athletic fields to combat childhood obesity. This is an important objective, but the money that would be used to destroy this extraordinary natural habitat could be better spent improving Highland Park, next to Ridgewood Reservoir. Highland Park has plenty of ball fields to serve its neighborhood, but they are in such deplorable condition that few people use them.

Ridgewood’s natural preserve is a great place for people of all ages to walk and hike. Its trails should be upgraded with benches and rest areas as well as markers pointing out unique flora and fauna. The Parks Department should also open areas of the reservoir for guided nature walks, a great educational tool.

Ridgewood Reservoir offers visitors a rare chance to lose themselves in a forest, to hear bird song, to touch wilderness and to sense the divine. The city shouldn’t let that slip away.

William C. Thompson Jr.

is the comptroller of the City of New York.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a lawyer for Riverkeeper, an environmental group.

A Wilderness, Lost in the City,






Seeking to Save Shelter Dogs

From Death


October 13, 2007

Filed at 9:55 p.m. ET

The New York Times



NEW YORK (AP) -- Sweet William, a young black Labrador retriever in Illinois, has two days to live.

Sandy, a golden female Jindo in New York, also has just two days left. Kate Hepburn, a tan female boxer in California, has 18 days to live.

On Saturday, these were some of the dogs in shelters across the country slated for death -- their fate posted on a Web site that aims to save their lives by offering them for adoption.

Each is tagged with a death date set by a shelter -- and a countdown clock showing the days, or hours, until the animal is destroyed.

Dogsindanger.com works with more than 120 shelters nationwide that destroy dogs. How much time the dogs get before death varies from state to state. In New York City, a stray dog must be kept a minimum of three days, while a shelter has the legal right to immediately destroy an animal that is abandoned there by its owner.

About 4 million dogs are put to death each year in the United States, by injection or gas.

In the three weeks since the site has been up, dozens of dogs have found new homes. Their photos are posted on a section of the site marked ''Success Stories.'' The images of dogs that didn't make it adorn the site's ''In Memoriam'' wall.

''It's not the fault of the shelters,'' said Alex Aliksanyan, a pet adoption advocate who made money in the Internet travel business. ''They don't like doing this, but they have to abide by the law, which requires a shelter to control its animal population.''

Aliksanyan spent a half-million of his own dollars to start The Buddy Fund Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates the site and is named after his miniature American Eskimo dog.

''I've done well, and it was time to give something back,'' said the 50-year-old Turkish-born entrepreneur of Armenian heritage. ''So I thought, let's bring the story of these animals dying quietly in these shelters to the public and say, 'Can you do something?'''

He hired a half-dozen staffers to manage and market the site. Shelters post information about each dog directly, with daily updates and information on how each shelter can be contacted. Aliksanyan ships out free digital cameras and software for the task.

A shelter can sometimes delay a dog's death date -- if it has room in its kennel and few new strays coming in. A death date can get moved up, too, if the shelter becomes overcrowded.

The adoption service is free both for shelters and people looking for pets, allowing users to search by location, breed or time until death.

The in-your-face site, Aliksanyan said, ''is not a place to sit with your 6-year-old and say, 'This one's going to die, that one is going to die.'''

He said he is driven by the philosophy of the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, whose words are posted over the ''In Memoriam'' page: ''The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.''


On the Net:

Dogs In Danger: http://www.dogsindanger.com

Seeking to Save Shelter Dogs From Death,






Arkansans Asked

to Help Count Turtles


April 24, 2007
Filed at 12:03 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) -- On slow summer days, counting box turtles is one way to enjoy the outdoors. The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission is asking Arkansans to help with a survey of the animals to determine just how common, or rare, they are. There has never been a statewide survey of box turtles.

Maryland scientists in 2004 determined that the eastern box turtle populations were declining, and they blamed habitat destruction, road deaths and mowers and other land-clearing machinery among the causes. The animals also once were exported extensively as pets, a trade that was banned in 1994.

Other states, including Florida, North Carolina, and Texas, also are monitoring box turtle populations.

Starting in May, the Arkansas commission is asking anyone spotting the reptiles in their yards or elsewhere to report their findings online or by calling the commission. The commission has done previous studies on tarantulas and bumblebees in the state.

Jane Jones-Schultz, the commission's education and information coordinator, says the public's help will give scientists better estimates on how many box turtles live in Arkansas.

Two types of box turtle are native to the state -- the three-toed box turtle and the ornate box turtle.

The three-toed variety is found in forests, marshes and grasslands across the state. They are typically olive brown with yellow or orange markings.

The ornate variety is found in dry, open habitats in the Arkansas River Valley, Grand Prairie and Ozark Mountains. They have more striking markings, particularly on the bottom of its shell or plastron, which can be very dark with bright yellow lines. The top of their shell or carapace is dark brown to nearly black.

The surveys ask for information on the turtle's size and where it was found. The commission also asks for pictures, if possible. Duplicate sightings will give researchers an idea of how big a turtle's range is.

Jones-Schultz says the animals shouldn't be captured as pets because they are finicky eaters and need sunlight.

Box turtles can live for decades. An ornate box turtle can live into its forties while a three-toed turtle can survive into its seventies. They become mature around 13 and mate from April to October. Although a female can produce 200 eggs over her lifetime, only two or three offspring typically will survive to adulthood.

The survey will last at least a year, perhaps longer. The surveys should be available on line by the first week of May, Jones-Schultz says. They also are available by calling 501-324-9619.


On the Net:

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission www.naturalheritage.org


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

Arkansans Asked to Help Count Turtles, NYT, 24.4.2007,






Game Park Owner

Mauled to Death by Lions


April 21, 2007

Filed at 4:04 a.m. ET

The New York Times



JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) -- The owner of a game reserve was mauled to death by a pride of lions Friday as helpless paramedics looked on.

The South African Press Association reported that paramedics called to the Krugersdorp Game Reserve, near Johannesburg, could only watch as lions attacked Dirk Brink, 58.

''It was extremely dangerous for them to approach,'' said Mark Stokoe, spokesman for emergency rescue service Netcare 911.

''Paramedics could not attend to him immediately and they had to wait for game rangers and police to chase the lions away,'' he said.

This took a ''significant amount of time,'' he said, adding Brink was dead by the time he could be approached.

''The attack was very bad. The door to his car was open when we got there and it appears the lions dragged him to the bushes before attacking him,'' he said.

Game Park Owner Mauled to Death by Lions, NYT, 21.4.2007,






Barbaro Is Euthanized

After Struggle With Injury


January 29, 2007

The New York Times



KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. (AP) -- Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized Monday after complications from his breakdown at the Preakness last May.

"We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for him to go on without pain," co-owner Roy Jackson said. "It was the right decision, it was the right thing to do. We said all along if there was a situation where it would become more difficult for him then it would be time."

Roy and Gretchen Jackson were with Barbaro on Monday morning, with the owners making the decision in consultation with chief surgeon Dean Richardson.

It was a series of complications, including laminitis in the left rear hoof and a recent abscess in the right rear hoof, that proved to be too much for the gallant colt, whose breakdown brought an outpouring of support across the country.

"I would say thank you for everything, and all your thoughts and prayers over the last eight months or so," Jackson said to Barbaro's fans.

On May 20, Barbaro was rushed to the New Bolton Center, about 30 miles southwest of Philadelphia in Kennett Square, hours after shattering his right hind leg just a few strides into the Preakness Stakes. The bay colt underwent a five-hour operation that fused two joints, recovering from an injury most horses never survive. Barbaro lived for eight more months, though he never again walked with a normal gait.

The Kentucky Derby winner suffered a significant setback over the weekend, and surgery was required to insert two steel pins in a bone -- one of three shattered eight months ago in the Preakness but now healthy -- to eliminate all weight bearing on the ailing right rear foot.

The procedure on Saturday was a risky one, because it transfered more weight to the leg while the foot rests on the ground bearing no weight.

The leg was on the mend until the abscess began causing discomfort last week. Until then, the major concern was Barbaro's left rear leg, which developed laminitis in July, and 80 percent of the hoof was removed.

Richardson said Monday morning that Barbaro did not have a good night.

Barbaro Is Euthanized After Struggle With Injury, NYT, 29.1.2007,





Swans deliver

a climate change warning


Published: 28 October 2006
The Independent
By Cahal Milmo


For decades, the arrival of the first V-shaped flights of Bewick's swans in Britain's wetlands after a 2,000-mile journey from Siberia heralded the arrival of winter.

This year, a dramatic decline in numbers of the distinctive yellow-billed swans skidding into their winter feeding grounds could be the harbinger of a more dramatic shift in weather patterns: global warming. Ornithologists at the main reserves that host the birds, the smallest of Britain's swans, said only a handful had appeared on lakes and water courses. Normally, there would be several hundred.

The latest arrival in a decade of Britain's seasonal influx of 8,000 Bewick's swans throws into sharp relief the debate on the effects of climate change as it enters a crucial week. As the Government's forthcoming Climate Bill is finalised, Sir Nicholas Stern, a former World Bank economist, is expected to warn in a report on Monday that failure to tackle global warming will provoke a recession deeper than the Great Depression.

But far from Westminster, the potential ecological impact of the same phenomenon was being noted in the absence of the high-pitched honking call of Bewick's swans on reservoirs and wetlands from the Ouse to the Severn estuary. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) said its first three birds had arrived at its Slimbridge reserve in Glouc-estershire, only on Thursday, the latest arrival since 1995.

In Welney, Cambridgeshire, where there are normally 100 Bewick's by the end of October as the vanguard for a winter population of 1,000; a solitary male was this week the sole representative. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said that two of its reserves in East Anglia which host the bulk of the British population - the Ouse Washes and Nene Washes - were also devoid of Bewick's. Experts said that the slow arrival was due to warmer than usual conditions on the continent, in particular the birds' other main wintering grounds in the Netherlands, and an absence of the north-east winds that aid their migration from the Arctic tundra of northern Russia.

The disruption to the swans' migration pattern fits into an emerging pattern of fluctuating numbers of bird species and population movements blamed on climate change. Redwings, another winter visitor to the British Isles, started arriving from Scandinavia only this week. Normally, they come in early September.

Other species which normally leave Europe for the winter, such as the blackcap, are now staying through the year. The WWT and other bird conservation groups said that it would take weeks to assess whether the late arrival of the Bewick's, named after the 18th-century English engraver and ornithologist Thomas Bewick, would affect the overall numbers wintering in Britain.

Since reaching a peak of about 9,000 in 1992, numbers of the swans have fallen by about 5 per cent. In 2004, numbers of wintering ducks, geese, swans and wading birds fell to the lowest level for a decade.

Swans deliver a climate change warning,






The Times > Nature note


February 04, 2005

The Times


GREY SQUIRRELS are mating. Several males may chase a female through the bare branches, making harsh buzzing notes, and try to mate with her. Males will also chase away their rivals. The female crouches on the ground when she is ready to mate, and generally it is the first male to get to her who succeeds.

Once the female is pregnant, she appropriates a warm winter drey well lined with moss and feathers, or builds a new one, and keeps all other squirrels out of it. She gives birth in the drey about six weeks after she has mated. Usually she has three young. They are naked and blind at first, but their fur soon grows, and they are first seen out of the drey when they are about seven weeks old. This will generally be about the end of April or the beginning of May.

Grey squirrels bury nuts and acorns in the ground in autumn, and now they are looking for them again. But they do not remember where they put them and can only find them by smell. Many get overlooked, and sprout up as young trees in the spring.


Nature notes,
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,61-1469617,00.html - broken link










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