Friday, 23 February 2018

Baby chimp born at Rockhampton Zoo offers hope to breeding program


Updated about 9 hours ago


A female chimpanzee born at a central Queensland zoo recently will provide a much-needed genetic boost to an Australasian breeding program, keepers say.
The chimpanzee is the first baby born in Queensland since the 1970s and the first for Rockhampton Zoo.
Rockhampton Zoo life sciences coordinator Graeme Strachan said the baby, born 11 days ago, is part of an Australian and New Zealand program that aims to increase the number of chimpanzees from 51 to 80 in the next 20 years.
"This little girl is going to be very genetically valuable to the region, much-wanted I would say, because she's totally unrelated to the other chimps here and that's a big thing about keeping the genetic lines healthy," Mr Strachan said.
But for the next five years, the baby will stay very close to her mother, Leakey.



"They have a long weaning period and it will probably be another five years before she gets a little brother or sister," Mr Strachan said.
"That's the problem when their numbers decline.
"They've got a slower reproductive rate so the population can't recover."

Reproduction challenges

The Rockhampton Zoo is one of three zoos in Australia and two in New Zealand working together to boost the population of chimpanzees in captivity.
The common chimpanzees are a high-priority species because of their endangered status in Africa, and numbers have plummeted from 3.5 million in 35 countries 50 years ago to fewer than 200,000 today.
"The sad part of what's happening with chimps in Africa with palm oil, poaching and habitat destruction is that the future of chimps could be in captivity," Mr Strachan said.
"This was why the regional breeding program, and the zoo's latest addition, is so important.
"The regional program copies what happens in the wild, so many males born here will stay here and be part of a patriarchal, hierarchical line that stays there.
"Then the females, when they reach maturity around nine, 10 or 11 years, will be transferred out to other groups so we just follow that cycle in captivity."
There are currently seven chimpanzees at Monarto Zoo in Adelaide, 22 at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, 10 in Wellington and six in Hamilton in New Zealand.



The new arrival has boosted Rockhampton Zoo's numbers to six chimpanzees.
Increasing numbers will be no easy task as it is not just about genetics and breeding but also about providing the best social situation for the animals.
There was no breeding in the region for a number of years until a number of unrelated chimpanzees were imported from Israel through a European program.
Since then, there has been one reproduction in Taronga Zoo in Sydney and one at Monarto Zoo in Adelaide.
"That's been a huge boost to the regional program," Mr Strachan said.
This baby's parents, mother Leakey, aged 23 and father Alon, 10, are originally from Israel, transferred to Rockhampton together because they are from the same community but genetically separate.
"We're hoping now this will kick it all off with the other two females, Samantha and Holly.
"They're quite socially inexperienced and that's why we were quite concerned about them giving birth, but now I think this going to get the interest going, the 'cluckiness' going."
There are occasions where first-time mothers will lose their infants through inexperience, but Mr Strachan doesn't think this will happen to Leakey.
"She's a very stable and experienced female and has the best chance of raising a baby," he said.
She has taken to her new role like a duck to water, showing her baby off to the zoo staff shortly after giving birth.
"Leakey actually brought the baby and held the baby up, just like the Lion King," Mr Strachan said.
"It was amazing."
The baby has been welcomed into the group, with Samantha and Holly showing a healthy curiosity while Alon has demonstrated his protective instincts.



"He's allowed to touch the baby, but the others aren't so he's got his special status," Mr Strachan said.
"Generally the males stay out of it; they have a natural curiosity, but they are there to protect the group."
Mr Strachan said since the birth of the little girl, the whole group has a new sense of calmness.
"They're all quite inquisitive but they've got this feeling of new life and the future of their tribe," he said. 

All eyes are on Donald Trump as President promises solution in wake of Florida shooting

Analysis

Updated about 5 hours ago.


A week ago, Julia Cordova was one of about 3,000 teenagers at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, when a gunman took an Uber to the school and opened fire with a weapon designed for use by the US army.
On Wednesday (local time) she was sitting next to the President of the United States at the White House, in an antique chair in front of a fireplace in a room usually reserved for world leaders, telling her story and asking for a solution to a half century epidemic of mass shootings in America.

Julia wasn't even born when 12 students and a teacher were gunned down by fellow students at the Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, yet survivors of that rampage were also at the White House on Wednesday.
Also gathered were some families of the 20 first graders who were gunned down alongside six of their teachers and school staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 by another young man armed with the same AR-15 semi-automatic firearm.
The event was billed as a "listening session" with President Donald Trump beginning with a pledge to be "very strong on background checks", to put an emphasis on "the mental health of somebody" and vowing that "it's not going to be talk like it has been in the past".
"We're going to get it done," he said.''

'Fix it!'

Everyone agreed they need to stop this happening again, schools must be made safe from gun violence.
Personal stories were told by 17-year-olds still trying to make the events of last week seem anything more than a bad movie, and by the children, now grown to adulthood, the parents and grandparents who all had their lives shattered in a few moments years ago that still lives with them every day.

Andrew Pollock, whose daughter Meadow was among the 17 killed in Florida last week, couldn't control his emotions, demanding the President "fix it!"

Fixing guns with more guns

But one thing was abundantly clear, with the best will in the world, and away from the influence of powerful political forces like the National Rifle Association, ordinary Americans respectfully but fundamentally disagree on how to respond to these shootings.
The President was not alone in the group suggesting that one answer might be to arm teachers.
"There are plenty of teachers who are already licenced to carry firearms," one man said.
"And when something like this starts, the first responders are already on campus."
Someone suggested undercover police could pose as janitors or librarians. Two Stoneman Douglas students and the President nodded.
Maybe former cops could work in schools, another man said.
But the father of one of the young victims at Sandy Hook, whose wife is a teacher, made the point that school teachers have more than enough responsibilities than to have the lethal force to take a life.
"A deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school, knowing the outcome is going to be suicide, is not going to care if there's somebody there with a gun," the father said.
Instead, he said, the solution is to train teachers and students to identify individuals at risk of carrying out such a crime.
Prevention, not mitigation, should be the focus, many argued.
The elephant in the room remained gun control, and the fact that weapons of war like the AR-15 are able to be freely purchased in many states by anyone, including someone who is mentally ill.



On Tuesday, the President announced plans to ban so-called "bump stocks" — an accessory that turns a legal rifle into a machine gun, used in America's deadliest mass shooting in Las Vegas last year.

Another episode of Trump TV?

As an hour-long event, staged for the cameras, it would be easy to dismiss it as a PR stunt by a President whose approval rating for his response to the Florida shooting stands at just 33 per cent in the latest Quinnipiac Poll — another episode in the reality TV presidency of Donald Trump.
For a President known not to read much, including his daily briefings, but who spends hours watching cable news, perhaps immersing him in a TV event was a very clever way for his staff to have him hear a wider range of views than he'd get on Fox News.
The focus on schools also begs the question, even if you find an answer to this problem, what about protecting concert-goers on the Vegas strip, dancers in an Orlando nightclub, people at the movies in Colorado, at Sunday school in South Carolina or a church in Texas?
President Trump's closing remarks pretty closely mirrored his introduction, while going further in highlighting mental health as a major issue, and suggesting that America was better equipped to deal with the problem with "institutions many years ago".
Yet this was the President who signed a law in February 2017 revoking an Obama-era regulation making it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase guns.
"The world is watching," the President said, "and we're going to come up with a solution."
With that he turned to Miss Cordova and firmly shook her hand, as if sealing a deal.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Adani abandons March deadline to secure funding for Carmichael coalmine

Extract from The Guardian


Adani’s plan to build Australia’s largest coalmine has suffered another setback. The company has abandoned its March deadline for securing financing for the first stage of the Carmichael mine.
In October, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, the chief executive of Adani Australia, told Reuters it aimed to settle financing for the project by March 2018.
Today, as reported in Fairfax Media, Adani has confirmed it would not be meeting that deadline.
A spokeswoman for Adani Australia told the Guardian the March deadline was predicated on the company receiving a subsidised loan from the Australian government through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (Naif). Since the Queensland Labor government has said it would veto any such loan, she said the financing timeline was now pushed back.
The spokeswoman would not confirm what the new funding timeline was, saying it was “commercial in confidence”.
“We remain 100% committed to the Carmichael project. We are confident of securing financing,” she said.
Adani’s missed funding deadline is just the latest in a string of setbacks.
  • In December, the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, announced she would veto any federal loan to the project.
  • What Adani still describes on its website as the project’s “biggest deal”, a $2bn deal with Downer EDI to construct and operate the mine, was scrapped when Adani announced it could no longer afford the contract.
  • All four big Australian banks previously ruled out funding the project, leading Adani to search for loans from foreign banks. Dozens of international banks had also ruled out funding.
  • Amid negotiations with Chinese state-owned enterprises, which might have secured funding from huge Chinese banks, the Chinese embassy in Australia announced no Chinese bank would fund the project.
  • Adani has also had to downgrade the predicted output of the mine, and its own consultants have contradicted Adani’s claims of the number of jobs the project would create.
The federal Labor party has hardened its stance against the project, canvassing ways to kill the project if it wins government, receiving advice on whether existing environmental laws could be used, and examining whether a “climate trigger” could be introduced to those laws.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has said the project is “just another project” and noted it must stack up economically and environmentally.
Other senior labor leaders have gone further. The deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, has been telling members of the public who write to her office she does “not believe that the Carmichael mine project stacks up economically or environmentally”.
And Mark Butler, the opposition spokesman for climate change, has doubled down on earlier comments, saying the project was not in the national interest, and it was not “what the world needs to do … to keep global warming well below two degrees”.

Adani abandons another funding deadline, prompting more doubts about giant coalmine


Updated about an hour ago

Adani has abandoned another deadline for securing finance on Australia's largest proposed coalmine, prompting Labor leader Bill Shorten to ridicule the idea that "some billionaire [will] come down in a helicopter and rescue" regional Queensland.
The Indian conglomerate had given itself until March 31 to secure investors for the $16 billion Carmichael coal project, but an Adani spokeswoman said this was "no longer the timeline".
It is the second time Adani has pushed back its deadline for financial close, after vowing last year to lock in investors by the end of December 2017.
The spokeswoman did not nominate a new deadline but said that Adani was still trying to sell a minority stake in the central Queensland project to help raise the $3.3 billion it needs to get it off the ground.
The Adani spokeswoman said the miner remained "100 per cent committed" to the project and "confident" of securing finance it had hoped would flow from a federal government loan, before that was torpedoed by the Palaszczuk government.



Led by billionaire Gautam Adani — named India's 10th richest person by Forbes last year — Adani will seek finance overseas after major Chinese banks joined a growing list of lenders, including Australia's "big four" banks, who shunned the project.
Mr Shorten told ABC Radio Brisbane that his position on the mine was "straightforward — this deal doesn't stack up by any measure that we've seen so far".
"They've missed more deadlines — I think in today's newspapers again, they're missing another deadline," he said, adding there were financial doubts and "environmental concerns".
Mr Shorten, after a series of public forums in Townsville, Mackay and Rockhampton this week, said there needed to be "a plan for jobs that just doesn't rely on a billionaire multinational coal company coming in with this very controversial project that has a lot of detractors".
"Labor's plan is to diversify the economy in central and north Queensland, not to pretend that there's going to be some billionaire come down in a helicopter and rescue it all, because I just don't believe that," he said.


Mr Shorten said Adani's "boosters" were wrongly branding sceptics of the project as "anti-mining".
He denied the suggestion that the federal opposition had recently hardened its rhetoric against Adani because of the Batman by-election in green-tinged inner Melbourne.
"Our position has been for 18 months that the deal has to stack up environmentally and commercially," he said.
"And in fact the Queensland Government during its most recent state election arrived at our position."

Calling citizen scientists: more data needed to protect echidnas

These masters of disguise are some of the world’s oldest surviving mammals, but they are threatened by habitat loss, traffic and feral cats – and they need our help

They may be one of the world’s oldest surviving mammals – around for at least 25m years – but scientists don’t know much about echidnas. Now researchers believe the remaining Australian population may be threatened and they need citizen scientists’ help to save them.
The short-beaked echidna is found only in Australia and Papua New Guinea. In 2015 the Kangaroo Island echidna, a once significant subspecies, was listed as endangered. While the remaining population is listed as “least concern”, researchers question the listing. As Tahlia Perry, a PhD researcher at the University of Adelaide’s Grutzner Lab, which is studying the molecular biology of echidnas, says: “When you don’t have exact numbers, it’s really hard to give something a listing.”
In September 2017, the lab, in association with the CSIRO’s Atlas of Living Australia, launched the free echidna CSI app to encourage Australians to photograph wild echidnas and collect their scat, or droppings. “What we are hoping to find out is [whether there are] other pockets of populations around the rest of the country that are in the same sort of threat level [as the Kangaroo Island species] because they face the exact same threats,” says Perry.

"They are masters of disguise and hiding and are insanely fast when they want to be."
The main threats to echidnas are land clearing and habitat loss. This was demonstrated on Kangaroo Island when the population shrank as development increased. Echidnas can travel great distances – often several kilometres in a day – they have very large home ranges and so land clearing and rapid developments can cause problems in their ability to travel by removing viable habitat, says Perry. Other major threats include traffic, feral cats and potentially the rapidly changing climate.
What is known about the echidna is fascinating. Like their mammalian cousins the platypus, echidnas lay eggs but keep their young – puggles – in the mother’s pouch. Once they are the size of a cricket ball and their spines begin to develop, they are kicked out of the pouch and left in burrows. And while some echidna populations nurture their young, mostly the puggles are left to figure things out for themselves.

echidna puggle
A short-beaked echidna puggle at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo in November 2016 – the zoo’s first successful echidna births in nearly 30 years. Photograph: Taronga Zoo/EPA
Echidnas are quite smart, though, having the biggest frontal cortex in relation to their body size of all mammals, including humans. They can climb, burrow and run rapidly. They are mostly solitary animals, but the rare times they are seen collectively is when they form “an echidna train”. This is when the female is in season and up to 20 males follow her across great distances, all competing for her attention.
They are robust and are found in wildly different environments, from the desert to the snow, likely to having much lower body temperature than all other mammals - around 30C - which can fluctuate by up to 10C in a single day.
Perry has long been fascinated by the spiky creatures. Asked for a little-known fact, she points out the back feet of the echidnas point backwards to help them dig their burrows. This bewildered the British taxidermists of old who, thinking there must be a mistake, rotated the feet forward. Now hundreds of years later, those feet are being switched back.
With the help of the research project, Perry hopes to discover more about the echidna’s DNA, eating habits and hormones to study breeding patterns.
“You can also measure things like stress hormones to figure out what populations are particularly stressed,” she says. “For instance, [the] ones that are around more suburban areas, it would be interesting to find out if that is affecting them in a negative way or if they don’t care at all.” Anecdotally some echidnas seem terrified of humans – burrowing quickly – while others are more inquisitive.
Their ability to escape stressful situations so quickly is why little is known about echidnas, says Perry. “They can literally dig themselves into the ground within a matter of seconds – they completely disappear in front of your eyes … They are masters of disguise and hiding and are insanely fast when they want to be as well. So they are just not great for a research animal.”
As part of Guardian Australia’s series on endangered species, we’re encouraging readers to take part in the echidna CSI project. Download the free app, then photograph your local echidna or collect a sample of their scat and help to save the echidna. 

Cost of living pushing Australian workers into homelessness

Extract from The Guardian


The number of employed Australians seeking help for homelessness has jumped by almost 30% in three years, sparking concerns that stagnant wage growth and high housing costs are pushing workers to the brink.
The Victorian-based Council to Homeless Persons has released an analysis showing 20,302 employed Australians sought homelessness support in 2016-17, well up from 15,931 in 2013-14.
The council has blamed the rise on a combination of sluggish wage growth and extreme housing costs. On Wednesday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the latest wage data, which showed wages grew by just 2.1% last year. Housing costs grew by 3.4% in the same period.
That’s only adding to the profound pressure on people like Mim, who works in out-of-home care in Victoria. Mim, who only has one name, fled a violent relationship many years ago, taking her three children with her. She immediately found herself homeless.
The four of them squashed into the family’s four-wheel-drive ute – the two youngest in the back, and Mim and her eldest boy in the front. There were times when Mim couldn’t see a way out.

Mim, from Victoria, says housing costs and low wages are putting her at risk of homelessness.
Mim, from Victoria, says housing costs and low wages are putting her at risk of homelessness. Photograph: Mim
“When I was stuck in it, I was just stuck. I just felt like the worst parent on the planet,” Mim told Guardian Australia. “I felt like a huge failure, actually. I think that fed into the stress as well.
“When you feel like the worst parent on the planet … it feeds into not feeling like anyone is going to want you either – anyone’s going to want you for work, or anyone’s going to want you for housing, the lot of it.”

"All the things my kids never had – I’d love to be able to do all of that"
The family, through sheer determination, found a way to survive, eventually securing emergency accommodation and later government housing.
Now in her 40s, Mim is again nearing breaking point. She lives in Taggerty, about two hours away from her workplace in Burwood, on Melbourne’s outskirts. A recent injury has left her unable to work and her worker’s compensation payments have been withheld due to problems outside her control.
The money she does have goes to rent and petrol. She’s currently living in what she jokingly described as a “bush shack”, which she’s using as a stopgap solution until she finds a private rental. Nothing she’s seen so far is within her reach.
“I’ve got three kids and I wonder – they’ve all had such big experiences – I wonder if any of them will have kids,” Mim said. “But if they ever do, I want to be a grandma that’s able to buy grouse things for their grandkids, or help out with school fees. All the things my kids never had – I’d love to be able to do all of that.”
The ABS data showed wages grew by 0.6% in the December quarter and 2.1% throughout last year. Public sector wages grew the most, increasing by 2.4% through the year. Private sector wages rose by 1.9%.
The Council to Homeless Persons policy and communications manager, Kate Colvin, said the disparity between wage growth and high housing costs was putting a lot of strain on workers, particularly those who were working infrequently or in insecure employment.
“If that disparity continues, we’ll only see more and more people homeless while they’re working,” she said. “Then the challenge is that people become homeless [and] it’s just even harder to engage in paid work, because if you’re moving around between friends’ places, couch surfing, it’s hard to have the stability to work.”
Unions have said Wednesday’s ABS figures put wage growth at a near-record low.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions assistant secretary, Scott Connolly, said the figures were at odds with 27 years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia. The ACTU said workers needed more power to negotiate fair pay rises.
“Right now big corporations have too much power and working people have too little,” Connolly said. “We need to change the rules so that there is a fair power balance between working people and big business.”