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A new research project in the Highlands has provided a rare insight into the secret world of one of Britain’s most endangered and elusive species.

Most People think that the Highlnad Tiger is Sean Connery - For good reason - Sightings of him are much more frequent

Most People think that the Highland Tiger is Sean Connery - For good reason - Sightings of him are much more frequent

Scottish wildcats are the only surviving member of the cat family native to Britain. They look like an oversized muscular tabby but with a thick blunt tail and serious attitude!

The Scottish wildcat has become extremely rare. It’s much rarer than the Bengal tiger. In fact, experts believe there could be as few as 400 left in the wild. Yes, just 400! This makes the wildcat one of Britain’s most endangered species.

Scottish wildcats are notoriously secretive, but conservationists are hoping to gain a more detailed understanding of their behavior.

They have attached specialist camera equipment, known as photo-traps, to trees in the Cairngorms National Park.

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The cameras have already provided images of wildcats and other animals.

The project is still in its early stages but the cameras have already provided images of Scottish wildcat – popularly known as the Highland tiger – and other animals, including golden eagles.Other animals, including this golden eagle, have also been photographed

‘Major threat’

The research is being led by Dr David Hetherington of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

He told BBC Scotland: “Wildcats are very shy, secretive animals. They are active mainly at night and it’s really difficult for people to get close enough to watch them properly.

“These camera traps are an excellent way of us getting a much better insight into where wildcats live, when they’re active, and what habitat they’re using.

“We can also get an idea of where they don’t live and, of course, that’s also really important information.”

Experts believe the Scottish wildcat population has fallen to about 400, and work is under way to prevent the species becoming extinct.

That involves encouraging cat owners in the Highlands to ensure their animals are neutered.

Dr Hetherington explained: “The major threat to wildcats these days is hybridization, or inter-breeding, with domestic cats.

Wolf-Poodle

“Although they are quite different and have a completely different temperament, they are actually quite closely related genetically to domestic cats so they can produce fertile hybrids.  “If that continues we are going to lose our pure Scottish wildcat.”

Wildcats can mate with domestic cats creating fertile “hybrid” offspring, and this is currently the greatest threat to their future. It’s a bit like a poodle getting together with a wolf – bad news!

So, If you’re a cat owner living in the Scottish Highlands, chances are you’re within the range of a randy Scottish wildcat, so please do consider having your cat neutered. RESPONSIBLE CAT OWNERSHIP ( download PDF )

You can also report wildcat sightings within the Cairngorms National Park, and help fund wildcat research, education and a captive breeding program. Click HERE to find out how!

Conservationists believe the work could help prevent another iconic species joining a long list of large predators which have been wiped out in Scotland over the last few centuries.

Douglas Richardson, of the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig near Aviemore, said: “We are dealing with an animal that’s the last of its kind in the British Isles. We formerly had lynx and other big, dangerous and interesting animals. But this is our last feline predator and I think we are duty bound to protect it.”

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It’s a good thing Bonnerichthys didn’t really swim at the same time as humans, but rather 100 million years ago

Bonnerichthys Facts:

  • Gigantic filter-feeding fishes lived during the Mesozoic Era.
  • Filter feeding didn’t first emerge in whales, as had been previously suspected, but instead began with the now-extinct fishes.
  • After the filter-feeding fishes died out with the dinosaurs, whales and other cetaceans filled the ecological niche.

Whales include the world’s largest animals, but newly identified fossils reveal they were preceded by SUV-sized filter-feeding fishes that emerged during the Jurassic Period, 170 million years ago, and lived until the extinction event that wiped out dinosaurs and numerous other species.

Although the now-extinct fishes, called pachycormiforms, were not closely related to whales, their demise left an ecological niche void that whales, sharks and rays filled starting around 56 million years ago, helping to explain the top portion of today’s marine food chain.

The fish fossils also prove that filter feeding emerged long before the first whales. For this method of eating, the diner suspends itself in the water, mouth agape. Water escapes through gill slits, leaving behind the filtered food.

Bonnerichthys, grew to around 20 feet in length and swam through a seaway covering what is today the state of Kansas.

Kansas Badlands: the bottom of the “Lost Sea”. Scientists say Kansas has been under water longer than it’s been dry!!! The Western Interior Sea covered the Great Plains about 75 million years ago.

Modern-day Kansas is in the light blue water south and west of South Dakota

Present-Day United States was Covered by Shallow Oceans
Present-Day United States was Covered by Shallow Oceans

LINK to Cool Video From Kansas University    –>     http://www.news.ku.edu/features/sea_monsters/

It’s easy being green for a sea slug that has stolen enough genes to become the first animal discovered to make chlorophyll like a plant!!!!

This sea slug eats seaweed and takes up the chlorophyll. With that it can then generate power by using photosynthesis. It also harnesses some genes from the plant matter to make its own chlorophyll basically becoming a plant-animal hybrid. It can then live off the sun’s energy without the need to feed itself. Crazy….

Solar power is a relatively new development for humans but, of course, many living things have been exploiting the power of the sun for millions of years, through the process of photosynthesis. This ability is usually limited to plants, algae and bacteria, but one unique animal can do it too – the emerald green sea slug Elysia chlorotica. This remarkable creature steals the genes and photosynthetic factories of a type of algae

The sea slug Elysia chlorotica has incorporated enough of the plant’s genes into its own DNA to manufacture chlorophyll in its own body!

The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on.

“This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool,” said invertebrate zoologist John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Microbes swap genes readily, but Zardus said he couldn’t think of another natural example of genes flowing between multicellular kingdoms.

It looks like the tree of life has some spots where it merges as well as branches. Link to article

10 questions explained

This list has ten explanations of common, every-day things that you probably did not understand. Using this knowledge you can impress your friends and family because nothing is cooler than knowing how random things work.  😉

1.) Falling Sensation: restless-sleep Have you ever woken up to a falling sensation and a strong muscle twitch as you are simply lying in bed? This phenomenon is known as hypnagogic myoclonic twitch or “Hypnic Jerk,” and studies have shown that roughly 70% of people have experienced it. There is no definitive answer on why this happens, but most scientists have agreed on the following explanation. When you are falling asleep your muscles become very relaxed and enter what is essentially a state of temporary paralysis. While your body is making this transition the brain can misinterpret the sudden relaxation of the muscles and instead think that you are falling. Instincts kick in and send signals to your muscles to jerk you upright which leads to a rude awakening. Studies have found that “Hypnic Jerks” occur more frequently with people who suffer from sleep anxiety, fatigue and discomfort because the brain is more easily confused. Either way, it is a normal part of the sleep process and poses no real danger. Source: failedsuccess

2.) Cracking Joints: You may not be a knuckle cracker yourself, but chances are you have heard someone doing it. This noise is caused by pockets of gas that are escaping from the joints in the hand. There is something called synovial fluid that lubricates joints and contains nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide gas. When the joint is put in an abnormal position, bubbles of these gasses are rapidly released which causes the cracking noise. The reason a knuckle can rarely be cracked twice is because it takes time for the gases to build up again. Some claim that cracking knuckles leads to arthritis, but the studies claim that it only causes minor damage to soft joint tissue. A similar cracking noise can be produced with the knee or the ankle but it is not due to escaping gas. Tendons can be pushed out of place as joints move, and when they return to their original position they can create cracking noises. Because gas does not have to build up like it does in the knuckles, this noise can often be made repeatedly. Source: everydaymysteries

3.) Goose Bumps :  Goose bumps are the dots that form on the skin when a person is cold, afraid, or experiencing strong emotions. The reflex that causes goose bumps is known as horripilation and it occurs in other mammals as well. The goose bumps are caused when individual muscles at the base of each hair contract which make the hair stand straight up. This reflex is linked to the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for most fight-or-flight responses. Goose bumps provide no known benefits for humans, but the reflex makes sense for animals. When humans are cold, horripilation causes their hair stand up, but humans in general do not have much body hair. For animals with fur, air pockets are trapped between the hairs which create an extra layer of insulation. In response to fear or anger, raised hair would make an animal seem larger and more intimidating. The best example of this is the porcupine whose spikes stand up when threatened. It seems that horripilation is simply a reflex left over from the evolutionary process, a constant reminder that humans were not always as they are now. Source: wikipedia

4.) Wrinkled Fingertips  –>  pruny-fingers!  If you have ever spent time in a hot tub for too long then you most likely emerged with wrinkly fingertips. They go away soon after you dry off, but what causes them to get that way? The body has three layers of skin, the subcutaneous tissue (fats, nerves, large blood vessels), the dermis (small blood vessels, nerves, hair roots, sweat glands), and the epidermis (protects the skin beneath and keeps water inside the body from evaporating). These layers are tightly connected, and biologists have found that when the skin is submerged for a long time the epidermis begins absorbing water. Because it is so tightly connected to the dermis underneath, the skin warps which leads to the wrinkles. The reason this mostly occurs on the fingers and toes is because the epidermis in those areas has calluses which take in more water. Source: everydaymysteries

5.) Eyebrows:   Many people see eyebrows as just another facial feature to be self conscious about. Some spend a great deal of time plucking, waxing, trimming, preening, shaving (frat parties), penciling, or essentially worrying about their appearance, but have they ever thought why humans have them in the first place? Evolution has removed hair from most of our bodies so why would two little strips above our eyes remain? Eyelashes and eyelids work to keep dust and other debris out of the eye, but they can not do all of the work. The eyebrows divert sweat and rain around the eyes which makes it much easier to see. If you have ever had saltwater in your eyes you know how irritating it is, and it was just annoying enough for natural selection to create eyebrows. Source: howstuffworks

6.) Chopping Onions onions No matter how manly you think you are, cutting onions will make you tear up. Onions release an enzyme known as Lachrymatory-factor synthase into the air when they are cut open. The enzyme converts the sulfoxides (amino acids) in the onion into the unstable compound sulfenic acid which rearranges itself into something called syn-ropanethial-S-oxide. Syn-ropanethial-S-oxide is a chemical irritant which causes the lachrymal glands to release tears when it comes in contact. If you have never cut onions yourself than you may not be so convinced, but shortly after the knife cuts the onion you are sure to notice. Three ways to help prevent this is to run water near to where you are cutting the onion, to put the onion in the fridge half an hour before cutting it, or to avoid cutting the root. If you still tear up while cutting onions, and have nothing better to spend your money on, you can always purchase the incredibly useful Onion Goggles for $19.95 (available in black, white, or pink!). Source: everydaymysteries

7.) Freckles freckles Freckles are flat tan, brown, or black spots that can appear on skin that has been exposed to the sun. These spots are abnormal collections of melanin, a pigment that is produced by cells in the skin called melanocytes. The melanocytes create freckles to protect the skin from sunlight, and therefore they occur more often on those with lighter skin that burns more easily. Freckles are more common on the face, arms, and shoulders because those areas get the most sun. For many people freckles fade during the winter only to return during the spring and summer months. In some cases too much sun exposure can cause certain cells to become cancerous, so any suspicious looking freckles should be checked out by a dermatologist. The best way to prevent skin cancer from developing is wearing clothing or sunscreen when exposed to the sun. Source: health-cares.net

Will Ferrell Sunscreen is now available online! The comedienne is now the face of three 30 SPF sunblocks: Sun Stroke, Sexy Hot Tan, and Forbidden Fruit. Each bottle features a picture of Ferrell in hilarious glamour shot spoofs. And of course, these images show a lot of skin. 100% of the proceeds from Will Ferrell Sunscreen go to the charity Cancer for College’s College Willpowered Scholarship Fund, which grants college scholarships to survivors of cancer. Why sunscreen? “I’ve always dreamed of owning a lotion company. And I’ve always hated cancer,” says the funnyman. To learn more about the charity, or to purchase your own Will Farrell Sunscreen for $12 a pop, go to the charity’s website, Ebay.com, or Amazon.com.

8.) Sunscreen: Speaking of freckles – if you want to prevent them USE SUNSCREEN!  Sunscreen is something many people trust to keep them from getting sunburned, but how exactly does it keep the skin safe from harmful UV rays? The reason sunscreen works so well is because it uses multiple active ingredients that each do their part in protecting your skin. Most sunscreens use inorganic ingredients such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide to reflect UV radiation away from the body while organic ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate or oxybenzone convert the remaining UV rays into heat. The end results are creams with varying SPFs (Sun Protection Factors) that keep the body protected from UV radiation. Source: everydaymysteries

9.) Songs Stuck in our Heads:  Almost everyone has at one point or another had a song stuck in their head, and it can last hours until that annoying tune goes away. Whether it is a backstreet boys song, a simple beat, or “It’s a Small World,” the constant repetition can drive anyone crazy. So what exactly causes songs to get stuck in our heads? Scientists blame something they refer to as “earworms” which create a “cognitive itch” that makes the brain to fill in the gaps in a song’s rhythm. Songs trigger activity in the auditory cortex of the brain, and studies have found that the part of the auditory cortex that is active when you’re actually listening to a song is reactivated when you just imagine hearing the song. In other words, imagining a song will “scratch” the cognitive itch, but this just makes it worse. In any case, the song will eventually go away by itself but if you can’t wait that long you can try listening to other music or distracting yourself to get it out of your head. Source: howstuffworks

10.) Hiccups:  Hiccups are triggered by uncontrolled impulses of the phrenic nerve which lead the diaphragm to spasm. These contractions result in a quick intake of breath which is what we refer to as a hiccup. Hiccups can be caused many ways such as by eating or drinking too quickly, consuming spicy or cold food, drinking alcohol, or by quick breaths because of surprises, laughs, coughs, or sneezes. In some cases they occur for no real reason at all, which can be quite annoying. So how exactly does one cure the hiccups? I have heard of many remedies including drinking water upside down, holding your breath, eating peanut butter, distracting yourself one way or another, or getting someone to scare you. Some of these may seem ridiculous, but all of them either distract you or cause you to hold your breath which allows the diaphragm to relax and can help stop the spasms. If none of these remedies works, and the hiccups do not subside, it may be necessary to get medical attention. The longest case of hiccups ever recorded was with a man named Charles Osborne whose fit lasted 68 years. He hiccupped an estimated 430 million times and averaged from 20-40 hiccups a minute throughout his lifetime. Next time you find yourself complaining about hiccups, just be glad that they will be gone sooner than his were.

Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.

Studies into dolphin behavior have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.

The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.

“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.

“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.

Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioral studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.

It has also become clear that they are “cultural” animals, meaning that new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up by one dolphin from another.

In one study from the City University of New York – showed that bottlenose dolphins could recognise themselves in a mirror and use it to inspect various parts of their bodies, an ability that had been thought limited to humans and great apes. – In another study, CU of NYC found that captive dolphins also had the ability to learn a rudimentary symbol-based language!!!

Other research has shown dolphins can solve difficult problems, while those living in the wild co-operate in ways that imply complex social structures and a high level of emotional sophistication.

In one recent case, a dolphin rescued from the wild was taught to tail-walk while recuperating for three weeks in a dolphinarium in Australia.  After this dolphin was released, scientists were astonished to see the trick spreading among wild dolphins who had learned it from the formerly captive dolphin!!!!

There are many similar examples, such as the way dolphins living off Western Australia learnt to hold sponges over their snouts for protection when searching for spiny fish on the ocean floor.

Dolphins have also been observed to co-operate with each other in perfect synchronization to round-up shoals of fish to eat – this data has prompted questions about the complex brain structures that must underlie them.

Size is only one factor. Researchers have found that brain size varies hugely from around 7oz for smaller cetacean species such as the Ganges River dolphin to more than 19lb for sperm whales, whose brains are the largest on the planet. Human brains, by contrast, range from 2lb-4lb, while a chimp’s brain is about 12oz.

When it comes to intelligence, however, brain size is less important than its size relative to the body.

What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”. They also found that the brain cortex of dolphins such as the bottlenose had the same convoluted folds that are strongly linked with human intelligence.

Such folds increase the volume of the cortex and the ability of brain cells to interconnect with each other. “Despite evolving along a different neuroanatomical trajectory to humans, cetacean brains have several features that are correlated with complex intelligence,” Marino said.

Marino and Reiss will present their findings at a conference in San Diego, California, next month, concluding that the new evidence about dolphin intelligence makes it morally repugnant to mistreat them.

Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have rights, will speak at the same conference.

“The scientific research . . . strongly suggests that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’ who qualify for moral standing as individuals,” he said.

Strawberry Crab?!?!?!

A marine biologist has discovered a startling new crab species that resembles a large strawberry.

The unusual crustacean was found off the coast of southern Taiwan. It has a dramatic bright red shell covered with small white bumps.


After three years of research, Georg Steinhauser- a chemist, has researched & explained how stray pieces wind up in the navel.   “Frictional drag of body hair”

Mr. Barker claims that the color change was due to changing towel colors!

Dr Steinhauser made his discovery after studying 503 pieces of fluff from his own belly button.

Chemical analysis revealed the pieces of fluff were not made up of only cotton from clothing. Wrapped up in the lint were also flecks of dead skin, fat, sweat and dust.

Dr Steinhauser’s observations showed that ‘small pieces of fluff first form in the hair and then end up in the navel at the end of the day’. Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, he said the scaly structure of the hair enhances the ‘abrasion of minuscule fibres from the shirt’ and directs the lint towards the belly button. “The hair’s scales act like a kind of barbed hooks,” he said. “Abdominal hair often seems to grow in concentric circles around the navel.”

The researcher, from Vienna University of Technology also asked friends, family and workmates about their own belly button fluff. Dr Steinhauser established that shaving one’s belly will result in a fluff-free navel – but only until the hairs grow back.

Other suggestions for keeping the navel fluff-free include wearing old clothes, as they tend to shed less lint than newer garments, which can lose up to one thousandth of their weight to the belly button over the course of a year. A body piercing can also be used, with belly button rings particularly effective at sweeping away fibers before they lodge.

Dr Steinhauser, whose other projects have included monitoring the erosion of his wedding ring, said: “The question of the nature of navel fluff seems to concern more people than one would think at first glance.  We hope we have been able to provide information for doctors when they are next confronted with the simple question of ‘why some belly buttons collect so much lint and others do not’.”

An earlier, Australian study of samples from 5,000 people concluded the typical carrier of navel fluff to be ‘a slightly overweight middle-aged male with a hairy abdomen’.

Researcher Karl Kruszelnicki said: “The reason it is usually blue is that we mostly wear blue or grey trousers, often jeans, and when these rub against the body, the fibers often end up finding their way to the navel.”

Not all belly button fluff is blue however. In the curious case of Australian hospital worker Graham Barker much of his fluff is red, even though he rarely wears the color. Mr Barker has been collecting his own navel fluff in jars every day since 1984. The achievement has won him a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s largest collection of navel lint.

 Fog Catchers

Fog Catchers

German conservationists Kai Tiedemann and Anne Lummerich came up with an ingenious solution to Peruvian village Bellavista’s water problem. The small village south of the capital city of Lima has very little rainfall but a lot of fog, so the duo set up fog catchers to harvest hundreds of gallons of water a day right out of the air!

From National Geographic:

When dense fog sweeps in from the Pacific Ocean, special nets on a hillside near Lima, Peru, catch the moisture and provide precious water to an area that gets very little rainfall–about half an inch (1.5 centimeters) a year.

The nets stand perpendicular to the prevailing wind, which blows fog into the coarse, woven plastic mesh. From there, drops of fog-water fall into gutters that carry the water to collection tanks.

Plastic funnels collect fog-water dripping from river she-oak trees planted in Bellavista, a small hillside settlement outside Lima that receives very little rainfall.

Desert and other dry communities around the world started harvesting fog-water dripping from trees as far back as 2,000 years ago.

Before fog-catching nets were installed, Bellavista residents relied on water that was trucked in, often paying ten times as much as people farther downhill who are connected to the municipal water supply.

Teamwork!

Teamwork!

To construct their fog collectors, residents of Bellavista, Peru–including the group seen above in 2007–worked on Sundays transporting bricks and heavy bags of sand up a steep hillside to their settlement outside Lima.

The bricks and sand stabilize the fog-catching nets, designed by conservationists Kai Tiedemann and Anne Lummerich.

“We transported exactly 1,800 bricks this way,” Tiedemann said. Bags collectively containing ten tons of sand, he joked, “weren’t as easy to throw.”
Although fog collection isn’t practical on a large scale, in small communities such as Bellavista–where water can’t be obtained from wells, rain, or a river–the technique can be a lifesaver, freeing poor people from high water prices.

The shrinking of the ARAL sea 2000 - 2009

The shrinking of the ARAL sea 2000 - 2009

The Aral Sea is actually not a sea at all. It is an immense lake, a body of fresh water, although that particular description of its contents might now be more a figure of speech than an actual fact. In the last 30 years, more than 60 percent of the lake has disappeared!  The sequence of images above, shows the dramatic changes to the Aral Sea.

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?  WHY DID THIS HAPPEN???

To grow cotton….

Beginning in the 1960s The Governments of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and some Central Asian states opened significant diversions from the rivers that supply water to the lake, thus siphoning off millions of gallons of water to irrigate water intensive cotton fields.

The shores of the Aral Sea were once dotted with fishing boats, providing a livelihood for countless generations of Central Asians along what was once the world’s fourth-largest lake.

Al Gore mentioned the Aral Sea in his film An Inconvenient Truth, implicitly suggesting that the Aral was a casualty in global warming. He was correct that human ignorance led to this environmental catastrophe, but it is unlikely that global warming has much to do with the shrinking of the Aral Sea.

The remaining water of the Aral is polluted in many areas almost beyond human use, filled with agricultural runoff, industrial wastes, and chemical and biological contamination from Soviet weapons testing. Much of the exposed seabed evolved into immense plains of dust and salt, and health problems abound for people living near the Aral Sea.

The Aral Sea WAS maintained by its tributaries and used to receive about 50 cubic kilometers of fresh water per yeara number that fell to zero by the early 1980s.   By 2007 it had declined to 10% of its original size, splitting into three separate lakes,  too salty to support fish.   The once prosperous fishing industry has been virtually destroyed, and former fishing towns along the original shores have become ship graveyards. With this collapse has come unemployment, economic hardship, famine & disease.
From 1960 to 1998, the sea’s surface area shrank by approximately 60%, and its volume by 80%. In 1960, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth-largest lake, with an area of approximately 68,000 km2 and a volume of 1100 km³ – by 1998, it had dropped to 28,687 km2, and eighth-largest lake in the world.

The amount of water it has lost is the equivalent of completely draining Lakes Erie and Ontario!!!

Over the same time period its salinity has increased from from 10 grams to 45 grams per litre. Seawater has a salinity of 35 grams per litre!!!

Over the last decades, diversion of rivers for irrigation has reduced its size by 60% and its volume by 80% , deeply affecting the local fishing industry and the livelihood of the population.

Over the last decades, diversion of rivers for irrigation has reduced its size by 60% and its volume by 80% , deeply affecting the local fishing industry and the livelihood of the population.

An abandoned ship sitting on the sand in the deserts left by the shrinkage of the Aral Sea.

An abandoned ship sitting on the sand in the deserts left by the shrinkage of the Aral Sea.concentrations of salts and minerals began to concentrate in the shrinking body of water. That change in water chemistry has led to staggering alterations in the lake's ecology, causing ENORMOUS drops in the Aral Sea’s fish population.

Due to the shrinking fresh water supply – As the lake dried up, fisheries and the communities that depended on them collapsed.

The Aral Sea HAD supported a thriving commercial fishing industry employing roughly 60,000 people in the early 1960s. By 1977, the fish harvest was reduced by 75 percent, and by the early 1980s the commercial fishing industry had been eliminated. The last of the 20 or so species of fish that lived in the Aral Sea died out in the 1980s.


The shrinking Aral Sea has also had a noticeable affect on the region’s climate. The growing season there is now shorter, causing many farmers to switch from cotton to rice, which demands even more diverted water.

Orphaned ship in former Aral Sea, near Aral, Kazakhstan.The increasingly salty water became polluted with fertilizer and pesticides.  The blowing dust from the exposed lake bed, contaminated with agricultural chemicals, became a public health hazard due to the polluted air quality.  The salty dust blew off the lake bed and settled onto fields, ruining the soil as well as the peoples health.  ALSO… the loss of the weather moderating influence of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers hotter and drier – further compounding the dust storms.

The Shipwreck of the Aral Sea
ABOVE: Aralsk fishing village ( Kazakhstan).The Aral Sea lies on the
border between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and it was the world’s
fourth-largest lake until the Soviets decided that the two rivers that
fed the Aral Sea, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, would be diverted
for irrigating the desert in order to grow rice, melons, cereal, and
specially thirsty cotton crops. Since large scale irrigation began in
the 1960s, the sea’s surface area has shrunk more than 60 percent,
and its volume by almost 80 percent. Former fishing villages as
Muynak and Aralsk are now dozens of kilometres away from
the shoreline.

The war here is against tuberculosis, kidney disease and cancers – plaguing the people of the region. Some are caused by toxins, some by the high levels of salt in the water.

“Almost nothing grows and it’s hard for people — salt concentrates in their joints and they can’t walk for a long time…”, says Aigali Tankimalov who sailed the Aral Sea for 29 years. Now the wreck of the vessel he commanded in the navy sits opposite his front door — and the nearest water is 100 kilometres away.

Yet despite the dramatic evidence of environmental destruction, Uzbekistan’s new leaders continue to grow cotton and scientist fear the damage is irreparable.

Environmental experts agree that the current situation cannot be sustained. Yet, driven by poverty and their dependence upon exports, officials in the region have failed to take any preventive action and the Aral will continue to disappear.

Nasa Photograph taken May 3, 2009 of the evaporating Aral Sea

Nasa Photograph taken May 3, 2009 of the evaporating Aral Sea - the black outline was the ORIGINAL level of the water!!! Although irrigation made the desert bloom, it devastated the Aral Sea. This image from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite has documented the changes in the the Aral Sea throughout the past decade. The lake is a fraction of its 1960 extent (black line).

this image shows the shrinking coastline of the Aral Sea over the past 3.5 decades
jerboa

Jerboa

Facts about the Jerboa

  • Known from western Xinjiang (northwest China) and extreme southern Mongolia.

    Jerboa is located in Southern Mongolia & Northern China

    Jerboa are located in Southern Mongolia & Northern China

  • Jerboas are small jumping rodents that resemble mice with long tufted tails and very long hindlegs.
  • The long-eared jerboa can be distinguished from other jerboas by its enormous ears, which are about a third larger than the head.
  • The long-eared jerboa is thought to have one of the largest ear to body ratios of any mammal.

A bizarre creature dubbed the Mickey Mouse of the desert has been filmed in its natural habitat for the first time as part of a project to save it from extinction.  Giant ears and kangaroo legs lend the long-eared jerboa a comic quality and conservationists are anxious to save it from a tragic end.

A scientific expedition to the Gobi desert in Mongolia has now succeeded in capturing video footage of the nocturnal and little-known animal.

“The long-eared jerboa is a bit like the Mickey Mouse of the desert, cute and comic in equal measure,” said Dr Jonathon Baille of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “It’s an extraordinary animal that looks as if it’s been designed by committee – kangaroo legs, snowshoe feet, huge ears and a pig’s nose. It represents millions of years of evolutionary history and while it looks like a small rodent it’s very, very distinct. There’s no other animal of its type.”

It lives in the deserts of Mongolia and China where it is thought to use its enormous ears to

Long Ears!

Long Ears!

pinpoint and catch insects in the dark. The ears are so big that they are about 35 per cent longer than its head.

Specially adapted hairs on their elongated feet make the jerboas even more unusual and appear to help spread the animal’s weight to allow it to hop confidently over shifting sands just as snowshoes make it easier to walk on snow.

Long-eared jerboas are described as “mouse-sized kangaroos” because of the way they jump on two legs instead of scampering on four. The stretch feet enable it to leap upwards and other jerboa species have been found to be able to leap more than three feet into the air. Jumping and hopping are assumed to have evolved as a technique to evade predators, which can include wildcats, lynx, grey wolves and Pallas’s Cat.

It was identified earlier this year by the ZSL as one of the 100 most evolutionarily distinct and endangered mammals in the world. Being one of the least understood creatures scientists selected it as one of their ten priority species for conservation under the Edge (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) project.

As part of conservation effort to learn more about the long-eared jerboa, Euchoreutes naso, and highlight its plight zoologists were keen to get the first video footage of the endangered animal in the wild. During a recent ZSL expedition to the Gobi desert in Mongolia to study the species and learn more of its needs and habits, scientists managed to capture it on film. Dr Baillie, who led the expedition, added: “They can be quite agressive little creatures. They have a good bite and for their size can defend themselves well. We wore thick gloves when handling them.” As part of efforts to safeguard the creature’s longterm future ZSL and Mongolian academics have begun a program to study its habits and needs.

Threats
  • The species is thought to be at risk from human disturbance of its habitat.
  • Increasing numbers of grazing livestock may be a threat in some areas.
  • Predation by feral cats has recently been identified as a potential threat to some Mongolian populations.
  • Drying of water sources and drought, possibly due to a combination of human activities and climate change.
Conservation Required
  • Further ecological research to determine behavior, ecology and the impact of threats.
  • Habitat surveys.
  • Community surveys to determine which activities might potentially be impacting upon Jerboa populations.
  • Development of comprehensive Conservation Action Plan detailing the actions needed to save the species.
  • Habitat protection and management within existing protected areas.