Friday, February 27, 2009

Small Victory for Seals: Russia Moves towards Banning the Hunt for Baby Seals

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Russian ministers announced a complete ban on the hunt for "whitecoat harp" seals (pups up to about 11 days old) as the first step in an agreement to end the killing of all baby seals. The announcement of this new accord between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MPR) and the State Fisheries Committee came just one day after Russia's Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin said "[this] is such a bloody hunt, and it is clear that it should have been banned a long time ago."

This news was cautiously applauded by IFAW (The International Fund for Animal Welfare -, which has been campaigning to put an end to the Russian seal hunt since 1995.

"The agreement to ban the killing of all baby seals less than one year of age is an important step, but it should not be confused with an actual ban," warned Masha Vorontsova, Director of IFAW Russia. "Baby seals will still suffer and die slowly until government officials follow through on their pledge to ban all hunting of seals less than one year of age."

News of the agreement is sure to infuriate Norwegian sealing interests who were prepared to subsidize 80% of the Russian hunt in hopes of propping up the industry which is in decline worldwide.

European opposition to commercial sealing has already resulted in national bans on all seal products in Belgium, Slovenia and The Netherlands. The European Commission has adopted a proposal to ban the trade of seal products and IFAW is continuing to urge EU member states and others to enact a total ban on seal products.

"European politicians are standing up to protect seals from the cruelty associated with commercial hunts," added Vorontsova. "We are asking our Russian counterparts to do the same for all harp seals in the White Sea. Remember, 35,000 baby seals will still be killed in the White Sea next month unless Russian Ministers act swiftly to complete their pledge."

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Safe and Natural Ways to Fight Four-legged Foes in Your Gardens

(ARA) - You love the great outdoors, especially gardening. But sometimes wildlife can be just a bit too wild, with rabbits munching prized plants to the ground, deer devouring petals of roses and azaleas, and cats rolling over seedlings and leaving their “calling cards” throughout your landscaping.

Unfortunately, these critters are a common, perpetual annoyance to home gardeners. Learning a little more about their habits and identifying the culprits is your first step to critter control. First, you’ll need to recognize your four-legged foraging foe. Here are some tips to help you determine the critters you’ll need to thwart:

Rabbits: Bunnies don’t just dine on clover and grass, they’ll also wreak havoc on your vegetable plants and can even damage woody plants in your landscape. Tell-tale signs that bunnies are bountiful include damage that is usually no higher than 2 1/2 feet above the ground, and sharp cuts at 45-degree angles on plants.

Deer: A lovely sight almost anywhere other than in your backyard. Deer can, and do, cause major damage to plants, landscapes and vegetable gardens, consuming about 12 pounds of foliage in a single day. To determine if your flowers and vegetables are disappearing due to deer damage, look closely at the half-eaten plants. If you see a jagged, rough edge, you can be sure the damage was done by deer as they have no incisor teeth and tear at the food source, leaving proof of their presence.

Squirrels: These furry, funny, cute creatures can be quite destructive when it comes to your gardens and landscapes. Squirrels are burrowing animals; they usually feed on bulbs and green leafy material during the spring and summer, switching to seeds and grains during the fall and winter. They love wild bird feeders and have a reputation for driving away the very birds you put the feeder out to attract. You have squirrel damage if you see gnawing marks on tree bark and outside wiring, and signs of digging and burrowing. You’ll also see them in the light of day sitting atop your birdfeeder.

Cats: Cats love to dig in soft already-tilled soil, making gardens just perfect for their digging desires. Most cats think the outdoors is their litter box, and a patch of dirt is an invitation to come do their business. It also makes a great place to play or roll. They’ll roll over your plants, breaking new shoots and foliage. A sure sign you have a cantankerous cat frolicking in your flowerbeds is cat droppings.

These critters don't have to be the enemy of your gardens, and trapping them won't solve the problem. The arrival of warm weather means the arrival of new foliage, green grass and pesky critters in our backyards and gardens. As spring is sprung, we’re suddenly faced with long gardening to-do lists and a wide variety of unwanted animals in our garden beds. As a rule of thumb, it’s far better to prevent animal damage than to wait until it occurs and try to combat it.

There are a number of less-than-ideal approaches for dealing with these frustrating problems. Messy, dangerous chemicals pose unacceptable risks for most homeowners, considering pets and children. Sealing off entire areas of your landscape would be impractical, inconvenient and potentially very costly. Trapping is a lot of effort, and again, it would be a perpetual labor as trapping does nothing to prevent new pests.

All-natural alternatives can help keep critters out of your gardens and landscape. Look for 100 percent certified organic products like those made by Messina Wildlife Management. Easily applied in ready-to-use spray bottles, these organic products dry clear, smell good and work for 30 days before reapplication is needed, no matter the weather. They’re safe to use on vegetables and none will harm the animals they’re intended to repel. Natural products use taste and smell aversions to keep critters like rabbits, deer, squirrel, cats, groundhogs, moles and even armadillos out of your backyard.

For most animals scent and taste are the primary senses that attract them to food sources. If you disrupt the animal’s sense of smell and taste, you have won the battle against the constant parade of pesky critters in your landscapes. Visit for more information on natural, safe, effective pest repellents.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poachers Kill Five Elephants in Kenya's Most Critical Elephant Habitat

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Five elephants have been poached in the last six weeks in the Tsavo ecosystem of Kenya, alarming authorities and conservationists alike. The elephants, whose tusks had been hacked off, were found in three separate parts of the protected area.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers arrested two suspected poachers and one middleman from their hideout in the park, and recovered two AK-47 rifles and 38 rounds of ammunition. The middleman had already sold off the tusks to other dealers in the illegal ivory trade network.

"Since the one-off ivory sales from southern Africa countries late last year, we have noted an unprecedented rise of elephant poaching incidents in Tsavo," says Jonathan Kirui, Tsavo Assistant Director. Earlier reports out of KWS indicated a 60 per cent increase in poaching in the country from 2007 to 2008.

These poaching incidents come barely three months after the auctions of 112 tons (102 tonnes) of ivory stocks from South Africa, Bostwana, Namibia and Zimbabwe. This was the first time in nearly ten years that international trade had been sanctioned by the UN-backed Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The total sum of ivory auctioned represented the deaths of approximately 10,000 elephants.

James Isiche, Director of IFAW's Regional Office in East Africa, is concerned that the poaching incident could portend a return to the elephant poaching era of 70s and 80s.

"The situation is dire, and needs to be arrested before it escalates further. We believe that there is a strong correlation between this upsurge and the ivory stockpiles sales allowed by CITES just a few months ago. Our concern is that the situation may be worse in other elephant range states which face more serious law enforcement capacity challenges as compared to Kenya or some of the Southern Africa countries.

"We strongly maintain that ivory trade anywhere is a threat to elephants everywhere," said Isiche.

Only last week, leading elephant researcher Dr. Cynthia Moss released a report indicating that an elaborate poaching syndicate had led to an upsurge in elephant killings in Amboseli National Park.

"We have information that a kilo of ivory is going for as low as US$37.50 from local middlemen to other dealers, and this could be an incentive to local people who were not involved in the illegal trade in previous years," Kirui added. A kilo of ivory in the international black market fetches more than US$850.

Second to size to Kruger Park, Tsavo is home to Kenya's largest single elephant population of about 11,700. Since 2005, IFAW has been undertaking a five-year collaborative project with KWS in Tsavo to: enhance management operations in law enforcement and anti-poaching efforts, support infrastructural needs, mitigate human-wildlife conflict, research, and support community conservation and education.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW is an international animal welfare and conservation organization that works to protect wild and domestic animals and to broker solutions that benefit both animals and people. With offices in 15 countries around the world, IFAW works to protect whales, elephants, great apes, big cats, dogs and cats, seals, and other animals.

To learn more about the critical elephant ivory issue, and to take action to save elephants, visit: today.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US Congress Moves Swiftly on Legislation to Stop 'Pet' Primate Trade

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA) today congratulated the US House of Representatives for its swift passage of the Captive Primate Safety Act (H.R.80) by an overwhelming vote of 323-95. The bill, sponsored by Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) and championed by Born Free USA and The Humane Society of the United States, prohibits interstate and international movement of nonhuman primates if they are to be kept as "pets".

"The primate trade involves enormous animal suffering and threats to human safety," says Adam M. Roberts, Senior Vice President of Born Free USA. "These innocent animals may be confined in small cages or have their teeth or fingernails removed. We can't allow animals to be mutilated in the name of companionship. There is simply no excuse for keeping primates as pets and the trade must stop. Wildlife belongs in the wild."

Each year, there are numerous incidents of privately-held primates harming people. Just this month, in an incident that has garnered international attention, a woman was critically mauled by a "pet" chimpanzee in Stamford, Connecticut. "Travis the chimpanzee had escaped and caused trouble in the community before," Roberts added. "Just because you put clothes on a chimpanzee doesn't make him any less wild and potentially dangerous."

Incidents involving primate escapes or injuries to humans have occurred nationwide in recent years including chimpanzees, macaques, lemurs, snow monkeys, capuchins, and baboons - baboons and macaques have even bitten children, one case involving 17 month old girl. In many cases, escaped nonhuman primates are killed. Primates also pose a disease risk including Ebola, tuberculosis, and herpes-b.

"Primates are highly social and intelligent creatures who shouldn't be shipped around the country just to languish in people's bedrooms, basements, or backyards," added Michael Markarian, Executive Vice President of HSUS.

Born Free USA and HSUS have now called on the US Senate to move the legislation expeditiously so it can be signed into law this year.

Born Free USA is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the US and globally. Born Free USA is also a founding member of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition, More information is available at

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American Health Kennels, Inc. Announces a Voluntary Recall of Baked Dog Treats Containing Peanut Butter

As a result of the expanded recall by the Peanut Corporation of America’s (PCA) Blakely, Georgia facility, American Health Kennels, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall for certain baked dog treats containing peanut butter supplied by PCA. The Blakely PCA facility is the subject of an ongoing U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) investigation into potential Salmonella contamination of peanut butter.

American Health Kennels, Inc does not know that any of the peanut butter from PCA that was used in our process was infected with salmonella. The parameters in our formulation and baking process (280F) are well in excess of the CDC’s guidelines (190F) for an effective salmonella bacteria kill; further American Health Kennels Inc. has had no reports of illness associated with our products.

We are effecting this recall in the interest of public safety even though we know our product is safe.

According to the FDA, pets with salmonellosis may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets may exhibit milder systems such as decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain while other pets may show no symptoms at all. Well animals can be carriers and transmit the bacteria to other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and exhibits these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

While the risk of animals contracting salmonellosis is minimal, there is risk to humans from handling these products. It is important for people to wash their hands--and make sure children wash their hands--before and, especially, after feeding treats to pets.

The following items manufactured by American Health Kennels, Inc. are subject to this recall:

American Health Kennels, Inc., Cookie Bars: Creamy Peanut Butter UPC 725999522004; PB & Carob Chips UPC 725999523001; Lucious Carob UPC 725999521007; 4pack Cookiebar Assortment UPC 725999538005; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Peanut Butter Crunch 12oz UPC 725999001103; 16oz UPC 725999161104; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc. Bark Bars Peanut Butter: 1.5oz Jumbo UPC 725999000168; 2.25 Pillow Pack UPC 725999333105; 2.5lb canister UPC 725999005064; 5lb bulk UPC 725999001257; 6oz Smiles UPC 725999530009; Giggles UPC 725999530009

American Health Kennels, Inc., Christmas Stocking 6oz UPC 725999000175; Christmas Card Mailer UPC 725999513003; Birthday Mailer UPC 725999528006; “With Love” Hearts UPC 725999512944; Holiday Smiles UPC 725999222300

American Health Kennels, Inc., 100 Calorie 2oz Pillow Pack UPC 725999539101; 100 Calorie 14oz dispenser UPC 725999539200; Gravity Trial 2oz UPC 725999400166; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Minis UPC 72599953300; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Animal Snackers 3oz UPC 725999512098; 12oz UPC 725999512098; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Milk & Cookies UPC 725999333808; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Dog Ate My Homework Jumbo UPC 725999531006; 2oz Pillow Pack UPC 725999535004; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Naughty or Nice UPC 725999530092; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Carob & Peanut Butter, 2.5lb canister UPC 725999005071; 2.25oz Pillow Pack UPC 725999333402; 5lb bulk UPC 725999003251; Best Before: 11/09

American Health Kennels, Inc., Bark Bars Brownie Delight 12oz UPC 725999003107; 5lb bulk UPC 725999003251; Best Before: 11/09

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Top 10 Spring Tips for Pet Owners

(ARA) – Planting a garden, spring cleaning, fertilizing the lawn -- we all have lots of work to do with the coming of spring. But pets also have health and safety needs this time of year that their owners should know about.

“I see it all the time in my clinic in the springtime. Animals get into fertilizers and pesticides, those used on a home or on a farm, and it makes the animals sick,” says Dr. James Cook, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “People need to be aware of these potential hazards. Along with better weather, the spring brings with it the use of a number of common lawn chemicals and the blooming of plants that can be hazardous to pets.”

Here are the AVMA’s top 10 spring hints for pet owners:

*Fleas and ticks
They can be tiny, little more than a pinhead in some instances, but they grow and spread quickly once they find a host. The preventative treatments that you may have discontinued in the winter should start early in the spring to keep your pet’s coat, and your home, free of pests.

*Lawn fertilizers
Lawn fertilizers are very toxic to pets. Store fertilizers in a place far from where your dog or cat -- and children-- can get at it. After applying it to your lawn, follow manufacturer instructions on how long you should wait before allowing your pet into the area. If you see a sign posted on a lawn that tells you to keep your pets off, abide by it.

*Pesticides and herbicides
It’s probably not surprising that these chemicals can be toxic to your pets, but, even when they’re not lethal, there are some long-term health concerns. Studies indicate the use of pesticides and herbicides may be tied to increased rates of specific forms of cancer in dogs. If your pet is exposed, wash them with soap and water immediately and call your veterinarian.

*Cocoa bean mulch
It’s becoming common to mulch a garden with the fragrant spent shells of cocoa beans. But just like chocolate, dogs like to eat them and they are toxic.

Lilies are a flower common in the spring, and they are very, very toxic to cats. Cats will often chew them, and even small amounts can lead to kidney failure and death.

*Rhubarb leaves
Rhubarb makes a fine pie and it’s a staple in many vegetable gardens, but the leaves are poisonous and can cause kidney failure. For a complete list of plants and plantings that can be dangerous to pets, visit

*Rat and mouse poisons
Controlling vermin becomes an issue again in the spring. Be aware that the same properties of common rat and mouse poisons that make them irresistible to pests will also attract your pet. If consumed, these can be fatal to your animal.

*Cleaning products
Spring cleaning is an annual tradition in many households, but make sure the cleaning products don’t hurt your animals. If the label states “keep pets and children away from area until dry” follow those instructions carefully, and store all chemicals out of reach of children and pets.

*Paint and paint thinners
If you’re putting a fresh coat of paint on the house, keep the pets away. Paint thinners, mineral spirits and other solvents can cause severe irritation or chemical burns if swallowed or even if they come in contact with your pet's skin. Latex house paints typically produce a minor stomach upset, but some specialty paints may contain heavy metals or volatile substances that could be harmful if ingested.

*Preventative medications
Consult with your veterinarian about seasonal medications to keep your pet healthy. For example, in many parts of the country, heartworm medications for dogs are often discontinued in the winter. Springtime is the season to restart this medication to keep your dog free of this parasite. But keep in mind that manufacturer’s instructions warn that heartworm medications should not be given without first visiting your veterinarian to ensure that your pet has not developed the heartworm parasite. A simple blood test will give you that peace of mind.

For more information, visit For a full-length video on common household poisons and hazards, visit

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sniff, Wag, Sit, Snake! Conservation Dog Tracks Indigos

C.J. is all Lab: big, bad to jump on you, bent on chasing tennis balls.

Oh, and trained to find eastern indigo snakes.

On a recent romp in turkey-oak sandhills near Valdosta, the chocolate Labrador roamed the forest, trailing leash and handlers Kara and Mike Ravenscroft, and answering Kara’s frequent calls to stick a nose down gopher tortoise burrows and sniff.

Dirk Stevenson, an indigo expert with Project Orianne, a new conservation organization centered on conserving the protected species and its habitat range-wide, said a dog like C.J. can help pinpoint these rare snakes that wander far in warm months and often hole up in the bottom of tortoise burrows during cold weather.

“Even when they’re abundant,” Stevenson said of indigos, “they’re in low numbers.”

Eastern indigos are North America’s longest snake, reaching more than 8 feet. Adults can be as thick as two fists and weigh upward of 10 pounds. Their color is a striking glossy or bluish black; indigos appear iridescent in sunlight. Their diet is indiscriminate, including almost any animal they can swallow, even rattlesnakes.

But Drymarchon couperi has been federally listed as threatened since 1978. The snake’s historic range from southern Georgia to the Florida Keys and southwestern Alabama has been shredded by habitat loss and fragmentation. Populations dwindled as the non-venomous snakes were run over by cars, killed by people and gassed in gopher tortoise burrows, an illegal practice tied to rattlesnake roundups.

Using dogs’ keen sense of smell to pinpoint imperiled wildlife such as the eastern indigo is a growing practice. Conservation canines have been used to find everything from a threatened lupine in Oregon to brown tree snakes in Guam. C.J.’s resume already lists spider monkeys in Nicaragua and bats in Texas, plus a trained aversion to rattlesnakes.

Project Orianne rented the retriever from PackLeader Dog Training of Washington to explore survey methods for indigos, which are also listed state-listed in Georgia as threatened. C.J. didn’t disappoint, finding live snakes and shed skins. His “alert” for each discovery begins with what Stevenson calls a “slappy” tail and ends in a sit.

“He has … come onto the trail of a snake and gone as far as 200 meters to find (the snake),” Stevenson said.

This cold day spent searching likely indigo sites on private property yielded some excited looks but no alerts. Yet, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division staff including Nongame Conservation Section program manager Matt Elliott had a chance to watch C.J. work, making a cursory check of areas where indigos have not been documented.

Conservation of indigos and key habitats such as the longleaf pine sandhills in Georgia’s Coastal Plain are priorities in the State Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy guiding Wildlife Resources efforts to conserve biological diversity. A recently announced DNR project funded in part by a Wal-Mart Foundation grant will help train Georgia teachers about sandhills habitats and wildlife. The grant was to The Environmental Resources Network, a nonprofit that supports DNR’s nongame work.

The Nongame Conservation Section receives no state funds to help conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats. The work depends instead on grants, private support and fundraisers such as sales of the bald eagle and ruby-throated hummingbird license plates and donations to the Give Wildlife a Chance state income tax checkoff.

C.J.’s outlook is less complex: Find a snake; get to retrieve a ball.

At day’s end, Kara, who with her husband Mike was working for Project Orianne, even coaxed the dog to sit for a photograph.

Asked about the biggest challenge in working with C.J., she responded with a laugh, “Getting him to cooperate.”


· Are sometimes confused with black racers, the indigo's slimmer, smaller, faster and much more abundant cousin.
· Are closely tied in Georgia to the Coastal Plain’s longleaf pine sandhills, where the snakes depend on gopher tortoise burrows for shelter in winter.
· Often return to the same gopher tortoise colonies and sometimes even the same burrows each winter, often traveling near-identical routes. (A University of Georgia student doing research for the DNR found that one male indigo followed the same course even though part of the area had since been clearcut).
· Are diurnal, or active mostly by day.
· Range far and wide. A recent study in Georgia determined that some males’ home ranges exceed 3,000 acres.
· Are non-venomous and often eat venomous snakes such as rattlers and cottonmouths.
· Are protected by federal and state law: Harming an indigo is a federal offense.

Sources include Amphibians and Reptiles of Georgia

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Brown Recluse Spider isn’t Typically a Southerner

Many Georgia doctors have likely diagnosed a patient’s suspect wound as a brown recluse spider bite. There’s just one problem with this: The spider really doesn’t call the Deep South home, says a University of Georgia spider expert.

Over the past six years, only 19 brown recluse spiders have been identified in a study conducted in Georgia for the spider. And most were found in the northwest corner of the state, said Nancy Hinkle, an entomologist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Brown recluse spiders have only been collected 58 times in Georgia.

“Hundreds of entomologists, extension agents from across the state, thousands of pest control inspectors and millions of citizens have been able to find brown recluse spiders in only 31 Georgia counties,” she said.

From 2002 to May of 2008, Hinkle tracked verified brown recluse reports in Georgia. The findings were published in the January issue of the Journal of Medical Entomology.

The spider is brown but has a darker, violin-shaped design where its legs attach. With its legs extended, it's about the size of a quarter. If the brown recluse spiders in the state caused all the reported wounds, she said, they’d be very busy spiders.

Hinkle received thousands of samples from across the state. Rick Vetter from the University of California at Riverside identified the samples. He is the world's expert on the brown recluse spider.

Brown recluse spider bites are very rare in Georgia. Hinkle said there is only one confirmed account of anyone being bitten by one in Georgia. However, 963 reports of bites in 103 counties have been filed at Georgia poison centers in the last five years.

Over-diagnosis is a problem nationwide. Hinkle said South Carolina physicians diagnosed 738 bites in 2004, but only 44 brown recluse spiders have been found in the state’s recorded history. Similarly, Floridians claimed 95 brown recluse bites in 2000, but Florida has recorded brown recluse spiders at only 11 places in more than 100 years.

The study was prompted by Hinkle's arrival from California. "When I first came to Georgia, I heard several people say they knew someone who'd seen or been seriously wounded by a recluse," she said. "I found that odd since the recluse is a Midwesterner, not a Southerner."

The spider’s native range does include North Georgia, but its distribution is limited there.

Hinkle hopes the study will educate Georgia's medical community and reduce the number of erroneous recluse bite cases. A mark on the skin that looks like a spider bite could be something more serious.

She believes many assumed brown recluse bites could be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

MRSA is a type of staph infection resistant to antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin and oxacillin. MRSA causes mild skin infections that result in pimples or boils, but it can also cause more serious skin lesions or infect surgical wounds.

Incorrectly diagnosing MRSA as a spider bite, and vice versa, can result in a patient getting the wrong therapy, Hinkle said.

“MRSA infections require a specific set of antibiotics,” she said. “Brown recluse spider bites, on the other hand, cause tissue damage by salivary secretions in their venom and antibiotics have no effect on salivary secretions.”

Other misdiagnosed wounds could be infections, insect bites, diabetes, bed sores, Lyme disease, anthrax or necrotizing bacteria, some of which can be fatal if not treated fast, she said.

Almost all brown recluse bites heal without medical intervention, Hinkle said. And in spite of all the horror stories, only 1 percent requires medical attention.

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

April Sorrow is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Waterbird Census Reveals Positive Numbers Along Coast

Dedicated bird watchers braved cold temperatures and in some cases 25 mph winds to search Georgia’s barrier island beaches for birds Jan. 16. The objective: Count and identify every waterbird they could find while roaming the chilly beaches.

This midwinter survey is an annual census done since 1996 and valued for the information gleaned on waterbird populations and roosting areas. Participants, many of them volunteers, counted more than 104,000 birds representing some 30 species this year. Of the total, an estimated 99,293 were shorebirds.

The numbers look positive, especially for species such as dunlins, marbled godwits and American oystercatchers. Totals included nearly 67,000 dunlins, 303 marbled godwits, 383 American oystercatchers, and more than 1,700 red knots.

Rare species such as red knots and marbled godwits highlight the Georgia coast’s importance as a haven for wintering and migrating waterbirds.

Participants also recorded several banded birds, including piping plovers, red knots and American oystercatchers. GPS locations for the species sporting leg bands will be noted and referred to researchers.

Waterbirds include shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds. The survey led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division is joined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Georgia Ornithological Society, Audubon Society, St. Catherines Island Foundation, and groups representing Little St. Simons and Little Cumberland islands.

“We rely on the best birders in the state to help us out,” said Brad Winn, coastal program manager for Wildlife Resources’ Nongame Conservation Section.

At high tide, when most waterbirds are concentrated in smaller areas, 68 birders packing scopes and checklists ventured out to Georgia’s 14 barrier islands for about four hours to scan sand, sea and sky. Data collected will serve as a midwinter snapshot of waterbird populations.

The survey meshes with Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy for wildlife conservation in the state. “The beaches are very fragile habitat, and many of the (waterbird) species we’re surveying are in our Wildlife Action Plan,” Winn said.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

U.S. Veterinarians at Risk for Q Fever

U.S. veterinarians face a high risk of exposure to the bacteria that cause Q fever, according to a study published online by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. The study currently is online and will appear in the March issue of the journal.

Q fever is a disease caused by infection with Coxiella burnetii bacteria, which are commonly carried by sheep, goats and cattle. People who have contact with farm animals, such as farmers and veterinarians, are most at risk for Q fever.

To better understand the risk of infection in veterinarians, Emory University public health researcher Ellen Whitney, MPH, and colleagues from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Georgia Department of Agriculture surveyed 508 U.S. veterinarians who attended an annual veterinarian conference in Hawaii in 2006. Blood samples from participating veterinarians were tested to detect antibodies against C. burnetii. The researchers also collected information about the veterinarians' working habits, work-related injuries, and history of protective clothing and equipment use.

Of the veterinarians surveyed, 22.2 percent had antibodies against Q fever bacteria in their blood, Whitney and colleagues found. Veterinarians more likely to have been exposed to the bacteria were generally older (46 years of age or older), worked near ponds, and treated cattle, pigs and wildlife.

"Physicians should consider the risk of infection with C. burnetii when treating ill veterinarians and others with potential occupational exposures," says Whitney, director of research projects at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health.

The disease and the bacteria that cause it were first identified in the late 1930s, when Australian scientists investigated an outbreak of unknown disease among abattoir workers. Since then, outbreaks have occurred among U.S. soldiers in Iraq and the disease has been reported worldwide with the exception of New Zealand. Last year saw the world’s largest ever recorded Q fever epidemic in The Netherlands, with more than 670 people affected by the disease.

Many people who are infected with the bacteria do not fall ill, but some experience flu-like symptoms, including headache, fever and a sore throat. In some cases chronic Q fever can develop months or years after initial exposure to the bacteria. For people with an existing heart condition, this can cause inflammation of the heart valves, known as endocarditis.

Whitney and colleagues conclude that veterinarians should use appropriate personal protective equipment when treating ill animals. Additionally, veterinarians and their physicians should be aware of the risk of infection. For those who have underlying heart disease or a suppressed immune system, and for pregnant women, quicker diagnosis of C. burnetii-related endocarditis will help to prevent complications, the researchers note.
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Songbirds Fly Three Times Faster than Expected

A York University researcher has tracked the migration of songbirds by outfitting them with tiny geolocator backpacks – a world first – revealing that scientists have underestimated their flight performance dramatically.

"Never before has anyone been able to track songbirds for their entire migratory trip,” said study author Bridget Stutchbury, a professor of biology in York’s Faculty of Science & Engineering. “We’re excited to achieve this scientific first.” Songbirds, the most common type of bird in our skies, are too small for conventional satellite tracking.

Stutchbury and her team mounted miniaturized geolocators on 14 wood thrushes and 20 purple martins, breeding in Pennsylvania during 2007, tracking the birds’ fall takeoff, migration to South America, and journey back to North America. In the summer of 2008, they retrieved the geolocators from five wood thrushes and two purple martins and reconstructed individual migration routes and wintering locations.

Data from the geolocators indicated that songbirds can fly in excess of 500 km (311 miles) per day, reports Stutchbury in the Feb. 13 issue of the journal Science. Previous studies estimated their flight performance at roughly 150 km (93 miles) per day.

The study, funded in part by the National Geographic Society, found that songbirds’ overall migration rate was two to six times more rapid in spring than in fall. For example, one purple martin took 43 days to reach Brazil during fall migration, but in spring returned to its breeding colony in only 13 days. Rapid long-distance movement occurred in both species, said Stutchbury.

“We were flabbergasted by the birds’ spring return times. To have a bird leave Brazil on April 12 and be home by the end of the month was just astounding. We always assumed they left sometime in March,” she said.

Researchers also found that prolonged stopovers were common during fall migration. The purple martins, which are members of the swallow family, had a stopover of three to four weeks in the Yucatan before continuing to Brazil. Four wood thrushes spent one to two weeks in the southeastern United States in late October, before crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and two other individuals stopped on the Yucatan Peninsula for two to four weeks before continuing migration.

The geolocators, which are smaller than a dime, detect light, allowing researchers to estimate birds’ latitude and longitude by recording sunrise and sunset times. The devices are mounted on birds’ backs by looping thin straps around their legs. The weight of the geolocator rests at the base of the bird’s spine, so as not to interfere with its balance.

Stutchbury credits researchers with the British Antarctic Survey for miniaturizing the geolocators. “They hadn’t really been thinking of [attaching them to] songbirds, but when I saw the technology, I knew we could do this,” she said.

The study also uncovered evidence that wood thrushes from a single breeding population did not scatter over their tropical wintering grounds. All five wood thrushes wintered in a narrow band in eastern Honduras or Nicaragua.

“This region is clearly important for the overall conservation of wood thrushes, a species that has declined by 30 percent since 1966,” said Stutchbury. “Songbird populations have been declining around the world for 30 or 40 years, so there is a lot of concern about them.”

She emphasized the importance of this research not only to protect at-risk species of songbirds, but also to gauge environmental concerns.

“Tracking birds to their wintering areas is also essential for predicting the impact of tropical habitat loss and climate change,” she said. “Until now, our hands have been tied in many ways, because we didn’t know where the birds were going. They would just disappear and then come back in the spring. It’s wonderful to now have a window into their journey.”

The study, “Tracking long-distance songbird migration using geolocators,” was co-authored by Tyler Done, Elizabeth Gow and Patrick Kramer (York University graduate students), John Tautin (Purple Martin Conservation Association), and James Fox and Vsevolod Afanasyev (British Antarctic Survey).

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Scotts Voluntarily Recalling Five Wild Bird Food Suet Products that may Contain PCA Peanut Meal

/PRNewswire/ -- The Scotts Company LLC announced today that it is voluntarily recalling specific lots of five varieties of suet wild bird food products after learning those products may contain peanut meal purchased from the Peanut Corporation of America's (PCA) plant in Blakely, Georgia, because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella can affect animals and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated bird seed and/or pet food products. People handling wild bird food can become infected with Salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the product or any surfaces exposed to these products. Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Scotts ("the Company") has requested that its retailers, distributors and sub-distributors recall the affected products, using proper recall notifications, and remove these products from retail shelves or warehouses, and return them to the Company. In addition, the Company also is requesting that those parties that sell the affected products to consumers not only advise those consumers of the recall, but also tell them to throw the product away, avoid touching unsealed product with bare hands, and wash their hands thoroughly after touching unsealed product.

Scotts has not received any reports of illness involving its products that may contain the PCA peanut meal, and it is no longer using any products from the Blakely facility. Nonetheless, as a precautionary measure, Scotts is recalling the following five products with the specific manufacturing date codes below that were manufactured between December 27, 2008 and January 17, 2009:

Product Description UPC # Recalled Lot/Manufacturing
Date Code

Morning Song Nutty Safari
Suet 0-86155-01110-8 12-27-08
11 oz. 12-29-08
Morning Song Woodpecker
Suet 3 Pack 0-86155-22348-8 01-12-09
1.78 lbs.
Royal Wing Raisin Suet 7-49394-00336-4 01-05-09
11.75 oz. 01-07-09

Morning Melodies Variety
Suet 3 CT 0-86155-22124-8 12-29-08
962g (33.75 oz.) 01-07-09

Morning Song Variety 15
Pack Suet 0-86155-22291-7 12-27-08
Multi-pack with 15 suets
and suet feeder 12-29-08

Scotts "No Quibble" guarantee highlights the Company's commitment to quality and satisfaction. To receive a replacement product or refund for any of these affected products, consumers can contact Scotts customer service department at 1-866-512-8876 or at or

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Anti-Dogfighting Advertising Campaign Launched in Atlanta

In January 2008, The Humane Society of the United States and Atlanta-based Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation initiated an aggressive campaign to tackle dogfighting in Georgia. The groups have now launched the newest phase of their campaign, consisting of an unprecedented outdoor advertising campaign to tackle dogfighting in the Atlanta area.

"Thanks to the contributions made by the Holland M. Ware Foundation and Norred & Associates Inc., two Georgia-based establishments, The Humane Society of the United States has been able to put forth an extraordinary effort to root out some of the country's largest and most prolific dogfighting operations," said Ann Chynoweth, senior director of The HSUS' animal cruelty and fighting campaign.

The outdoor advertising campaign announced today promotes The HSUS' animal fighting tip line, 877-TIP-HSUS, as well as the up-to-$5,000 reward for tips leading to animal fighting arrests — showcasing that reporting animal fighting and being eligible to receive a sizeable reward is as simple as making one toll-free phone call. Billboards and bus shelter ads have been placed in areas known for heavy dogfighting in DeKalb, Gwinett, Clayton, Fulton, Rockdale, Cobb, Jackson and Paulding counties.

In addition to this latest facet, here are a few of the many milestones that have been reached in the battle against dogfighting in Georgia in the last year:

-Hundreds of reports of animal fighting have been called into The HSUS' tip line, leading to dozens of investigations by Norred & Associates, The HSUS and law enforcement agencies.
-Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue signed legislation strengthening the state's dogfighting law on May 16, 2008.
-Georgia law enforcement agencies have initiated eight dogfighting prosecutions.
Many of those arrested are nationally-known, major players in the underground dogfighting world. Their operations have been shut down and their dogs seized.
-Due to its success in Georgia, The HSUS' animal fighting tip line has been expanded to help combat animal fighting in neighboring Florida.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Gas Chambers Still an Option in Several Georgia Counties

Georgia Voters for Animal Welfare is trying to reintroduce to our state lawmakers last year's bill (House Bill 1060) to shut down the remaining carbon monoxide gas chambers used to kill homeless dogs, cats, puppies and kittens in Georgia shelters. The law, if passed, would make lethal injection the only approved method of killing homeless pets.

See, at bottom, a list of the Georgia counties and cities still using gas chambers.

We need to act quickly and effectively to garner support among our state legislators. A peaceful demonstration on the front lawn/stairs of the State Capitol is one way to draw attention to our bill and to the barely-known issue of gas chambers.


Date: Thursday, February 26th (rain or shine!)
Time: 9:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Location: State Capitol (the gold dome) main entrance on Washington Street downtown Atlanta
Directions: Exit 248A off I-75/85. Take MLK toward the gold dome, cross over Washington Street and through the next light to parking garage on right
Bring: posters saying "Ban Gas Chambers" or whatever you'd like to say, so long as you do not use profanity or say anything that will get us thrown out. No sticks/stakes, just poster board or foam core, hand-held.

Our goal is 100 people. That should be easy! We have 100x that many animal advocates in Georgia! We need to show our state lawmakers that the humane treatment of homeless pets is a high priority for many Georgia voters. Please don't use work as an excuse to not attend. We all work, but we all take a day off now and then. What better use of a personal day, a vacation day or a sick day will you ever have than this? Make your plans today and ask your boss for the day off. What does it say to the animals and to our legislators if this issue isn't worth one day off work to many, if not all of, Georgia's animal advocates? One day off to possibly end the torture of gas chambers. How can you say no? Please don't. Please be part of this important movement!

The State of Tennessee banned gas chambers a few years ago because a shelter worker died of co2 poisoning. The State of Virginia passed a ban on its gas chambers last year. "Davie's Bill" is pending in North Carolina at this moment. But Grace's Bill hasn't even been introduced to Georgia's General Assembly yet. We need your help to make it happen!

To learn more about gas chambers, visit the website of Animal Law Coalition:

Here's what Animal Control Officer, Linda Cordry, in Liberty County had to say about the gas chamber she used before her local elected officials made the humane decision to switch to lethal injection:

"The gas chamber is simply a torture device for both animal and human alike. I hate that thing with a passion. It is NOT a humane way to put animals to sleep. It is not humane for those of us that have to witness its use! To hear the piteous cries that come from within that monstrous machine is unnerving at best. At least with lethal injections, you get to hold and wish these animals a safe journey to the bridge. You get to apologize for all the horrors they've had to endure at human hands. After all it is OUR fault they were born, not theirs. I wish I could make everyone understand the pain and sorrow I live with for having done my job (being made to use the gas chamber for so long). I still have nightmares about all the innocents lost over the years."

Whether or not you can attend the demonstration, PLEASE CALL OR WRITE TO YOUR STATE SENATOR AND HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE TO EXPRESS YOUR SUPPORT OF THE PROPOSED BAN ON GAS CHAMBERS! Here's how to find out who are your Senator and Representative and how to contact them: /dbq/officials/?lvl=L

Input your zip code. Then click on 'State' elected officials. Then input your full address. Then you'll see, under Sonny Perdue's name, the names of your Senator and House Representative. Then go to this website to get their contact information, bios, etc.:

List of Counties and Cities still using gas chambers (to the best of our knowledge... there may be others):

Ashburn, GA
Barnesville, GA
Bulloch County
Butts County
Cordele, GA
Cuthbert, GA
Vienna, GA
Haralson County
Lanier County
Lowndes County
Macon, GA (City Council voted June 2008 to stop using its chamber July 1, 2009)
Mitchell County
Pulaski County
Spalding County
Sumter County
Warner Robins, GA

Thank you for reading and for joining the cause to spare our homeless pets prolonged and painful death by suffocation.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scientists Conclude That Culling Whales Will Not Help Fisheries in Tropical Regions

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Culling whales will not increase fisheries catches in tropical waters, according to a new paper supported by the Lenfest Ocean Program and published today in the journal Science. For years, Japan has argued that reducing the number of baleen whales in the oceans would improve fisheries because whales eat fish that are caught for human consumption. The study published today found that even a complete eradication of whale populations in tropical waters would not lead to any significant increase in fish populations.

Many countries in Western Africa and the Caribbean have been persuaded by Japan to join the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and vote in favor of resuming commercial whaling with the understanding that culling whales would result in increased fisheries catches.

"Our models unequivocally show that removing whales would not significantly increase the amount of commercially valuable fish," said Dr. Leah Gerber, lead author and associate professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Science at Arizona State University. "Instead, we found that fishing is having a far greater bearing on the health of the fish stocks in the region. Interestingly, when whales were more abundant before World War II, the fisheries were in good shape."

"The assertion that whales are competing with fisheries for food is, on the surface, very persuasive, because it seems intuitive that these large animals must be consuming enormous amounts of food," said Dr. Kristin Kaschner, an author based at the Evolutionary Biology and Ecology Lab at the University of Freiburg, Germany. "However, competition within ecosystems is a complex issue and needs to be investigated using the appropriate scientific tools."

The authors constructed ecosystem models, which account for feeding interactions between whales and fish, to understand the role that baleen whales play in tropical marine ecosystems in Western Africa and the Caribbean, where baleen whales are known to breed. The scientists used global and regional data, validated through scientific workshops in Senegal and Barbados, to determine whether competition was occurring.

"An ocean ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. Removing whales from the equation does not increase the number of fish and impacts the health of the overall system," said Dr. Lyne Morissette, an author based at the Institut des Sciences de la Mer de Rimouski, Canada. "We need to focus on truly effective and sustainable management approaches to recover our fisheries."

The researchers suggest these results underscore the important role of science in policy decisions about whales and fisheries interactions. They also emphasize that the goal of ecosystem-based management should not be to manipulate individual components of food webs in an attempt to maximize the amount of fish to catch, but to manage the whole system for long-term sustainability.

"All countries should adopt leadership roles in a common effort to manage our fisheries better," said Dr. Daniel Pauly, an author from the University of British Columbia. "The assertion that fish supply is in peril is legitimate, but the problem is resolved with better management, not whaling."

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Wal-Mart Foundation Grant Will Spur Education About Sandhills

A Wal-Mart Foundation grant announced today will help the Georgia Department of Natural Resources inform the public and teachers about sandhills, one of the state’s most biologically diverse habitats.

The Wal-Mart Foundation is providing $33,145 for The Environmental Resources Network Inc., better known as TERN, to develop with the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section an education campaign on this distinct but often overlooked Coastal Plain habitat.

Found from the fall line to the coast, sandhills are areas of deep, sandy soils that generally feature a mix of longleaf pine and scrub oak species in a low, open-tree canopy with drought-tolerant shrubs, grasses and forbs. Sandhills support protected species such as the endangered eastern indigo snake, sandhills golden aster and the gopher tortoise, Georgia’s state reptile. The State Wildlife Action Plan, a guiding conservation strategy, rates sandhills a priority habitat.

The sandhills project will team this year with educators to translate technical information explaining sandhills and other Coastal Plain habitats into K-12 curriculum resources such as lesson plans. An advanced Project WILD workshop including field trips will train teachers about these habitats and how to relay relevant information to students.

TERN’s mission is to foster and aid in the protection, knowledge and enhancement of nongame and endangered wildlife throughout Georgia. President Brock Hutchins said the 501(c)(3) nonprofit will use “100 percent of the grant” to fund the project.

The grant comes through Wal-Mart’s State Giving Program, which supports organizations that align with the company’s mission to create opportunities so people can live better. Grants reflect the foundation’s focus areas: education, workforce development, health and wellness, and environmental sustainability.

“Wal-Mart is excited to be part of such a reputable and well respected organization such as TERN,” said Glen Wilkins, senior manager of Public Affairs & Government Relations for the company. “At Wal-Mart, we believe that we should be a good community partner. Here in Georgia, we have so many natural resources we want to make sure that they are preserved for future generations, and we are excited to be part of the education process for the future.”

The grant was announced at St. Simons Island following Weekend for Wildlife, an annual Nongame Conservation Section fundraiser TERN helps hold on Sea Island. The Nongame Conservation Section receives no state funds for its mission to conserve nongame animals, native plants and natural habitats, depending instead on fundraisers, grants and donations. Nongame wildlife includes animals not legally hunted, fished for or trapped.

Nongame Conservation Section Chief Mike Harris said wildlife conservation ultimately depends on public support grounded in an appreciation and understanding of wildlife species and habitat.

“Our Georgia sandhills house a unique and interesting group of animals,” Harris said. “This project will help more people understand the importance of the gopher tortoise, a keystone species, and other wildlife that share sandhills with them.”

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

From Dog Trainers to Dog Rescuers: Professional Dog Trainers Turn Focus to Saving Shelter Dogs

/PRNewswire/ -- According to the National Animal Interest Alliance, about 1.8 million dogs are surrendered to animal shelters each year by their owners. About 300,000 of these relinquished dogs are turned in to be euthanized, and the remaining 1.5 million are surrendered for adoption. Although it is challenging to track exactly why all these dogs are being surrendered, it is clear that behavior problems are a primary culprit. This means that behavior problems are one of the leading causes of death in dogs in the United States.

Animal Behavior College (ABC), a Los Angeles-based vocational school for professional dog training instructors, has launched a national campaign to save the lives of shelter dogs. As a part of the solution to help reduce these shocking statistics, ABC has created "Students Saving Lives," a program that requires all of their dog training students to volunteer at least ten hours of training time to local animal shelters or rescue organizations.

To date, approximately 2,000 ABC Certified Dog Trainers have donated over 31,000 volunteer dog training hours to animal shelters and rescue groups all throughout North America in an effort to help save lives. The dogs are taught basic obedience lessons as well as problem solving for inappropriate behaviors.

"Since we started this program, 'Students Saving Lives' countless dogs have been rescued from death row at shelters because they were well-trained by an ABC dog training graduate. Those dogs that were only a few days away from euthanasia are now living in loving, permanent homes. This program has caught the attention of animal shelters and rescue organizations all across the country," said Debbie Kendrick proudly, Vice President of ABC and creator of "Students Saving Lives".

It is proven that the chances of adoption increase tremendously once a dog is well trained. The dog is more likely to be noticed at a shelter and adopted. Once home, they are less likely to have behavior problems which often results in being returned to the shelter.

Animal Behavior College has enrolled thousands of students all over the United States and Canada who are looking for a great new career that is not only fulfilling, but helps make a difference in the lives of dogs.

More information can be found at

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Georgia Tech Biologists Find Gene Network That Gave Rise to First Tooth

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have identified a set of genes that they believe was responsible for forming the first teeth in vertebrates. This gene network is believed to have been responsible for the formation of teeth in the throat of the first jawless fish half a billion years ago and are still responsible for the development of teeth in the jaws of all animals today. The research appears online in the journal PLoS Biology beginning February 10.

“We have identified a core set of genes that probably made the first tooth in these ancient vertebrates and still governs the formation of teeth in modern vertebrates including humans. So it’s likely that every tooth made throughout the evolution of vertebrates has used this core set of genes,” said Gareth Fraser, postdoctoral fellow in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology.

The first vertebrates to have teeth were a group of eel-like jawless fish known as the conodonts that had teeth not in their mouth, but lining the throat. They’re long since extinct, but Fraser, along with J. Todd Streelman, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology, investigated the teeth in a group of fish known for their rapid rate of evolution, the cichlids of Africa’s Lake Malawi. The cichlids have teeth in both their oral jaws, like humans, and deep in their throats on a pharyngeal jaw. A co-author of the paper, Darrin Hulsey, first identified a surprising positive correlation between the number of teeth in the oral jaw and throat in these fish.

“Originally, I thought there wouldn’t be a correlation due to the developmental differences and the evolutionary distinction between the two jaw regions, but it turns out there is,” explained Fraser. “So fish that have fewer oral teeth also have fewer pharyngeal teeth. This shows that on some level there’s a genetic control that governs the number of teeth in both regions.”

The team investigated what this control might be by using a technique localizing gene expression in the cells during tooth development, known as insitu hybridization, and found that a common genetic network governs teeth in both locations.

“So seemingly, regardless of where you grow a tooth, whether it’s in the jaw or the pharynx, you use the same core set of genes to do it,” said Streelman. “We also think it’s probable that this network is not just acting in teeth, but also in other similarly patterned structures like hair and feathers.”

In another finding in the same paper, Fraser and colleagues found that a set of genes known as Hox genes, which control where limbs and organs should form during development, are expressed in the teeth and jaws found in the pharynx. It has long been known that Hox genes are not expressed in the oral jaw, and it’s widely believed that this lack of expression is responsible for the evolution of the oral jaws. Fraser hypothesized that these Hox genes should be “switched off” during the formation of the pharyngeal jaw as is the case for the oral jaw. The study shows that this isn’t the case.

“The prevailing theory suggests that the loss of Hox genes in the oral region during the transition from jawless to jawed vertebrates facilitated the evolution and diversity of oral jaws. Our data suggest that loss of Hox genes is not an absolute requirement to make a toothed, functional jaw,” said Streelman.

The authors of the study were Gareth J. Fraser, C. Darrin Hulsey, Ryan F. Bloomquist, Kristine Uyesugi, Nancy R. Manley and J. Todd Streelman.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

World’s Largest Snake Discovered in Fossilized Rainforest

Sixty million years before Jennifer Lopez starred in the film “Anaconda,” the world’s biggest snake slithered around northern South America. Excavations in Colombia co-organized by Carlos Jaramillo, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and Jonathan Bloch, curator of vertebrate paleontology at the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History, unearthed fossil remains of a new snake species named Titanoboa cerrejonensis.

Surrounded by huge trucks extracting coal from Cerrejon, one of the world’s largest open-pit mines, researchers discovered fossilized bones of super-sized snakes and their prey, crocodiles and turtles, in the Cerrejon Formation, along with fossilized plant material from the oldest known rainforest in the Americas, which flourished at the site 58-60 million years ago.

Jason Head, the lead author of the new species description in the journal Nature, is a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. Head, with David Polly, associate professor of geosciences at Indiana University, used the ratio between vertebral size and the length of existing snakes to estimate that this boa-like snake must have reached 13 meters (42 feet) in length and weighed more than a ton. Titanoboa, as it is now called, is the largest snake ever known, and was the largest non-marine vertebrate from the epoch immediately following the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. “The discovery of Titanoboa challenges our understanding of past climates and environments, as well as the biological limitations on the evolution of giant snakes.” said Head “This shows how much more information about the history of Earth there is to glean from a resource like the reptile fossil record.”

Titanoboa’s size indicates that it lived in an environment where the average yearly temperature was 30-34 degrees Celsius. This estimate coincides with paleoclimatic models predicting greenhouse conditions. “This temperature estimate is much hotter than modern temperatures in tropical rainforests anywhere in the world. The fossil floras that the Smithsonian has been collecting in Cerrejon for many years indicate that the area was a tropical rainforest. That means that tropical rainforests could exist at temperatures 3-4 degrees Celsius hotter than modern tropical rainforests experience,” said Jaramillo.

Support for this research comes from the National Science Foundation, Fondo para Investigaciones del Banco de la Republica de Colombia, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute Paleobiology Fund, the Florida Museum of Natural History, a Geological Society of America Graduate Student Research Grant and a National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Discovery Grant and the Cerrejon Coal Mine.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Animal Park Rescues 800 Pound Alligator From Back Yard Of Deceased Mans House

/24-7/ -- The G.W. Exotic Animal park received a call for help by the friends of Richard "Rick" Beamon of Stuart Oklahoma. Some time within the past week or so Rick had an accident involving a chain saw leaving him deceased in his back pasture with family and friends not knowing what happened or where he was. The Hughes County Sherriff office along with friends of Ricks found him laying in his back pasture not knowing just how many days he had been laying there in the Oklahoma ice storm.

In Ricks back yard, he kept his very best friend "Albert" a 12 foot 1 inch long, 43 year old Alligator weighing in at nearly 800 pounds living in a pond in the back yard. Concerned about his well being the family friends called upon the G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood Oklahoma to come rescue Albert and give him and the other reptiles a good home as Rick would be worried about the care of all of his friends.

As this story goes, the volunteers from G.W. scrambled together to get their gear and things they thought they might need to rescue an alligator and headed off for an adventure some had never been on. Expecting a 5 or 6 foot alligator when they arrived they found nothing close to what they were expecting.

Here lies Albert a 12 foot some 800 pound alligator in a very large pond enclosed with a fence to keep him safe. With nothing in the crews hearts but compassion for animals, no job was to big for the volunteers from the G.W. Park. With the temperature dropping by the minute and the sun going down fast, two of the volunteers got into a small plastic boat which was taking on water fast, set out for the middle of the pond to try to catch Albert.

They located Albert several times but the water was to cold and deep to properly put a rope around him to pull him from the water. As the sun dropped and the temperature got colder, Joe Schreibvogel, Park Director of G.W. made a decision to go look for a neighbor with a back hoe to cut a hole in the bank and drain the water. Working just down the road at a local oil rig was the ex-police chief of Sulphur Oklahoma. He and his crew was more than willing to bring their back hoe to the rescue of Albert.

The crew of G.W. already wet and dealing with hypothermia along with being covered with mud they were excited to see the back hoe arrive. The oil workers cut a trench in the dam draining most of the water from the pond, the two volunteers from the park setting in a sinking boat was able to finally get a rope around Albert's head allowing them to finally get him safe to shore.

Except one problem, the pond had drained to the point they had chest high mud between them and safety, the next problem was how to get to shore. The oil rig workers tied a rope to the back hoe and threw it to the volunteers in the boat, caring more for the safety of Albert, they tied the rope to Albert allowing the oil workers to pull Albert to safety. After getting Albert up on land the next task was how to rescue two freezing wet, covered in mud volunteers from a tiny plastic boat in the middle of a very large mud puddle.

The volunteers who had been wading in mud up to their chest and already had to be pulled out of the mud with the back hoe tossed a rope to the two in the boat and pulled them as close as they could to the shore, leaving them one option and that is to jump in the mud and hope they make it to shore. Pulling them to shore with their hands cramping from the cold and unable to hang on they finally make it to shore. Again with no concern for their own well being all of the volunteers and oil workers began worrying about how cold Albert was.

On the back of the pickup of one of the oil workers had a big tank of drinking water they used on the rig, with no second thought they took their own drinking water and washed Albert off and covered him with blankets to keep him warm. Finally Albert looked like he was going to be safe but the last task was to get this giant alligator in the rescue trailer. The exhausted crew looped ropes around their necks and lifted the best they could to get the giant beast into the trailer. It took several try's but Albert 9 hours later laid in soft blankets bedded down with straw in an enclosed trailer of safety.

Rick's friend "Danny" got the workers in Rick's house and let them wash up the best they could, most of the clothes the volunteers were wearing would have to be thrown away but standing in front of a gas heater telling stories about how Rick loved his animals seemed to warm all the hearts of anyone who was cold.

Lasting more than 12 hours the crew from the G.W. Park made their way back to Wynnewood where the next morning the task still ahead of them was to put Albert into his new home. That next day with 5 news stations and 6 news papers watching what was not just a normal alligator being unloaded but a famous one at that. Albert has starred in movies such as "The Eraser" with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Toyota Commercials along with many others.

12 volunteers with the G.W. Park unloaded Albert with the best of care and carrying him only 5 feet at a time without having to stop and take a rest this gator was so large. Later that next morning Albert was enjoying a fresh bath laying in his new indoor pool of the Steve Irwin Memorial Complex which was built at the park in 1997 housing 11 other alligators.

With such an incredible story the Parks Director would like to extend thanks to the family of Rick of putting the trust in them that Albert will live on for many more years carrying on the memory of Mr, Richard Beamon to hundreds of thousands of visitors at the Animal Park. Ricks memorial page is at .

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Help Me Mend My Broken Heart

Last weekend a beautiful and congenial little dachshund mix, named Alex, was surrendered to our rescue group, the Georgia Heartland Humane Society, because her owners could no longer care for her. At 7 months old, Alex radiates with youthful energy and a desire to be loved.

In fact she didn’t remain in our program for very long before getting adopted. Unfortunately, her new owners immediately discovered that Alex has a congenital heart condition, one which was previously undiagnosed and which requires a very expensive surgery. Our rescue group faced a difficult and arduous decision. Heart surgery is expensive in any economy, but especially in one like this one where donations are low and unlikely as people struggle to take care of their own pets and families. Her new family didn’t have the money to pay for the surgery and it wasn’t fair to ask them since they had only had her for a day. However, without surgery Alex will certainly die.

We did a lot of soul-searching and came to the conclusion that every creature has the right to live and what kind of rescue group would we be if we didn’t offer her a chance at life? We are going through with the surgery, although it will cost our non-profit animal rescue group about $2500! It is worth it to know that Alex will get to live a normal life full of love and happiness with this medical procedure. We know that times are tough, but hopefully during this season of love and valentines you can help us mend Alex’s broken heart. No donation is too small and every little bit gives Alex the new and improved heart she so greatly deserves.

To donate please contact us by email at or by phone 770-830-2820. (All donations are tax-deductible.) To donate in person please visit our booth at the Newnan Petsmart February 14th & 15th for the Second Chance for Love Adopt-A-Thon, where we will have more information about Alex, a bake sale, as well as information on low cost spays and neuters in your area.

B. Grossee

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Researcher at the University of Georgia Helps Unravel Ways Capuchin Monkeys Select Effective Tools

When Tchaikovsky penned The Nutcracker, the last thing he probably had in mind was a capuchin monkey. And yet new research, co-directed by a researcher at the University of Georgia, is changing our view about which nutcracker should be the focus of our attention.

In research just published in the journal Current Biology, Dorothy Fragazy and her colleagues show for the first time that cat-sized wild bearded capuchin monkeys actually choose the most effective stone to crack hard palm nuts, a part of their natural diet.

The research at a site in Brazil is changing how science looks at tool use among primates and is the first report that capuchins don’t just use tools—they pick the right ones for the job.

“One of the important messages of this research is that we can take experiments into the field under limited conditions, and animals will come regularly to a place and, if given tasks to perform, they will participate,” said Fragazy, a psychologist and chair of the Neuroscience and Behavior Program.

Senior author on the paper was Elisabetta Visalberghi of the Institute of Science and Technology of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ICST) of the National Research Council in Rome. Other authors include Elsa Addessi, Valentine Truppa and Noemi Spagnoletti, also of ISTC; Eduardo Ottoni and Patricia Izar the University of São Paulo; and Fragazy, whose department at UGA is part of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

The new research builds on earlier studies that, in 2004, reported the first direct scientific evidence of tool use among a population of wild capuchin monkeys. Fragazy and her colleagues first saw evidence of tool use for nut-cracking among Brazilian capuchins in a photo essay in a 2003 issue of BBC Wildlife magazine. That picture led to the discovery of a population of the monkeys that brings incredibly heavy stones to a site with pitted “anvil” areas that indicated long-term use.

The team of researchers was astonished at the capacity for tool-use among wild capuchins, something previously reported in primates only among chimpanzees. (Anecdotal evidence of monkey tool-use had been reported, but proof was sketchy at best.)

The new research shows that these incredibly agile monkeys (they can scale cliffs effortlessly) don’t just use tools: they actually select the right tool for the size palm nut they need to crack.

That decision is based on numerous variables, including the mineral composition of the stone, which affects its susceptibility to fracturing when it hits the hard nut, and its weight. Even when the heavier stone was of smaller volume than the lighter stone, the monkeys chose the heavier stone. And even younger monkeys selected stones very carefully.

However, although the monkeys select stones carefully, proficiency at cracking differs enormously across the group of monkeys.

“We put stones of various sizes and shapes out where the monkeys could use them as nutcrackers,” said Fragazy, “and we found that both size and expertise contribute to proficiency. The monkeys who were older and larger and had been cracking nuts for a long time were better at cracking.”

Even the youngest novice, however, was able to choose the best tool offered, an astonishing fact, considering that scientists didn’t even know these animals used tools until a few years ago.

One of the things that makes this study possible is that the scientists are dealing with a small group of animals—only 15 to 18 in the entire troop and 8 who actually participated in the current set of experiments. That closeness allows the researchers to recognize individuals and give them names.

Mansinho, for example, is the alpha male of the group, while Teimoso (which means “obstinate” or “stubborn” in Portuguese) is a subordinate male.

“One of the most remarkable is Dita, a female who gave birth to her first infant during the course of study on tool choice,” said Fragazy. “We have video of her getting a cracking stone and using it on the day of her baby’s birth.”

The last common ancestor between humans and capuchins was some 35 million years ago, so the discovery of selective tool use in capuchins opens new doors for ongoing research of the group, which is called EthoCebus and has a Web site that explains its work in depth:

While the work on tool selection is an important component of the study, the scope has broadened greatly since 2003 and continues to expand, said Fragazy. Such areas as kinematics (the science of movement) and the social context of nut-cracking await further study.

The new work is also giving scientists new insights into the differences in experimental work between captive and wild capuchins. Since capuchin monkeys in the wild have a lifespan of around 30 years, the work will happily go on for a long time to come.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Massive Great Backyard Bird Count Just Weeks Away

The continent-wide Great Backyard Bird Count returns for its 12th season Feb. 13-16. The National Audubon Society, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division invite Georgians to join this event that spans North America.

Wildlife biologist Todd Schneider of the Wildlife Resources Division said there is value for scientists in the data gathered and trends reported. But what he prizes is participants paying closer attention to birds and raising their awareness of these amazing creatures.

“The best part is the educational value,” Schneider said.

All eyes are needed and all birds count, whether spotted from backyards or high-rise balconies, at city parks or state-owned natural areas.

In 2008, Georgia ranked eighth in checklists (3,135) and fifth in species (221), as watchers logged an estimated 235,772 birds. Across North America, more than 9.8 million birds and 635 species were reported via 85,725 checklists, the fourth straight year of record checklist totals. The species most frequently reported? The northern cardinal. Savannah reported the second-most species seen per city, with 166.

In the Great Backyard Bird Count, birders of all skill levels contribute data to monitoring that is considered an important component of bird conservation efforts. The count is also a gateway into citizen science programs such as Project Feeder Watch, Christmas Bird Counts and the Breeding Bird Survey. These counts can trigger a lifelong passion for birds.

During the four-day event, participants tally birds for as little as 15 minutes or as long as they like on one or more days. People enter their numbers online at, where they can explore sightings maps, lists and charts as the count progresses. The Web site includes tips to help identify birds and resources for teachers. Photos also can be submitted to an online gallery, and bird videos uploaded to a YouTube site.

For more than a decade, the Great Backyard Bird Count has kept tabs on the changing patterns of birds in winter. Last year’s reports included 12 species new to the survey, underscored declines documented by other sources for common birds such as northern bobwhites and eastern meadowlarks, and marked at least 21 species including peach-faced lovebirds and black-hooded parakeets that are not on official North American bird lists.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Director John Fitzpatrick said that with 11 years of data, the count “has documented the fine-grained details of late-winter bird distributions better than any project in history, including some truly striking changes just over the past decade.”

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a free event sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited. Visit for a free 2009 poster and details on promoting the count locally.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Four Easy Tips to Live Harmoniously with Your Favorite Fur-ball

(ARA) – You play, laugh, snuggle and sleep together. In fact, you’re best friends! But, just like their owners, pets have their quirks: chewing socks, begging, stealing food and some things they just can’t help, like shedding hair everywhere.

One out of three dog and cat owners admit that they’ve left the house with pet hair on their clothes in the last three months, according to the Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair survey. For the 63 percent of Americans who have pets, this is not the most pleasing statistic to be a part of. It’s time for houseguests to walk in the front door of your home and notice how great your home looks, not how hairy you or your furniture is.

Here are some weekly housecleaning tips to reduce the pains of cleaning up after your pet so you can finally declare, “Welcome to the Sofa!” without the fear of hair, scratching or fleas getting the best of you.

* Stop those bad habits.
Whether puppies are teething, or your dog just has a bad habit, it is frustrating when your beloved pet chews on furniture. One option is to spray your furniture with chewing deterrents, which are available at pet stores. For cats who scratch, scratching boards are a must-have.

* Play fetch with pet hair.
Most pets shed, lovingly leaving their fur behind on your upholstery. For upholstered furniture, the new Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair does the trick. It is a handheld solution which traps hair – picking up as much hair as 145 of the traditional sticky sheets. Rollers grab, lift and trap pet hair inside the device as you slide the device side to side over upholstered furniture, keeping the living spaces clean and hair-free. With this cleaning tool, it's easy to welcome your pet back to the couch for a snuggle while watching your favorite TV show.

* Make fleas stay away.
Eliminate flea problems naturally and with a pleasant smell using peppermint and eucalyptus oils. They can be used on your pet's coat and you can also use eucalyptus leaves under your pet's bedding to prevent fleas and add a pleasant smell to the bedding.

*A million toys and nothing to do.
No matter how many toys you have lying around the house, dogs often still act bored or prefer your shoes. In order to help maintain your dog’s interest in toys, rotate them so a few are available each day.

Cleaning up pet hair has never been easier. Visit to learn more about the Pledge Fabric Sweeper for Pet Hair.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Puppy Presents: What to Consider First

(ARA) – A gift of unconditional love seems the perfect message to send for Valentine’s Day, but if you are thinking of giving a puppy as a gift for the holiday, you might be barking up the wrong tree.

The classic image of a cuddly puppy with a bow tied around its neck is a wonderful sight. But as the season passes, the demands of dog ownership increase. Before you purchase a puppy as a gift, especially if it is intended for a child, make sure that the household is prepared for the new family member and the added expenses that come along with the dog.

On average, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says that the annual cost of a small dog, including food, veterinary care, toys and license, is $420. Make that $620 for a medium dog and $780 for a large pooch. The price tag doesn’t include initial expenses for spay or neuter surgery, collar and leash, carrier or crate, either.

So, while a puppy seems like a great idea for an enjoyable Valentine’s Day, many times the pets are abandoned or delivered to animal shelters because their new owners cannot care for them. According to the ASPCA, the heartbreaking statistics are that 5 million to 7 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, and approximately 3 million to 4 million are euthanized.

A better idea for younger children might be a realistic plush puppy such as those in the Beverly Hills Puppy Club. The huggable high style pups are nearly as fun as the real thing. The playful plush can help children work up to the idea of owning a real puppy and learn more about the work involved in caring for a dog.

The puppy club offers a choice of “toy” dog breeds, such as a Pug, Shih-Tzu, Yorkie or Chihuahua, as well as trio litters of even smaller pups that little mommies and daddies can nurture. In addition, primping accessories such as hair styling tools and multiple fashion outfits can be purchased separately. Found at Toys R Us, Wal-Mart, or KB Toys, the new toys offer the enjoyment of role-play, while not having the commitment of dog ownership.

Completing the official puppy plush ownership, you can also have a child register her puppy online by visiting where you can also find info on the breed, and other fun facts.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

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Monday, February 2, 2009

2009 Giant Panda Mating Season Begins Early at National Zoo

The 2009 giant panda mating season began Thursday, Jan. 15 at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Female Mei Xiang (may-SHONG) and male Tian Tian (tee-YEN tee-YEN) attempted to mate throughout the day Thursday. For the past six years, Mei Xiang has typically ovulated in March or April.

Zoo staff carefully observed the pandas’ activities and, because competent mating did not occur, Zoo scientists and veterinarians performed a nonsurgical artificial inseminations Jan. 17. Both pandas were anesthetized, allowing Zoo scientists to collect semen from Tian Tian and insert it directly into Mei Xiang’s uterus.

Giant pandas have one very brief breeding season per year, with only a day or two of actual mating. This year’s early start is unusual, but the National Zoo staff’s expertise enabled them to identify signs of this early reproductive activity and mobilize for a possible artificial insemination.

On Jan. 9, the Zoo’s animal care team noticed increased interaction between Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, including distinctive vocalizations that are associated with mating season. Staff immediately began monitoring Mei Xiang’s hormone levels in her urine, which allowed them to predict the exact moment she had ovulated. Timing is crucial—female giant pandas only have about one day a year in which conception can occur.

There is no conclusive study that indicates what causes panda ovulation. Although scientists know that giant pandas mostly breed in late winter to early spring, it is not known if the onset of reproductive activity is triggered by increasing day length, temperature or some other environmental factor. This year’s unusually early onset of reproductive activity should allow Zoo scientists to shed new light on what triggers reproduction in this endangered species.

Zoo staff separated Mei Xiang and Tian Tian before performing the artificial insemination. They will remain separated for the next few months, until Mei Xiang either delivers a cub or Zoo scientists determine that she is not pregnant. Keeping the pandas separated will reduce the risk of increased stress-hormone levels in Mei Xiang, which could jeopardize a developing embryo. Panda gestation typically lasts from 90 to 185 days. Veterinarians and scientists will monitor Mei Xiang’s hormone levels and perform ultrasounds to determine if she is pregnant.

Last year, scientists artificially inseminated Mei Xiang but she did not give birth. Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have produced one cub, Tai Shan (tie-SHON), who was born July 9, 2005, as a result of artificial insemination.

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Sunday, February 1, 2009

Local Atlanta Explosives Detection Canines Help Tampa Prepare for Super Bowl XLIII

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Not everyone participating in this year's Super Bowl is a football player. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has fielded its best players to help prepare for a safe and secure Super Bowl XLIII. These pros include ATF K-9 explosives detection teams that have been deployed to Tampa from around the country.

One K-9 team working in Tampa is ATF Special Agent Canine Handler Brett Bowers and his brown Labrador retriever, Glow. Bowers and Glow have been partners for 7 months and are detailed to Tampa from the ATF Atlanta Field Division. Bowers and Glow routinely work together in criminal investigations and at high profile security events where their expertise is needed detecting the presence of explosives, firearms and ammunition. They were called to assist at this year's Super Bowl to help locate any type of explosives that might be in close proximity to the Raymond James Stadium or any other venues relating to the big game.

The K-9 teams are working side-by-side with other federal, state and local law-enforcement officers to keep the football teams and fans safe throughout this event.

"The K-9 teams that are here in Tampa for the Super Bowl are the best of the best," said Virginia O'Brien, special agent in charge of the ATF Tampa Field Division. "Like the football teams that will be playing in the Super Bowl, these handlers and their K-9 partners have been training and preparing all year for this event.

"ATF and our law enforcement partners have been working closely and planning for this event for two years," O'Brien further stated. "We are proud to say that the only thing the fans have to worry about is whether their team wins or loses."

ATF has used its explosives detecting canines at other special events including the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, the Presidential Inauguration, the G-8, the World Series, the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and of course, the Super Bowls.

ATF's canine program, which began in 1986, uses only Labrador retrievers. The dogs are supplied by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the Guide Dog Foundation, and Canine Companions for Independence. These specialty canines and their handlers attend a 10-week training program with their handlers that is conducted at the ATF Canine Training Center in Front Royal, Va. Upon completion of this course the canines are able to detect a variety of explosive compounds and materials that could be used in an explosive device. The canines can also detect firearms and ammunition and are used in the more traditional protective search and sweep operations. Once the canine and the handler complete the ATF basic training course they begin their field work but continue to train on a daily basis.

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