Monday, August 30, 2010

States Make Headway Conserving Sandhills

In June 2009, Georgia and three neighboring states received a $1 million federal grant to increase the quality, quantity and connectivity of prime sandhill habitat. The three-year project was aimed at benefiting gopher tortoises and as many as 54 other sandhill species that need significant conservation measures.

Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and groups such as Project Orianne, The Nature Conservancy and the Gopher Tortoise Council provided $1.66 million in matching money and work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, part of the State Wildlife Grants Competitive Program.

Plans called for increasing prescribed fire, removing non-native sand pines and overgrown hardwoods, and thinning pine plantations. These efforts are critical to the open canopy and diverse herbaceous groundcover typical of healthy longleaf pine, turkey oak-dominated sandhills.

The overriding goal: Restore nearly 40,000 acres of priority public and private sandhill sites, rebuilding habitat for the tortoise and other priority species. The project could help keep gopher tortoises off federal endangered or threatened species lists and set the stage for long-term conservation of sandhills species, from hognose snakes to Bachman’s sparrows.

One year in, the states and partners have made excellent progress.

Teaming with The Nature Conservancy of Georgia, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducted prescribed fires on 4,700 acres at high-priority sandhills sites across the Coastal Plain, including Yuchi Wildlife Management Area, Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area, Fall Line Sandhills Natural Area, and private lands in Marion, Taylor, Talbot and Bryan counties. Also, non-native sand pines have been removed or sold for cutting on nearly 1,000 acres of state and private lands.

At Ohoopee Dunes in Emanuel County, prescribed fire was conducted on more than 1,000 acres. Many of the areas had not seen fire in many years, leading to buildups of woody underbrush and suppression of grassy groundcover. Shan Cammack with the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section planned and led the prescribed fires.

“Careful planning and execution produced successful entry burns at Ohoopee Dunes this year,” Cammack said. “With strategic ignition, drier sparse areas were burned hotter while sensitive areas with heavy fuel loads and duff were burned cooler.”

In Florida, the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership, a land management public-private cooperative, did prescribed burning on more than 8,400 acres of state lands. Sand pine and hardwoods on another 265 acres were cleared.

In Alabama, The Nature Conservancy of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ State Lands Division burned about 2,500 acres of sandhills on state lands, planted 186 acres of longleaf pine, thinned pine plantations on 122 acres and removed hardwoods on 76 acres.

During the project’s first year, ecological restoration was initiated on more than 15,000 acres in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

The grant also included monitoring to track progress. This component involved baseline gopher tortoise surveys on a subset of properties, plus vegetation sampling and breeding bird surveys.

All pre-treatment vegetation, bird monitoring and tortoise surveys are either completed or in progress. The work has provided some interesting stories.

Florida is surveying gopher tortoises on the Hutton Unit of the Blackwater Wildlife Management Area in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. Burrow densities have been low, about 0.1 burrows per acre surveyed. Comparatively, densities on the sand ridges of Townsend WMA in Georgia are about one per acre. At Ohoopee Dunes, they are about 0.7 per acre. In sandier soils on some more-regularly burned longleaf-wiregrass ecosystems in southwest Georgia, densities may reach two to three burrows an acre.

The low densities at the Hutton Unit may be attributed to several factors, including human predation, which was historically higher in northwestern Florida than other parts of the tortoise’s range, and fire suppression before the state acquired the property in 1998.

Yet, despite fewer burrows, the search at Hutton is anything but boring.

According to Barbara Almario with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “Florida’s tortoise survey crew encounters snakes on an almost daily basis. One of the tortoise survey technicians accidentally stepped on an eastern diamondback rattlesnake one day.

“Fortunately, the snake was a little slow that morning and (the technician) escaped without injury.”

For the coming year, Georgia DNR is developing restoration plans for several private sites. Federal funding for longleaf planting on state lands has freed some sandhills grant funds. DNR is also considering burning even more acres at Ohoopee Dunes and Townsend, Yuchi and Penholoway WMAs. The hope at Ohoopee is to collaborate with adjacent private landowners on restoring sandhills.

Sandhills conservation is a priority in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides DNR efforts to conserve biological diversity. For more, go to

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Tiger Rattlesnake Found

On Thursday, August 27, 2010, zoo officials coordinated last minute efforts with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to transport confiscated rattlesnakes to Zoo Atlanta. On Friday, August 28, 2010, an adult female rattlesnake was discovered missing from its cage in the quarantine facility. Zoo officials have been working around the clock to locate and capture the snake.

Early Monday, August 30, 2010, zoo officials received a phone call regarding a snake sighting. A member of the reptile staff responded to the call on Atlanta Avenue (a vacant home that is being remodeled). Upon arrival the snake was found dead on the front porch of the vacant home.

“We are grateful the snake was found,” said Raymond King, President and CEO. “We are conducting a thorough review of the incident to ensure all appropriate adjustments to procedures and protocols occur.”

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Friday, August 27, 2010

National Zoo Successfully Grows Two Species of Anemones Using Coral Techniques Learned in the Field

The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has become the first in the zoo and aquarium community to use coral larvae settling techniques to successfully grow two species of anemones—an accomplishment that will provide the Zoo a unique opportunity to learn how anemones grow.

“We have many questions about how to care for these animals as they grow from larvae to adults,” said Mike Henley, an animal keeper at the Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit who applied the technique to the anemones after they had spawned. “The oceans are not an infinite resource and so anything that we can learn about the captive management of coral and anemones will go far in our ability to conserve them.”

The anemones—both of which are commonly called Tealia red anemones under the species of Urticina—spawned in late April and early May, just days apart. Hours after they spawned, Henley collected the eggs and sperm from the more than 2,000-gallon tank and put them together in smaller tanks to increase the chances of fertilization. After fertilization, the larvae settled and metamorphosed into a polyp. Henley put some of the developing larvae in a circular tank—called a kreisel—that automatically stirs the water to prevent the larvae from binding to one another, which would kill the animals. The kreisel is the same tank Henley and others use in the field in Puerto Rico to hold coral larvae. Other free-swimming larvae went into a regular tank with aeration and rocks to settle on. Now the Zoo has hundreds of thriving anemones behind the scenes, all smaller than the tip of a pencil.

“Sometimes we take the lessons we learn with animals in captivity and apply that to conserving them in the wild,” said Alan Peters, curator of the Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit. “But here we were able to apply what we’ve learned both in the field and from ex situ work and it is yielding some exciting results.”

While anemones and coral are both in the Anthozoa class of animals, they differ in a few notable ways. Anemones metamorphose into a single polyp, while coral will divide into a second polyp and a third and so on, to form a colony. In addition, anemones have a muscular foot they use to attach to rock, while stony corals make their own calcium carbonate rock that they live on. But both can sting and are carnivorous, feeding on crabs, shrimp, fish and zooplankton. More than 1,000 sea anemone species inhabit the world’s oceans at various depths, from the sandy seashore up to the surface. Visitors to the Zoo can see six different species of anemones, including cold and warm water anemones. Although anemones are not endangered, ocean habitats around the world are in decline as the result of pollution, runoff and sedimentation, climate change, acidification and poor fishing practices.

Henley will continue to observe the anemones to learn about their growth rate and the conditions that are necessary to rear these species in captivity, including the food, light and water temperature they require.

“In the past if the anemones spawned in the tank, it’d be a big headache,” said Henley. “You’d have to do frequent water changes because when the gametes—or reproductive cells—get too concentrated and deteriorate, it causes the water quality to crash. That’s the common experience among many of our zoo and aquarium colleagues. But this was different—so far it’s amounted to young anemones that we will continue to learn from for months, even years, to come.”

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Newswise: Scientists Bring New Species of Turtle Out of Its Shell

Newswise — When scientists announce the discovery of a new animal species, we often imagine exotic, difficult to reach locations—the untouched shore of a distant island, the forests of the rain-drenched Amazon or the darkest depths of the Arctic Ocean.

But the recent announcement of a new species of turtle in the southeastern United States proves that even in a country considered to be well-explored, perhaps more awaits discovery.

In June, Jeff Lovich, NAU adjunct faculty member in biology, and Josh Ennen, NAU affiliate, published the discovery of a new species of turtle in Chelonian Conservation and Biology International Journal of Turtle and Tortoise Research.

Found in the Pearl River, which flows through Mississippi and Louisiana before it meets the Gulf of Mexico, the newly named Pearl Map Turtle, or Graptemys pearlensis, had been mistaken for a turtle native to the neighboring Pascagoula River. Ennen found it odd that the Pascagoula Map Turtle was found in both rivers and wanted to further investigate.

Ennen was completing his dissertation at University of Southern Mississippi when he decided to take a closer look at the inhabitants of the two rivers. His research led him to Lovich, who had found, described and named the last turtle species in the same region in 1992.

“I was familiar with Jeff’s work when questions started coming up,” Ennen said. “Based on the genetics, morphology and geographic isolation, I was considering classifying the turtles as distinct population segments when I decided to contact Jeff.”

Lovich, a research ecologist with U.S. Geological Survey’s Colorado Plateau Station at NAU, shared his findings and insight as the scientists built their case for classification of the new turtle species. His access to geologic and geographic data with the USGS assisted in their developing theory that the turtles had evolved into separate species.

“You’d expect to see similar aquatic species in these rivers due to their proximity,” Lovich said. “However, with sea level changes associated with glacial and interglacial periods in the past, animals in these rivers were periodically separated for tens of thousands to millions of years.”

Ennen and Lovich observed pattern variations between turtles in two rivers, and examining their DNA verified that the turtle endemic to each river was a different species.

The announcement of the Pearl Map Turtle, “Genetic and morphological variation between populations of the Pascagoula Map Turtle (Graptemys gibbonsi) in the Pearl and Pascagoula Rivers with description of a new species,” brings the number of native turtle species in the United States to 57, including six in Arizona, with approximately 320 species documented worldwide.

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Waterbuck born at Zoo Atlanta

Kokopelli, a 9-year-old female waterbuck at Zoo Atlanta, gave birth to a calf overnight on August 22, 2010. The newborn appears to be healthy and has been observed nursing and following Kokopelli in their African Plains habitat.
The calf is the fifth offspring for Kokopelli and 8-year-old Arizona. Like giraffe calves, waterbuck calves are precocial, generally walking within an hour of birth.

Found throughout southeastern sub-Saharan Africa, waterbuck are among the world’s largest antelope species. The species name refers to the fact that waterbuck are often found near water sources, are good swimmers, and possess oily, “waterproof” coats.

Kokopelli’s youngster will make an interesting new neighbor for the 1-month-old giraffe calf born to Glenda on July 13. Voting to name Atlanta’s tallest baby continues online on through Wednesday, August 25 at 5 p.m. The winning name and contestant will be announced during a special naming celebration at Zoo Atlanta on Saturday, August 28 at 10 a.m. Stay tuned to for event details.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Name The Healthy Bird And Keep Backyard Poultry Free From Disease

(NAPSI)-The plucky rooster that is the mascot for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Biosecurity For Birds campaign needs a name. He's loud and proud. He has everything going for him: a nice home, a bevy of admiring hens and good health...everything but a name. From now through October 2010, bird enthusiasts can submit their name suggestions for the mascot, who headlines USDA's campaign that offers tips and information to poultry owners on how to protect their birds from infectious poultry diseases. The contest is sponsored by USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Biosecurity For Birds campaign.

"I know all my chickens have names, and our mascot certainly should have one," said Andy Schneider, The Chicken Whisperer and national spokesperson for the campaign. "I urge all my fans and bird lovers to log on to the website, participate in the contest and give this healthy bird a name."

Contest Details

Contestants may submit their suggestions by logging on to A panel of poultry enthusiasts and marketing experts will review the nominations and select three top choices that will be posted on the Biosecurity for Birds website. Bird lovers will then have two weeks to vote for their favorite name.

The winning name and the person who submits it will be announced during Bird Health Awareness Week in November. The winning contestant will receive a deluxe duffel bag and will be interviewed and featured on the Biosecurity For Birds website.

Tips For Bird Owners

Biosecurity For Birds is a public awareness campaign that seeks to educate both new and experienced poultry owners about important steps to take to protect their flock. Poultry owners can help keep disease away from their farms and backyard pens by keeping things clean and watching for signs of infectious poultry diseases such as avian influenza, or "bird flu." Schneider reminds bird owners to "clean your shoes, clean your cages and equipment, and wash your hands before and after working with your birds." Plus, bird owners should not borrow or share bird supplies. If they must, items should be cleaned and disinfected before being brought home.

For more safety tips and to enter the contest, visit the Biosecurity For Birds website at

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Monday, August 16, 2010

Squirrel Hunting Season Opened Aug. 15, 2010

Whether still, stalk or squirrel dog hunting is your preference, the beginning of squirrel season is just around the corner. Often revered as a celebrated American fall tradition, squirrel hunting provides the perfect opportunity to introduce youth or a novice to the sport of hunting. Unlike some big game hunts, the pursuit of bushytails often involves more action for energetic youth, providing a greater level of interaction with the outdoors.

Beginning August 15, 2010 and lasting through February 28, 2011, hunters can pursue both gray and fox squirrels. The maximum daily bag limit is 12 per hunter.

“Prior to the successful restoration of white-tailed deer, pursuing squirrels in the fall became a significant cultural hunting tradition in Georgia,” says John Bowers, Wildlife Resources Division’s Game Management assistant chief. “Squirrel hunting provides one of our best opportunities to introduce youth to hunting, instill in them our responsibilities to wildlife conservation and provide exposure to the outdoors. Additionally, it’s fun, inexpensive and provides constant action.”

Squirrel hunting, especially with squirrel dogs such as feists, terriers and curs, is a great way to introduce youth to hunting and the outdoors. In terms of number of hunters and harvest, squirrels are the second most pursued small game species in Georgia, behind doves.

Georgia’s wildlife management areas offer access to nearly one million acres of hunting opportunity for only $19 a year, and squirrel hunting is allowed on WMAs at specified times during the statewide squirrel season. Hunters are advised to check the hunting regulations for specific WMAs and dates.

The two species

Both the gray and fox squirrels can be found throughout Georgia. The gray squirrel, abundant in both rural and urban areas is the most common species. Though mostly associated with hardwood forests, grays also can be found in mixed pine/hardwood forests. Predominantly gray, with white under parts, gray squirrels appear more slender-bodied than fox squirrels, weighing anywhere from 12 ounces to one-and-a-half pounds.

Fox squirrels have several color phases, varying from silver-gray with a predominantly black head, to solid black, to a light buff or brown color tinged with reddish-yellow. Generally larger than grays, fox squirrels range in weight from one pound to nearly three, and are more closely associated with mature pine and mixed pine/hardwood habitats and especially in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain regions.

For more information on the 2010-2011 squirrel hunting season or other small game hunting seasons, visit, contact a local Game Management office or call (770) 918-6416.


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Friday, August 13, 2010

Gator-Frenzy Video Creates Buzz About Stephen C. Foster State Park

Gators galore! A Georgia fisherman’s video of a rare alligator “feeding frenzy” is bringing unexpected attention to the Okefenokee Swamp. Ray Cason of Homerville had just launched his boat at Stephen C. Foster State Park on July 10 when he documented hundreds of alligators feeding in a narrow canal. His short video was posted by the Clinch County News and has since been picked up by Southeastern media and viewed by nearly 50,000 people.

Imagining themselves in Cason’s boat, people tend to have one of two reactions: “Get me outta here!” or “Quick, where’s my camera?” For those eager to see alligators and explore the mysterious swamp, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is offering advice for a good visit. Rangers are reminding tourists that such massive gatherings of alligators is extremely rare, prompted by low water levels that force fish into small areas. Visitors are almost sure to see alligators, but not in a large gathering as shown in the video. Typically, alligators are solitary animals that slip under the black water when boats approach.

The footage was shot in the small canal that leads from Stephen C. Foster State Park’s boat basin into the main channel of the Okefenokee Swamp. Visitors can bring their own boats or rent them from the park when water levels are high. However, when water levels are as low as they are currently, boat rentals may not be available. Park staff encourage visitors to call before traveling to determine if canoes, kayaks or motorized jon boats can make it through the narrow canal. For their own safety, pets are prohibited in all boats.

“People don’t realize that alligators will go after dogs and other pets,” said Park Manager Travis Griffin. “They aren’t interested in adults in boats, but they have been known to go after fish on rods and poles. This is why we tell anglers to not put stringers or fish baskets in the water.”

Feeding any wildlife in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge is illegal. Griffin emphasized the danger of feeding alligators because they learn to associate people with food. He recommends that visitors admire the giant reptiles from a distance and keep their hands and feet inside boats. Children should not play near the water’s edge.

The famous swamp is in a remote part of southeast Georgia, so visitors usually stay overnight. Stephen C. Foster State Park, which is the main western entrance, rents nine fully equipped cottages with kitchens, bathrooms, screened porches and grills. Campers can choose from 64 shaded sites nestled among Spanish moss and saw palmettos. Because the nearest grocery store is 18 miles away, guests are encouraged to bring all supplies.

Stephen C. Foster State Park also features three miles of nature trails and boardwalks, a small gift shop and museum. Park gates are open 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. Spring and fall are the most popular times to visit, so guests are encouraged to make reservations in advance. Summer is the slowest season, due to heat and biting insects.

The Okefenokee Swamp is considered to be one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia. It is the largest blackwater swamp in North America, and one of the largest in the world. Visitors come from across the globe to paddle the still, tea-colored water that reflects blue sky and cypress trees. Birders can look for wood storks, white ibis, great egrets, green-backed heron, marsh wrens and more than 200 other species. Visitors might also see black bear, white tail deer, raccoon, red fox, bobcat, opossum, fox squirrel and other species.

Before You Go:
Stephen C. Foster State Park
17515 Hwy. 177
Fargo , GA 31631
(912) 637-5274

Park Hours:
7 a.m. – 10 p.m. (gate locks at closing; no late entry)

Office Hours:
Fall/Winter 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Spring/Summer 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.

$5 Entrance fee per vehicle.
$25-$28 Campsites
$125 Cottages

Visitors are encouraged to leave pets at home because they are not allowed in boats, even privately owned watercraft. Dogs are allowed in the campground and only in select cottages with advance notice. Never leave pets unattended in vehicles.


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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wilson's Plover Upswing - Census of these Birds Shows Surge in Nesting Pairs

With more than 350 nesting pairs, Wilson’s plovers in Georgia are doing much better than 10 years ago, according to a survey led by the state Department of Natural Resources.

The survey in May and June found three times as many nesting pairs as in 2000. The increase for these shorebirds state-listed as rare in Georgia is credited mostly to improved habitat, according to wildlife biologist Tim Keyes of the DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.

Of 19 islands surveyed, Cumberland led with 106 nesting pairs, followed by St. Catherines and Ossabaw with 49 and 44 pairs, respectively. All accretional beach and dune areas considered potential nesting habitat, including terraced sand and wrack flats, embryonic and developed dune fields, and beach wash-over plumes not subjected to regular tidal flooding, were surveyed on foot.

“The high numbers of Wilson’s plover this year, coupled with observing many chicks at a number of locations, was an exciting find,” Keyes said. “Beach nesting birds face so many challenges, ranging from storms and high tides to avian and terrestrial predators and human and canine disturbances, it often seems remarkable that they ever successfully fledge young.”

Wilson’s plover is a medium-sized shorebird once numerous on south Atlantic and Gulf Coast beaches. Following declines, the species is now listed among high-priority animals in the Georgia Wildlife Action Plan, a comprehensive strategy that guides efforts statewide to conserve biological diversity.

Apart from counting nesting pairs of Wilson’s plovers, workers placed signs in areas of high nesting concentrations to warn beach-goers of the birds’ presence. When faced with close human approach, adult birds will flush off the nest and, using distraction displays, attempt to lure people away from the nest. If the birds are kept from the nest too long, the eggs may overheat or be eaten by gulls, crabs and other predators.

Keyes said survey participants included Jen Hilburn of the St. Catherines Island Foundation, Scott Coleman of Little St. Simons Island and several volunteers who also help monitor sea turtle nesting. The National Park Service on Cumberland and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also provided assistance.

Keyes thanked all who helped. “This survey would not have been possible without the full cooperation and at times participation of people working on all of Georgia’s barrier islands, and we are very grateful to them for their assistance.”

His goal is to repeat the survey every five years, depending on manpower.

This year’s census of Wilson’s plovers follows estimates of 107 nesting pairs in 2000, 360 in 1980 and 200-250 in 1986-1987.

The survey is an example of how buying a nongame license plate or donating to the Georgia Wildlife Conservation Fund supports wildlife conservation. Contributions benefit the Nongame Conservation Section, which receives no state general funds for its mission to conserve wildlife not legally hunted, fished for or trapped, as well as rare plants and natural habitats in the state.

How can you help?

Donate online at Click “Donate to the Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund” and follow directions. The process is secure. Donations are tax-deductible.
Buy a license plate featuring a bald eagle or a ruby-throated hummingbird, available for a $35 fee at tag offices, by checking the wildlife license plate box on mail-in registrations and through online renewals (
Contribute through the Give Wildlife a Chance checkoff. Fill in an amount more than $1 on line 27 of the long state income tax form (Form 500) or line 10 of the short form (Form 500EZ). Contributions can be deducted from refunds or added to payments.

For more information, visit or call Nongame Conservation offices in Social Circle (770-761-3035), Forsyth (478-994-1438) or Brunswick (912-264-7218). Call the Forsyth office or go to for details on The Environmental Resources Network. TERN is a nonprofit advocacy group for the Nongame Conservation Section.

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The HSVMA to Give 10 Trip Awards for Veterinarians Attending Equine Workshop

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association is seeking entries for its Equitarian Workshop Trip Awards. Practicing veterinarians interested in attending the Equitarian Workshop in Vera Cruz, Mexico October 17-22 are encouraged to apply. Entries can be submitted online through Sept. 5, 2010.

The HSVMA has partnered with The American Association of Equine Practitioners and the AAEP Foundation, Universidad National Autónoma de México and the Donkey Sanctuary to help launch the Equitarian Workshop.

The workshop will be an opportunity for veterinarians from the USA and Mexico to meet and learn about the best ways to provide care for working horses, mules and donkeys. The unique format will include lectures by veterinary professionals with experience in delivering care in rural areas, and field experience in farming communities currently serviced by an established program of the veterinary school at Universidad National Autónoma de México.

Dr. Eric Davis, director of HSVMA Field Services and a presenting clinician said, "The curriculum has been specifically designed to make participants effective Equitarians and ready to help the world's working equines and the people who depend on them. For those of us who have struggled in this field without a road map, this workshop is a dream come true."

A panel of judges, including Drs. Eric Davis and Jay Merriam, another presenting clinician, will select the 10 award winners based on the quality of the essays submitted.

The 10 winners will receive a $500 travel stipend to attend the Equitarian Workshop.

Interested individuals should complete the online application and submit a 500-1000 word essay on the topic, "Why do you feel it is important for the veterinary profession to donate time and resources to help equines in need around the world, and what are your motivations to participate?"

For complete rules and to access the online form, go to

Detailed information about the workshop can be found at

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

IFAW and the USM Gulf Coast Research Laboratory Conduct Urgent Study of Endangered Whale Sharks in Oiled Waters

/PRNewswire/ -- International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) scientists are concerned that the protected whale shark, the world's largest fish, may be a quiet victim of the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. IFAW is responding to an urgent appeal for assistance from the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (USM-GCRL) to conduct research on whale shark biology, behavior and movement patterns in the Gulf before it's too late.

The newly discovered essential whale shark feeding area may already be contaminated. It's been three weeks with very few sightings of whale sharks in what are usually normal congregate areas of the northern Gulf of Mexico, leading scientists to worry they may be the unseen victims of the Gulf oil spill.

Not only are whale sharks the biggest fish in the sea but they may also be one of the most vulnerable to the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Despite their large size, whale sharks feed on the tiniest of creatures -- plankton, fish larvae and small crustaceans. However, whale sharks in the northern Gulf may be adding oil and toxic oil dispersant chemicals to their diet as they have been found in areas within and surrounding oiled waters.

"These whale sharks are facing a lethal one-two punch," said IFAW biologist Jacob Levenson. "First is the impact on the animal's ability to breathe as a result of the oil physically coating its gills and secondly is the long term impacts of passively accumulating toxins from oil and liberal dispersant use."

Unlike birds, fish, mammals and other animals, because sharks are negatively buoyant and lack a gas-filled swim bladder, they quietly sink into the depths when they die, never to be seen again. Other than a few accounts of their occurrence, in aggregations, information is scant for whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Levenson is joining scientist, Dr. Eric Hoffmayer of the USM-GCRL to conduct research that is crucial to understand how the toxic oil is impacting whale sharks and deciding what can be done to save them before time runs out. The information gathered by the team is also critical to ensure that government and oil companies have accurate information to best protect this species. Currently, there are no provisions in place in BP's spill response plan to protect these beautiful and rare animals.

Levenson and Hoffmayer will make several day trips offshore in boats with aircraft support to gather data and tag animals for future satellite tracking.

"Figuring out what happens to these goliath fish is not just good science, it's important to understand how this toxic cocktail moves through the food chain. Whatever happens to whale sharks is likely to be experienced by manta rays and other animals not normally tested as part of NOAA's Seafood Monitoring Program," added Levenson.

So far, Dr. Hoffmayer has been able to deploy a few satellite tags when he encountered an aggregation of over 100 whale sharks this past June. He is currently tracking one shark with a surface satellite tag in the offshore waters of the Gulf. So far the shark has stayed away from the area impacted by the oil spill. He is hoping to tag several others to determine their daily movements.

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Advanced Disposal Produces Gopher Tortoise Relocation Movie

 Editor's Note:  This is a great story and video about gopher tortoises and the conservation efforts of a large company.  Our only disappointment in our viewing of it was the video is quite small when it is clicked on at the home site.  

Watch the video.  It's educational value is terrific.  Kudos to Advanced Disposal for their efforts on behalf of the tortoise!

(BUSINESS WIRE)--Advanced Disposal is looking to make a certain colony of gopher tortoises famous in an effort to bring awareness to the federally-protected species. The environmental services company today released its documentary-style film “Relocating the Gopher Tortoise at Turkey Trot Landfill.”

“Relocating the Gopher Tortoise at Turkey Trot Landfill.”

The film takes viewers through the unique process of relocating a colony of gopher tortoises and teaches them why this keystone species is such an important part of the south uplands ecosystem.

Advanced Disposal was awarded a contract to build a municipal solid waste landfill on a permitted and approved site in Washington County, Ala. During the assessment process, the company and its regulatory partners discovered a colony of gopher tortoises on the 300-acre landfill site.

The film tells the story of how the gopher tortoises were relocated to a preservation owned by South Alabama Utilities just 30 miles away from Turkey Trot Landfill. It documents the burrow identification processes utilizing GPS technology, two types of capture techniques, medical assessment process and release at the new location. Countless hours were spent by several companies and organizations including U.S. Army Corp of Engineers; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; Alabama Department of Environmental Management; Board of Commissioners of Washington County, Alabama; Environmental Services, Inc.; South Alabama Utilities; Hodges, Harbin, Newberry & Tribble, Inc. and Advanced Disposal to ensure a smooth and successful transfer of the tortoises.

“Advanced Disposal strives to be a stellar corporate citizen in all of the communities in which we live and work,” said Mary O’Brien, chief marketing officer with Advanced Disposal. “When we learned that we would be relocating a colony of gopher tortoises, we decided to capture it on film and utilize it as a fun, engaging educational tool while showing our commitment to the environment. We think this film does just that and hope that others will help us build awareness for this special species.”

Projects like Turkey Trot Landfill assist in tortoise conservation actions that could not otherwise be developed without the scientific data collected during the relocation process. Taking specific measurements when collecting the species and conducting the long-term monitoring and research at the preserve help scientists understand more about the tortoises’ habitat needs, survival rates, and reproductive success. The information gained from relocating the tortoises from Turkey Trot Landfill will assist U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in making long term conservation goals to protect the species in perpetuity.

Copies of the DVD are being sent to local schools, environmental and conservation groups, wildlife preservations and youth organizations to help grow an appreciation for the gopher tortoises. People can also watch the film by going to and clicking on the gopher tortoise video link.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

Zoo Atlanta: Naming Contest Begins Today for Baby Giraffe

Now that lucky visitors are being treated to sightings of Atlanta’s first giraffe calf, the next milestone in order for the city’s tallest baby is a name. Zoo Atlanta officials announced last week that a naming contest for the calf will launch online on on Monday, August 9.

Beginning today, voters are encouraged to visit to view and select from a final list of names submitted by Zoo Atlanta staff and Volunteers; the Zoo Atlanta Board of Directors; and local media outlets. Voting will continue online through Wednesday, August 25. The winning name will be announced during a naming celebration on Saturday, August 28. As an added incentive for voting, each participant will also be entered for a chance to win a Zoo Atlanta Membership and an exclusive behind-the-scenes animal encounter.

Stay tuned to for naming contest details.

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Friday, August 6, 2010

UGA researchers unlocking the secrets of cross-species rabies transmission

 Like most infectious diseases, rabies can attack several species. However, which species are going to be infected and why turns out to be a difficult problem that represents a major gap in our knowledge of how diseases emerge. A paper just published in the journal Science by a team of researchers led by Daniel G. Streicker, a Ph.D. student in the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, has begun to close that knowledge gap.

The paper, co-authored by researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Western Michigan University, provides among the first estimates for any infectious disease of how often a disease can be transmitted across species in complex, multi-host communities and the likelihood of disease establishment in a new host species.

“Rabies happens to be an ideal system to answer these questions,” said Streicker. “Rabies occurs across the country, affects many different host species and is known to mutate frequently.” Although cases of rabies in humans are rare in the U.S., bats are the most common source of these infections, according to the CDC.

To determine the rate at which rabies infects multiple species, Streicker and his colleagues used an enormous dataset, unprecedented in its scope, containing hundreds of rabies viruses from 23 North American bat species. They used gene sequencing and tools from population genetics to quantify how many cross-species transmission (CST) events were expected to occur between each pair of species from any infected individual. Their analysis showed that, depending upon the species involved, a single infected bat may infect between 0 and 2 members of a different species; and that, on average, the probability of cross-species transmission occurs only once for every 73 transmissions within the same species.

“What’s really important about this is that molecular sequence data, an increasingly cheap and available resource, can be used to quantify CST,” said Streicker.

Associate professor Sonia Altizer, Streicker’s advisor in the Odum School, agreed. “This is a breakthrough,” said Altizer. “The team defined, for the first time, a framework for quantifying the rates of CST across a network of host species that could be applied to other wildlife pathogens, and they developed novel methods to do it.”

The researchers also looked at what factors allow diseases to move across species, such as foraging behavior, geographic range and genetics.

“There’s a popular idea that because of their potential for rapid evolution, the emergence of these types of viruses is limited more by ecological constraints than by genetic similarity between donor and recipient hosts,” explained Streicker. “We wanted to see if that was the case.”

They found, instead, that rabies viruses are much more likely to jump between closely related bat species than between ones that diverged in the distant past. Overlapping geographic range was also associated with CST, but to a lesser extent.

“CST and viral establishment do not occur at random, but instead are highly constrained by host-associated barriers,” Streicker said. “Contrary to popular belief, rapid evolution of the virus isn’t enough to overcome the genetic differences between hosts.”

Streicker believes that what he and his colleagues have learned about bat rabies will be influential in understanding the ecology, evolution and emergence of many wildlife viruses of public health and conservation importance. “The basic knowledge we’ve gained will be key to developing new intervention strategies for diseases that can jump from wildlife to humans,” he said.

Streicker is continuing his work with rabies and bats, with funding for a three-year study from the National Science Foundation. He and Altizer, in collaboration with investigators at the CDC, University of Michigan and the Peruvian Ministries of Health and Agriculture, will explore how human activities affect the transmission of the rabies virus in vampire bats in Peru and how those changes might feed back into altering the risk of rabies infection for humans, domesticated animals and wildlife.

“This kind of synthetic, interdisciplinary work is precisely what we aim for in the Odum School,” said John Gittleman, Odum School dean. “The success of this research hinges on bringing together the fields of genetics, evolution and disease in a large-scale ecological context. Big problems in ecology will be solved in this way.”

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Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Simply Irresistible" - Proper Dog Guide Etiquette

/PRNewswire/ -- It is often hard to resist petting a cute, floppy eared dog when you see one. So, what do you do when you see a guide dog curled under a restaurant table, or walking along side a person who is blind or visually impaired? The Pennsylvania Association for the Blind encourages following these guidelines when encountering these specially bred and trained dogs;

-- Don't touch, pet, talk to, feed or otherwise distract the dog while
he/she is wearing a harness.

A guide dog is a highly trained dog that acts as a mobility aide to the blind and visually impaired. When a dog is in harness, they are "on duty or working" and must concentrate for the safety of his/her owner or handler.

-- Don't attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding, do
not attempt to hold the dog's harness or give the dog commands.

A dog or handler may be in an unfamiliar situation that requires their full attention. Grabbing a harness or leash can disorientate and confuse the team. The handler will give the dog commands when necessary and will ask for assistance if needed.

-- Don't walk on the dog's left side.

Walking on a dog's left side may distract or confuse the dog. Instead, walk on the handler's right side and several paces behind him or her.

-- Speak to the person, not the dog.

Many handlers enjoy introducing their guide dogs. Both owner and dog go through training to work as a team, and in most cases develop a strong companionship through the process. Ask the handler if you can pet the dog. If they say yes, do not pat the dog on the head, but stroke the dog on the shoulder area.

Guide dogs are the guiding eyes for people who are blind or visually impaired, and you can expect to see them anywhere the public is allowed. So, the next time you see those "Simply Irresistible" puppy eyes follow these few guidelines and you will insure the safety of both the handler and the dog.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Black Bear Sightings Still Possible in Late Summer

Each year the likelihood of bear sightings throughout the state, even in urbanized areas and suburbs, increases. Whether it’s a young male bear roaming across the metro Atlanta area or a hungry bear sifting through a North Georgia campsite for an easy meal, the possibility exists and residents should be aware.

“A black bear sighting is something that few people ever forget – especially when it is in your backyard. Human populations have grown and expanded into areas traditionally inhabited by bears and when conflicts arise the bear is often perceived as a threat or nuisance,” says Wildlife Resources Division Assistant Game Management Chief John W. Bowers.

Black bears most commonly are found in three areas of the state - the north Georgia mountains, the Ocmuglee River drainage system in central Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp in the southeastern part of the state. However, black bears can and do range over larger areas; especially in early spring and late summer, when activity patterns increase. Young male bears also are known to roam larger areas in an effort to establish their own territory.

Black bears are omnivorous and opportunistic, and their diet consists of whatever food is readily available at any given time of year.  Black bears may be attracted to the scents of human food, pet food, birdseed, beehives and even compost piles. When bears can easily obtain such foods, they begin to associate humans with food and as a result, lose their innate fear of people. Wildlife biologists with the Wildlife Resources Division encourage residents to heed the following tips in an effort to minimize bear conflicts and lessen the chance of wild bears becoming habituated to people:

·    NEVER, under any circumstances, feed a bear. Such activity is unlawful.

·    Keep items, such as grills, pet food or bird feeders off-limits to bears. Clean and store grills when not in use, keep pet food indoors and take bird feeders down if bears are in the area.

·    Make sure trashcans are bear-proof or kept indoors.

·    When camping or picnicking, keep your site clean. Never leave food or coolers unattended. Never keep food in or near your tent. Store food in properly sealed containers and whenever possible, store these containers in a vehicle. If camping in backcountry areas, hang packs or food bags at least ten feet off the ground and at least four feet from the trunk of a tree.

“All residents, especially those in known bear areas, are encouraged to be responsible and help prevent conflicts by making non-natural, human-provided ‘foods’ unavailable to bears,” says Bowers.

Though the American black bear (Ursus americanus) is now considered the most common bear in North America and the only bear found in Georgia, at one point the species was nearly eradicated from the state due to poaching and habitat loss. Yet, because of sound wildlife management practices Georgia’s current black bear population is healthy and thriving and is estimated to be about 5,100 bears statewide.

For more information regarding black bears, visit, contact a Wildlife Resources Division Game Management office or call (770) 918-6416. The public also can visit their local library to check out a copy of an informational DVD entitled, “Where Bears Belong: Black Bears in Georgia.”

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