August 2009

A new study from Duke University, presented at the American Chemical Society conference last week, describes the process by which mercury emissions get converted into more harmful toxic forms of methylmercury through organic reactions in the environment. According to the press release, “Mercury is extremely toxic and can lead to kidney dysfunctions, neurological disorders and even death. In particular, fetuses exposed to methylmercury can suffer from these same disorders as well as impaired learning abilities.” The researchers also note that the most common sources of mercury ingestion are fish and shellfish, due to their “natural tendency to store methylmercury in their organs”.

Coincidentally, the US Geological Survey recently released a detailed report, titled “Mercury in Fish, Bed Sediment, and Water from Streams Across the United States, 1998–2005“. The USGS conducted tests of mercury levels in fish over a period of seven years across 291 rivers and streams in the United States, including agricultural, urbanized, mined, and undeveloped (forested, grassland, shrubland, and wetland land cover) stream basins. reports, “Not one fish had escaped mercury contamination. One-quarter of the fish tested contained levels of mercury higher than those deemed safe for humans, and over two-thirds of the fish tested had mercury levels that exceeding those that safe for fish-eating mammals according the Environmental Protection Agency.” The Department of the Interior issued a press release of the findings, noting that the EPA regulates mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Emissions as a result of coal mining and burning enter the air, are precipitated into water systems, then converted to methylmercury and absorbed by fish, who are then ingested by larger fish, and so on. Through this process, high levels of mercury were found in fish even in pristine, protected ecological areas. Coal is the source of more than half of the nation’s electricity. I don’t eat fish, but maybe you do. More importantly, high environmental pollution and elevated levels of mercury affect the wildlife who share our ecosystems, and that’s hardly fair.

How Mercury Becomes Toxic In The Environment.

The Great Beyond: America’s quicksilver fish.


Via a picture gallery from the Telegraph, I present to you… ZooBorns blog. ZooBorns collects and posts “the newest and cutest exotic animal babies from zoos and aquariums around the world”. Which, frankly, is the best thing ever.

The London Zoo has an elephant calf:

The Denver Zoo is hand-rearing tiny emperor tamarin twins, orphaned after their mother died:

Zoo Basel in Switzerland has a baby porcupine:

And, last but not least, Dusit Zoo in Thailand is nursing an orphaned pangolin, found abandoned on the side of a road:


Mosha and Motala, two Asian elephants that were injured by land mines in Southeast Asia, have recently received new prosthetic limbs from the Prosetheses Foundation. The Friends of the Asian Elephant animal hospital in Lampang, in Northern Thailand, provides care to elephants who are sick or injured.

Motala is a 48-year-old female elephant who lost her leg 10 years ago, while working in a logging camp. Ecowordly has several videos of earlier prosthetics for both Motala and Mosha, a 3-year-old elephant who lost her leg in 2006. Since Mosha is still growing, her new leg is adjustable so she won’t outgrow it. This video from National Geographic shows both elephants with their new limbs. I noticed that neither elephant seems to be using the prosthetics much; It’s almost as if they’re not putting any weight on them at all, so it’s unclear to me how much these prosthetics actually help the elephants walk. Even if they’re not functionally useful to the elephants, though, all of the publicity has drawn a great deal of attention to the plight of Asian elephants.

Asian elephants are frequently used in logging camps, and sometimes fed amphetamines to increase their production. With the recent reductions in logging in the region, many former logging elephants are now being used for begging or tourist activities. Asian elephant habitat is heavily fragmented and littered with land mines. Poaching and conflict with humans also contribute to their endangered status.

A patron sent an overdue book back to us with this note, after I emailed him a reminder.

Animal Re-introductions: The Arabian oryx in Oman by Mark R. Stanley Price, 1989.
Due back to the library 7/10/2007, returned 8/7/2009.

Earlier this summer, the Journal of Mammalogy published findings from the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) study of long-beaked echidnas in Papua New Guinea. WCS trained an intern, Muse Opiang, to track, tag, and study the elusive monotremes. Opiang has since formed his own non-profit organization, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research.

Although the other two members of the order Monotremata, the duck-billed platypus and short-beaked echidna, are fairly well-known to people, the long-beaked echidna has never been studied and is critically endangered. Opiang spent 500 hours in the field before he found a single one. After 6,000 hour of field work, he managed to capture 22 echidnas, tagging 12 of these with radio transmitters. Their larger size makes them a popular bushmeat target of hunters.

Monotremes are egg-laying mammals, an evolutionary link between birds and reptiles, and placental mammals. They nurse young via lactation patches in their skin. A single opening, or cloaca, serves both reproductive and digestive functions. The recent sequencing of the platypus genome provided further insights into mammalian evolution. The study of long-beaked echidnas will enable scientists to develop conservation practices, ensuring the animals’ survival in the wild.

The Children’s Zoo at the San Diego Zoo is home to Victor, a short-beaked echidna who also happens to be the zoo’s oldest mammal. My favorite part of going to the zoo is visiting him, and encouraging other zoo guests to pet him. You’re actually allowed to pet him, and his quills are surprisingly soft. Oddly, I don’t have any photos of friends doing this, but someone on Flickr does! Monotremes are some of my favorite animals (not least because the babies are called puggles, and really, how cute is that?). I’m looking forward to learning more about long-beaked echidnas as new information from this study trickles in.

Brainy Echidna Proves Looks Aren’t Everything –