Friday, November 14, 2003

Amphibians too!

Amphibians too ...

Metro, London 14 November 03
Why the frogs' love life croaked

If you've ever had difficulty understanding a Scot, Geordie, Scouser, Cockney or Brummie then don' worry you're not alone. Frogs have trouble communicating too - because they have regional accents. It means thousands of the amphibians are losers in love because they can not understand potential mates. PhD student Julia Wycherley made the discovery while investigating the origin of European water frogs. "Frogs live in fresh water and, during the ice age, they only lived in three places in Europe," said Bernie Simmons of analysts SPSS, who ran a follow-up study. It found frogs' mating calls differed depending on where they originated. If different, they are unlikely to breed. But the research could help English Nature find breeding partners for Britain's endangered amphibian species.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Myth of lemmings' suicide is driven over the cliff

The Times, London, 31 October
Myth of lemmings' suicide is driven over the cliff
By Stephen Brook

SCIENTISTS have solved one of the world’s great mysteries. The reason lemmings suicidally hurl themselves over cliffs is that. . . they don’t.
The myth arose because of sudden, severe falls in the population of the hamster-like rodent. Scientists have long been puzzled by the four-year cycle of boom and bust, which would see the Arctic tundra teeming with lemmings one year, only for them to disappear almost completely the next. They blamed changes in food supply and habitat while almost everyone else put it down to mass suicide.

But yesterday researchers pinned the blame on a quartet of Arctic predators: the arctic fox, the snowy owl, the stoat and the long-tailed skua. “It’s been an unsolved question for 80 years,” Olivier Gilg, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, said.

Dr Gilg and his colleagues studied the collared lemming in Greenland’s high Arctic tundra for 15 years and published their research in the journal Science yesterday.

They found that when the lemming population increased, so did the numbers of foxes, owls and skuas. The stoats took a year to catch up, because of slower reproduction.

By the time they did, the number of predators feasting on the lemmings drove their numbers down. Then the foxes, skuas and owls moved on to other prey, but the stoats ate only lemmings and died away — starting the cycle again.

Dr Gilg said the myth of mass suicide lay with an unlikely villain — Walt Disney. Lemmings sometimes fell over cliffs during chaotic mass migrations. But the 1958 Disney documentary White Wilderness is said to have faked footage of them rushing en masse for the nearest cliff and hurling themselves over.

“If a Walt Disney documentary presented it as lemming suicide, then it must have been true,” Dr Gilg said.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

£50m debt? Time to sell the goldfish

Metro, London, Tuesday 29 Oct 03

£50m debt? Time to sell the goldfish

Forget the players and shareholders - three goldfish have emerged as the biggest victims of British football's worst-ever cash crisis.

As they prepared to report pre-tax losses of £49.5 million yesterday, Leeds United decided the fish who lived in the boardroom, cost too much.

They were duly given free transfers to new owners.

The club saved £240 on the cost of fish food and the occasional new bit of weed for the tank. Of course every penny counts when you're trying to make savings - but the decision to get rid of the fish failed to impress the City "it's like making sure the windows are clean on the Titanic when it sinks ..." said Barclays football analyst Henk Potts"

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Metro, London, Tuesday 14 Oct

Metro, London, Tuesday 14 Oct

"Disney's latest animated blockbuster [Finding Nemo] features a fish who has a toilet fixation and believes that 'all drains lead to the ocean'. After seeing the film in the US, many children tried to 'free' their pet fish by flushing them down the toilet"

"... Every year millions of fish are taken from their natural habitat to supply aquaria around the world...Recent research that fish are considerably more intelligent than previously thought raises serious issues about keeping them confined in small bowls and tanks. Advocates for Animals believes that fish should be left to live in their natural habitats.

Extract from letter to the Metro newspaper from Ross Minet, Campaigns Director, Advocates for Animals, Edinburgh.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Are fish really more intelligent than monkeys?

Copyright: Guardian

Are fish really more intelligent than monkeys?

Alok Jha
Thursday September 4, 2003
The Guardian

There is certainly more evidence for intelligence in fish than in monkeys. But this has more to do with the volume of research on fish, work that is sometimes hard to do on monkeys.
"If you make a big list and have a look at all the evidence for advanced cognition, the evidence is far more convincing for fish than it is for primates," says Culum Brown, a biologist at Edinburgh University and co- author of a report this week on how intelligent fish really are. "That's primarily because most of the primate literature is based on anecdotal evidence and brief observation."
Gone are the days when fish were thought to float around without much regard for their environment or other fish. According to Brown, fish are "steeped in social intelligence". They pursue Machiavellian strategies of manipulation, punishment and reconciliation and cooperate to avoid predators or catch food.
They can identify their shoal-mates, recognise the social status of other fish, use tools, build complex nests and even navigate mazes. And, to put the most persistent fish heresy to bed, they even have impressive long-term memories. Brown cites his own recent research finding that fish remembered the location of a hole in a fishing net nearly a year after first learning about it.
Apocryphal tales of goldfish having memories that last a few seconds seem mainly designed to make people feel better about keeping them in small featureless bowls. To prevent your fish getting bored, Brown suggests changing its environment from time to time. The fish may recognise the rock you have moved, but the fact that it's in a different place is always interesting to it, Brown says.
Paul Honess, a primatologist at the Oxford of University, is surprised that biologists would claim primate-like intelligence for fish. "If the only evidence is quantity of research, then that's no evidence at all," he says.
Brown says he is not arguing that fish are more intelligent than primates per se, but that they are more intelligent than we thought.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Transcript of Ebadi CNN interview

Transcript of Ebadi CNN interview, 10 Oct 03, 22:30 London time

Well done Shirin.

Shirin Ebadi looked and sounded like she was about to pass out, but that’s excusable considering what she must have gone through, especially as she didn’t even know that she was nominated. The 1.3 mil's a nice little touch too.

Some editorial license has been applied to Ebadi’s text as her English not so good.

Vote on on whether she deserves it. (no sponsorship from CNN. Just quite good coverage)

Interviewer: Jonathan Mann

CNN: …reformers and human rights activists are hailing the announcement Friday, that the [Nobel] Peace Prize has been awarded to Shirin Ebadi. Ebadi is the first Muslim woman and the first Iranian to ever receive the prestigious award. She got it for her life’s wok championing the rights of women, children, writers, minorities, activists and other Iranians of all kinds. Shirin Ebadi joins us now from Paris to talk about her work and her prize.

Congratulations to you, thank you so much for talking with us. Did you know you were a candidate, did you know you were nominated?

Ebadi: No, I didn’t know that I was nominated, and when I heard that I won I was shocked, and when I heard the radio then I believed and I became happy and glad.

CNN: Let me ask you about your work. Women and children who you have defended are disadvantaged all over the world; what is different in Iran?

Ebadi: In Iran we have bad laws which violate women’s rights and we work to change our law.

CNN: and you have been succeeding slowly, but it would seem in recent years that things have changed. So may people have been arrested, newspapers have closed down, reform has slowed. Has it gotten more difficult lately?

Ebadi: More or less it is difficult, but life is a beauty when you work, when everything is not good.

CNN: Do you feel you have made a difference?

Ebadi: Yes, some difference.

CNN: In what way?

Ebadi: About some of the laws we can change, but its not enough. We must have more changing.

CNN: What needs to change in Iran?

Ebadi: In Iran, we don’t have good laws. We have some laws which violate human rights and some people believe that they come from Islam. But I know that they come from a wrong interpretation of Islamic law. If we have good, correct interpretation of Islam we can be good Muslims and have better law in Ian.

CNN: There is no contradiction between Islam and human rights. But is there a contradiction between an Islamic Republic and human rights? A government that says it will interpret Islam and govern trough Islam and the rights of men and women?

Ebadi: you know, when people, when many people want something they can be successful in changing the situation and in Iran people want to approve, to respect human rights and I believe that they will succeed.

CNN: How much have you and your family suffered because of that belief, because of the work you do?

Ebadi: I know that many people in Iran, students, writers, journalists, believe in Human rights.

CNN: How many people are in jail? How many of those people share your ideas without being known to the world the way today you are?

Ebadi: Many people.

CNN: What will this award to for them do you think?

Ebadi: It is very important that people know that hey can have a better life; and education about human rights is very important for Iran.

CNN: Will the people that govern Iran, will the judges of Iran , will the mullahs of Iran be impressed by the Nobel prize you have been awarded?

Ebadi: I think people in Iran [will] be happy by this prize, but government, I don’t know exactly.

CNN: Do you think you are going to have any difficulties because of this prize?

Ebadi: No, I don’t think so.

CNN: You are very modest about your own sacrifices, you were a judge and then the government made that impossible, you were a lawyer and then the government prohibited you from practising law for five years. You have been through a great deal because of your work. You’ve been in jail.

Ebadi: Yes I have been in jail about 25 days.

CNN: That time and other times you must have been very frightened because of what could happen to you.

Ebadi: I don’t know exactly, but I know that it is my duty working for democracy and human rights, because I set the law and in my opinion everybody who studies law, especially in a country like Iran must work for human rights because it is necessary for Iran.

CNN: You said earlier today that human rights are an internal matter for Iran. Should the Nobel Committee, should the European Union, should the United Nations, should the United States stay out of the debate in Iran now?

Ebadi: I think the Nobel prize shows us that our working is correct and it gives us more courage to continue our work.

CNN: I’d like to ask you a question about your clothing, because in Iran you would be dressed very differently. You would not appear with your hair and head uncovered. Is this a gesture you are making because some Iranians would be shocked to see you this way? [she’s not wearing a headscarf, in case you were wondering]

Ebadi: You know, according to our law, I must have hejab in Iran, but not abroad of Iran. It is my choice.

CNN: It is a small thing, but it is a very big thing. How many small things, how many big things does Iran have to change?

Ebadi: It is difficult to say now, but I know that some wrong things in Iran must be changed in the future.

CNN: Do you think you will have difficulty returning now to Iran or leaving again to accept the award on December 10th in Norway?

Ebadi: I don’t think so. I think it is easy to come to Tehran and then come to Oslo for the prize.

CNN: One would hope. Let me ask you one last question. You are soon going to be a very rich woman; the Nobel prize of-course comes with 1.3m dollars. Have you thought about that in the last few hours?

Ebadi: Only today I heard this news. I’m in shock and then I must think and then tell you. But I think I must continue my work in Human rights and it needs some money.

CNN: Fair enough. Shirin Ebadi, Laureate of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Peace, our congratulations and our thanks.

Ebadi: Thanks.


Tune in for next week’s episode to find out how Shirin splashes that cash. Will she blow all her moola or will it be the other way round?

Next month we have a special feature on fish rights (not fishing rights, the other way round), and of-course, the concerns of sea-bound mammals.


Copyright of interview transcript: CNN