News in Brief

Scientists Document Rare Species in Gobi Desert

A petite nocturnal mammal with very large ears, appropriately known as the long-eared jerboaA petite nocturnal mammal with very large ears, appropriately known as the long-eared jerboa, has been caught on camera in the Gobi desert for what is likely the first time. The harsh weather of its natural habitat in the deserts of Mongolia and China, combined with the size and nocturnal nature of the "mysterious" species, has made it difficult to study. The footage shows that the long-eared jerboa prefers to spend daylight hours in underground tunnels below the sand, and it consumes mostly insects. The greatly endangered animal is on the IUCN Red List, and scientists documenting its existence are trying to determine a long-term action plan for its protection.


Dolphin Importers Charged

Dominica's Office of the Prosecutor for the Environment has filed charges against Tropical Parks, a company that allegedly imported four bottlenose dolphins from Cuba without the required permits. "[A]ll evidence available" denouncing the company has been filed for the Environmental Prosecutor to review. Though two dolphins died while being held in captivity at the Tropical Parks facility in 2007, the company continues to insist upon the importing of more animals.


Surfer Saved from Shark… by Dolphins

In the waters of Monterey, Calif.'s Marina State Park, a great white shark attacked surfer Todd Endris on the morning of August 28. His back and right leg were badly injured after three hits from the shark—and he would have likely died if not for a pod of friendly bottlenose dolphins who formed a protective ring around Endris as he got himself to shore.

This amazing story is not the first time dolphins' protective acts have been reported. Just last year, four New Zealand lifeguards were saved by a group of dolphins forming a similar ring, and other reports of the intelligent animals' aid to humans go back to the days of Ancient Greece.

While Endris is still recovering from his injuries through physical therapy, he does not blame the shark for his plight. The shark is still living in those same waters, which are also a marine wildlife refuge. "I wouldn't want to go after the shark anyway," the surfer told reporters. "We're in his realm, not the other way around."


"Missing Link" Reveals Whales' Evolution from Land-Dwelling Animal

New examination of fossil evidence discovered in the Kashmir region of India shows that whales, dolphins and porpoises are descended from the Indohyus—a land-based, deer-like animal that lived 48 million years ago. This "missing link" is likely to have mostly lived on land, but escaped predators by going underwater. While its outward physical appearance is nothing like that of its modern-day relatives, the species has similar skull and ear structures to early whales and other marine animals. In an effort to learn more about the whale's evolution from land to sea creature, Northeastern Ohio University College of Medicine professor and study leader Hans Thewissen obtained rock samples from the collection of the late Indian geologist A. Rango Rao. These samples contained complete fossils of the Indohysus species.


Smithfield Chairman Named Biggest Grinch

Agribusiness giant Smithfield Foods, notorious for causing animal suffering on a vast scale, is damaging the lives of humans as well. National Jobs with Justice has deemed Smithfield Chairman Joseph Luter III its 2007 "Grinch of the Year"¬—described as the national figure who does the most harm to working families—for permitting workers to be "injured, harassed, intimidated and threatened by Smithfield management." The company's facility in southeastern North Carolina, which is the largest pork slaughterhouse in the world, is also reportedly one of the most dangerous work sites in the United States.


Polar Bear Decision Delayed

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has delayed its decision on whether to list polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The decision, originally due on January 9, 2008, will be based on evidence presented in September 2007 reports from a US Geological Survey to answer three major questions: how much ice is melting, how fast is it melting, and how will this affect polar bears? New methodologies were used in the research, and FWS Director Dale Hall says officials need more time to make an "informed decision." Already listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), polar bear have been deemed a difficult case because of poor data on the species' population numbers, as well as difficulties in predicting the future implications of climate change.


Dr. Shirley McGreal Honored for Primate Protection Efforts

Dr. Shirley McGreal plays with a gibbon friend at her facility.International Primate Protection League founder and director Shirley McGreal was awarded the Order of the British Empire in December 2007 for her longstanding commitment to protecting primates. As one of the highest honors that can be bestowed to an individual by the Queen of England, the Order of the British Empire observes "distinguished service to the arts and sciences, public services outside the Civil Service and work with charitable and welfare organizations of all kinds." Dr. McGreal, involved in primate rescue since the early 1970s, is known for uncovering illicit trade in primates and doggedly pushing for prosecution of the perpetrators.


Smuggled Snakes Discovered in Vietnam

Sixty boxes containing rat snakes—a protected species—were seized by Vietnamese authorities at Hanoi's Noi Bai Airport in mid-January. Falsely declared as live fish, over a ton of the non-venomous snakes were surrounded by ice water-filled plastic bags and shipped as cargo on a Vietnam Airlines flight from the international airport in Bangkok, Thailand. The smuggled animals were taken to a nearby facility called the Wild Animal Rescue Center after they were discovered, but many of them have since died.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest episode in what seems to be a trend in Southeast Asia. Just a month prior to the incident, over 1,500 lbs of dead snakes labeled as fresh fish were sent from Malaysia to Vietnam via Thai Airways. However, the package was sent to an unspecific address and not collected. Eventually, the Noi Bai Airport's Goods Service Company opened the package to uncover the dead animals. This transport is illegal, but it continues to flourish because snake parts are prized for their use in traditional medicine.