Africa’s First Spotless Giraffe Discovered in Namibia
For the first time, a spotless, entirely-brown baby giraffe has been recorded in the wild in Africa, on a game reserve in Namibia.
The discovery comes, coincidentally, after a spotless giraffe -- only the second ever recorded -- was born at Brights Zoo in Tennessee in late July.
The Namibian calf was born near Mount Etjo Safari Lodge, in the centre of the country.
Julian Fennessy, director of conservation at the Namibian-based Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) says the plain brown calf’s condition is likely the result of a genetic mutation. A spotless giraffe is totally distinct from the equally rare all-white giraffe that occurs due to a genetic condition known as leucism.
Giraffe spots are believed to help with camouflage, and with thermoregulation. It’s unclear whether the Namibian calf will face a disadvantage in the wild by not having them.
GCF says it hopes the discovery of the spotless calf will help increase interest in Africa’s four giraffe species and their various subspecies, which are undergoing a ‘silent extinction’ as populations decline due to hunting and habitat loss.
Giraffes, though storybook African mammals, don’t get the kind of attention that elephants and lions get -- and that’s a threat to their long-term survival. Elephants, which face well-publicised threats from poachers and drought, outnumber giraffes by 4:1, according to the GCF.
The spotless calf born in Namibia is from a subspecies known as the Angolan giraffe. There are around 20,000 of them left in the wild.
The first official record of a spotless giraffe was from a Japanese zoo in 1972.
Mother giraffe and her spotless calf in central Namibia | Eckart Demasius/GCF
Of Mice and Elephants: Simple Leaf Swabs Reveal a Forest’s Animal Life
A team of scientists has demonstrated how effective leaves in a tropical rainforest are at storing the DNA of its wild inhabitants.
The researchers carried out an experiment in three sites in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, in the west of the country. They found that by swabbing leaves for three minutes they were able to collect evidence of more than 7 different types of vertebrate per swab.
This was courtesy of the environmental DNA (eDNA) shed by the animals, which ranged from elephants to tiny Stella wood mice, and even included a species of fish!
The latter turned out to be a catfish, which does walk on land, but the scientists concede that its DNA probably ended up on the leaves courtesy of an avian predator that had eaten it.
The team behind the research recommends the use of leaf swabbing for eDNA in tropical forests as a cheap, quick and practical alternative to camera trapping. The method is also able to pick up small creatures, such as the 16-gramme wood mouse, which might be missed by camera traps that are triggered when animals pass in front of the lens.
Out of the 52 different vertebrates detected using the swabs, the team managed to refine 30 of them down to species level.
The nature of Kibale's forest helped a lot. Leaf surfaces ranged from wax-coated, to indented, to sticky -- all of which represent ideal trapping surfaces, the authors write in the journal Current Biology.
A black-and-white colobus monkey in Kibale National Park | Vanmulondo | Wikimedia Commons
Meet the Mauritian Sea Sponge That Could Fight Cancer
A species of threatened sea sponge found off the Mauritian coast appears to contain compounds that effectively fight liver cancer, according to research published in the latest issue of the South African Journal of Science.
The team from the University of Mauritius went snorkelling off Mauritius' Amber Island, which is surrounded by mangroves, to collect a specimen of the sponge, Neopetrosia exigua.
The sponge was freeze-dried, crushed and compounds extracted for tests against four types of cancer cell. The highest inhibitory effect was against the liver cancer cells. The team behind the research recommends further enquiries into the sponge’s pharmacological applications, and those of other Neopetrosia species in other parts of the world’s oceans.
Conditions in Mauritius could be an important factor in their bioactivity, the researchers say.
There is also a pressing need to ensure the sponges' conservation. Mauritius harbours a diverse range of Neopetrosia species, but those of N. exigua have been in decline in recent years, according to the study.
Although extracts from the sponge had been tested on cancers such as leukemia and brain cancer before, the effect on normal cells hadn't been investigated. This study shows for the first time that the sponge constituents selectively kill cancer cells, and are 4-5 times less toxic to normal cells than a widely-used chemotherapy drug.
Mauritius harbours diverse Neopetrosia sponge species | Romeodesign | Wikimedia Commons
Nature Notes: An ‘Underground Tree’
At this time of the year, the grasslands in Harare’s Haka Park nature reserve have been cropped short by zebras and wildebeest, and baked yellow after a long dry season. This accentuates the contrast with the vivid green leaves of the dwarf waterberry.
The latter is a suffrutex, or underground, tree. By confining most of its growth below ground, it can withstand an array of environmental pressures – like fire, frost and flood – that occur in exposed grasslands.
In the rainy season, for instance, parts of Haka’s grasslands become so waterlogged that if a tree were to try to grow there it would topple over.
The dwarf waterberry is a subspecies of the woodland waterberry – a normal-sized tree.
Although they have such different habits, their kinship has long been recognized in the region. The dwarf waterberry is known in Zimbabwe’s Shona language as Mukute-pasi; the woodland waterberry as Mukute-bango. And in Angola, the dwarf form is known to the Chokwe people as Mupaua, and the tall form as Muhaua.
Back in Haka, I have seen some dwarf waterberry trees starting to grow out of their diminutive state in places where, presumably, there is more shelter, and firmer soil in which to anchor roots.