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Freshwater Fish Eyes: Good Parasite Home

MONTREAL, June 24 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say they have, for the first time, used DNA barcoding to show larval flukes parasitize only a few closely related fishes.

“Canada probably has the best studied freshwater fish parasites in the world, so we were amazed when we found four times more species of flukes in a few fishes from the St. Lawrence than were previously known in all fishes across the whole country,” said postdoctoral researcher Sean Locke of Concordia University, who led the research.

Locke and his colleagues said they discovered parasites found in most tissues — including muscle, gills, brains and internal organs — specialized on one or a few closely related fishes.

But they also found the lenses of fish eyes were home to five species of non-specialized flukes that thrive in many different fish species and even frogs.

“The lens seems to be the host’s Achilles’ heel,” Locke said. “An immune response there would blind the fish, so it appears evolution has favored immunological restraint … hence the same parasite species appear in all sorts of different fish.”

He said his team’s findings might have practical benefits for wildlife managers and fish farmers, since larval flukes are among the most common fish parasites in the world.

“Getting rid of wildlife parasites is very difficult even when you know what you’re dealing with,” Locke said. “But identifying a pathogen is the first step to controlling it.”

The study appears in the early online edition of the journal Molecular Ecology.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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FDA: Avoid Vita Breath Dietary Supplement

WASHINGTON, May 3 (UPI) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is advising consumers not to purchase or use Vita Breath dietary supplement due to possible contamination.

The FDA said the product, manufactured by American Herbal Lab Inc. of Rosemead, Calif., might contain hazardous levels of lead.

The product is marketed at health fairs and on the Internet.

“The FDA was notified by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene about a patient with lead poisoning who reported taking Vita Breath and two other herbal products,” the federal agency said. “The department analyzed a sample of Vita Breath and reported it contained 1,100 parts per million of lead. This level is more than 10,000 times higher than FDA’s maximum recommended level for lead in candy.”

Officials said people with high blood levels of lead may show no symptoms, but the condition can cause damage to the nervous system and internal organs. Acute lead poisoning may cause a wide range of symptoms, including abdominal pain, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and bloody or decreased urinary output. Children are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.

The FDA said it is working with state officials in New York and California to further investigate Vita Breath.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Peter Knights & WildAid Stop Animal Poaching through Activism

Peter Knights co-directs WildAid, which is probably the most under-recognized heroic environmental organization on earth. Somehow Peter Knights went from being a graduate of the London School of Economics to a leader on the front lines of the fight to save endangered species. I don’t know how this man in his mid-thirties got from there to here, and I didn’t ask. But talking with him last week at their offices in San Francisco, it was clear there was not only uncommon courage but great intellectual substance to this warrior for the environment.

San Francisco

WildAid has their offices on the 2nd floor of a 1907 building on the north side of Pacific just east of Montgomery. Including Peter, there is only a staff of five here, but what WildAid does from this nondescript office and with his skeleton staff is nothing short of remarkable. WildAid also has small offices in D.C., Bangkok, Vladivostok and London; their web site is located at here.

Indigenous anti-poaching patrol,
funded by WildAid.

Some jobs in the fight to save endangered species are more, let’s just say, perilous than others. WildAid, has chosen the toughest of the tough as their strong suit; patrolling against armed poachers, and tracking down and arresting international traffickers in body parts of endangered species.

Knights and his colleagues travel the world identifying local police and rangers who are attempting to stop the poachers. He then uses WildAid funds to equip and train the rangers. The work doesn’t stop once a check is written, WildAid also places experts in wildlife security with these anti-poaching groups, who then train them in effective tactics, including non-lethal forms of apprehension. Recently, for example, WildAid co-director Suwanna Gauntlett sent John Gavitt, who had been the Chief Ranger for the Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, to Cambodia on an assignment to train anti-poaching rangers in that country.

Poaching can reduce a species to extinction within a few short years, if demand suddenly rises and local police power diminishes. That is exactly what happened in the Russian Far East in the ’90s, when Soviet authority waned and lawless elements began to exercise more dominance. At the same time global prosperity, particularly in Asia, caused sharply higher demand for the body parts of tigers. WildAid’s program to equip and train the Rangers in the Russian Far East is largely responsible for pulling that creature back, barely, from total extinction. The Siberian tiger is now thought to be stable and increasing in population. The program is generally recognized as the most effective anti-poaching for tigers in the world.

Endangered species are countless, but WildAid has identified a select few “indicator” species, many of which are apex predators, that if saved can have a cascading positive effect through huge planetary ecoregions. This strategy is especially important when one considers that the extinction of these indicator species will cause a converse reaction, a huge and possibly fatal disruption to the balanced functioning of an entire ecoregion. With that in mind, WildAid has pared their salvation efforts to the following list of animals: Big Cats, Elephants, Rhinos, Apes, Bears, Birds, Marine Mammals, Sea Turtles, and Sharks.

Siberian Tiger
Black Bear in a Cage
Black Bear in a Cage

It’s impossible to describe in a short report all the work WildAid is doing with all these species. It’s important to note that their direct efforts have rescued many of these species from destruction in several parts of the world. One of the areas where WildAid is fighting a tough battle is against the bear poachers. The gallbladder of a bear is considered a valuable medicine in many parts of Asia, and bears are being killed just for their gallbladder, much as rhinos have been killed just for their horn.

Bear gall is considered so valuable that in China there are “bear farms” where bears are kept in cages and a permanent shunt “milks” the liver produced bile from their gallbladders. These bears often survive for many years, chained, with medical tubes leeching fluid from their internal organs, unable to move in their tiny cages.

Jackie Chan and Bob Knights
Jackie Chan and Peter Knights

Most of the trade in body parts of endangered species would die a withering death if the demand for them, based on a traditional belief in their medicinal and mystical properties, would go away. WildAid has been orchestrating public awareness campaigns in Asia. Joined by famous far-eastern celebrities such as Jackie Chan, and far-western celebrities such as Peter Benchley (who is atoning for his novel “Jaws” which vilified sharks), Knights has conducted widespread television campaigns in Asia under the slogan, “when the buying stops, the killing can stop, too.” These campaigns have reached millions, but by themselves may be too little too late, he believes.

Fins Being Cut Off Shark
Fins Being Cut Off Shark

The most deplorable of all threats to endangered species has to be that which faces the shark, in all the oceans of the planet. An astonishing 100 million sharks and other species resembling sharks are killed each year by the commercial fishing industry, and most of them are killed only for their fins. In a macabre ritual that repeats itself around the world, the sharks, dead or alive, have their fins removed by knife as they writhe on the decks of fishing craft, and then they are thrown back into the sea, some still alive.

Eating shark fin soup, which can cost $100 per bowl in Hong Kong, is considered a mark of prestige. Even more than the reputed healthful effects, is the gesture that eating this expensive delicacy represents. The fin, in fact, has no flavor, and only yields a noodle-like texture.

WildAid is campaigning for a global ban on shark finning rather than a ban on all fishing of sharks. They hope to bring global attention to this issue. They are working with the government and the fishing industries to reduce shark fishing to sustainable levels. At the same time, they will work on reducing the demand for shark fin soup in Asia.

Knights mentioned this effort as a choice of pragmatism over dogmatism. Knights noted that preventing all exploitation of a species was often not a viable option. While he may have ethical concerns about big game hunting, for example, he would not oppose it in conservation terms if it didn’t impact the species and generated funds benefiting conservation.

As well as campaigning, WildAid focuses on equipping and training rangers in the field. To channel funds as directly as possible, WildAid has 100% of its overhead covered by a grant from The Barbara Delano Foundation. This means that 100% of the contribution made by any individual donor will go directly to efforts in the field to save endangered species. Moreover, the donor can select the projects to which they want to see the funds directed. Only a few nonprofits are as close to the front lines as this one.

Galapagos Patrol Boat Supported by WildAid
Galapagos Patrol Boat
Supported by WildAid

I tried to imagine Peter Knights, an urbane Englishman who was absolutely focused on his work, trekking the wilds of Russia with the Rangers, or venturing through the mangroves of the Galapagos Islands in a patrol boat he procured for the Park Services, in search of illegal fishing operations. There aren’t very many people fighting for the environment who can navigate the diplomatic halls of Switzerland as easily as they descend to the violent trenches in the battles for survival of species, at the very ends of the earth.

EcoWorld - Nature and Technology in Harmony

Posted in Animals, Birds, Conservation, Effects Of Air Pollution, Fish, Internal Organs, Mammals, Office, Other, People1 Comment

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