Monthly Archives: October 2009

A ‘beautiful plague’: Australian outback town is invaded by swarm of colourful budgerigars

At first glance the dark haze above this field in Boulia, western Queensland, looks like a swarm of insects.

But a closer looks reveals they are actually hundreds of brightly-coloured budgerigars.

Image Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Image Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

The mass of birds is a result of flooding earlier this year which has led to ideal breeding conditions and plentiful food supplies.

The Australian outback town where the phenomenon is taking place is attracting bird watchers who are eager to view what the residents are calling ‘a beautiful plague’.

The green and gold birds are around 18cm long and weigh between 30-40g.

Budgerigars are nomadic birds found in open habitats, primarily in Australian scrubland, open woodland and grassland. Drought can drive flocks into more wooded habitat or coastal areas.

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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

It’s Grand Prix weekend in Abu Dhabi and even Dubai is packed with people.  We have a friend from South Africa staying with us, who is here to see the race.

Saw a line of about 30 Ferrari’s outside the Dubai Ferrari dealer…

Saudi king scraps flogging for woman journalist

I applaud yet another moderate but responsible decision from the Saudi ruling family… this is a part of a very promising pattern.

From Gulf News

Information Ministry spokesman says King Abdullah ordered that the 60 lashes sentence for Rozanna Al Yami be dropped.

Riyadh: The Saudi king has waived the lashing punishment for a Saudi female journalist charged with involvement in a TV sex show

(Sophie: actually the show was about societal taboos and featured one episode where a Saudi national spoke about his active sex life.  He has been jailed for the acts he admitted to during this interview.)

The Information Ministry spokesman on Monday says King Abdullah ordered that the 60 lashes sentence for Rozanna al-Yami be dropped.

She was charged with involvement in a TV show in which a Saudi man publicly talked about sex, a taboo subject in the ultraconservative country.

Al Yami, who has denied the charges against her, is believed to be the first woman Saudi journalist to get a flogging punishment.

Spokesman Abdul-Rahman al-Hazza says the king ordered her case and that of another woman journalist – also accused of involvement in the program – be referred to an Information Ministry committee.

Sand Cats

I didn’t know they were so rare!

Cute, but no cuddly kitty

Tom Duralia

From The National

Last Updated: October 18. 2009 6:12PM UAE / October 18. 2009 2:12PM GMT

    One of the 32 sand cats in captivity at Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, which is collaborating with the Cincinnati Zoo on an artificial breeding programme. Lauren Lancaster / The National

    The sand cat, an animal so stealthy it is rarely seen, looks as if it is made to comfort and be comforted; a cat for the lap, not the extremes of a lonely desert. Even its claws are dull.

    But dhubs and vipers know better.

    First of all, it is unlikely that a dhub lizard finds anything other than another spiny-tail remotely cute. Secondly, the fluffy sand cat, forged on the anvil of desolation, as it were, eats them for breakfast.

    Despite a superficial similarity to its domestic cousins, the broad-faced sand cat avoids human contact and is a master at shunning and escaping the attentions of the wider world.

    Its extremely furry feet a dense mat of long, wavy hairs sprouting from the underside that almost obscures the foot pads, so suited for movement on the sands and ambushing prey leave tracks that are at best ambiguous and frequently non-existent, while its light sandy-coloured coat is lost against the desert background.

    How about spotting one at a water hole? Forget it. The self-reliant sand cat gets all the moisture it needs from the fluid content of its prey.

    Stumbling upon one almost never happens. It is a nocturnal cat that burrows and sleeps out of sight during the day. When researchers try to locate one at night by shining spotlights across the sands, hoping to catch the retinal reflections, well, the sand cat simply lowers its eyelids.

    // <![CDATA[
    document.write(”);
    ]]> In short, in the UAE, as within most of their range, sand cats are rarely spotted by anyone, anywhere, ever.

    Like the sand cat, Peter Cunningham, an ecologist, has an abiding interest in spiny-tailed lizards and a thirst for desert solitude, which he seeks out when others of his species have beaten a hasty retreat.

    “Most think it is crazy,” he says, “[but] I like to go out in the desert in the summer. There’s nobody else there, and you can see things that you otherwise or normally don’t see, especially reptile-wise.”

    Late one morning in July 2001, Mr Cunningham was northeast of Al Ain, busy with the niceties of dhub burrow description, moving from one to the next, painstakingly assessing orientation, size of openings, distances between and sub-surface temperatures.

    To get a better view, he headed towards a rise, a calcrete outcrop amid the gravel flats and sand dunes, and caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Impossibly, it was a sand cat.

    “It was quite a shock,” he recalls. “I didn’t expect it, of course; I was focusing on dhubs at the time.”

    So, in all probability, was the sand cat. Uncomfortably close at about five metres, the animal retreated a short distance but, instead of fleeing, stopped and studied the intruder.

    “I was watching this cat and it was watching me,” Mr Cunningham says. “It seemed unwilling to run away, but then the area was surrounded by open sand and he was in the best place to hide or avoid me at the time.”

    The pair spent a magical minute in communion, “the cat probably thinking, ‘A human out at midday? Must be a crazy scientist’”, before disappearing into some cavity in a rocky outcrop.

    Mr Cunningham, 44, now working out of the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre in Saudi Arabia, never saw the cat again, but when he returned to civilisation he discovered his encounter was the first confirmed sighting of a live sand cat in the UAE.

    There had been anecdotal reports, a few records of dead animals and some sand cats had shown up in the pet souks, though no one could say exactly where they had come from.

    “Everybody said it was ‘the sand towards the south’,” says Mr Cunningham, perhaps the Liwa area, or Umm Al Zamool, the presumed favoured habitat, but nothing specific.

    His subsequent discovery of spiny-tail lizard remains strewn about the den entrance was also a bit of a puzzle. The sand cat is supposedly strictly nocturnal, at least when not disturbed, while the dhub is only active during the day.

    A wild sand cat caught in a fence in Saudi Arabia, where the National Wildlife Research Centre has recorded a decline in numbers. Courtesy Moayyad Sher Shah

    Maybe, speculated Mr Cunningham, there could be some overlap in the summer when the lizards might still be out at dusk or, perhaps, the sand cat gets them from the burrow. “Nobody has actually seen it in action,” he says, though dhub remains have also been recorded in the faeces of sand cats in Israel.

    Dhubs aside, the sand cat’s menu is most likely to feature insects, rodents and small lizards. More famously, though, one of the animals was observed successfully taking on and eating a sand viper in northern Africa.

    The cat was apparently so engrossed in the process, says Mr Cunningham, that it paid no heed to the nearby onlookers and, once it had dispatched the snake, tucked in to its hard-earned meal.

    Usually, the sand cat is likely to bat its prey silly with those cute paws before delivering the coup de grâce of a killing bite, but it is the animal’s unusually and wonderfully wide head and well-spaced ears that may be the real means for bringing in its sometimes subterranean meals.

    That broad head houses ear architecture that differs significantly from that of other small cats, allowing it to hear sounds not only at greater distances but also at a greater range of frequencies, meaning that a gerbil’s “ahem” and the scrape of a sand skink will not go unnoticed.

    At just 27, Moayyad Sher Shah is one of the handful of people in the world who can boast more than one wild sand cat experience.

    A field researcher with the National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC) in the Saudi city of Taif, he has been conducting seasonal carnivore trapping in the protected areas of central Saudi Arabia since 2001 and during that time has trapped and released 56 sand cats.

    While that may seem a high number for a supposed phantom, Mr Sher Shah has nevertheless documented a precipitous drop in numbers in the past few years. This year, he has not seen any and the year before he caught only a handful.

    The culprits, in the estimation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the sand cat as “near threatened”, are the degradation and loss of habitat and the concomitant reduction in prey.

    Mr Sher Shah suspects the situation is the same in the UAE, and Mr Cunningham agrees. Sand cats “don’t like any activity or disturbance and they seem to move away from human settlements; now that people are going in and creating these camel farms all over the show with lots of activity, and all those in the dunes, that’s quite disturbing to the sand cats. They would move away from those areas,” he says.

    And they are capable of moving great distances, says Mr Sher Shah, who has played a lead role in ecological studies of the sand cat initiated by the NWRC in 2004.

    Tracking made possible by radio collars revealed that cats regularly travelled five or six kilometres a night in search of prey, and doubled that distance when hunting over degraded or over-grazed areas. The home ranges of seven collared cats came in between 20 and 51 square kilometres.

    Mr Sher Shah discovered that in the heat of summer, sand cats rest in dens during the day, but will not usually return to the same den or burrow two days in a row. They dig their simple dens quickly and efficiently, but in winter they tend to lie under a bush or other available shade rather than retreating underground.

    Mr Sher Shah and Mr Cunningham both believe the reason so few have been sighted in the UAE is partly because no one has looked seriously, but also because of a naturally low density. The numbers are likely to get lower as habitats are disturbed, combined with the remoteness of their preferred ranges and their penchant for secrecy.

    While chances of seeing the sand cat in the wild are practically nil, you would be hard-pressed to miss them at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, where the population of 32 practically equals the total number of captive sand cats in the whole of North America.

    And, if all goes according to plan and Farshid Mehrdadfar, the park’s manager of animal collections, has his fingers crossed they may eclipse that total within the next few months.

    For the past two weeks, researchers affiliated with the Cincinnati Zoo have been on site at the park, consummating, in more ways than one, a collaborative project concerning the use of assisted reproductive technologies in captive sand cats.

    According to one of the principal researchers, Dr Jason Herrick, an assistant professor in veterinary biosciences at the University of Illinois and a collaborator with the Cincinnati Zoo research team since 2004, the goal is to use techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer to help manage and enrich the genetic variability in captive sand cat populations.

    “These techniques will allow us to produce offspring in pairs that cannot, or will not, breed naturally,” he says. “Similarly, we can transport frozen sperm and/or embryos between different zoos, or different countries, without having to transport the animals themselves.”

    Recently, Dr Herrick and Dr William Swanson, the director of research at the Cincinnati Zoo, completed a two-year study of captive sand cats that involved characterising their basic reproductive traits and developing robust methods for sperm cryopreservation and in vitro fertilisation. The obvious next step, though not a small one, was to test those methods by attempting to produce some kittens.

    Last week in Al Ain, says Mr Mehrdadfar, fresh sperm and eggs collected from carefully selected cats were combined, in vitro, to produce sand cat embryos. The embryos were then transferred into four host cats that had recorded successful pregnancies in the past, with other embryos frozen for later use with captive cats in the US.

    “If one of these cats goes through pregnancy and pops out kittens I’m going to be dancing in the square,” says Mr Mehrdadfar. Even if he is denied his dance, they will persevere with their commitment to the project and the species: “We’re not going to just stop and shy away.”

    This, he says, “is the very first time this has been done”, and the techniques they are developing hold promise not only for inter-zoo gene transfers, but also the potential for harvesting gametes directly from wild populations without having to take the animals into a captive setting.

    Assisted reproductive technologies might also help get around the thorny problem of mate selection when computer and committee suggestions go unheeded by the felines involved.

    Captive populations, explains Dr Herrick, “are managed to maintain genetic diversity, which may not go well with the animal’s preferences in a mate.

    “Just because the male is genetically valuable and mating would be great for the population doesn’t necessarily mean the female is going to think he is the sand cat version of Brad Pitt.”

    The sand cat, an animal so stealthy it is rarely seen, looks as if it is made to comfort and be comforted; a cat for the lap, not the extremes of a lonely desert. Even its claws are dull.

    But dhubs and vipers know better.
    First of all, it is unlikely that a dhub lizard finds anything other than another spiny-tail remotely cute. Secondly, the fluffy sand cat, forged on the anvil of desolation, as it were, eats them for breakfast.

    Despite a superficial similarity to its domestic cousins, the broad-faced sand cat avoids human contact and is a master at shunning and escaping the attentions of the wider world.

    Its extremely furry feet a dense mat of long, wavy hairs sprouting from the underside that almost obscures the foot pads, so suited for movement on the sands and ambushing prey leave tracks that are at best ambiguous and frequently non-existent, while its light sandy-coloured coat is lost against the desert background.
    How about spotting one at a water hole? Forget it. The self-reliant sand cat gets all the moisture it needs from the fluid content of its prey.

    Stumbling upon one almost never happens. It is a nocturnal cat that burrows and sleeps out of sight during the day. When researchers try to locate one at night by shining spotlights across the sands, hoping to catch the retinal reflections, well, the sand cat simply lowers its eyelids.

    In short, in the UAE, as within most of their range, sand cats are rarely spotted by anyone, anywhere, ever.

    Like the sand cat, Peter Cunningham, an ecologist, has an abiding interest in spiny-tailed lizards and a thirst for desert solitude, which he seeks out when others of his species have beaten a hasty retreat.

    “Most think it is crazy,” he says, “[but] I like to go out in the desert in the summer. There’s nobody else there, and you can see things that you otherwise or normally don’t see, especially reptile-wise.”
    Late one morning in July 2001, Mr Cunningham was northeast of Al Ain, busy with the niceties of dhub burrow description, moving from one to the next, painstakingly assessing orientation, size of openings, distances between and sub-surface temperatures.

    To get a better view, he headed towards a rise, a calcrete outcrop amid the gravel flats and sand dunes, and caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Impossibly, it was a sand cat.
    “It was quite a shock,” he recalls. “I didn’t expect it, of course; I was focusing on dhubs at the time.”

    So, in all probability, was the sand cat. Uncomfortably close at about five metres, the animal retreated a short distance but, instead of fleeing, stopped and studied the intruder.

    “I was watching this cat and it was watching me,” Mr Cunningham says. “It seemed unwilling to run away, but then the area was surrounded by open sand and he was in the best place to hide or avoid me at the time.”
    The pair spent a magical minute in communion, “the cat probably thinking, ‘A human out at midday? Must be a crazy scientist’”, before disappearing into some cavity in a rocky outcrop.

    Mr Cunningham, 44, now working out of the King Khalid Wildlife Research Centre in Saudi Arabia, never saw the cat again, but when he returned to civilisation he discovered his encounter was the first confirmed sighting of a live sand cat in the UAE.
    There had been anecdotal reports, a few records of dead animals and some sand cats had shown up in the pet souks, though no one could say exactly where they had come from.

    “Everybody said it was ‘the sand towards the south’,” says Mr Cunningham, perhaps the Liwa area, or Umm Al Zamool, the presumed favoured habitat, but nothing specific.

    His subsequent discovery of spiny-tail lizard remains strewn about the den entrance was also a bit of a puzzle. The sand cat is supposedly strictly nocturnal, at least when not disturbed, while the dhub is only active during the day.

    A wild sand cat caught in a fence in Saudi Arabia, where the National Wildlife Research Centre has recorded a decline in numbers. Courtesy Moayyad Sher Shah

    Maybe, speculated Mr Cunningham, there could be some overlap in the summer when the lizards might still be out at dusk or, perhaps, the sand cat gets them from the burrow. “Nobody has actually seen it in action,” he says, though dhub remains have also been recorded in the faeces of sand cats in Israel.

    Dhubs aside, the sand cat’s menu is most likely to feature insects, rodents and small lizards. More famously, though, one of the animals was observed successfully taking on and eating a sand viper in northern Africa.
    The cat was apparently so engrossed in the process, says Mr Cunningham, that it paid no heed to the nearby onlookers and, once it had dispatched the snake, tucked in to its hard-earned meal.

    Usually, the sand cat is likely to bat its prey silly with those cute paws before delivering the coup de grâce of a killing bite, but it is the animal’s unusually and wonderfully wide head and well-spaced ears that may be the real means for bringing in its sometimes subterranean meals.
    That broad head houses ear architecture that differs significantly from that of other small cats, allowing it to hear sounds not only at greater distances but also at a greater range of frequencies, meaning that a gerbil’s “ahem” and the scrape of a sand skink will not go unnoticed.

    At just 27, Moayyad Sher Shah is one of the handful of people in the world who can boast more than one wild sand cat experience.
    A field researcher with the National Wildlife Research Centre (NWRC) in the Saudi city of Taif, he has been conducting seasonal carnivore trapping in the protected areas of central Saudi Arabia since 2001 and during that time has trapped and released 56 sand cats.

    While that may seem a high number for a supposed phantom, Mr Sher Shah has nevertheless documented a precipitous drop in numbers in the past few years. This year, he has not seen any and the year before he caught only a handful.
    The culprits, in the estimation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which lists the sand cat as “near threatened”, are the degradation and loss of habitat and the concomitant reduction in prey.

    Mr Sher Shah suspects the situation is the same in the UAE, and Mr Cunningham agrees. Sand cats “don’t like any activity or disturbance and they seem to move away from human settlements; now that people are going in and creating these camel farms all over the show with lots of activity, and all those in the dunes, that’s quite disturbing to the sand cats. They would move away from those areas,” he says.
    And they are capable of moving great distances, says Mr Sher Shah, who has played a lead role in ecological studies of the sand cat initiated by the NWRC in 2004.

    Tracking made possible by radio collars revealed that cats regularly travelled five or six kilometres a night in search of prey, and doubled that distance when hunting over degraded or over-grazed areas. The home ranges of seven collared cats came in between 20 and 51 square kilometres.
    Mr Sher Shah discovered that in the heat of summer, sand cats rest in dens during the day, but will not usually return to the same den or burrow two days in a row. They dig their simple dens quickly and efficiently, but in winter they tend to lie under a bush or other available shade rather than retreating underground.

    Mr Sher Shah and Mr Cunningham both believe the reason so few have been sighted in the UAE is partly because no one has looked seriously, but also because of a naturally low density. The numbers are likely to get lower as habitats are disturbed, combined with the remoteness of their preferred ranges and their penchant for secrecy.
    While chances of seeing the sand cat in the wild are practically nil, you would be hard-pressed to miss them at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort, where the population of 32 practically equals the total number of captive sand cats in the whole of North America.

    And, if all goes according to plan and Farshid Mehrdadfar, the park’s manager of animal collections, has his fingers crossed they may eclipse that total within the next few months.
    For the past two weeks, researchers affiliated with the Cincinnati Zoo have been on site at the park, consummating, in more ways than one, a collaborative project concerning the use of assisted reproductive technologies in captive sand cats.

    According to one of the principal researchers, Dr Jason Herrick, an assistant professor in veterinary biosciences at the University of Illinois and a collaborator with the Cincinnati Zoo research team since 2004, the goal is to use techniques such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilisation and embryo transfer to help manage and enrich the genetic variability in captive sand cat populations.
    “These techniques will allow us to produce offspring in pairs that cannot, or will not, breed naturally,” he says. “Similarly, we can transport frozen sperm and/or embryos between different zoos, or different countries, without having to transport the animals themselves.”

    Recently, Dr Herrick and Dr William Swanson, the director of research at the Cincinnati Zoo, completed a two-year study of captive sand cats that involved characterising their basic reproductive traits and developing robust methods for sperm cryopreservation and in vitro fertilisation. The obvious next step, though not a small one, was to test those methods by attempting to produce some kittens.
    Last week in Al Ain, says Mr Mehrdadfar, fresh sperm and eggs collected from carefully selected cats were combined, in vitro, to produce sand cat embryos. The embryos were then transferred into four host cats that had recorded successful pregnancies in the past, with other embryos frozen for later use with captive cats in the US.

    “If one of these cats goes through pregnancy and pops out kittens I’m going to be dancing in the square,” says Mr Mehrdadfar. Even if he is denied his dance, they will persevere with their commitment to the project and the species: “We’re not going to just stop and shy away.”
    This, he says, “is the very first time this has been done”, and the techniques they are developing hold promise not only for inter-zoo gene transfers, but also the potential for harvesting gametes directly from wild populations without having to take the animals into a captive setting.

    Assisted reproductive technologies might also help get around the thorny problem of mate selection when computer and committee suggestions go unheeded by the felines involved.
    Captive populations, explains Dr Herrick, “are managed to maintain genetic diversity, which may not go well with the animal’s preferences in a mate.

    “Just because the male is genetically valuable and mating would be great for the population doesn’t necessarily mean the female is going to think he is the sand cat version of Brad Pitt.”

    * The National

Stab victim receives six months in prison

Does this not raise the question of mercy?

By Awad Mustafa of The National

DUBAI // A man who was stabbed repeatedly, robbed and left for dead was yesterday sentenced at the Dubai Criminal Courts to six months in prison.

LY, 35, from China, was jailed after providing police investigating his case with a labour card that did not belong to him.

He pleaded guilty to using an official document with intent to deceive the police, as well as the illegal possession of that document. He had been working illegally in the UAE, according to court documents.

On December 26 last year, a police report was filed saying LY had been found lying in a pool of blood after being robbed outside a building in International City. The assailants were not identified and LY was taken to Rashid Hospital for emergency treatment.

A police officer told prosecutors LY informed him through an interpreter that he had been attacked by two men who had gagged him and stabbed him in the stomach and left thigh a number of times.

LY said the men then stole his bag containing an undisclosed sum of money and ran off.

The officer said that when asked for identification, LY produced a labour card with someone else’s photo. When questioned about the discrepancy, he claimed he had been given the card, which was found to belong to someone else, to present to police if he was ever stopped.

LY will be deported after serving his sentence.

Mozzwatch

Mozz is doing extremely well for an old bugger  – 12 years now!

I took him into the vet tonight because his ear has been bothering him for a few days.  He keeps holding it down and if you rub his head near the ear he shakes his head furiously.

The vet took a look in his ear and said, ‘I can’t see anything in there.  Not even any dirt’… but has prescribed Mozz some antibiotic ear drops for 10 days.  If he improves in a few days then I guess the ear drops have done the trick.

He has also been limping slightly the past 48 hours so the vet checked him for that too.  He had what looks like a well-healed scratch on the pad of his right forefoot.  Most probably from a spat with his girlfriend Kelly.

Mozz and Kell chase each other around the apartment late each night when we go to bed.  This usually involves several passes over the bed at high speeds, some 3-day eventing type moves over the desks and our sofa gets used as a velodrome – good for running up the sides of at great speeds.

Last night they decided to use my behind as the stopping point while I slept in bed. Wonderful! Needless to say, the limp and the bung-ear were not slowing him down yesterday evening much.  (Although my ass wishes they were.)

Mozz and Kell in their box full of mohair rug.

Mozz and Kell in their box full of mohair rug.

Happy Diwali everyone!

Counterfeit

A couple of days ago I was standing in the queue waiting to pay for my fourth pair of skinny jeans in 2 weeks (gone skinny mad!). Next to me was a guy with a WAD of greenbacks – hundreds.

He took the 100 USD notes and placed them on a piece of paper on the counter and then rubs them against the paper.  He lifts up the notes and on the paper is a green stain.

The green of the notes had rubbed off onto the paper.  Counterfeit currency!

At a guess I reckon there was maybe 40 or 50 notes in the wad.

Co-incidentally as we were leaving we ended up exiting the car park right behind the guy.  He was in a Corvette.