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WebClawer: Giant rat species found in Papua New Guinea; California Wildlife Center gets federal grant; fight in San Francisco over cat declawing

September 10, 2009 | 12:00 pm

-- Among the strange new creatures discovered in a crater atop an inactive volcano in Papua New Guinea is one of the world's largest rat species. (Other discoveries include a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo Grunter, so named for the strange noise that it emits from its swim bladder.) The creature doesn't yet have a formal scientific name but has been termed, in the interim, the Bosavi woolly rat. The new species were discovered during the filming of the BBC program "Lost Land of the Volcano." The rat is described as "a true rat, the same kind you find in the city sewers," by Dr. Kristofer Helgen, a Smithsonian-based scientist who accompanied the BBC expedition. The animal has no fear of humans.  (BBC News)

-- Hooray for rescue! The California Wildlife Center in Calabasas, a nonprofit organization that has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of marine mammals, birds, coyotes, bobcats, deer and squirrels since it opened in 1996, has received a federal grant totaling more than $80,000. It's the fourth time the center has received the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant, which is awarded annually by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce. "These funds will significantly help us continue our efforts in improving rescue programs, upgrading the center's equipment and promoting protection of wildlife," said Cynthia Reyes, the center's director of marine mammal response. (L.A. Now)

-- Animal protection group the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says that, during Iceland's summer whaling season, the country's whalers killed more endangered fin whales than it has in more than 20 years. Iceland, along with Japan and Norway, continues to support the practice of whaling despite a moratorium implemented by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. During the season, according to the WDCS, 93 fin whales and 63 minke whales were killed, netting more than 4 million pounds of edible meat and blubber products. According to Kate O'Connell of the WDCS, Iceland's policy toward whaling is not only a public-relations nightmare, but economically unsound as well. "There is simply no way that so much whale meat and blubber can be consumed domestically, and the whalers are deluding themselves if they think they can make any money exporting whale meat to Japan," she said. (Telegraph)

-- A new study offers the first hard evidence that nonhuman animals can empathize with animated, fictional representations of themselves. Researchers created computer models of chimpanzees that yawned and made other facial movements well-known to real chimps, such as head-bobbing and making faces indicating a desire to play. When the animated chimps yawned, the real chimps watching them yawned as well, despite the fact that the representations were not realistic enough to confuse the animals into believing they were real. That fact distinguishes the recent research from everyday occurrences witnessed by owners whose pets respond to animals on television. "When dogs respond to barks coming from the TV, or cats swat at [televised] birds, they don't know that it's fake, that the animal isn't actually there," said Matthew Campbell, the study's lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center. "People even talk about their pets walking behind the TV, as if to find out where [the other animals] went." (Discovery News)

-- Despite San Francisco's reputation as both a deeply animal-friendly city and an ultra-liberal one, a heated fight is underway there over proposed legislation that would ban the practice of declawing cats except in rare cases of medical necessity. Proponents of the idea say it's simply a matter of standing up to animal cruelty and argue that the procedure, in which not only the cat's claws, but also the last bone of each toe, are removed, is typically performed solely for the convenience of the owner without consideration for its effect on the cat. Opponents -- which, intriguingly, include the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals -- say, essentially, that the proposal represents a nanny state run wild and that veterinarians, not politicians, should make the decisions about animal care. The SFSPCA also argues that the ban, if approved, could lead more owners to abandon their cats in municipal shelters.  (San Francisco Gate)

-- Never underestimate a dog's sense of smell. A suspected shoplifter in Framingham, Mass., was arrested after a scent-tracking dog brought in to investigate an unrelated robbery was distracted while pursuing the robbery suspect by what turned out to be the scent of more than $60 worth of stolen meat hidden in the pants of a homeless man. Police say the man later admitted to stealing the food from an area market. (MyFoxBoston)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Video: BBC

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