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Category: Wildlife

Florida wildlife experts say mysterious orange alligator must be dyed

Orange Gator

VENICE, Fla. — An orange alligator photographed in South Florida is raising questions about its bizarre pigment.

Sylvia Mythen snapped the photo of the gator sunning beside a neighborhood canal in Venice.

The picture ran on TV after she shot it Wednesday and caused a buzz.

Experts with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have scrutinized the photo and say the color is not genetic. They believe the gator was somehow covered in paint or an orange substance.

RELATED ODD ANIMAL NEWS:

-- Associated Press

Photo: Sylvia Mythen / Associated Press

Record number of manatees died in Florida last year, many due to 'cold stress'

Manatees

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A record number of manatees died in Florida in 2010, and officials blame many of the deaths on the year's unusually cold weather.

Statistics released this week from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission show that 767 manatees died last year. Of those deaths, 279 were attributed to "cold stress."

Cold weather also contributed to the deaths of 21 of 96 newborn manatees.

State veterinarian Matrine DeWit says it's the worst year for manatees since the department began keeping records in the 1970s.

Manatees are most at risk when the waters of the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean dip below 68 degrees. If they can't find warmer water from natural springs or power plants, they can suffer lesions and risk infections.

RELATED MARINE MAMMAL NEWS:

-- Tamara Lush / Associated Press

Photo: A female manatee and her calf  relax in Florida's Crystal River in 2005. Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

Colorado looks poised to ban hunting bears in dens

BlackBears DENVER — Hibernating bears would be off-limits to Colorado hunters under a new rule that state wildlife officials are considering after a debate over whether a 703-pound black bear was sleeping when it was killed in a cave late last year.

The enormous black bear shot in northwestern Colorado set what may be a state record. But it sparked public outrage after the hunter told a newspaper that he tracked the male bear to a cave and shot it after five hours waiting for the animal to emerge.

Though the hunter said the bear was awake and snarled at him, a flurry of angry e-mails and calls to state wildlife authorities resulted.

On Wednesday, the state Wildlife Commission decided unanimously to draft a rule banning the hunting of bears in dens.

Commissioners said they've never heard of anyone "den hunting" in Colorado because it's considered unsportsmanlike. But commissioner Dorothea Farris argued that if Colorado doesn't follow other states and specifically ban den hunting, the public could sour on bear hunting altogether.

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Firefighters rescue deer stranded on Baltic Sea ice floe

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish firefighters dodged treacherous sheets of ice in a risky after-dark rescue of a terrified deer stranded on a floe in the Baltic Sea, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The rescue team faced serious hazards navigating among the sharp ice sheets but managed to save the drifting animal at the "last moment" after dark on Tuesday, Waldemar Bogatko told TVN24.

TV footage showed the team of four steering through the plates by boat and using flashlights to find the deer, wrap it in a blanket and carry it back to shore.

"It was extremely difficult to reach it because the ice held us back," Bogatko said.

"It was frightened, jumped into the water and tried to escape but we managed to get it on the boat," he said.

The animal was one of two roe deer that were spotted early Tuesday drifting some off shore in northern Poland near the village of Ustronie Morskie. It was handed over to wildlife authorities in a nearby forest.

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Wild-horse advocates clash with proponents of horse slaughter at Las Vegas summit

Wild Horses

LAS VEGAS — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management chief blasted critics of the federal government's periodic wild horse roundups on Tuesday, calling the practice rare and necessary as he spoke at a horse slaughter summit in Las Vegas.

The roundups, which are aimed at controlling the population of horses on federal rangelands in the West, have been deemed ineffective by advocates on both sides of the debate. Animal rights groups contend they are an inhumane solution and slaughter proponents declare them a waste of public money.

"These horses are part of our heritage," BLM chief Robert Abbey said to a room of more than 100 breeders, trainers and lawmakers. "Make no mistake, they deserve to be treated the best way that we can treat them."

The first Summit of the Horse on Tuesday drew advocates from across the West who slammed animal rights groups and implored the federal government to once again embrace horse meat as a legal source of nutrition, saying it is already safely consumed in dozens of countries.

Congress ended the killing of horses for human consumption in 2007 after animal rights activists objected to the way the animals were treated.

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Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie donate millions to Namibian wildlife sanctuary

Brangelina

The Naankuse Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary in Namibia is a few million dollars richer after a visit from Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their children over the holidays.

Pitt and Jolie announced over the weekend that they were donating $2 million to the sanctuary, according to The Times' celebrity news blog, Ministry of Gossip.

The donation was made in the name of the couple's daughter, Shiloh, who was born in Namibia. Jolie said in a statement that she and Pitt "want [Shiloh] to be very involved and grow up with the understanding of her country of birth."

The Jolie-Pitts' donation will support a free clinic for a local community of San bushmen and help fund conservation programs for large animals, the Associated Press reports.

READ MORE:

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Pitt and Jolie attend a premiere of "The Tourist" in Rome on Dec. 15, 2010. Credit: Elisabetta Villa / Getty Images

Grizzly bear deaths in Yellowstone National Park area increased in 2010

Grizzly bear in Yellowstone

BILLINGS, Mont. — Grizzly bear deaths neared record levels for the region around Yellowstone National Park in 2010, but government biologists said the population remains robust enough to withstand the heavy losses.

An estimated 75 of the protected animals were killed or removed from the wild, according to a government-sponsored grizzly study team. That equates to one grizzly gone for every eight counted this year in the sparsely populated Yellowstone region of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The deaths were blamed primarily on grizzlies pushing into inhabited areas, where bears get into trouble as they search out food in farmyards and from the big-game herds also stalked by hunters. Despite those conflicts, researchers recently reported the population topped 600 animals for the first time since grizzly recovery efforts began in the 1970s.

"The population will continue to grow with the mortalities we're seeing now," Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Trapped and hunted to near-extermination last century, grizzly numbers have slowly rebounded since they were declared a threatened species in 1975.

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Florida cold snap sends manatees toward the warmth of power plants

Manatees

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. — People aren't the only ones in Florida who don't like cold weather. Manatees -- those giant aquatic mammals with the flat, paddle-shaped tails -- are swimming out of the chilly Gulf of Mexico waters and into warmer springs and power plant discharge canals. On Tuesday, more than 300 manatees floated in the outflow of Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station.

"It's like a warm bathtub for them," said Wendy Anastasiou, an environmental specialist at the power station's manatee viewing center. "They come in here and hang out and loll around."

Cold weather can weaken manatees' immune systems and eventually kill them. State officials said 2010 has been a deadly year for the beloved animals: between Jan. 1 and Dec. 17, 246 manatees died from so-called "cold stress." During the same time period in 2009, only 55 manatees died from the cold. In 2008, only 22 manatees succumbed to chilly temperatures.

Manatee deaths documented from Jan. 1 through Dec. 5 are nearly double the five-year average for that time period, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission statistics.

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An unlikely place to fight bat-killing white-nose syndrome: military bunkers

Bats

CONCORD, N.H. — Biologist Susi von Oettingen walked into the dark World War II-era military bunker and took out her flashlight. Among the old pipes, wires and machinery parts, she saw some bats hanging from cracks in the cement walls and ceiling.

It was an unusual place for the bats to hibernate, different from a mine or cave. But something else was different, too: None of them had white-nose syndrome, a fungus that's killing bats across the country.

The group of bats found last winter in the New Hampshire bunker was small, recalled von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But two of the three species discovered there -- the northern long-eared bat and the little brown bat -- have been dying off from the disease.

Starting as early as next month, von Oettingen will be part of a group of state and federal biologists monitoring that bunker and a few others in the state. They'll study temperature and humidity levels and put up footholds for the bats, hoping to attract more and figure out if there's a way to control white-nose syndrome, first discovered near Albany, N.Y., in 2006.

"We may be able to maintain a white-nose-free site for these bats to return to," she said.

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Bighorn sheep released in Texas state park as part of conservation effort

Bighorn sheep

Dozens of majestic bighorn sheep have moved into a Texas state park as part of wildlife restoration efforts aimed at returning the sheep to their historic range.

Twelve curly-horned rams and 34 ewes plucked by helicopter from one rugged area of West Texas now call the Bofecillos Mountains along the Rio Grande in Big Bend Ranch State Park home. The capture and release days before Christmas was the latest step in a decades-long restoration project to bring the mountain sheep back to their range after unfettered hunting, fencing and disease from other animals decimated their numbers.

All but gone from Texas by the 1960s from more than 1,500 in the late 1800s, efforts to restore them in Texas' Trans-Pecos region have proved successful. This fall, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists tallied 1,115 sheep in Texas, up from 822 in 2006 and 352 in 2002.

The 29 sheep captured on the first of the two-day endeavor sprang away from the trailers and crates they traveled inside for about 80 miles and quickly scampered up one mountain's steep terrain. About 80 volunteers, conservation supporters and state and federal wildlife officials cheered them on and applauded.

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