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NEWSFILE: attacks / anomolous deaths (18d)

mainly stories from Jul-Sep 1998

USA TODAY - Aug 12, 1998. (from USA ON THE NET) 08/12/98

Frogs falling silent across USA

Parts of the piney woods of South Carolina are a bit quieter than they used to be. So are the high plains outside Laramie, Wyo. Even the alpine meadows of Yosemite National Park are unusually hushed on warm summer evenings. The nation's amphibians - frogs, toads and salamanders - are vanishing at an alarming rate, their music ending in many parts of the American landscape.

Imperiled by habitat loss, invading species and other known and unknown dangers, up to a third of U.S. amphibians have disappeared in part of their historic ranges. The creatures' plight, scientists say, is a sign of larger trouble. Frogs and toads are doing badly, they say, other water-loving creatures probably are doing badly, too. ‘We've done so much to our water systems that anything tied to water is in bad shape these days,’ U.S. Geological Survey herpetologist Bruce Bury says.

Scientists are worried because some amphibians are vanishing for reasons that are complete mysteries. Experts have theorised about excess ultraviolet light, acid rain and pesticides. And now, a new theory has come to the fore: infection. Some scientists suspect the die-offs may be caused by fungi and viruses. But that theory, like others, has divided scientists. And researchers recently acknowledged that they still don't know whether disease alone or a combination of causes is killing off amphibians. Plus, it isn't known whether the disappearance of amphibians has any relation to the discovery of deformed frogs in various regions of the USA.

So vexed are the experts that a supermarket tabloid ran a story headlined ’ALIENS STEALING OUR FROGS!’ Whatever the reasons, the disappearing act is widespread: The gopher frog, which lives in the south-eastern USA, charms even hardened scientists with its snoring call and big eyes. ‘They are just cute, and they look at you as if they know you want to be their friend, ’ University of Georgia herpetologist Whit Gibbons says. Every year, scientists find fewer and fewer of them. The boreal toad used to be so abundant near Boulder, Colo., that drivers would squish large numbers on the mountain roads. ‘I would go out on any given day and catch 30 in four to five hours,’ University of Colorado herpetologist Cynthia Carey recalls. Now, 70% to 95% of sites that used to have toads no longer do. Every species of frog and toad in Yosemite National Park is disappearing, even though they live in one of the nation's most protected environments.

A 1992 survey found that all seven species of frogs and toads in the park had declined since 1915; three had vanished altogether. The stillness of the Yosemite night so alarmed Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt that he is working to increase monitoring of the animals. Silent, frogless nights are common in other parts of the world, too.

In Costa Rica, the famous and highly protected golden toad, named for its bright skin, has become extinct. In the 1980s, eight of 13 frog species in a Brazilian preserve vanished. In Australia, the gastric-brooding frog, named for its habit of incubating its young in its stomach, broods no longer. Now scientists are focusing on a new culprit. In a paper in last month’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists said unexplained die-offs from around the world may have been caused by a skin fungus they found in 12 species of Australian frogs and seven species of Panamanian frogs. Many had died in mass slaughters, often in unspoiled wilderness. Now the fungus, known as a chytrid, is turning up in the USA.

Herpetologist Philip Rosen of the University of Arizona has found it in two species of leopard frogs in the Southwest. Both species have been losing ground; one will soon be placed on the endangered species list. A different fungus also may have brought low the Wyoming toad, the most endangered amphibian known. The toad became extinct in the wild in the 1980s, for reasons then unknown. But at a meeting last month, Sharon Taylor, who studied the toad at the University of Wyoming, found that it had been killed by the fungus Basidiobolus ranarum.

Early tests show that another virus may have been responsible for the carnage witnessed by David Gardiner, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine. He and colleagues waded into a Minnesota lake last month to collect dozens of dead frogs floating in the water. The researchers were stunned when they gathered to compare their finds, Gardiner recalls. ‘You stepped back onto the pier, ’ he says, ’and you saw dead frogs floating in the lake again. ‘ Still, some scientists doubt that disease was the direct cause of the animals' deaths. And others argue that the germs would not have killed the frogs unless something - pollution, perhaps - had weakened their immune systems.

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Tiger Mauls Animal Park Visitor

VALLEJO, Calif. (AP) - 1 August 1998 - A woman mauled by a Bengal tiger while posing with him for a photograph was recuperating after surgery for puncture wounds.

Jannell Waldo, 45, of San Jose was in fair condition today with injuries to her skull and spine after startling a 2-year-old male tiger named Kuma.

Chad Zierenberg, an animal trainer, was treated for scratches sustained while separating the tiger and the woman at Marine World in Vallejo, northeast of San Francisco.

The attack occurred in a back area not usually accessible to the public at the theme park, which bills itself as the place ‘where fun runs wild.‘ Ms. Waldo was participating in a program that lets visitors pay $250 to have their photos taken with wild animals. She received the photopackage as a birthday gift.

Ms. Waldo was posing with the tiger when she fell off a podium, park spokesman Jeff Jouett said. ‘The tiger was doing what a tiger does,’ Jouett said. ‘Kuma was frightened and it sparked an instinctive reaction.‘

Kuma was isolated for observation. Marine World officials cancelled all future public photo-opportunities with its tigers.

In a similar attack Thursday, a North Dakota boy visiting a state fair exhibit was also clawed by a Bengal tiger and had to undergo plastic surgery for several facial cuts. The boy, 5-year-old Antony Gottus, was having his picture taken with the tiger when it apparently became unnerved by the crowd.

The boy was in good condition Friday at a Minot, N. D. , hospital.

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Boy Attacked by Lion

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - 3 Aug 1998 - Recuperating from his injuries following a savage attack by a mountain lion, 6-year-old Dante Swallow suspected he knew why the big cat chose to maul him.

‘I was the last person in line,’ Dante said from his home. ‘He was hungry.‘

Swallow was hiking Friday on Marshall Mountain near Missoula with other campers and counsellors when the male lion pounced. ‘I turned around, I said it's a mountain lion.‘ Dante said. ‘It was a couple more seconds before he was on me.‘

A 16 -year-old camp counsellor likely saved the youngster's life by pulling him from the jaws of the lion, officials said.

‘I don't remember kicking the animal,’ said Aaron Hall, who rushed to Swallow’s defence. ‘I was just using my hands. I was waving and just getting him off.‘ The animal released the youngster and slinked off as Hall and others tended to puncture wounds on his neck and scratches on his back and abdomen. Swallow was treated and released at a hospital.

Medical personnel said it was sheer luck that Swallow didn't bleed to death from the attack - the cougar's teeth punctured the boy's neck just a quarter-inch from his jugular vein.

Doctors expect Swallow to be ‘back to normal’ by the time school starts, his parents said .

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Polar bear attacks tourist camp

OSLO, Norway (Reuters) - Authorities on Norway's Arctic islands of Spitzbergen searched for a polar bear shot after it attacked a dog belonging to a group of campers.

The bear attacked the dog at a camp in the Billefjord area near the mining settlement of Pyramiden, a spokesman for the governor's office said . None of the seven tourists in the camp were injured when the bear struck at around 3 a.m. The fate of the dog was unknown.

‘They shot at the polar bear and may have hit it in the neck. We are searching for it now,’ the spokesman said.

Tourists travelling to Spitzbergen are warned of the dangers of polar bears and advised to carry arms when venturing outside populated areas. In 1995, two people were killed by a bear and last Oct a dog was attacked. Spitzbergen and the Barents Sea area has around 4,000 polar bears, one of the highest population densities of the animals since a ban on hunting was introduced in 1973.

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Killer bees suspected in backyard attack on two dogs

Sept 22, 1998 BOULDER CITY, Nev. (AP) - Authorities suspect killer bees attacked two dogs in their back yard, killing one. Each dog was stung more than 100 times . State agricultural officials are studying some of the bees to determine if they were of the aggressive, Africanized variety.

So-called killer bees have killed more than 1,000 people in South America, Central America and Mexico since a colony escaped from a laboratory in Brazil in 1956 . They are easily provoked and tend to nest in places European honeybees wouldn't go, such as near the ground.

Swarms of killer bees have been found in Pahrump, 6 0 miles west of Las Vegas. Boulder City is 25 miles south of Las Vegas.

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09/22/98 ORACLE, Ariz. (AP) - Bee researcher Gerald Loper walked up to the hive slowly and stopped about 15 feet from it. A brownish clump of thousands of honey bees blanketed the beeswax comb hanging from a cavity in the cliff face. Loper has been studying wild honeybee colonies on hillsides north of Oracle since 1987.

In the early days of the study, before Africanized ‘killer’ honeybees migrated into the state, he collected bee samples without a bee-suit or a veil. Now he wears both - and sometimes that 's still not enough protection. In June, Loper was stung through his bee suit about 100 times and was chased from the hillside by thousands of angry bees. The bees were calm recently when he returned to a large, exposed colony living in a shady, pockmarked cliff face above a wash. But in less than 30 seconds they grew agitated and began crawling over the surface of the honey comb frantically. Then a few dozen took flight and hovered above the hive, followed by dozens more, then hundreds. Less than a minute after he walked up to the hive, a brown cloud of several thousand bees boiled out of the colony and swarmed Loper. The attacking bees bounced off Loper's veil, his helmet and his chest as they fought to get through the protective layers and embed their venomous stingers in flesh.

‘Their behaviour has changed dramatically, ’ Loper said later. ‘It's the Africanization. It's the gene change. ‘ Loper retired last year from the Carl Hayden Bee Research Center in Tucson, a U. S. Department of Agriculture lab. He has worked with bees for about 30 years and has encountered Africanized honeybees in Arizona, Mexico, Costa Rica and Venezuela. The wild honeybee colonies now inhabiting the cliffs about 10 miles north of Oracle are the meanest, nastiest bees he's ever seen, Loper said. ‘This is the worst-case scenario we were talking about 20 years ago. People would go to Brazil to see these bad bees and say, `We don't want them up here, ’' he said. ‘Well, they're here. ‘

Africanized honey bees began migrating north from Brazil in 1957 after escaping from a breeding experiment. The experiment involved genetic crosses between South African queen bees and European males called drones. Some of the queens got out. As the descendants of those bees moved north, they developed a reputation for orneriness.

Africanized honeybees arrived in Arizona in 1993 and quickly colonised the southern half of the state, then spread northward. Several factors allowed them to seize territory formerly occupied by the relatively docile European honeybee. Among them are the Africanized bee's rapid reproductive rate and an infestation of tiny parasitic mites that devastated European honeybee populations across North America.

Another key factor in the bee's blitzkrieg march across southern Arizona is the rapid development time of Africanized queens, said Gloria DeGrandi-Hoffman, a research entomologist at the Hayden bee lab in Tucson. Each honeybee colony has one queen, and she produces all the hive's offspring. When a hive gets too crowded, the queen flies off with some of her workers to establish anew colony, a process called reproductive swarming. Before she leaves, the queen starts rearing several virgin queens, one of whom will replace her. The first of the virgins to emerge kills her rivals and becomes the new matriarch.

In studies conducted at the Tucson lab, DeGrandi-Hoffman determined that virgin queens with African fathers emerge up to a day earlier than those with European fathers. It's a biological advantage that allows the Africanization process to sweep through a region's wild honey bee colonies, she said. ‘Development time of queens is really what is pushing the genetics toward the African bees, ’ DeGrandi-Hoffman said. ‘Everything else that 's gone on contributes to the Africanization process, but this is the genetic drive for the system. ‘ Worker bees that are the daughters of African fathers are more likely to display the highly defensive behaviour for which Africanized bees are notorious, DeGrandi-Hoffman said. ‘If the queen’s mating with African drones, you'll start to see the symptoms of Africanization right away. Now you've got a defensive colony, ’ she said. ‘How defensive it is depends upon how many African drones she's mated with. ‘

Many of the cliff-side colonies that Loper monitors north of Oracle display what he calls ‘extreme defensive behaviour. ‘ More than 100 of the 247 nest sites he monitors are now inhabited by bee colonies, and Loper believes that nearly all of them are Africanized. ‘They've taken over everything south of the Mogollon Rim completely, ’ Loper said. ‘The only European bees left are in beekeepers' boxes. Mites have killed off all theother European bees. ‘

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Eight elephants found dead in southwestern China

A. P. BEIJING (July 27, 1998 ) - Eight elephants were found dead in a nature reserve in south western China, apparently struck by bolts of lightning, the Beijing Evening News reported Monday. Game wardens found the elephants' bodies July 15 inside the Xishuangbanna reserve, near China's border with Burma, after reports from local farmers, the newspaper said. Six were found under a fallen tree. Two others were found near by. Autopsies proved inconclusive, but investigators noticed seared streaks on thetree, which they attributed to lightning, the newspaper said. Before the nature reserve was set up in the1980s, local residents hunted the elephants to keep them from damaging farmland and fort their precious tusks.

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Aggravated turtle given laughing gas

Oct 3, 1998 UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — Annoyed at being poked by its 8-year-old owner, a box turtle named Boxer clamped its top and bottom shells together on the boy's finger and wouldn't let go.

Nothing could get the softball-size turtle to relax and open up Friday, not tapping on his shell and not even an offer of food. Then fire-fighters in this Tacoma suburb thought of what dentists use to mellow out their patients, and gave Boxer a shot of nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas.

‘We just blew a little in his face, he relaxed and the kid pulled his finger out, ’ said paramedic Steve Murphy. The boy suffered only a blood blister on his finger. Fire-fighters said Boxer was ‘totally stoned’ and would sleep it off.

It's unusual for box turtles to pinch fingers that tightly, but not impossible, said Darrell Kraft, a veterinarian who specialises in turtles at the Snow Woodclinic in Woodinville. ‘That 's why they're called box turtles — they can close up tight just like a box, ’ he said.

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Chimp attacks Mexican janitor MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - July 14, 1998 - A chimpanzee in a Mexican zoo attacked a 16 -year-old janitor, biting his ear, genitals and fingers so badly the teenager was listed in grave condition in a government hospital, media reported.

Simon Escobar was hired a few days ago for cleaning duty at a small zoo at the ‘Lion King, ’ a private beach resort in Acapulco, about 200 miles south of Mexico City on the Pacific Ocean, the government news agency Notimex said.

Escobar nearly lost his right ear in the attack, which occurred after the chimp removed a leash as Escobar was cleaning the animal’s pen, Notimex reported.

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