Sunday, August 28, 2011

Battle of the monkeys

By Lalit Raizada, Special to Gulf News

(Gulf News) It was an unusual sight — something that I found hard to believe. About five to six dozen monkeys (rhesus macaque) of all ages and sizes had ganged up. Squeaking and screeching loudly, they were trying to scare away a black-faced langur that had been, in fact, brought to frighten and chase away the simians from a colony. But what actually happened was just the opposite.

From times immemorial, the long-tailed langur has been known for instilling mortal fear in simians. In my childhood, I was told that the langur, which is heavier in built, could easily tie a monkey with its long tail and kill it by banging it on the ground. This genetic trait had given the langur supremacy over their short-statured cousins.

I have been a witness to the terror these brown monkeys had spread among the residents of a colony and made their life miserable. Moving in hordes they would invade houses even in full glare of the inmates and plunder everything they could lay their hands on. The simians would take away and damage clothes, gadgets and other household articles even from inside wardrobes.

As the frightened residents bolted themselves up or watched helplessly from behind partially-opened doors, the monkeys would ransack kitchens and even refrigerators. For some years now, this otherwise herbivorous species has been noticed enjoying even raw eggs!

It was after many instances of large scale plundering and biting that the residents hired a langur to shoo away the rhesus monkeys. The plan worked but it led to another problem. The scared monkeys moved their activities from colony X to colony Y. When driven out from there, they invaded yet another locality and, interestingly, returned to colony X while the langur was doing its job in Y or Z colonies. So, the chain never broke.

Everybody realises the fact that unchecked deforestation has dislodged wild life including big cats, monkeys and other animals from their natural habitat. Rendered homeless, they often stray into human habitats only to be driven out.

Reversal of roles

I think it was this constant hounding out of the little brown monkeys that led them to think of devising some strategy. After all, they also need food to survive. And apparently that was how these speechless creatures ganged up to meet the ‘langur-ian' threat to their existence.

It smacked of pure trade unionism. Did someone among them give the call, "Monkeys of the world, unite"?
It certainly looked like that. This time when the trainer brought the leashed langur, the monkeys came together. They squeaked and screeched menacingly at their sworn enemy to scare it away. What a reversal of roles! The hefty langur must have been taken by surprise. But it could not have compromised its age-old supremacy. How could the brown short-tailed monkeys throw any challenge to their long-tailed and heavier cousins? In order to teach them a lesson, the langur tried to attack them. But the leash held by its trainer would not allow it.

Clearly, the trainer had not envisaged such a situation. The man could not have let the angry simians maul the ‘big brother'. After all, it was his only source of livelihood. He got scared. The man acknowledged the simian might. Discretion being better part of valour, the man quietly led away his pet from the battlefield as the army of monkeys jeered at their bullying ‘big brother'.

I could notice a sense of victory, jubilation and relief among the rhesus monkeys. The crestfallen included the langur, its trainer and the people of the colony.

Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Infant stress in monkeys has life-long consequences

Rhesus macaque  
Baby monkeys stressed by separation from mothers

(BBC News) Baby monkeys grew up anxious and anti-social after the stress of separation from their mothers, a study says.

It suggests changes to the brains of infant monkeys may be irreversible, and the study could be a model for humans.

An early shock to the system may leave the monkeys prone to a life of anxiety, poor social skills and depression.

But the work could point the way to better management and treatment of those who live with a legacy of "early adversity".

The report, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that rhesus monkey babies do not fully recover from the stress of being separated from their mothers at birth.

Some baby monkeys had to be cared for separately if they were at risk from an inexperienced mother, the mother lacked breast milk or the baby would not survive in rainy, cold weather.

But even after three years of living a normal social life following the separation, levels of the stress-coping hormone cortisol in these monkeys remained significantly reduced and their bodies' response to stressful events was slower.

In monkeys and humans, cortisol is released in stressful situations to mobilise energy stores and aid survival.

Changes to developing brain
But sustained stress and prolonged release of cortisol can lead to severe impairment of some brain regions as they develop.

The baby monkeys that suffered the stress of separation from their mothers went on to be more anxious and less sociable than monkeys that were raised by their mothers.

This study is unique in demonstrating that, for monkeys, the negative effects of separation in infancy cannot be reversed by a later normal social life, write the authors.

These findings may help explain work reported earlier this week in the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP) on the link between childhood maltreatment and later depression in humans.

Both of these studies suggest that stress on infants has long-term negative effects.

Dr Andrea Danese of King's College London, co-author of AJP study, said: "In this case you have findings in animals that resemble to an extent the findings in humans both from a behavioural point of view and from a biological point of view."

"If you take studies in humans who have experienced loss I think the findings are quite consistent. Children who lose parents or are separated from parents tend to show more anxious behaviour, and tend also to have changes in the same type of hormones that were measured. In some cases they have poorer social skills, they have more aggressive behaviour."

Long-term illnesses
In humans, there also appear to be links between childhood adversity, physiology and other illnesses later in life, possibly through the stress-sensitive immune system.

Dr Danese told BBC News: "Both cortisol and the immune system are related. Cortisol is a very potent anti-inflammatory compound: low cortisol means high inflammation."

"Adults with a history of childhood maltreatment have these elevated inflammation levels. Inflammation is one of the key factors that contribute to a number of age-related conditions like cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and dementia."

"There is something in these stress sensitive systems that is very finely regulated and tuned in childhood. This is because all these systems are developing and maturing during early life."

It appears that stress in childhood, for monkeys and humans, can lead to behavioural and health problems that can only be partially repaired in later life. But there is a positive side to these results.

"The message sounds very negative and I understand why, but from the research point of view I think it is positive because it points to the problem and once we understand the causes of all these behavioural problems, we can then start trying to find the potential cures," said Dr Danese.

He added: "In humans, there is a movement in psychiatry to be moved earlier in life. More and more we're trying to work with young people who have been exposed to traumatic experiences, to maltreatment, to try to see how we can help them overcome their depressive symptoms or work with families and try to avoid the recurrence of the traumatic event."

Leonard Nimoy - Proud Mary

Sunday, August 14, 2011

h/t Marion

Vladimir Putin's Greek urns claim earns ridicule

Russian PM 'discovers' two amphorae in shallow waters on the floor of the Black Sea in latest stage of televised heroics

in Moscow 

Vladimir Putin carries his archaelogical trophies from a dive in the Black Sea
Vladimir Putin carries his archaelogical trophies which - despite their cleanliness - were purported to have languished at the bottom of the Black Sea for centuries. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin/AP
(The Guardian) When a scuba-diving Vladimir Putin found two ancient Greek urns on the floor of the Black Sea this week, it seemed a startling discovery. In his latest spurt of televised heroics, the Russian prime minister raised a triumphant thumb as he circled the pair of amphorae in shallow waters off the Taman peninsula near Ukraine.

The find came to "everyone's utter surprise", claimed the slavishly devotional Russia Today and other state-controlled TV channels. Once on dry land, Putin posed in his wetsuit with a jug in each hand.

But independent media and Russia's lively blogosphere are now ridiculing the incident, in a sign of increasing weariness of Putin's macho photo ops – such as bare-chested fishing, piloting a "water bomber" over forest fires and diving to the bottom of lake Baikal in a mini-submarine.

Critics said Putin's pots were suspiciously unmossy and were probably planted specially for him to discover.
"Diving in the Taman gulf, the Russian prime minister immediately found two amphorae that had been waiting for him since the 6th century AD at a depth of two metres," wrote the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in an editorial dripping with sarcasm. "He was lucky: in the same place, over the last two years archaeologists and divers of the Russian Academy of Sciences managed to find only a few pottery shards."

Putin's visit was meant to highlight the work of Russian scientists exploring the remains of an ancient Greek city, Phanagoria, sometimes called "Russia's Atlantis". The site is not far from Sochi, the Black Sea resort that will host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and authorities hope to develop its tourism potential.

Yet critics saw the dive as another farcical stunt designed to boost Putin's image before elections in December and March.

"We have become witnesses of a remake of The Diamond Hand and the famous fishing scene at the white cliff," said radio host Anton Orekh, referring to a scene from a Soviet film in which a diver attaches fish to an angler's hook in order to simulate a plentiful catch.