The show must go on: Seaworld orca shows to resume just three days after trainer was drowned by killer whale

The show will go on: President & CEO of SeaWorld Parks Jim Atchison speaks during a news conference at the killer whale underwater viewing area of SeaWorld in Orlando

Shamu is big business at SeaWorld, which owns more killer whales than anyone else in the world and builds the orca image into its multimillion-dollar brand, and the killing of a trainer this week won't change that.

Shamu shows will resume today, three days after a six-ton bull orca dragged Dawn Brancheau underwater to her death at the end of a show in Orlando, SeaWorld Parks President Jim Atchison said.

But staff at the for-profit parks in Orlando, San Antonio and San Diego won't get back in the water with the hulking ocean predators until SeaWorld and a panel of outside experts complete a top-to-bottom review of how the company handles orcas.

'We have created an extraordinary opportunity for people to get an up-close, personal experience and be inspired and connect with marine life in a way they cannot do anywhere else in the world,' Atchison said as orcas swam behind him on the other side of an underwater window. 'For that we will make no apologies.'

The timing of the killer whales' return to performances reflects just what the sleek black-and-white mammals mean to SeaWorld, which the private equity firm The Blackstone Group bought last autumn for around $2.7 billion from Anheuser-Busch InBev in a deal that included two Busch Gardens theme parks and several other attractions.

'SeaWorld operations are built around Shamu and the orca. So quantitatively they mean literally hundreds of millions of dollars to that company,' said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services, a consulting firm.

No animal is more valuable to that operation than Tilikum, the largest orca in captivity, which now has been involved in the deaths of two trainers and requires a special set of handling rules, which Atchison wouldn't specify.

Fatal attack: Trainer Dawn Brancheau with a killer whale called Nalani in March, 2009

Captured nearly 30 years ago off Iceland, Tilikum has grown into the alpha male of captive killer whales, his value as a stud impossible to pin down.

Speigel put the market value of an individual whale at up to $10 million.

Killer whales - actually part of the porpoise family - are considered endangered in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S.; estimates of their worldwide population range from 50,000 to more than 100,000.

It's legal to capture killer whales in the U.S. with a permit, though one hasn't been requested since the 1980s, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Breeding is the best way to build a collection of killer whales to draw in visitors at up to $78.95 apiece to sit in the splash zone or take pictures of their kids petting Shamu, the stage name SeaWorld gives all of its adult orcas in shows.

And no one is better at breeding killer whales than SeaWorld.

The company owns 25 of the 42 orcas in captivity, and other theme parks sometimes come to SeaWorld to get theirs.

This photo made from video provided by Todd Connell shows trainer Dawn Brancheau before the accident in which Tilikum, left, pulls her into the water and thrashes her around

Seconds from death: Trainer Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum before the incident in which the killer whale pulls her into the water

At the heart of it all is Tilikum, bought in 1992 from a now-defunct Canadian park where he was one of three orcas that battered and submerged a fallen trainer until she died.

After the woman slipped into the water, she became like a plaything to the three whales, said Adam Hellicar, a former diver at Sealand of the Pacific near Victoria, British Columbia.

'They were towing her around by her clothing,' said Hellicar, who helped recover the woman's body.

SeaWorld got an emergency permit to buy Tilikum and the other two whales less than a year after that attack, and he became the company's go-to sire.

Of the 20 calves born at SeaWorld parks, Tilikum has fathered 13, the company said. SeaWorld has only one other breeding male at the moment.

Before SeaWorld improved its artificial insemination methods, males were more commonly crated, put on planes and lent to various theme parks for breeding, part of the reason that only a handful of parks worldwide have successfully birthed calves.

Sinister: Tilikum before the incident in which he pulls trainer Dawn Brancheau into the water

The practice continues despite outcry from animal rights groups.

Keeping a whale is an expensive proposition. When Keiko, the orca that starred in the movie 'Free Willy,' came to the Oregon Coast Aquarium in the 1990s, it cost $7.8 million to construct his habitat.

Maintaining an aquarium for killer whales can cost $10,000 to $12,000 a month in electric bills, including keeping the water at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 Celsius).

Some parks have mortality insurance on the animals and can use them as collateral.
Feeding is the cheapest part, requiring about $35,000 a year for roughly 100lbs of fish a day.

Like many amusement parks, privately held SeaWorld doesn't release attendance figures or say whether it charges other facilities stud fees or other fees for the right to buy or borrow orcas. Nor does it disclose what chunk of its revenue comes from killer whales.

But that's what everyone goes to see.

Captured nearly 30 years ago off Iceland, Tilikum has grown into the alpha male of captive killer whales, his value as a stud impossible to pin down

The Oregon Coast Aquarium saw its largest crowds during the few years that Keiko lived there before he was released into the wild.

'He was a superstar,' said Judy Tuttle, curator of marine mammals at the aquarium, who worked extensively with Keiko. 'Some people think he's still here. A woman came up to me recently and asked where Keiko was.'

Mitchel Kalmanson, a marine mammal appraiser in central Florida who has brokered the sale of two killer whales, agreed that parks such as SeaWorld aren't the same without Shamu.

'Without killer whales, the rest are ancillary shows,' he said.

Public relations and marketing experts say SeaWorld will need to review every safety precaution to reassure the public and preserve its image.

Larry L. Smith, president of the Institute for Crisis Management, defended SeaWorld's response so far and said the attack could actually drive up attendance of at least one demographic - teens and young adults.

'It's not going to draw families necessarily or older people who would typically visit there, but there is an age group that gets excited about the risks and the potential for drama and it may attract some of those folks,' he said.

source: dailymail

Now the Government wants competence tests before you can be a dog owner

By Jonathan Petre

Ruff justice: Owners of all breeds, including border collies like this, may have to pay for tests

Every dog owner will have to take a costly ‘competence test’ to prove they can handle their pets, under new Government proposals designed to curb dangerous dogs.

Owners of all breeds would also have to buy third-party insurance in case their pet attacked someone, and pay for the insertion of a microchip in their animal recording their name and address.

The proposals are among a range of measures to overhaul dog laws in England and Wales being considered by senior Ministers, who are expected to announce a public consultation within weeks.

But critics said responsible dog owners would be penalised by yet more red tape and higher bills – one expert estimated the extra costs at £60 or more – while irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs would just ignore the measures.

They added that genuine dog lovers could end up paying for efforts to control a small number of ‘devil dogs’ that terrorised socially deprived areas.

The RSPCA said last night it would welcome a review of legislation which has failed to curb the numbers of dangerous dogs that can attack, and sometimes kill, children and adults.

But a spokesman for the charity added: ‘We would not support anything that would hit sensible owners while failing to police those who are a danger.’

A government source said the proposals, contained in a confidential document headed Consultation On Dangerous Dogs, have been drawn up by the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra).

They follow mounting public concern about the spate of serious injuries and deaths inflicted by dogs.

Police figures show an increase in the number of ‘status’ dogs used to intimidate or threaten others. According to the last available figures, there were 703 convictions for dangerously out of control dogs in 2007 – up from 547 in 2004.

Under the proposals, would-be owners would have to show they had a basic understanding of their dogs before being allowed to keep one.

The document says: ‘There have been suggestions for a competency test for all or some dog owners, akin to the driving theory test.’

But the document admits the cost of setting up such a scheme to cover Britain’s six million dog owners ‘is likely to be prohibitive’, and would have to be met by either charging for the test or by imposing a dog licence fee. Moreover, the officials concede that there were disagreements over what would constitute competence in looking after and controlling a dog.

Taking the lead: The proposals are among a range of measures to overhaul dog laws

Third-party insurance would be less contentious, as owners of certain breeds of dogs are already required to take out such cover.

It is also included in the pet insurance taken out by owners to cover unforeseen vets’ bills and it can be bought for a little as £5, though it will be more expensive for larger and more powerful breeds.

In addition, many owners have had microchips implanted in the necks of their dogs – a process that costs about £30.

Other proposals due to be floated by the Government include giving the police and local authorities the power to impose Asbos on the owners of unruly dogs, and extending the law to cover attacks everywhere.

At the moment, dogs which attack people on private property where they are allowed to be are exempt from the law, despite the complaints from injured postmen.

There are also plans to boost the enforcement powers of police, the courts and local authorities.

As part of the proposed overhaul, all dog laws, including the Dangerous Dog Act 1991, often cited as an example of poorly drawn-up ‘knee jerk’ legislation, could be incorporated into a single law.

An RSPCA spokesman said: ‘We welcome a review but the problem is that while responsible owners will abide by the rules, inevitably you are going to get a fraternity that does not. There are always people who will buy a dog from their mate in a pub and won’t tell the authorities.

‘So the danger is that sensible owners will be out of pocket while irresponsible dog owners will ignore any new rules unless the policing of them is rigorous.’

He said, for example, that while the RSPCA encouraged the use of microchips, the system relied on owners keeping the information up to date.

‘It is no good finding an aggressive dog roaming the streets, perhaps having attacked someone, and going to the address on the microchip to find that the owner hasn’t lived there for years,’ he said.

The Kennel Club said that it was in favour of measures to promote responsible dog ownership, but that the competence tests sounded impractical.

A spokesman for Defra said: ‘We do not comment on leaked documents.’

source: dailymail

The shrew loo: The rare jungle plant that recycles droppings

Shrewd: The animal is caught in the act

It is the ultimate in recycling. Meet Nepenthes Lowii, nature’s own lavatory.

This is the first time the plant has been captured on camera being used by the mountain tree shrew – animals that rely on the plant both for nourishment and as its very own lavatory.

The plant, which is found in Borneo, is the only one in the world that collects the droppings of animals and uses them to produce a sugary substance, which the shrew then eats.

It is definitely a win-win situation for all parties involved.

The plant collects the droppings from the shrew as well as from a variety of birds.

The squirrel-like creature lives in the mountains of northern Borneo, where it is attracted to the moist, mossy conditions which the Nepenthes Lowii thrives under.

The sap from the plant has a ‘slightly disagreeable odour’ but it is the sweet taste that attracts the shrew. While it’s a great example of recycling, it’s unlikely to go down well with humans.

The position of the substance on the permanently-opened lid of the plant makes it the perfect position for the shrew to perch.

The plant starts its life as a meat-eating vine but leaves this carnivorous existence behind as it matures and develops a penchant for animal droppings.

Its self-sufficiency means it thrives in a habitat known to be poor in nutrients, making it one of nature’s best recycling machines while providing everything the mountain shrew needs.

It’s a lesson that could be learned by a nation that’s certainly lagging far behind in the recycling stakes.

source: dailymail

Scientists unravel greenfly DNA code... now they can get to work on wiping them out

Breakthrough: Greenfly, pictured here with a ladybeetle, may have met its match

Their ability to ruin the best blooms and the juiciest buds has made them the bane of the gardener's life.

But the pesky greenfly could soon meet its match, thanks to advances in genetics.

Widespread use of conventional insecticides has led to greenfly and other aphids become resistant to almost all chemicals, in much the same way as hospital superbugs have become tolerant of antibiotics.

Last night, an international team of scientists announced they had deciphered an aphid's genome, or entire cache of DNA for the first time.

Armed with the genetic blueprint, they can start to look for weak spots that can be targeted with new designer pesticides, the journal PLoS Biology reports.

Researcher Dr Denis Tagu, of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research, said: 'It is similar to describing the anatomy of the human body, in the past.

'We are at the very beginning of using it to understand how these insects function and how they are adapted to feed from plants and provoke damage in agriculture.

One target could be the aphid's defence against disease, which the scientists have already established is not as robust as that of other insects.

Researcher Nicole Gerardo, of Emory University in Atlanta in the US, said: 'This is the first look at the genome of a whole group of insects we knew little about.

'We went into this expecting to find that same set of immune system genes that we've seen in the genomes of flies, mosquitoes and bees.

'Aphids have some components of an immune system but they are missing the genes that we thought were critical to insect immunity.

'Given these missing genes, it seems that aphids have a weak immune system.'

Despite missing some genes, the insect studied boasts 35,000 genes in total, some 10,000 more than in the human genome.

It is thought that some of the genes are duplicates that provide a 'back-up' of its genetic material.

Another possibility is that the extra genes are essential for their complicated lifestyle. From birth, the female aphid contains embryos that also contain embryos.

'She is born containing her granddaughters,' said Dr Gerardo.

The blueprint will be hugely useful in formulating chemicals against greenfly.

Other possibilities include insecticides that kill greenfly but leave bees and other 'friendly' insects unharmed.

The blueprint is the culmination of a decade of work by several hundred scientists from around the world.

They include Professor Lin Field of the Government-funded Rothamsted agricultural research institute in Hertfordshire.

She said: 'The issue we are interested in is the way these greenfly find their host plant. The plants give off odours which are detected by proteins in the aphid's antennae.

'If you could block that interaction you might prevent the aphid from getting to the crop.'

The aphid sequenced is the pea aphid, one of many types of greenfly.

Professor Field said: 'We hope we can use this genome to look at genes in other aphids. It is a big step for aphid control.'

source: dialymail

The price we pay for caging whales

By Martha Holmes

Martha Holmes is a marine biologist and wildlife film maker, who has extensive experience with killer whales

Two words describe my first encounter with killer whales in the wild: absolutely terrifying. And yet the strange thing is, until they unexpectedly surfaced right next to our suddenly rather small Zodiac dinghy, I'd been so looking forward to seeing them.

After all, I'm a marine biologist by training and a wildlife documentary maker by profession; killer whales were animals I was desperate to see.

Yet the reality, in the Pacific waters off the west coast of the Galapagos Islands, was almost too much. So close I could put out a hand and touch them (something that instinctively I thought I wouldn't do) their size and power was overwhelming.

This, I knew, was supposed to be one of the most amazing moments of my life - and in some ways it was - but the truth was it was also very, very frightening.

They were very big, very fast (they had no trouble overtaking our boat) and, although they are the biggest member of the dolphin family, it was clear that this particular pod weren't about to roll on their back and clap their flippers together any time soon.

I really was in the company of one of the great natural-born killers of the sea.

That first encounter was more than 20 years ago, and I've been fortunate enough both to carry on making wildlife documentaries such as Blue Planet and Life and to film killer whales all over the world.

I've filmed them in Antarctica on several occasions now and in Norwegian fjords too, but I've never forgotten the lesson of that first time. You treat killer whales - Orcinus orca to use their well-known Latin name - with a great deal of respect.

Sometimes, I won't even let our experienced cameramen and women in the water. When they do go in, it's only to film a pod of whales that we've got to know well.

Dawn Brancheau was killed by killer whale Tillikum at SeaWorld in Orlando

I've seen orcas killing all sort of different prey and, although there are no reliable reports of them ever killing a human in the wild, I know what they can do.

They are intelligent, resourceful and infinitely adaptable creatures; killing prey is simply what they do best.

So, on one level, it's tempting to say that the tragic death this week of Mrs Brancheau was simply a result of the whale following its natural instincts.

And that might, conceivably, be true; killer whales can certainly take prey from the shallows, as anyone who's seen that incredible footage of them hunting sea lion pups on a Patagonian beach in the BBC's Blue Planet series can attest.

But all my instincts, as both scientist and conservationist, are that Tillikum was not acting naturally at all. I'm convinced that keeping such big marine creatures in such small water parks is cruel and places the animals under tremendous stress.

Martha Holmes describes seeing killer whales in their natural habitat as 'absolutely terrifying'

The size and power of these creatures is completely overwhelming

These are creatures which normally have entire oceans to swim in, not tiny blue-tiled pools.

In the wild, they are also extraordinarily social creatures; like human beings they need company. You normally find them swimming in close knit family
groups - they 'talk' to each other, mothers pass on vital life lessons to their calves and, of course, they hunt together; often as a pack.

Take away that that vital social network - either by capturing a wild killer whale, as they used to until the mid-Nineties, or raising one bred in captivity - and you're taking away one of the absolute cornerstones of a killer whale's life.

It's like placing a human being in solitary confinement - for life. It probably has the same consequences, too.

So I'm pretty sure that Mrs Brancheau knew she was taking a calculated risk working with killer whales.

I've never been to one of these SeaWorld-style parks - the experience, I'm quite sure would sicken me - but I do know they justify their existence by arguing that they educate as well as entertain.

Whales should never be kept in capitivity, according to Martha Holmes

The fearsome reputation of the killer whale is well earned, and their power should not be underestimated

Well, I'm sorry but I just don't buy that argument; these sea life parks primarily provide cheap thrills and surprise soakings to tourists. If they do pass on any knowledge, it's certainly not enough to justify keeping these magnificent creatures in such wretched captivity.

As a documentary-maker, my objective is both to inform and entertain, too, but we go about it in a completely different way. Working in the wild, we're in and out with minimum disturbance to the creatures we're filming. We find, we observe, we film - and then we move on.

There is a huge amount we now know about the life cycle and behaviour of killer whales because a generation of dedicated scientists have spent years, often decades, observing them in the wild. As film-makers, we simply help them get their wonderful discoveries over to a broader public.

That's what led our film unit for the BBC Life series to the Falklands Islands. We were there to film elephant seal pups taking to the water for the first time in a naturally protected tidal pool, which they use for just two weeks a year.

But what we also filmed was the only killer whale on the planet which has worked out that, helped by a series of elaborate manoeuvres, it too can get into the pup's swimming pool.

Killer whales should be left in the wild to enjoy their natural habitat and company of other whales

In typical orca fashion, it is now passing the knowledge on to its own calf so soon there will be two killer whales who know how to pull off this amazing feat.

They are adaptable, too - some of my colleagues have shot wonderful footage of groups of three or four whales deliberately creating waves in an attempt to dislodge crab-eating seals off Antarctic ice-floes, and of other pods spending hours in Monterey Bay patiently trying to separate a vulnerable grey whale calf from its protective mother - and eventually succeeding.

They don't just eat fish and seals, they eat other whales, too, although rather wastefully they sometimes only eat the tongue. Some sort of killer whale delicacy, I suppose.

So their fearsome reputation is well earned. I vividly remember a good friend, a polar adventurer, telling me how she was enjoying skiing fast over some relatively thin ice, until she suddenly realised she was being pursued by a very large, black and white shadow, just feet away, under the ice.

Could the orca have broken through? Sensibly, she didn't hang around to find out.

But the image that sticks with me most is one that really exemplifies why these wonderful creatures should never be kept alone in captivity. My team and I had travelled to the Norwegian fjords where vast shoals of herring over-winter and where hungry killer whales come to feed.

They do so by a complex manoeuvre known as carouseling, which involves a group of orcas detaching a smaller shoal of herring, and then swimming round them, faster and faster, while more whales swim beneath and force the whole whale-made, herring-filled whirlpool towards the surface where the herring, of course, have nowhere left to go.

When the herring are exhausted and cornered, the killer whales give one hard underwater slam of their tails, stunning the herring. Then, of course, they eat them.

Now that's a manoeuvre - requiring speed, teamwork and considerable intelligence - you will never see in a sea life park.

It's my fervent belief that you shouldn't see orcas in a sea life park, at all.

These awe-inspiring creatures are too big, too social and too intelligent to spend a lifetime in what is little more than an over-sized swimming pool.

Seventeen years after our dorsal-finned hero jumped the fence and swam to freedom in the Hollywood hit, Free Willy, it's time to get the killer whales out of sea life parks down for good.

source: dailymail

Photographer captures amazing images of lions after submerging himself in watering hole for three months

Determined: Greg du Toit's persistence paid of as he captured this image of two lionesses venturing to the pool in search of a drink of water

Wildlife photographer Greg du Toit was so determined to capture the perfect image of wild lions drinking he sat submerged in their watering hole for three months.

The defiant photographer had endured a year of failed attempts at getting the right picture after building hides and digging trenches near the animals' drinking spot.

In a final desperate effort, the 32-year-old decided to take the plunge and climb into the murky pool with his camera and ended up contracting several tropical diseases.

He began a long-term waiting game where he sat semi-submerged for 270 hours to get the big cats on film.

But as these never-before-seen pictures show, his hard work - three hours per day for seven days a week in the water - was definitely worth the wait.

It came at a huge price for the photographer who was diagnosed with Bilharzia and contracted several parasites which he soaked up through the dirty water in the drinking hole.

Unique: A family of warthogs cool off at the pool in the Nguruman Hills, Kenya, as Mr du Toit looks on

Pride: These lions were only a leap away from Mr du Toit and were aware that there was something in the pool

Mr du Toit was also diagnosed with deadly malaria twice after contracting it through mosquitoes breeding in the pool.

Green and feeling sick from his ordeal, the South African visited doctors who were shocked at seeing the worst test results they had ever recorded.

'The doctors panicked when they noticed that my red blood platelet count was sky high,' Mr du Toit said.

'The first real symptom was blood in my urine, which is when I went for blood tests. The blood test confirmed that I had Bilharzia.

'It's caused by a type of flatworm which had spent part of its life in water snails and the other part in my liver. It left me weak and in bed for weeks.'

He added: 'The high red blood platelet count signalled that I was carrying a lot of parasites. This included numerous species of internal worm parasites and a particularly nasty external worm parasite known as Hook Worm.

'This worm was actually visible under the skin of my foot and would move at night. It became a game to find the worm in my foot each morning.'

After a long stint sick in bed recovering, Mr du Toit was finally given the all clear following courses of powerful antibiotics, pesticides and by spraying liquid nitrogen on the parasites visible under his skin.

Determined: Mr du Toit, 32, decided to climb into the pool after several failed attempts to capture lions at the pool. His efforts saw him contract Bilharzia, malaria twice and several parasites - and land a spot in the March edition of BBC Wildlife magazine

The photographer, who was living in south Kenya's Great Rift Valley, was then able to enjoy the fruits of his labour.

His stunning images captured at the watering hole in the Nguruman Hills in Kenya, three miles from the closest Masai village, give a rare and powerful insight into the lives of lions.

And during his several weeks spent with only his head-and-shoulders above water, Greg also managed to capture several other African species making their visits to the beauty spot for a refreshing drink.

One spectacular picture, taken from Greg's unique 'frog's eye view', shows two lionesses lapping gracefully at the 20 sq metre pool's edge.

Another shows a whole pride of lions joining in the watery action as they cool off only metres from watchful Greg who was just 'one leap away' from the colossal predators.

'There were times when I was shaking with so much with fear I had to stop what I was doing and breathe to get myself calm.

'I had to get the camera steady so I could get the pictures I had waited so long for,' he said.

'The lions knew there was something in the water but we think they only recognise humans when they are upright on legs so they took little notice of me and my camera.'

Mr du Toit also captured zebras, warthogs, baboons and much of Africa's huge variety of birdlife in his stunning images.

He added: 'It was worth it 100 per cent and I would do it all again, worms and all.'

The photographs will feature in the March issue of the BBC Wildlife Magazine.

source: dailymail

New Dubai Mall evacuated after cracks appear in giant aquarium

Leak: A torrent of water gushes out of the giant Dubai Mall aquarium after a crack opens up in the glass

Part of the vast Dubai Mall has been evacuated after its giant aquarium developed a leak, a police official said today.

The aquarium, one of the largest tanks in the world at 167ft by 66ft, has hundreds of living animals including Sand Tiger sharks and rays.

It is thought to have developed a crack and a witness said people in part of the mall were evacuated and dozens of emergency vehicles were outside.

The police official, who declined to be identified, said: 'There was a small problem, a simple crack, and the water leaked.'

Six divers entered the tank and appeared to be coordinating with workers outside the glass, while workers mopped up water from the floor.

Emaar's chairman Mohammed Alabbar denied there was a leak in the aquarium, saying there was a 'technical fault in the operating device,' according to a statement carried on the country's official news agency WAM.

Emergency crews are seen arriving at Dubai Mall following the incident

Security personnel inside the mall after it was evacuated when water started gushing out of the aquarium

But a witness said water had been leaking from a crack in the aquarium glass.

'I saw a small crack in the aquarium glass and there was a little water coming out and a lot of water on the floor,' said Ranjin, a 27-year old corporate secretary.

'The police came and evacuated the area around the aquarium.'

Dubai Aquarium is planning to have more than 33,000 animals representing more than 85 species in the giant tank.

It also features an underwater zoo which has penguins, seals, crocodiles and water rats among its attractions.

It is operated by Emaar Properties and also features the world's largest acrylic viewing panel.
One million people had already visited the aquarium seven months after it had opened.

Visitors view the huge aquarium in Dubai Mall (file photo)

This is the latest in a string of problems for the aquarium.

Shortly before its opening in October 2008, over ten per cent of the sharks in the tank were been killed in attacks that marred the build-up to its unveiling.

Sand Tiger sharks killed at least 40 smaller reef sharks and were aggressive towards divers working on final preparations in the giant tank.

Dubai Mall, the world's largest shopping mall by total area, contains around 600 retailers and had over 37 million visitors in its first year of operation.

It now has an average of 750,000 visitors every week. As well as shops and restaurants, the Mall also contains an ice rink and cinema.

Emaar Properties, the Arab world's largest developer, came under scrutiny earlier this month when it closed the observation deck at Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower and the firm's flagship project, just a month after its fanfare opening.

source: dailymail

Woman trainer dies after attack from 12,000lb 'serial' killer whale at SeaWorld

By David Gardner

SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, pictured above and below with one of her animals, was dragged to her death by a killer whale at the adventure park

A woman trainer was dragged underwater and drowned by a six-ton 'serial' killer whale in front of horrified spectators at SeaWorld in Florida yesterday.

Dawn Brancheau, 40, was grabbed by the waist and shaken violently by the rogue whale at the Orlando theme park, which attracts tens of thousands of British visitors each year.

The whale, Tillikum, was still being allowed to perform at the park up until yesterday's tragedy despite being responsible for the deaths of two other people in attacks.

The attack happened at lunchtime yesterday when about 50 tourists stayed behind after the 'Believe' show to watch trainers feed the orcas.

There were conflicting reports over how Mrs Brancheau, who had worked for 14 years with killer whales as was one of SeaWorld's most experienced trainers, was killed.

Police said she 'apparently slipped or fell' into the whales' tank, but eye-witnesses described a much more horrific scene.

Park guest Victoria Biniak said she was watching as the trainers talked about the show to a crowd of people when one of them was suddenly swept away in the whale's mouth.

The whale 'took off really fast in the tank and then he came back around to the glass, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started shaking her violently, and one of her shoes flew off,' she said.

Dawn Brancheau's body lies covered under a canopy, circled below, as an unidentified orca, possibly her killer Tillikum, swims segregated in a pool beside her at SeaWorld

She said Mrs Brancheau was talking about Tillikum, one of the stars of the Shamu show.

'We walked down and there was a lot of people there. There was a trainer standing by the window talking about the whale. People were asking questions like how much does he weigh and things like that,' she said.

'Then the whale floated upside down and the trainer said he wanted a belly rub. He really likes that. Then Tillikum just took off like a bat out of you know where.'

Gary Biniak said Tillikum, a male orca weighing over 12,000lbs, 'literally charged one of the trainers who was on the side of the pool training and feeding the whales'.

Dawn Brancheau was filmed feeding the killer whales just moments before she was attacked and killed

A killer whale approaches Dawn Brancheau, seconds later she was dragged underneath the water

He said: 'The whale pulled the trainer into the water and was thrashing around. He dragged her underneath the water and wouldn't let her come up. It was terrible.

'Generally, they don't allow any of the trainers to swim with this particular whale because he is so large and has a different temperament.'

'This particular trainer didn't jump into the water, she was taken forcibly,' he added.

Dan Brown, the park's manager, fought back tears as he said the trainer, who had been inspired by a trip to SeaWorld when she was nine years old, 'drowned in an incident with one of our killer whales'.

He wouldn't comment on what is likely to happen to the killer whale.

Tillikum, the largest killer whale in captivity, had a history of attacks on humans before this latest tragic incident

Dawn Brancheau swimming with a killer whale called Nalani in March 2009

Mrs Brancheau's older sister, Diane Gross, said the trainer - who was married but did not have any children - would not want anything to happen to the killer whale because she loved the animals 'like children'.

She said: 'She loved the whales like her children, she loved all of them. They all had personalities, good days and bad days.'

She added that the family was viewing Mrs Brancheau's death as an unfortunate action.

In an interview, Mrs Brancheau acknowledged the risks of the job, saying: 'You can't put yourself in the water unless you trust them and they trust you.'

'I remember walking down the aisle [of Shamu Stadium] and telling my mom, "this is what I want to do",' she told the Orlando Sentinel in 2006.

An Orlando police spokesman claimed last night that Mrs Brancheau tumbled accidentally into the whale holding tank and died.

'There is no sense of foul play right now. This appears to be an accident,' he said.

Dan Brown, general manager of SeaWorld Adventure Park, centre, walks with Kelly Flaherty Clark, left, curator of animal training at SeaWorld, before holding a news conference yesterday after the death of Dawn Brancheau

It is not the first time Tillikum has been involved in an attack. Nicknamed 'Tilly', he was blamed for the drowning of one of his trainers in 1991 when he was at Sealand in British Columbia.

Sold to SeaWorld as a stud in 1992, the whale was also involved in an incident when a homeless man's dead body was found across his back in 1999.

The man is thought to have drowned in the stadium's icy water, but investigators said it appeared that the whale had bitten him and tore off his swimming trunks thinking he was a play toy.

Because of his size and the previous deaths, trainers were not supposed to get into the water with Tilikum, and only 12 of the park's 29 trainers worked with him.

Mrs Brancheau had more experience with the 30-year-old whale than most, and was one of the park's most experienced trainers overall.

Steve McCulloch, founder and program manager at the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at Harbor Branch/Florida Atlantic University, said the whale may have been playing, but it is too early to tell.

'I wouldn't jump to conclusions,' he said.

'These are very large powerful marine mammals. They exhibit this type of behavior in the wild.'

'Animal lover': Dawn Brancheau, who was inspired to become an animal trainer at SeaWorld after a visit when she was just nine, poses with her pet dog

Wild killer whales are not generally seen as a threat to humans, however captive killer whales have been known to attack their handlers at theme parks.

Since the 1970s, killer whales have attacked just two dozen people worldwide.

But critics claim the animals can become aggressive when kept captive due to higher levels of stress and unnatural living conditions.

Officials at PETA called on the park 'to stop confining ocean-going mammals to an area that to them is like the size of a bathtub'

A spokesman said: 'It's not surprising when these huge, smart animals lash out.'

In November 2006, a 7,000lb killer whale dragged its handler Ken Peters underwater twice at the SeaWorld theme park in Florida during a routine trick.

After the attack, the whale, Katsatka, circled her tank as Ken Peters was treated by paramedics and whisked away on a stretcher. He was not seriously injured in the attack.

One onlooker said at the time: 'We realised she had the trainer by the foot and she took him under and submerged for a minute.'

The same killer whale also tried to drown Mr Peters during a 1999 show, again grabbing him by the foot and dragging him in circles.

Jim Atchison, President and Chief Executive Officer, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, said: 'It is with great sadness that I report that one of our most experienced animal
trainers drowned in an incident with one of our killer whales at our SeaWorld Orlando park.

'We have initiated an investigation to determine, to the extent possible, what occurred. There are no other details to share at this point, but we will make our findings known in due course.

'I must emphasize that this is an extraordinarily difficult time for the SeaWorld parks, and our team members. Nothing is more important than the safety of our employees, guests and the
animals entrusted to our care.

'All of our standard operating procedures will come under review as part of the investigation. We extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the trainer
and will do everything possible to assist them in this difficult time.

'We appreciate everyone’s understanding and will share more information as it becomes known and available.'

'SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego are open today as scheduled (SeaWorld San Antonio is not yet open for the season). But Believe shows and Dine with Shamu experiences at all SeaWorld locations have been suspended for the time being. We will update you on this as soon as we have more information.'

source: dailymail

It's better than watching them on TV: Group gets up close and personal with playful meerkats

Are you looking at me? The Meerkat Magic tour group observe the meerkats near Oudtshoorn, in the Klein Karoo

Uncharacteristically confident, these meerkats boldly criss-cross through sandy plains almost oblivious to a group of onlookers.

Known as the only wild community known to exist outside the Kalahari desert, the playful clan are situated in the near Oudtshoorn, in the Klein Karoo on South Africa's Western Cape.

But for the past four years, they have been joined by nature conservationist Grant M. McIlrath studying and observing this extraordinary group.

Showing off: The meerkats - the only wild clan known to exist outside the Kalahari desert - perform for the crowd

Known as the ‘Meerkat Man’, Grant has been studying the creatures’ behaviour and interaction for 15 years.

And his unique conservation project, Meerkat Magic, study the troupe, who migrate in constant search of food.

Grant runs observational tours of clan who weave in and out of a series of underground tunnels spread over a five-kilometre-square area.

Meerkat Man: Grant M Mc Ilrath studying and observing this extraordinary group for the past four years

Watchful: The young meerkats playfight while the adult looks on

‘Our policy is to never interfere with or disturb. The trick is not move up unless you are stared at, to test their innocence,’ he said.

‘I have managed to gain their trust by using mannequins, and now, despite being wild, they appear to have accepted a human presence.

‘The juveniles are being prepared by all adults, not just the parents, active in the hard life in the arid Karoo.

Inquisitive: The meerkats watch the group, who, in turn, are studying the clan

Two meerkats laze on the sandy plain at the conservation project site located near Oudtshoorn

‘In intensive communication and they learn all the tricks that need a little earth for the perilous life.

‘Through gentle chirping sounds of the meerkats keep contact with each other.’

The expert called meerkats ‘good teachers’ to their young, adding: ‘Our research continues bring interesting results.’

source: dailymail

The name's 'Squirrel Munchkin': He's so chubby that he even struggles to reach his food

Rotund: The squirrel hunts hopefully for nuts on the floor before heaving himself up to the suspended food

Clinging on for dear life, this super-sized squirrel attempts to steal nuts from a bird feeder.

But, because of his extra pounds, he plummets to the ground unfed.

The rotund rodent spends hours every day attempting to conquer a back garden obstacle course, but to no avail – because he’s too fat, barely able to balance on a branch.

Even when he manages to get a nibble, his hulking frame means he can’t hold on for long enough to enjoy a good feed.

James Phelps, who set up the feeders in his back garden in Michigan, U.S., said: ‘They get a lot of food around here - they are very fat indeed.

‘They struggle to get on the feeders and stay there while they eat - it's pretty funny to watch.

Nuts to this: The chunky rodent climbed up a bird feeder to reach a tasty prize, then it appeared to lose its grip

‘This one just tried to scramble up but couldn't get a good grip on the wire and fell off pretty hard.

‘But they're very determined and would never let it beat them.’

Phelps, a 50-year-old father of two, added the fox squirrels, which usually weigh up to 2.2lbs, are ‘incredibly friendly’.

‘Once in a while I like to change where I hang the feeders to make them work a little harder for their dinner,’ he said.

‘Sometimes it will take them a day or so to figure it out, but they always get there in the end.’

The fox is the largest squirrel native to America measuring up to 27 inches long.

They survive on a diet of tree seeds as well as buds, fruits, cultivated grain, insects, birds' eggs, lizards and small snakes.

How do I get back down? After eating its fill, the greedy squirrel appeared stumped on how to get back down to terra firma

source: dailymail

Dinosaur skulls reveal new long-necked species that didn't chew its food properly

Dr Brooks Britt with a Abydosaurus dinosaur skull, a previously undiscovered species of dinosaur

Four impressive skulls from a new species of dinosaur have been unearthed by palaeontologists.

Abydosaurus was a type of sauropod, a group of huge plant-eating dinosaurs - including Brachiosaurus.

Complete skulls are incredibly rare - only eight of more than 120 types of sauropod had been found to date.

So researchers were shocked and thrilled when they found four Abydosaurus skulls - including two fully intact - at a quarry in the Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah, US.

The fossils were so hard that explosives had to be used to free some of the remains from the sandstone.

Dr Brooks Britt, a palaeontologist at Brigham Young University who worked on the project, said: 'Their heads are built lighter than mammal skulls because they sit way out at the end of very long necks.

'Instead of thick bones fused together, sauropod skulls are made of thin bones bound together by soft tissue. Usually it falls apart quickly after death and disintegrates.'

Most of what scientists know about sauropods is from the neck down but the newly discovered skulls provided a few clues about how the largest land animals to roam the Earth ate their food.

Dr Britt said: 'They didn't chew their food; they just grabbed it and swallowed it.

'The skulls are only one two-hundredth of total body volume and don't have an elaborate chewing system.'

The newly discovered skulls measured around 12inches across. They belonged to juveniles who were 25ft long

Dr Britt said Abydosaurus is thought to have lived 105 million years ago as crystals of the mineral zircon within the surrounding rock have been dated to that period.

Bone analysis suggests Brachiosaurus, which grew to around 80ft long and lived 45 million years earlier than Abydosaurus, is thought to have been its closest relative.

Dr Britt said the skulls were from juveniles which were estimated to be around 25 feet long but other bones, including vertebrae, suggest the mature Abydosaurus were 'substantially larger'.

In the Jurassic Period - between 206 to 144 million years ago - sauropods showed a wide range of tooth shapes but by the end of the dinosaur age - around 65 million years ago - all sauropods had narrow, pencil-like teeth.

Dr Britt (left) at the Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah where the dinosaur skulls were found. Right is an artist's conception of what they may have looked like

The fossils were excavated from the Cedar Mountain Formation in Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah.

The skulls are on temporary display at Brigham Young University's Museum of Palaeontology, in Provo, Utah, where visitors can also watch students prepare other bones from Abydosaurus.

A paper about the discovery was published in the journal Naturwissenschaften today.
The new dinosaur species was given the name Abydosaurus mcintoshi.

The skull was found in a quarry overlooking the Green River so took the name Abydos from the Greek name for the city along the Nile River (now El Araba el Madfuna) which was the burial place of the head and neck of the Egyptian god Osiris. Sauros is the Greek word for lizard.

The mcintoshi honours the American palaeontologist Jack McIntosh for his contributions to the study of sauropods.

source: dailymail

Black labrador Treo to become 23rd animal to receive the Dickin Medal after serving in Afghanistan

Military working dog Treo with his handler Sergeant David Heyhoe

To the untrained eye, black labrador Treo looks like any other happy, healthy dog.

But the nine-year-old canine, who has seen more of a warzone than most people will in a lifetime, is now the proud recipient of the animal equivalent of a Victoria Cross for his life-saving skills sniffing out roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

The Dickin Medal, the highest accolade a military animal can expect, will be presented to Treo and his handler Sergeant Dave Heyhoe in a special ceremony organised by the PDSA at the Imperial War Museum today.

Treo, who saw frontline action patrolling with soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008, is now retired and has been enjoying life at home.

He and Sgt Heyhoe have returned to their former base 104 Military Working Dogs Support Unit, in North Luffenham, Rutland.

Sgt Heyhoe said: 'Treo and I have been working together for the last five years.

'We started our time together in Northern Ireland, then moved to North Luffenham, where we then went out to Afghanistan in 2008.'

Treo joined soldiers patrolling in Afghanistan in 2008

During his time on the frontline, he save countless lives by finding two IED devices

While there, Treo saved lives as he patrolled with Sgt Heyhoe in Sangin, Helmand Province.

At that time the army had 25 dogs deployed in Afghanistan to support troops in various roles, including as protection dogs and as detection dogs, working both in vehicle searches and as arms and explosives search dogs - like Treo.

'Treo's work involves searching for arms and explosives out on the ground to the forefront of the troops,' Sgt Heyhoe said.

'What we're trying to do is make sure there are no death-dealing agents out there to make sure there is no harm to the troops behind us.

'It's very important. We are part and parcel of the search element. We're not the ultimate answer but we are an aid to search.

'Another aid would be the metal detector - but Treo is a four-legged variety.'

Treo in action. The nine-year-old canine is the 63rd animal to be awarded the Dickin medal

On August 1 2008, while working as a forward detection dog in Sangin, Treo found a 'daisy chain' improvised explosive device (IED) - made of two or more explosives wired together - that had been carefully modified and concealed by the Taliban at the side of a path.

A month later, his actions saved another platoon from guaranteed casualties, again with the discovery of a daisy chain IED.

Sgt Heyhoe says he has more than just a professional relationship with Treo

Treo started his career at the Defence Animal Centre, based in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, when he was a year old.

He did a 12-week training course before being deployed to Northern Ireland, where he worked for three years with his first handler before Sgt Heyhoe took over.

But their relationship is now far more than just a professional partnership, Sgt Heyhoe said.

He explained: 'Basically, me and the dog have got to get a rapport. We've got to understand each other and without that we can't be effective on the ground.

'He must know when I want him to go somewhere to search, that's where he goes.

'Everyone will say that he is just a military working dog - yes, he is, but he is also a very good friend of mine. We look after each other.'

Treo is the 63rd animal to receive the Dickin Medal - introduced by PDSA founder Maria Dickin in 1943 to honour the work of animals in war - and the 27th dog to receive the prestigious award.

Since its introduction it has also been presented to 32 Second World War messenger pigeons, three horses and one cat.

Sgt Heyhoe said the praise was symbolic for all dogs and their handlers working in warzones.

He said: 'I'm very proud indeed, not only for myself and Treo, but it's for every dog and handler that's working out in Afghanistan or Iraq.

'That's what the medal means to us - taking it for the rest of the guys and their dogs.'

Major Chris Ham, officer commanding the Canine Division at the Defence Animal Centre, said dogs were playing an increasingly important role, particularly in Afghanistan.

He said: 'It's being recognised more and more in this day and age that the key capability the armed explosives dog does have lies particularly in finding IEDs.

'They give a unique contribution to the troops on the ground searching for these devices on a daily basis.

'This medal is a unique honour for all of our dog handlers, particularly all the military working dogs and their handlers that are serving in Afghanistan.'

But Major Ham also said they are still keen to recruit more dogs like Treo - especially gun dog breeds including springer spaniels, Labradors, golden retrievers, retrievers and their crosses, and larger breeds such as German shepherds.

He added: 'It's very difficult at the moment to recruit dogs and we are constantly campaigning.

'We need to recruit military working dogs all the time so we can carry on the good work they are doing.'

source: dailymail