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NEWS UPDATE

February 2011

Rare mountain gorilla twins born in Rwanda

A MOUNTAIN gorilla in northern Rwanda gave birth to twins, a rare occurrence for an endangered species which counts fewer than 800 individuals, local media reported today.

"The twins, both of them males, were born Thursday of a mother gorilla called Kabatwa. They are doing well,'' Radio Rwanda reported, quoting information from the Rwandan Development Bureau.

The pro-government daily New Times said only five previous instances of twins had been recorded in 40 years of monitoring in Rwanda.

"It's uncommon among the population of gorillas, and very few cases of twins have been documented in the wild or captivity,'' said Prosper Uwingeli, chief warden at the Volcanoes National Park where the twins were born.

According to a 2010 census, the total number of mountain gorillas has increased by a quarter over the past seven years to reach more than 780 individuals.

Two thirds of them are found in the Virunga massif, which straddles Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Orangutan DNA boosts survival chances - study

AFP correspondents in Paris

January 27, 2011 8:57AM

The Sumatran Orangutan female Bini holds her 10-weeks-old baby Bulan in her arms in a Berlin zoo / AFP Source: AFP

ORANGUTANS are far more genetically diverse than thought, a finding that could help their survival, say scientists delivering their first full DNA analysis of the critically-endangered ape.

The study, published today in the science journal Nature, also reveals that the orangutan - "the man of the forest" - as hardly evolved over the last 15 million years, in sharp contrast to Homo sapiens and his closest cousin, the chimpanzee.

Once widely distributed across Southeast Asia, only two populations of the intelligent, tree-dwelling ape remain in the wild, both on islands in Indonesia. Some 40,000 to 50,000 individuals live in Borneo, while in Sumatra deforestation and hunting has reduced a once robust community to about 7000 individuals, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). These two groups split genetically about 400,000 years ago, considerably later than once thought, and today constitute separate albeit closely related species, Pongo abelii (Sumatra) and P. pygmaeus (Borneo), the study showed.

An international consortium of more than 30 scientists decoded the full genomic sequence of a female Sumatran orangutan, nicknamed Susie. They then completed summary sequences of 10 more adults, five from each population.

"We found that the average orangutan is more diverse - genetically speaking - than the average human," said lead author Devin Locke, an evolutionary geneticist at Washington University in Missouri.

Human and orangutan genomes overlap by about 97 per cent, compared to 99 per cent for humans and chimps, he said. But the big surprise was that the far smaller Sumatran population showed more variation in its DNA than its close cousin in Borneo. While perplexing, scientists said this could help boost the species' chances of survival.

"Their genetic variation is good news because, in the long run, it enables them to maintain a healthy population" and will help shape conservation efforts, said co-author Jeffrey Rogers, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

Ultimately, however, the fate of this great ape - whose behaviour and languid expressions can be eerily human at times - will depend on our stewardship of the environment, he said.

"If the forest disappears, then the genetic variation won't matter - habitat is absolutely essential," he said. "If things continue as they have for the next 30 years, we won't have orangutans in the wild."

The researchers were also struck by the persistent stability of the orangutan genome, which appears to have changed very little since branching off on a separate evolutionary path. This means the species is genetically closer to the common ancestor from which all the great apes are presumed to have originated, some 14 to 16 million years ago. One possible clue to the lack of structural changes in the orangutan's DNA is the relative absence, compared to humans, of telltale bits of genetic code known as an "Alu". These short stretches of DNA make up about 10 percent of the human genome - numbering about 5000 - and can pop up in unpredictable places to create new mutations, some of which persist.

"In the orangutan genome, we found only 250 new Alu copies over a 15-million year time span," Professor Locke said.

Orangutans are the only great apes to dwell primarily in trees. In the wild, they can live 35 to 45 years, and in captivity an additional 10 years. Females give birth, on average, every eight years, the longest interbirth interval among mammals. Earlier research has shown that the great apes are not only adept at making and using tools, but are capable of cultural learning, long thought to be an exclusively human trait.

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Primate Research and Conservation Opportunities

in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest

The Instituto Uiraçu is seeking scientific partners to study primates in the Serra Bonita Reserve Complex and to reintroduce primates that formerly inhabited this region. The Serra Bonita Reserve Complex is located in the cocoa region of Southern Bahia, in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. The complex includes four RPPNs (private reserves), totaling circa 2,000 ha (5,000 acres).  For a description,go to  http://www.uiracu.org.br/en/index.html .

Originally, six species of primates were present at Serra Bonita:

·         Northern muriqui (Brachyteles hypoxanthus)

·         Brown howler monkey (Alouatta guariba)

·         Yellow-breasted capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos)

·         Southern Bahian masked titi monkey (Callicebus melanochir)

·         Golden-headed lion tamarin (Leontopithecus chrysomelas)

·         Wied’s black-tufted-ear marmoset (Callithrix kuhlii)

Research opportunities with primates currently found at Serra Bonita

When land was first purchased to create the reserve in 1998, only the marmosets were present in substantial numbers.  Groups of capuchins, seldom seen, were formed by 4-5 individuals at most, very scared. Since the reserve was established, in 2001, their numbers have increased significantly. Groups numbering 16-18 individuals are frequently seen around the lodge (the guards have seen groups with up to 25 individuals at the Southern end of the reserve, presumably a different group from the ones found around the lodge). The titi monkeys were never seen before. Now they are heard calling frequently even around the research center and the lodge.

Some of the marmosets have become very tame.  One group of marmosets is attracted by the fruits on the bird feeders. Three individuals came to the feeders for the first time about two years ago. They now number 12 individuals--they are feeding on a bunch of bananas in front of the office window –one adult is carrying a pair of tiny babies on its back.

We need studies on the population dynamics and feeding habits of these existing primate species to inform the reserve’s management plan.  Of course, other aspects of the animals’ natural history can be studied as well.

Conservation opportunities to reintroduce primates currently extinct at Serra Bonita

Two of the original primate species are extinct in the reserve and could be reintroduced: the Northern muriqui and the brown howler monkey.  The golden-headed lion tamarin is a lowland species, seen once at the lower edges of the reserve, but never at the higher elevations. Given the topography of the reserve, it is probably not a good candidate for reintroduction, at least at this early stage.

Since 2005 three rangers have been employed and hunting has been reduced almost to nothing, especially at the higher elevations around the research center and the lodge. Considering this, the size of the area, and characteristics of the vegetation (more than 50% mature forest and the rest old growth secondary forest), the reserve provides an appropriate opportunity to reintroduce the extinct species.

Expressions of interest

Individuals or research teams who would be interested in pursuing research and conservation activities with primates at Serra Bonita are encouraged to submit by email a letter and any supporting materials describing their interests, experience, and qualifications to the address below.  We encourage potential participants to visit the reserve as part of their deliberations. 

The management of the reserve will facilitate studies to the extent that its resources allow, but we will expect our research partners to take a lead role in securing the necessary permits and in obtaining additional funding.  We encourage Brazilian scientists as individuals or as participants in international teams to submit inquiries.  

Vitor O. Becker, Scientific Director

Instituto Uiraçu

Serra Bonita Reserve

P.O.Box 01

45880-000 Camacan, Bahia, BRAZIL

Email: Becker.vitor@gmail.com

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