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Scientists Discover Dogs Are Humans Oldest Companions, DNA Shows

Dogs are not only man’s best friend, it turns out they are also the oldest domesticated animal by humans.

Justin MacLachlan

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Dogs are not only man’s best friend, it turns out they are also the oldest domesticated animal by humans. New research published in the journal Science. lead by an international team found that dog domestication can be traced back 11,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age.

This confirms that dogs were domesticated before any other known animal. An international team of scientists analyzed the whole genomes (DNA in the nuclei of biological cells) of 27 ancient dog breed remains linked to a mixture of archaeological cultures. Researchers compared these to each other and to modern dogs, and they found some stunning results.

The scientists found that dog genetic patterns directly mirror human ones because people took their animal friends with them when they migrated. But there were also some important differences, the scientists note.

According to the study, our canine partners were widespread across the northern hemisphere at this time and had already split into five different types of canine, BBC News reported.

Despite the expansion of European dogs during the colonial era, traces of these ancient indigenous breeds survive today in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Breeds like the Rhodesian Ridgeback in southern Africa, and the Chihuahua and Xoloitzcuintli in Mexico retain genetic traces of ancient indigenous dogs from the region.

European dogs were originally diverse, seeming to emerge from two very different populations, one related to Near Eastern dogs and another to Siberian dogs.

While the ancestry of dogs in East Asia is complex, Chinese breeds seem to derive some of their ancestries from animals like the Australian dingo and the New Guinea singing dog, with the rest originating from Europe and dogs from the Russian steppe.

But at some point, perhaps after the onset of the Bronze Age, a single dog lineage spread widely and replaced all other dog populations on the European continent. The research provides context to some of the unknowns in the natural history of our close animal companions.

Dr Pontus Skoglund, co-author of the study and group leader of the Ancient Genomics laboratory at London’s Crick Institute, told BBC News: “Dogs are really unique in being this quite strange thing if you think about it, when all people were still hunter-gatherers, they domesticate what is really a wild carnivore – wolves are pretty frightening in many parts of the world. The question of why did people do that? How did that come about? That’s what we’re ultimately interested in.”

Greger Larson, a co-author from the University of Oxford, said: “Dogs are our oldest and closest animal partner. Using DNA from ancient dogs is showing us just how far back our shared history goes and will ultimately help us understand when and where this deep relationship began.”

Dogs have always been thought to have evolved from wolves that were tamed to serve as hunting companions and guard dogs.

The results of the recent study suggest all dogs derive from a single extinct wolf population or a few different closely related ones. If there were multiple domestication events around the world, these other lineages did not contribute much DNA to later dogs, according to the study.

However, Skoglund expressed that we don’t know for sure when or where the initial domestication occurred. “Dog history has been so dynamic that you can’t really count on it still being there to readily read in their DNA. We really don’t know – that’s the fascinating thing about it.”

Animals

Cher Escorted World’s Loneliest Elephant To a New Life in Cambodia

Elias Marat

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A 36-year-old elephant who garnered worldwide sympathy after being dubbed “the world’s loneliest elephant” will be turning the page on a dark chapter of his life and enjoying brighter days ahead at a renowned sanctuary in Cambodia, thanks to the hard-fought efforts of U.S. pop star Cher.

Kaavan had long been Pakistan’s only Asian elephant, and suffered from poor health and wretched conditions at a dilapidated zoo in Islamabad, where the bull elephant was unable to exercise and gained excessive weight while living in a structure decried by animal rights groups as totally inappropriate.

Now relocated to Cambodia, Kaavan will now make the province of Oddar Meanchey his home, where he will live in a special wildlife sanctuary along with 600 other elephants.

“Cambodia is pleased to welcome Kaavan. No longer will he be ‘the world’s loneliest elephant,’” Cambodia’s deputy environment minister, Neth Pheaktra, said. “We expect to breed Kaavan with local elephants – this is an effort to conserve the genetic fold.”

When Kaavan’s companion died in 2012, the suffering pachyderm was forced to contend with isolation and descended into “zoochosis” – a type of mental illness brought about by miserable living conditions and solitude, reports BBC. Scarred both mentally and physically, he soon earned the ignominious title of the “world’s loneliest animal.”

However, after years of suffering in silence, animal rights groups turned Kavaan’s plight into a cause célèbre – with Cher using her social media clout and the wildlife protection group she co-founded, Free the Wild, to back the campaign in 2016.

“I thought, ‘how can I fix this? How can I save an elephant who’s been shackled to a shed for 17 years and who is a thousand miles away?’,” Cher said in a statement distributed by the Smithsonian Channel, which is filming a documentary about Kaavan. “This is Free The Wild’s first big rescue and I am so proud.”

When Islamabad’s High Court finally shuttered the zoo over its squalid conditions and issued an order freeing Kaavan in May, granting animal welfare group Four Paws International (FPI) permission to relocate the creature, Cher called it one of the “greatest moments” in her life.

For years, Four Paws has worked alongside Cher and Free the Wild to secure Kaavan’s release.

Ahead of his trip on Monday, Cher was filmed serenading Kaavan in Pakistan with her classic song, “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.”

On Monday, Kaavan and Cher arrived in Cambodia and were greeted with fanfare from animal conservationists and officials.

“I’m so happy and I am so proud he is here,” Cher told AFP at Siem Reap airport. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful animal.”

Kaavan had a peaceful flight and conducted himself “like a frequent flyer” during the journey from Pakistan, said Four Paws veterinarian Dr. Amir Khalil. Kaavan even ate and slept during the “uneventful” flight and showed no signs of stress, reports the Guardian.

On Friday, prior to the journey to Cambodia, Cher met Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan and thanked him on Twitter “for making it possible for me to take Kaavan to Cambodia.”

In a statement from Khan’s office, the prime minister and former cricket superstar extended an invitation to Cher to continue engaging in environmental initiatives in Pakistan.

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Ancient History

Megalodon Fossils Show How Biggest-Ever Shark Had Nurseries All Over the World

Elias Marat

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The massive megalodon, the largest shark to ever roam the seas, had their own nursery areas all over the globe that allowed the apex predators to raise their young and populate the world prior to their extinction.

A new study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, reveals that nurseries belonging to the massive creatures have been found in across vast geographic distances where fossils belonging to both young and old megalodons were discovered.

The five likely nurseries include sites off Spain’s east coast, two off the coast of the United States, and two in Panama.

Megalodon (Otodus megalodon), whose name means “large tooth,” lived between 23 million and 3.6 million years ago until it went extinct during a period of global cooling. For 13 million years, the megalodon was the king of the sea.

The megalodon was not only the largest shark in the world, but also the biggest fish – and quite possibly the most powerful predator – to ever exist. Its teeth alone measured 18 centimeters long, and evidence shows that it could have grown to reach up to 60 feet in length.

However, because megalodon bodies were mostly comprised of cartilage – which cannot fossilize – the shark’s teeth, vertebrae and fossilized feces have been the main way researchers have calculated the shark’s body measurements.

The existence of the nurseries shows that young megalodon were still quite susceptible to attacks by other predators.

To keep the young megalodon safe, their shark parents would give birth to their young in shallow, warm water nurseries located near coastlines. In these special regions, juvenile megalodon were able to access their prey while facing few dangers from rival predators.

“Our analyses support the presence of five potential nurseries ranging from the Langhian (middle Miocene) to the Zanclean (Pliocene), with higher densities of individuals with estimated body lengths within the typical range of neonates and young juveniles,” the scientists wrote in the abstract for the study.

“These results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales, reducing early mortality and playing a key role in maintaining viable adult populations,” the authors added.

The nurseries were ideal sites that allowed young megalodons to mature into adults in a process that took about 25 years.

Experts investigated 25 teeth belonging to megalodon that were found in the Reverté and Vidal regions in Tarragona, Spain. The study led to the conclusion that these locations were filled with sharks that had body lengths consistent with the normal range of newborns and young juveniles, measuring 13 feet in length for one-month-old sharks to 36 feet in length for older juveniles.

A separate study released in September found that a 52.5-foot-long adult megalodon had heads that measure up to 15.3 feet long, with dorsal fins measuring about 5.3 feet tall and tails reaching 12.6 feet. To put this into perspective, an adult human could stand on a shark’s back and be roughly the same height as the dorsal fin.

The study’s findings also reveal that the shark’s reliance on nurseries likely played a role in their demise, when the world cooled near the end of the Pliocene period and sea levels declined.

“Ultimately, the presumed reliance of O. megalodon on the presence of suitable nursery grounds might have also been determinant in the demise of this iconic top predatory shark,” the authors of the study noted.

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Animals

Minks Infected With Mutated Covid “Rise From Their Graves” After Being Killed in Mass Culling

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If you thought that this year couldn’t get any weirder, now we can add covid infected minks rising from their graves to the list of strange 2020 happenings. The minks that appeared to rise from the dead had been infected with a mutated strain of COVID-19 in Denmark.

A Danish police spokesman, Thomas Kristensen, urged local residents to stay calm, and explained that these minks are not actually zombies. Kristensen said that gasses in the decay process sometimes cause the bodies to move.

“As the bodies decay, gases can be formed. This causes the whole thing to expand a little. In this way, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground,” Kristensen said, according to the Guardian.

Another issue is the fact that the animals were placed in shallow graves because the process was rushed. The graves were just over three feet deep, which allowed some witnesses to see the movement. Now officials are planning to order the graves to be dug twice as deep.

“This is a natural process. Unfortunately, one metre of soil is not just one metre of soil –it depends on what type of soil it is. The problem is that the sandy soil in West Jutland is too light. So we have had to lay more soil on top,” Kristensen said.

Regardless of the scientific explanation, the incident has sparked plenty of conversation on social media.

Local residents shared photos and videos of the bodies coming out of the ground to social media with captions like “the year of the zombie mutant killer mink” and “run … The mink are coming for you.”

Kristensen warned that anyone who might see a shallow mink grave should stay away because there is still a small risk of infection. Even though the minks had been disinfected before being buried, there is still a chance that the virus can be passed on to a person.

He said that it could be possible that “small quantities of bacteria may still be trapped in their fur” adding that it is “never healthy to get close to dead animals, so therefore this is of course something to stay away from.”

Sadly, the country plans to kill all 15 million minks that live in the country. The country is reportedly responsible for producing 40% of the world’s mink fur. The country’s mink farmers have culled more than 10 million mink so far, according to the latest numbers.

The mink burial grounds will also be monitored around the clock, and they are working to put a fence up around the area. Still, despite these security measures, some officials are concerned that the burial grounds are too close to local water sources, which could potentially put the water supply at risk. Some officials, such as two mayors in the region, are suggesting that the corpses of the minks be burned.

As of Wednesday, Denmark has reported more than 74,000 COVID-19 cases and 800 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

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