April 16th, Beijing: Today, former NBA star and Chinese icon, Yao Ming, launched a major public awareness campaign targeting consumption of ivory and rhino horn in China in partnership with WildAid, Save the Elephants, African Wildlife Foundation, and the Yao Ming Foundation.
In August 2012, Yao spent 12 days on a fact-finding mission in Kenya and South Africa filming a documentary to be aired in partnership with NHNZ later this year. Yao met wild elephants before encountering the bodies of five poached elephants in Kenya and a poached rhino in South Africa. He also visited local school children, whose education is funded through wildlife tourism revenue, and conservationists and government officials working to protect elephants and rhinos. Footage and stills from his trip were released together with a series of public service announcements informing consumers, “When the buying stops, the killing can too.” WildAid thanks Ol Pejeta Conservancy and Virgin Atlantic for their support of Yao’s Africa trip.
Poaching for ivory kills more than 25,000 elephants annually and has reached levels only seen before the 1989 international trade ban. In 2012, 668 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone. These are precipitous increases from just a few years ago and, if not stemmed, could lead to the extinction of African rhinos and elephants in our lifetime.
Another production for the Symphony of Science series:
A musical celebration of humanity, its origins, and achievements, contrasted with a somber look at our environmentally destructive tendencies and deep similarities with other primates. Featuring Jacob Bronowski, Alice Roberts, Carolyn Porco, Jane Goodall, Robert Sapolsky, Neil deGrasse Tyson and David Attenborough.”
Hat-tip to Bad Astronomy.
This Sunday, the National Geographic Channel will be featuring a new documentary called The Human Family Tree. Random DNA samples from a small but diverse group of people leads us on a journey that explores our common origins and the migrations of our ancestors. I will do a review of the documentary later this week, but for now enjoy this introduction:
In 1995 Russel Ciochon and his colleagues discovered a fragment of jawbone in the Longgupo Cave, 12 miles south of the Three Gorges area of the Yangtze River in eastern Sichuan Province, China. They believed that the fragments were comparable in morphology with early representives of the genus Homo. The find was controversial because the jawbone was dated to be 1.9 million years old, while the generally held opinion at that time was that early hominids had left Africa only 1 million years ago.
From the Russel Ciochon essay in Nature released today:
Fourteen years ago, a Nature paper by my colleagues and I described a 1.9-million-year-old human jaw fragment from Longgupo in Sichuan province, China. The ancient date in itself was spectacular. Previous evidence had suggested that human ancestors arrived in east Asia from Africa about 1 million years ago, in the form of Homo erectus. Longgupo nearly doubled that estimate. But even more exciting — and contentious — was our claim that the jaw was related to H. habilis, a species of distinctly African origin. If this descendant of H. habilis had arrived so early into southeast Asia, then it probably gave rise to H. erectus in the Far East, rather than H. erectus itself sweeping west to east.
For many years, I used Longgupo to promote this pre-erectus origin for H. erectus finds in Asia. But now, in light of new evidence from across southeast Asia and after a decade of my own field research in Java, I have changed my mind. Not everyone may agree; such classifications are always open to interpretation. But I am now convinced that the Longgupo fossil and others like it do not represent a pre-erectus human, but rather one or more mystery apes indigenous to southeast Asia’s Pleistocene primal forest. In contrast, H. erectus arrived in Asia about 1.6 million years ago, but steered clear of the forest in pursuit of grassland game. There was no pre-erectus species in southeast Asia after all.
Read the complete essay in The mystery ape of Pleistocene Asia
See an original news report from 1995 in The New York Times.
Nature 378, 275-278 (16 November 1995) | doi:10.1038/378275a0; Accepted 20 September 1995. Early Homo and associated artefacts from Asia. Huang Wanpo, Russell Ciochon, Gu Yumin, Roy Larick, Fang Qiren, Henry Schwarcz, Charles Yonge, John de Vos & William Rink.
Blog posts that tickled my fancy during the last week:
Return Of The Green Pickup
(from his Congo Memoirs)
(Stained glass painting by Yuet Chan)
Reading Ted C. MacRae‘s post, Lions in South Africa (in the blog Beetles in the Bush) brought back childhood memories and a need to explore further. Enjoy this video featuring fascinating antlion behaviour:
Then visit the Antlion Pit for more information.