; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Fortean / Alternative News: Thylacine More Cat Than Dog, Deadly Weather and Paranormal Wales Revealed

Thylacine was more like a cat than a dog

Its head and body looked like a dog, yet its striped coat was cat-like. It carried its young in a pouch, like a kangaroo. No wonder the thylacine -- the enigmatic, iconic creature of Australia and Tasmania -- was the object of so much confusion, alternately called the "marsupial wolf" and the "Tasmanian tiger."

So what was it? By studying bones of thylacines and 31 other mammals, researchers at Brown University have the answer: The thylacine was a Tasmanian tiger -- more cat than dog, although clearly a marsupial. In a paper published in Biology Letters, the researchers have shown that the extinct thylacine was a solitary, ambush-style predator. That hunting approach separates thylacines from wolves and other large canid, or dog-like, species that hunt in packs and generally pursue their quarry over some distance.

"We provide quantitative support to the suspicions of earlier researchers that the thylacine was not a pursuit predator," said Borja Figueirido, a postdoctoral researcher at Brown University and the paper's lead author. "Although there is no doubt that the thylacine diet was similar to that of living wolves, we find no compelling evidence that they hunted similarly."

For millions of years, Thylacinus cynocephalus roamed mainland Australia. Its numbers declined as humans settled throughout the continent, beginning some 40,000 years ago, and the dingo, a small, dog-like creature, was introduced, about 4,000 years ago. Thylacines' last remaining outpost was in dingo-free Tasmania, but a concerted eradication effort wiped out the species. The last known thylacine, said to be named "Benjamin," died at a zoo in Hobart in 1936.

Researchers debate why the Tasmanian tiger fared so poorly on continental Australia with the arrival of humans and dingoes. Most accept that human activity disrupted thylacine habitat and perhaps its food sources as well. But there is less agreement about the dingoes' effect. The conventional thinking had been that dingoes were the placental spitting image of the marsupial thylacines, evolved in isolated settings, which biologists term evolutionary convergence. When dingoes arrived in Australia, they helped push the thylacines out.

But Figueirido and Christine Janis, professor of biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a co-author on the paper, don't think that's the entire story. To make their case, they turned to the thylacine's skeleton and compared it with those of dog-like and cat-like species, from pumas and panthers to jackals and wolves, as well as hyenas and Tasmanian devils, the largest living carnivorous marsupials. They knew from previous research that the elbow joint was a clue to predator habits, as it showed whether the animal was built for flexibility and dexterity in handling prey or for chase and speed in tracking down the next meal. Examining the bones, they found that the thylacine's humerus, or upper arm bone, was oval and elongated at the end closest to the elbow, implying that the animal's forearm bones, the radius and ulna, were separate. That means the Tasmanian tiger would have been able to rotate its arm so that the palm faced upwards, like a cat. The distal humerus on dog-like animals, such as dingoes and wolves, is "more squared-up and shorter," Janis said. This indicates the radius and ulna were closer together in these species, reflecting that these animals' hands are more fixed in the palm-down position.

In terms of hunting, the increased arm and hand movement would have given the thylacine a greater capability of subduing its quarry after a surprise attack. Since dingoes and other dog-like creatures have less latitude in arm-hand movement, that helps explain why these animals hunt by pursuit and in packs, rather than in an ambush setting, the researchers note.

"It's a very subtle thing," said Janis. "You never would think that the shape of just one bone would mean so much."

Yet some cats, like cheetahs, use speed to catch their quarry, while some canid species, like foxes, rely more on the guile of the ambush. Janis said the thylacine's hunting tactics appear to be a unique mix. "I don't think there's anything like it around today," she said. "It's sort of like a cat-like fox."

What that means for the dingo's role in the thylacine's disappearance from continental Australia is not clear, but it does show the animals, while similar in many respects, likely hunted differently.

"Dingoes were more like the final straw [to the Tasmanian tigers' demise in continental Australia]," Janis said, "because they weren't in the same niche. It's not just that a dingo was a placental version of a thylacine." - sciencedaily


Osama bin Laden’s Last Will and Testament?

Osama bin Laden’s last Will and Testament, which was first published in a Lebanese newspaper in 2001, has reappeared this week, which is not surprising. bin Laden supposedly wrote the will in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. U.S. intelligence sources are skeptical on its authenticity, despite it being cited in a recent Senate report.

In the will bin Laden compares himself to a seventh century caliph and suggests his children need to forge their own way in life rather than ride on the back of his name.

“As for you my children: Forgive me for not giving you except but a minimum amount of my time since I have begun my call for jihad,” bin Laden allegedly writes in the will. “And I advise you not to join in the work of al Qaeda.” bin Laden is reputably the father of 24 children with his four wives.

Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside al Qaeda and head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, is convinced the document is genuine however. ‘I have no doubt this document is real,’ he told ABC News. Gunaratna also claimed the signature at the bottom of the document was that of bin Laden’s.

For Michael Scheuer, a veteran CIA agent, who headed the secretive bin Laden Issue Station, and was later the chief of the bin Laden Unit, the will is a fraud. “It’s a Saudi fabrication and it’s been around for years,” Scheuer told ABC News. - dailymail


Hundreds of Nigerian children accused of witchcraft were burnt and beaten

hearaldsun - Hundreds of Nigerian children have been severely beaten, burnt or killed after being accused of witchcraft, a British charity will tell an inquiry tomorrow.

Charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, based in Lancaster, has compiled a dossier of more than 250 cases of severe violence against children accused of being witches in Akwa Ibom state.

Children as young as two have been burnt, poisoned, buried alive or chained up for weeks because their families believed they were witches, according to the report.

Among the cases are those of an 11-year-old boy who died after acid was poured over him and a girl left permanently disabled after a nail was driven into her head.

In September last year a man attempted to bury six-year-old twin boys alive in "revenge" for the death of his wife.

The charity will present its evidence to the Commission of Inquiry into Child Witchcraft at the Nigerian High Commission in London.

Charity's founder Gary Foxcroft, said that the children were often from broken homes and exhibited a personal characteristic that set them apart.

"They might be very intelligent or suffer from learning difficulties,'' Mr Foxcroft said.

"Some of them will have physical complaints such as epilepsy, bed-wetting and sleepwalking.''

Belief in witchcraft has been long established in Nigeria and other African countries, but until the late 1990s it was women and the elderly who tended to be accused.

Today some families blame their children for everything from sickness to a father's drunkenness. Many allegations come from pastors who charge for "exorcisms."

"After the child has been accused of witchcraft - sometimes by a pastor - he will carry out long-winded deliverances or exorcisms to cast out the witchcraft.

Sometimes children will be chained up in the churches and made to fast for many weeks or they'll be beaten and tortured in order to extract a confession," Mr Foxcroft said.


Deadly weather in US could become the norm

It's been a severe start to the spring season in the United States. Tornadoes have ravaged the southeastern US, flooding threatens much of the Midwest, and wildfires are scorching Texas. But according to researchers, a confluence of seasonal oscillations in weather patterns, rather than climate change, is to blame. And growing populations mean that grim casualty figures from such events may become the norm.

"I don't think there's any way of proving climate change is responsible for the weather patterns this week and week before," says meteorologist Howard Bluestein, of the University of Oklahoma in Norman.
Part of the cycle

Tornadoes, floods and fires occur every year in America, and the outbreak of each this year is readily explained by short-term factors.

Texas has suffered drought since late 2010, producing the driest March on record. Ground temperatures in March and April were higher than usual, shrivelling the already rain-starved vegetation. The low humidity, heat, and high winds built a perfect tinder box for wildfires, which have so far burned more than 1.4 million acres in around 800 separate blazes across Texas .

Floods are largely explained by a combination of heavy rains and melting snow. Coupled with recent severe rainstorms, the snowmelt from a very white winter of 2010-2011 has pushed waters at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to record levels, threatening communities in Missouri and Illinois. Elsewhere, the waters have already overrun their levees and inundated nearby towns.

The conditions that create tornadoes are more complex and less well understood. They need the hot, humid air that fuels a thunderstorm and a strong jet stream, although scientists are not sure why this combination only sometimes produces twisters.

Around two weeks ago, a huge mass of humid air blew up from the Gulf of Mexico and draped itself upon the Southeastern United States. When the colder jet stream – narrow, swift moving and cold – began to churn the sultry air, a huge system of thunderstorms arose, along with hundreds of twisters. Between between April 14 and 16, 155 confirmed tornadoes struck, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates another 362 twisters touched down between April 25 and 28, leaving a swath of destruction across the southern US. In all, more than 377 people have died and some are still missing.

Climate change cannot be directly blamed for such outbreaks. And even as scientists' climate models have improved, the question of whether increasing global temperatures will change the frequency and severity of dangerous weather in the future remains open.

Rising temperatures mean more of the warm soupy air from which thunderstorms are formed. At the same time, however, global warming could weaken the temperature difference between the equator and the poles, a gradient that generates the jet stream in the first place.

One possible outcome of these opposing forces is that a warmer world will produce more run of the mill thunderstorms, but fewer tornadoes. In a 2007 study, however, NASA climate scientist Anthony Del Genio NASA modeled a hypothetical future climate with twice the then-current carbon dioxide levels and surface temperatures 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2.8 degrees Celsius) warmer than typical. He concluded that despite a weakened jet stream, violent twister-generating thunderstorms will actually occur more frequently in a warmer world because of collisions between strong updrafts and speedy horizontal winds.

For now, there simply isn't enough data to say whether climate change makes severe thunderstorms and tornadoes more or less likely. But 2011 could prove to be the beginning of a trend.

"We can't say much about one particular outbreak, but if this if this is still happening ten years in a row, we will definitely be wondering what is going on," says Joshua Wurman, president of the Center for Severe Weather Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Either way, the breathtaking loss of life witnessed in the last month may become harder and harder to avoid. The April 2011 tornado outbreaks have killed far more people than anything in the past few decades, despite the fact that warning systems are better than ever.

One explanation is population density: "There are simply more people in harm's way than there used to be," says Bluestein. "Inevitably some people just aren't going to get out of the way. It's a sad horrible thing that over 300 people lost their lives in the last outbreak, but if we didn't have the kind of warning systems we have now, thousands of people would have been killed." - NewScientist


Dyfed Powys Police reveal UFO, zombie, ghost and witch sightings

countytimes - Dyfed Powys Police has revealed how many sightings of UFOs, zombies, ghosts, witches and vampires occurred in the county in the past five years.

The figures, made public because of a Freedom of Information Request Act, reveal 14 recorded UFO sightings in the past five years, along with 26 reports of ghosts, 11 witches and two of zombies and vampires respectively.

One zombie report turned out to be in a horror film being shot in Pembrey; the other a person acting suspiciously wearing a zombie mask in Haverfordwest.

Of the witch reports many of the calls were apparently from the same individual identified as having “mental health issues”. Others simply refer to someone looking “like a witch” but one drunk caller “rang regarding a gang of witches that want to sacrifice him.” There were no reports of werewolves.

Dyfed Powys Police said that they did not find any evidence of supernatural or paranormal activity in any of the cases – however this does not mean every case had an explanation.

UFO sightings included such reports as an “Oblong shaped, bright yellow” object “going horizontally across, about 10 to 15ft off the ground” in Llandrindod Wells in 2005; a “triangular shape in sky with different coloured lights in each corner” in Meifod in 2007; to “three orange lights thought to be UFOs” in Llanidloes in 2009, which ends: “Object seized and discovered to be a night lantern.”

Phil Hoyle of the Shrewsbury-based UFO Research and Investigation Unit said that such statistics were only a fraction of sightings, many of which go officially unreported or are hard to classify.

“Wales has got a lot of UFO hot-spots, particularly on the Shropshire/Welsh border and down around the Radnorshire forest, Knighton, Builth Wells and Llandrindod Wells” he said, saying he had reports from ex-military and police themselves, “The police go through a process of elimination to try to classify it, but people often can’t describe what they have seen - lots of people have reported structured devices, 20 to 30 feet across, quite close up - these are not just lights, and can’t be confused with chinese Lanterns.”

Between 2005 and 2010 there were 36 incidents of big cat sightings or animal deaths where big cats were suspected.

According to the British Big Cat Society’s statistics Wales ranks number four in the UK’s top 10 areas for big cat sightings. Scotland is number one, followed by Kent and Yorkshire.

In response to another request about how much the force had spent on mediums, clairvoyants or other psychics during the last five years it said it did not use such services.

The force has had 3,300 freedom of information requests costing it over £500,000 in the last five years, and has begun to publish these on its website.

Other figures show that in 2010 the force received 21 allegations of crime involving the website ebay and 47 allegations involving the social networking site Facebook.
As of 31 March 2010 there were 294 registered sex offenders living in the force area.

The Dyfed-Powys Police helicopter made 481 flights in 2009 and the force spent £299,078 on its press and communications office and officers in 2009/10.