The end of the rhino

by Greg Mayer

The five living species of rhino, along with the several species of tapir and horse (which include the zebras and asses), are members of the great mammalian order of odd-toed ungulates, or Perissodactyla. Perissodactyls were formerly much more species rich; today, most ungulates (hoofed mammals) are even-toed, members of the Artiodactyla, which includes cattle, deer, antelope, sheep, goats, pigs, etc.– the dominant large land herbivores of our world. Of those perissodactyls still with us, the rhinos have suffered the most at the hand of man, and all five species have been or are critically endangered.

The most endangered of rhinos is the northern white rhino (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) of central Africa, a subspecies of the white rhino, and its condition became extremely precarious last Sunday when the San Diego Zoo’s male northern white rhino, Angalifu, died at the age of 44 from old-age related ailments. There is now only one male northern white rhino left alive, along with 4 females (singleton females at San Diego and in the Czech Republic, all the rest, including the male, in Kenya).

Angalifu*, a male northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) at the SanDiego Zoo (photo by San Diego Zoo).

Angalifu*, a male northern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) at the San Diego Zoo (photo by San Diego Zoo).

Rhino horns are prized for their use in Eastern “medicine”, and their value has led to remorseless hunting that has driven many species nearly to extinction.

The trade in rhino horns, from National Geographic.

The trade in rhino horns, from National Geographic.

When I first began following such things about 1970, the other African rhino, the black rhinoceros, Diceros bicornis, was in relatively good shape, while the white rhino, both the northern subspecies in central Africa, and the southern subspecies (C. s. simum) in southern Africa, was critically endangered.

Distribution of the white rhino, from the San Diego Zoo.

Distribution of the white rhino, from the San Diego Zoo. In pre- to early historic times, white rhinos were much more widespread, being found up into Egypt and northwestern Africa. Their total numbers are now about 20,000.

The news since then has been good, bad, and bad. The good news first. Thanks to strong conservation efforts, including captive/ranch breeding, the southern white rhino has bounced back, and there are over 20,000 of them now. The first bad news is that black rhinos have declined tremendously: although up a bit lately, they are down to about 5,000, a loss of over 90% since 1970. And the worst news of all is that the northern white rhino has declined to now just 5. In addition to the death of Angalifu, another male died earlier this fall. It seems to me that the only way to preserve any living representation of the northern subspecies at all now would be through crossing with the southern subspecies. Although captive/ranch breeding has not worked well for northern whites, it has for southern whites. I would assume that blood and tissue sample have been taken to assure that the genomic information at least could be saved, even if the living species cannot be. The loss would be compounded by the fact that some consider the northern white to be a separate species, so that its extinction would not merely be the loss of a local population, but of a more genetically distinct form.

Further info on rhinos can be found at the International Rhino Foundation and Save the Rhino, two conservation organizations, and at the Rhino Resource Center, a wonderful site which contains a wealth of information, including a huge database of the primary literature on rhinoceroses (many with full text) and many rhino images. The site was created by Kees Rookmaaker, an historian of biology, who is also one of the chief contributors to Darwin and Wallace Online, two of our favorite websites, edited by our old friend John van Wyhe.

In the following video, made by the San Diego Zoo earlier this fall, one of their curators discusses the causes of the rhinos endangerment. Ironically, he is expressing hope that the San Diego pair might breed, in light of the death of one of the two males in Kenya.

* News reports have been inconsistent in their identification of which of the San Diego Zoo’s two northern white rhinos, Anaglaifu the male and Nola the female, are depicted in photos and videos. Identification of the individual(s) in pictures has been hampered by the fact that rhinos can be easily sexed only when seen from behind, and that the Zoo has trimmed their horns on various occasions. I believe the animal in the photo at top is Angalifu, while the animal with the concave-downward horn featured in most of the video is Nola. The San Diego Zoo surely knows, but they have not published side by side photos.

Dare pondus idonea fumo

by Grania

Here’s a drive-by editorial submission to the Atheist Ten Commandments list by “It is”.

It is

Seeing as the original No. 4 was about a person’s right of control over their own body, I’m not sure how the unborn is supposed to exercise this control, particularly during the time before it actually has a brain capable of holding a notion of control or autonomy. As we all know where that statement is going, I guess we can also adduce that the amendment would be: all people have a right to control over their own body, except pregnant women; because pregnant women are, as we all know, not really people, they are vessels of the state.

End Note to “Is it”:

Hypothesizing is not the same thing as transcending.
You can’t just state that humanity’s ability to form hypotheses was not made by humanity until you can show teensy letters etched into our cells on a molecular level that say: Made in Heaven, by God (™) or something similar.
Atheists generally don’t actually think lists calling themselves The Atheist Ten Commandments are actually the laws by which they must live their lives. We regard them as points for discussion.



by Grania

Live Science features the work of artist Greg Dunne who also has a Ph.D. in neuroscience. He paints neurons and brain stems in the style of Asian art and they’re quite beautiful.

He uses various techniques, from ink-blowing to micro-etching.

It’s for sale, and you can find out more about his art and designs on his website here:

Woo, quackery and pseudoscience, oh my…

by Grania

This is a poster from 2012 that is doing the rounds on Facebook again, and I hadn’t seen it before so I am glad it’s resurfaced.

It has several familiar faces, who sadly still ply their trade in bamboozling the credulous and the desperate for profit and fame, although Burzynski’s career is is perhaps under threat at last. Maybe.

Click through here to see the original.

by Maki

The last panel gives a perfect opportunity to repost Tim Minchin’s funny and clever beat-poem, Storm.

although, I prefer the original version here.

It’s also a good time to give a shout out to the people at Sense About Science who have created an online resource about various claims and whether they stand up to scientific inquiry.

The Atheist Ten Commandments

by Grania

CNN has a piece on a contest run on the Atheist Heart, Humanist Mind site where atheists were asked to submit modern alternatives to the original set in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

CNN opines:

There’s nary a “thou shalt” among them — nothing specifically about murder, stealing or adultery, although there is a version of the Golden Rule, which presumably would cover those crimes.

If they lack faith in the divine, the atheist “non-commandments” display a robust faith in humankind, as if Silicon Valley had replaced Sinai.

Silicon Valley, eh?

These are the winners:


Those sound reasonable, although I don’t know if atheists really need a reminder about God not being necessary, I would have thought that was a given. But perhaps they intended this for a wider audience. I like the fact that it favors critical thinking, scientific discovery but also strives to foster an environment that promotes human rights and protects human liberties.

There is a little more explanation for these choices over here.

What do you think, is there anything you would change or that you think is missing?

Caturday felids: Atheist cat gets Edinburgh University library card, Maru gets into too small box, stray tabby noms $1000 worth of fish in Russian airport deli

[Jerry takes Caturday very seriously, and in anticipation of his Great Dearth of Internet, prepared this ahead of time – Grania]

Well, over the years we’ve had cats issued with bus passes, cats made Honorary Stationmasters at Japanese railroads, and now, from Scotland, we have a cat issued with his own library card. Here’s the official documentation of Jordan the cat.


Jordan, it happens, is “owned” by a friary in Edinburgh, and was named after at 12th century saint. But he’s spurned the church and the friars in favor of the students of Edinburgh University. As reported by The Scotsman (shouldn’t that be The Scotscat?), with my emphasis:

Jordan has turned his back on his Catholic friar owners and adopted Edinburgh University library as his main residence.

The feline has his own Facebook page set up by students with 6,100 “likes”.

And now the black and white pet has been made “official” by getting a card for the library, complete with a photo and 2017 expiry date.

The eight-year-old came to the Catholic chaplaincy as a kitten but never took to life as a mouse catcher with men of the cloth.

Despite being named after a 12th Century saint, Jordan preferred the company of trendy young students – and an easy life in the well-heated library.

Every day, Jordan leaves the friary and crosses Edinburgh’s leafy George Square in the old town, to the university’s main library.

There, he enjoys being petted by students from across the globe, and even has a favourite turquoise chair near the door.

Students say he helps them to relax before exams, and the Facebook page set up in his honour has more than 6,000 Likes.

He only returns to the friary for a daily main meal.

Caroline Stirling, 37, is a supervisor at the library help desk.

She said: “He is really popular. He has been coming in for at least a year.

“External users can use the library – he has his own reference card. Someone at the helpdesk made up the card with a photo.

He doesn’t have to have it with him when he comes in. He just tends to come in and sleep on the chairs near the door. I think everyone quite likes him.

. . . Father Dermott Martin, one of four friars at the chaplaincy, said: “He ignores us when he sees us in the square.

“He ignores us indoors as well unless he wants feeding.”

Now there’s a cat after my own heart. A bibliophile and clearly an atheist, he nevertheless parasitizes the church for noms, much as the church itself parasitizes society for the perquisites of its clerics and officials.


And there’s a new Maru video that shows the tenacity of this remarkable but pudgy cat when it comes to getting into boxes. The title is “Maru never gives up,” and the description is this:

すべての箱に入れると信じている。そして諦めない. Maru believes that he can get into all boxes. And Maru never gives up.

Maru is deeply neurotic, but he’s cute, and he’s perhaps the world’s most famous cat.


This story from the BBC News needs no comment. To see a video of the thieving moggie, and to go to the story itself, click on the screenshot below:Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 8.18.09 PM

A stray cat got its paws on a gourmet feast courtesy of an airport delicatessen, after managing to get inside the fish counter, it’s reported.

The tabby was filmed by staff at Vladivostok airport, in eastern Russia, helping itself to marine delicacies including squid and dried octopus, the news website reports. The cat was seen scrabbling at packaging and happily munching away on the contents. It was a costly break-in for the store’s owner, who had to bin the entire contents of the fish counter, worth about 60,000 roubles ($1,000; £660). Nobody knows how the cat managed to get into the store, although according to airport staff it’s a local stray and sometimes wanders into the airport.

But it seems the cat is now a minor celebrity, with “fans” lining up to visit the scene of the crime. “Our staff practically can’t work because of the flow of fans,” Irina Kuzmina, the shop’s owner, tells PrimaMedia. “From the arrival hall, people come directly to us with questions about the cat. But they don’t buy anything, they only ask questions.” And some members of the public are concerned about the moggie’s fate, because it hasn’t been seen since being busted mid-meal. The airport has received letters from dozens of concerned people offering the animal a home, the website says.

The Russians do love their cats, perhaps more than inhabitants of any other country!

Footage from the security camera can be seen here here.

Amusingly a local communist party has adopted the comrade into their ranks because plunder of “imperialist prawn” was retribution against the bourgeoisie.
“He ate it on behalf of all of us, and purred on behalf of all of us.”

h/t: Rory, Ginger K.

Saturday: Hili Dialogue

Good morning, and Happy Saturday to you.

If you still have gifts to buy, now is probably the time to get out there and do it, (oh, the horror!) but right now you can make yourself a cup of tea or a pot of coffee and consider the plaint of Hili, who is less philosophical today and has assumed the role of food critic.


Hili: I could drink some milk but I think that something is lacking on this table.
A: Sausage or ham?


In Polish:

Hili: Mleka mogę się napić, ale mam wrażenie, że czegoś brakuje na tym stole.
Ja: Kiełbasa czy szynka?

All roads lead to WEIT

by Grania

I took a peek at the search terms logged for WEIT. The internet is a strange place.

Some are what you would expect:

why cats like to be petted – It is their rightful tribute.

whyevutionistriue.coom – well, you can see what they were aiming for

owlidays – this should definitely be a thing

Some are demanding, but I am sure they found what they were after:

chemistry reading comprehension physics nobel honors energy-saving lightbulbs questions and awnsers – what was the question again?

lightcabers obiwan – not really sure how well Obi Wan would have fared with one of these, but it’s worth considering

os faith mental disorder – yes, there is only one true OS

dragon illusion christmas – this should be a thing too

how close are we to the rapture – inquiring minds want to know.

what does cherry picking mean in a statement – it could mean this but you should probably check this out too.

Others confirm that these are definitely members of the human race doing the searching

eye makeup ideas – I think they went away disappointed

how does oxytocin operates when fornicating – a polite question. Try here.

sex wilson humping – a little known relative of Good Will Hunting, perhaps.

big human f*ck bottle  – (seriously, whut?)

why do i like to eat semen – Umm. Well, it’s low carb and high protein, but you should try tofu. Or walnuts.

Property Per 100mL In average volume (3.4 mL)
Calcium (mg) 27.6 0.938
Chloride (mg) 142 4.83
Citrate (mg) 528 18.0
Fructose (mg) 272 9.25
Glucose (mg) 102 3.47
Lactic acid (mg) 62 2.11
Magnesium (mg) 11 0.374
Potassium (mg) 109 3.71
Protein (g) 5.04 0.171
Sodium (mg) 300 10.2
Urea (mg) 45 1.53
Zinc (mg) 16.5 0.561
Buffering capacity (β) 25
Osmolarity (mOsm) 354
pH 7.7
Viscosity (cP) 3–7
Volume (mL) 3.4
Values for average volume have been calculated and roundedto three significant figures. All other values are those given in the review.


Such meta
Much link
Very search

Open thread: The Resurrection

This is the ghost of Professor Ceiling Cat, summoned forth by his minions to create a forum for discussion.  In the thread below you can talk about whatever you want.




This doesn’t even have to mention such topics as: which is better, The Walking Dead or Z Nation.

What not to say to an atheist

by Grania

The Christmas Wars are upon us again, and to mark the season of family get-togethers,  Herb Silverman has written an interesting piece at OnFaith  called Seven Things not to say to the Atheist in your Family. I’m pretty sure that many of us have heard one or more of these from well-meaning (sometimes) but concerned family and friends on occasion, from “Why are you angry at God?” to “We just want to be sure you make it to heaven”.

My least favorite was: “Please pray about it” closely followed by “be more open-minded”. There is no concise but civil response to that. You can spend some time explaining why that has no meaning at all to a non-believer, you can do your best to avoid pointing out that you’ve tried that one before and didn’t work that time either, and you can definitely do your best to not point out that you have better things to do with your time. The best you can do is pour yourself another glass of wine and go and have a chat with the four-legged denizens of the household.

What are your least favorite utterances from family gatherings?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 30,636 other followers