Sunday, March 29, 2009

'Extinct' possums back from the dead

There are MILLIONS of possums in Australia and New Zealand. "Brushtail" possums commonly live in the roof spaces of older houses in Brisbane, where they make a considerable racket. It is hard to imagine how noisy such small animals can be. They sound like a thundering herd of elephants when they run about on my ceiling at times. Visitors from South are often greatly alarmed by the noise they make there and look dubious when you tell them that it is "just possums". Most Brisbane people are used to them, however. Nonetheless possum removal experts do a good trade. The fact that the slightly different species described below is so rare almost certainly indicates that it has been out-competed by the more adaptable common "brushtail" species and was headed for extinction anyway.

Although they are only about the size of a small cat, Australia's possums (a different but related species to the American opossum) are remarkably fearless of humans, which is rather endearing and gives rise to the Australia expression of "Stir the possum". If you disturb them they will often snap back rather than run away. That fearlessness is probably bad for them in New Zealand, however. New Zealanders hate them and do all they can to kill them. The fact that there are probably more possums in New Zealand than there are people might have something to do with that. But I certainly enjoy it when I am having an evening meal on my verandah and a possum comes strolling past along the telecoms cable that runs above the street in front of my house. They are remarkably confident little animals and seem to do a high wire act with total ease

And I can vouch for the fact that Australia's "brushtail" possums are marsupials. I got quite a clear view of the marsupium of a female possum while sitting at my dinner table recently. There is a mulberry tree that abuts onto my verandah and possums often leap about in it quite unconcerned about the nearby human presence. It is always a great pleasure to see them there. And I live in an old inner-city area, not in any kind of rural setting. But Australian inner city areas tend to be pleasant, leafy places. I also see wild turkeys about the place a lot

A POSSUM population believed to have been wiped out by climate change is in fact clinging to survival, scientists say. Researchers say they have discovered three living brown lemuroid ringtail possums in the Daintree National Park, on Cape York, although the Daintree possums were believed to have been killed off during a heat wave in 2005.

No white lemuroid possums - which once accounted for 40 per cent of the lemuroid possum population in the area - have been located so far.

But Associate Professor Steve Williams of James Cook University said there was no reason to believe they wouldn't have survived alongside their brown relatives. "I don't think there is any reason to believe the white ones are harder hit than the brown ones," he said.

Lemuroid ringtail possums are found in just two locations, at the Carbine Tablelands in the Daintree and in the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns, though white lemuroids are extremely rare in the latter location.

Prof Williams said the Daintree possums had not been spotted since an extended heatwave in 2005, leading to the belief that they had been pushed to extinction by climate change. He said the species could not cope with extended periods of temperatures over 27 degrees.

"Over the last 50 years, the number of days where you get that temperature has been steadily increasing, to the point that in 2005 there were 27 consecutive days where the temperature went above that threshold," he said. "That seems to have really knocked them down."

Prof Williams said the species still hadn't been found in locations where they had been common and his research team would try to identify why they had survived in the current location.

He said the possums remained extremely vulnerable and another heatwave could wipe them out. "I don't think they are out of danger in any shape or form. It is very clear that these heatwaves are steadily increasing," he said. [And where is the evidence for that? It is just a creed he is uttering]


Supermarket cakes have (shock!) additives in them

This is absurd. Australia has strict food laws and what is in the cakes is legally approved. It is true that a very small number of kids have sensitivities that give them a bad reaction to some additives but the article below gives the impression that kids generally have such reactions. The original heading on the article was "Coles and Woolworths cakes send kids hyper". There are all sorts of food sensitivities, many quite rare, and if you catered to them all there would be nothing left on the shelf

CAKES sold in our leading supermarkets are riddled with additives that cause hyperactivity in children, a consumer investigation has found. The Australian Consumer Association, Choice tested 97 cakes in Coles and Woolworths and found two Woolworths bakery cakes to be the worst offenders.

Choice spokeswoman Elise Davidson said Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh-Filled Cream cake had 27 additives. The Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths' Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream were close equal seconds, with 26 additives each.

Ms Davidson said many cakes were found to contain more than 20 additives, including food colours linked to hyperactivity and additives used to prolong shelf life or cover-up cheap ingredients. "Most people wouldn't use 40 ingredients when baking a cake at home, yet that's what we found in a large number of these cakes," Ms Davidson said. Food colours are used to enhance appearance but also enable manufacturers to get away with using cheaper ingredients, such as apples instead of raspberries in jam filling and palm oil, instead of butter.

More than half the cakes also contained food colours identified as increasing hyperactivity in children, in a UK study published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Ms Davidson said parents should check product labels for the offending food colours. "Consumers expect the cakes they buy to be fresh and to maintain that freshness, so food manufacturers use additives," Ms Davidson said. "But we think consumers should be aware of the type of ingredients that go into a lot of these cakes".

The study found that price was no indicator of quality, with some of the most expensive brands among the heaviest users of additives. Australians spend $312 million a year buying cakes from supermarkets, which equates to about 70 million cakes.


Make an important service much dearer in the midst of a recession

So clever only a Leftist would think of it

CHILDCARE costs are set to soar as the states and territories look at forcing centres to hire more staff. And parents may face another blow as the Federal Government's quality watchdog insists that $3 billion a year in subsidies to working parents be scrapped.

A panel of childcare experts set up by the Council of Australian Governments has recommended that centres hire more staff - one carer for every three babies, one for every five toddlers and one for every 10 children aged three to five, The Australian reports. "Quality care is expensive and somebody's got to pay," the panel's chairwoman, Alison Elliott said. "It obviously will become more expensive if you change the ratios (of carers to children). "But we need to have the best quality environment for children." [Why not have the best quality for everything? I am sure we "need" it]

The Federal Government's National Childcare Accreditation Council has recommended the Government stop paying parents subsidies and rebates for childcare fees, and instead give direct grants to childcare providers offering the best care. "It is envisaged that the objective of containing childcare fees for families would be achieved by lowering operational costs for services," the childcare quality watchdog says in a submission to the Senate inquiry into childcare. "Provision of operational assistance should be linked to a requirement to provide high quality childcare. "Tying additional funding to quality improvements would offer services and incentive to enhance the quality of care they provide, in contrast to the current system of merely applying ineffective sanctions for non-compliance."

The Federal Government spends nearly $3 billion a year on means-tested fee subsidies, paired with an automatic 50 per cent refund of out-of-pocket childcare costs of up to $7500 a year per child.

Professor Elliott, who heads the school of education at Charles Darwin University, said the expert COAG panel did not calculate the added costs of requiring extra staff, nor recommend whether taxpayers or parents foot the bill. But Queensland's biggest non-profit provider, C&K, recently increased its fees by 15 per cent across the board to pay for a 1:3 ratio in its babies' rooms. Had the price rise not been subsidised by parents of older children, the parents of babies would have had to pay $80 a day instead of $60.

The staff-to-child ratios recommended to COAG are significantly higher than those existing in the states and territories, where they range from 1:4 for babies in Queensland and Western Australia to 1:10 for toddlers in South Australia.


Teachers given the cane go-ahead in some Queensland schools

THE cane is still being wielded at some Queensland schools where parents sign legal waivers to give teachers the power to hit their children. The corporal punishment option is offered at some of the state's fastest-growing independent schools as part of their strict behaviour management strategies. Religious beliefs are used to justify discipline at some schools, The Sunday Mail reports.

With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out at state schools last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland has reported growing support for private schools catering for the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector.

Bundaberg Christian College principal Mark Bensley said corporal punishment had become a drawcard for some parents because of a "lack of boundaries" at other schools. "A growing number of parents come to our school and say the school got their attention because it uses the paddle," Mr Bensley said. "If they choose to not sign it (the waiver), they are not refused enrolment. But a very significant majority of parents sign because they like that we understand the need for boundaries, fairness and consistency." Mr Bensley said the plastic paddle - shaped like a table-tennis bat - was a "last resort" when suspensions, detentions and warnings had failed.

The school, which has 600 students in Prep to Year 12, gave the paddle 10 times last year and seven times in 2007, he said. "I would never use the paddle unless we have spoken to both parents and have their blessing for it to be used," Mr Bensley said. "It is always administered in a loving way. In fact, we pray with them afterwards."

Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in 1995 by a decision of Cabinet but was not written into law. Parents, teachers or guardians are allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining children. The 109-year-old law was applied in a case involving a Gold Coast high school teacher last year who was acquitted on an assault charge after he admitted slapping a Year 8 student.

But State Attorney-General Cameron Dick warned that Section 208 of the law that relates to the matter was "by no means a carte blanche authority for teachers to use physical force to manage students".

Colin Krueger, principal of Mueller College at Rothwell on Brisbane's northern outskirts, said the school used the cane at the request of parents. Parents are asked to sign a consent form as part of enrolment which gives teachers the power to use "firm but fair" discipline "administered in a spirit of love according to Proverbs 13.24, 22:6 and 22:15", which promote the "rod of discipline" to "correct the foolishness raging in every child". Mr Krueger, principal of the school for 19 years, said using the cane on a child "depended on the circumstances". "If kids are persistent and we have tried every other avenue, it will be administered if parents request it. We haven't used it for a couple of years," he said. "I've had many kids come back to me and say 'Thank you for giving me the cane'."


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