The $400,000 Racing Pigeon Named after Olympian Usain Bolt

The birds may look ordinary, but they fetch record prices in China.

The birds may look ordinary, but they fetch record prices in China.

China’s purchasing power has never ceased to amaze the world. The country’s newly rich are on a global shopping spree for luxury goods, but their taste goes beyond designer clothing, upscale properties and expensive artwork. A Chinese businessman recently set a world record by spending $400,000 on a racing pigeon auctioned in Europe, stunning the bird’s Belgian breeder, the auction house Pipa and other pigeon enthusiasts gathered in Brussels, the Associated Press reported.

The star pigeon Bolt, named after Jamaican Olympic superstar sprinter Usain Bolt, was sold to Gao Fuxin, according to its celebrated 66-year-old breeder Leo Heremans, whose entire collection of 530 birds fetched almost $6 million at the auction over the weekend. According to Pipa, about 20 countries were bidding for the birds, but nine of the ten most expensive pigeons went to Chinese Mainland or Taiwanese fanciers, a phenomenon it deemed “remarkable.”

“I was stunned by the prices offered,” Pipa CEO Nikolaas Gyselbrecht told the Associated Press. Gyselbrecht noted that Asian fanciers, not as affected by the economic crisis, have enough cash to pay for their love of this ancient sport.

Gao is certainly not the only fan willing to invest in racing pigeons. In 2012, a Chinese shipping magnate from Wenzhou spent a whopping $328,000 on a racing pigeon. A year earlier, another Chinese businessman bought a Belgian pigeon called Blue Prince for $200,000. The pigeon-purchasing spree signals China’s growing interest in a sport that was once popular across northern Europe. The Asian superpower now has some 300,000 pigeon racing fans, who pour money into this centuries-old tradition that was banned during the cultural revolution because of its capitalistic tendencies.

According to BBC News, Gao will use the one-year-old Bolt for breeding more racing birds, whose prices have more than doubled in China over the last few years, as National Public Radio noted. A pigeon normally lives for about four years. If China’s pigeon love continues, Bolt’s precious bloodline could easily earn Gao even more than what he spent today.


14 sick, 5 dead as new bird flu moves beyond birds, threatens people

Staff from Taiwan's Center for Disease Control at Sungshan Airport in Taipei. Taiwan has raised its level of alert as new deaths from H7N9 bird flu have been reported. (Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty Images)

Staff from Taiwan’s Center for Disease Control at Sungshan Airport in Taipei. Taiwan has raised its level of alert as new deaths from H7N9 bird flu have been reported. (Sam Yeh / AFP/Getty Images)

The number of people sickened by the H7N9 bird flu virus climbed to 14 on Thursday — and the death count jumped to five — as the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture reported that it may have detected the virus in pigeon samples at a Shanghai poultry market.

Officials in Shanghai began slaughtering birds at the market to slow spread of the disease, which so far has infected only people who come in close contact with birds and does not appear to pass from person to person.

That a place like Shanghai appears to be a center for the spread of H7N9, which wasn’t known to sicken people before this outbreak, makes sense, said Trevon Fuller, a research fellow at UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research. Fuller and colleagues recently published a study (see related items at left for Los Angeles Times coverage) identifying potential hot spots for another bird flu strain that has killed people: H5N1.

They identified Shanghai among the key locations. The reason? Its high concentration of poultry production.

“It seems that whenever there’s this spillover of bird flu to humans, it’s associated with high numbers of poultry and intensive poultry production,” Fuller said.

The more birds present that catch different strains of a virus, the more opportunities exist for those strains to combine and reassort — creating new varieties like the novel H7N9 that could pose increased dangers to birds, animals and people.

Scientists will continue studying the outbreak to determine exactly how the virus gained the ability to sicken people, and how it spreads. According to the World Health Organization, lab experiments suggest that H7N9 does respond to antiviral medications like oseltamivir, but the drugs have not yet been used to treat any of the outbreak patients.

Reuters reported that Japan and Hong Kong had begun taking precautions, including monitoring airports and farms to combat the virus — although those efforts were called preliminary. Taiwan also has raised its level of alert, and Vietnam has banned poultry imports from China.

The World Health Organization is providing regular updates on H7N9 bird flu.

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Feeding stations built for migratory birds in NE China

Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province has established six feeding stations for migratory birds near a lake straddling the Sino-Russian border, local authorities said Wednesday.

While en route to their destinations in Siberia, over 2 million migratory birds fly by the Xingkai Lake Natural Reserve every March and April, said Shang Erzeng, a spokesman for the reserve’s administrative bureau.

To ensure food supplies for the migratory birds, the bureau has established the six feeding stations that offer appropriate foods for various species. The bureau has also called on the public to donate food for the birds, Shang said.

Meanwhile, the bureau carried out a project to divert water from the lake to expand the wetlands area, aiming to provide more natural habitats for migratory birds to ensure that they can get enough rest and have a smooth migration, according to Shang.

The reserve is working to build the largest staging post for migratory bird in Northeast Asia, Shang said.

In recent years, the reserve has frequently cooperated with Russia on avian research and has gained experience in the cross-border protection of birds, Shang added.

As the largest freshwater lake in northeast China, Xingkai Lake has a large ecosystem composed of the lake, forests and wetlands.

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Some Primitive Birds Flew With 4 Wings, Study Says

First, paleontologists spread the word that modern birds are actually living dinosaurs. Then came the news from China that some dinosaurs and related reptiles long ago seemed to be marvelous four-winged creatures, seemingly on standby at some runway for takeoff in flight as early birds.

This handout photo shows a Sapeornis, a type of bird that until now was not believed to have hind feathers. But scientists in China say that some primitive birds used four wings more than 120 million years ago, before evolution led them to ditch their hind feathers in favor of scaly feet. (AFP / Getty Images)

This handout photo shows a Sapeornis, a type of bird that until now was not believed to have hind feathers. But scientists in China say that some primitive birds used four wings more than 120 million years ago, before evolution led them to ditch their hind feathers in favor of scaly feet. (AFP / Getty Images)

Now, Chinese scientists have made a detailed analysis of 11 four-winged fossil specimens that lived about 130 million years ago. They reported Thursday in the journal Science that the study provided the first “solid evidence” that some recently excavated primitive bird species had also adopted the four-wing body plan before they ditched the hind-limb feathers and continued alone with the presumably more efficient feathered forelimb wings.

This evolutionary transition in early birds, the Chinese paleontologists said, “may have played an important role in the evolution of flight.”

At the time, these “basal bird” species appeared to be replacing their hind-limb feathers with scales and developing more birdlike feet. The researchers suggested that the four-winged creatures were already getting ready to use their hind limbs for terrestrial locomotion, like the robin pursuing worms on a lawn or the disputatious crow strutting around an overturned trash can.

The first Chinese discoveries of these feathered limbs were made at the turn of this century in dinosaur species named Microraptor and Sinornithosaurus. It is widely accepted that the large leg feathers in Microraptor were used in aerial locomotion, either in powered flight or merely gliding between trees or parachuting to the ground.

Although the new findings confirmed the presence of four-feathered wings early in the bird lineage as well, the Chinese scientists conceded that the aerodynamic function of this configuration remains debatable. Yet the research team, led by Zheng Xiaoting, of the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature, wrote that the stiff vanes and curving feathers in certain dinosaurs and the basal birds were “aerodynamic in function, providing lift, creating drag and/or enhancing maneuverability, and thus played a role in flight.”

The research team, which also included Xu Xing, a prominent dinosaur investigator at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, examined fossils found in Liaoning Province in northeastern China, a mother lode of remains from the early Cretaceous period. The work on the 11 basal bird specimens, which included several Sapeornis, Yanornis and Confuciusornis species, was conducted mainly at the Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature.

Dr. Zheng’s group acknowledged that the way many of the specimens were preserved, revealed only in two dimensions, made it difficult to reconstruct the precise location and orientation of the leg feathers. Each skeleton, for example, is preserved either with the legs splayed outward or with the legs in a crouched position under the body. Nevertheless, the researchers wrote, “there is circumstantial data that might be useful in inferring the distribution and orientation of leg feathers.”

Generally, the leg feathers of modern birds, if they exist at all, are less developed than the arm feathers. They are usually small and fluffy, as in some chickens and pouter pigeons. They presumably serve to protect and insulate the legs, not to help in flight.

Mark A. Norell, a dinosaur paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, did not participate in the investigation but was shown the fossils on recent trips to China. “The work is most interesting,” he said, “but I would like to see a denser sampling” before reaching firm conclusions about the specific importance of the four-wing transition in the origin of bird flight.

He added, “We’ve known for a while, from Microraptor, about specimens with feathers down to their toes, and with feet already resembling those of modern birds.”

Dr. Norell and other paleontologists said the rich Cretaceous fossil beds of China had opened wide a window on the rise of feathered dinosaurs and the early evolution of birds. No one can tell yet how long the transition from four to two wings took.

The 150-million-year-old Archaeopteryx from Germany, sometimes called the first bird, probably had feathers on its forelimbs. But recent fossil finds question whether it was a birdlike dinosaur rather than a dinosaurlike member of the true bird lineage. So the Chinese team wrote that, only until now, no examples of the unusual four-wing structure “have so far been reported in basal birds.”

FAO animal flu reference center set up in N China

more than 400 million poultry died or were slaughtered after contracting avian influenza from 2003 to 2011

more than 400 million poultry died or were slaughtered after contracting avian influenza from 2003 to 2011

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Monday designated an animal influenza lab in northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province as a reference center for animal influenza.

The Animal Influenza Laboratory, which belongs to the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute (HVRI) of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, is located in the provincial capital of Harbin.

The center is the first FAO-recognized reference center in China and the second in the world after the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, which is operated by the Friedrich Loeffer Institute of Germany.

The HVRI will share information and jointly carry out animal influenza supervision, prevention and control programs with the FAO, as well as provide data on epidemiology and influenza virus evolution in Asia and offer consultation on vaccines and immunity, Dr. Juan Luborth, chief veterinary officer of the FAO, said at a designation ceremony held on Monday.

“The world still faces new risks for avian influenza, as the H5N1 bird flu virus still plagues many Asian and Middle Eastern countries. If we fail to take action, the virus could cause a global pandemic worse than that seen in 2006,” Luborth said.

According to statistics released by the FAO, more than 400 million poultry died or were slaughtered after contracting avian influenza from 2003 to 2011, causing economic losses of 20 billion U.S. dollars.

More than 500 people contracted the H5N1 virus from 2003 to 2011 and 300 of them lost their lives due to the virus.

Luborth said he is concerned about cuts in funding for avian influenza prevention that occurred after the global financial crisis.

“If veterinary services are not sufficiently supported, we are more likely to face an outbreak,” he said.

He said more governments should boost funding for animal disease prevention, strengthen sanitation and guarantee safety in farms and markets.

“China has vast veterinary services and strong campaigns that can allow it to prevent avian influenza from spreading over from birds to humans. But some of its neighbors are unable to do so,” Luborth said.

In February, the Ministry of Health confirmed that two H5N1 patients had died in a hospital in southwest China’s Guizhou Province.

In the neighboring Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Nepal, avian influenza infections have also been reported recently.

China has paid attention to the prevention and control of avian influenza and an integrated bird flu control system has been created, said Yu Kangzheng, China’s chief veterinary officer.

“China and the FAO have cooperated a great deal in areas related to animal epidemics and laboratory biosecurity in recent years. The establishment of the center will boost that cooperation,” said Yu.

China and the FAO will also strengthen cooperative efforts to prevent and control the cross-border spread animal disease, as well as encourage exchanges of veterinary experience and information among different countries, Yu said.

“We will continue to accumulate experience and improve our capability to prevent and control avian influenza with the support of international organizations,” Yu said.

The FAO plans to designate 50 animal health reference centers around the world to research veterinary epidemiology, laboratory biosecurity, animal epidemic diseases and zoonosis.

New Dinosaur Fossil Challenges Bird Flight Origins Theories

130124091532-largeThe discovery of a new bird-like dinosaur from the Jurassic period challenges widely accepted theories on the origin of flight Co-authored by Dr Gareth Dyke, Senior Lecturer in Vertebrate Palaeontology at the University of Southampton, the paper describes a new feathered dinosaur about 30 cm in length which pre-dates bird-like dinosaurs that birds were long thought to have evolved from.

Over many years, it has become accepted among palaeontologists that birds evolved from a group of dinosaurs called theropods from the Early Cretaceous period of Earth’s history, around 120-130 million years ago. Recent discoveries of feathered dinosaurs from the older Middle-Late Jurassic period have reinforced this theory.

The new ‘bird-dinosaur’ Eosinopteryx described in Nature Communications this week provides additional evidence to this effect.

“This discovery sheds further doubt on the theory that the famous fossil Archaeopteryx — or “first bird” as it is sometimes referred to — was pivotal in the evolution of modern birds,” says Dr Dyke, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton.

“Our findings suggest that the origin of flight was much more complex than previously thought.”

The fossilised remains found in north-eastern China indicate that, while feathered, this was a flightless dinosaur, because of its small wingspan and a bone structure that would have restricted its ability to flap its wings.

The dinosaur also had toes suited to walking along the ground and fewer feathers on its tail and lower legs, which would have made it easier to run.

Dr Gareth Dyke is also Programme Leader for a new one-year MRes in Vertebrate Palaeontology, which offers potential students the chance to study the evolution and anatomy of vertebrates, in order to inform and increase our understanding of the workings of modern day creatures.

Dr Dyke’s co-authors are Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Helena Demuynck of Earth System Science Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Dongyu Hu of Paleontological Institute Shenyang Normal University China and Key Laboratory of Vegetation Ecology Northeast Normal University China, François Escuillié of Eldonia France and Philippe Claeys of Jilin University Geological Museum China.