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21 July 2013 Last updated at 23:59 GMT

Polynesian navigators revive a skill that was nearly lost


Two ocean-going canoes have returned to New Zealand after an epic voyage to Easter Island by Polynesian navigators using traditional craft. The revival of ancient skills continues to gather momentum and has great cultural and political significance for the indigenous people of the Pacific.

They waded ashore from their canoes through the luminous turquoise water of the lagoon. The captains, festooned with garlands of flowers, led a procession of around 20 men and women, Cook Islanders, Tahitians, New Zealand Maoris and three sailors from Rapanui, better known to most of us as Easter Island.

Then the band played, waiting dignitaries made speeches and girls from the High School, still in their uniforms, danced.

The two vessels that had brought such excitement to sleepy Rarotonga rolled at anchor in a gentle swell just off the beach.

They looked like ships from a dream world, blink once and they'd be gone.

They were ocean-going, double-hulled canoes, big catamarans with two masts and capable of carrying a crew of 14. One, the 20-year-old Te Aurere, has no nails or rivets, it's entirely lashed together, and all the stronger for that, I was told.

The speed, seaworthiness and size of traditional vessels like these astonished early European navigators.

But over 3,000 years the Polynesians had been using their great canoes, combined with near-miraculous navigation skills, to explore and settle a vast stretch of the Pacific, from Hawaii in the north to isolated Rapanui in the east and down to Aotearoa in the south west, the land of the long white cloud, re-named New Zealand after its discovery by Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, in the 17th Century.

Re-naming is the first act of possession. What followed for Polynesia has been summed up in the phrase, "fatal impact," deadly-introduced diseases; raids by slave traders; the arrival of missionaries; colonisation; the nuclear testing era; and now globalisation, a mixed blessing for remote islands with little to offer that can't be produced more efficiently elsewhere.

In the face of all that, it's been a huge morale boost for the indigenous people of the Pacific to be once again building their ocean-going canoes and sailing them on long voyages, using ancestral navigation skills.

One man who arrived in Rarotonga with the canoes had a quiet charisma, an air of authority. He was a handsome, weather-beaten 51-year-old New Zealand Maori, Jacko Thatcher, the master navigator. It was he who had brought the canoes safely to this landfall with no modern navigation aids.

It was having to give up rugby after a knee injury that led him into voyaging and this evolved into a deeper quest to find his roots. He told me of the 66 stars whose rising and setting positions a navigator must know. And an affinity with the ocean is crucial.

"You must learn", he said, "to be attuned to changes in wind and wave direction, cloud formations and the passage of birds". So the canoe itself, "becomes an instrument for you".

These ancient wayfinding skills were nearly lost. At the end of the last century there was only one man left alive with a complete grasp of them. He was Mau Piaulug from Satawal in the Caroline Islands. Mau was already middle-aged when the Polynesian Voyaging Society asked him to teach a new generation of navigators.

Mau invited apprentice voyagers to Satawal where he would be their mentor. For men like Jacko Thatcher, and Tua Pitman from Rarotonga, this was a life-changing experience.

We realised, Tua told me, that the ancestral knowledge would bring big responsibilities and a leadership role. "By re-living the connectedness of the islands", he said, "we'd be helping keep alive our identity as an oceanic people".

One surviving example of that old connectedness came up during the recent voyage from Easter Island. At first the Spanish-speaking Rapanuans, French-speaking Tahitians and the English-speaking Cook Islanders and Maoris on the canoes had difficulty understanding one another.

Through weeks at sea they solved this by using their distinct but closely-related native languages to communicate.

There's no denying that in today's Polynesia most inter-island travel has become more difficult, even than it was on my first visit in 1978, and the remoter places are becoming more isolated and depopulated.

The crippling cost of air fares and poor job prospects mean that many young people leave their islands never to return. The choice is stay at home or emigrate.

And perhaps that helps explain why the master navigators and the double-hulled canoes are held in such awe. They are a powerful reminder of a heroic age not so long ago when those mythic islands of the south seas were more connected and the ocean really was a highway rather than a barrier.


Small businesses are priced off Hong Kong's streets

Welcome to Russell Street - the world's most expensive shopping district.

Crammed with umbrella-wielding shoppers after a humid afternoon downpour, the 150-yard stretch of luxury stores is Hong Kong's answer to Bond Street or Fifth Avenue.

The designer brands that cluster along this street and those nearby cater to free-spending tourists from mainland China that have - in little more than a decade -transformed Causeway Bay and other shopping areas in the former British colony.

Gone are many of the grocers, tea houses and noodle vendors that give the city its unique character.

They have been squeezed out by rents that are twice as high as New York and four times higher than London.

And the city is beginning to ask whether the loss of these small businesses will alter the fabric of Hong Kong's streets and stifle entrepreneurship in the city.

"The local businesses that cater for local tastes - that's the real Hong Kong," says Andrew Sheng, president of the Fung Global Institute, a Hong Kong-based think tank.

"That's what Hong Kong people feel attached to, emotionally and culturally."

'Crazy' rents

One victim of the eye-watering rents is Ho Hung Kee, located just a short walk away from Russell Street.

For 39 years, customers sat cheek-by-jowl in the restaurant's tiny booths and tables slurping wonton noodles and congee infused with ginger and spring onions.

But at the end of May, the owners, Patty Ho and her husband, served their last bowl of wonton noodles on the premises. They could not afford the monthly rent of Hong Kong $350,000 ($45,000; £30,000) sought by a new landlord.

"In Hong Kong, the rents are just crazy," says Ms Ho.

She believes the new tenant will be a pharmacy, selling medicine and baby milk formula that are often purchased by Chinese tourists.

Not far away, another traditional noodle joint that shut its doors in February is now a branch of Swiss watch retailer Rado.

In the days before its closure, the shop attracted hour-long queues of tourists and residents eager for a last meal.

'I had good timing'

In many respects, rising rents are nothing new in Hong Kong. The city has long been one of the world's most expensive real estate markets.

Yet other Asian cities facing similar constraints manage to preserve mom-and-pop shops, says Mr Sheng at the Fung Global Institute.

He says that landlords in Tokyo want to have ramen and sushi makers in their property and in Singapore, planning laws ensure that even the ritziest districts usually feature a "hawker centre" where tasty local food can be bought cheaply.

"The key question we need to ask is, is this inevitable or is this something we need as a community deal with?" he says.

Jennifer Cheung, who closed her business selling customised leather shoes in January after more than eight years in operation, says high rents combined with short leases will discourage young people from starting up their own businesses.

A two or three-year lease is the norm, compared to five to 10 year tenancies in the UK.

"It's very discouraging for entrepreneurship," says Ms Cheung.

"I had good timing. When I started out my rent was less than HK$30,000 a month. Now you sign a contract and it's a million a year."

Faced with a 60% jump in rent and staffing problems, Ms Cheung has decided to relaunch her business online.

"It will be a test but I have a strong niche and customer base."

Changing shopping habits

Joe Lin, senior director of Hong Kong Retail Services at CBRE Group, believes the tide of luxury brands filling up the city's streets is slowing.

In the first three months of this year, prime retail rents were up 8.8% from a year earlier but down from the double digit increases seen in the past three years.

The Chinese government is discouraging open displays of wealth among officials and this has made top tier luxury goods companies more cautious in their expansion plans, he says.

"The retail market is a little bit different. Starting from the second half of last year, they [Chinese tourists] have started to buy more mid-range products. The consumption pattern is changing."

Perhaps evidence that the city's landlords might be getting too greedy is the fact that the sugary pink shop front of Shoegirl - Ms Cheung's business - is still unaltered.

The premises remain vacant months after her departure.

But Mr Lin says that the city's high rents are unlikely to change in the short term and smaller, independent businesses will continue to be displaced.

The next generation

Ho Hung Kee won't disappear altogether.

The owners' son has opened a fancier restaurant bearing the same name on the 12th floor of a nearby shopping centre, hoping to cash in on the restaurant's recent inclusion in the city's Michelin Guide.

Ms Ho says she is looking forward to handing the reins to the next generation after years of working 12-hour days, seven days a week, but without a street-level shop front she doesn't know whether it will be a success.

"I'm not quite happy about it. This shop has a lot of memories," she says.

"We're the only wonton noodle shop with a Michelin star and we still have to move."


Dolphins 'call each other by name'


Scientists have found further evidence that dolphins call each other by "name".

Research has revealed that the marine mammals use a unique whistle to identify each other.

A team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland found that when the animals hear their own call played back to them, they respond.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Vincent Janik, from the university's Sea Mammal Research Unit, said: "(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.

"These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch."

Signature whistles

It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.

Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.

But this is the first time that the animals response to being addressed by their "name" has been studied.

To investigate, researchers recorded a group of wild bottlenose dolphins, capturing each animal's signature sound.

They then played these calls back using underwater speakers.

"We played signature whistles of animals in the group, we also played other whistles in their repertoire and then signature whistles of different populations - animals they had never seen in their lives," explained Dr Janik.

The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.

The team believes the dolphins are acting like humans: when they hear their name, they answer.

Dr Janik said this skill probably came about to help the animals to stick together in a group in their vast underwater habitat.

He said: "Most of the time they can't see each other, they can't use smell underwater, which is a very important sense in mammals for recognition, and they also don't tend to hang out in one spot, so they don't have nests or burrows that they return to."

The researchers believe this is the first time this has been seen in an animal, although other studies have suggested some species of parrot may use sounds to label others in their group.

Dr Janik said that understanding how this skill evolved in parallel in very different groups of animals could tell us more about how communication developed in humans.


UN criticises Chile for using terror law on Mapuche


A senior United Nations lawyer has launched a blistering attack on Chile for its treatment of the country's Mapuche indigenous minority.

Ben Emmerson, the UN's special rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism, said a long-running dispute over land rights could boil over into serious violence at any moment.

He said Chilean police were guilty of "a systematic use of excessive force".

The Mapuche make up 9% of the Chilean population.

Mr Emmerson said the state had repeatedly discriminated against the Mapuche and used anti-terrorism legislation against them "in a confused and arbitrary fashion that has resulted in real injustice".

"The situation in the Araucania and Bio Bio regions is extremely volatile," Mr Emmerson warned, referring to the southern regions where the Mapuche have traditionally lived.

"In the absence of prompt and effective action at a national level it could quickly escalate into widespread disorder and violence."

Arson attacks

Before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century the Mapuche inhabited a vast swathe of land in southern Chile.

Renowned for their ferocity, they successfully resisted conquest until the late 19th Century, when they were rounded up into small communities. Much of their land was sold off to farmers and forestry companies.

In recent years the Mapuche have waged a sometimes violent campaign to win back that land.

Protests have ranged from marches, hunger strikes and the occupation of public buildings to the setting up of road blocks, the occupation of disputed land, arson and the sabotage of machinery and equipment.

The state has occasionally responded by invoking Chile's anti-terrorism law, drafted by General Augusto Pinochet in 1984 and designed to stamp out opposition to his rule.

The law is one of the harshest in the Chilean statute book. It doubles the sentences for some offences and allows for the conviction of defendants on the basis of testimony from anonymous witnesses.

Mr Emmerson made three recommendations to the Chilean government at the end of his two-week visit:

  • The adoption of a "national strategy" to deal with the Mapuche conflict "within a defined and relatively short timescale". He said this would require "a paradigm shift in political will".
  • An end to the use of the anti-terrorism law in cases involving Mapuche land protests. Mr Emmerson said those convicted in the past on the basis of testimony from anonymous witnesses should have their convictions reviewed.
  • The establishment of a new body to investigate claims of excessive police violence against the Mapuche. Mr Emmerson said the current body had "conspicuously failed in its duty to enforce the law".

The Chilean government has yet to respond to the recommendations.

The Mapuche conflict has been rumbling on for years in the south, with sporadic outbursts of violence.

In January this year, a group of assailants set fire to a house belonging to an elderly couple whose family has a history of poor relations with their Mapuche neighbours. The couple died in the blaze.

Three Mapuche protesters have been shot dead by the police in separate incidents over the past decade.

Mapuche prisoners have staged hunger strikes in protest at their conviction under the anti-terrorist law and what they regard as excessive police violence during raids.

In 2010, the government of Sebastian Pinera reformed the anti-terrorism law, but Mapuche activists say the changes did not go far enough.


Mining firm desecrated Australia Aboriginal site


A mining company has been convicted of desecrating an Aboriginal site in Australia's Northern Territory.

Mining firm OM Manganese was found guilty on Friday - the first time a company has been successfully prosecuted in Australia for desecration of a sacred site.

The site is known as Two Women Sitting Down and is at Bootu Creek, north of Tennant Creek.

OM Manganese was fined A$150,000 ($134,000; £88,000).

Peter Toth, CEO of OM Holdings, which owns OM Manganese, said: "The company never intended to harm, damage or disrespect the sacred site."

"We sincerely regret the damage and the hurt caused and I unreservedly apologise to the site's custodians and traditional owners," he said.

'Dreaming story'

Two Women Sitting Down is associated with Australia's Kunapa people.

OM Manganese was accused of causing the collapse of part of the site, including a distinctive rocky outcrop known as the Horse's Head, in July 2011.

Prosecutors told the Darwin Magistrates Court that the company performed explosive blasting close to the site to break up ground, Australian broadcaster ABC reported.

The company was permitted to mine in the area, but was advised to steer clear of sacred sites, and was warned in early 2011 that cracks were appearing in rocks at the Bootu Creek site, the broadcaster said.

Dr Ben Scambary, chief executive officer of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, said that the site was of great significance to Australia's indigenous people.

"This site... relates to a dreaming story about a marsupial rat and a bandicoot who had a fight over bush tucker [native Australian bush food]," he said.

"As the creation ancestors fought, their blood spilled out, turning the rock a dark-red colour that is now associated with manganese."

Kunapa community representative Gina Smith said: "It will always remain a sacred site to us, but it has been ruined and we don't know what to do because this has never happened to the old people.

"It has been there for thousands of years as part of our culture and our story."

Indigenous Australians believe the land is the mother of creation, and is a living, breathing mass full of secrets and wisdom, the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney reports.


9 August 2013 Last updated at 00:00 GMT

Viewpoint: Does PNG back Australia's asylum deal?


Australia is to send its asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea where those found to be refugees will be resettled. But, reports Jo Chandler, the policy shift has sparked concern and some anger in the new host nation.

Effrey Dademo is a lawyer, activist and unblinkered critic of the unhappier goings-on in her homeland of Papua New Guinea. Five years ago she stuck her neck out to expose them by founding the influential online lobby community ActNOW!, its mission to "build a better PNG".

She is also a proud citizen, cherishing her country's vibrant traditions - it has more than 800 languages - and defending its wild, resource-rich landscapes from (mostly) foreign land-grabbers. Like many of her country-folk, she is disturbed - and deeply offended - by the implications of Australia's new hard-line asylum-seekers strategy.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "PNG Solution", unveiled on 19 July, aimed to defuse a defining domestic political crisis ahead of the national election, now called for 7 September. Effective immediately, the strategy sets out to deter asylum seekers from boarding boats to Australia by promising them a new life in PNG instead - a fate worse than staying at home, apparently.

All genuine refugees identified in the next 12 months - most of them passing through PNG's expanded Manus Island processing facility - would be resettled in PNG at Australia's expense, Mr Rudd told Australian voters.

PNG's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has been more equivocal in explaining the deal to his riled constituency in recent days. Nothing, he insists, is "written in stone", and terms would be adapted as needs be to protect PNG interests.

Ms Dademo is appalled at the commentary that Australia's "rude and discourteous" tactic has unleashed in the international media - "labelling this country as a 'hellhole', 'crime-ridden', 'impoverished' - it is simply not true".

PNG's frenetic and fiercely patriotic social media commentators were preoccupied for days debating "impoverishment" - by whose values was it measured; what account did it take of connections to clan, land, tradition?

Nonetheless the material poverty which the majority of Papua New Guinea's seven million-plus people endure is explicit. A paper published by the Lowy Institute in 2009 estimated that about one million people live in extreme poverty, on less than $50 (£32) a year, with limited or no access to cash income, health and education services, markets, transport and food security.

Many more have insufficient or poor services. Some 85% live in rural and remote villages, surviving on their gardens; an increasing number occupy crowded urban settlements - many internally displaced by tribal or domestic violence, with no state welfare to support them.

The health system is woeful and impossibly burdened by epidemic tuberculosis. The maternal death rate - 733 per 100,000 births - is among the highest in the world.

Roads are few and decayed; classrooms are crowded; traditional social safeguards are eroded by rollercoaster social change, and law and justice systems are too weak to stem the consequent violence. Even employed people - teachers, health workers, civil servants - struggle to find habitable housing.

"If we don't consider the already fragile state of things in-country, we're setting ourselves for disaster - although in this case, I think Australia has set us up for disaster," says Ms Dademo.

"Where do these people [refugees] live?" she asks. "Our PM was definitely sleeping when Timor-Leste rejected [former Prime Minister Julia] Gillard's use of them as the regional solution a while back. They were right. There was no proper consultation."

'Questionable handling'

The themes she identifies - lack of courtesy, of capacity and of consultation - resonate as the key concerns of opinion leaders and citizens caught up in the national conversation on the issue.

"We are an open, accepting and largely decent society and resent the suggestion that a sojourn here is something which should be portrayed as dangerous," says Lawrence Stephens, the chair of Transparency International PNG, and like Ms Dademo an activist with few illusions about PNG's problems.

Legality is another concern. A PNG opposition effort to challenge the Manus Island facility in the Supreme Court - arguing it violates a constitutional guarantee of personal liberty - stalled on a technicality but is likely to be upheld, says lawyer and prominent political commentator Deni ToKunai.

Mr O'Neill has signalled that parliament will amend the constitution to allow the deal - the latest in a series of amendments that have effectively fortified the O'Neill leadership with more than four years left to run, Mr ToKunai says.

"He's really been very smart about the whole thing… it's 90% impossible for a vote of no confidence to be put against him." Meanwhile MPs "are being bombarded about this - people are writing to them, asking what the hell is going on".

The PNG Catholic Bishops - who have the largest congregations in the 96% Christian nation - have issued a joint statement condemning the plan as "unwise" and warning that PNG has been enlisted as "an accomplice in a very questionable handling of a human tragedy".

"While Papua New Guineans are not lacking in compassion for those in need, this country [unlike Australia which is a stable and thriving nation of immigrants] does not have the capacity at this time in its history to welcome a sizeable influx of refugees and provide for their immediate needs and a reasonable hope for a new and prosperous beginning."

Last Friday several hundred university students were turned back by armed police when they attempted to march on the Australian High Commission to protest against the deal - despite one of the sweeteners from Canberra being a windfall to reform higher education. Student leaders say it undermines PNG's sovereignty. They now hope to get a permit to regroup and rally churches and civil society groups to join them.

'Immense pressure'

Despite both the PNG national newspapers appearing to have lost interest in the topic, Mr ToKunai describes a kind of slow-burn hysteria building around the deal - "everyone is talking about it".

Inflaming the situation was confusion over the discrepancies between what was being said in Australia and PNG. Australian reports say the number of refugees to be settled is uncapped - and "but that's not what we're hearing here from our prime minister".

"On both sides of Torres Strait it is a really big issue, and our government has been under an immense amount of pressure," says Mr ToKunai. "I can't see PNG accepting more than 3,000 in total to be resettled. We may accept more than that to be processed [on Manus Island], but that is only a temporary issue."

Another festering sensitivity relates to the more than 9,000 West Papuan refugees living in PNG, many of them for more than 30 years, who are unable to access citizenship and many services or work legally .

The notion that a new intake of foreign refugees would get better treatment - because the Australian government is bankrolling their requirements under international law - than their long-suffering Melanesian brothers and sisters would distress many Papua New Guineans, Mr ToKunai says.

"Very few people have found out about that yet. And when they do, they will think it is very unfair."

Jo Chandler is an award-winning freelance journalist with more than 20 years experience at The Age newspaper in Melbourne. She has travelled extensively in Papua New Guinea.


Lago Agrio: Ecuadoreans can seek Chevron damages in Canada


An Ecuadorean indigenous group can seek enforcement of a $9.5bn (£5.8bn) judgement against US petrol giant Chevron in the Canadian courts, an Ontario appeals court has ruled.

Ecuadorean courts awarded the damages in 2011 and 2013 after the villagers sued over 18 years of pollution of the Amazon jungle in the Lago Agrio region.

Chevron has refused to pay, arguing the judgement was obtained through bribery.

Chevron is expected to appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The oil firm has also challenged the judgment under an international trade agreement between the US and Ecuador.

Tuesday's decision by the Ontario appeals court is the latest turn in the two-decade old case between Texaco, which has since been bought by Chevron, and the Lago Agrio villagers.

The unanimous decision by the three-judge panel overturns the ruling of an Ontario superior court justice, who found in May that Chevron had no assets in Canada and the plaintiffs could not gain access to the assets of Chevron's Canadian subsidiary.

Chevron was found guilty in Ecuador in 2011 of "extensively polluting" the Lago Agrio region between 1972-90. The company was ordered to pay $18bn in damages to the residents as a result of various environmental and health concerns, an amount subsequently reduced by a higher court.

Plaintiffs 'deserve enforcement'

The residents say that the oil company knowingly dumped 18 billion gallons (68bn litres) of toxic waste water and spilled 17 million gallons of crude oil into the rainforest while operating in north-east Ecuador.

The affected area covers 4,400 sq km (1,700 sq miles) along the border with Colombia. The pollution has led to health problems such as cancer and birth defects, the villagers and their supporters say.

In the Canadian case, the villagers asked for a judgment against Chevron's assets held in Canada.

"After all these years, the plaintiffs deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the [Ecuadorean] judgment heard on the merits in an appropriate jurisdiction," the Canadian judges wrote in their decision.

"At this juncture, Ontario is that jurisdiction."

The decision was signed by Justice James MacPherson and agreed by Justices Eileen Gillese and William Hourigan.

Chevron said it was evaluating its next steps, including a possible appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

"If the plaintiffs truly believed in the validity of the [Ecuadorean] judgment, they should seek enforcement in the United States, where Chevron Corp resides," the company said.

"They are aware that in the US, however, they would be confronted by the fact that eight federal courts have already found the Ecuador trial to be tainted by fraud."


Indigenous reserve in the Brazilian Amazon attacked


An indigenous reserve in Brazil's Amazon region has been attacked in the latest incident of violence in the region.

Farmers and loggers set fire to houses in the reserve located in the town of Manicore, in Amazonas state.

Earlier, members of another tribe - the Tenharim - sought refuge in a nearby military base.

Townspeople in the region say members of the indigenous group abducted three contractors over a week ago.

The three men were last seen near the reserve, in the town of Humaita.

Local groups want police to carry out a full search of indigenous lands.

Tensions between non-indigenous residents of the two towns in Amazonas state and indigenous people have been running high since a Tenharim leader was found murdered.

Some residents believe the Tenharim may be holding the three missing men in retaliation for the killing of their leader.

Buildings burned

Earlier in the week, non-indigenous locals burned down buildings and clashed with police.

On Wednesday, about 3,000 Humaita residents protested against what they see as the slow speed of the investigation into the disappearance of the contractors.

They occupied the offices of the government's Indian affairs office, Funai, for hours, eventually setting it alight.

Others burned cars and a boat used to ferry the Tenharim from their reserve to the town.

A health care centre for the tribe also went up in flames.

About 120 military police officers tried to restore order. Riot police were sent to Humaita and the local police commander has requested further reinforcements.

Clashes between indigenous groups and non-indigenous locals are not uncommon in Brazil as they are often in conflict over land, logging and mining rights.


Struggling on: Zapatistas 20 years after the uprising

There is a single bullet-hole in a banister on the second floor of the municipal palace in the southern Mexican city of San Cristobal de las Casas.

It is all that remains of events on New Year's Day 1994, when armed rebels stormed the building and caught the colonial city off guard.

But it was not just the mayor's office that was taken by surprise. The military and the federal government were, too.

There had been rumours for some weeks that the disparate indigenous groups in the region had been organising to form a rebel army.

Now, in a matter of hours, the EZLN, better known as the Zapatistas, took control of much of the southern state of Chiapas.

The fighting was short-lived as the army was sent in to restore order. Less than two weeks later, the Catholic Church negotiated a shaky ceasefire.

Basic demands

"These are all the newspapers from the time", says Concepcion Villafuerte directing me towards several boxes marked 1993-6.

Inside are stack upon stack of jumbled copies of El Tiempo, the left-wing publication she ran for many years with her husband.

After some searching we discover the edition closest to the date of the guerrilla uprising.

Hers was the newspaper in which the Zapatistas chose to publish their demands.

"The first six were very basic: land, a home, food, health, education and work," Ms Villafuerte recalls.

"The others were more general, for all of Mexico: justice, democracy and freedom. They were basic needs for everyone, for all poor people, not just Indians."

I ask her how many of those aims she thought had been achieved 20 years on.

"By the EZLN, none of them," she remarks grimly. "But then, nor have they been achieved by other Mexicans."

"We have a greater economic crisis today than in '94. And it's not just an economic crisis, it's [a crisis] in education, in healthcare."

Since the fighting ended, she explains, the Zapatistas have created their own autonomous municipalities, called caracoles, which are independent of local government on land they took back from large land-owners in the 1990s.

"I think the Zapatistas are better off than we are," Ms Villafuerte adds.

Rebel communities

After several days of petitioning, we were granted exclusive access to one such Zapatista municipality called Oventic, located just outside of San Cristobal.

The people of Oventic remain deeply wary of outsiders. Our guide, his face covered by a black balaclava, refused to tell us his name and only answered our questions in basic, monosyllabic Spanish.

We were not permitted to film anyone without their balaclava on and the collective leadership, known as a Good Government Junta, would not talk on camera.

However, we did get a glimpse of how these secretive and closed communities are run.

We saw their new school, daubed with pro-EZLN graffiti and images of Che Guevara and the Zapatista leader, Subcomandante Marcos.

The residents have their own healthcare clinic and several second-hand ambulances.

Women have a much more equal role in decision-making than in other indigenous or rural communities.

In the fields, the men work to produce coffee, maize, chilli and beans. Some crops are sold to generate funds for the community, but mainly they are for consumption by the cooperative.

The Zapatistas ask for no help from the state, and are generally left to their own devices in return.

At one point, I peeled away for a moment to chat to some young people playing basketball.

That was enough to bring our visit to an abrupt end as our guide quickly led us back to the main gates.

'Just demands'

But a little further into the Chiapas countryside, we met an indigenous community who were keen to talk.

Residents of the small village of Acteal set up an indigenous rights group called "Los Abejas" in the early 1990s. They agreed with the Zapatistas' basic demands, but did not support their use of violence.

Despite that crucial distinction, scores of paramilitaries entered Acteal in December 1997 and massacred 47 unarmed people, including children and pregnant women.

Elias Gomez lost seven family members in the attack, including his brother and his father. He showed us the site where the violence took place, which the villagers are turning it into a permanent memorial.

"When the Zapatistas rose up, we supported them because their demands were just," says community leader, Antonio Vazquez.

"It's what the people want, demand and cry for. In Mexico there is no justice. The government is completely deaf: they don't want to hear or listen."

The governing party, both in San Cristobal and at the federal level, is the same today as it was in 1994: the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

"The PRI now has more of a social conscience", says San Cristobal Mayor Francisco Martinez, insisting that the state has invested heavily in indigenous communities.

But the levels of poverty and marginalisation in Chiapas are among the highest in Mexico, particularly for indigenous peoples, who make up roughly 65% of the local population.

But these days, although they nominally remain at war with the Mexican state, the rebels' struggle is more ideological than armed in nature.

Whatever they may or may not have achieved in the two decades since their uprising, few would disagree that the Zapatista rebellion has irrevocably shifted the relationship between the authorities and the indigenous population in Chiapas.

It is a sentiment neatly summed up by the sign at the entrance to Oventic: "You are in Zapatista territory in rebellion: here the people rule and the government must obey."


Botswana Bushmen: Modern life is destroying us

The Kalahari sun is merciless: Two young women and two children little more than a year old are huddled under the only tree in the yard to escape the baking heat.

We are in New Xade, a resettlement camp an hour's drive from the nearest town, Ghanzi, in western Botswana.

It is the new home of the Basarwa - Kalahari Bushmen, southern Africa's first inhabitants and yet they do not take much pleasure in this honour.

Sisters Boitumelo Lobelo, 25, and Goiotseone Lobelo, 21, are kneeling in front of a basin of dirty water, washing their children's clothes.

Their eyes fill with anger when they speak of their life here, a desolate village half a day's drive from their original home, which is now part of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR).

"I miss my home and the way we lived. Life was easy, there were lots of fruits, animals and there were no bars and no beer. Now we are lost," says Goiotseone.

They have been to visit a number of times since they were evicted but are not allowed to stay there any more.

When they were aged nine and five respectively, Boitumelo and Goiotseone were moved to New Xade with their parents.

They speak fondly of life in the reserve, where they would wake up every morning and join the women in the village in collecting berries, nuts and roots to eat.

But Goiotseone also remembers the day they were forced to leave.

"The police came, destroyed our homes and dumped us in the back of trucks with our belongings and brought us here. They dumped us here like we are nothing," she tells the BBC.

These two are the new generation of Basarwa: they go to school and have learned English and the Tswana language, the most widely spoken in the country.

But they say this new life has come at too high a price.

"We are getting Aids and other diseases we didn't know about; young people are drinking alcohol; young girls are having babies. Everything is wrong here," Boitumelo says.

Thousands of Bushmen lived in the vast expanse of the Kalahari Desert for many millennia.

But today most have been moved, many argue forcibly, to government-built resettlement camps far from the reserve.

There are an estimated 100,000 Bushmen across southern Africa, mainly in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

While some people find the term Bushmen offensive, this is what this group of people prefer to be called.

Battle lines

The Botswana Bushmen have been at odds with the country's government for more than 15 years, embroiled in several legal battles over their right to live inside the game park - and to continue their traditional lifestyle as hunter-gatherers.

At some point they were denied access to water in the reserve. Their boreholes were capped and they were banned from drilling more.

The Botswana Appeals Court, in a 2011 judgment on the matter, described the plight of the Bushmen as a "harrowing story of human suffering and despair" and ruled that they be allowed access to water.

Today many say court orders in their favour have been ignored by officials. They need permits to enter the reserve and are not allowed to hunt. Those found hunting face arrest.

But why were they relocated?

The government says the restriction of people on the land is intended to preserve the wildlife and the ecosystems of the vast reserve, which is slightly bigger than Denmark.

But human rights groups and the Bushmen believe the real reason is more sinister.

Mining is one of Botswana's key industries, with diamond mining the leading source of revenue.

The ancestral lands of the Bushmen lie in the middle of the world's richest diamond field. They believe they were relocated to make way for a multimillion dollar mining project.

A London-listed diamond producer has begun plans for production about 45km (28 miles) from the eastern border of the reserve.

Construction of the first phase of the project began in 2011. It is expected to begin production in 2014, with an initial output of 70,000 tonnes of rough diamonds.

The government has always denied that there is a link between the relocations and the discovery of the diamond deposits, first discovered in the 1980s.

The state has provided some amenities in the resettlement camps: there are clinics, schools and concrete houses in fenced-up yards - all part of a plan to modernise this community.

But modern life does not work for everyone: the Basarwa have built huts in their yards, as a reminder of happier times and their traditional lives.

Changing lifestyles

Unemployment is high and this community has no expertise to speak of, or at least none that they can use in the outside world.

The village's liquor shop has no shortage of customers. It is not uncommon to see young men stumbling out of local watering holes in the mid-afternoon.

It is not just living and social conditions that are proving problematic.

Hundreds of cows and their herders are resting under thorn trees preparing for a 5km-walk (three miles) to the nearest grazing patch.

When the Bushmen were relocated, each family was given five cattle or goats to encourage them to become farmers.

But being pastoralists has had its challenges.

"If you push somebody to a certain kind of lifestyle that he doesn't know, he will be facing a lot of difficulties," says one bushman farmer, Jumanda Galekebone.

"Our people don't know how to look after the cows when they get sick, they don't know about diseases of cattle like foot and mouth disease," he explains.

His peers agree, so there under the thorn trees, surrounded by cattle who could do with some fattening up, they tell me that they want to go home.

They say modern life has not worked for them.

"This life hasn't improved any of their lives. We still get a lot of people going inside the park to hunt and they get arrested. Some of us here are facing court penalties for hunting. It just proves that you can't force change on people," says Mr Galekebone.

But it appears that the Bushmen have no choice but to change, to adapt - at least as far as the latest government plans reveal.

Out of touch?

Some believe that the Bushmen's way of life does not belong in modern Botswana society.

Some officials have referred to them as "remote area dwellers", a "Stone-Age" people who should be pulled into the 21st Century.

In 2006, another court ruled that the government's refusal to allow the Basarwa into the CKGR was unconstitutional.

A handful have been allowed by officials to return to the park but only those whose names appeared in the court papers.

Roy Sesana, a community leader, is one of them.

But he says he does not enjoy the victory. He now lives between CKGR and New Xade to be close to his family and his people, he tells me.

"We have been separated from our children and our wives. What kind of life is this? We didn't do anything to deserve this," he says.

Mr Sesana was one of the main applicants in a number of cases against the government.

For a people who have spent most of their lives roaming the land freely, hunting wild animals and gathering berries and nuts for food, this place offers them no chance to live off the land.

"We are used to feeding ourselves - now dependant on government hand-outs, we are being made lazy and stupid," says Mr Sesana.

"Now we are being treated like dogs. The dog is the only thing that can't bring its own food home. It has to wait for its owner to give it some food."

International human rights groups are calling for a boycott of Botswana's tourism industry, its second largest revenue generator until the government "stops persecuting the country's first inhabitants".

President Ian Khama, who is seen as more subtle when it comes to managing the Bushmen situation, has announced that hunting in controlled areas would be outlawed by January 2014.

"The decision was necessitated by available scientific based information indicating that several wildlife species are in decline," Mr Khama told parliament.

He said the Bushmen would be taught "non-consumptive" ways of using their resources.

But the Bushmen argue that their years of living in harmony with the environment prove that their ways are ecologically sustainable.

They say instead that this move is an attempt to do away with their culture.

"The only place where you find Bushmen now in our traditional clothes surrounded by traditional huts is in the local tourism villages," says Mr Sesana.

"We are worried that in the future, there will be no-one who would be able to practice the Bushman culture unless they are parading in front of tourist for companies who are using them for business," he says.


India: Should tribal rights trump development?

The rusting skeleton of a conveyor belt marches over the monsoon landscape, angles of orange against mounds of green.

It's a monument now to one of India's most bitter development struggles: as the structure begins to climb towards the high deposits of aluminium ore it was meant to carry it, comes to an abrupt halt.

A last iron finger points helplessly upward to the Niyamgiri hilltops, symbolising - depending on your point of view - a project rightly cut off or a country cutting itself off.

When the Dongria Kondh tribe who live in these hills voted last year to stop Indian-British mining giant Vedanta from digging out the ore, campaigners hailed it as a historic victory for tribal rights.

This was the "real" Avatar tribe, Survival International claimed, comparing their struggle to the Hollywood blockbuster.

Yet for Vedanta and the rest of Indian industry it set a devastating precedent they fear will further hobble the country's stuttering development.

Even as the vote was underway, two other industrial giants cancelled multi-billion dollar investments blaming similar complications in securing access to land and mineral reserves.

Nearly a year on, the situation remains unresolved - mired in recriminations, mistrust and accusations of double standards.

"It is a mess," admits an Orissa state official.

Not even the Dongria Kondh are happy. They fear the mining company and its government backers are still trying to find a way to excavate the hills they worship as a god.

They point to new roads the authorities are cutting into the jungle, which they insist they don't want.

A couple of months ago, Sarcopari - one of the villages involved in last year's vote - was accessible only on foot. When the BBC visits, we arrive after just an hour's bumpy ride in a four-wheel drive.

"The government is trying to control us," said one tribesman, who didn't want to give his name.

"They accuse us of sheltering Maoists [rebels]. Sometimes the police come and beat us up."

But despite the pressure, they are adamant they won't give up their way of life.

"The Niyamgiri forest gives us everything, from plants to medicines," says a woman carrying dinner for her children arranged on plates of big jungle leaves.

Among the dishes that evening were crushed caterpillar and tree-bark - a special treat she said.

Despite the idyllic surroundings, it's a tough life.

Few Dongria Kondh - which means hill dwellers - live much beyond 40, far below the Indian average. One man we talk to says all but one of his five children died young.

Vedanta is not giving in either, in spite of or perhaps because of the $1bn-a-year loss it says it is taking on the project.

The sprawling refinery it built on the edge of the hills lies mostly idle, its chimneys only smoking into life when imported bauxite ore arrives from elsewhere in India.

Despite losing the vote - mandated by India's Supreme Court - Vedanta insists its 10-year-old deal with the state government still stands for 150 million tonnes of bauxite ore.

"We have faith in the government" says its chief operating officer Mukesh Kumar, with its plan now being to get access to other reserves in this mineral-rich state.

With a controversial record elsewhere, UK-registered Vedanta has few friends. The company admits it made mistakes, but it also feels hard done by. Mining is happening in many other parts of Orissa where tribal people live it says - why is Niyamgiri any different?

The irony, says Mr Kumar, is that Vedanta only set up here because of government pressure to boost development - after a nationwide outcry 20 years ago about famine and destitution in the surrounding Kalahandi area.

"We would have preferred to go somewhere with better infrastructure."

Stories of desperate women selling their children - documented in P Sainath's book Everybody Loves a Good Drought - prompted a surge of attention, led by the then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In a further irony, his son Rahul - now the likely Congress prime ministerial candidate for the next elections - would follow in his footsteps years later to champion the Dongria Kondh cause - in effect turning against the development his father had helped precipitate.

Just down the road from the refinery, one small settlement of tribal people, though, is praying it will survive.

They were displaced by the refinery's construction and in return they received homes, jobs and schools for their children. "If the plant closes we will have nothing," says Raju, who has a supervisor post earning far more than he did as a farmer.

Even in Niyamgiri hill villages, there are signs of change. Many are sending their children to schools outside, keeping them in hostels. Some are installing solar panels and other modern aids in their villages.

Supporters of mining say far more could benefit. Many blame foreign NGOs like Survival for stirring the controversy - hypocritically denying India the development the West already enjoys.

"It has sent a message that it's not safe to invest in India" said the Orissa state official.

At the root of the problem though is trust.

"What has the government ever done for tribal people?" asks Kumti Majhi, the president of the Niyamgiri Protection Committee, which helped lead the campaign against Vedanta.

India's record on its tribal people - or adivasis - is not good. The authorities often give the impression they would prefer tribes didn't exist - even trying to restrict media access to places where they live.

"These hills are our identity" says Madoba, another Sarcopari resident, gesturing at the rich green peaks around him.

"If the mines come, the Niyamgiri forest will go and we'll be like dogs."

Giving tribes more faith that their interests will be respected may be the key to untying this development tangle.


Ramachandra Guha on why Gandhi remains globally relevant


"I think it would be a good idea," said Indian independence hero Mohandas Gandhi famously when asked by a British journalist about what he thought about modern civilisation.

But Gandhi was hardly a foe of the West. He counted three white men - Henry Salt, John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy - as his mentors, wept when London was bombed during World War Two, and even hired Indians to fight in World War One.

He also spent nearly two decades - 1893 to 1914 - of his formative years in a foreign land - South Africa - where much of his time was spent as a lawyer and an activist.

Gandhi arrived in a deeply divided and inequitable South Africa, carved up into separate colonies, ruled by British expatriates and Afrikaners of Dutch descent. It was populated also by native Africans and Indian indentured labourers and professionals.

In this "strange scenario", writes historian and author Ramachandra Guha, Gandhi acquired, honed and practised his four major callings - freedom fighter, social reformer, religious pluralist and prophet. He led protests against racial laws, reached out to different communities, forged friendships with dissident Jews and Christians and mobilised expatriate traders.

Guha has recently published Gandhi Before India, his magisterial new book on how South Africa changed the "earnest naive lawyer" to a "smart, sagacious and focused thinker-activist". I spoke to him on how much Gandhi remained relevant in today's world:

You write Gandhi's ideas have survived. Can you give us some recent examples?

In India, the most important and influential of Gandhi's ideas is one we affirm everyday without recognising it comes from him - our constitutional commitment to linguistic pluralism and diversity.

That we are not (or not yet) a Hindu Pakistan is also owed in some part to his legacy.

It is true that in their practice many politicians repudiate Gandhi.

Yet outside politics, in the sphere of social activism for example, he remains an inspiration.

The work of [social activists like] Ela Bhatt and Sewa or of Abhay and Rani Bang, is moderately well known; there are hundreds of such individuals and groups, who work away from the public gaze, in the fields of rural health care, women's empowerment, environmental restoration, all inspired in lesser or greater degree by Gandhi.

But if Gandhi's ideas have indeed survived, are they relevant in today's age? If so, how?

In my view, four aspects of Gandhi's legacy remain relevant, not just to India, but to the world.

First, non-violent resistance to unjust laws and/or authoritarian governments.

Second, the promotion of inter-faith understanding and religious tolerance.

Third, an economic model that does not rape or pillage nature.

Fourth, courtesy in public debate and transparency in one's public dealings.

A curious testimony to Gandhi's continuing relevance is the continuing vehemence of the attacks on him by radicals of left and right. Hindutvawadis [hardline Hindus] detest him - as some of the commentary on blogs and Twitter reveals. So do the Indian Maoists.

The British Marxist writer Perry Anderson, who in a 50-year-long career never previously showed any interest in India, has just penned a venomous attack on Gandhi - whose continuing worldwide influence he apparently cannot fathom (and certainly cannot understand).

How do you explain his glaring inconsistencies - saint and consummate politician, foe of the West and lack of bitterness against the ruling race, Hindu patriarch and upholder of human rights, practitioner of non-violence who hired Indians to serve in World War One? Or was he simply a confused man?

Gandhi lived a long life, wrote a great deal, and was actively involved in politics and social action for more than five decades.

It is therefore easy to quote Gandhi against himself (as it is with other prolific writers such as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw).

On such matters as caste and gender equality, he gradually evolved, shedding conservative views for more progressive ones.

That said, there remain intellectual inconsistencies to be explained and personal fads (of diet, celibacy, etc) to be analysed - and Gandhi Before India and its sequel (still in the making) seek to do just that.

Do you think if Gandhi did not move out of the "conservative, static world" of his birthplace into a country still in the process of being made, he would not have become the great leader that he eventually did?

If Gandhi had succeeded as a lawyer in Rajkot or Bombay, we would not be having this conversation.

Had he lived in India, his clients would have been middle-class Hindus, and mostly Gujaratis at that.

He was saved from professional failure (and conservative habits and views) by the invitation from South Africa.

There, since his clients faced social discrimination from the white racist regime, he also began a parallel career as an activist.

Ironically, it was only in the diaspora that he came to appreciate the linguistic and religious heterogeneity of his own homeland.

Gandhi became a thinker and leader rather than a mere professional in South Africa; and it was here that he became more truly Indian as well.

You describe Gandhi's South African campaigns as an early example of "diasporic nationalism". Do you think diasporic nationalism has become rather controversial now as it is often identified with right-wing Indian nationalism?

The Indians in South Africa came from a variety of class backgrounds.

The struggles Gandhi led a hundred years ago first drew support from merchants, but later it was workers and hawkers who sustained it.

On the other hand, the Indian diaspora you refer to, based in the United States, is middle and upper class. And a solid source of support for Hindutva (Hinduness).

It is not clear whether economic privilege explains political reaction, however, or whether there are more complex psychological processes at work here.

You say Gandhi returned to India in 1915 fully formed and primed to carry out his different callings on a wider social and historical scale. At the same time, you say Gandhi around that time was essentially a community leader, who represented the interests of about 100,000 Indians in South Africa. So how did Gandhi transcend this?

Gandhi never intended to permanently stay overseas.

He came back in 1901 to try afresh at the Bombay Bar. Going back to South Africa a year later, he still hoped that when the rights of Indians in the Transvaal were secured he could return home.

In the event he stayed on till 1914, but for some time prior to that, had been urged by his closest friend Pranjivan Mehta to make a political career in India.

In retrospect, perhaps he (and we) were lucky that he stayed on as long as he did, since it allowed him to develop his social and political ideas, and emerge as an independent leader in his own right.


India orders DNA test on cows to settle ownership dispute

A court in southern India has ordered a DNA test on two cows to settle an ownership dispute between two women.

A woman, known as Geetha, alleges her cow was stolen by her neighbour TS Sashilekha, who says the cow is hers.

The court said the result of the cow's DNA test would be matched with one of Geetha's cattle which, she claims, is the mother of the disputed cow.

The blood samples of the two cows have been taken and results are awaited, police in Kerala state say.

"We are awaiting the DNA report from the Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology [in the state capital, Trivandrum] where the blood samples have been sent," police sub-inspector G Raju said.

He described the case as the "rarest of rare incident".

The case began nine months ago when Geetha filed a petition in court accusing Ms Sashilekha of stealing her cattle.

"We have about 15 cows and one of these, Karthika, had given birth to the missing cow," Geetha said, adding that she hoped the DNA test would prove her claim over the cow.

"I am 100% confident that the cows are mine and I would appeal if the test results go against me," she said.

Many families in Kerala are farmers who also make a living through cattle-breeding. Also, cows are considered sacred by Hindus who worship them.


Oldest evidence of sex in flowering plants

The oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant - dating back 100 million years - has been found in Burma.

The team discovered a cluster of 18 tiny flowers in a piece of amber; one of them was in the process of making new seeds for the next generation.

Flowering plants caused an enormous change in biodiversity on Earth.

A US-German team has published findings in the Journal of the Botanical Institute of Texas.

"The main aspect of this discovery is that it presents a new look at the biodiversity of early flowering plants and the evidence of reproduction is interesting," co-author Prof George Poinar, from Oregon State University (OSU), told the BBC Tamil Service.

The perfectly-preserved scene is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous Period when dinosaurs walked the Earth and flowering plants were in the process of changing the face of the Earth forever, Prof Poinar explained.

The fossils were formed when flowing tree sap covered the specimens, beginning the long process of turning into a semi-precious gem. The amber fossil is so well preserved that detailed study can be carried out on the flowers and their characteristics.

"This allows us to see the flower from different angles and different stages of development," Prof Poinar said.

Even more remarkable is the microscopic image of pollen tubes growing out of two grains of pollen and penetrating the flower's stigma, the receptive part of the female reproductive system.

This sets the stage for fertilisation of the egg and would begin the process of seed formation, had reproduction not been interrupted by the fossilisation process.

"In Cretaceous flowers, we've never before seen a fossil that shows the pollen tube actually entering the stigma," said Prof Poinar.

"This is the beauty of amber fossils. They are preserved so rapidly after entering the resin that structures such as pollen grains and tubes can be detected with a microscope."

The pollen of these flowers appears to be sticky, suggesting it was to be carried by a pollinating insect.

The evolution of flowering plants caused an enormous change in the biodiversity of life on Earth, especially in the tropics and subtropics, the researchers observe.

New associations between small flowering plants and insects, as well as other animals, resulted in the successful distribution and evolution of these plants through most of the world today.

The broad mechanisms of reproduction in plants have remained unchanged for some 100 million years, the study suggests.

"Our study on insects from the ambers in Burma shows very primitive forms as well, for instance the bees that we found still have characteristics of wasps, and we know bees evolved from wasps," Prof Poinar told the BBC.

He says the amber fossils of Burma, also known as Myanmar, are a treasure trove for researchers.

The newly described but now extinct genus and species of flower, from the country's Hukawng Valley, has been named Micropetasos burmensis.

Scientists say the other interesting aspect is the fact that these tiny flowers cannot be placed into any present day family.


Brazil dolphin is first new river species since 1918


Scientists in Brazil have discovered the first new river dolphin species since the end of World War One.

Named after the Araguaia river where it was found, the species is only the fifth known of its kind in the world.

Writing in the journal Plos One, the researchers say it separated from other South American river species more than two million years ago.

There are believed to be about 1,000 of the creatures living in the Araguaia river basin.

River dolphins are among the world's rarest creatures.

According to the IUCN, there are only four known species, and three of them are on the Red List, meaning they are critically endangered.

These dolphins are only distantly related to their seafaring cousins, tending to have long beaks which let them hunt for fish in the mud at the bottom of rivers.

Big brains

One of the best known species, the Yangtze river dolphin or baiji is believed to have gone extinct in about 2006.

South America though is home to the Amazon river dolphin, also known as the pink dolphin or boto, said to be the most intelligent of all the river species.

The new discovery is said to be related to the Amazonian, although scientists believe the species separated more than two million years ago.

"It is very similar to the other ones," said lead author Dr Tomas Hrbek, from the Federal University of Amazonas.

"It was something that was very unexpected, it is an area where people see them all the time, they are a large mammal, the thing is nobody really looked. It is very exciting."

The scientists say there are some differences in the number of teeth and they suspect the Araguaia river species is smaller, but most of the clues to their separate nature were found in their genes.

By analysing DNA samples from dozens of dolphins in both rivers, the team concluded the Araguaia river creature was indeed a new species.

They acknowledge though that some experts may question whether or not the discovery is in fact, wholly distinct.

"In science you can never be sure about anything," said Dr Hrbek.

"We looked at the mitochondrial DNA which is essentially looking at the lineages, and there is no sharing of lineages.

"The groups that we see, the haplotypes, are much more closely related to each other than they are to groups elsewhere. For this to happen, the groups must have been isolated from each other for a long time.

"The divergence we observed is larger than the divergences observed between other dolphin species," he said.

The researchers propose that the new species be called the Araguaian Boto, or Boto-do-Araguaia.

They estimate that there are about 1,000 of these creatures living in the river that flows northward for more than 2,600km to join the Amazon.

The researchers are concerned about the future for the new dolphin, saying that it appears to have very low levels of genetic diversity.

They are also worried because of human development.

"Since the 1960s the Araguaia river basin has been experiencing significant anthropogenic pressure via agricultural and ranching activities, and the construction of hydroelectric dams," the authors write in their study.

"The dolphins are at the top of the line, they eat a lot of fish," said Dr Hrbek.

"They rob fishing nets so the fishermen tend to not like them, people shoot them."

They believe that as a result of the threats that it faces, the new species should be categorised as Vulnerable on the Red List.


Land News
Third World News
Third World Pressures
The Fight Against Poverty, Disease and Abuse
Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade
A Brief History of America and the Moros 1899-1920
Thomas Malthus (1766-1834)
Imagine a world without shops or factories


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Trevor Batten
 <trevor at tebatt dot net>
 Baclayon 2013