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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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Locking Horns Over Horns
27 December 2000 7:00 pm
Researchers are locking horns over whether the headgear shown below belongs to a mysterious and possibly extinct mountain goat or to a common ox that has been refashioned by local residents. Each side seems to be digging in for some serious headbutting over the authenticity of their specimens.
In 1994, German scientists declared that the horns belonged to a previously unknown goatlike mammal, Pseudonovibos spiralis, that lives in the isolated Annamite mountains of southeast Asia. Although no scientist has ever seen the beast, it is thought to hail from the same region that has produced several other newly described mammals over the last decade, including the antelope-like saola and a giant barking deer. Conservationists even added spiralis to their list of endangered animals.
But in two papers to be published this month in Les Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences, Arnoult Seveau of the Zoological Society of Paris and two colleagues argue that four 70-year-old horn specimens that they have studied are artful forgeries, created by heating, twisting, and carving the bone sheaths. Molecular studies, they add, suggest that the skullcaps come from a common species of ox. Seveau spent 7 months scouring Cambodian forests and meat markets but found only "myths and legends--not even the smallest thing to suggest that it is a real animal." The horns, he suggests, were painstakingly manufactured to cash in on local tales of a mythical creature whose powdered horns could cure snakebites.
While Seveau may have uncovered some fake horns, spiralis "is a real animal," says Robert Timm, mammal curator at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum in Lawrence. In the current Journal of Zoology, Timm says his museum's two sets of antique horns--including the one above--show no "evidence of tampering." The most likely reason that Seveau found no new evidence of spiralis, he says, is "that it is extinct."