Efforts on to revive Galapagos tortoises once thought extinct

Updated 18 June 2013
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Efforts on to revive Galapagos tortoises once thought extinct

Scientists will try to revive two species of giant Galapagos tortoises thought to have been extinct by breeding genetic relatives in captivity, experts leading the effort said.
The Galapagos Islands, located 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) off Ecuador’s Pacific coast, are famed for the large number of species that have developed there in isolation.
New research techniques have revealed that at Wolf volcano on Isabela Island, 17 hybrid giant tortoises have been found with genes from the extinct Pinta Island tortoise, and about 280 hybrids have been found with genes from the extinct Floreana Island tortoise.
Among those with Pinta genes, at least one pair has 80 percent of the original species’ genes, while among the Floreana hybrids, many have up to 90 percent of the original species genes.
“That gives us the possibility, literally, of bringing back these species which at the moment are considered extinct,” Galapagos National Park applied sciences chief Washington Tapia told AFP.
Giant tortoises have life spans of up to 180 years, growing to 1.8 meters (five feet nine inches) long and nearly 400 kilograms (880 pounds) in weight.
Last year the body of “Lonesome George,” a giant Galapagos tortoise once believed to be the last of its kind, was sent to New York after its death to be embalmed and then returned home.
A rare Pinta Island giant tortoise discovered in 1971, George was estimated to be a century old when he died June 24, 2012. At the time, he was believed to be the last of his kind.
The Floreana Island tortoise was widely thought to have been extinct for more than 100 years. One of their last sightings was by British naturalist Charles Darwin when he visited the Galapagos in 1835.
Darwin studied the tortoises, which evolved in isolation, as he developed his theory of natural selection.
Now Tapia’s team is eyeing something of reverse natural selection: bringing back to life animals technically considered to have died out.
He said that experts will soon start trying to get pairs in captivity to produce offspring close to their genetic origin. But due to the lengthy lifespan of the animals, Tapia said that he will not live to see the results: true to the slow pace tortoises are famous for, it should take about 120 years to get all the data in.
The female tortoises reach sexual maturity at around 20-25 years, and males at around 25-30. Tapia said that mating a female and male with 80-90 percent Floreana genes should produce offspring with about 95 percent of the genes of the original species.
With the Pintas, “there is a chance, albeit remote, that we could end up with a male being produced with only original-species genes,” Tapia said.
For now, the future of the Floreana lies with about 92 animals born in captivity since 2012. More testing has to be done to determine which have the greatest original-species genetic content so that those males and females can be bred.
Tapia said that one of the main goals is for the tortoises to be released back into their natural habitats as soon as possible, even as hybrids, so that they can help bring the ecosystems of the islands back into balance after they were disturbed by imported species, such as goats.

The Wolf hybrids have a salty story of their own: park officials believe the tortoises were taken to Isabela Island in the 17th and 18th century by pirates who picked them up to eat, but then decided they were no longer needed as a source of meat and tossed them overboard.


Saudi Arabia in the crosshairs as cyber-raids target Gulf

More than 90 percent of malware is distributed by email with hackers seeking to trick users with fake invoices and other scams. (Shutterstock)
Updated 15 February 2019
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Saudi Arabia in the crosshairs as cyber-raids target Gulf

  • Cyberattacks were ranked as the second most important risk after an “energy shock” in these three Gulf states, according to the WEF’s flagship Global Risks Report 2019
  • Criminal phishing attacks rising sharply, cybersecurity experts warn

RIYADH: Online phishing attacks are on the rise with experts warning of increasing numbers of cyber-raids targeting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Phishing is a type of fraud where criminals target online victims, using deception to acquire users’ credentials, ranging from passwords to credit card and bank account details, and other financially sensitive information.
Cybersecurity experts say the numbers of attacks worldwide have risen dramatically, increasing from over 2 million in the first two weeks of February last year to more than 4.3 million in the same period this year.
Mohammed Khurram Khan, a professor of cybersecurity at King Saud University (KSU), told Arab News: “Saudi Arabia, due to its strong position in political, social and economic spheres, has been a key target for cyber-intrusions by state and nonstate actors aiming to compromise its national security.
“Various types of malware and scams, especially phishing, are used to target critical information infrastructure, which serve as the backbone of the economy,” he said.
More than 90 percent of malware is distributed by email with hackers seeking to trick users with fake invoices and other scams, said Khan, who is also the founder and CEO of the Global Foundation for Cyber Studies and Research, a Washington-based cybersecurity think tank.
“Computer users in Saudi Arabia have been confronted with more than 30 million phishing emails in recent years,” he said.
Khan said that awareness, training and “cyber-hygiene” were important to protect users and organizations from phishing scams.
KSU has developed a pioneering cybersecurity awareness product, “Rawam,” which helps organizations train employees to deal with malicious hacking, malware, ransomware, phishing and cyberattacks.
The bilingual tool has been used to train 100,000 staff in 40 different organizations, he said.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) last month warned of the growing likelihood of cyberattacks in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar particularly vulnerable.
Cyberattacks were ranked as the second most important risk after an “energy shock” in these three Gulf states, according to the WEF’s flagship Global Risks Report 2019, released ahead of the annual forum in Davos.
Cybersecurity experts from the Kaspersky Lab, a multinational digital security provider, detected a sharp increase in phishing activities on the eve of the Valentine’s Day.
The overall number of user attempts to visit fraudulent websites detected and blocked by Kaspersky Lab in the first half of February exceeded 4.3 million.
“The spike offers a reminder that we should be cautious when surfing the web, even if we are just buying flowers for our loved one,” said Andrey Kostin, a senior web content analyst.