Ernesto Guevara de la Serna (1928-1967) was an Argentine physician and revolutionary who played a key role in the Cuban Revolution. He also served in the government of Cuba after the communist takeover before leaving Cuba to try and stir up rebellions in Africa and South America. He was captured and executed by Bolivian security forces in 1967. Today, he is considered by many to be a symbol of rebellion and idealism, while others see him as a murderer.

Early Life

Ernesto was born into a middle class family in Rosario, Argentina. His family was somewhat aristocratic and could trace their lineage to the early days of Argentine settlement. The family moved around a great deal while Ernesto was young. He developed severe asthma early in life: the attacks were so bad that witnesses were occasionally scared for his life. He was determined to overcome his ailment, however, and was very active in his youth, playing rugby, swimming and doing other physical activities. He also received an excellent education.


In 1947 Ernesto moved to Buenos Aires to care for his elderly grandmother. She died shortly thereafter and he began medical school: some believe that he was driven to study medicine because of his inability to save his grandmother. He was a believer in the human side of medicine: that a patient’s state of mind is as important as the medicine he or she is given. He remained very close to his mother and stayed fit through exercise, although his asthma continued to plague him. He decided to take a vacation and put his studies on hold.

The Motorcycle Diaries

At the end of 1951, Ernesto set off with his good friend Alberto Granado on a trip north through South America. For the first part of the trip, they had a Norton motorcycle, but it was in poor repair and had to be abandoned in Santiago. They traveled through Chile, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela, where they parted ways. Ernesto continued to Miami and returned to Argentina from there. Ernesto kept notes during his trip, which he subsequently made into a book named The Motorcycle Diaries. It was made into an award-winning movie in 2004. The trip showed him the poverty and misery all throughout Latin America and he wanted to do something about it, even if he did not know what.


Ernesto returned to Argentina in 1953 and finished medical school. He left again almost immediately, however, heading up the western Andes and traveling through Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia before reaching Central America. He eventually settled for a while in Guatemala, at the time experimenting with significant land reform under President Jacobo Arbenz. It was about this time that he acquired his nickname “Che,” an Argentine expression meaning (more or less) “hey there.” When the CIA overthrew Arbenz, Che tried to join a brigade and fight, but it was over too quickly. Che took refuge in the Argentine Embassy before securing a safe passage to Mexico.

Mexico and Fidel

In Mexico, Che met and befriended Raúl Castro, one of the leaders in the assault on the Moncada Barracks in Cuba in 1953. Raúl soon introduced his new friend to his brother Fidel, leader of the 26th of July movement which sought to remove Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. The two hit it right off. Che had been looking for a way to strike a blow against the imperialism of the United States that he had seen firsthand in Guatemala and elsewhere in Latin America. Che eagerly signed on for the revolution, and Fidel was delighted to have a doctor. At this time, Che also became close friends with fellow revolutionary Camilo Cienfuegos.

To Cuba

Che was one of 82 men who piled onto the yacht Granma in November, 1956. The Granma, designed for only 12 passengers and loaded with supplies, gas and weapons, barely made it to Cuba, arriving on December 2. Che and the others made for the mountains, but were tracked down and attacked by security forces. Less than 20 of the original Granma soldiers made it into the mountains: the two Castros, Che and Camilo were among them. Che had been wounded, shot during the skirmish. In the mountains, they settled in for a long guerrilla war, attacking government posts, releasing propaganda and attracting new recruits.

Che in the Revolution

Che was an important player in the Cuban Revolution, perhaps second only to Fidel himself. Che was clever, dedicated, determined and tough. His asthma was a constant torture for him. He was promoted to comandante and given his own command. He saw to their training himself and indoctrinated his soldiers with communist beliefs. He was organized and he demanded discipline and hard work from his men. He occasionally allowed foreign journalists to visit his camps and write about the revolution. Che’s column was very active, participating in several engagements with the Cuban army in 1957-1958.

Batista’s Offensive

In the summer of 1958, Batista decided to try and stomp out the revolution once and for all. He sent large forces of soldiers into the mountains, seeking to round up and destroy the rebels once and for all. This strategy was a huge mistake, and it backfired badly. The rebels knew the mountains well and ran circles around the army. Many of the soldiers, demoralized, deserted or even switched sides. At the end of 1958, Castro decided it was time for the knockout punch, and he sent three columns, one of which was Che’s, into the heart of the country.

Santa Clara

Che was assigned to capture the strategic city of Santa Clara. On paper, it looked like suicide: there were some 2,500 federal troops there, with tanks and fortifications. Che himself only had some 300 ragged men, poorly armed and hungry. Morale was low among the soldiers, however, and the populace of Santa Clara mostly supported the rebels. Che arrived on December 28 and the fighting began: by December 31 the rebels controlled the police headquarters and the city but not the fortified barracks. The soldiers inside refused to fight or come out, and when Batista heard of Che’s victory he decided the time had come to leave. Santa Clara was the largest single battle of the Cuban Revolution and the last straw for Batista.

After the Revolution

Che and the other rebels rode into Havana in triumph and began setting up a new government. Che, who had ordered the execution of several traitors during his days in the mountains, was assigned (along with Raúl) to round up, bring to trial and execute former Batista officials. Che organized hundreds of trials of Batista cronies, most of them in the army or police forces. Most of these trials ended in a conviction and execution. The international community was outraged, but Che didn’t care: he was a true believer in the Revolution and in communism. He felt that an example needed to be made of those who had supported tyranny.

Government Posts

As one of the few men truly trusted by Fidel Castro, Che was kept very busy in post-Revolution Cuba. He was made head of the Ministry of Industry and head of the Cuban Bank. Che was restless, however, and he took long trips abroad as a sort of ambassador of the revolution to improve Cuba’s international standing. During Che’s time in governmental office, he oversaw the conversion of much of Cuba’s economy to communism. He was instrumental in cultivating the relationship between the Soviet Union and Cuba, and had played a part in trying to bring Soviet missiles to Cuba. This, of course, caused the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ché, Revolutionary

In 1965, Che decided that he was not meant to be a government worker, even one in a high post. His calling was revolution, and he would go and spread it around the world. He disappeared from public life (leading to incorrect rumors about a strained relationship with Fidel) and began plans for bringing about revolutions in other nations. The communists believed that Africa was the weak link in the western capitalist/imperialist stranglehold on the world, so Che decided to head to the Congo to support a revolution there led by Laurent Désiré Kabila.


When Che had left, Fidel read a letter to all of Cuba in which Che declared his intention to spread revolution, fighting imperialism wherever he could find it. Despite Che’s revolutionary credentials and idealism, the Congo venture was a total fiasco. Kabila proved unreliable, Che and the other Cubans failed to duplicate the conditions of the Cuban Revolution, and a massive mercenary force led by South African “Mad” Mike Hoare was sent to root them out. Che wanted to remain and die fighting as a martyr, but his Cuban companions convinced him to escape. All in all, Che was in Congo for about nine months and he considered it one of his greatest failures.


Back in Cuba, Che wanted to try again for another communist revolution, this time in Argentina. Fidel and the others convinced him that he was more likely to succeed in Bolivia. Che went to Bolivia in 1966. From the start, this effort, too, was a fiasco. Che and the 50 or so Cubans who accompanied him were supposed to get support from clandestine communists in Bolivia, but they proved unreliable and possibly were the ones who betrayed him. He was also up against the CIA, in Bolivia training Bolivian officers in counterinsurgency techniques. It wasn’t long before the CIA knew Che was in Bolivia and was monitoring his communications.

The End

Che and his ragged band scored some early victories against the Bolivian army in mid-1967. In August, his men were caught by surprise and one-third of his force was wiped out in a firefight; by October he was down to only about 20 men and had little in the way of food or supplies. By now, the Bolivian government had posted a $4,000 reward for information leading to Che: it was a lot of money in those days in rural Bolivia. By the first week of October, Bolivian security forces were closing in on Che and his rebels.

The Death of Che Guevara

On October 7, Che and his men stopped to rest in the Yuro ravine. Local peasants alerted the army, who moved in. A firefight broke out, killing some rebels, and Che himself was injured in the leg. On October 8, they finally caught him. He was captured alive, allegedly shouting out to his captors “I am Che Guevara and worth more to you alive than dead.” The army and CIA officers interrogated him that night, but he did not have much information to give out: with his capture, the rebel movement he headed was essentially over. On October 9, the order was given, and Che was executed, shot by a Sergeant Mario Terán of the Bolivian Army.


Che Guevara had a huge impact on his world, not only as a major player in the Cuban Revolution, but also afterwards, when he tried to export the revolution to other nations. He achieved the martyrdom that he so desired, and in doing so became a larger-than-life figure.

Che is one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century. Many revere him, especially in Cuba, where his face is on the 3-peso note and every day schoolchildren vow to “be like Che” as part of a daily chant. Around the world, people wear t-shirts with his image on them, usually a famous photo taken of Che in Cuba by photographer Alberto Korda (more than one person has noted the irony of hundreds of capitalists making money selling a famous image of a communist). His fans believe that he stood for freedom from imperialism, idealism and a love for the common man, and that he died for his beliefs.

Many despise Che, however. They see him as a murderer for his time presiding over the execution of Batista supporters, criticize him as the representative of a failed communist ideology and deplore his handling of the Cuban economy.

There is some truth to both sides of this argument. Che did care deeply about the oppressed people of Latin America and he did give his life fighting for them. He was a pure idealist, and he acted on his beliefs, fighting in the field even when his asthma tortured him.

But Che’s idealism was of the unbending variety. He believed that the way out of oppression for the starving masses of the world was to embrace a communist revolution just as Cuba had done. Che thought nothing of killing those who did not agree with him, and he thought nothing of spending the lives of his friends if it advanced the cause of the revolution.

His fervent idealism became a liability. In Bolivia, he was eventually betrayed by the peasants: the very people he had come to “rescue” from the evils of capitalism. They betrayed him because he never really connected with them. Had he tried harder, he would have realized that a Cuban-style revolution would never work in 1967 Bolivia, where conditions were fundamentally different than they had been in 1958 Cuba. He believed that he knew what was right for everyone, but never really bothered to ask if the people agreed with him. He believed in the inevitability of a communist world and was willing to ruthlessly eliminate anyone who did not.

Around the world, people love or hate Che Guevara: either way, they will not soon forget him.

wextinction_a_0413There are at least 8 million unique species of life on the planet, if not far more, and you could be forgiven for believing that all of them can be found in Andasibe. Walking through this rain forest in Madagascar is like stepping into the library of life. Sunlight seeps through the silky fringes of the Ravenea louvelii, an endangered palm found, like so much else on this African island, nowhere else. Leaf-tailed geckos cling to the trees, cloaked in green. A fat Parson’s chameleon lies lazily on a branch, beady eyes scanning for dinner. But the animal I most hoped to find, I don’t see at first; I hear it, though — a sustained groan that electrifies the forest quiet. My Malagasy guide, Marie Razafindrasolo, finds the source of the sound perched on a branch. It is the black-and-white indri, largest of the lemurs — a type of small primate found only in Madagascar. The cry is known as a spacing call, a warning to other indris to keep their distance, to prevent competition for food. But there’s not much risk of interlopers. The species — like many other lemurs, like many other animals in Madagascar, like so much of life on Earth — is endangered and dwindling fast.

Madagascar — which separated from India 80 million to 100 million years ago before eventually settling off the southeastern coast of Africa — is in many ways an Earth apart. All that time in geographic isolation made Madagascar a Darwinian playground, its animals and plants evolving into forms utterly original. They include species as strange-looking as the pygmy mouse lemur — a chirping, palm-size mammal that may be the smallest primate on the planet — and as haunting as the carnivorous fossa, a catlike animal about 30 in. long. Some 90% of the island’s plants and about 70% of its animals are endemic, meaning that they are found only in Madagascar. But what makes life on the island unique also makes it uniquely vulnerable. “If we lose these animals on Madagascar, they’re gone forever,” says Russell Mittermeier, president of the wildlife group Conservation International (CI).

That loss seems likelier than ever because the animals are under threat as never before. Once lushly forested, Madagascar has seen more than 80% of its original vegetation cut down or burned since humans arrived at least 1,500 years ago, fragmenting habitats and leaving animals effectively homeless. Unchecked hunting wiped out a number of large species, and today mining, logging and energy exploration threaten those that remain. “You have an area the size of New Jersey in Madagascar that is still under forest, and all this incredible diversity is crammed into it,” says Mittermeier, an American who has been traveling to the country for more than 25 years. “We’re very concerned.”

Madagascar is a conservation hot spot — a term for a region that is very biodiverse and particularly threatened — and while that makes the island special, it is hardly alone. Conservationists estimate that extinctions worldwide are occurring at a pace that is up to 1,000 times as great as history’s background rate before human beings began proliferating. Worse, that die-off could be accelerating.

Price of Extinction
There have been five extinction waves in the planet’s history — including the Permian extinction 250 million years ago, when an estimated 70% of all terrestrial animals and 96% of all marine creatures vanished, and, most recently, the Cretaceous event 65 million years ago, which ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Though scientists have directly assessed the viability of fewer than 3% of the world’s described species, the sample polling of animal populations so far suggests that we may have entered what will be the planet’s sixth great extinction wave. And this time the cause isn’t an errant asteroid or megavolcanoes. It’s us.


Christmas and New Year beach parties in tourist resorts in the Indian state of Goa have been banned because of security concerns, say the authorities.

No specific details have been given but officials said there was “obviously” a security threat.

The decision follows the attacks in Mumbai last month in which more than 170 people were killed.

The ban will be a major blow to Goa, which relies on the thousands of tourists attending the famous parties.

“Taking into consideration all the aspects, we have decided that beach parties would not be allowed from December 23 to January 5,” Goa chief minister Digamber Kamat told reporters.

He said traditional ceremonies and parties being held in hotels will be unaffected.

Kishan Kumar, Goa’s police inspector general, told Reuters: “Obviously there is a security threat, but we cannot say anything more specific at the moment”.

Security has been tightened around India’s coast following the attacks in November and several foreign governments have advised their citizens against travel to the country.

Goa business leaders said tourism was a “lifeline” and the decision would seriously affect trade.


Nasa’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has finally spotted rocks on the Red Planet that bear carbonate minerals.

The ingredients needed to make the rocks are very evident, so their absence had been a major puzzle.

One theory to explain the omission is the idea that water on Mars has been too acidic to allow carbonates.

The rocks’ identification now shows these harsh waters have not dominated all parts of Mars – and that is good news for the search for life.

“You want to get an environment that is basically as clement as possible, that’s not difficult to live in,” explained Bethany Ehlmann from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

“It’s difficult to live in a highly acidic environment; it’s difficult to live in a very salty environment. If you have neutral waters then that presents a less difficult environment for microbial life,” she told BBC News.

Weathered rocks

Ehlmann and colleagues have been detailing the discovery here at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting 2008. A paper explaining their findings is also being published in the journal Science.

The carbonate minerals were detected in a mid-latitude region called Nili Fossae, on the western edge of the Isidis impact basin.

The landscape viewed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is believed to have formed more than 3.6 billion years ago.

Carbonates are produced in the weathering process that sees water with dissolved carbon dioxide re-fashion the original chemistry of rocks. The carbonates – in this case, magnesium carbonate – precipitate out of solution.

On Earth, carbonates are usually associated with great marine sediments like limestone and chalk; although the scientists here stressed the Martian carbonates would look nothing like that.

Life hunt

Previous data from orbiting spacecraft and from the robot rovers on the surface of Mars has revealed salt-rich, acidic waters affected much of the planet in more modern times.

Given that carbonates dissolve quickly in low pH solutions, it is possible that many large carbonate formations created on early Mars may simply have disappeared; and this could explain why it has taken so long to find a carbonate signature.

But the MRO discovery shows that some areas of the Red Planet must have been untouched by these harsher conditions. That makes Nili Fossae an interesting place for future Mars missions to explore.

“If you preserve carbonates on the surface then you know carbon-bearing compounds can survive in some environments on the planet,” said Richard Zurek, the project scientist on MRO.

“That means there are some places we can go and look for evidence for past life – if it ever existed.”

Interestingly, Nili Fossae lost out in the site selection contest to choose the landing location of the next Nasa rover, called the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL).

The vehicle’s launch recently slipped from 2009 to 2011 and the scientists at AGU said it was possible the contest outcome could now be reviewed. However, they also said there would be other opportunities to visit Nili Fossae.

“MSL is not the last lander that we intend to send to the planet. With this diversity of environments, there are many places to explore,” said Dr Zurek.


Swiss glaciers are melting away at an accelerating rate and many will vanish this century if climate projections are correct, two new studies suggest.

One assessment found that some 10 cubic km of ice have been lost from 1,500 glaciers over the past nine years.

The other study, based on a sample of 30 representative glaciers, indicates the group’s members are now losing a metre of thickness every year.

Both pieces of work come out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

“The trend is negative, but what we see is that the trend is also steepening,” said Matthias Huss from the Zurich university’s Laboratory of Hydraulics, Hydrology and Glaciology.

“Glaciers are starting to lose mass increasingly fast,” he told BBC News.

The retreat is being driven largely by longer melting seasons. The other key factor in glacier health – the amount of winter snowfall to replace ice melt – shows no long-term changes.

The two studies are being presented here at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, the world’s largest annual gathering of Earth scientists.

They are not the first to assess the status of Swiss glaciers but few others can match their scope.

Summer heatwave

In one, Daniel Farinotti and his team tried to assess the total volume of ice in Swiss glaciers -1,500 of them, from the mighty Aletschgletscher (the largest glacier in the Alps) to small ice fields that cover less than three square km.

The research used direct measurements where available, and combined this with modelling to estimate ice volumes for areas that are data-deficient.

The assessment found a total ice volume present in the Swiss Alps of about 75 cubic km by the year 1999 (a baseline for the purpose of the study). It is a bigger figure than previously thought.

“However, 1999 is quite some time ago now, so what we did was try to calculate the volume lost since this baseline; and we estimate a figure of 13% – from 1999 to today,” explained Mr Farinotti.

For 2003, remembered for its strong heatwave across Europe, the team estimates that 3-4% of the volume in Switzerland at that time was lost in that one year alone.

Mr Farinotti said his study highlighted the importance of the largest glaciers as ice reservoirs: more than 80% of the total ice volume is stored in the 50 largest glaciers.

“Aletschgletscher, for example, has about 12% of the area of Swiss glaciers but it contains about a quarter of all ice that is present in Switzerland,” he told BBC News.

“What really matters is how much ice we have in the big glaciers, because the small ones will disappear; that seems clear. For them, it’s just a matter of years. But in glaciers like Aletsch that have a lot of ice, they will be around for decades.”

Four Swiss glaciers (BBC)
The four glaciers here represent a range of types, sizes, locations, and climatic zones. The assessment has now been extended to 30 glaciers
Area covered by the glaciers – Aletsch: 83.01sq km; Rhone: 16.45sq km; Gries: 5.26sq km; Silvretta: 2.89sq km
Distinct phases of growth (I & III) and strong ice loss (II & IV) are seen within an overall trend for the period which is negative
The cumulative mass balance is given in “metres of water equivalent”. Essentially, it records the net thickness change of the glaciers
Thickness change over the entire period – Aletsch: -65m; Rhone: -43m; Gries: -97m; Silvretta: -35m

The study by Mr Huss and his team takes a slightly different approach. It considers just a key group of 30 glaciers, representing all sizes, types, and locations.

Again, using a mixture of direct data and modelling, the scientists analysed the mass trends from 1900 to 2007.

Over this period, there is a significant negative trend. It is not linear, however. There are two distinct phases when glaciers gained mass, and even a phase in the 1940s when the glaciers lost mass faster than they do now.

But in general, over the period, there is a retreat; and in the last 30-50 years, the shrinkage has accelerated.

Mr Huss has applied future climate projections to the 10km-long Rhone Glacier, which in Swiss terms is mid-sized.

“Rhone Glacier will have almost gone in 100 years,” said Mr Huss.

“It first retreats not very fast, until about 2050. Then, it retreats really quite fast. It means that most glaciers, the smaller ones, will have disappeared by the end of this century.”

Switzerland’s glaciers are iconic but their shrinkage is more than just an issue for the tourists with their cameras; their loss would have profound ecosystem and economic consequences.

“Glaciers store the water in winter and release it in the summer when it is dry and warm when there is more need for water,” added Mr Huss.

“And they can also store it in the wet and cold years and release it in the hot and warm years. That’s an important reservoir.

“In the south-western part of Switzerland, almost all run-off water from glaciers is temporarily stored and used for electricity production. More than half the electricity consumed in Switzerland is produced from hydropower.”

The Huss-led research builds on work published in the Journal of Geophysical Research this year. The Farinotti-led research has been submitted to the Journals of Glaciology, and the Journal of Global and Planetary Change.


Russian contestant Kseniya Sukhinova has won the Miss World 2008 competition at a ceremony in South Africa.

Trindad and Tobago’s Gabrielle Walcott was second runner-up and India’s Parvathay Omanakuttan was first runner-up, from among 109 contestants.

Millions of people were expected to watch the annual pageant, being held in Johannesburg.

It was the sixth time that South Africa has held the event, more than any other country except England.

South Africa organisers were said to be keen to calm concerns about the country’s ability to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

For this first time in the competition’s history, viewers in 180 countries had the opportunity to vote for one of the semi-finalists through the internet.

An international jury decided the winner.

Miss Sukhinova is from Siberia, studying for an engineering degree.


A new study comparing wild, captive and working elephants has found that living in zoos can significantly shorten the animals’ lives.

Writing in the journal Science, researchers say obesity is a major cause of death in adult zoo elephants.

They also cite stress as the key factor in the death of young captive animals when they are moved from zoo to zoo.

They say ideally zoos should not take on new elephants if they cannot provide suitable environments.

Still births

The study focused on the lives of female elephants, comparing more than 4,500 individuals. The researchers looked at wild elephants in Kenya’s Ambosseli National Park, working elephants in the Burmese logging industry, and zoo elephant populations in Europe.

For African elephants, the average lifespan in captivity was only 19 years compared with 56 years in the wild.

Rates of mortality amongst zoo-born Asian elephants were two to three times higher than for those born in the logging camps.

Ros Clubb from Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) says diet and lifestyle are the key factors influencing elephant lifespan in zoos.

“The vast majority are overweight in zoos, this could explain the high still-birth rates and why they’re dying early. Bigger mothers have bigger calves and more of these are still-born,” she said.


Early death was also more likely to occur in captive animals born in the wild or transferred between zoos. Dr Clubb says this is probably caused by the stress of being taken away from their herd, mothers or family group.

“In the wild they live in large stable groups, separation does cause stress; we know this from studies of other species,” she said.

Working elephants

Khyune Mar, now at the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at Sheffield University, used to work for Myanma Timber Enterprise, the commercial arm of Burma’s forest ministry.

The company uses elephants to haul logs from the forests. Analysis of the lives of these working Asian elephants was based on data Dr Mar collected in Burma.

She says their longer life expectancy – more than 40 years compared with less than 19 in zoo elephants – can be put down to their lifestyle; for half the time the Burmese working elephants are allowed to act naturally.

“We keep working elephants in the workforce for no more than six to eight hours a day. For the remaining hours we let them loose in the forest, they live like wild elephants, they can meet and mate with wild elephants, they have a full elephant life, good exercise and good food,” she said.


Dr Mar says there are lessons from the treatment of these working elephants that could be taken on board by zoos.

“They have a very monotonous lifestyle, every day is the same for zoo elephants, they have to live in the same compound, with limited roaming, this makes them more stressed,” she said.

“They need a huge home range, more systematic enrichment, bigger compounds, grooming areas, mud wallows, hills.”

She says its important to allow them the freedom to behave naturally and has a straightforward message for zoos.

“If the zoo does not have space, its simple – don’t take elephants.”

The report’s authors say transfers of elephants between zoos should be avoided, calves should be kept with their mothers for as long as possible to avoid stress-related death, and there should be regular screening for signs of obesity.

UK zoos

A separate study looking in detail at all the elephants in UK zoos has found significant health problems and evidence of widespread psychological distress.

Researchers from Bristol University studied 77 animals in 13 zoos and found that almost half of the elephants displayed abnormal behaviour.

This included repeatedly swaying the trunk, pacing backwards and forwards and retracing their steps over and over again.

“Some of the animals were born in the zoos and must have developed it there,” said Chris Sherwin, from Bristol University’s Department of Veterinary Science.

“It’s possibly their way of coping with stress, but almost certainly indicates they’re in an environment which is inappropriate for their needs. This is not behaviour you see in the wild.”

The report says unless the animals’ health and psychological suffering can be addressed, the ethics of keeping elephants in zoos must be questioned.

“In my opinion, given the correct housing and care it would be ethically acceptable to keep a few elephants in a few zoos, but certainly not the numbers we have in all the zoos we have now,” Dr Sherwin added.

The Zoos Forum, the UK government’s independent advisers on zoos, will consider the new findings and report to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) within six months.


A Florida pizza delivery man who was challenged by armed robbers in the city of Miramar got in first with his own weapon – a large pepperoni pizza.

Eric Lopez Devictoria, 40, flung the piping hot pizza at the gunman, then turned on his heels and ran.

He made a safe getaway, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel, despite one shot being fired as he fled.

Police later arrested three teenage suspects, who have been charged with armed robbery.


Scientists say they have found evidence for water vapour in the atmosphere of a planet 63 light-years from Earth.

The “hot Jupiter” planet’s surface temperatures exceed 900C.

Writing in the journal Nature, the scientists say their discovery may help find planets that can support life.

In a separate study, the US space agency (Nasa) says it has found carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of the same planet.

Molten core

The planet known as HD 189733b is classed as a hot Jupiter due to its fiery molten centre and heavily gaseous atmosphere, which mimics the atmosphere of Jupiter, the gas giant in our own solar system.

The generation of heat by the planet’s core provides the key to why scientists have been able to identify water vapour in its atmosphere.

Gases in the planet’s atmosphere modify the wavelengths of heat radiation coming from the planet’s hot surface. These wavelengths can be detected by space telescopes such as Hubble or the Sun-orbiting Spitzer telescope used in this study.

The type of gas present in the planet’s atmosphere can be determined by looking at the spread of infrared radiation reaching the telescope, each gas producing a different wavelength.

Dr Drake Deming from Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Maryland, US, has looked for signs of water on similar gas giants in the past. He says water vapour in the atmosphere leaves an unmistakeable signal.

“It produces a unique fingerprint, water vapour modulates the shape of the radiation in a very characteristic way,” he said.

As the planet is so far away it is hard to determine how much of the radiation detected by the telescope comes from this gas giant and how much from the star it orbits.

The scientists solved this problem by studying its orbit.

“There is a time when we know the planet is not visible, so we know the light comes only from the star,” says Dr Carl Grillmair from the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, who led the research.

They found HD 1897733b goes round its star every 2.2 days, by taking measurements over several orbiting cycles and deducting the radiation produced during the time when they couldn’t see the planet – when it was behind its star – they were able to see how much radiation the planet emitted on its own.

“The key to these measurements is the eclipse geometry, we have a unique moment in which to observe the star in isolation,” said Dr Deming.

Carbon Dioxide

The scientists were puzzled by earlier observations of HD 189733b and similar gas giants. They expected to see water vapour, but the telescopes did not detect any.

“We concluded there was no water a couple of years ago, the theoreticians were upset, they’d predicted it would be there. We didn’t understand it. We looked much harder we watched it for over 120 hours, and sure enough there was the signature matching brilliantly with the models,” said Dr Grillmair.

He suggests the planet’s proximity to the star means its atmosphere is constantly changing.

“With planets this close to their star, the star covers perhaps half the planet, you’re going to get enormous heat loads that create storms, perhaps clouds one year and none the next – this thing is changing right before our eyes” said Dr Grillmair.

The scientists suggest high clouds created by the storms may have hidden the water vapour in the earlier observations, they are confident that the latest findings are correct.

“What’s new about this is it’s unequivocal,” says Dr Deming.

In a separate development, Nasa says the Hubble space telescope has detected carbon dioxide in HD189733’s atmosphere.

Although the agency is keen to stress the planet is far too hot to support life, it says the finding represents an important proof of concept, showing that it is possible to detect CO2 in the atmospheres of distant planets orbiting other stars, and that the same method could be used to look at planets which might support life.

“The very fact we are able to detect it and estimate its abundance is significant for the long-term effort of characterising planets to find out what they are made of and if they could be a possible host for life,” said Mark Swain, a research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who analysed the Hubble images.


What do Sarah Palin, Facebook and Euro 2008 have in common?

They are all on the list of the top 10 fastest-rising queries on Google during 2008.

The search engine has published its year-end Zeitgeist, the tool which reveals what internet users are searching for.

The most searched term for Google users in the UK was Facebook while the BBC came second and its iPlayer service was the fastest rising query.

The list also reveals what global preoccupations are and this year the US election candidates and the Beijing Olympics figure high.

The things people around the globe have in common are a strong interest in socialising and politics, according to Marissa Mayer, vice-president of search at Google.

“Social networks comprised four out of the top 10 global fastest-rising queries while the US election held everyone’s interest around the globe,” she wrote on Google’s official blog.

Popular politicians

The economic crisis has made an impact on UK searchers with “money saving expert” and “hot uk deals” making the top 10 finance-related searches.

Gordon Brown will be pleased to hear that he beat David Cameron into second place on the list of most popular politicians among UK searchers.

Barack Obama made it into third place with rival John McCain coming in seventh.

Foodies were interested in recipes for cupcakes, meatballs, lemon posset and pork belly, while the hottest tickets in the UK went to Oasis and Leonard Cohen (first and second respectively).

Popular music

While news and weather tend to be the most searched for terms globally there are still plenty of country-specific quirks, according to Ms Mayer.

“Russians elected Dmitri Medvedev as their president but a couple of popular music acts got more attention from Google searchers,” she wrote.

In Poland the fifth fastest-rising term was Jozin z Bazin, the title of a 1978 Czech song which has been popular on YouTube.