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Friday, August 17, 2007Crows As A Master
Crows have shown that two tools are better than one when it comes to problem solving, scientists say.
A University of Auckland study has revealed that New Caledonian crows can use separate tools in quick succession to retrieve an out-of-reach snack.
The birds were using reasoning that was more commonly seen in great apes and humans, the New Zealand team reported in the journal Current Biology.
New Caledonian crows are renowned for their tool-making ability.
The birds (Corvus moneduloides), which are found on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia, use their bills to whittle twigs into hooks and cut and tear leaves into barbed probes that can extract bugs and grubs from crevices.
To further test the crows' tool-using talents, scientists set seven wild birds a tricky task.
The crows were presented with:
A scrap of meat, which was tucked away, out of reach, in a box;
A small twig, which was too short to reach the food;
And another longer twig, which was long enough to reach the food, but was locked away well out of bill-grabbing range in another box.
The birds surprised the scientists with their quick thinking.
Alex Taylor, lead author of the paper, said: "The creative thing the crows did was to use the short stick to get the long tool out of the box so that they could then use the long stick to get the meat."
Russell Gray, another author of the paper, told the BBC News website: "What is most amazing is that most of them did this on the first trial.
It is just a puzzle why this one species on this island in the middle of the South Pacific can do this amazing thing
"The first time we gave them the problem, six out of seven tried to do the right thing.
"They took the little tool and they tried to get the big tool out, which we had made quite hard to reach, and four out of the six managed to get the big tool out and then use this to get to the food."
In another experiment, the positions of the long and short twigs were reversed.
The team found that all apart from one crow briefly attempted to use the long twig to try to retrieve the short twig from box before quickly correcting their mistake and using the long twig to directly access the food.
The scientists said the crows' performance was comparable to that of the great apes in similar experiments.
The team believes that because the birds were able to solve the problem on their first attempt they were using analogical reasoning rather than trial and error.
Analogical reasoning is the process of solving a problem using experience gained from solving related previous problems.
Professor Gray said: "The birds were making an analogy: instead of using a tool to get food they used the tool to get another tool to get the food."
This kind of reasoning, added Professor Gray, was commonly seen in humans and possibly in great apes.
"It might explain why the New Caledonian crows - out of all the crow species in the world - only these crows routinely make and use tools," he said.
"It is just a puzzle why this one species on this island in the middle of the South Pacific can do this amazing thing - and we don't really know the answer to this."
The women are too afraid and ashamed to show their faces or have their real names used. They have been driven to sell their bodies to put food on the table for their children -- for as little as $8 a day.
Suha, 37, is a mother of three. She says her husband thinks she is cleaning houses when she leaves home.
1 of 3 "People shouldn't criticize women, or talk badly about them," says 37-year-old Suha as she adjusts the light colored scarf she wears these days to avoid extremists who insist women cover themselves. "They all say we have lost our way, but they never ask why we had to take this path."
A mother of three, she wears light makeup, a gold pendant of Iraq around her neck, and an unexpected air of elegance about her.
"I don't have money to take my kid to the doctor. I have to do anything that I can to preserve my child, because I am a mother," she says, explaining why she prostitutes herself.
Anger and frustration rise in her voice as she speaks.
"No matter what else I may be, no matter how off the path I may be, I am a mother!" Watch a woman describe turning to prostitution to "save my child" »
Her clasped hands clench and unclench nervously. Suha's husband thinks that she is cleaning houses when she goes away.
So does Karima's family.
"At the start I was cleaning homes, but I wasn't making much. No matter how hard I worked it just wasn't enough," she says.
Karima, clad in all black, adds, "My husband died of lung cancer nine months ago and left me with nothing."
She has five children, ages 8 to 17. Her eldest son could work, but she's too afraid for his life to let him go into the streets, preferring to sacrifice herself than risk her child.
She was solicited the first time when she was cleaning an office.
"They took advantage of me," she says softly. "At first I rejected it, but then I realized I have to do it."
Both Suha and Karima have clients that call them a couple times a week. Other women resort to trips to the market to find potential clients. Or they flag down vehicles.
Prostitution is a choice more and more Iraqi women are making just to survive.
How to help
Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq
Truck bombings kill at least 500
Interpreters in harm's way
"It's increasing," Suha says. "I found this 'thing' through my friend, and I have another friend in the same predicament as mine. Because of the circumstance, she is forced to do such things."
Violence, increased cost of living, and lack of any sort of government aid leave women like these with few other options, according to humanitarian workers.
"At this point there is a population of women who have to sell their bodies in order to keep their children alive," says Yanar Mohammed, head and founder of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq. "It's a taboo that no one is speaking about."
She adds, "There is a huge population of women who were the victims of war who had to sell their bodies, their souls and they lost it all. It crushes us to see them, but we have to work on it and that's why we started our team of women activists."
Her team pounds the streets of Baghdad looking for these victims often too humiliated to come forward.
"Most of the women that we find at hospitals [who] have tried to commit suicide" have been involved in prostitution, said Basma Rahim, a member of Mohammed's team.
The team's aim is to compile information on specific cases and present it to Iraq's political parties -- to have them, as Mohammed puts it, "come tell us what [they] are ... going to do about this."
Rahim tells the heartbreaking story of one woman they found who lives in a room with three of her children: "She has sex while her three children are in the room, but she makes them stand in separate corners."
According to Rahim and Mohammed, most of the women they encounter say they are driven to prostitution by a desperate desire for survival in the dangerously violent and unforgiving circumstances in Iraq.
"They took this path but they are not pleased," Rahim says.
Karima says when she sees her children with food on the table, she is able to convince herself that it's worth it. "Everything is for the children. They are the beauty in life and, without them, we cannot live."
But she says, "I would never allow my daughter to do this. I would rather marry her off at 13 than have her go through this."
Karima's last happy memory is of her late husband, when they were a family and able to shoulder the hardships of life in today's Iraq together.
Suha says as a young girl she dreamed of being a doctor, with her mom boasting about her potential in that career. Life couldn't have taken her further from that dream.
"It's not like we were born into this, nor was it ever in my blood," she says.
What she does for her family to survive now eats away at her. "I lay on my pillow and my brain is spinning, and it all comes back to me as if I am watching a movie."