Balloonatic

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Russ Atkinson
Russ joined Factory having completed his degree in Graphic Design at The Arts Institute at Bournemouth. Handling the rare combination of a mastery of both words and images, Russ lends his writing skills to his overarching responsibility for design and production scheduling. Russ loves building BMWs of both the 2 and 4 wheel variety.
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Bored this winter? So was Kent Couch. In  a bid to outdo rival Sir Richard Branson, the 47 year old petrol station owner filled 105 balloons with helium, attached them to his favourite garden chair, then sat back and drifted away.

His bizarre adventure took him from Oregon in the US, to the neighbouring state of Idaho.About nine hours later, he came back to earth in a farmer?s field, a little way from home (about 193 miles to be precise). Thats roughly the distance from Jersey to London and a much cheaper option than flying. Don?t all rush out to Ransom?s just yet though, we wouldn?t recommend re-creating his balloon adventure at home. In a previous attempt in September, Mr Couch got off the ground for six hours using a pellet gun to pop the balloons,  but he went into a rapid descent and eventually had to parachute to safety.

?When you?re a little kid and you?re holding a helium balloon, it has to cross your mind?.

Male topi antelope?s sex burden

Choosy males and aggressive females – a role reversal has been found in the sexual behaviour of the topi antelope. Some males are so forcefully pursued by pushy females that they refuse the advances of previous partners.

According to research published in the journal Current Biology, this helps males conserve their sperm for the possibility of mating with new females. It therefore increases the chances of fatherhood with the widest possible number of partners.

Dr Jakob Bro-Jorgensen, the scientist conducting the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) research, said: ?In cases where the male antelope was free to choose between females, he deliberately went for the most novel mate, rather than the most high-ranking.?
He added: ?However, some pushy females were so aggressive in their pursuit of the male that he actually had physically to attack them to rebuff their advances.?
The research was undertaken in the Masai Mara area of Kenya, in the traditional breeding grounds of the topi.

Copious copulations
Females are fertile for a single day only. The topi antelope (Damaliscus lunatus jimela) come together once a year, for just over a month to mate.

Dr Bro-Jorgensen said: ?It is not uncommon to see males collapsing with exhaustion as the demands of the females get too much for them.?

He observed that each female would mate, on average, with four males, while some reached 12 different partners. And each individual would be mated with approximately 11 times, although one pair was observed together on 36 occasions.

Unexpected behaviour
These findings are contrary to conventional sexual selection theory which says males are competitive and females are choosy. Talking to the BBC News website, Dr Bro-Jorgensen said: ?We may not have our eyes open to the fact that opposite sexual conflicts may occur more commonly than we think. Normally, males are persistent and females resistant. What I saw in African topi was unexpected.?
The synchronised mating activity, and the species? promiscuity, makes males the limited resource and females the competitive ones.

It is thought the females are interested in mating with several partners to ensure fertilisation, in case their first choice happens to have reduced sperm supply, or is genetically incompatible with them.