“How we treat animals is often dependent on how they display characteristics we think are human.”
That is why London-based animal photographer Tim Flach focuses his lens on the close-up detail that “beautifully highlights the similarities between animals and humans. Flach told the New York Times that he wants his photos to engage people in debates about our relationship with animals.”
“If you go to the supermarket today, we’re more used to seeing packaged animals with no feathers and no head,” he says. He aims to show us how they should be seen. More and more we are learning about nonhumans’ personality,intelligence, and emotions, that are just like ours.
Animals display loving tendencies towards their young, their family, and their friends
They have proven to be much more intelligent than we ever thought possible
Though we feel like we are above or “better than” animals …
… they are incredibly similar to us in many ways
Their emotional capacity is astounding
Even the animals we consider completely different from us have human-like qualities
If you truly look at the animals around you …
… you will find how much you have in common with them …
… and how amazing they truly all are
Please, please, please check out Tim’s website. I have rarely, if ever, seen such stunning photos of animals. The man is a genius!
The Dene Déline are a First Nation people of Canada, with a name-meaning that positively sings:
“Where the water flows”
The People of Great Bear Lake
The settlement of Déline lies on the western shore of Great Bear Lake in the remote Northwest Territories. Great Bear Lake, which is sacred to the Dene Déline, is as vast as the ocean. And so pristine, so pure, “you can lower a cup into the water and drink it.” ¹
The Dene Déline’s spiritual connection with the lake is ancient and profound – their other name, Sahtuto’ine, means ‘People of Bear Lake’. There is a myth passed down through the generations that at the bottom of the lake there lies a gigantic beating heart, a water-heart which gives life to the grass and the trees, the insects, the birds, the animals – and to them. To everything.
“There are prophecies, and relationships with the lake that go back thousands of years. There is, in fact, a prophecy that talks about Great Bear Lake being one of the last remaining bodies of freshwater on this planet.” Stan Boychuk, expert in First Nation culture.
The prophecy he refers to was made by a Dene Déline elder by the name of Eht’se Ayah, who “foretold that in the future, people from the south would come to Great Bear Lake because it would be one of the few places left with water to drink and fish to eat. He said so many boats would come that you could walk from one to another without entering the water. Simply put, Great Bear Lake would be a last refuge for humanity.” ¹
Today, in the 21st century, Eht’se Ayah’s prophecy has already partly come true. Of the 10 largest lakes in the world (yes, we may never have heard of Great Bear Lake, but it comes in at no. 8, bigger than Belgium and deeper than Lake Superior), it is the only one still remaining unspoilt, intact, primeval.
Unexpectedly, a new report from NASA of all things, gives additional credibility to Ayah’s prophecy. NASA’s GRACE satellite mission finds that of the world’s 37 largest aquifers (layers of water-bearing permeable rock under the Earth’s surface), 21 are being depleted at an unsustainable rate, and of those, 8 have little or no water recharging them. We “are inching toward a world where fresh water is much more difficult to come by.” Read more
The Dene Déline’s Territory, Tsá Tué
A while back, if you wanted to visit the township of Déline on the lake shore, you would need to take a hair-raising 200 mile drive along an ice road in the winter time, the only time you could get there by road, and when the temperature is in the minus 20s C. Nowadays you can fly to see the wonder that is Tsá Tué, the 36,000 sq miles of taiga around Déline – ancient boreal forest and water, and one of UNESCO’s most newly-designated biospheres. You can see from the map below how remote Tsá Tué is. And, what 36,000 sq miles looks like – BIG!
You would be forgiven for thinking that sometime over my many years I might have stumbled across biospheres, especially as there are 669 of them dotted about the world. But no. Now I have though, I’m very excited. They are SSSSs – ‘Science for Sustainability Support Sites’, jargon for those special places where human life and activity is both sustainable, and in balance with the local ecosystem.
A UNESCO biosphere typically comprises three interrelated zones:
A core ecosystem of strictly protected landscape, wildlife and plants, with enough genetic diversity to maintain a healthy population of local species
A buffer zone surrounding the core where only activity compatible with research, education and training is permitted
A transition area – the outer circle – where human economic activity goes on, in a way that is culturally and ecologically sustainable
You’ll find biospheres in the Volga floodplain in Russia, in the Maldives, Ecuador, China, India, Japan – in 120 different countries. Closer to home there’s one in France’s Dordogne region, and here in the UK, Galloway & southern Ayrshire where two biospheres merge.
Back at Tsá Tué
Tsá Tué is not only one of the most recently designated biospheres (2016); it’s not only the largest on the North American continent; it is also the only one in the world entirely controlled by an indigenous people. Shortly after its designation by UNESCO as a biosphere, the Canadian government granted Déline self-government, strengthening the Sahtuto’ine’s ability to protect their land and Great Bear Lake. And this is how they celebrated that historic moment in the life of their people:
Tsá Tué’s biodiversity is rich and healthy
The Sahtuto’ine live in harmony with the lake and the land, seeing themselves as stewards of this magnificent piece of N. American wilderness. They have been here for 6000 years, as much a part of the landscape as the grizzlies, moose and caribou they share it with, the snowshoe hares, the arctic foxes, wolves, wolverines and lynx.
And birds: ducks and geese, sparrows, finches, waxwings, warblers, sandpipers, cranes, hawks and eagles in their billions. All these and more nest and raise young in the Canadian taiga, feasting on the humid summer’s swarms of insects, and fall’s berry bonanza before they leave once more, migrating to more temperate climes.
Tsá Tué’s biodiversity has suffered no diminution in recent years – unlike the devastating losses in the ecosystems of, for instance, the Borneo rainforest or the Amazon basin. That isn’t just down to the almost inaccessible remoteness of the territory the Sahtuto’ine inhabit, although that certainly helps. Even supposing they had little respect for the plant and animal life they live among (but the very opposite is the case), with a tiny population of just 600 souls they would be very hard pressed to make much of an impact on their vast wilderness environment. In Tsá Tué, the Sahtuto’ine average 1 person to every 60 sq miles. Compare that with the UK’s 1,010 people to 1 sq mile. Little wonder our own biodiversity is under such severe pressure.
In that case, why does Tsá Tué need this biosphere designation from UNESCO?
The designation will help this tiny community resist attempts from outsiders to exploit their land. Predatory multinational corporations find ways of circumventing protections, even those instituted at national level. There is reason to fear. The area’s natural resources have been plundered before.²
Being an SSSS will make it that much harder to do. And that together with their new self-governing status means their future as a people, and the guardianship of Tsá Tué, belong entirely in their own hands.
Sahtuto’ine beliefs – “When People and Animals were Equal”
“There was a time when it was believed that everyone was the same – animals, birds and humans. It was believed that a creature or a human could change from animal to bird, human to animal, bird to animal. It was also believed that with the change, animals and birds had the power to speak.”
That time “came to an end about the time the first European explorers arrived in the area. By then, most animals no longer had the power to speak or to change their appearance. Only medicine persons with strong dream power could still talk to the animals.” ³
“Every seed is awakened and so is all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being and we therefore yield to our animal neighbours the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land”
The wisdom of Sitting Bull, a Teton Dakota chief of the 19th century, not a Sahtuto’ine of course, but voicing a belief common to all First Nation peoples of N. America.
Historically, “Animals were respected as equal in rights to humans. Of course they were hunted, but only for food, and the hunter first asked permission of the animal’s spirit. Among the hunter-gatherers the land was owned in common: there was no concept of private property in land, and the idea that it could be bought and sold was repugnant. Many Indians had an appreciation of nature’s beauty as intense as any Romantic poet.
“The Indians viewed the white man’s attitude to nature as the polar opposite of the Indian. The white man seemed hell-bent on destroying not just the Indians, but the whole natural order, felling forests, clearing land, killing animals for sport.”▪︎
But the Sahtuto’ine traditional culture remains little changed. We can be sure they will continue to treasure the priceless pristine wilderness that is Tsá Tué. It could not be in safer hands.
Let’s give the last word to Sahtuto’ine Walter Behza, who has had the responsibility of managing these boreal lands for many years and is now official Integrated Resource Management Advisor for Tsá Tué:
“Listen to what the land wants, listen to what the lake wants, listen to what the animals want”
²”The area became prominent when pitchblende was discovered at the Eldorado Mine, some 250 km (160 mi) away, on the eastern shore, at Port Radium. During World War II, the Canadian Government took over the mine and began to produce uranium for the then-secret Americannuclear bombproject. Uranium product was transported from Port Radium by barge across Great Bear Lake where a portage network was established along the Bear River, across the bay from Fort Franklin, where many of the Dene men found work. As the risks associated with radioactive materials were not well communicated, it is believed that many of the Dene were exposed to dangerous amounts of radiation, which Déline residents believe resulted in the development of cancer and led to premature deaths. Wiki
Well, we can put the dinosaur question to bed right away, because it can’t be done. Those particular animals have been extinct for more than 65 million years and there simply is no viable DNA to recover.
Dodos? Yes. The dodo is on the list of ‘Candidate Species for De-extinction’. To be a possible candidate the chosen animal must have a living genetic relative, and the dodo does have one, and a very pretty one at that – the Nicobar pigeon, seen here
Of the two main contenders for resurrection, one is large and iconic like the dinosaur – the woolly mammoth. And the other is a bird like the dodo – the great auk.
So how would it be done?
You have to start by retrieving the animal’s DNA, either from fossils in museums or from preserved tissue in permafrost. From that sample the whole genetic code is rebuilt. Enter our friend CRISPR and the DNA is edited into an embryo of its nearest living relative. (There are a couple of other methods if you want to read more)
With the mammoth (relative Asian elephant) we’re already at this stage. Next we need a mother to carry that embryo to term. Or if not a mother, at least a womb which in this case will be an artificial one.
Great auks could be edited into razorbill DNA with a mother goose as parent. Projects for ‘de-extincting’ heath hens and passenger pigeons are also on the move.
That said, it’s all – if not entirely a pipe-dream – still a long way off. Not in my lifetime anyway.
They are great believers in de-extinction and here’s why:
Preserving biodiversity and genetic diversity
Restoring ecosystems that have diminished since the animals went extinct
Importantly, estorative justice – undoing the harm that we humans did to them in the past
Advancing science to prevent future extinctions
An example of where de-extinction research is already proving beneficial is the American Chestnut tree. A fungus rendered it extinct in its natural environment, but the genome of lab specimens has been tweaked to make it fungus-resistant. And now it’s ready for successful reintroduction.
In March, a panel of five experts discussed an intriguing topic the recent Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in New York: if we went extinct ourselves, would it be a good idea for a superior life form to bring us humans back?
Not that we would get a say in such a scenario. But my own preemptive answer would be NO, NO, NO, bearing in mind the forces of destruction we’ve unleashed on the planet and all the other species we (don’t) share it with.
The panel’s objection to the idea was very different Their worry would be what this superior life form might do with us:
Were another intelligent life to de-extinctify humans, would they put us in a zoo-like environment? For a sentient being, that would be “extremely frightening and scary,” said panelist Greg Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York. “The animal welfare concerns just get overwhelming.”
Funny how that matters for humans but not for any other sentient animals already held captive in zoos. Hard to believe an intelligent person could make such a remark and not pause to reflect on what he has just said. Come to think of it though, perhaps a zoo (where we could inflict no further harm) might be the best place to contain such a dangerous species as Homo Sapiens.
Why not to bother?
Let’s forget humans for a moment. Aside from the practical scientific difficulties, why is de-extinction problematical? There are many compelling reasons:
If the de-extinctified animal is not a perfect copy of its forebears, could it be classified as the same species, or would we actually be playing God and creating a whole new species, a Frankenstein’s monster?
What of failed attempts resulting in maimed, deformed, stillborn animals?
If the animal did turn out a perfect copy, wouldn’t it immediately have to go on the endangered Red List?
What if appropriate food sources and habitat no longer exist?
What if the microbiota (the bacterial life within the species’ body, vital in maintaining its functioning) no longer exists and cannot be replicated?
Alternatively what if the DNA of a virus had, unbeknownst to the de-extinctifiers, incorporated itself into the animals’ genetic code? De-extinction carries the possibility of apocalyptic fallout
What effects might there be on present ecosystems? Another dangerous unknown
How many animals of one species need to be de-extinctified to provide a wide enough gene pool? We know it can’t be done for dinosaurs, but even if it could, “It would take about 5,000 Velociraptors (or any dinosaur species, for that matter) to make a sustainable population with sufficient genetic diversity. “ Todd Marshall
Where exactly does human responsibility for the revived creatures end?
And most importantly of all to my mind, wouldn’t the money at present spent on de-extinction research, be put to better use protecting, and improving the habitat of, the huge numbers of species already at high risk of extinction?
And, might funding de-extinction of a small number of species actually threaten the survival chances of a larger number of already existing species?
For me it’s a no-brainer, and researchers in biodiversity agree. The answer to those last two questions is a resounding Yes. In New Zealand for example, government funds at present earmarked for reviving 11 extinct species threaten to sacrifice at least 31 existing ones. The negative impact on biodiversity looks to be even greater in Australia where funding is allocated for 5 extinct species. More than 8 times that number of existing threatened species could be saved for the same money.
We’re hopelessly failing to safeguard life forms in the here and now, so is it wise to use scientific expertise and precious funding to bring back the distant dead – those that really are as dead as a dodo?
Jurassic Park? Inspired idea for a movie. Let’s just leave it where it belongs – on the silver screen.
Birds. Airports. Those two words rarely if ever sit happily together. The Airbus forced in 2009 to make a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River after Canada geese were sucked into both engines, triggered an unstoppable wave of bird slaughter at airports round the world. The unfortunate animals just happening to be in the ‘wrong’ place were gassed, shot and poisoned in an attempt to prevent bird ‘strikes’ on aircraft. Still are. Airports in China included. At China’s east coast Lishe Airport, for instance, the grassland where migrating egrets stop to feed is being sprayed with rat poison.
“Where biodiversity is most in trouble, it’s in trouble because of direct conflict with human activity.”
So, the world’s first ever custom-built airport for birds? Mudflats, reed beds, lakes and shallow rapids – something for every feathered frequent flyer. Not a plane in sight – and in China?
China’s conservation record has not been so hot in the past, to put it politely, so it’s a big surprise, but an incredibly welcome one. In actual fact, the super-power is now ahead of the game in the management of flourishing ecosystems and has declared its vision of becoming the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹
“It’s just such a historic moment in China, with the highest level of government pushing for a level of investment in nature that’s completely unprecedented.”Yale University ecologist Gretchen Daily,
The Chinese government partnered with Yale and with Gretchen, co-director of the Natural Capital Project, for research on the state of their network of national parks and nature reserves. And now the ecologist is helping the Chinese ‘reimagine’ these spaces to reverse the decline in biodiversity, and at the same time provide ecosystem services such as sandstorm protection and flood control.
“We’re recommending a great expansion of nature reserves to encompass all of the major groups of biodiversity that we studied, which includes plants and the four vertebra groups — mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. That involves many new reserves being established”
And the Lingang Bird Sanctuary in Tianjin is such a one. It has been “specifically designed to accommodate thousands of daily takeoffs and landings by the 50 million birds traveling along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.”This flyway, one of 9 major bird migration flyways across the globe, stretches over 22 countries – the list includes China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, taking in Indonesia and Thailand on the way.
The new ‘airport’ at Lingang is all good news:
It’s where it’s most needed, sitting in the most threatened of all 9 global flyways, and in a country where 70% of intertidal habitat has been lost in the last 10 years
It’s expected to provide the perfect refuelling stop for those millions of migrating waterbirds – more than 50 species
The design² includes an education and research centre – another plus for bird conservation
It will provide green lungs for the city of Tianjin, frequently blanketed with smog so thick it shuts down its real airports
It will also act as a ‘sponge city’³ (more below)
It transforms a former ugly, dirty, smelly landfill site into a fabulous green eco park
It will provide a much-needed green space where humans too can enjoy the outdoors, breath fresh clean air, wander along miles of walking and cycling trails, watch the wonder of migrating birds and hopefully learn the value of making space in our overcrowded world for other living creatures
Let’s hope Lingang, due to be completed in 2018 ready for its visitors, human, avian and hopefully a bounty of other wildlife, will provide a template for such projects in the future.
¹“The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet
Wow – way to go China! Other countries take note. Ms Daily though sounds a note of caution:
“Aligning the activities of over a billion people around conservation might prove to be a challenge, even with the best of leadership we can hope for.”
²Australian landscape architecture firm McGregor Coxall (“We Value Cities Ecologies & Communities”) partnered with Avifauna Research in this ambitious project.
Lingang bird airport is one of 16 pilot projects in the new Sponge City initiative. In the most populated country in the world, where half of its 527 rapidly-growing cities suffer water shortages classed by the UN as ‘severe’, and another half have woefully inadequate flood protection, there’s a pressing need for storm water to be ‘reimagined’. Last year for instance, the floods in north and central China killed at least 150 people with many more missing, destroyed 53,000 houses and saw hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
But all that water can be turned from a disaster into an opportunity. ‘Reimagine’ the city as a giant, super-absorbant sponge. Catch the water with rooftop gardens, and at road-level plant-filled ditches (called bioswales) instead of concrete, and lo, you have water for gardens and urban farms, for flushing toilets, and even replenishing drinking water supplies. And zero flooding.
“The single greatest thing you can do to help these animals is by joining millions of others in making the pledge to never support marine parks like SeaWorld. As proven by the park’s latest sales report, people have the power to create serious change.” Let’s keep voting with our feet and #EmptyTheTanks!
Hurray for a bit of good news. Just when you think you’ve heard the worst atrocities humans inflict on other animals, some new horror smacks you in the face. But it’s not going to drag us down. Giving up while billions of our fellow creatures are still suffering is not an option. So yay for some success – we have each other and we ARE making a difference!
“If anyone doubts the power of public opinion to create positive change, this story will change their mind. Largely thanks to the powerful 2013 documentary Blackfish that revealed the horrifying truth of the lives of whales and dolphins in captivity, the public’s viewpoint on marine parks has drastically changed. This fact is evident by SeaWorld’s latest financial report that shows sales and attendance rates have dropped by 15 percent in the second quarter of 2017.
“In a press release on May 9, 2017, SeaWorld reported total revenues of $186.4 million versus $220.2 million from the first quarter 2016. This is a decrease of $33.9 million…. Attendance numbers [also] saw a major drop….About 491,000 fewer guests visited the park in the second quarter, which is a 14.9 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2016.”
“If there are 2 things we have to do, one is renewable energy because that would solve the problem of climate change. And the other is reduce our consumption of meat because overwhelmingly it’s meat that’s destroying wildlife habitats, either in terms of grazing animals or growing animal feed to feed animals.
“And if we could tackle both of those things, renewable energy and meat consumption we would go a very long way to solving the problems.”
Executive Director of Greenpeace John Selwyn
In the run up to Earth Day, John appeared on Radio 4’s PM yesterday with Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Cambridge Andrew Balmford, and Heather Koldeway Head of Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programs at London Zoological Society.
All three agree: while we men and women in the street do need to face the truth, dire as it may be, for them as conservationists to be doing nothing but pouring out doom and gloom is counterproductive. We respond to negative messages by defensiveness and denial – burying our heads even deeper in the sand. Positive messages on the other hand, empower us. So it’s important to present the problem and the solution together. Because there certainly are answers. And we can see already lots of great conservation success stories coming in from all over the world. ¹
John Selwyn has some memorable lines:
“The optimism of action is better than the pessimism of thought.”
Even more succinctly, “Pessimism doesn’t sell.”
And reassuringly, “Every individual person is part of the solution.”
Useful sayings to bear in mind in animal advocacy too!
And Prof Balmford adds, “Conservation of the natural world is essentially about human behaviour. It’s not something we need to do to species out there, to places out there. It’s about changing the way in which we ourselves behave.”
Listen to the full 10 minute discussion here (Starts 42 minutes into the program)
Executive Director of Earth Day Initiative John Oppermann pinpoints another obstacle we stumble over when we want to do our bit for the planet:
” I think the challenge is people get bogged down by lists of dozens of things they could do to green their lifestyles. So we’re making it simple with a new campaign that we’re launching as a countdown to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It’s aimed at cutting through the noise by asking people to do just one thing. We’re focusing in on the intersection between impact and convenience by asking people to sign up for clean energy via their utility bills.”
Disappointing that this other John has narrowed it down to one action we can take (rather than John Selwyn’s two) and focused on green energy – no mention of cutting back on meat consumption. Clearly, both are very important. But if we could only do one, considering the devastating impact meat production is having on the environment in terms of destruction of wildlife habitats, virgin forest clearance, soil degradation, greenhouse gases, and land, water and air pollution – not to mention the immense suffering of billions of animals – cutting back on the meat would definitely be my number one choice.
Read more about Earth Day Initiative and what the organisation is doing year-round to promote environmental awareness and solutions here
So be encouraged. Be empowered. Every little thing we do does make a difference. Nothing is wasted. It’s never pointless. And stamp this motto on your brain, as I am trying to stamp it on my forgetful grey matter!
“The optimism of action is better than the pessimism of thought.”
We must never give up. There is too much at stake.
¹ Many wildlife and conservation groups published details of their wins in 2016. To be cheered and encouraged some more, just click here to see the Center for Biological Diversity’s list of victories. And for the WWF’s here
“If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”
― Noam Chomsky
In the fantastical political landscape we are inhabiting right now, those in power energetically pursue their own materialistic, money-driven agenda. Whatif in the process their hobnail boots trample all over the environment, animals, conservation, science, public lands, people, the climate. The whole shebang. Planet Earth itself. And leave behind a footprint that is anything but small and green? Are they blinkered by greed, or do they simply not care?
Earth Day Saturday 22nd April is our chance to show the clique now in the seats of power that we hold dear what they despise. They are too shortsighted – but we are not – to see that the paths of self-interest they have chosen lead straight to doomsday, armageddon, the apocalypse. Whatever you like to call it. The end of life on Earth as we know it. Truly.
The stakes could not be higher.
So here is a selection of ways we can join over 1 billion other people and testify to our celebration of, and our firm intention to, safeguard the wonder that is Planet Earth
Show your solidarity by taking part in an Earth Optimism event near you
Dr Jane Goodall will be topping the bill in Cambridge UK, where there will be talks and activities for all ages. Not forgetting the event taking place in London.
Dallas, Washington DC, New York, Santa Fe, Miami, Chicago and many other US cities, as well as Finland, Columbia, Canada, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Panama are all staging events and celebrations of their own. For the full program click here.
Or join the March for Science taking place in more than 500 communities worldwide
Find out more about the March for Science here and here
Dr David Suzuki also tells us “Why We Must March for Science”:
Because “politicians are supposed to work for the long-term well-being of people who elect them, not to advance the often shortsighted agendas of those who pay large sums of money to get their way regardless of the consequences …” Read more here
Professor Brian Cox on the Role of Science in a Democracy
“This Earth Day is all about celebrating Every Corner of the World!” says Team Sierra. They want you to
get outside and join in by hiking in YOUR corner this Earth Day
Share what is special about your corner of the earth using hashtags #EveryCorner and #TeamSierra
In the summer of 2016 a daring duo of capybaras staged an escape during their transfer to the zoo, evaded capture and stayed on the run for more than a month before they were caught. Bonnie and Clyde in furry rodent form. Of course all the publicity they attracted did the zoo and its visitor numbers no harm at all, particularly when this February the pair hit the headlines once again by becoming proud parents to three cute capybara babies. It seems these truants were honeymooning all along.
An Animal Conspiracy?
Would you ever have thought an animal as big and conspicuous as a kangaroo could be wandering at large in Germany? Well in 2012 not one kangaroo, but three – Skippy, Mick and Jack – broke free from a zoological park near Frankfurt, aided and abetted by local wildlife, a fox and a wild boar. They’d dug holes under the park’s fences through which the trio escaped. No-one is quite sure if the fox and the boar were motivated by fellow feeling for the incarcerated trio, or the handy holes were just a bye-product of a hunt for worms.
Timorous Skippy was recaptured almost immediately. Jack two days later after “a long chase”. As kangas travel at about 15mph, that must have been a sight to behold. Mick was the last kanga still at large. The park’s deputy head Michael Hoffman reassured the public: “He’s super friendly, super nice. Absolutely no danger at all .”
His eventual capture was as spectacular as his jailbreak – he was “pounced on by a policeman”. I’m guessing the only kanga anywhere ever to be taken into custody by an officer of the law.
How about breaking into the zoo?
Why on earth would an animal do such a thing? A nameless wild Bengal tiger could give you the answer – if you could find him. It seems though he was looking for love. Feminine allure proved irresistible for this guy when in 2012 he broke into a female’s enclosure at Nandankanan Zoo. No-one including the lady herself seemed to mind and the male stayed there happily for several weeks. Until he decided enough was enough and scaled the enclosure’s two-storey high security wall, disappearing into the night never to be seen again, much to the disappointment of the zoo. History does not record if the love match resulted in the patter of tiny paws.
Ghost Cat of Dartmoor
Remember beautiful Flaviu? The young lynx who last July, newly arrived at Dartmoor Zoo, broke out by chewing through a board in the wall of his enclosure? He enjoyed three whole weeks of roaming free, successfully evading zoo staff, volunteers, police, helicopters, drones, baited traps, motion sensor cameras, and even the services of ‘a secretive individual with expertise in tracking’, before he was re-captured.
There was no question about this cat’s ability to survive in the wild. The only fear was that he might be targeted as a coveted hunting trophy to inflate some bonehead’s ego. But I for one was sad when this wild cat was returned to the zoo. No doubt the farmers who lost four lambs to him thought otherwise.
How has Flaviu been in the 9 months or so that have elapsed since his taste of freedom? “Though the lynx is safe and sound, zoo officials say he is ‘grumpy,’ and report that they are trying to find Flaviu a female companion to lift his mood.”
And then there was Inky
What can I say?
Finally, the Sad Tale of Ken Allen
Borneo orangutan Ken Allen aka Houdini (San Diego Zoo) romps away with the multiple-escape award, no competition. In 1985 he made no less than three attempts in as many months. The first time, in June, he was spotted enjoying a leisurely stroll along one of the zoo’s public paths – having scaled the wall of his ‘escape-proof’ enclosure.
“Zoo staff began surveillance of his enclosure to try to catch him in the act, only to find that Ken Allen seemed to be aware that he was being watched for that very purpose. This forced zookeepers to go “undercover”, posing as tourists to learn Ken Allen’s escape route, but Ken Allen was not fooled. Moreover, other orangutans began following Ken Allen’s lead and began escaping from the enclosure. Zoo officials eventually hired experienced rock climbers to find every finger, toe, and foothold within the enclosure and spent $40,000 to eliminate the identified holds.”¹
Not to be daunted, in July he broke out again. In August the cunning ape, finding a crowbar accidentally left in his pen, tossed it over to a female by the name of Vicki who was able to use it to open a window and let him out.
In spite of his will to live free, poor Ken Allen remained captive in the zoo until his death from cancer in 2000 aged 29. Born in captivity, died in captivity. RIP Ken Allen.
These animal capers are pure gold for the press. Even more so for the zoos concerned, as well as a source of entertaining fun for the public. Ken Allen’s exploits were celebrated on t-shirts, and he had his own fan club, much good though that did him.
But if there is one moral we can draw from these tales, it is this: these animals seized upon any opportunity that presented itself to break out of imprisonment. Wild animals even if born in captivity are wild. And that is where they long to be – in the wild. They want their autonomy. No less than the human animal they want to be free.
Freedom is the foremost of rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it top of the list:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
Yet freedom is the very thing the human animal denies his fellow earthdwellers. I would like to remove the word “human” from that sentence in Article 1.
Zoos justify the incarceration of nonhuman animals on grounds of education, research and conservation of endangered species. It would take a PhD-length dissertation to examine the research, debunk myths and expose the ‘greenwashing’ that goes on.
The truth is, the only animals happy in zoos are the human ones.
Please never visit the zoo.
Please sign and share the Declaration of Animal Rights here
Cultured meat is the future. I’m sure of it. Even monolithic meat companies like Tyson Foods think so. And now here we have the view from the other end of the spectrum – small-scale Welsh farmer and traditionalist, Illtud Llyr Dunsford, otherwise known as Bob.
Illtud’s family has farmed animals in south Wales for more than 200 years.
“One animal in particular has a special place in my heart” he says “- the pig.”
He goes on:“We’d always salted our pork in the traditional Carmarthenshire method, encasing the animal in salt in a slate tray before hanging and air drying. Using traditional family recipes we’d also produce brawn and faggots. I guess it’s in the blood, my Auntie Ethel had a stall for years on Carmarthen Market selling faggots, her produce is the stuff of legend now, and the recipe is a closely guarded family secret.”
(Clearly when he talks of loving pigs, he means something very different from me.)
Drawing on that tradition, he founded Charcutier Ltd, an award-winning company producing niche artisan meats – heritage hand-salted bacons and hams.
His philosophy was to make products using every part of the pigs. As he so graphically puts it, “everything but the squeal”.
Illtud, who in a former life worked in the film industry (Harry Potter, Robin Hood, Dr. Who) also happens to be a Nuffield scholar. If you’ve been listening to The Archers recently, you’ll know all about the Nuffield Scholarship program. But if you’re not an addict of the soap like me, here is the lowdown:
The Nuffield Farm Scholarship program gives awards to successful applicants so they can “search out and bring back to farmers in the UK details of good and innovative agricultural husbandry, from different parts of the globe.”
And the best thing Illtud/Bob brought back from his trips to Ireland, France, Italy, Brazil, and the U.S. was his discovery of developments in cellular agriculture. This technology was completely new to him when he encountered it at the 1st International Symposium on Cultured Meat. The event was hosted by Maastricht University in the Netherlands, home of the very first $330,000 cultured meat burger which was unveiled, cooked and tasted in 2013.
It was at the symposium Illtud experienced his lightbulb moment (they call it a”Nuffield Moment” in the program) – the revelation that cellular agriculture really does offer a viable solution to all of the many serious problems meat production poses, whether it’s carried out on an industrial scale, or even on a small scale like his own family farm. His travels had exposed those problems surrounding ethics, the environment, sustainability, animal welfare, and the urgent need for the new and better methods technology is now able to provide. In his own words:
“I sat on the bench in the centre of the Belgian University town of Leuven — eating the most delicious fries which had been cooked in beef dripping — contemplating veganism. Like a dieter who promises that the evening blow-out meal before the diet starts will be the last of its kind, I didn’t hold up much hope that I would be turning vegan. However, having come from an agricultural background, raised in a tradition where I was at the heart of the rearing and processing of our own animals, I had never stopped and questioned the consumption of meat… I sat in that square the best part of the day, my head aching from the pressure of thinking. I was a man anguished by a moral dilemma. How could I, an advocate of traditional farming practices, heritage recipes, and processing methods, be even contemplating this new world?”
Illtud’s second “Nuffield Moment” was witnessing for himself the vast swathes of Amazonian rainforest laid waste for grazing cattle and growing livestock feed. Brazilian law stipulates that 80% of the Amazon must remain untouched by agriculture, but seeing at first hand the lack of enforcement of this law troubled him deeply. He left the Amazon shaken:
“I would never consider protein production in the same way again. The reality of the pressure of feeding the 9bn by 2050 was becoming ever greater. Though traditional agriculture held some of the answer, it was becoming clearly obvious that if we followed that path alone, our planet, and its resource might survive 2050, but not for the generations of 11.2bn projected for 2100… Deforestation is a global issue, its impact is global and the reality is that any protein production we support, even adding milk to our tea, becomes of itself an environmental act. “
The last leg of Illtud’s trip took him to the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa. It was as horrible as it sounds. He was shocked by the aggressive commercialism and poor animal welfare standards of the large-scale pork industry, in full view right there before his eyes.
Feeling thoroughly depressed he set off for his final destination, California for New Harvest’s first conference. What a difference! The mood was upbeat. Here was real hope of a truly sustainable future for meat production, and not just meat. Other ‘animal products’ too.
“The field is growing immensely; panelists delegates and exhibitors at the conference included a raft of companies who are looking at a range of products. They are predominantly developing products that are specifically animal derived [cultured from animal cells]: Gelzen (gelatine), Modern Meadow (leather), Muufri/Perfect Day (milk), Spiber (spider silk), Pembient (rhino horn) and Sothic (horseshoe crab blood) and span a range of applications, both food, clothing, and also medicine. [But] cultured meat is still held as the holy grail of products…”
Sad to say, back home in Wales Illtud has not yet abandoned his hand-salted bacons and hams. But the great news is, he is pushing forward with biotech. He’s founded Cultivate, a hub for discussing developments in cellular agriculture. And our farming pioneer has taken over a new start-up called, would you believe, Cellular Agriculture Ltd, with a view to making his very own cultured meat.
This has to be of huge significance for British farming.
Hopefully it won’t be too long before folk up and down the country will be tucking into Illtud’s bacon and ham cultured from pig cells, proudly labelled “Made in Wales”, rather than the cruel kind that comes from “everything but the squeal”.
Let’s just hope cellular agriculture here and in the States develops fast enough to halt the devastation of the planet, and the slaughter of billions upon billions more innocent lives.