This Remarkable Ape is Hitting ALL the Headlines – And Not Before Time

No-one knew that orangutans are unique among great apes, possibly unique among animals altogether with the exception of the human animal, in having the ability to talk about the past.

But now we do. Recently a researcher was surprised to find that the apes’ response to, say, a tiger’s presence is to gather their young to them and climb higher up the tree – in silence. You would expect the evasive action to be accompanied by an alarm call. Theirs is an endearing kind of “kiss-squeak” sound. Strangely though, they wait sometime until after the predator has entirely disappeared before they emit their kiss-squeak of alarm.
What on earth is the use of that, we ask. Isn’t that a bit late? Well, it seems the orangutan mums are transmitting a message to their infants, “THAT WAS DANGER! Remember for next time.”
Zoologists have a name for ‘talking about something that is in the past or the future, not present at the time’: it’s called ‘displaced reference’, and as well as being extremely rare among living creatures, is reckoned to be a sign of high-level cognition. These furry orange tree-dwellers may even surpass in brain power their other smart relations in the great ape family.
Another thing I didn’t know before today

Orangutans come in two varieties: the Bornean and the Sumatran. Both species are critically endangered. The Bornean orangutan has declined by a shocking 60% in the last 60 odd years, and between 1999 – 2015 alone we lost over 100,000. I say “we” because it’s a tragic loss for us all. It’s a similar story for the Sumatran ape. Orangutans rightly fear tigers, but there is another animal that is a much greater threat. As is almost invariably the case when species slide towards extinction, the menace is (the so-called) homo sapiens.

In this case it’s our insatiable appetite for palm oil. “More than half the packaged products on sale in the supermarket are made with palm oil,”  according to the European Palm Oil Alliance. It’s palm oil production that is decimating these precious animals.

And it’s not just the injurious effect on the hapless apes, as if that were not enough in itself. The burning and deforestation of Malaysian and Indonesian rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations is a big contributor to GHGs in the atmosphere. In the light of the UN’s recent report that we have only 12 years left to get a grip of climate change, this destruction is a supremely urgent environmental issue which affects the entire planet.

If there was anyone who wasn’t aware of what is causing the frightening decline in orangutan numbers before, they certainly are now thanks to the furore created by the banning of Iceland’s Christmas ad. In case you’ve only just returned to Planet Earth from a trip to Mars and not yet seen the ‘offending’ ad, here it is:

The ad was banned on ‘political’ grounds. If you’re like me, you’ll struggle to find anything political in the ad.

So why ban the ad?

Greenpeace has unearthed some revealing correspondence between various UK government departments. The communications expressed fears that supporting an EU-wide ban on the import of palm oil biofuel might very well provoke Malaysia to change its mind about buying our British-built Eurofighter Typhoon jets, and look elsewhere for its military hardware. So yes, no doubt in governmental eyes the ad is political, though we wouldn’t be so cynical as to suggest Clearcast, the adjudicator of TV advertising that imposed the infamous ban, has been sat upon, would we??

The other reason given for the ban was that it had nothing to do with Christmas. It’s certainly not what you think of when ‘Christmas’ is mentioned. I think Greenpeace supporter and Iceland’s CEO Richard Walker knew exactly what he was doing when he sought permission from Greenpeace to adapt their telling animation for his company’s Christmas promotion. It was always unlikely to pass the scrutiny of Clearcast.

But thanks to the notorious ban, the ad hit the headlines. EVERYONE wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I know I did. And as of Wednesday just gone, the ad notched up 12 million views on Facebook, a further 3.8 million on YouTube, 30 million in total across all social media, with endorsements from celebrities including Anna Friel, Paloma Faith and James Corden. What better way of getting Greenpeace’s important message across, and at the same time promoting Iceland as a leader in business environmental- friendliness. Well done Mr Walker!

And just in case the publicity was not enough

It’s been ramped up even further by sightings of an orangutan wandering the streets and parks of London, even at one stage hanging from a Christmas tree on Coin Street.

The ape on the loose is Iceland’s genius response to the ban of their Christmas ad. But we don’t have to worry, no orangutans were harmed etc etc – the creature is of course animatronic.

All perfect timing on Iceland’s part, for this week saw Greenpeace publish a report accusing the makers of the world’s most famous cookie the Oreo amongst many other products, of sourcing their palm oil from “rainforest destroyers.”

cake-2201853_960_720But why the huge demand for palm oil in the first place?

It has two huge advantages over other forms of fat

  • It has an unusually high melting point, so is semi-solid at room temperature
  • Both flesh and stone contain oil which makes it 10 times more productive than say, rapeseed, and therefore much cheaper to produce

If you’re interested in why palm oil makes up 38% of all vegetable oil produced, from only 5% of oil-producing farmland this is an excellent article.

What is palm oil used in?

Half the stuff in supermarkets, as mentioned earlier. That is biscuits, cereals, breads, gravies, sauces, margarines, ice cream, crisps, ‘healthy’ snack foods like muesli bars, pet food, cosmetics, toothpastes, toiletries, cleaning products, even ink. Sad to say, it also pops up in vegan goodies where it is used to provide the creaminess otherwise obtained from dairy.

And then there is the biofuel.

We haven’t spotted it on labels, though. How is it hiding in our products?

Until 2014 there was no legal obligation to identify palm oil on a label as anything more than ‘vegetable oil’. But even now it might be hiding behind any one of these aliases:

  • PKO – Palm Kernel Oil
  • PKO fractionations: Palm Kernel Stearin (PKs); Palm Kernel Olein (PKOo)
  • PHPKO – Partially hydrogenated Palm Oil
  • FP(K)O – Fractionated Palm Oil
  • OPKO – Organic Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palmitate – Vitamin A or Asorbyl Palmitate (NOTE: Vitamin A Palmitate is a very common ingredient in breakfast cereals and we have confirmed 100% of the samples we’ve investigated to be derived from palm oil)
  • Palmate
  • Sodium Laureth Sulphate (Can also be from coconut)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphates (can also be from ricinus oil)
  • Sodium dodecyl Sulphate (SDS or NaDS)
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Glyceryl Stearate
  • Stearic Acid
  • Chemicals which contain palm oil
  • Steareth -2
  • Steareth -20
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
  • Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate (coconut and/or palm)
  • Hydrated palm glycerides
  • Sodium isostearoyl lactylaye (derived from vegetable stearic acid)
  • Cetyl palmitate and octyl palmitate (names with palmitate at the end are usually derived from palm oil, but as in the case of Vitamin A Palmitate, very rarely a company will use a different vegetable oil)
Don’t despair

Even the most passionate environmentalists are not suggesting we avoid palm oil altogether. We just need it to be orangutan- and rainforest-friendly. Sustainable.

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Just look for these logos

 

Meanwhile, ICYMT some petitions to sign and share. Thank you.

EU: Stop destroying rainforest for biofuels

Stop a billion-dollar gift to the palm oil industry!

Save Rang-tan. End dirty palm oil

Tell big companies to drop dirty palm oil

Ban the sale of products containing unsustainably sourced palm oil in the UK

EU Commission: No palm oil in our tanks. Stop subsidising palm oil biodiesel!

And take the 28 day challenge to live deforestation-free

To find out about hopeful research into palm oil sustainability click here

 

Sources

Palm oil’s dirty secret

10 surprising products containing palm oil

Iceland’s Christmas ad banned

Animatronic orangutan spotted wondering London

Certified sustainable palm oil

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“My job is to give people hope” – Jane Goodall’s Call to Action

‘How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?”

Who better to open the Guardian’s new series The Age of Extinction, than the renowned primatologist Jane Goodall? Her lifespan of 84 years has seen a horrifying loss of wild animals of all kinds, along with their habitats.
And yet she believes if we come together and play our part in our own lives, we can “heal some of the harm we have inflicted.” This is her message to us all:

During my years studying chimpanzees in Gombe national park in Tanzania I experienced the magic of the rainforest. I learned how all life is interconnected, how each species, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has a role to play in the rich tapestry of life – known today as biodiversity. Even the loss of one thread can have a ripple effect and result in major damage to the whole.

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I left Gombe in 1986 when I realised how fast chimpanzee habitat was being destroyed and how their numbers were declining. I visited six chimpanzee range states and learned a great deal about the rate of deforestation as a result of foreign corporations (timber, oil and mining)and population growth in communities in and around chimpanzee habitat, so that more land was needed for expanding villages, agriculture and grazing livestock.

Chimpanzees were affected by the bushmeat trade – the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. I saw traumatised infants, whose mothers had been killed – either for the same bushmeat or the illegal animal trade, for sale in the markets, or in inappropriate zoos where they had been placed after confiscation by local authorities.

But I also learned about the problems faced by so many African communities in and around chimpanzee habitat. When I arrived in Gombe in 1960 it was part of what was called the equatorial forest belt, stretching from East Africa through the Congo Basin to the West African coast. By 1980 it was a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills, with more people living there than the land could support, over-farmed soil, trees cut down on all but the steepest slopes by people desperate to grow food for their families or make money from charcoal. I realised that unless we could improve their lives we could not even try to protect chimpanzees.

But chimpanzees, and many other species are still highly endangered. Over the last 100 years chimpanzee numbers have dropped from perhaps two million to a maximum of 340,000, many living in fragmented patches of forest. Several thousand apes are killed or taken captive for the illegal wildlife trade. Orangutans and gibbons are losing their habitats due to the proliferation of non-sustainable oil palm plantations. We are experiencing the sixth great extinction. The most recent report from WWF describes the situation as critical – in the last 49 years, we have lost 60% of all animal and plant species on Earth.

We are poisoning the soil through large-scale industrial agriculture. Invasive species are choking out native animal and plant life in many places. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by our reliance on fossil fuels, destruction of the rain forests and pollution of the ocean. Increase of demand for meat not only involves horrible cruelty to billions of animals in factory farms, but huge areas of wild habitats destroyed to grow crops for animal feed.

So much fossil fuel is required to take grain to animals, animals to slaughter, meat to table – and during digestion these animals are producing methane – an even more virulent gas than carbon dioxide. And their waste along with other industrial agriculture runoff is polluting soil and rivers sometimes causing toxic algae blooms over large areas of ocean.

Climate change is a very real threat as spelled out in the latest UN report*, as these greenhouse gases, trapping the heat of the sun, are causing the melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, more frequent and more intense storms. In some places agricultural yields are decreasing, fuelling human displacement and conflict. How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk the Earth is destroying its only home?

Because many policymakers and corporations – and we as individuals – tend to make decisions based on “How will this affect me now, affect the shareholders’ meeting, the next political campaign?” rather than “How will this affect future generations?” Mother Nature is being destroyed at an ever faster rate for the sake of short term gain. This, along with our horrifying population growth, poverty – causing people to destroy the environment simply to try to make a living – and the unsustainable lifestyles of the rest of us who have way more than we need, is the root cause of all the planet’s woes.

It is depressing to realise how much change I have witnessed during my 84 years. I have seen the ice melting in Greenland, the glaciers vanishing on Mount Kilimanjaro and around the world. When I arrived in Gombe the chimpanzee population stretched for miles along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Buffalo, common then, are locally extinct and only a few leopards remain.

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The water of the Lake was crystal clear, fish and water cobras were abundant, and there were crocodiles. But with soil washed into the lake and over-fishing, that changed. When I spent time in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in the 60s and early 70s, rhino and elephants were plentiful. I grew up in the south of England. The dawn chorus of the birds was magical – so many of them have gone, along with the hedgehogs that used to rustle through the vegetation at night. In May and June we had to draw the curtains at night to keep out the hundreds of cockchafers – May bugs, attracted to the light – today it is rare to see even one, and the clouds of mosquitos and midges are almost gone.

Yet I believe we have a small window of opportunity when, if we get together, we can start to heal some of the harm we have inflicted. Everywhere, where young people understand the problems and are empowered to take action – when we listen to their voices, they are making a difference. With our superior intellect we are coming up with technological solutions to help us live in greater harmony with nature and reduce our own ecological footprints. We have a choice each day as to what we buy, eat and wear. And nature is amazingly resilient – there are no more bare hills around Gombe, as an example. Species on the brink of extinction have been given a second chance. We can reach out to the world through social media in a way never before possible. And there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle the impossible and won’t give up. My job is to give people hope, for without it we fall into apathy and do nothing.


info_12569In 1994, the Jane Goodall Institute launched the Tacare program, working in collaboration with the villagers themselves. A holistic program including restoring fertility to the farm land (no chemicals used), improved health and education facilities, water management programs, microcredit opportunities (particularly for women), family planning information, and scholarships to keep girls in school. Today this operates in 72 villages throughout the range of Tanzania’s remaining chimpanzees, most of whom live in unprotected village forest reserves. Village volunteers learn to use smart phones, patrol their forests, and note any illegal activities as well as signs or sightings of animals. This information is uploaded onto a platform in the cloud, including Global Forest Watch.

Tacare now operates similar programs in six other African countries. “The villagers have become our partners in conservation,” says Goodall. “They know that protecting the environment benefits them as well as wildlife.”


*Jane’s call to action is urgent. According to the UN report she mentions, we have only 12 years left to get control of climate change. “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.” – Debra Roberts for UN IPCC

 

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And for an entirely different take on the topic – Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction?

 

Marvels in Lego – Animal Art with a Sting in the Tail?

Like many of us, German artist Felix Jaensch began building with Lego when he was just a tot – in his case three years old. Unlike him, at some point most of us stopped. But he never did. Now 30, and with 27 solid years of practice with those finickety little blocks behind him, he’s surely earned the title of Lego Master Extraordinaire.
For the last 5 years his focus has been the animal kingdom. He tells us, “I was always fascinated by nature and biodiversity and I like to build organic forms with these angular bricks.”  
If you wanted to create art, you would think hard, unyielding Lego in all its angular and geometric shapes is an unpromising material. But Felix sees it as “a great medium for 3-D art”, and his work speaks for itself. To capture the essence of the living creature using nothing but plastic Lego bricks as he has done, seems to me an impossibly difficult achievement little short of magic.
This may be my personal favourite.

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Or is it this one? This pooch is so alive, I practically expect to hear her bark. See which of these awesome sculptures grabs you most.

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(By the way, if you’re imagining it must take an age to build one of these, you would be right. “Small animals may be finished in just some hours, big projects can take months. But I never counted the hours or bricks which I spend on one sculpture. I often modify some details even months after I finished an animal”, says Felix.)

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So, what could possibly be the sting in the tail of Felix’s amazing body of work?
Whatever merits Lego has, and it undoubtedly has many, it is still plastic – a dirty word in 2018.
I haven’t been able to discover Felix’s thoughts on the disastrous effect plastic is having in the world, but the Lego company itself does have thoughts. Earlier this year, the huge corporation, producer of plastic, more plastic, and nothing but plastic, sought to mitigate any criticism it might attract for having a business model intrinsically inimical to the environment, by announcing that it planned to make its tiny green Lego trees and plants out of real plants! Sugar cane to be precise, in place of the oil from which plastic is most often made. Good news? Or just cynically jumping on the environmental bandwagon, ‘green-washing’, nothing more than a bit of opportunistic window dressing? These are the facts:
  • All plastic is made from ethanol, whether extracted from oil or plants. The new Lego parts will be indistinguishable from the other bricks – that’s because they are identical 
  • Lego trees and plants make up only a tiny tiny fraction of Lego’s output, and the rest of the bricks remain firmly oil-based
  • It’s true that Brazilian sugar cane has a somewhat smaller carbon footprint than oil, but in reality it is only by the slightest of margins more sustainable. Farming it on a large scale wipes out precious habitat (think Amazonian rainforest), uses up valuable resources, pollutes with herbicides and pesticides, and displaces local farmers
  • Either way, plant-based plastic is no more biodegradable than plastic from oil, and when broken down in small pieces will pollute the environment like any other plastic
Looking on the brighter side, Lego is, as we all know, kid-proof and virtually indestructible. When one child has outgrown it – unlike Felix who looks like he never will, and more power to him – those bricks can be passed on to others, used and re-used. Lego plastic is decidedly not – Collin’s Dictionary Word of the Year – ‘single-use’.
Meanwhile, let’s not go away thinking Felix excludes the human animal from his magnificent menagerie. Below: what is said to be an anatomically-correct human skull in Lego.
But whereas all Felix’s other animals are so intensely bright and alert they almost seem to have the breath of life in them, we humans are represented by a death’s head.  Make of that what you will!

If you haven’t seen your favourite animal here, check out Felix’s Flickr account.

All designs, photos and video copyrighted to Felix Jaensch

Some of his creations can be purchased from Mochub

Sources

Masterfully Designed Lego Animals by Felix 

3D Lego Animal Sculptures by Felix Jaensch

‘Sustainable’ Lego: Why plastic from plants won’t solve the pollution crisis

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67 Year Old Mum in a Million – The Chick Is Hatched!

3 months ago Wisdom, the world’s oldest known living wild bird laid an egg, to add to her tally of 36 she has notched up over her nearly 7 decades.

3 months is a lot of sitting on an egg, but Wisdom’s diligence has been rewarded – now the great day has come, and she is proud mum once again to a fluffy little Laysan albatross chick.

What perfect timing – Happy Mother’s Day Wisdom!

Wisdom was believed to be just five-years-old when she was first banded back in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins when Midway Atoll was an active U.S. Naval Air Station. In 2002 Robbins encountered her again by chance and her story took off.

Wisdom flies thousands of miles every year to return to Midway Atoll, the breeding site for millions of birds. It is the largest population of albatross on earth: 73 percent of all Laysan albatross, 36 percent of all Black-footed albatross and endangered Short-tailed albatross.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Biologist. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

39490402815_08bf37a80d_zCredit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region

The main threats to these birds – on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – are entanglement in fishing tackle, and swallowing plastic.

It will be another 4 months before Wisdom’s newest baby will fledge. Until then she and her mate Mr Goo have their work cut out avoiding those dangers and providing all the food that a growing chick requires.

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your beautiful offspring.

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Please help Wisdom and all life in the oceans by signing and sharing these petitions – thank you!

Tell McDonalds to replace their one-time use plastic straws with eco-paper straws

Tell Tesco: Stop selling disposable plastic straws!

Bring back bottle deposits to stop plastic pollution in our oceans

Ban disposable plastic in the UK

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The BBC’s comprehensive overview of the plastic pollution problem

Ten tips for living with less plastic

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For more updates on Wisdom, check out the USFWS Pacific Region on Tumblr and Flickr.

Cover pic credit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region

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Source

Wisdom, the World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird, is a Mother Again

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Beauty AND Brains – Hens (& Roosters) Have It All

The hen “puts more light into every day”

“I’m Matteo and I’m a professional photographer. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of birds. In 2013 I decided to go in search of a Concincina as a pet for my studio garden in Milan.
“That very same day, hen Jessicah stole my heart.
“My friend and work partner Moreno joined me in this passion/madness and we started to take pictures of literally hundreds of chickens and roosters.
“Just look at them. They are beautiful. And they know it.” Matteo Tranchellini, photographer

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Don’t they just! Enjoy more of their gorgeousness as depicted by Matteo below, interspersed with (hopefully) interesting insights into the person that is the hen

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If these stunning photos were not a good enough reason in themselves to throw the spotlight on to hens and roosters, one more could be that these sweet and fascinating birds, especially those of less exotic breeds than those captured by Matteo’s lens, are sadly overlooked and underrated.  So that’s two. Another reason I’ll come to shortly.

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Each of my own feathery girls, Rosa, Juliet and Tiddlo, had a definite and distinct personality – which would come as no surprise to anyone who has had the pleasure of sharing companionship with hens. Tiddlo was ring leader and bold as brass. She led the charge of the troops into the house whenever the back door was open. Back in the garden, collie dog Jim would put his jaws around her neck and shake her gently from side to side. She was quite unfazed. Back on terra firma and with barely a ruffled feather she’d carry on where she left off, scratching at the grass for tasty bugs and worms. All three have long since moved on to contented clucking in hen heaven.

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You’ll notice I’m choosing not to call hens ‘chickens.’ This is how the dictionary defines ‘chicken’:
A domestic fowl, Gallus domesticus, descended from various jungle fowl of southeastern Asia and developed in a number of breeds for its flesh, eggs, and feathers.
See that? They define this living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature only in terms of a commodity. But we know better.

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So what doesn’t the dictionary know about hens?
1 As I mentioned, hens have personalities
Some are a little nervy and jumpy like Rosa, others curious and bold like Tiddlo. We may find one hen gregarious, and another aggressive. Some love human company, some are more standoffish. Like dogs or cats and (unlike children!) many will answer to their names and come when they’re called.

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2 Hens are brainy
Far from being birdbrained or featherbrained (where did that notion come from?) hens can outperform dogs, cats and 4 year old kids in some intelligence tests. As Dr Christine Nicol says, “Studies over the past 20 years have… revealed their finely-honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.” (Delighted to see that Christine, author of review paper ‘The Intelligent Hen’, agrees with me on the preferred name for the animal!)
In one test, hens were taught that if they refuse a food reward in the present, they will receive more food later on. Remarkably, or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at their good sense and patience, ninety-three percent of the birds chose to hold out for the later but better option.
In this sweet short video, watch Little Miss Sunshine show off her talents
Hens are curious and like to investigate new things. Hens learn from observing the successes and failures of each other, and pass cultural knowledge down through the generations. They ‘get’ cause and effect. They realise that objects still exist even when hidden from sight.

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3. Hens talk
Don’t you just love that clucking! It’s the most soothing sound. But it’s a lot more than just a comforting, homely noise in the background. Researchers have identified at least 30 different kinds of vocalisations hens make. Amazingly hens have one cluck for a threat coming their way over land and a different cluck for danger approaching by water. A mother hen even talks to the developing chick inside her egg, and the unhatched chick talks right back to mum. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know what they are saying to each other.

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4. They have their own complex society
– that is if humans allow them the kind of life that Nature intended – the well-known pecking order in which each hen knows its own rung on the social ladder. Hens can know the faces of more than a hundred other hens and remember where each one’s place is on that ladder.

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“The social and emotional lives of chickens are no less impressive than their plumage”

5. Just like us, they have deep feelings 
They love their families. Nigh on 2000 years ago Plutarch remarked,What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voices.” Mother Hens par excellence!
They sometimes find true love. While it’s more usual for a rooster to mate with several hens, it has been known for a rooster and a hen to form a profound and unshakeable bond of love. Read the deeply moving story of Libby and Louie, one such pair for whom existence without the other would have been but as the dust they scratched in .
As well as caring for their families, they also look out for the other hens in their group. They can forge lasting friendships, and like to hang out with their best buddies. And sometimes the buddies are not other hens! Thousands have already seen this beautiful 14 second video, but a second, third or fourth viewing still melts the heart.
6 Hens’ calming influence has not gone unnoticed.
Now we have ‘therapy hens’. Inmates of Scotland’s Saughton and England’s Holloway Prisons enjoy their soothing presence. “[The birds] have got such a therapeutical effect on you so it’s brilliant,” said one of the inmates working on the Saughton project. “It puts more light into every day.”  The Holloway hens are rescues, restored to good health by the prisoners.

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These wonderful animals are also working their magic among children, the elderly and the mentally ill. We hope the interaction is mutually beneficial.
7 Sleeping with a hen next to your bed helps prevent malaria, dengue fever and zika 
Yes, truly. A study was conducted in Ethiopian villages and found that Anopheles arabiensis, one of the main mosquito species spreading malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization, was repelled by chicken odour.  Although it’s early days, the research could pave the way for a chicken-scent repellent being introduced on the marketTake Part

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Now we come to number 8 – and this tragic fact is my other reason for putting hens in the spotlight today – though this is less about them and more about we humans:
Many billions of farmed animals are killed for food each year, virtually all having been bred for that sole purpose. Chickens account for the largest number of these animals, with an estimated 20 billion slaughtered annually. There are almost triple the number of chickens as there are humans in the world – Faunalytics
The photo below is a far cry from Matteo’s wonderful portraits, but this is the terrible fate of billions of these wonderful animals across the globe each and every year.
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Image courtesy of PETA
Notice no roosters. This article in the Independent explains why.
What Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has to say about modern chicken production can scarcely be denied:

“In magnitude and severity [it is] the single most severe systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient being.”

Remember Little Miss Sunshine? She was one of the lucky few saved from just such a place as that, and went from spent battery hen to TV star. How awesome it would have been to see Matteo’s pictorial take on this little lady, but she’s moved on now to sprinkle her sunshine in the green fields of hen heaven.
For everyone who would like to see the world a kinder, friendlier place – if you haven’t already, take the first step and leave these incredible underrated animals, and their eggs, off your plate.
And maybe consider going vegan for the animals
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Check out this link for more of Matteo’s beautiful portraits, and info about his book

 

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Libby & Louie, A Love Story

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The Real Truth in Numbers about the Farming of Animals

Bringing Us Up Close & Personal

Further reading

Research shows Birds Have Skills Previously Described As Uniquely Human – The Scientist

Sources

Drawn from original post 8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens – with apologies to those who may have read it before

We Photographed Hundreds Of The Most Beautiful Chickens, And Just Look At Them! | Bored Panda

Chickens: smarter than a 4 year old – NY Daily News

Chickens’ Personality – backyardchickencoops.com

Chickens’ Personality – Toronto Vegetarian Association

The Social Life of Chickens – United Poultry Concerns

Imaging a World Without Chickens 

Thinking Like a Chicken – Domestic Chicken Ethology

Chickens Teach Life Skills to Prison Inmates – The Dodo

Prisoners Nurse Chickens in Holloway Prison – Islington Gazette

Why You Should Give a Cluck About Chickens – World of Vegan

 

 

 

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World Wildlife Day – Time to Save Half for the Animals

Desperate times call for drastic measures – so believes a certain 87 year old Harvard professor. And these surely are desperate times for much of the planet’s wildlife – flora and fauna. The octogenarian’s plan to save them is nothing if not radical. In fact, at first glance pretty off-the-wall. It is simply,

Half-Earth – giving over half of planet Earth to Nature

His critics dismiss his idea as not just radical, but “truly bizarre, disturbing and dangerous.” 

But is it?  Why should we give over half the Earth? Why should we not? Why this way? Wouldn’t it be bad news for people? Is it even possible?

We will come back to these questions.


Earlier this week during the run-up to World Wildlife Day 2018, conservationists met up in London to mull over matters that could scarcely have greater significance for the future of wildlife, the future of the human race, and the future of Planet Earth itself.
At the Safeguarding Space for Nature – Securing Our Future symposium, delegates from the 200 signatory nations compared notes on their progress in meeting the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity 7 years ago.
By 2020 they purpose to have 17% of Earth’s land protected for Nature, and 10% of Earth’s oceans. So far we’ve reached 15% and 7% respectively.

“But many conservationists argue that even if these [unduly modest] goals could be achieved, they will still not halt extinctions. The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature.” 

The Aichi targets are, it has to be said, a long way off the audacious proposal ‘half for us and half for the animals’ spelled out by Edward Osborne Wilson in his visionary book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Dr Wilson, the aforementioned octogenarian professor, is sociobiologist, biogeographist, naturalist, environmentalist, author, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and generally considered the world’s foremost authority on biodiversity and conservation. So I guess his ideas and opinions are not to be dismissed lightly.

And indeed, only 2 years on since Dr Wilson’s book was published, his bold half-earth proposal is seeming less and less out there, less controversial, much more mainstream and worthy of serious consideration.

Conservationist Harvey Locke for one jumped feet first on to the good prof’s bandwagon: 50%, he says, “may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit. But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.”

Locke’s own organisation Nature Needs Half now runs in parallel with Dr Wilson’s own, The Half-Earth Project

Watch Dr Wilson talk about this crucial project

But now, going back to those questions: why, how, should we, and can we? World Wildlife Day seems the perfect time to take a good hard look at them and try to find some answers.

Why should we do this?

animal-175033__180Well, that’s an easy one. It’s no news to any of us that right now plants and animals are being snuffed out to extinction at a rate unknown since the asteroid Chickxulub wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists call this the Anthropocene Age, because never before have human beings had such a profound effect on the planet, one that will end badly for us as well as the rest of life on Earth. A truly earthshakingly terrible prospect, especially when we stop to think that right now our precious planet harbours the only known life in the universe. We need a drastic solution to a cataclysmic problem if we are to save this planet and the life on it.

Why this way?

There are two reasons why we should put our energies into a bold plan such as this, Dr Wilson argues. Firstly, he maintains that people like to see a big goal achieved rather than piecemeal, barely noticeable small incremental steps, which is what we have now in conservation efforts: “They need a victory, not just news that progress is being made. It is human nature to yearn for finality, something achieved by which their anxieties and fears are put to rest.” He reads us well. Oh how we long for some major reversal of the destructive path down which humankind is at present rushing headlong.

Secondly and more importantly, as delegates at the London conference were forced to acknowledge, current conservation efforts are doing little to halt the alarming decline in biodiversity. Protecting just 15% of the planet’s land – the course we are on at present – we still look to lose half of all species. It’s much too little and soon will be far too late. Whereas protecting 50% of the planet would mean 80% of species saved – more if we focused on the most biodiverse areas.

frog-643480__180It’s all about the species-area curve, conservationists will tell you. The species-area curve is the mathematical relationship between the area of land and the number of species that can be successfully maintained in it. “The principal cause of extinction is habitat loss. With a decrease of habitat, the sustainable number of species in it drops by (roughly) the fourth root of the habitable area.”

Put simply, the larger the area the better Nature’s chances. The species-area curve also means that setting aside a few sizeable chunks of land is very much better in terms of numbers of species saved, than trying to protect lots of small separate habitats.

And the chunks need to join up: “I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish,” Dr Wilson told the journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. His vision is for a series of “Long Landscapes”, wildlife corridors running vertically down and horizontally across continents, that will allow species free movement as they adapt to the effects of climate change.

The Yellowstone-to-Yukon conservation initiative running 2,000 miles without break from Wyoming in the mid-west of the US to the Yukon territories in the north west of Canada is a model for the protection he would like to see rolled out worldwide. It’s an entire eco-system in 502,000 square miles of continuous protected land where animals can freely roam.

(Sadly America itself is hardly a model nation when it comes to protecting biodiversity. In spite of being a wealthy country, and one with vast areas only sparsely populated, the US can boast just a pitiful 4% of its landmass protected for biodiversity, less than half the average worldwide. If the present ‘leadership’, remains unchallenged, that percentage can only fall further. Donald Trump is pre-eminent among those who think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit.”)

So is Half-Earth a “bizarre” and “dangerous” idea?

malachite kingfisher matthew clayton africaWell if we are looking at the biodiversity statistics – and affirm with Dr Wilson that “each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius” – his idea makes total sense. We have so much to lose. Wildlife he says, is facing “a biological holocaust.” It could barely get more apocalyptic than that. For him, as for many of us, safeguarding the wonder that is life on Earth in all its diversity is a moral issue.

In several interviews, he references the need for humanity to develop an ethic that cares about planetary life, and does not place the wants and needs of a single species (Homo sapiens sapiens) above the well-being of all other species.” Truth Out

What kind of a species are we that we treat the rest of life so cheaply? There are those who think that’s the destiny of Earth: we arrived, we’re humanizing the Earth, and it will be the destiny of Earth for us to wipe humans out and most of the rest of biodiversity. But I think the great majority of thoughtful people consider that a morally wrong position to take, and a very dangerous one.

What would be bizarre is an insistence that we continue as we are doing now, or just nudge the goalposts a bit. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are Dr Wilson says, “nowhere close to enough,” to prevent the 6th Extinction. Many others agree. It is after all, self-evident.

But his critics, social scientists in the Netherlands Bram Buscher and Robert Fletcher, clearly coming from the very same anthropocentric, the-Earth-exists-for-us standpoint that has brought us to this sorry pass in the first place, judge his Half-Earth vision “disturbing and dangerous.” They are united in their condemnation:“It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways.” They could justifiably claim history backs them up, since indigenous peoples have indeed been moved out of areas newly designated as protected in the past.
So, wouldn’t Half-Earth be bad for people then, especially the indigenous and poor?

amazon-indians-69589__180Dr Wilson wants to keep indigenous people in their own territories. “They are often the best protectors” of their own land, he says.When local populations find new livelihoods from eco-tourism for example, they become passionate about protecting their natural heritage. Protected areas would not mean banning people – simply keeping the land undeveloped. He envisages something along the lines of national parks, where development is not permitted, but there is still regulated access. (Even hunting and fishing may be permitted in a defined portion of the conservation area.)

He points to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique as a model of how well-managed protected areas actually benefit local people.

“The maintenance and expansion of this magnificent reserve has been enhanced by the improvement of agriculture, health, and education – and new jobs – in buffer zones. The same effect is demonstrable even within industrialised nations.” 

And recent research elsewhere backs him up. Protecting areas in Uganda, Thailand and Costa Rica have indeed improved the lives of locals.

Is setting aside the Half-Earth for Nature even possible?

Yes we can, by reducing our ecological footprint. And the best way to achieve that reduction is by moving towards a plant-based dietThen yes indeed, Half-Earth is an achievable goal. Scientists in the fields of conservation, ecology, environment, climate change, sustainability and indeed human health all agree: if people cut back, or better still, stop eating meat & dairy products altogether, many of the deeply disquieting and serious threats to the future of life on Earth would disappear. It’s not just the animals being eaten that we are killing. By destroying wildlife habitats for livestock farming we are killing the wild animals too.  Currently 40% of the world’s land is used for farming. (Urban development takes up only 3%) A whole three quarters of that farm land is used to grow crops to feed livestock. Freed from this absurdly wasteful use of land, it would not be too great a challenge for humans to find a Half-Earth for Nature.

What is stopping us?

According to Dr Wilson, it’s simple – greed, shortsightedness and above all, ignorance. Formidable obstacles to overcome. Ignorance at least can be remedied. We can start by sharing this, why Planet Earth needs Dr Wilson’s bold idea, and what we can do about it, with as many people as we can reach, especially those who haven’t yet found their way to plant-based eating and living.

But to overcome greed and shortsightedness, it’s hearts that need to change.

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“When people are encouraged to take a close look at the remnants of Nature, in its complexity, beauty, and majesty, and when they understand that the natural environment is the home of their deep history, many become [Half-Earth for Nature’s] most ardent supporters.”

I’m most definitely one.

Want to make a real difference for planet Earth and the life on it? Four important actions we can take:-

1 Sign petition for half for the animals here

2  Take the Half-Earth Pledge

3 Free up more land for wildlife by moving towards a plant-based diet and reducing our ecological footprint. Info @

Forks Over Knives   Vegan Society   Vegan Outreach   PETA UK   PETA    Viva!

4 Send your political representatives the Grow Green report, or if in the UK contact your MP here about the Grow Green campaign to transition unsustainable livestock farming to plant protein farming. And

5 Share with your friends

 

Read more about this week’s conference and ideas to make space for wildlife

More Half-Earth videos here

Related posts

The Living Planet Report: Our Dinner Plates Are Destroying Life on Earth

Extinction is Forever: Why We Need to Change to Save Animals

Tiggywinkles, Tigers & Tunnels on the importance of wildlife corridors in conservation

First Mammal Extinction due to Climate Change 

If Everyone on Earth Ate a Western Diet We Would Need Two Planet Earths. We’ve Only Got One & She’s Dying

Sources

Pulitzer-winning scientist warns wildlife faces a biological holocaust The Independent

Setting Aside half the Earth for Rewinding – The Ethical Dimension  Truth Out

Should we give up half of the Earth to wildlife? The Guardian

Images courtesy of Focusing on Wildlife

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Who Knew Caterpillars (& Other Little Beasties) Were Such Stunners!

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“Scientist and photographer Igor Siwanowicz has made a name for himself previously documenting the phenomenal range of shapes, colors, and structures of creatures in the natural world. His many images of unique caterpillars include wild variations like feathery blue spikes, curling burnt-orange horns, and long black whiskers. Siwanowicz also works as a neurobiologist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Virginia. He shares more than ten years of his photography on photo.net.”

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And if you think those are spectacular, you will be awestruck by the incredible wonder of life on Earth as seen under Igor’s laser-scanning microscope

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Midge pupa
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Barnacle

Pariphyses & Sporangia

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Isopod appendage
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Front leg of Whirligig Beetle
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Moth antennae
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Acilius diving beetle male front tarsus (foot) 100x

Every life is precious

 

More of Igor’s incredible nature photography here

Sources

Radically Unusual Caterpillars Captured by Photographer Igor Siwanowicz

The Extraordinary Details of Tiny Creatures Captured with a Laser-Scanning Microscope by Igor Siwanowicz

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Just Wow! Best Bird Photos of 2017

Cutest Wildlife Pictures Ever – Woodland Creatures ‘Building’ Snowmen

Russian Miner Takes Stunning Photos of Foxes in the Wild

Wildlife Conservation Society’s Favourite Pictures of 2016

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

And the Winners Are… Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

If Rembrandt Painted Animals, They’d Look Like This

So How Are We Different?

 

Are We Going to Find Out What They’re REALLY Saying AT LAST?

“Scientists are experimenting with artificial intelligence in order to decode and interpret animal vocalizations such as barks, growls or howls into a language which humans can understand.”*

“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone” 

Professor Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University speaking to The Guardian.
Rapunzel the Conversational Cat
My brother has proper conversations with his cat Rapunzel. Not unusual among those of us who have companion animals, you might think. When I say ‘conversations’ though, I mean proper two-way, back and forth discussions on matters of serious import, along the lines of “What do you think of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, Punzel?”
Punzel: “The woman doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please don’t talk to me about Brexit. I’m depressed enough as it is by the state of the world.” And so on.
Of course Rapunzel doesn’t actually say that. She’s a real cat, not one in a fairytale, in spite of her name. My brother helpfully speaks her lines for her. He thinks she’s a socialist, but maybe he’s got her all wrong. When she does meow for herself, what is she saying? It could well be, “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.”  She may even be a closet Tory. Without the key to unlock cat-speak, no-one will know.
Dr Dolittle & Zoolingua
For those of us who couldn’t live without animals somewhere in our lives, the tale of animal-loving Dr Dolittle is particularly captivating. The story goes that Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia teaches him the language of the animals. The good doctor opens his home to an ever-growing menagerie of animals whose speech only he can understand, until – the final straw for his long-suffering sister who keeps house for him – the arrival of a crocodile. A creature too far. She gives her brother an ultimatum – me or the animals. I love it that he chooses the animals!
Don’t we all want to be Dr Dolittle? What if we really could understand every word our cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits utter? Well now maybe we will be able to do just that, thanks to something called Zoolingua, a project born from Professor Siobodchikoff’s work with other furry little creatures.

 

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Meet the Prof & the ‘Villagers’
It’s true to say Con Siobodchikoff is the world expert on North American prairie dogs, having studied them closely for 30 years. Prairie dogs are not dogs at all of course. They are rodents, but every bit as fascinating as the canines in our homes. What Prof Con discovered over three decades is that the animals use “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.
These engaging little creatures live in ‘villages’ of underground burrows, and take it in turns to stand guard, watching out for predators. With hundreds of hours of recordings of prairie dog chatter, the Prof and his team discovered that whoever is on lookout uses particular calls for different predators, and the other ‘villagers’ respond according to the type of call.

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Deciphering Prairie Dog-ese  with AI
Using advanced artificial intelligence to analyse the recordings, they found that the little rodents have specific ‘words’ for ‘human’, ‘hawk’, and ‘coyote’, and their language is sophisticated enough to distinguish between coyotes and domestic dogs.
Professor Con noticed that there were interesting individual variations in calls about specific dangers. So although there was a distinct call for ‘coyote’, for instance, there were also varying elements around the call. He began to wonder if the calls might be doing more than specifying the threat as a coyote. Could they actually be describing the coyote?
Experiments
The Prof had four human volunteers walk through the prairie dog village in identical clothing except for the colour of their shirts: one wore blue, the next yellow, then green, and finally grey. Analysis of the rodents’ calls revealed they were indeed describing each individual human, and not just in terms of shirt colour:
“Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’” says Slobodchikoff.
The prairie dogs’ linguistic ability turns out to be astonishing. When the team placed a picture of a large black oval near the village, the animals created an entirely new alarm call for it. The team took the picture away, and later brought it back. The little rodents all voiced exactly the same alarm call in response to it. It appears the components of the new call are describing the size, shape and colour of the oval in ‘words’ already part of their rich vocabulary. If that is not language, I’d like to know what is.
Dialects
Prairie dog villages in different locations have their own dialects. The Professor says that the animals he has studied for so long in Gunnison AZ are unlikely to understand Mexican prairie dogs, and vice versa. But then, it’s pretty unlikely they will ever need to!

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Prairie Dogs Love to Chat
Most fascinating of all, it seems they love a good gossip. “Prairie dogs also have what I call social chatters, where one prairie dog will produce a string of vocalizations, and another prairie dog across the colony will respond with a different string of vocalizations. 

“If animals seemingly as simple as rodents have a language replete with nouns, adjectives, syntax and dialects, think what higher-order animals might be saying”

the Prof concludes.

Guilty of Arrogance?
It is such a giveaway of our skewed perspective on our own status relative to other creatures, that there exists a long history of measuring nonhuman animals’ intelligence by their ability to understand and use OUR languages. Well-known examples are Koko the gorilla, Alex the parrot, Tilda the orangutan, Noc the beluga whale, Koshik the elephant, and Chaser, the border collie who knows more than 1000 words.
But thankfully we are now beginning to grasp that, in the words of evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk:

“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”  

– even when it comes to language. All nonhuman animals that live in social groups exhibit complex behaviours. And complex behaviours require complex communication. Thankfully we are starting to take, can I say, a more respectful approach, attempting to unlock the secrets of the nonhumans’ own languages, their conversations with each other. And, being fascinated, and humbled, by what we are finding out about their complexity and sophistication, thanks to the work of dedicated zoologists like Prof Siobodchikoff.
Not Quite There Yet
“We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication,” says Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Mississippi.
So best not get too excited just yet at the prospect of understanding your enigmatic feline as well as he/she gets you. Perhaps a read of Professor Slobodchikoff’s book, “Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” can give us a few pointers. As yet we don’t have access to the kind of sophisticated AI that is helping him unravel the secrets of the prairie dog. Wait till the Prof has succeeded in converting his system into a handy pocket-size translator of dog-, cat-, or guinea pig-ese. Won’t that be a wonderful thing – a bestseller for sure.
It has to be said though, his Zoolingua is still very much a work in progress. Even the Prof thinks it might take 10 years. But watch this space!

 

Sources

*Pet translator might enable humans to communicate with animals

Can any animals talk and use language like humans?

When Will We Learn To Speak Animal Languages?

Related posts

What Is It Like To Be a Dog (Or a Dolphin)?

Thinking Pigs

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

 

 

 

Fiona the Hippo Predicts Superbowl Winner – Harmless Fun or Shameless Exploitation?

“Fiona the hippo knows who will win Super Bowl 2018. This is science.”

Apparently.

Harmless fun or shameless exploitation? A bit of both. Fiona certainly looks to be enjoying her salad, so hopefully no hippo was harmed in the making of this video.

All I can add to my previous post about adorable Fiona, is that Cincinnati Zoo knew what it was doing when it appointed its marketing director. No profitable opportunity is missed. He/she is making the little hippo worth her ever-expanding weight in gold for the zoo’s coffers.

The zoo is non-profit, so let us hope all those extra dollars Fiona is unwittingly spinning  will conserve wildlife where we want it to be – in the wild.

Update 5th February 2018

Fiona was right on the button, or should I say, on the lettuce. She picked the underdog Eagles and the underdogs won! I believe the POTUS will be visiting Cincinnati this week. I do hope he doesn’t get to pay a visit to little Fi. Now that would be cruelty to animals.

Sources

Photo and video from CZ

Here’s Who Will Win Super Bowl 2018, According to a Hippo

Related posts

Adorable Baby Hippo’s First Birthday Wipes CZ’s Slate Clean of the Killing of Harambe

14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

12 Sexy Camels Kicked Out of Beauty Contest for Using Botox

That title I shamelessly borrowed¹. The story itself is so insane, I could not come up with a better. But crazy as it sounds, it is for real. Maybe we don’t know too much about King Abdulaziz Camel Festival taking place right now in Saudi Arabia. It is after all only in its second year. But it is BIG. There are 30,000 camels at the festival and one third of a million visitors.

The festival comprises 2 main events:- the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Racing, and the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Beauty.

I know.

The Camel Beautiful

If you are going to take part in something as nuts as a camel beauty pageant, you need your camel to shape up to the ideal of camel beauty. What the judges are looking for –

  • the perfect height, shape and placement of the hump
  • full, droopy lips
  • long eyelashes
  • large features
  • a big head
  • delicate ears
  • well-coloured coat
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The King Abulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia attracts the most beautiful and largest camels in the Gulf. This camel, owned by Sultan Al Shammari, is more than three metres tall and has attracted the attention of Guinness World Records. Source: King Abdulaziz Camel Festival
Dirty Tricks

But going back to that screwball title, it contains one significant inaccuracy – the camels are the innocent, injured parties here. It’s not the camels who were caught out “using Botox”. As if. The needle was being wielded by a corrupt Saudi vet at the request of corrupt camel owners. Days before the festival the man was caught red-handed performing plastic surgery on the animals. Ear-reduction surgery to be precise. Yes, we are still talking about camels. Remember what makes for the camel beautiful? ‘Delicate ears’. The same clinic was also found to have treated the 12 unfortunates with the Botox that got them expelled from the beauty pageant. As far as is known, neither the vet nor the camels’ owners were sanctioned. Just the camels.

“They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” says Ali Al Mazrouei, 31, son of a top Emirati breeder. Collagen fillers too. “It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh look at how big is that head is. It has big lips, a big nose’.”

Besides using Botox and collagen, some owners physically pull on the camel’s lips everyday in an attempt to lengthen them. What patient and long-suffering creatures these dromedaries must be.

Other competitors darken their camels’ coats with oil, and fluff them up with a fine comb and lots of hairspray. But as the glamorised contenders are held in a special holding pen the night before the pageant to prevent last minute tampering, the morning mists of the Saudi desert soon put paid to any fancy styling. The idea is that “by the time of the judging, prospective champions will only have their God-given beauty.” Hmm.

Temptation

But why? Why go to such extreme lengths as even Botox and plastic surgery to enhance the camel body beautiful? The answer is not far to seek. As with most human interactions with other animals, so with the camel beauty pageant. The driving force behind every human activity using other animals for human ends is…. Money. In this case lots and lots of it – a pot of gold worth a staggering US$57 million, with the added incentive of raising the sale price of the winning camels by millions more.

With such riches at stake, the temptation to cheat is no surprise. Dirty tricks, as the organisers see it. For the animals, it’s abuse.

At first glance, the idea of a camel beauty pageant seems to us absurd. But if you think about it, it’s no more off the wall than the dog shows held in the West. While with dog shows, the prize money and increased value of breeding stock may be in the thousands rather than the millions, it’s still clearly enough to tempt participants into cheating.

We have dog-doping. We have dogs’ fur dyed, and chalk used to whiten fur that’s not-quite-white-enough. We even have prosthetics to alter the tilt of the ears, and muscles clipped to get the perfect set of the tail. Every dirty trick right down to murder – poor Jagger, a prize-winning red setter fatally poisoned at our own Crufts in 2015.

Dogs here, camels there. When humans sniff money, other animals get abused.

Camels in Demand 

In the Gulf States camels are not wildlife. They are our equivalent of race horses and cows rolled into one. Bloodstock (if they’re racing camels/beauty pageant camels) or livestock, traditionally used for their milk, and increasingly for their meat. The Economist describes the poor creatures as being “speedy and tasty”. Unfortunate attributes to have.

The explosion in demand for camels is creating a huge boom in camel breeding on the other side of the Gulf, in East Africa. In the Sudan, the Rashaidi tribe that migrated from Saudi Arabia in the mid 19th century, are enjoying a new-found affluence raising camels for the Gulf States. Around 200 baby camels are sold each month to Saudi Arabia, and many more to the United Arab Emirates.

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Egypt is already a big market for camel sales from East Africa. ‘“Thousands of camels come to Birqesh [in Egypt] each week… trucked in from as far as Sudan and Somalia,” said camel-seller Mohamed Fawzi Fahmi. Most of the camels that survive the sometimes arduous journey to Birqesh will end up meeting the food demands of Cairo’s nine million residents, while the rest can be used for farm work or tourism. Upon their arrival, the animals are sometimes emaciated or have open wounds from being packed into trucks in a long journey that does not necessarily have the best interests of the animals at heart – camels here are a commodity.’ 

Camels for Racing 

The Rashaidi are renowned for breeding some of the world’s fastest racing camels. The camels are trained at dawn and dusk each day, racing around a track in the desert while wealthy visiting Emiratis look on. They are on the lookout for potential champions to enter in the multimillion-dollar races in Dubai, and no doubt in Saudi’s King Abdulaziz Festival Race also.

Where there is animal-racing, be it greyhounds, camels or horses, the animals suffer. They are raced too young, there is selective breeding detrimental to the animal’s health, doping and illegal betting. Criminal activity surrounds these so-called sports.

Those camels, greyhounds and horses that fail to make the grade as racers, and those ‘retired’ from racing are sent to slaughter.

Children and Robots

Just to add another touch of the surreal, since (under pressure from UNICEF) the UAE banned the use of child jockeys in 1993, the camels in training are “whipped along by miniature robots dressed in jockey silks and given orders remotely from white Toyota pickup trucks.” You could not make it up.

There is a deadly side to this though, because the ban is widely ignored. This is a passage from Death in Dubai by Ron Gluckman

ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP JOCKEYS poses for a photo by the track. His smile says it all. Two front teeth are missing. Raji Shubir [at 6 years old] ranks with the youngest champions of the race course.

The races Raji runs are dangerous brushes with death in the camel pits of Dubai. No riches await young riders like Raji, who are stolen or bought from beggar parents in the slave markets of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And fame is a foolish notion. Fans will never see Raji’s name in magazines, not even if he is trampled to death during a race or murdered afterwards by jealous child jockeys.

But die they do, kicked to death by camels or killed by rival baby riders. Such is the sad, short life in the fast lane for untold slave children shipped to the camel pits of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Raji, whose name was changed for this article, arrived in Dubai like hundreds of other children from the Asian subcontinent. He was sold by his pauper family to a servant of an Arab lord. Raji slipped through immigration, posing as the child of the Indian servant.

This is typical, according to authorities in India, who smashed several child-selling gangs during the early 1990s. The kids are sold for as little as US$3. Hundreds more are kidnapped, often toddlers as young as two.

UAE immigration and police turn a blind eye to the baby trade that serves the sordid sports of sheiks and sultans of the oil-rich emirates. Even tales of vicious brutality are brushed aside.

A five-year-old rider was beaten to death by other child jockeys last year. But neither he, nor his six-year-old assailants, were mentioned in media or police reports. “This happens often, too often,” says a local reporter, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Seven Asian and African countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Mauritania, Eritrea, Somalia and India were named as the main culprits exporting child camel jockeys to the UAE. Shocking child abuse as well as animal abuse. And underlying it all – money.

Gulf States Sucking up Camels from Across the World

Meanwhile several thousand miles away in South Australia, the future of 300,000 feral camels is starting to look very shaky. The camels which originally arrived in Australia with Afghan and Arab immigrants in the late 1800s, are now being “cultivated” for a local abattoir. 25,000 so far have met their ends this way, chopped up and sent to the Middle East to satisfy the growing demand for camel meat. But the Australian Ngaanyatjarra Camel Company has not been slow to recognise the potential for supplying not only camel meat, but live animals to the Gulf States for the much more lucrative racing and beauty pageant camel breeding industry.

The Botox and Beauty Pageant is No Joke

The “sexy” camels kicked out for using Botox makes for an amusing title, but there is nothing funny about the exploitation of these innocent creatures. If there is a way to exploit them, you can be sure humans have left no stone unturned to find it.

The well-known verse from the Bible is often wrongly quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil.”

The actual quote is, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The love of money is at the root of all the evils perpetrated on the defenceless, children and nonhuman animals the world over, camels no exception.

Sign petitions

Camels Don’t Need Plastic Surgery – Charge Perpetrators Now!

Protect Camels from Abuse – End Camel Rides at Wilson County Fair

Don’t Force Camels to Give Students Rides for Entertainment

Other actions to take

Visit Joseph’s Amazing Camels Facebook page and leave a comment about their use of these animals for racing and rides here in the UK

Read why you should Ride Bikes, Not Animals and never go on a camel-ride or trekking trip.

Cover photo is a diagram of judging points from the King Abdulaziz Camel Beauty Pageant

¹Title courtesy of Rafi Letzter

Sources

12 Sexy Camels Kicked Out of Beauty Contest for Using Botox

Festival website

Company plans for Gulf exports

East Africa’s booming camel trade

Egyptian animal welfare: Cruel camel markets and kind donkey barbers

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Crufts

Journalist on how handlers cheat in dog shows

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