The Cat Man of Aleppo Returns

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war. It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

The cat man of Aleppo, Mohammad Aljaleel, touched the hearts of millions when his sanctuary featured in a BBC video in 2016. He had to leave the city when it fell to Syrian government forces, but he’s now back – in an area nearby – and helping children as well as animals, reports Diana Darke.

(There is nothing I can possibly add to this amazing story, except to say that if you want to see what true humanity looks like, look no further than Diana’s account below of this exceptional man.) 

Just weeks after the video was filmed, Mohammad Aljaleel (known to everyone as Alaa) watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then chlorine-gassed, during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo.

Most of his 180 cats were lost or killed. Like thousands of other civilians he was trapped in the eastern half of the city under continuous bombardment from Russian and Syrian fighter jets.

As the siege tightened, he was forced from one Aleppo district to another, witnessing unimaginable scenes of devastation. Yet throughout, he continued to look after the few surviving cats and to rescue people injured in the bombing, driving them to underground hospitals.

When the city fell in December 2016, he left in a convoy, his van crammed full of injured people and the last six cats from the sanctuary.

“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” Alaa says. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”

After a brief recuperation in Turkey, he smuggled himself back into Syria – bringing a Turkish cat with him for company – and established a new cat sanctuary, bigger and better than the first one, in Kafr Naha, a village in opposition-held countryside west of Aleppo.

Alaa and Ernesto
Alaa and a cat called Ernesto

Using the same crowdfunding model employed successfully in east Aleppo, funds were sent in by cat-lovers from all over the world via Facebook and Twitter.

But Alaa has always worked for the benefit of the community, as well as the cats themselves.

In Aleppo, he and his team of helpers bought generators, dug wells and stockpiled food. Even at the height of the bombing, they ran animal welfare courses for children, to develop their empathy. They also set up a playground next to the sanctuary where children could briefly escape from the apocalyptic events taking place all around them.

The new sanctuary has expanded to include an orphanage, a kindergarten and a veterinary clinic. Alaa and his team resemble a small development agency, providing services that government and international charities cannot or will not. He strongly believes that helping children to look after vulnerable animals teaches them the importance of kindness to all living creatures, and helps to heal their own war traumas.

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war,” he says. “It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

As a boy growing up in Aleppo, Alaa had always looked after cats, spurring his friends to do likewise, even though keeping cats and dogs as pets is not customary in Syria or the rest of the Arab world.

He started working aged 13, as an electrician, but also turned his hand to many other jobs – painter, decorator, IT expert, satellite-dish installer… he even traded toys between Lebanon and Syria.

He worked hard and he learned how to get things done. “May the dust turn to gold in your hands, Alaa,” his mother used to say.

His dream was to become a fireman like his father and work in search and rescue, but such jobs were handed out only to those with connections, and the connection through his father was not enough. So for years his applications were rejected.

The sanctuary's vet, Dr Youssef
The sanctuary’s vet, Dr Youssef

“Of course I would never have wished for a war in order to make my dream come true. I wish I could have achieved these things without the suffering I have seen,” he says.

“God blessed me by putting me in a position where I could help people by being a rescue man, but in my worst nightmares I never imagined a war like this for my people or for my country, or even for a single animal.”

During the siege in Aleppo he used to visit both Christian and Muslim old people’s homes, distributing food. Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra regularly chided him, calling him a kaafir, an unbeliever, but he continued regardless.

“Our Prophet Muhammad was good to everybody. He spoke with all Christians and Jews. I believe in Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, because all of them had a noble aim. I’m a Muslim, but I am not a fanatic. I just take from religion everything that’s good and that I can learn things from,” Alaa says.

Despite the difficulties he has endured, Alaa has always maintained a wicked sense of humour. At the new sanctuary, a tabby called Maxi the Marketing King is chief fundraiser, soliciting “green kisses” in the form of dollar bills via social media accounts.

Maxi, aka King Maxi
Maxi, chief fundraiser

Alaa wears a T-shirt with “Maxi’s Slave” written on it, and gets ticked off for smoking too much or for not cooking gourmet meals. He admits his shortcomings. “We submit to Maxi’s authority as the ruler of his kingdom. But even with Maxi’s leadership it wasn’t easy to launch the new sanctuary,” he says.

Maxi's "slave"

This is an understatement. The rebel-held area where Alaa now lives is semi-lawless and when powerful gangs realised he was receiving funds for the sanctuary, they attempted to kidnap him. He was no longer being bombed, but his life was still at risk.

As well as cats, the new sanctuary has dogs, monkeys, rabbits, a chicken that thinks it’s a cat, and an Arabian thoroughbred horse.

“There are so few thoroughbred horses left inside Syria now that I worry about finding him a mare to breed with. I plan to perform the role of a traditional Syrian mother and try to find him a wife, so that he can have children and start building up the population of thoroughbred horses in Syria again,” Alaa says.

Fox at the sanctuary
Injured fox, rescued by the sanctuary

All the animals have names, generally awarded by Alaa. An aggressive black-and-white cat who came to the sanctuary, stole food and terrified all the other cats was nicknamed al-Baghdadi, after the Iraqi leader of Islamic State (IS).

“Of course, this cat was a million times better than that evil murderer al-Baghdadi, but this name came to mind because his presence in the sanctuary coincided with the arrival of IS gangs in Aleppo,” Alaa says.

Cat and cockerel
A cockerel that behaves like a cat… 

A large ginger tomcat was given a Trump hairstyle and christened The Orange President of the Sanctuary. A pair of speedy acrobatic cats were called Sukhoi 25 and Sukhoi 26, after Russian fighter jets.

“They’re old planes, but effective enough for the job required of them in Syria. We always knew when the Russians were coming to bomb us because of their very loud engine noise. We’d shout: ‘Watch out! A Sukhoi is coming!'”

Alaa’s reputation inside Syria has travelled far and wide, and the government is well aware of his activities.

A hawk
And a resident bird of prey

In 2017 he was called by the Magic World Zoo, south of Aleppo, which asked desperately for his help to feed the neglected lions, tigers and bears – which he did, despite the dangers of the journey which involved passing through Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoints. While there, he discovered he had been recommended by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture.

“It was funny that the ministry knew about us and was handing over responsibility for the zoo animals to us,” he says. “The Magic World Zoo gave me a lot of headaches.”

Alaa was eventually able to negotiate a solution for the animals with a charity called Four Paws, which arranged for the animals that hadn’t died to be transported out of Syria to new homes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Jordan.

In the new sanctuary he looks after 105 children, of whom 85 are “orphans” (in Syria the word covers children who have lost a breadwinner, as well as those who have lost both parents). Only 11 children actually sleep in the orphanage at present, because it isn’t finished, but all receive education, food and clothes, for which Alaa pays 25 euros per month.

The biggest risk is the instability in the region. Clashes break out periodically, as it’s close to the border with Idlib province, which is controlled by rebel groups who often fight each other. No-one knows what will happen next to that part of Syria and who will end up in charge.

“I blame all fighting parties equally – no matter who they are or why they say they’re fighting – for the killing of civilians,” Alaa says.

“We are rebuilding our communities and my role in that is to rebuild my sanctuary for cats. Friendship between animals is a great thing and we should learn from them. I’ll stay with them no matter what happens.

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“It seems the world cannot solve wars and conflicts these days. That’s why there are now so many refugees around the world, but especially here in the Middle East.

“I do not want to be a refugee. I want to stay in my country, in Syria. I want to help people in any way I can.”

Diana Darke is the author, with Alaa Aljaleel, of The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo.

All pics from BBC

A page full of videos about Alaa and his work

Source Return of the cat man of Aleppo – BBC News

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The Four-Legged City Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

A Thousand Happy Faces & Wagging Tails

A Thousand Happy Faces & Wagging Tails


Territorio de Zaguates – Land of the Mutts, a sanctuary where every stray is greeted with hearts full of love.

Saved from abuse, abandonment and starvation on the street, given veterinary care, nourishing food, and a multitude of friends to run and play with in freedom and safety, it’s a new life these dogs had never imagined could be theirs.

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Awesome Costa Ricans Álvaro and Lya have dedicated their lives to giving these strays the kind of life they deserve. With 1,300 dogs currently in their care, they have a mammoth task.
Take a look at this uplifting little video

 

In a dark world blackened by the unspeakable acts humans too often perpetrate on other animals, stories such as this shine a light of hope.

For anyone with Netflix, click here for the episode of ‘Dogs’ devoted to Territorio – a riveting and moving closeup view of life at the sanctuary. And the true cost, emotional, physical, mental, as well as financial to those who work there, in particular Álvaro and Lya.

Support their amazing work here 

All their gorgeous mutts are up for adoption. Apply here

Follow Territorio de Zaguates on Facebook and like their page

(Pics & video from Territorio de Zaguates’ Fb page)


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The ‘Four-Legged City’ Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

When your holiday zest for sightseeing bazaars and palaces begins to flag, and you turn into the nearest cafe for a much-needed sit down and restorative coffee, chances are several street dogs and cats will have got there before you and nabbed the best seats.
As you settle at a vacant table, a furry feline will in all likelihood settle on you. And in this city no-one is going to turn them out. Because you are in Istanbul, the ‘four-legged city’, where the free-roaming dogs and cats get cared for as well as the pampered pets inside the home.
The cafe owner emerges from the kitchen with dishes of food for his four-legged guests. The fishmonger next door is slicing up pieces of fish for the hopeful, patiently waiting outside.

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Local residents are putting out bowls of water and food next to the little shelters they’ve knocked together for the furries out on their own streets. And of course, there are rich pickings to be had for the enterprising in the bags of rubbish thrown on to the street.

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Reinvigorated by your coffee? Then head for Nişantaşı Sanat Parkı, otherwise known as ‘the Cat Park’. There are cats, cats and more cats everywhere you look. Hundreds, yes hundreds, of them. Unlike feral cats in the UK, these are completely habituated to people, and will return your attentions with happy purrs and affectionate nuzzles.

You may be puzzled by strange white boxes dotted about the city. These are ‘smart’ recycling boxes. Recycling with an unusual twist: the box rewards you for recycling your empty water bottle by dispensing cat and dog food to give to the animals.

Canines beyond the city limits where food opportunities are thin on the ground are not forgotten either. A van is sent out daily to Belgrade Forest with 1,000 kg of dry dog food. The driver honks the horn, the signal that breakfast has arrived. The dogs come running out of the trees.

That’s hunger dealt with. What about thirst? The city has installed fresh water stations especially for the 130,000 thirsty dogs and 165,000 thirsty cats free-roaming the city – that’s about as many street-dwelling felines and canines combined as there are human residents of Nottingham or Belfast.

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Pic from Phys.org

If any of these free-spirited furries get sick, no problem –  if they can’t get to one of the 6 health clinics (with a little help from the always willing humans), the VetBus will come to them.

There’s no doubt about it: Istanbul’s four-legged residents are done proud. You could say they own the city.

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A paradise present and past

What a paradise for these lucky animals, a paradise present and past. Dogs and cats have been documented on the streets of Istanbul for hundreds of years. “The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city,” Mark Twain wrote after a visit in 1867. “They would not move, though the Sultan himself passed by.”

Why is it that in this city they are not just tolerated, but actively cared for? “They are the neighbourhood’s dogs [and cats]. They protect us and everyone loves them,” says resident Hamit Yilmaz Ozcan.

Sadly the same cannot be said of many other cities in the world. In the last few years alone we have heard of cities like Sochi, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro’s horrific mass killings of street animals ahead of big sporting events. Other places like Cyprus and Bali also view the street animals as pests, and regularly cull them. ‘Cull’ of course is just officialese for ‘kill’. But killing it is nonetheless. In 2013, Romania’s capital Bucharest ordered euthanasia (another euphemism) of its 50,000 strays.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide. Countries such as Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Mexico have in the past, taken reduction measures [yet another euphemism to cloak the unpalatable truth] to control their large populations of stray dogs.” 

So what makes Istanbul so different, possibly unique?

The answer is, centuries of Islamic tradition in the Ottoman Empire, of which Istanbul was the capital and seat of power. The Ottomans took to heart the Qu’ran’s teaching that all animals were made by Allah. All animals are loved by Allah. All animals must be treated with kindness and compassion.

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“According to Islamic culture, people should avoid being unjust to others, and it places animals’ rights above human rights since it is possible to compensate for the wrongdoing to people by asking for their forgiveness; however, it is not possible with animals as they lack reason.” 

(Personally, I think it’s not that they lack reason, but that we don’t understand their language.)

“Prophet Muhammad told the story of two different women who lived long before his time. As he recounted, an evil women went to heaven because she gave water to a dog, while a good woman went to hell because she starved a cat to death.”

(Define ‘good woman’, I’d say. Starving a cat to death sounds pretty evil to me. But anyway, you get the drift.)

“Fearing this story, people in the past fed their animals before they sat down for meals and did not go to bed before they cleaned the animals in their barns and checked if they had water and feed. Moreover, the government punished those who carried barnyard fowls upside down or overloaded horses or donkeys, and people who harmed animals were alienated from their community in the Ottoman Empire.

“The Ottomans established foundations to feed street dogs, and wolves in the mountains, provide water for birds on hot summer days and treat storks with broken wings or injured horses. They also built birdhouses in the courtyards of buildings such as mosques, madrasahs and palaces and placed water pans on gravestones for birds.”

Even ‘worn out’ donkeys and horses, no longer fit to work, were not shot or abandoned as would have been, and often still is their fate elsewhere, but cared for until the end of their days.

Sad change in the 19th century

The people of Istanbul have always loved having the animals around – and who wouldn’t. The state though is a different matter. In the 19th century, the Ottomans, realising the image they were projecting to European powers was one of backwardness, decided to push beggars, orphans and the unemployed into forced labour or deportation. And at the same time made “systemic efforts to annihilate stray dogs within the wider picture of Ottoman modernizing reforms.”

In 1909, “although old Istanbul’s street dogs were very famous, the municipality collected all of them, ferried them to an island in the Marmara Sea and abandoned them. They were left with no food or clean water, and their cries were heard throughout the city. 

“The people who pitied them threw them food, but when all of these dogs died on the island, the residents of the city were disturbed by the smell of their corpses. The wars that broke out and the defeats of the empire following this incident were seen as a punishment for what was done to those animals.”

That sudden ruthless disregard for the centuries-old traditions of care and respect for the street dogs and cats continued right through the 20th century. Right up to the 1990s, officials were strewing poison around the city, consigning the animals to a cruel death.

In 2004 Turkey passed an Animal Protection Law

Everything changed again. The municipalities were forced to take a more humane approach. Instead of slaughter, an extensive neutering program was implemented by the VetBus and the clinics.

With rabies still endemic in Turkey, the thought of rabid animals roaming the busy streets of this ancient city is not one the municipality was prepared to countenance for a second, so the other important part of the program is vaccination. Under the Capture Neuter Vaccinate & Release program, CNVR, the dogs and cats are also chipped and given an ear tag so they can easily be identified as having been ‘done’ before they are returned to the street or square where they were found.

It’s a secret

The tons of food, the water stations, the recycle boxes, the clinics, the VetBus, the CNVR program – surely none of this can come cheap? The municipality refuses to say how much is being spent on the street dogs and cats of Istanbul. “If people knew how much money was spent on these services, maybe people would be more upset, but these figures are not disclosed,” says Yildirim, coordinator of the collective “Dort Ayakli Sehir” (Four-legged City).

But Turkey’s Agriculture and Forests Minister Bekir Pakdemirli did recently admit that between 2009 and 2018 his ministry expended 31 million Turkish lira (around $6 million) just contributing towards the budgets of local authorities across the country for their care of street animals.

Maybe still not quite such a paradise for the street dogs and cats after all? 

The best efforts of the CNVR program has only succeeded in keeping the stray feline and canine populations at a fairly constant level. Their numbers have not fallen over time as the municipality might have hoped and expected. Of course, there will always be some wily characters that escape the net and keep breeding.

But much sadder than that, according to animal welfare organisations on the ground:

“There is a high incidence of dog abandonment in Turkey. Pets are often bought on impulse, and frequently as gifts. But when cute little puppies grow into large dogs that need space, exercise and long-term care, many families simply abandon their pets to the streets or forests. Many abandoned dogs are pure breeds, like golden retrievers, that are temperamentally unfit to survive on the streets or in the wild.”

The self-same fate awaits cats:

“In Turkey everyday, thousands of puppies and kittens are sold in the pet-shops just like stuffed animals and most of them find themselves abandoned on the streets within a couple of months… Abandoned cats and dogs are everywhere. Sometimes people simply kick them out from their home right on the streets, sometimes they take a dog into a forest and leave him there so he can’t find his way back home, or even abandon him by the side of a motorway so he gets killed quickly.”

This little guy is one such victim. Only 40 days old, found all alone and whimpering in a ditch at the side of the road. Luckily he was rescued and put up for adoption. But there’s still a chance he could end up back on the street further down the line.

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Pic from Phys.org
Love for the street animals/casual, callous abandonment. How to reconcile the two?

Is it that the good people of Istanbul enjoy the pleasure the animals bring into their daily lives, and feel good giving food and some outdoor shelter, but don’t want the full responsibility of caring for them in their own home?

Or could it be that in today’s cosmopolitan city, while some still hold fast to the old traditions, others have discarded them as belonging to the past? That would be sad indeed.

From the centuries-old Ottoman Islamic ethic of respect and compassion, I believe there is much we and the world could learn in our attitudes towards all animals, great and small. Don’t you agree?


Please sign and share:

Petition to stop the poisoning of strays in Turkey’s capital, Ankara

Petition to end this tragedy in Turkey: dog starvation on a colossal scale.

Petition to stop neighbouring Jordan killing every street dog in the country

Petition to stop authorities in Benalmadena, Spain ruthlessly culling homeless cats

Petition to enforce ban on dog culling in Bangladesh

#AdoptDontShop  #PersonsNotProperty


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Sources

With thanks – Longhaul Trekkers blog post – warmly recommend for entertaining info and fab pics of the cats of Istanbul

In Istanbul, fat cats are a good thing– check out the picture of Tombili and his statue. Seriously, do it!

Istanbul vets make city’s stray animals feel at home

BBC Religions: Islam

This Vending Machine Takes Bottles and Gives Food to Stray Dogs in Exchange

Managing Street Dogs and Cats in Turkey

Stray dog numbers spur state euthanasia plans

The Ottomans Exemplary Treatment of Street Animals

The state and the stray dogs in late Ottoman Istanbul

 

 

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

 

Related posts

Libby & Louie, A Love Story

If Rembrandt Painted Farm Animals, They’d Look Like This

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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Snorting, Barking Trains in Japan Save Animal Lives!

If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule. 

Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘

The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.

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Cows spotted on Hever station platform CREDIT: LUKE RYAN

But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.

But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.

“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹

What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?

Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.” 

And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.

Over in Japan, they do things differently

Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)

And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”

But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.

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Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.

For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.

The ideas

One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.

The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:

  1. The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
  2. It got washed away in the rain
  3. And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained

Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop  – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.

When it really hit home

One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.

Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.

He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.

The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terrible assault on human senses like the lion poop.

Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”

Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.

The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.

Network Rail, are you listening?

 

Sources

¹Analysis of the risk from animals on the line

In Japan, custom trenches help turtles cross railroad tracks with ease

Japanese trains save deer with sound effects

Read also

Wildlife transport kills on the rise in India

With 100s of reindeer already being killed by freight trains, Norway decides in favour of wild reindeer over a wind farm

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Tiggywinkles, Tigers & Tunnels

The Wildlife Haven That’s the UK’s Best-Kept Secret

A Cow Named ‘Spirit’

“There’s an island in the middle of a Polish lake, where, for a few strange weeks, one cow ruled supreme. And woe to anyone who tried to set foot on that island.”

(Cover pic from politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz’s Facebook page)

A week or two ago we heard about Swoboda (Freedom), the runaway cow wild wintering with bison near the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. We have yet to discover how her fortune will unfold.

Closely following on her hoofs is Hermien, the Dutch cow who broke free when she was being loaded on to a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. She has spent weeks hiding out in the woods and has become a media sensation. A crowdfunding campaign is raising money to guarantee her right to live out her natural lifespan in a the peace and safety of a sanctuary – if they are able to coax her out of the woods she has made home.

Here is Hermien, roaming free

Now back once more to Poland for the story of this other remarkable, until now unnamed bovine. A story that ends in undeserved tragedy.
I choose to call her Duch, Polish for ‘Spirit’

“When workers opened her pen to transport her to the slaughterhouse, the animal made a daring and spectacular break for it.

According to Polish news station Wiadomosci, she broke free from her handlers and repeatedly rammed a metal fence until it burst open.

“Then she went fugitive.

“The cow made it to the edge of nearby Lake Nysa, where she was at last cornered by the farmers. But not so fast. The animal managed to break the arm of one of her handlers before plunging into the icy waters.

“I saw her diving underwater,” one of the farmers told Wiadomosci.

“A short time later, the cow appeared on the shores of one of the lake’s islands. And the farmer, hoping to keep her alive, left food for her there every day.

“But plans were afoot to draw this surreal saga to a close. After the local fire department failed in its bid to bring the cow back by boat — she refused to let anyone get near — the farmer mulled shooting the animal.

“Fortunately, by this time, the cow had found an unlikely, yet equally fierce ally. After hearing of her exploits, Polish politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz offered to buy the determined cow and let her live out her years in peace.

“A few days later Kukiz announced that media attention — radio and television outlets had joined the chorus to save the cow — had convinced the farmer to spare the cow.”

“Kukiz received assurances, he noted, that the cow would enjoy a ‘peaceful pension without the prospect of butcher knife.'”

“But an island is no place for a cow. Not even this fiery bovine empress. On Thursday, a team that included a veterinarian visited the island in an effort to bring her to a farm, where she could get proper care.

“The bovine bucked. She was tranquilized. Officials say she died on the truck. From stress.”

You may draw your own conclusions from these true life stories. These are mine:-

We are wowed and fascinated by these three, and others who made a break for it before them, precisely because they stand out from the herd. They have made themselves know to us as individuals. We see they have real personalities – that they are persons.

We identify with their fear and desire to escape a violent death.

We identify with their desire to live, and to be free from tyranny, free from having their fate determined for them by others – a life in subjection, and a life then taken from them prematurely.

These three bold and brave personalities make for great stories. But the truth is, while we are applauding their exploits, we forget all the others in the herds from which they come. And each and every cow in every herd everywhere also has its own personality – maybe not all as determined and spirited as our three heroines, but smart, gentle, loving, shy, patient, loyal… Each and everyone different, a person in her own right.

These are three of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:-

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

This photo of a bull shot by police in Germany after he’d escaped from a slaughter truck gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the meat aisle”

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If we see in Swoboda, Hermien and Duch what we can see in ourselves, do they and all the rest not merit at least those 3 rights, which surely every living being on the planet deserves?

I mourn for Duch who deserved so much better, and fervently hope that Swoboda and Hermien will be taken safely to a place where they can relish the sun on their backs and the grass under their feet with no more fear for their lives.

Most of all, I hope that their stories will challenge us to see the nameless, numberless creatures we force into our service as the individuals they truly are, and give them the respect and the right to a life free from harm they surely deserve.

If you think so too, or even if you don’t, please take a look at some animals already happy, contented, safe in sanctuary – and others who know they are destined to die.

And what better way to honour the memory of poor Duch, whose amazing spirit for life and freedom in the end, and through no fault of her own, failed to save her, than by checking out simple steps to transitioning your diet.

Then her courageous life and sad death will not have been in vain.

 

Sources

A cow’s incredible bid for freedom ends in tragedy

Heroic cow escapes trip to slaughterhouse, hides in Dutch forest for weeks

Cow who fled Queens slaughterhouse saved by animal activist

Cattle run loose in St. Louis after breaking free from slaughterhouse

These Videos May Prove Animals Know When They’re Next in Line to Die

Related posts

The Runaway Cow Wild Wintering With Bison

In the Eyes of a Cow

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses!

“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”

This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.

What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.

Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –

  • Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
  • In 2016 the Chinese government formulated a vision to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century
  • Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
  • And in 2017, then the market for 70% of ivory, China announced its ban on the ivory trade
  • Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”

Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.

Bear bile farming 

Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.

Dogs and cats

Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.

Animal in Zoos

Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.

Donkeys for Ejaio

Donkeys hit with sledgehammers before having their throats slit. Then skinned. Their skins are rendered down into ejaio, a gelatin considered to be a cure for all ills in traditional Chinese medicine.

Illegal imports of endangered animal parts in huge quantities from around the world

Animals Used in Science

Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.

At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!


(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)


Postscript

China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.


Updates

8th March 2018 Massive new panda national park in China will try to save the iconic species

¹Demographics of China

².Indexmundi

Sources

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses! – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

Facts about Cruelty to Animals in Asia

China moves to protect coastal wetlands used by migratory birds

Related posts

World First – China’s Bird Airport

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats

The Next Extinction – Donkeys??

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

 

When Money Speaks Louder Than Compassion

“A key reason animals are still used so widely is money. Vivisection is very big business. The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the world and its interests are strongly protected by governments. Animal experiments are in the industry’s interests because they can be used to market their products more quickly and – most importantly – they provide a legal defence for the company when people are injured or killed by ADRs [adverse drug reactions]. They will argue that, having carried out the animal tests, no blame can be laid at their door.” – Animal Aid

Animal advocates – up against “the most profitable industry in the world” – that is some formidable foe. Faunalytics Fundamentals aims to arm us for the fight with the best and latest data from the USA on what people think about the issue of animal research; and on the millions of animals that suffer distress, harm and death in labs every year, and the millions more lined up to replace them. (It’s safe to read on – there are no graphic images or descriptions here. They are important, but I leave that to others.)

MEET THE ANIMALS

Primates

With their complex thoughts and intricate social structures, primates are the nonhuman animals most like humans. Good reasons not to use them in labs one would think, but unfortunately the very reasons they are used

Dogs

Docile, friendly, cooperative, eager to please. Makes them ‘perfect’ lab subjects

Guinea Pigs

Easily handled gentle animals that ‘purr’ when they are happy

Mice and Rats

Empathetic and altruistic – they’ve been seen to risk themselves to save cage-mates in captivity

While these are the most commonly used in labs, cats, birds, fish, frogs, rabbits, pigs, horses, cows, sheep, goats are unhappy lab residents too.

“Animals live rich and complex lives” and the animals used in labs are each “unique, sentient, and deserving of their rights to life and freedom.”

ATTITUDES

Over time (between 2008 – 2016) there has been a welcome decline in the US in the percentage of people agreeing to the statement, “Animal research is necessary for medical advancement” – a drop from 55% to 45%.

In general, people don’t want to see animal testing for cosmetics and personal care products, but many are still ready to believe it is necessary if it is said to be for the purpose of improving or saving human lives. There’s clearly much room here for raising awareness.

Changing public perceptions is vital – just think, for example of good-hearted people donating to medical charities that fund animal research, completely unaware of what is happening in the labs.

BREEDING & TRANSPORT

This is where the tragic story begins. Most are born in large breeding facilities and then shipped to the labs. While some ‘suppliers’ are relatively well-regulated, many are not. The graphic below shows the picture in Southeast Asia. Macaques and humans share 93% of their genes. Substitute ‘humans’ in the infographic below for ‘macaques’ to sense the true horror of what is happening.

IN THE LABORATORY

While it is impossible to know exact numbers of animals bred for the labs and used in experiments, best estimates put it at 115 – 127 million worldwide.

As the rats and mice, fishes, birds, insects and invertebrates are not covered by the US’s Animal Welfare Act, not only are researchers not required to keep statistics for them, there are also next to no protections for them, or official controls, or oversight governing their use. There are no witnesses to their suffering but the perpetrators themselves.

The HSUS has put together an interactive map of testing facilities in the US – you will be shocked to see how many there are. And these are ONLY those covered by the Animal Welfare Act, so there are many many more not identified. You will not readily happen across one when you’re out and about. They are invariably well-concealed. (The same here in the UK. There used to be one only a mile from my home. I never knew it was there until after it ceased to function. It was literally underground – entirely invisible to passers-by.)

IN THE CLASSROOM

Dissection in schools may not have a direct connection with the powerful pharmaceutical industry, but it’s certainly a channel for insidious conditioning to the supposed necessity of using animals in research. So in that sense, schools are doing the pharmaceuticals’ dirty work for them.

Luckily many students, rightly revolted at being made to cut up animals, are demanding alternatives. Some schools have responded by creating “student choice policies” which allow students to opt out of dissection for ethical reasons. So far 18 states and the District of Columbia have such policies in place – a small minority. Unfortunately, even where the option is in place, 53% of teachers aren’t aware of it, neither are 38% of students. Interesting that students are more clued up than their teachers – clearly a great opportunity here too for advocacy and raising awareness.

ALTERNATIVES

As if ethical arguments were not enough, there is an overwhelming practical argument against testing on animals – and that is, its ineffectiveness.

  • Of about 100 vaccines that worked against HIV-like animal viruses – NONE prevented HIV in humans
  • Of approx, 1000 drugs effective for neuroprotection in animals – NONE worked in humans
  • 9 OUT OF 10 DRUGS FAIL because they cannot predict how they will affect humans
  • ONLY between 0% and 5% of drugs tested on animals are considered fit for human use
  • A meta-study found the researchers OVERESTIMATE BY 30% the probability that treatments work, because negative results are often not published
    “Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value of such studies for man is often meaningless.” – Dr James Gallagher, Director of Medical Research Lederle Laboratories

Even if you were one of those people who believed testing on nonhuman animals was justified for human benefit, would you not grieve for all those millions of animals that suffered and died for NOTHING?

There are many alternatives to animal research, and many more being developed.

The infographic shows just a few. FRAMEINTERNICHE, and Animalearn are some of the organisations pioneering and promoting alternatives in research and education.

WHAT WE CAN DRAW FROM THIS TO BETTER ADVOCATE FOR ANIMALS

It has to be about raising awareness – arming ourselves with the facts and getting them out there. As we’ve seen from AnimalTest Info and the Lab Animal Tour, those invested in testing on animals are expert at presenting the public with a highly-sanitised picture of their work. They also have no conscience about employing emotional blackmail – “What if it was your son/daughter with leukaemia/cerebral palsy/kidney disease?” Neatly sidestepping all other objections to research conducted on animals such as its ineffectiveness and the availability of better alternatives.

WHERE WE CAN LOOK FOR MORE INFORMATION & SUPPORT
In the UK

Animal Aid comprehensively covers abuse of animals in the name of science. We can find out everything we need to know here. We can order an End Animal Experiments action pack here

In the US

NEAVS has a brilliant page of FAQs. We can arm ourselves with all the answers we need in our advocacy for the millions of animals suffering in labs. There is also a useful list of other practical ways we can help end vivisection.

Sign petition to tell Congress to Reintroduce The Humane Cosmetics Act 2017

and petition to stop US Fish & Wildlife Service from Making Another Mistake

and petition to stop Air France Transporting Monkeys to Their Deaths

Support SAEN, (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) founded to “force an end to animal abuse in laboratories”

 

Sources

Fundamentals: Animal Research

See all Faunalytics’ sources here

Related posts

Things About to Get a Whole Lot Worse for Animals in US Labs (I would urge to you to read the comment on this post from Ahimsa Forever. It provides deeper insight into the dark corners of animal research in the US)

Throwing Wide the Window on Animal Testing – A Blessing or a Curse?

Taking the Lid Off Animal Research Labs – Don’t Worry, It’s All Good

Animal-Cruelty-Free testing methods will be tested by the US Food & Drug Administration 

The True Cost of New Drugs

A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

“The most melodious wild music I have ever heard”

These were the words naturalist Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, his response to the exuberant rhapsody of birdsong filling the air as Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour dropped anchor in the paradise that was Discovery Bay in 1770.
If Banks and Cook were to make that same landing in 2017, they would hear – silence. Little did either realise that their own expedition, the first to map the coastline of New Zealand and study its wildlife, bears in large part the blame for today’s uncanny hush. For the Endeavour was carrying more than its crew. It also brought stowaways, in the shape of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. And it’s rats that have brought that music to a stop.

New Zealand’s native birds were/are endemic, ie. unique to that country, occurring nowhere else in the world. And, having no natural ground predators and therefore no need to take to the sky, they’d evolved over millennia flightless. So, easy pickings for the voracious invaders inadvertently brought to their shores.

Since that time, more than 70 species of birds native to NZ have been lost to the world, with more likely headed in the same direction, including the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, and possibly the cheekiest, the alpine kea.

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The endangered kea

A shocking 26 million of the nation’s birds are killed by invasive predators every year.

Of course this is not a problem exclusive to New Zealand. The pattern is repeated all over. On Hawaii for example, the most isolated land mass in the world, native plants and animals evolved, as in New Zealand, without aggressively competitive or predatory species. The native species, not having had to compete themselves, are “more gentle than others, leaving them vulnerable to the ‘meaner’ species … being introduced to the islands.”

This is one of the ‘meanies’, who indiscriminately demolishes Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers. He doesn’t belong there, but he sure has made himself at home.

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The veiled chameleon, invader in Hawaii, all the way from Yemen

Islands that once were regular Gardens of Eden where all lived in harmony, are today red in tooth and claw. And most often, the teeth and claws belong to Rattus norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, the black rat. Rats have found their way, courtesy of humans, on to more than 90% of the world’s archipelagoes, and embody everything that characterises an invasive species:

  • Rapid reproduction
  • Fast growth
  • High dispersal ability
  • Ability to live off a wide range of foods
  • Ability to adapt to different environments
  • Association with humans

Mammals like the rat are not native to oceanic islands, which are predominantly the domain of birds. Two-thirds of extinctions over the last 500 years have occurred on islands, largely at the paws of invasive mammals. Islands make up only 5.5% of the Earth’s land mass, but are home to 15% of all land species. They are hotspots of biodiversity. And that makes islands in particular, critically important for conservation.

So, how to stem the alarming losses in biodiversity?

Money for conservation is always at a premium. So much to be done, and never enough funding to do it. $21.5 billion is being spent annually, yet in places it’s hard to see much impact on biodiversity. It’s vital to direct funds to projects that will yield good results. And conservationists have found, especially on islands, the only effective method of stemming biodiversity loss is eradication of the invasive species that are pushing the natives to extinction. When the invaders are removed, the beneficial effect on native species is dramatic.

Eradication methods

Different lands, different species demand different eradication methods. What works in one locale, fails in another. Our own ‘meanie’ here on the island of Britain is the American mink brought across the Atlantic to be farmed for its fur. Now escaped into the wild, these invaders have eaten their way through the water vole population, pushing the little rodents to the cliff edge of extinction. Mink are being trapped with the help of volunteers, and then shot in the head.

“It’s not something I get any satisfaction out of, but I am trained to do this, and we dispatch them as quickly and humanely as possible to cause minimal distress to the animal,” says river biologist Jamie Urquhart.

( I once saw a mink in the river at a National Trust property. I began an email to notify the Trust, but then couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for the animal’s death, and deleted the email.)

In the Galapagos Islands, feral goats spread like wildfire, munching their way through forests and native fauna until nothing was left but bare grass. Native birds, invertebrates and the famous Galapagos tortoise were all endangered. Rangers hunted the goats down on land and by air, and shot them, 55,000 of them just on one island. The now goat-less islands reforested and recovered with gratifying rapidity.

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Galapagos lava heron

In the Seychelles, where the invading Indian red-whiskered bulbul was ousting its native cousin, nets were used, and “rifles to get the last remaining few.”

In New Zealand, lethal traps and poisoned bait have been ‘successful’ on small islands, but as they are labour-intensive (requiring constant checking and resetting) they’re not practical over larger areas. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is developing more effective ‘tools’, from “more attractive lures to electronically monitored traps.” The traps being used kill the rats instantly.  “You don’t get those kills where it just breaks the back; we don’t want prolonged suffering,” says Aitken, one of the government-employed eradicators.

This is ZIP’s latest prototype: “Nailed to the tree a few feet off the ground is a shiny orange-and-black contraption called the GoodNature A24. Powered by a gas-fired piston, it delivers a quick, fatal blow to an animal’s head as it tries to snatch the bait inside. The device can kill 24 rats or stoats with a single canister of gas, requiring fewer of these strenuous, time-consuming trap line tromps, thereby saving on labor costs.” 

The ethics

Whatever method is used, eradication means no more nor less than the killing of every possible individual animal of the unwanted species in that territory. ” Most critics point to the ethics of the matter. Killing animals whether they are invasive or not is wrong, they argue, and uncompassionate. Killing wildlife for conservation seems counterintuitive. Isn’t conservation supposed to be about conserving wildlife?”

Some critics even see eradication as another manifestation of racism – prejudice against the non-native. “Certainly the Nazi drive to eliminate non-indigenous plants was related to the campaign to eliminate non-Aryan people.”

But an argument for eradication is that often, the native wildlife needing protection is found nowhere else on the planet, whereas the invaders such as the rats, are generally very widespread. Reading that sentence back and substituting the word ‘Aryans’ for ‘native wildlife’, and ‘Jews’ for ‘rats’, it does sound horribly like the Nazi justification for the Holocaust, doesn’t it? And labelling a group (Jews or rats) ‘vermin’, makes them so much easier to eliminate – it transforms eradication from a murderous crime into a public good.

Even if we accept that the uniqueness-of-the-endangered-native-wildlife argument makes sense at species level, does it justify killing thousands of sentient animals who are just getting on with their lives best they can?

Suppose eradication is a necessity, aren’t there non-lethal methods that could be used?

Yes, there are. Some are not always a practical option, some are just bizarre, and some pose unknown risks.

The impractical

The obvious solution would be to trap the invaders and transport them back to where they came from. And on occasions this has been done. But imagine the politics, the logistics, and of course the cost involved of say, catching, keeping alive and shipping every veiled chameleon from Hawaii back to Yemen. And where on earth would you take the tens of thousands of feral goats from the Galapagos? Multiply that by thousands of conservation projects and it’s clear that can rarely be an answer.

The bizarre

Researchers in Australia have a novel approach. Remember the native species are invariably ‘gentler’ than the invading ‘meanies’ whose successful proliferation at the expense of the natives is down to their adaptability and aggressive competitiveness? Since there is little to no hope of ridding the whole of Australia of its mercilessly predatory feral cats, researchers there are trying to “force natural selection’s hand”.

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They’ve placed hundreds of small endangered endemic marsupials in a pen with a couple of the cats. The hope is that the smartest marsupials will learn to survive, and pass on their cleverness genes to their offspring. But such human-contrived evolution of the marsupial could take 100 years or more. And if it seems like a big gamble, that’s because it is. No need for me to list possible objections, practical and ethical. They are all too obvious.

The risky

Genetic technology already available to us would be by far the most effective nonlethal tool for dealing with invasive species. Scientists have now found a way to not only alter the genes of a species – in this case a gene for producing male offspring only – but make that alteration inheritable. It’s called a self-propagating gene drive system [which] promotes the inheritance of a particular genetic variant to increase its frequency in a population.”  This would obviously require “fewer invasive organisms to be released in order to spread infertility and ultimately eliminate the pest population.” The animal basically would be programmed to (re)produce its own extinction.

New Zealand is one country taking a good hard look at this technology as a much easier, and definitely more humane way to rid the land of the invasive rats, mice, stoats and possums that are so destructive of its native wildlife. There is no question the gene technology would work. The invaders would die out, allowing the native species to flourish once more.

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One of the invaders, an Australian possum

But, and it’s a big but, what it would also do, is create in effect a new species still retaining all the characteristics that made it such a successful invader in the first place. In other words, it would be impossible to contain these modified animals in the target location. Invasion is what they do best – they would spread far and wide with unknowable, and most likely catastrophic results.

The self-propagating gene drive is the perfect example of technology moving ahead at such a pace, it is way in advance of any ethical agreements surrounding its use. The international community needs to catch up fast, formulate, and sign up to a binding accord. New Zealand is by no mean the only country looking at the self-propagating gene drive as a conservation tool. And if something can be done, you can guarantee it will sooner or later.

The dilemma

To kill to save, or not?

“Not doing anything to prevent these extinctions is, in and of itself, an action—which is not compassionate to native species. We can sit there and watch animals go extinct, or we can do something about it,” says conservation biologist Holly Jones. “Killing things sucks. But when you realize the gravity of not acting, which in many cases equates to watching extinction happen in front of your eyes, I think there is no other choice,” 

“We do have the ability to fix our damages. Which is why many conservationists believe we have an obligation to right the wrong when it comes to invasives since humans are, more often than not, solely responsible for introducing species into places they shouldn’t be.” Peter Haverson, another conservation biologist. “No other species has this capability, unfortunately.”

We’ve carried invasive species to every corner of the world, either deliberately – sheep,  goats, dogs, cats and so on, then escaped and gone feral – or inadvertently, as with the rats. The cats, who are particularly pernicious predators of endangered wildlife, fall into both categories.

As we have caused the problem, should we be taking action to fix it? We can refrain from eradicating invasive species. That means standing by, letting individual endangered animals be killed by invaders, and allowing entire species to go extinct. Or, we can opt to kill the invaders – bearing in mind that rats, stoats and possums are people too. In conservation there is no fence to sit on. By not doing one, we are of necessity doing the other.

This is a cowardly cop out I know, but I’m so glad it’s not me having to make the decisions. What is your take on this most troubling of questions?

The most invasive species of all

We don’t just transport invaders around the globe. We ourselves are by far the worst invaders of the lot:

“From Africa, we’ve spread out onto every continent on Earth settling into jungles, plains, forests, deserts, mountains and more. All environments we touch experience extinctions and suffer from varying degrees of degradation. Many scientists even believe we are currently causing a mass extinction event of global wildlife, like the one that ultimately claimed the dinosaurs.”

“Believe”? The 6th mass extinction is no more a matter of belief than climate change. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone suggesting as a solution to the catastrophic loss of the planet’s precious biodiversity, the eradication of this, the most deadly of invasive species, Homo sapiens. Why is that?

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Update 6th December 2017

Genetic tool that can doom a species under UN review

Gene experts set to tackle pest control

26th January 2018

FROM 3-D PRINTED DECOYS TO CHEMICAL TRAPS, SCIENTISTS EXPLORE STRATEGIES FOR CULLING INVASIVE LIONFISH IN THE CARIBBEAN

6th February 2018

Florida Is ‘Raining Iguanas. Will The Invasive Reptile Adapt?

New alien species invasions still rising globally

5th March 2018

Another invasive species in NZ’s crosshairs – rabbits

8th March 2018

The Lazarus Effect: protect one species, resurrect a whole forest

24th January 2019 Ecuador eradicates Galapagos rats using drones

14th February 2019  First successful invasive species removal in Marquesas

5th March 2019 Alien species are primary cause of recent global extinctions

Sources

Eradication nation

Hawaii’s Invasive Species Might Be Cute, But They’re A Huge Island Threat

Invasive Species – Wiki

Alien invaders: American mink removed from Scotland

Confronting introduced species: a form of xenophobia?

When killing off a species is the best solution

Gene-drive technologies for ecosystem conservation: use with care

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Futurology Offers More Hopes than Fears for the Animals & the Planet

Should We Wipe Mosquitos off the Face of the Earth?

Planet at the Crossroads

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

Creative Crashpads for Funky Felines

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”

Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?

For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals

logo-for-websitewhich every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?

Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.

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HKS’s “CAnT WE ALL GET ALONG,” a fish-shaped shelter with birdhouses above
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Perkins+Will’s “UnFURled,” a whimsical spiral shelter that’s actually assembled from a kit of interchangeable parts
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Standard Architecture | Design’s “Catosphere,” a concrete and reclaimed teak pod
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Abramson Teiger Architects’ “White Jack”

There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!

Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers  – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.

(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)

A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.

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Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.

Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.

So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?

“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”

Recent pet industry consumer research shows –

  • 80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
  • Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
  • And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.

Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?

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This sofa, made by Okawa Kagu is furniture intended to satisfy a ‘selfish cat’ that doesn’t do sharing  (Photo: Okawa Kagu)

This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.

So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?

“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”

  • I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?

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Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.

Or, maybe you’re this crazy…

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Or, for the irredeemably bonkers, this…
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Now that’s one website worth looking at!

From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.

If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.

And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.” 

And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!

For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here


Sources

L.A. Architects & designers build imaginative outdoor cat dwellings for charity

Home Furnishings Industry Creates Comfy Digs for Man’s Best Friends

Behold! Purr-fect furniture for cats

Quotes: Terry Pratchett, Joseph Wood Krutch, James Herriot – in that order

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Freaky Feline Fascination

3 Genius Ways of Helping Rescue Cats & Dogs – But Mainly Dogs!