No Valentine for Nigel & Other Tales of Animal Love

No Valentine for Nigel
Last week my heart broke. It was the story of poor Nigel the New Zealand gannet that did it. Nigel arrived on the remote island of Mana in 2013, and there he lived entirely alone for 4 long years. Years he spent earnestly courting an unresponsive concrete replica gannet and making her a nest.
“Nigel was observed caring for the concrete replica. He would groom the statue and chat with it; Nigel even constructed a nest made of twigs, seaweed and mud for it.
2 weeks ago he died, his love and faithfulness never requited.

How did this happen? A concrete replica gannet?

New Zealand has a major conservation problem with invasive species. Rats and possums, not native to the country, kill 26 million of the nation’s birds every year. NZ is pulling out all the stops to eradicate the invasive predators, and the easiest places to start are the many small islands dotted around the mainland coast – like Nigel’s Mana Island.

Well-meaning conservationists in their wisdom went one step further. What better way to lure gannets to the now predator-free island than by duping them into think other gannets had already discovered it as a great place to nest. For Nigel, the well-intentioned ruse tragically backfired.

Fate threw one last cruel twist into Nigel’s sad story. Weeks before he passed away, 3 new gannets did arrive on the island. There was hope. But Nigel showed no interest in them or they in him. Is it too fanciful to suggest the lonely gannet died of a broken heart?

 

Hoping for a Happier Outcome for Romeo, the Loneliest Frog in the World.

Romeo – a super-rare Sehuencas water frog – was discovered in the depths of Bolivia 10 years ago, and consequently found himself transported to what I sincerely hope is a deluxe frog tank at Cochabamba Natural History Museum, as befits an amphibian of his importance. Ever since the move, he’s been calling plaintively for a mate. But although all that time conservationists have been scouring streams and rivers far and wide, not so much as a tadpole of his species have they found.

lookingforlo
Looking for love: Romeo the Sehuencas water frog needs to find a Juliet to save his species

Sehuencas frogs are reckoned to live about 15 years – Romeo could well be reaching the end of his days. The matter is urgent. Arturo Munoz, a scientist with Global Wildlife Conservation says, “We don’t want him to lose hope.”

So they came up with the genius idea of creating a profile for him on the dating site Match. He has an unusually musical mating call, and ‘describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?”

Of course, it’s unlikely Romeo will find his Valentine on Match, but GWC hope the profile will generate funds on the lonely frog’s behalf, to expedite the search for that special one – any one – in the waters of his native land. Read more about the charismatic amphibian here and help find him his perfect Valentine here.

Yes, It’s Hard to Find a Mate When You’re One-of-a-Kind

Then there is Jeremy the ‘Shellebrity’ Snail – another lonely heart. Though just a humble garden snail, he had a certain something that set him apart from the rest. He became a super-star with his own Twitter account, but failed (almost) entirely to find love.

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Discover what made Jeremy so special, and read about his life and loves here

Better Alone?

Though we all long to feel the warm glow of basking in our Valentine’s love, there are times one might be better off alone! Watch the peacock spider pulling his best moves to woo his very irritable-looking beloved.

Oh dear. Well that didn’t quite go to plan, did it? Looks like she’s not the romantic kind.

Happily Not All Animal Courtships End in a Fatality

But some can seem pretty bizarre from a human perspective. Take the Golden Shower of the male porcupine for example. The Golden Shower is not as it sounds, some priceless treasure Mr P bestows upon his porc-y princess. Or may be it is. You be the judge. The ‘Golden Shower’, a vital part of porcupine courtship, is an explosive jet of urine with which he drenches his lady. Apparently it encourages her to ovulate. There have to be kinder ways!

Hippos go one better. To attract a mate a male will pee and defecate at the same time. Ever wondered why hippos have those funny little tails? Well, in case the lassie didn’t quite get the message, the male with his mind on mating uses his to waft the smelly concoction around, and even spray it in the female’s face. Smooth moves.

The Swingers

“Over 90 percent of mammals have multiple mates and even those who form socially monogamous partnerships are often observed “cheating” on their partners.”

Of those, bonobos are universally considered the most promiscuous in terms of both frequency and number of partners. And they are not fussy. Hetero, homo, mothers with sons – it’s all the same to them.

Walruses are not far behind. Like many other animals, the male walrus likes to keep a harem of females. One by one they join him underwater for mating. The male walrus has the distinction of being equipped with a penis bone called a baculum up to 30″ long – the longest of any living mammal.

Gorillas, dolphins, deer, tigers, lions, lizards, chimps, baboons, hyenas, elk and so many more are multiple maters.

True Valentine Love Is Rare among the Animals

But there are animal couples who do weather the trials of courtship and the storms of life, remaining together till death do them part.

Some of the faithful ones are perhaps a little unexpected  –

Termites, black vultures, skink, and French angelfish

And Others Are Not Quite What They Seem

Who’d have thought of shrimp as an image of fidelity, yet a pair will live out their entire wedded life alone together inside a Venus’ flower-basket – a hollow glass sponge.

In Japan, it is common to give one of these sponges – complete with two dead shrimp inside – as a wedding present, a symbol of lifelong devotion. Let’s hope the bride and groom don’t rumble the true reason for the shrimpy couple’s seemingly virtuous fidelity. The sponge cavity is so tiny there is only room for two shrimp inside, and once in they can’t get out. Like it or lump it, they are effectively imprisoned together, their ‘faithfulness’ physically enforced on them. Maybe not the most felicitous symbol of perfect married bliss!

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Probably the most famous and endearing of monogamous mates

Wisdom the Laysan albatross – at 67 years the oldest known wild bird on the planet – and her life partner Akeakamai, otherwise known as Mr Goo. Together this devoted couple have successfully raised 30 chicks, and are still going strong.

Wisdom 67 years old laysan albatross Mr Goo egg incubating Midway

Faithful-for-life prairie voles merit a mention too, just for their downright adorableness

Prairie_voles

Test your knowledge of animal love with this fun quiz – 

Animal Lov​e: ​​Pair up or play the field?

Back in the Valentine World of the Human Animal

For Valentine’s Day this year, Brits will spend £200 MILLION on gifts for their pets. And 50% of pet owners polled admitted they would rather –

“splash their cash on their furry friends than on their lovers.”

Nothing wrong with that, say I. Much much preferable to spending our money on a ticket for two to the Valentine Day’s event-with-a-difference at the plush Malmaison Hotel in the Scottish city of Dundee. In Dundee, it seems romance is dead. The Valentine tickets entitle loved-up couples to watch…  a live dissection of an animal’s heart.

Who the heart belongs to, and how it will be obtained are not specified. Strangely, this event is advertised as part of a nationwide series of ‘Anatomy Nights’, intended to give members of the public a chance to “learn all about the human body.” Am I missing something here?

(It doesn’t make the night any more appealing to see that all proceeds will be donated to the British Heart Foundation, a charity that funds testing on animals.)

But let’s not end our animal Valentine celebration on such a disturbing note
Here are animal hearts as we would much rather see them, warm and beating with life. I hope you enjoy these sweet snapshots of animal love as much as I did.

HAVE A HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY ON THE 14TH

 

With grateful thanks to Rantings from a Virtual Soapbox for sharing Nigel’s story.

Sources

A Troubling Dilemma – Should We Kill to Save?

The Lonely Life of Nigel the Gannet Wasn’t in Vain

5 romantic animals that mate for life

Strange Love: 10 Animals with Truly Weird Courtship Rituals

The Most Promiscuous Animals

Top 10 Polygamous Animals

Animal owners will spend £200 MILLION on Valentine’s gifts for PETS

Couples invited to watch animal heart dissection in Dundee

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Animal Rights Stickers – Yay!

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a brand new emoji app for animal champions everywhere. Senior Advocacy Strategist Michelle Feinberg invites us to download the peta2 sticker app available now from both the App Store and the iMessage-specific App Store. All the stickers are 100% vegan and cruelty-free!

To give you a flavour –

 

Let’s get downloading. This app is going to clock up some serious mileage! Fun with an important – the most important – message…

ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS

TO EAT, WEAR, EXPERIMENT ON, USE FOR ENTERTAINMENT, OR ABUSE IN ANY OTHER WAY


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

“I can’t imagine not living with dogs. That would be really sad for me”, says Gregory Berns, author of ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’. A statement which will surely strike a chord with dog-lovers everywhere.

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Gregory enjoying the company of Callie & Cato

Growing up as a kid in Southern California, Gregory was blessed with the companionship of Pretzel and Popcorn, two golden retrievers. “Kids and dogs go together” he says. (Don’t they just!) Later there were 3 pugs, Simon, Newton and Dexter and another golden retriever, Lyra. Now there are Cato, Callie and Argo, “a yellow dog of some kind of mix.” 

Gregory’s hope for his new book is that understanding how animals think will revolutionise the way we treat them.

It was the loss of his beloved Newton in 2013 that prompted Gregory – a neuroscientist at Emory – to switch from studying the human brain to exploring the way dogs’ – and other nonhuman animals’ – thought processes work. And you will be particularly pleased to know, as I was too, that his studies are entirely non-invasive – no captive lab animals with electrodes implanted in their heads here, thank goodness.

We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” said GB.

What does go on inside a dog’s head?

This is something we’d all love to know. GB decided to use the same method with the dogs as is used to examine human brain activity, fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). Nothing if not ambitious. Because of course, for fMRI to give useable results, the subject needs to keep completely motionless and yet alert for considerable periods. GB and his assistants had to give his new subjects, the dogs, extensive training to be able to do this.

In what proved a ground-breaking achievement, he opened a window, figuratively speaking, straight into the doggy brain, and recorded what he saw happening in there in real time –  this had never been done before. He was looking for answers to questions like:

  • Do dogs prefer praise from their human, or food?
  • What happens in the doggy head when we make them sit and wait for food or a treat?
  • What’s happening in that doggy head when they smell the scent of their human?
  • How do dogs recognise faces?

And the answer to the first question is: they like the praise from their human as much, and often more than the food. The interesting thing is that when the dog is praised, the activity in the doggy brain is located in the caudate nucleus part of the brain –  the same area active in ours when we receive some praise.

The second? When we ask our dog to sit and wait for the command before he/she is allowed to eat, the mental activity occurs, Gregory says, in a part of the prefrontal cortex, again the same as in humans. Not that we have to sit and wait for the command to eat, but it’s the same part of our prefrontal cortex that’s active when we have to exercise self-control.

dogs-930727_960_720

Number 3 (from the National Geographic) This takes us back to our friend, the caudate nucleus. That is the part of the brain associated in humans with reward and positive expectation. And the caudate nucleus was precisely the area GB and his team found activated in the dogs again, this time by the scent of the dog’s own human. And only by that scent. The smell of an unfamiliar human, another dog in the same household, an unfamiliar dog, and even their own scent got little response. Though we may not be too thrilled with theirs from time to time, our smell makes our doggies happy!

Lastly When the dogs were shown 50 photos of different people and 50 of everyday objects, recognition triggered activity in the same area of the dog’s brain, the temporal lobe, as with humans. “Dogs are the only members in the Canidae family that can recognize faces of people without training. Dogs can tell when we are smiling or not and are able to notice differences between two faces, something that even primates like Japanese monkeys aren’t able to do. Dogs also spend more time examining new faces compared to familiar faces.” Psychology Today

So the next time you’re wondering if your dog can read what’s on your mind, the answer is probably yes.”

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All I can say is, those dogs must have been getting some pretty dee-lish-us treats

(Admit it cat-lovers, as wonderful as cats are, can you imagine trying to get a cat to sit completely still while being shown 100 photos? I reckon after the first couple they’d give a bored yawn and start licking a paw.)

Now that Gregory has what he calls “a basic understanding of canine cognition”, he is interested in finding out what it’s like to be this dog, rather than that dog, what makes an individual tick. But the main take from his research is, how very very like our own are the processes inside the doggy brain. Hold that thought.

dog-and-man-175549_960_720


Moving on to even bigger things –  the Brain Ark

What could be more important than sussing out the canine mind, you ask. Well, Gregory is doing something else that’s truly amazing – creating the Brain Ark, which aims to be a digital archive of the three-dimensional brain structures of megafauna: big cats, great apes, elephants, bears, wolves and so on.

What does this involve? Using technology called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to map the neural pathways of long-dead animals held in museum collections, starting with dolphins. “Dolphins are incredibly intelligent social animals but they’ve remained relatively mysterious. We provided the first picture of the entire dolphin brain and all the white matter connections inside of it.”

And “This year, we reconstructed the brain architecture and neural networks of the extinct Tasmanian toger, also known as the thylacine, using two brain specimens from museums, both of which were about 100 years old.”

And not just brains in museums, the brains of today too. But don’t worry – still entirely non-invasive. For the brains of species still hanging on to existence, like tigers, lions and other of the big beasts, he and his team hope to access creatures whose lives have ended in zoos. Gregory’s collaborators in this project include scientists from 8 other academic institutions across the globe, including the University of Oxford and the Smithsonian Institution.

The WWF has given the warning that 2/3 of animal species will be lost by 2020. To say that is a shocking possibility/probability, is a gross understatement. GB believes that since mapping brains of different species helps our understanding of their behaviour, the open-access store of information in the Brain Ark could prove not just a scientific treasure trove, but an invaluable aid to conservation. This awesome person is taking us on a new journey of exploration into the minds of the other animals who share our world.


So, what drives Gregory Berns?

Not just the scientist’s mission to pursue knowledge simply for its own sake. Nor even the prospect of helping conserve the Earth’s wildlife, vital though that is. Something more radical, more important, more potentially world-changing. In his own words:

“In the grand scheme of things, I’d like to explore the commonalities we have with other animals. That has important ethical implications for how we treat them and their right to exist in the first place. Animal welfare laws cover things like abuse – pain and suffering.
“I think we should go beyond that and acknowledge that animals also have a right to lead a good life – whatever that means for that animal.”

Go Gregory!


Books by Gregory Berns:

What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

How Dogs Love Us: a neuroscientist and his dog decode the canine brain


Sources

Neuroscientist explores ‘What It’s Like to Be a Dog’ – Phys.Org

A dog’s dilemma: Do canine’s prefer praise or food? – ScienceDaily

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Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Watch & See

Total Solar Eclipse Day Monday 21st August 2017

What makes this one so special is that it will cut diagonally across the entire USA from Oregon down to Charleston and beyond. The last time a total solar eclipse swept the entire breadth of America was 1918, beyond the memory of anyone alive now, I suspect.

So, a particularly exciting and dramatic event for the American people. But what about the nonhuman animals? And plants? Some of the ways nonhumans react to this strange disruption of the normal day is already known to scientists. Birds fall silent and some go to roost. Cows lie down, crickets start to chirp. Whales and dolphins have been seen to swim to the surface 5 minutes before the eclipse begins, and stay there for totality and 5 minutes after. Other animals also seem to know beforehand what is coming.

But now the California Academy of Sciences needs you!

Any observations of animal behavior you make during the eclipse will become highly valued data. Whether you notice squirrels in your yard, bats, owls, horses, pigs and cows, plants, or even your own dog or cat – at CAS they want to hear about it. For starters you will need to install the iNaturalist app on your phone or tablet. Then please click on this link for full instructions on how to participate in the Life Responds Project. It’s easy.

For a taster of the day, try out this clip (With thanks to AwarenessHelps.com)

Source: Will the Great American Eclipse make animals act strangely? Science says yes

Cover pic Pixabay

Update

August 22nd 2017 How animals were observed to behave during the eclipse – LiveScience

SeaWorld is Sinking!

“The single greatest thing you can do to help these animals is by joining millions of others in making the pledge to never support marine parks like SeaWorld. As proven by the park’s latest sales report, people have the power to create serious change.”  Let’s keep voting with our feet and #EmptyTheTanks!

Hurray for a bit of good news. Just when you think you’ve heard the worst atrocities humans inflict on other animals, some new horror smacks you in the face. But it’s not going to drag us down. Giving up while billions of our fellow creatures are still suffering is not an option. So yay for some success – we have each other and we ARE making a difference!

“If anyone doubts the power of public opinion to create positive change, this story will change their mind. Largely thanks to the powerful 2013 documentary Blackfish that revealed the horrifying truth of the lives of whales and dolphins in captivity, the public’s viewpoint on marine parks has drastically changed. This fact is evident by SeaWorld’s latest financial report that shows sales and attendance rates have dropped by 15 percent in the second quarter of 2017.

“In a press release on May 9, 2017, SeaWorld reported total revenues of $186.4 million versus $220.2 million from the first quarter 2016. This is a decrease of $33.9 million…. Attendance numbers [also] saw a major drop….About 491,000 fewer guests visited the park in the second quarter, which is a 14.9 percent decrease from the first quarter of 2016.”

Read more SeaWorld is Sinking! Profits Down 15 Percent in 3 Months | One Green Planet

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Wildlife Conservation Society’s favourite pictures of 2016

Cover pic Amazonian royal flycatcher by Rob Wallace

Just in case you missed these.  (Click any image to go to the big beautiful originals)

Thanks to Garry Rogers for sharing these wonders.

Source: https://garryrogers.com/2016/12/21/wildlife-photos/

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Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 1

This week in the run-up to International Animal Rights Day on Dec 10th, I hope to feature eight remarkable women spearheading the battle for Animal Rights in their varied fields of science, art, law and politics.

Maybe it’s not so surprising then that every single one of them has ties with a 9th, world renowned photographer and animal advocate JoAnne McArthur.
First up The Scientist 
“I always wondered what it would be like to be another animal.”
Lori Marino, neurobiologist, biopyschologist, self-styled scientist-advocate

As far back as she can remember Lori always wanted to know what it felt like to be in another animal’s skin. Then as a student, she hoped a class in the neurobiology of rat behaviour would help her find out. It did indeed prove fascinating, but unhappily, taking that class required her to intentionally damage the rats’ brains, and then kill them. Seeing the rats’ suffering traumatised her. It gave her nightmares.

After her first degree she won a scholarship to the very prestigious Princeton University to study for a PhD. No mean feat. But when she found out the work at Princeton would involve damaging cats’ eyesight and afterwards killing them like the rats, she knew she just couldn’t do it. Hard for her parents to understand how she could say no to such a great academic honour.

The questions about animal sentience and cognition she wanted answers to led her into the study of cetaceans. She’s spent more hours than she cares to think of measuring whale and dolphin skulls – ones no longer being used by their owners of course!

She was appointed by Emory University professor of cetacean neuroscience, and today Lori is the go-to expert on cetaceans, the one to be consulted.

(Need I say, Lori is a vegan.)

Lori combines a profound passion for nonhuman animals with the appropriate scientific objectivity in questions that concern them. And that gives her unique authority when animal advocacy bumps up against zoos and aquariums, or the law, as it frequently does.

Lori’s expertise featured in Blackfish, the documentary that’s had enormous impact around the world raising awareness about the plight of the captive killer whale Tilikum.

She was also consultant for another prizewinning documentary, The Ghosts in Our Machine. Lori describes the film as a “unique project giving voice to those individuals – the cows, pigs and hens in factory farms, the dolphins in marine circuses, the rabbits, monkeys and chimpanzees abused in research laboratories, and all the other nonhuman persons whose suffering is the very foundation of our human society.”

She was called as expert witness in the trial of Anita Kranjc of Toronto Pig Save in November, sued for giving water to thirsty pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse. Lori testified to the emotional and social distress pigs suffer in the factory farming system.

She continues to work closely with the Nonhuman Rights Project, fighting to obtain the status of personhood for captive chimps, for which her expert testimony is called upon in court.

“I can do it because I know the science. And because I have a Ph.D. You can’t imagine the power that title and hard data give you in court.”

“Person doesn’t mean human,” she explains. “Human is the biological term that describes us as a species. Person, though, is about the kind of beings we are: sentient and conscious. That applies to most animals too. They are persons or should be legally. There is abundant, unquestionable evidence for personhood for animals.”

Most of Lori’s work revolves around the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy of which she is both founder and director. The Center works hand in hand with Farm Sanctuary in The Someone Project, encouraging people to open their eyes to see that farmed animals are real persons, friends not food, someone not something.

Thinking back on her own experience as a student in neurobiology, of being required to harm and kill animals, Lori through the Kimmela Center, raises funds to provide students with research grants. All research is with domesticated animals at shelters and sanctuaries, and is entirely non-invasive. With Kimmela-funded research, it is most definitely a case of “No animal was hurt in the making”!

The Kimmela Center’s strap line? “Informed by Science….Driven by Passion.”

Six short words that perfectly sum up what Lori Marino is all about.

I’ve barely touched on all the outstanding work Lori has done and is still doing for animals. To find out more click here.

Add your name to the Declaration of Animal Rights here

Source

Lori Marino: Leader of a Revolution in How We Perceive Animals | Innovators

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Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Pigs are animals, lions are animals, dogs are animals. We are not animals. We are human beings. We are different, and belong to a higher order of life. We stand at the apex of evolution.

That is nonsense of course, because we are animals too. But we are conditioned by our culture to accept without question the notion of our superiority and our rightful position of power over all other life forms. It’s called “anthropocentric patriarchy”.
And that is the first of four myths we humans choose to believe about our uniqueness and pre-eminence on Earth.  But now we’re going to debunk them one by one.

MYTH: Humans are different from animals

FACT: Humans are animals

Ok then. Well, we don’t think of ourselves as animals, but of course we know we are really. So let’s correct the myth and say ‘Humans are different from other animals’ then. That’s more like it, isn’t it?

Well, no actually. That is no better. That’s still setting us apart and above, when in fact ALL animals are different from other animals. Yes, we may have some unique traits, but so do many other species. We can’t fly like birds. We can’t change colour like chameleons and squids. We can’t walk on water like the basilisk lizard. We can’t regrow an amputated limb like an axolotl, and we absolutely can’t live forever like the immortal jellyfish. The list is endless.

But we do have attributes exclusive to us, right?

Perhaps not. A mounting stack of research papers is almost daily uncovering other animals’ capacity to experience the same emotions we do, and communicate with each other in complex languages of their own.

Many also have much the same thought processes. The human brain not so special after all. Did you know pigs can play computer games with humans, for example, and give them a run for their money.

Or that calling someone ‘bird-brained’ should be a compliment not an insult. Relative to their size, birds’ brains are large and remarkably similar to ours. Birds are smart! Watch this clever creature who goes by the name of 007, sizing up and solving an 8-stage puzzle with ease.

But we do have culture, yes? Surely in this we are unrivalled.

Again, sorry to disappoint, but many nonhumans have their own culture too. Culture is defined as ‘socially transmitted behaviour’. And there’s been “an avalanche of recent research” throwing up new discoveries of culture among cetaceans, fish, insects, meerkats, birds, monkeys and apes.

Whales, dolphins and songbirds, it’s been discovered, actually have local dialects. That means they’ve passed down through generations their own unique communication culture that differs from group to group, region to region – just like humans.

The New Caledonian crow makes incredibly precise and sophisticated tools to extract insects from the bark of trees. Research has established that over time, the design of the tool has become more and more refined – proof that it is always the latest improved blueprint that is handed on to the next generation. The exact model of the tools, again, varies from locality to locality.

Orcas can be observed working together as a pod, taking it in turns to dive down under a school of herrings, creating a circle of bubbles around the fish, forcing them up to the ocean surface in an ever-tightening ball. “Each whale has a role. It’s like a ballet [and] they move in a very coordinated way and communicate and make decisions about what to do next.” The strategy is called ‘carousel feeding’, one of several hunting practices developed, refined and passed on that scientists consider warrant the label ‘culture’.

A more bizarre example of cultural transmission is the trend among capuchin monkeys to poke each other’s eyeballs with their long, sharp fingernails. It’s believed this strange custom started small, but over time caught on in a big way among the capuchin population  – who knows why!

We do not have a monopoly on morality either.

A study from as long ago as 1964 showed that hungry monkeys would not take the food on offer if it meant other monkeys getting an electric shock. Likewise rats. And we are not alone in our ability to make character judgments by watching others’ behaviour. Chimps can too.

What about art then? Nonhumans, match that if you can.

lyre-bird-1140064__180They can. Take the lyrebird of Central Australia who has the audio version of a photographic memory. He (it’s always he) samples not just birdsong from a variety of birds, but any other sounds he picks up from his surroundings: chainsaws, beaten nails, car alarms, human speech. Then he puts together the snippets he’s picked up in a unique continuous sequence of song. Exactly like a DJ sampling old recordings and creating something new. Absolutely an artistic endeavour, chainsaws and all.

Then there is the amazing bower bird, as seen in many a wildlife documentary. He crafts a sculpture out of twigs – the bower. And then designs a decorative courtyard in front of it, using flowers, leaves and pebbles, bottle tops, paper clips, plastic straws – anything colourful that’s to hand. He plays with perspective exactly as a human artist might, placing the largest objects furthest away. The effect is to make them look even larger than they really are. It’s what is called a forced perspective. Clever arty stuff, and all to entice the ladies.

‘Well but phff’, you may be thinking. ‘These guys are hardly in the league of Mozart or Michelangelo.’ But perhaps it is simply that we are deaf and blind to nonhuman animal art because our human superiority complex prevents us knowing where to look for it, and understanding what we are seeing when we see it. I believe the same holds true for their other abilities too. We even judge their ‘intelligence’ according to how closely or not it resembles human intelligence. Our perception of nonhuman animals is completely skewed by our own self-importance.

But back to art. Art News magazine believes there is still much to be discovered about nonhuman animal art. “Looking at the spectacular dams, nests, webs, and other elaborate constructions found in the natural world, it remains difficult to leave our art-world sensibilities behind. Indeed some scientists are convinced that animals have the emotional complexity to perceive beauty, make esthetic choices, and produce forms (or song) for art’s sake.”  

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimps

FACT: Humans evolved alongside chimps

africa-1299202__180We didn’t evolve from chimps. We and chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans all evolved from a common ancestor, most likely from the Nakali ape Nakalipithecus nakayamai, 8 – 10 million years ago in Kenya’s Rift Valley. The four evolutionary paths then diverged, and so we have the four different species now. We evolved alongside them, not from them. Man is, in fact, an ape.

MYTH: Each of us is a distinct, coherent individual

FACT: Each of us is no more than an ecosystem, a habitat, a landscape for other life

Who knew, except biologists of course, that our bodies are actually made up of 90% microbial cells and only 10% animal (ie human) cells?! What a staggering statistic. It’s making me feel quite peculiar just writing that. Scientist working on the Human Microbiome Project have discovered 29,000 unique genetic proteins from only 178 bacterial species living in our bodies – and that’s so far. It could be the tip of the iceberg. Compare that with the human genome’s total of 23,000 genes.

It seems then, we are the perfect habitat for unknown numbers of bacteria, fungi and viruses, busily exploring our body’s landscape, and thanking us for our kind hospitality. Some are helping us, others are harming. We don’t yet know who does what. But we do know they far outnumber our simply human components. Eek!

MYTH: Humans sit atop the evolutionary ladder

FACT: There is no evolutionary ladder. Every species is evolving in parallel to every other

We are not, as is commonly believed, more ‘highly evolved’ than bacteria. On the contrary, you could say we are less evolved than bacteria because they have been around longer. They have evolved continuously for the last several billion years. We are relative newcomers. There are, it is true, more and less complex life forms, but no higher or lower.

“All the species alive today that have evolved and adapted to find their way through the world long enough to produce offspring are ‘equally evolved’. In the context of biology, newer isn’t necessarily better: evolution isn’t a process of gradual refinement towards an improved version, but rather a question of stumbling along just well enough to make it into the next generation.”

So it is human arrogance alone that classifies creatures according to our own human-centric notion of their place on the ladder. The idea of a ladder at all, of a hierarchy, of higher and lower, is a human construct, nothing more than a thoroughly unscientific value judgment.

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

Evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk

It is we who place ourselves at the top, decreeing the rank of all other creatures by the measure of their likeness, or unlikeness, to us. A few rungs down the nonhuman apes, a few further the other mammals, continuing down through birds to reptiles, fish, amphibians etc. Bacteria just about the bottom of the pile. According to us.

But there is no bottom or top. There is no ladder, no up or down, higher or lower. Evolution has no hierarchy. There is no evolutionary or biological justification for this myth. We are just one among many.

Debunking this particular myth could hardly be of greater importance for our fellow animals, or for the planet itself. Our self-bestowed crown of superiority is illegitimate. We have placed ourselves on the throne so we can look down on all other animals and view them as existing just for us, the kings of creation. But our claim to the throne is spurious. We have granted ourselves the royal prerogative of making other animals our slaves, extracting whatever we can from them, carving up their bodies to satisfy our whims. As for those we choose not to eat or wear, once they cease making themselves useful to Our Royal Highnesses in some other way, or are simply surplus to our requirements, or just get in our way, become a nuisance to us, or a threat, they too are sentenced to death.

It is by perpetuating the myth that we are top of the tree that humans have stripped all other animals of the autonomy that is their birthright. We’ve reduced creatures that are miracles of nature to commodities. It is by this myth that mankind justifies – no, embraces without even seeing the need to justify – the most unspeakable cruelty. It is this myth that gives its blessing to the wholesale ravaging of wildlife and nature. And it is this myth that paves the bloody road to the slaughterhouse.

James Brabazon sums up Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of Reverence for Life like this:

“Reverence for Life says the only thing we are really sure of is that we live and want to go on living. This is something that we share with everything else that lives, from elephants to blades of grass—and, of course, every human being. So we are brothers and sisters to all living things, and owe to all of them the same care and respect, that we wish for ourselves.”

Science speaking in the voice of Evolutionary Biology agrees:

We are but one among many

Update

22nd November 2016 Ants behave as mini farmers in Fiji study – The Guardian

1st December 2016 Research shows Birds Have Skills Previously Described AsExclusively Human – The Scientist

23rd December 2016 “I am NOT an animal” video from the Kimmela Center

 

Sources

 5 Common Biology Myths – ZME Science

10 Incredible Things Animals Can Do That We Can’t – ListVerse

Strongest Evidence of Animal Culture Seen in Monkeys & Whales – Science Mag

How Orcas Work Together to Whip up a Meal – National Geographic

Six ‘uniquely human’ traits now found in animals – New Scientist

Can Animal Ever Be Artists? – IFL Science

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman

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14 Reasons Not To Visit Zoos – In Pictures

“These tragic pictures left me speechless. Please look into the eyes of all the animals. They tell their own story more poignantly than any words of mine. And the message they give is simple. Help us. End this.”

Virginia McKenna

Haunting pictures of animals trapped behind bars in Europe’s zoos have been captured by international wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation. The powerful exhibition was launched by the organisation to highlight, what they see as, the poor standards of animal care at many zoos in the European Union.

Keith Taylor, MEP and the Green Party’s animals spokesperson, said the images show the “urgent need” to improve conditions and regulatory enforcement, both in the UK and in the rest of the EU.

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Elephant in Slovenian zoo

Taylor said: “The EU has been a positive force for so many animal welfare improvements in Britain and across Europe.

“It was the EU that first recognised animals as sentient beings and, consequently, introduced a blanket ban on cosmetic animal testing and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, ended the use of great apes in research, improved welfare standards for farm animals, strengthened protections for rare and endangered species, cracked down on the illegal ivory trade, banned cat and dog fur imports, and stopped the gruesome trade in seal products. However, more must be done by the European Union to enforce the relevant EU laws and improve the lives of animals kept in zoos.

The photos were taken by award-winning international photographers, Britta Jaschinski and Jo-Anne McArthur who visited several EU countries, including Italy, France, Germany, Denmark and the UK, this summer to document the conditions some animals are forced to live in.

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Marmoset in Danish zoo

Virginia McKenna OBE, co-founder and trustee of Born Free, said: “I should be used to looking at captive wild animals, having done so for over 45 years, but these tragic pictures left me speechless. Please look into the eyes of the macaque, the bear – well, look at all the animals. They tell their own story more poignantly than any words of mine. And the message they give is simple. Help us. End this.”

Zoos are required under a European Council directive to satisfy animals’ biological requirements by providing species-specific enrichment and a high standard of husbandry. Born Free said it aims to show, through these photos, that “many zoos keep animals in sub-standard conditions and EU zoos are therefore not fulfilling their legal requirements”.

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski

Barbary macaque in a UK zoo

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski

 Chimpanzees in an Italian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

 Polar bear in a Latvian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Dolphin in a Lithuanian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
 Bear in a Croatian EU zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
Lion in a German zoo
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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski
Owl in a Maltese zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
Meerkats in an Estonian zoo
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Born Free Foundation -JoAnne McArthur
Bear in a German Zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthurTiger in a French zoo

Tiger in a French zoo

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinsk

Giraffe in a UK zoo

Part of Born Free Foundations Animals in European Zoos A Photo Exhibition

These pictures come at as a debate about zoos continues to divide opinion. Last week a Silverback male gorilla escaped from his enclosure from London Zoo. Fortunately, the animal was recaptured without any injuries, but this is not always the case.

Earlier this year Cincinnati Zoo was the focus of public outrage after Harambe, a critically endangered gorilla was shot dead after a child was able to enter his enclosure.

Daniel Turner, associate director for European Compliance at Born Free, said he hopes the collection will help to influence a “greater commitment to improving standards in animal welfare in Europe’s zoos”.

Copied from the article in The Huffington Post – Born Free Foundation’s Animals in European Zoos Exhibition

Personally, I hope these harrowing images will open people’s eyes to see that wild animals do NOT belong in captivity. I should say, open people’s hearts – to feel the loneliness, deprivation and suffering we have inflicted on these innocent creatures, and resolve NEVER to visit or take their children to a zoo.

Grateful acknowledgements to AwarenessHelps for bringing this important and remarkable exhibition to our attention.

JoAnne’s video about her new book “Captive”

Article in One Green Planet about JoAnne and “Captive” here
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Extinction Is Forever: Why We Need To Change To Save Animals

We’re running out of time. It doesn’t matter what we know, if we don’t get the message out.

This is a heartfelt plea from Dana Hunnes, expert in conservation, nutrition, and climate change. Our dietary choices play a huge role in sustainability, climate change, saving animals as well as our personal health. But she says simply being vegan is not enough.

In this important article she urges us to take action, and suggests what everyone of us can and must do to help save our planet from the brink.

Dana writes:

I recently spoke at the “March Against Extinction” event in Los Angeles as a way to call attention to how our diets, behaviors, and choices influence whether or not a particular species survives.  While our individual choices represent a vote with our wallet, it is the policies and laws in various countries surrounding conservation, climate change, and agriculture that frequently play the larger role.

Right now in Taiji, Japan, dolphin hunts are underway. Every day from September 1 until March 1, dolphin hunters go out to the ocean and search for innocent dolphins, either to sell to amusement parks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, or to slaughter for “human consumption,” Yet, it is well known that dolphin meat has toxic levels of mercury, PCBs, and other chemicals; making this both a public-health and animal-rights issue.

The cruelty and injustice of these hunts cannot be understated.  The demand for these dolphins comes from amusement parks around the world who want to “show off” dolphins and their “little tricks.”  What’s more, dolphins are viewed as pests, competition for the fish that the world has overfished and removed from the oceans.

In sum: We take their fish, we make them toxic with chemicals that WE have dumped into their oceans, and then we blame them, and brutalize them.

These hunts, by the way, are sanctioned by the Japanese government. 

Read more

Please share, and take as many of the actions she suggests as you can. Nothing could be more important.

 

Source: Extinction is Forever: Why We Need to Change Our Consumption Habits to Save Animals | One Green Planet

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