The picture¹ above is, for German documentary photographer Nikita Teryoshin,
“A symbol of human control over cows – how we can look into the cow and see everything.
“I wanted to update the old-fashioned image of a cow in a green meadow that weknow from ads and milk packages. To show the dystopian side of milk production.”
The images in Teryoshin’s book Hornless Heritageexpress the shock he felt visiting the EuroTier agricultural fair in Hanover, a shock which prompted his 4-year scrutiny of this industry in his home country, and was the impetus for his book.
At the centre of the dairy industry is, of course, the cow. A cow falls into the zoological class of Mammalia. And the dictionary definition of the word “Mammal” is:
“That nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands” – the way Nature intended. But nothing about the German dairy industry bears much relation to Nature. Indeed, today’s dairy production practically all over in the world is so far from the storybook idyll of contented cows grazing in flower-filled meadows with the sun on their backs – the image the industry wants us to believe – that there surely must be a case for referring dairy product ads everywhere to their countries’ equivalents of our Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds of “false or deceptive messages”.²
What does the image below look like to you? What it doesn’t look like to me is a farm. But then, it doesn’t actually lay claim to that name. It calls itself an ‘automated dairy facility’, and is certainly closer to a factory than how most people imagine a farm.
This is journalist Laura Mallone describing Teryoshin’s experience of the EuroTier fair, “The crowds gawked at the latest in animal husbandry, including a Matrix-like robot that suckled a fake cow. But what struck Teryoshin most was an ad that read,
‘Don’t let cows waste your money’
“‘It seemed impossible that you could think that a cow is wasting your money when you’re already taking everything away from it,” he says.”
That prompted him to begin Hornless Heritage. Teryoshin visited farms, insemination stations, laboratories, auctions and even a Best in Show, where owners primped their Holsteins and paraded them before a crowd. He got an up-close glimpse of seemingly happy cows like Lady Gaga—a black-and-white Holstein that’s won bovine beauty pageants—as well as clearly unhappy ones, such as those with bloodied legs he saw on a factory farm. He documented everything with a Nikon D800 and hand-held flash, illuminating the mundane horror of an industry where animals are reduced to commodities.
‘German’ : ‘Efficiency’. Two words forever joined at the hip. Teryoshin witnessed the essence of ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ (progress through technology) applied to cows exactly as to cars. Maximising profit by reducing living animals to nothing more than milk-producing machines, their natural needs only being met as far as they further that end.
Teryoshin writes, “Also known as ‘turbo cows’, German dairy breeds, like German cars, are very popular all over the world because of their performance and reliability. Thanks to computer technologies in the last decades German scientists got millions of breeding values together and a knowledge about the genomic code, which allows them to design the ‘Übercow’ with up to four times higher milk output, and even the horns disappearing,”
In evolution, “horns mean for a cow protection and autonomy. They are even important for the milk performance and overall condition of the animal. For life in huge fully automated farms with hundreds of cows, horns are too dangerous. After decades of painful dehorning of cattle with a branding iron, German breeders and scientists in the future will produce cows hornless by birth yet with the same milk performance.”
Germany’s dairy facts
Germany is the EU’s biggest milk producer
The country has 4.2 million cows
Today, farmers use genomic selection to design ever-more-profitable ‘turbo’ cows that can produce more than 88,000 pounds of milk in their lifetimes
Cows used to live about 20 years. Now they end up canned and packaged in the pet food aisle of supermarkets before the age of 5, sent to slaughter because of lameness, infertility or mastitis
Such are the miracles of technology, in a life lasting only a quarter of the time of her great-great-great grandmother’s, a German cow can now be made to produce at least double and up to 4 times as much milk
In 2018, Germany produced from its ‘turbo cows’ 8.6 billion gallons – enough for 104 gallons/473 litres per person – in one year. About 1.3 litres per person per day – milk Nature intended for the nurture of these mothers’ babies, which have been taken from them.
“’I stopped drinking milk and eating dairy for a while,’ Teryoshin says. His photographs might make you lose your appetite for the stuff, too.”
Only for a while, Nikita? What a shame. How desperately sad that you should so readily forget the shock you experienced peeling away the dairy industry’s green pastures fantasy to uncover the technologised nightmare beneath – the pitiful existence of a mammal mother, intended only by Nature to suckle her own, that is today’s Übercow.
Yes, we can indeed “look into her and see everthing”. Everything that is except the one thing that matters – her soul.
It’s not too late to join the Veganuary movement and discover simple and tasty ways to eat dairy-free
And everything you ever need to know (well, almost!) about going vegan here
If you are anything like me, you will find yourself hiding your head in your hands under the daily barrage of dismal news about the state of the planet. If it’s making you feel depressed, helpless and hopeless, please don’t switch off just yet. We have the antidote – a big dollop of good news from the WILD Foundation to re-invigorate and re-empower us. And a challenge.
Passionate people and conservation organisations are changing the world. All they need is for us to play our parts in “the biodiversity revolution” they are creating. There is good news. There is hope. But burying our heads in our hands is not an option. We need the courage to stare in the face the destination we are headed towards if we fail to take action now.
What we stand to lose
Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist and conservationist Edward O. Wilson writes in his 2016 book “Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life” of “the complexity, beauty and majesty of Nature” in which “each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.”These myriad marvels – from axolotl to armadillo, humming bird to hippo, parrot to pangolin, tawny owl to tiger, walrus to wolf, not to mention plant life – are what we stand to lose in this age of the Anthropocene, the 6th age of mass extinction caused entirely by the activities of Man.
Yet our species recklessly continues to suffocate the earth under a toxic blanket of new farms, dams, factories and housing that obliterate vital habitat, polluting land, sea and air in the process. And simulta
neously persists in giving free rein to our own population growth, and the callous annihilation of non-human animals.
Wilson asks,“What kind of a species are we that we treat the rest of life so cheaply?”
We are, he says, “a danger to ourselves and the rest of life…. the most destructive but unrepentant species in Earth’s history.”
Who can argue with that?
The Age of Loneliness
If we continue on this catastrophic course, the only wild animals left on the sublime planet thronging with life we inherited, will be rats, pigeons and jellyfish. We may of course still have our domesticated plants and animals, but what small comfort for the 4 million dazzling species we look to lose in the next 30 years if we carry on as we are.
We will have entered the Eremocine, the Age of Loneliness. A conquered planet almost devoid of natural life. What a terrifying prospect.
“Our relationship with this planet is badly broken. We need a new story about how we live here. We need a new relationship with the Earth that is thoughtful and balanced.”
– James Brundige, conservationist and wildlife film-maker.
Nature Needs Half
Thoughtful, balanced yes, and bold. Professor Wilson wants to steer us off the road that leads inexorably towards that unthinkable Age of Loneliness, and take a new direction – nothing less than giving over entirely to Nature free from the injurious activity of humans, half the planet. A full 50% of land and sea. And to prove his bold vision is not simply words on a page, ink on paper, he set up the Half-Earth Project: “With science at its core and our transcendent moral obligation to the rest of life at its heart, the Half-Earth Project is working to conserve half the land and sea to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, including ourselves.”
So, an entire half the planet for Nature – great idea, but is it translatable into real life? Or is it just a comforting fantasy?
“When it was first launched, this idea didn’t go over so well… Although many conservation leaders admitted to personally supporting the half goal, they believed that publicly aligning themselves with half would ruin their credibility.”
If Nature Needs Half was first mooted a whole 9 years ago, what’s been happening since?
Though his widely read book, “Half Earth” came some years after NNH, what Harvard naturalist E.O.Wilson did achieve through his legendary status, was to lend the Half Earth proposal real credibility and clout. Now “the Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Cristiana Pasca Palmer, is calling for ambitious actions in advance of the 2020 CBD in Beijing, China. At the same time, many of the world’s most prestigious conservation organizations are in the process of creating a groundbreaking ‘Global Deal for Nature’“, to go hand in hand with the Paris Climate Agreement.
But hasn’t the last decade seen more loss of vital biodiverse habitat? Aren’t we already too late?
There are currently across the world 161,000 protected reserves and parks making up somewhere in the region of 15% of Earth’s land area. 15% is still a shortfall from 17%, the unduly modest target the Convention on Biological Diversity originally agreed back in 1992. And of that 15%, a third is inadequately protected and under intense pressure from human activity, leaving a mere 10% properly set aside for Nature.
10%, 15%, 17% – still a long way short of WILD’s and Wilson’s ambitious vision for half the planet. 50%, isn’t more than that gone already?
Well, here comes even better news –
No, we still have half left! We can do this.
There still remains enough wilderness as yet untouched by human blight. And if we can send spacecraft to distant planets, surely we can save our own. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished when we pull together. The trick is to get people on board, and that is exactly what Nature Needs Half is doing. Year on year NNH brings more people and organisations under its umbrella, creating an ever-growing world wide web of conservation partners which include Wilderness Foundation Global, Rewilding Earth, Rewilding Europe, National Geographic, London Zoological Society, Sanctuary Asia, Coalition WILD, Wild Wonders of China, Google Earth Outreach, the Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation, and more.
And now hopefully, us.
Here are just a few of Nature Needs Half network’s achievements in 2018 –
1. Digital Earth
This year, National Geographic’s chief scientist, Jonathan Baillie co-authored “Space for Naturewhich argues the case for achieving 30% of land and ocean protected by 2030, 50% by 2050.
Under the auspices of NNH, that revered institution National Geographic has joined forces with another colossus on the world stage, Google, to devise a failsafe way of getting world leaders on board with those literally life-saving objectives. With NatGeo’s unsurpassable knowledge on the ground and Google’s tech expertise, together they are creating a public-access four-dimensional digital Earth.
“This living rendition of the globe will allow users to monitor the world’s species and ecosystems over time, understand threats to the natural world and realize solutions to help achieve a planet in balance.” – Partners’ press release.
It’s hoped that imaging change across the planet in real time will have a much greater impact on national governments and their citizens than pages of dry statistics. Seeing is believing.
Under the NNH umbrella, NatGeo is also working with the Nature Conservancy,and the Wyss Foundation which has pledged a staggering $1 billion to help meet the 2030 targets. Good news indeed!
China, that world super-power we most often associate with rapid industrialisation, pollution and environmental degradation, recently made a massively significant u-turn, pronouncing itself in 2015 the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹
Why is this so important? Because:-
China is home to 20% of the world’s population
China is the world’s second largest economy
China’s current and future ecological footprint is enormous
China is in the top 3 most biodiverse countries
China has committed to the most ambitious goals and environmental policiesof all the major nations on earth
This year, Nature Needs Half partners collaborated in a peer-reviewed article introducing the half-Earth vision to this country of 1.3 billion people. And again, we’re not just talking academic ink on paper. The article details the practical steps China can take to reach the goal of 50% for Nature in the next 30 year. The message reached more than 50,000 Chinese movers-and-shakers, academics, land managers, and land management professionals.
WILD and the Wilderness Specialist Group of the IUCN have also joined forces with Professor Yang Rui, expert in wilderness protection. “There are few if any professionals in China whose resumé commands the recognition and respect his does, with literally dozens of major planning, policy, and research projects to protect wild nature.” This hugely influential man, both in and outside China, is the recently appointed president of Tsinghua University’s brand new Institute for National Parks, and has wasted no time in putting forward six major suggestions to put wilderness at the heart of the chain of national parks China has in the making.
3. Securing last strongholds of critically endangered species
“Nature Needs Half partner, the Quick Response Biodiversity Fund, with the help of a major grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation², secured 13 sites around the world for rare and critically endangered species. Many of these sites are the last stronghold for some of Earth’s most unique and vulnerable lifeforms.”
The Half Earth movement is gathering momentum. There is good news. There is hope.
Now, at the turning of the year, NNH partner and conservationist James Brundige throws down this challenge before us –
“The time is now. Nature Needs Half. And Nature needs you!“
What better way to start 2019 than by committing to Saving Half for Nature. Nature will richly reward us.
1 You can be part of this amazing work for the planet by becoming a WILD member here
6 Send your political representatives the Grow Green report, or if in the UK contact your MP here about the Grow Green campaign to transition unsustainable livestock farming to plant protein farming. And share with your friends
¹ In 2015 “The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet
² “With contributions from scientists and partners around the world, One Earth, an initiative of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation (LDF), has developed a bold, new plan to avert a climate crisis and protect our biosphere. Justin Winters, LDF’s Executive Director, explains the three goals humanity needs to achieve by 2050: our energy systems to 100% clean, renewable energy; , connect and restore 50% of our lands and seas; and to regenerative, carbon-negative agriculture globally. At the heart of this effort is a new map of the world called the Global Safety Net, which shows what the world could look like if we achieve these three goals.”
Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation Executive Director Justin Winters on One Earth below
James Brundige”s TedEx talk on Nature Needs Half in this video
If you were born without a heart and simply didn’t care about the horrors perpetrated on animals in laboratories all over the world, testing drugs intended for human use on animals is still a very bad idea.
“In the contentious world of animal research, one question surfaces time and again: how useful are animal experiments as a way to prepare for trials of medical treatments in humans? The issue is crucial, as public opinion is behind animal research only if it helps develop better drugs.”
How did animal testing even become a thing?
Bizarrely, it’s a backlash from experiments performed by the Nazis. “Decades ago, in response to horrific medical research conducted by Nazis on prisoners, Western medicine stepped back from human clinical trials and required that animal-based tests occur before people could be exposed to new drugs or treatments.” – Professor Lisa Kramer.
It’s so shocking to think that our decision to perform brutal experiments on other animals actually springs from a reaction to Nazi brutality. And that it’s not only completely taken for granted and flourishing today, but still expanding at an alarming rate. A PETA study presented to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2015 showed a staggering 72% increase in 15 years in the number of animals used in US labs. The UK saw a leap from the 1995 figure of 1.41 million to 4.12 million in 2013, that’s triple in 18 years. Medical experimentation and drug testing too barbaric even to think of inflicting on human beings, but ok for our surrogates, the nonhuman animals.
(And all the while the numbers rise, the two respective governments continue to pay lip service to the 3Rs doctrine – Replacement,Reduction, and Refinement. Write your MP your concerns about the use of the animals in labs, and I’ll dance naked in Trafalgar Square if you don’tget a response that declares how hard the government is working to implement the 3Rs. 😡)
Surprisingly, Lisa Kramer, University of Toronto, co-author with Dr Ray Greek of a peer-reviewed article examining the controversial question of animal testing, is not a professor of science, medicine or ethics as you might expect, but a professor of finance. Why finance?
Because animal testing makes no business sense.
Ethical arguments against animal testing are readily dismissed by scientists as being just a matter of opinion. Medical researchers claim that ethics require we put humans first, and persuade the public that using animals may be unpalatable but is a necessary evil if we wish to save human lives.
Kramer and Greek say that is a false choice. They not only demonstrate that testing on animals is in fact – looked at purely from the financial angle – an expensive waste, but that more cost-effective and reliable alternatives already exist.
The rationale for this approach is, when those at the top can’t be swayed by ethical arguments, highlighting that the animal research model makes for very bad economics will surely make them sit up in their seats and take note. Money talks.
So leaving entirely aside ethical issues of animal rights and animal welfare, the paper’s co-authors demonstrate that assuming other species’ response to drugs can accurately predict the human response is a big mistake. The pair cite “hundreds of medical studies published in prestigious journals such as Nature, Science, and The New England Journal of Medicine to show that animal models are not predictive of human responses to drugs and disease.”
Here are just a few examples of those hundreds of drugs that were deemed both effective and safe in animal tests:
Fen-phen – a diet drug recalled after causing serious heart-valve failure in 30% of patients
Thalidomide prescribed for nausea in pregnancy – infants born with severe abnormalities
Vioxx, an anti-inflammatory – taken by 80 million people until it was discovered it caused heart attacks and strokes
Rezulin – caused liver failure. Many people died
Propulsid – life-threatening heart rhythm abnormalities. Again, many died
TGN1412 to treat cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis – caused multiple organ failure at doses 500 times lower than had been used in animal studies
In 2012 Van Meer and his colleagues decided to take a look at this from the other end of the telescope. They “retrospectively studied whether serious adverse drug reactions in humans could have been identified using animal models prior to the release of various drugs. They evaluated drugs currently on the market and discovered that only 19 percent of 93 serious adverse drug reactions were seen in animals.”
Who, apart from the animals, are the losers?
The answer is all of us. Everyone who ever needs or administers medical treatments. And perhaps, those genuinely dedicated to finding cures.
Patients obviously suffer when drugs pronounced safe from animal trials cause harm and sometimes kill.
They also suffer when drugs that seemed to work in animals, don’t work for them. “Researchers have cured cancer in mice countless times, and yet there remains no cure for humans. Likewise, about a hundred vaccines are effective against HIV-like viruses in animals but none work in humans.”
Then there are useful drugs that are erroneously consigned to the bin because they don’t work on animals. For example, “It took decades and countless deaths before the therapeutic value of penicillin and the polio vaccine were recognized. An unknowable number of other drugs may never be discovered if we continue down this … path” of putting our reliance on animal trials.
“In a comparison between animal-based methods and a purely random method, such as flipping a coin, you’d be better off relying on the coin flip.”
And unbelievably, large numbers of animals bred for the labs are never even used, just wasted. A tragic waste of individual lives, but as at the moment we’re only looking at the finances not the animals, a profligate waste of money too.
Let’s not forget the taxpayer’s place among the losers from mandatory animal testing, since it’s the taxpayer that is ultimately footing the bill for the drugs prescribed by the health service. A bill which came in at the unthinkable sum of £20 billion for the NHS last year.
And if we must feel sorry for them, even the shareholders of the pharmaceutical companies themselves are being short-changed by this flawed research model.
Yet vast sums continue to be spent on animal research. Why?
First because currently our law demands that all drugs be tested on animals before they can be licensed for human use. The law needs to change to make drug testing safer, cheaper and more effective (still leaving aside the issue of animal rights and animal suffering.)
Second, there are those who have a strong financial interest in maintaining the status quo and blocking change: research establishments, scientists, regulators, laboratory inspectors and those responsible for granting licences. As for the companies that breed, sell, and ship nonhuman animal subjects to the labs, and suppliers of equipment for the research, animal testing is a hugely profitable business.
Don’t be fooled by those with vested interests who “point only to success stories where life-saving drugs have emerged from animal-based research. Of course, bad models can accidentally produce right answers. Famously, stopped clocks are right twice a day, but we don’t use them to keep time.”
Not only is animal testing expensive, unreliable, unsafe and wasteful, it is also unnecessary.
New technologies that provide alternatives are emerging all the time. Micro-dosing, organs-on-a-chip, computer modelling, human-patient simulators, computerised patient-drug databases and virtual drug trials, stem cell and genetic testing, MRIs and CT scans – all already available.
At best testing on animals is a scandalous waste of money. At worst it is deadly – to them certainly, but also to us.
If you do have a heart, and want a glimpse of why regulations intended to safeguard the welfare of lab animals are not the answer, watch this short video.
Check in case your favourite health charity is funding cruel experiments on animals here
If anyone knew a thing or two about mountain gorillas it was the remarkable Dian Fossey. Ms Fossey, the first to study gorillas at close quarters, loved these animals with a passion. Humans – not so much. Her every breath, her every ounce of energy, her life’s blood, was spent protecting the gorillas by keeping humans at bay.
In the Rwanda national park where she established her research station, she had 4 of her own staff destroy 987 poachers’ snares in 4 months. (In the same period, Rwandan park rangers destroyed none. A desperately poor local community makes its livelihood where it can, and if that means poaching gorillas, so be it, was their thinking.)
Apart from fighting a war against one kind of humans, the poachers, Ms Fossey was fierce in her hostility to another kind – wildlife tourists. She had three seemingly incontrovertible reasons for her opposition to ecotourism. Firstly, humans would damage the habitat. Secondly, humans could infect the great apes with anthroponotic diseases (diseases which could jump the species barrier from us to them) such as TB, flu, the common cold, chicken pox, measles and herpes. With no natural immunity to these infections, gorillas could, and did die. And thirdly, the very presence of humans would affect the great apes’ natural wild behaviour.
I wonder how she would react today if she knew that the International Gorilla Conservation Programme now actively promotes tourism to her precious primates’ habitat. The charity’s rationale is simple: tourism provides a living for the impoverished locals living around the national parks and gives them a vested interest in protecting rather than poaching the animals. And the Rwandan government runs a scheme ploughing back 5% of income from gorilla tourism into local development projects like road construction, clean water supplies, sanitation, and health centres accessible for all. What better incentive could the local population have to see that the gorilla tribes thrive?
Good news story
This policy does indeed appear to be working. Kirsten Gilardi, director of Gorilla Doctors is adamant, “Gorilla tourism revenue has absolutely saved them from extinction.”(Her team of medics attending the gorillas with hands-on health care for four decades is also a beneficiary of ecotourism cash.) From the desperate level of only 240 remaining in 1978, and Ms Fossey fearing they would be extinct by the year 2000, the apes now number 1000 – still on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Endangered list, but no longer Critically Endangered. It’s a reason for “cautious optimism”, says the IUCN, a good news story of ecotourism directly benefitting wildlife.
And there are others:
Money from tourism was used to expand the habitats of cheetahs and African wild dogs, slowing population decline
Ecotourism funded the restoration of hoolock gibbons’ and golden lion tamarins’ habitat, reversing human-inflicted environmental degradation, and boosting growth in their respective populations
Wildlife management staff are safeguarding the future for African penguins and the great green macaw by using ecotourism money to control the birds’ predators – natural animal predators and human poachers
Around the world, national parks and nature preserves receive 8 billion visitors a year at a conservative estimate, in all probability many more. Ecotourism generates in excess of $600 billion, so researchers discovered in a first-of-it–kind study.
As with most things in life, there are no easy answers, and the jury remains out.
Of those billions of dollars generated by tourism to national parks and preserves, how much is actually spent on conservation of these amazing habitats and their wildlife? A small fraction. Less than $10 billion – and nothing like enough.
“These pieces of the world provide us with untold benefits: from stabilising the global climate and regulating water flows to protecting untold numbers of species. Now we’ve shown that through tourism nature reserves contribute in a big way to the global economy – yet many are being degraded through encroachment and illegal harvesting, and some are being lost altogether. It’s time that governments invested properly in protected areas.” -Andrew Bainford Professor of Zoology at Cambridge University.
So what about the rest of the money from ecotourism? If governments aren’t investing it in protected areas, where is it going? According to USA Today“Corrupt governments frequently take a large cut of the profits from ecotourism, leaving little or none for local communities that are directly affected by the influx of visitors.”
And as we’ve already seen, benefit to local communities, giving them a stake in protecting their local wildlife, is a vitally important desired outcome of ecotourism. Without it, poaching will continue. But all too often corrupt governments allow “international corporations and developers from outside the area into popular destinations. Their hotels and stores take money away from the local economy. In addition, the original residents have to pay the same inflated prices for food and water as tourists do, putting a greater financial burden on them.”
And Ms Fossey was 100% right about some of the other downsides of ecotourism
Land gobbled up for visitor centres, cafes, tourist lodges, and toilet blocks for the growing numbers of visitors, and the roads to reach them
Wildlife accidentally killed by cars
Wildlife deliberately killed by hunters and fishers
Tourists passing on disease
As for that last point, it seems tourists are far more concerned about contracting a disease from contact with wildlife than they are about themselves passing infection to the animals. Anthropologist Dr Michael Muehlenbein found that though as many as 86% of tourists knew they could pass disease to wildlife, they clearly didn’t care too much because two thirds said they would still touch or feed wild primates if they got the chance.
“Imagine you’ve spent $2,000 to go to Malaysia to see the orangutans and you’ve got a cold. Are you going to stay away? It becomes a complex moral question: How much do you respect the life of other animals over your vacation experience?”
Personally I don’t see it as that ‘complex’. A tough decision naturally, but not a complex one. Though it’s ‘only a cold’ for us, it could kill that animal we would so like to see up close and personal. When we are watching wildlife, let’s be the responsible ones and follow the advice here.
What if we travel on foot to see the wildlife and keep ourselves to ourselves?
What could be less harmful to wildlife than rambling quietly along a woodland trail, soaking up the forest scents and listening to the birdsong? Sad to say, even this most gentle activity is not as innocuous as it seems. Just the fact our being there has an effect. A recent study found that the longer a forest trail is used, and the bigger the number of people walking it, the greater the adverse effect on forest birds. “We show that forest birds are distinctly affected by people and that this avoidance behaviour did not disappear even after years of use by humans.”The birds simply never get used to our being there.
“This is important to show because pressure on natural habitats and nature protection areas is getting stronger and access bans are often ignored,” says Dr Yves Botsch of the Swiss Ornithological Institute.
And an earlier study found that the mere presence of humans is more terrifying to smaller prey animals like badgers, foxes and raccoons – who we may have thought were habituated to us – than the presence of apex predators like bears and wolves. And that we “may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.”
When you consider that at least 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface is directly affected by the presence of humans and human activity in one way or another, this particular piece of research is not good news.
Overall, human disturbance detrimentally affecting animals’ survival and mating behaviours can lead straight down the path to extinction
Take the New Zealand sea lion for example. The habitat disturbance and fishing brought by ecotourism is killing young sea lion pups. This animal is predicted to be extinct by 2050, a direct victim of ecotourism.
On land, nature preserves can have well-defined boundaries, theoretically easier to protect. Yes, we do have marine conservation areas, but the thing about water is that it flows. No oceanic conservation area’s boundaries can keep out pollution or stop rising sea temperatures. Marine animals are also disproportionately affected by humans’ plastic waste. The dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Sulawesi this week had 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach: 115 plastic cups, plastic bags, bottles and even flipflops. On top of that animals such as whales and dolphins are badly affected by underwater noise from shipping.
All of these problems are far more likely to be exacerbated than mitigated by ecotourism.
In the Arctic, for example, 53% of 80 populations of Arctic animals in the ‘open-water’ period of September when the ice is at its minimum are adversely affected by ship traffic, by collisions, by noise disturbance, by the changes these trigger in the animals’ behaviour. Most of these animals are found nowhere else on Earth.
And Arctic ice is shrinking. “Summer sea ice cover has shrunk by over 30 percent since satellites started regular monitoring in 1979.” And less ice means more ships.
Less ice, more ships. More ships, more harm to the animals.
It’s as simple as that. Whales and walrus are among the most vulnerable, and narwhals most vulnerable of all. So you may want to rethink your Arctic cruise. And, as if the harm shipping does to Arctic wildlife were not bad enough, cruise ships also take the trophy when it comes to being the most environmentally-unfriendly way to view wildlife – one cruise ship releasing fuel emissions equivalent to a million cars, in one day.
The last thing we want is to harm the very wildlife we love going to see. So how can we nature-lovers see nature without destroying it?
In spite of all the negatives, there can be no doubt that ecotourism makes animals more valuable in money terms alive than dead. That gives it huge potential to protect nature and save endangered species. But the responsibility of making that happen lies with each of us individually. Planning a trip? Do some thorough research. For potted advice check out The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel .
But for in depth information go to Responsible Travel which the Guardian rates “The first place to look for environmentally friendly holidays.”The Responsible Travel website is packed to the brim with information on how to be a wildlife-friendly ecotourist. Find out Responsible Travel’s stance on wildlife, and wildlife tourism issues here.
In the end it’s all down to us as individuals, our choices. Just as we shape the kind of world we want to live in with our eating, shopping and everyday living choices, so with our travel. Our choices are making the difference between life and death for the animals.
“There are always, due to their popularity and short life spans, many beloved dogs dying — and many families grieving.”
– John Woestendiek, author of ‘Dog Inc, The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend’
The worst thing that can befall a mother or father is losing a child, of whatever age. Even worse is losing a child to suicide. But that is what happened to photographer Monni Must. When Monni’s 28-year-old daughter Miya took her own life, left behind was Billy Bean, Miya’s young and lively black Labrador.
Naturally, Monni took Billy Bean into her care. The connection with Miya and the love of the dog provided comfort for her in her grief. But as the 10th anniversary of Miya’s death approached, and Billy by now 13, was getting increasingly frail –
“I knew that I was falling apart,” said Must. “The thought of Billy dying was just more than I could handle.”
So she took the radical step of having Billy cloned. It cost upwards of $50,000, and her family thought she’d lost her mind. For her money she got Gunni, essentially an identical twin of Billy, but a puppy version. It would be a hard-hearted person indeed who could sit in judgement.
Cloning dogs seems to be flavour of the month. It’s only a week or so since Barbra Streisand was roasted in the media after her public appearance with Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet, two clones from her beloved but now deceased Coton de Tulear Samantha.
The Guardian newspaper for one made no bones about its disapprobation. It even used the ‘t-word’, overused currency in the tabloids, but as a rule carefully avoided by the broadsheets – “AModern Tragedy” its headline read. It went on, “To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying – not that loved ones can be replicated if we cough up the cash.”
Streisand’s celebrity status may have turned the spotlight on this relatively new business enterprise, but cloning other animals has been a thing for years – since 1996 in fact when the creation of Dolly the sheep made waves. It took another decade for South Korean scientists to bring to birth Snuppy, the first cloned dog.
Of course cloning is not the only form of bioengineering current. There is also CRISPR. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.
A US company called AgGenetics using gene-editing has produced mice with coats in different colours, and unbelievably, in a variety of patterns: squares, stripes and spots. Next stop – choose your preferred colourway and pattern for your own customised dog?
China, “where genetic engineers benefit from massive facilities and little oversight,” is ‘leading’ the CRISPR field for producing customised animals.Chineselabs “are full of cats, rabbits, monkeys, and other animals engineered with this, that and the other traits.” Already on sale are micropigs, gene-edited to grow only to “the apartment-appropriate size of a corgi”, if you have $1,600 dollars to spare. A bargain compared with the cost of a cloned dog though. Also up for grabs are fluorescent jellyfish and sea anemones, gene-edited to light up your aquarium.
“How much more would owners pay for the ultimate luxury: an animal designed to specification? A zebra-striped hamster, say, or a teacup elephant? ” Anything is possible, but does that make it right?
CRISPR sits along a different branch of bioengineering from cloning. If anything, its potential applications are even more disturbing, but a discussion for another day.
So back to cloning. What are the rights and wrongs of cloning, cloning our pets in particular? Is this yet another instance of science racing ahead at such speed it’s leaving the ethics trailing in the dust?
Some of the problems, practical and ethical
If your beloved Fido or Felix is growing grey around the muzzle and a little stiff in the joints, and you have the spare cash to go down the cloning route, you may end up disappointed with the result. Yes, cloning does produce an identical twin, a newborn one of course, but some things are not infallibly reproduced. The personality for a start, but isn’t that what we most love about our pets? You will not actually be getting, as you had hoped, your fur baby reborn in a new incarnation. Even the coat may be different. Worse, there is also the likelihood of reproducing genetic flaws.
Vicki Katrinak, program manager for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States has something to say on the matter:
Companies that clone animals are “preying on grieving pet owners, giving them a false promise that they are going to replicate their beloved pet,” she told AFP. “Pet cloning doesn’t replicate a pet’s personality.” Incidentally adding “There is no justification for the practice.”
That you cannot count on getting the exact replica of your pet is actually the least of the concerns around pet cloning.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) president Ingrid Newkirk said she would “love to have talked her [Barbra Streisand] out of cloning,” noting that “millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned.”
To visit a dog or cat shelter is a heartbreaking experience. All those fur babies waiting for a loving home, and ready to love a new family right back with unquestioning devotion. Isn’t it cruelty by default to artificially create more, when there are thousands, if not millions of beautiful animals, desperate for our love and care – many of which will be euthanised because no-one came forward for them in time?
All the other problematic aspects of cloning pets become apparent when we take a look at how the process works:-
You start by harvesting cells from the dog you want to clone. You can do this before or after the pet’s death, up to 5 days after provided the corpse is kept cool. (If you’re starting to feel a little squeamish already, brace yourself. It gets worse.)
Extract egg cells from as many donor dogs as you can get hold of. (To create Snuppy the world’s first cloned dog, Korean scientists surgically removed eggs from 115 female dogs.)
Merge your original dog cells and the egg and subject the new merged entity to chemicals and an electric shock to trigger cell division. You will have to do this multiple times to ensure success – hence the requirement for all those ‘donated’ eggs.
Implant the resulting embryos into surrogate female dogs. You will need lots of them. For Snuppy, it took 120. The bitches won’t be able to object of course. You will be using all those bodies for the pregnancies and births.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, you will probably have to abort a lot of the 120 foetuses along the way. Still keen to continue?
It can still go wrong. An American cloning company’s president cited a clone who was supposed to be black and white being born “greenish-yellow,” dogs born with skeletal malformations and one clone of a male dog who was born with both male and female sex organs. If that should happen while cloning your pet, what should we do with the less than perfect?
Even after eliminating the ‘failures’, there are still a massive number of ‘surplus’ clones from which you have chosen the one or two who truly resemble your original pet. What shall we do with the rest?
The cloning industry is staying mute on what are surely two huge ethical issues.
Maybe even grieving Monni Must may have thought better of cloning Billy Bean if she’d realised what went on behind the scenes. As with every instance without exception where humans make money from exploiting animals (and often other humans at the same time) the profiteers take great pains to keep their activities under wraps. They are fully aware of what would be an absolutelynormal reaction to their exploitation/abuse – public outrage. Out of sight is indeed out of mind.
“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
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
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.
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.
You’ll notice I’m choosing not to call hens ‘chickens.’ This is how the dictionary defines ‘chicken’:
See that? They define this living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature only in terms of a commodity. But we know better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
6Hens’ 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.
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 market – Take Part
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.
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.
Desperate times call for drastic measures – so believes a certain 87 year old Harvard professor. And these surely are desperate times for much of the planet’s wildlife – flora and fauna. The octogenarian’s plan to save them is nothing if not radical. In fact, at first glance pretty off-the-wall. It is simply,
Half-Earth – giving over half of planet Earth to Nature
His critics dismiss his idea as not just radical, but “truly bizarre, disturbing and dangerous.”
But is it? Why should we give over half the Earth? Why should we not? Why this way? Wouldn’t it be bad news for people? Is it even possible?
We will come back to these questions.
Earlier this week during the run-up to World Wildlife Day 2018, conservationists met up in London to mull over matters that could scarcely have greater significance for the future of wildlife, the future of the human race, and the future of Planet Earth itself.
By 2020 they purpose to have 17% of Earth’s land protected for Nature, and 10% of Earth’s oceans. So far we’ve reached 15% and 7% respectively.
“But many conservationists argue that even if these [unduly modest] goals could be achieved, they will still not halt extinctions. The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature.”
The Aichi targets are, it has to be said, a long way off the audacious proposal ‘half for us and half for the animals’ spelled out by Edward Osborne Wilson in his visionary book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Dr Wilson, the aforementioned octogenarian professor, is sociobiologist, biogeographist, naturalist, environmentalist, author, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and generally considered the world’s foremost authority on biodiversity and conservation. So I guess his ideas and opinions are not to be dismissed lightly.
And indeed, only 2 years on since Dr Wilson’s book was published, his bold half-earth proposal is seeming less and less out there, less controversial, much more mainstream and worthy of serious consideration.
In actual fact, the good Prof jumped on to a bandwagon that was already rolling. Conservationist Harvey Locke brought the Nature Needs Half movement into existence in 2009: 50%, he says, “may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit. But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.”
But now, going back to those questions: why, how, should we, and can we? World Wildlife Day seems the perfect time to take a good hard look at them and try to find some answers.
Why should we do this?
Well, that’s an easy one. It’s no news to any of us that right now plants and animals are being snuffed out to extinction at a rate unknown since the asteroid Chickxulub wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists call this the Anthropocene Age, because never before have human beings had such a profound effect on the planet, one that will end badly for us as well as the rest of life on Earth. A truly earthshakingly terrible prospect, especially when we stop to think that right now our precious planet harbours the only known life in the universe. We need a drastic solution to a cataclysmic problem if we are to save this planet and the life on it.
Why this way?
There are two reasons why we should put our energies into a bold plan such as this, Dr Wilson argues. Firstly, he maintains that people like to see a big goal achieved rather than piecemeal, barely noticeable small incremental steps, which is what we have now in conservation efforts: “They need a victory, not just news that progress is being made. It is human nature to yearn for finality, something achieved by which their anxieties and fears are put to rest.” He reads us well. Oh how we long for some major reversal of the destructive path down which humankind is at present rushing headlong.
Secondly and more importantly, as delegates at the London conference were forced to acknowledge, current conservation efforts are doing little to halt the alarming decline in biodiversity. Protecting just 15% of the planet’s land – the course we are on at present – we still look to lose half of all species. It’s much too little and soon will be far too late. Whereas protecting 50% of the planet would mean 80% of species saved – more if we focused on the most biodiverse areas.
It’s all about the species-area curve, conservationists will tell you. The species-area curve is the mathematical relationship between the area of land and the number of species that can be successfully maintained in it. “The principal cause of extinction is habitat loss. With a decrease of habitat, the sustainable number of species in it drops by (roughly) the fourth root of the habitable area.”
Put simply, the larger the area the better Nature’s chances. The species-area curve also means that setting aside a few sizeable chunks of land is very much better in terms of numbers of species saved, than trying to protect lots of small separate habitats.
And the chunks need to join up: “I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish,” Dr Wilson told the journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. His vision is for a series of “Long Landscapes”, wildlife corridors running vertically down and horizontally across continents, that will allow species free movement as they adapt to the effects of climate change.
The Yellowstone-to-Yukon conservation initiative running 2,000 miles without break from Wyoming in the mid-west of the US to the Yukon territories in the north west of Canada is a model for the protection he would like to see rolled out worldwide. It’s an entire eco-system in 502,000 square miles of continuous protected land where animals can freely roam.
(Sadly America itself is hardly a model nation when it comes to protecting biodiversity. In spite of being a wealthy country, and one with vast areas only sparsely populated, the US can boast just a pitiful 4% of its landmass protected for biodiversity, less than half the average worldwide. If the present ‘leadership’, remains unchallenged, that percentage can only fall further. Donald Trump is pre-eminent among those who “think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit.”)
So is Half-Earth a “bizarre” and “dangerous” idea?
Well if we are looking at the biodiversity statistics – and affirm with Dr Wilson that “each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius” – his idea makes total sense. We have so much to lose. Wildlife he says, is facing “a biological holocaust.”It could barely get more apocalyptic than that. For him, as for many of us, safeguarding the wonder that is life on Earth in all its diversity is a moral issue.
“In several interviews, he references the need for humanity to develop an ethic that cares about planetary life, and does not place the wants and needs of a single species (Homo sapiens sapiens) above the well-being of all other species.” Truth Out
What kind of a species are we that we treat the rest of life so cheaply? There are those who think that’s the destiny of Earth: we arrived, we’re humanizing the Earth, and it will be the destiny of Earth for us to wipe humans out and most of the rest of biodiversity. But I think the great majority of thoughtful people consider that a morally wrong position to take, and a very dangerous one.
What would be bizarre is an insistence that we continue as we are doing now, or just nudge the goalposts a bit. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are Dr Wilson says, “nowhere close to enough,”to prevent the 6th Extinction. Many others agree. It is after all, self-evident.
But his critics, social scientists in the Netherlands Bram Buscher and Robert Fletcher, clearly coming from the very same anthropocentric, the-Earth-exists-for-us standpoint that has brought us to this sorry pass in the first place, judge his Half-Earth vision “disturbing and dangerous.” They are united in their condemnation:“It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways.” They could justifiably claim history backs them up, since indigenous peoples have indeed been moved out of areas newly designated as protected in the past. So, wouldn’t Half-Earth be bad for people then, especially the indigenous and poor?
Dr Wilson wants to keep indigenous people in their own territories. “Theyare often the best protectors” of their own land, he says.When local populations find new livelihoods from eco-tourism for example, they become passionate about protecting their natural heritage. Protected areas would not mean banning people – simply keeping the land undeveloped. He envisages something along the lines of national parks, where development is not permitted, but there is still regulated access. (Even hunting and fishing may be permitted in a defined portion of the conservation area.)
He points to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique as a model of how well-managed protected areas actually benefit local people.
“The maintenance and expansion of this magnificent reserve has been enhanced by the improvement of agriculture, health, and education – and new jobs – in buffer zones. The same effect is demonstrable even within industrialised nations.”
And recent research elsewhere backs him up. Protecting areas in Uganda, Thailand and Costa Rica have indeed improved the lives of locals.
Is setting aside the Half-Earth for Nature even possible?
Yes we can, by reducing our ecological footprint. And the best way to achieve that reduction is by moving towards a plant-based diet. Then yes indeed, Half-Earth is an achievable goal. Scientists in the fields of conservation, ecology, environment, climate change, sustainability and indeed human health all agree: if people cut back, or better still, stop eating meat & dairy products altogether, many of the deeply disquieting and serious threats to the future of life on Earth would disappear. It’s not just the animals being eaten that we are killing. By destroying wildlife habitats for livestock farming we are killing the wild animals too. Currently 40% of the world’s land is used for farming. (Urban development takes up only 3%) A whole three quarters ofthat farm land is used to grow cropsto feed livestock. Freed from this absurdly wasteful use of land, it would not be too great a challenge for humans to find a Half-Earth for Nature.
What is stopping us?
According to Dr Wilson, it’s simple – greed, shortsightedness and above all, ignorance. Formidable obstacles to overcome. Ignorance at least can be remedied. We can start by sharing this, why Planet Earth needs Dr Wilson’s bold idea, and what we can do about it, with as many people as we can reach, especially those who haven’t yet found their way to plant-based eating and living.
But to overcome greed and shortsightedness, it’s hearts that need to change.
“When people are encouraged to take a close look at the remnants of Nature, in its complexity, beauty, and majesty, and when they understand that the natural environment is the home of their deep history, many become [Half-Earth for Nature’s] most ardent supporters.”
I’m most definitely one.
Want to make a real difference for planet Earth and the life on it? Four important actions we can take:-
4 Send your political representatives the Grow Green report, or if in the UK contact your MP here about the Grow Green campaign to transition unsustainable livestock farming to plant protein farming. And
“Some days, it’s more like being a Hollywood star’s agent than a communications official for the zoo. That’s what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity.”
– Dan Sewell, spokesperson for Cincinnati Zoo.
Remember the furore in 2016 when Harambe the gorilla, after rescuing from the water a 3 year old boy who had climbed a fence and fallen into his enclosure, was shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo? Harambe was born in a zoo and died in a zoo – his life was ended for him just one day after his 17th birthday. He could have lived until he was 40.
But now Harambe is yesterday’s news, and Cincinnati Zoo has been celebrating a different birthday, and I mean celebrating. All that adverse publicity has become no more than a bad dream. Fiona the baby hippo, who has showered the zoo with her golden stardust since the moment of her birth, has just turned 1. And Cincinnati Zoo decided to throw a big party open to all. The human party-goers received gifts: hippo bathmats, Fiona-themed postcards stamped with her footprint (yes, really), cake and ice cream. The zoo’s animals were not left out. They got “party favours” of special enrichment toys.
As Harambe before her, Fiona is a global celebrity – but not like him for what many believe was an avoidable death, but for the tenacity with which she clung on to her little life. The little hippo was born prematurely in the zoo and needed the same kind of special care from the humans as a human baby. After 2 weeks, she took her first steps. 2 days later she took her first dip in a tub. Her cuteness cannot be denied.
By this time, she had captured the imagination of thousands, if not millions, and the zoo was receiving cards, drawings and donations for the little one. They followed her day-by-day progress as she grew and got steadily stronger. By April she was weighing in at a healthy 150 lbs. Needless to say, visitors are flocking to see her. (Numbers for CZ are up from 1.63 million in 2016 to 1.87 million last year.} When Fiona’s little head peeks out, the roar of delight from visitors can be heard all over the zoo.
“Zoo director Thane Maynard’s own “Saving Fiona” will later this year join the growing library of books about her. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team will feature a Fiona bobblehead, and the minor-league Florence, Kentucky, Freedom plans a Fiona snow globe this summer. There will be a “Fiona’s Cove” exhibit at next month’s annual Cincinnati Home & Garden Show.”
Add to that list the Fiona calendar, Fiona-themed T-shirts, cookies, ornaments, and beer. There will even be special edition Fiona ice cream. So as well as the extra visitor revenue, the zoo has made almost $500,000 in licensing agreements with the local businesses cashing in on her fame, and no doubt much more to come.
Animal babies are good news for zoos, and never more so than when the zoo’s reputation has been tarnished by the scandal surrounding an untimely death – RIP Harambe. With Fiona’s birth, especially as the poor babe was premature (will she/won’t she pull through – the tug on the heart strings) CZ hit the jackpot.
And while the tlc given to Fiona to help her survive her premature birth was assuredly admirable, zoos are easily tempted to favour their balance sheets over a zoo baby’s welfare. Ueno Zoo in Japan is a case in point. Its panda cub Xiang Xiang is being “put on overtime.”
“Ueno Zoo’s first baby panda since 1988 will be on display for an extra two hours every day until the end of January and working a full seven-hour day from February to cater to the thousands of fans of the cuddly celebrity.” Note “working”. A captive animal has no say.
On the other side of the Pacific, zookeepers at LA Zoo have coaxed a mother okapi and her baby out of their enclosure so the zoo can put the little one on display. Since the natural habitat for this reclusive species is deep in the dense rainforests of central Africa, it is hard to see how this could possibly be in the best interests of mum or baby. The zoo claims, “the mother and father were paired under a species survival plan by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to increase the okapi population. The numbers of okapis in the wild has declined to between 10,000 and 50,000.”
Is it cynical to wonder if this is a nice piece of greenwashing? While exposure to noisy crowds of gawking humans will surely be extremely stressful to a reclusive animal like the okapi, I doubt okapi junior is doing much harm to the zoo’s gate receipts.
Who doesn’t love to see babies? Unregulated roadside zoos and so-called ‘sanctuaries’ deliberately breed from their animals to please the punters. But as Ueno and LA zoos make clear, ‘reputable’ affiliated zoos engage in the same activity. It is after all a surefire way to draw in the crowds and keep gate receipts buoyant. So, what when zoos get more babies than they bargained for? Or those erstwhile babies have outgrown their adorable babyhood?.
If a zoo baby is unlikely to be a mega money spinner like little Fiona, theirs is a very different fate. Remember Marius the baby giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo? Marius was killed with a bolt gun, and cut up and fed to lions before a crowd of schoolchildren. His crime? He was ‘surplus to requirements’ – too genetically similar to the other giraffes in the zoo.
Just this month a Swedish zoo admitted “putting down” – such a nice gentle euphemism – 9 healthy lion cubs in the last 5 years. They too were simply ‘surplus to requirements’.
“Helena Pederson, a researcher in animal studies at Gothenburg University, said the euthanisation of animals in zoos raised the question of whether such institutions should be open.” Indeed!
These examples have hit the headlines, but killing unwanted animals is a commonplace in zoos. Look beyond the stardom of the Fionas and the Xiang Xiangs and zoos are more often places of death than of new life.
The sad truth is, the interests of humans, especially their monetary interests, will always prevail over the best interests of the nonhuman living beings and their right to their lives.
A pioneering project in China
“The Landmark Entertainment company, known for its work on “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” “Kongfrontation” and “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 5D” at Universal Studios, is building a new project in China that will feature a virtual zoo, a virtual aquarium, an interactive museum and a digital art gallery — and the group is doing it all with no live animals. It’s called the L.I.V.E. Centre (Landmark Interactive Virtual Experience), and the project started in 2014 with funding from a group of investors from China. It’s slated to open between 2017 and 2018.” Read more
What a wonderful way this will be to get up close and personal with wildlife and be immersed in the animals’ natural habitats! I hope this cage-free concept will finally draw a line under the thousand-years-and-more history of the captive animal menagerie that is the zoo.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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 willsooner or later.
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?
Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.
Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.
We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.
Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.
Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!
Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain
Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.
All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:
“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.“
Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.
The results of the fMRI:
The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans
All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.
The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?
Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:
In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.
So we have:
Wild Animals with whom we have little contact
Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on
Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens
Animals for entertainment– racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria
Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities
Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc
And let us not forget
Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’
What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.
That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.
So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.
If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”
Philosopher Janet Stemwedel
One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.
But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.
Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.