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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The Vegan Mafia – Driving the Post-Animal Future of Food

Vegan Mafia? This particular ‘underworld’ is subversive, for sure, but nothing like as sinister as it sounds. In fact, it’s all good. It’s the nickname given to a group of committed (and super-rich) vegans, including the creator of Google Ventures Bill Maris, who choose to put their money where their mouth is, literally – in plant-based start-up companies. Proving that you can have strong ethical goals and still be hard-headed in business, they reckon their investments are a pretty safe bet on a greener future for food.

“There’s a whole community of us building and funding vegan companies,” says long time vegan Ryan Bethencourt.

Who is Ryan Bethencourt, you ask? He may not be a household name, even in vegan households, but he should be. 38 year old Miami-born Ryan is a highly-qualified bioscientist with degrees from Warwick, Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities. In 2014, he co-founded IndieBio, and has become a major mover and shaker in the post-animal bioeconomy, and advisor to The Good Food Institute

He and his team at IndieBio have funded 68 biotech start-ups to date, including Clara Foods (animal-free eggs), New Wave (algae- and plant-based ‘shrimp’), and Pembient (lab-made wildlife products).

Interestingly, each one of those companies completely independently of the others, describes itself on its website as ‘subversive’, or uses the verb ‘subvert’. Oxford English Dictionary: ‘To subvert’ meaning ‘To undermine the power and authority of an established system” What could be more perfect than undermining the atrocity that is animal agriculture in the 21st century.

Though our mafia are all vegan, what emerged in interviews with a handful of the ‘mafiosi’ conducted by CNBC, was that the start-ups they invest in don’t just target their new products at vegans – though of course we do get to reap the benefits. They love the idea that Beyond Meat for instance, has got their burgers selling from the meat counters in big grocery chains. And that eatery chain Veggie Grill primarily serves people who also eat meat – which is great, because obviously they’re not eating meat while they’re dining at Veggie Grill.

30 year old ‘Robot Guru’ aka billionaire Kyle Vogt, who in September last year hit the headlines by buying the most expensive house in San Francisco, is a VM (Vegan Mafia) newcomer. Just about the same time as he purchased the house, his wife opened Charlie’s Acres sanctuary for farm animals rescued from abuse, or destined for the slaughterhouse.

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Happy animals at Charlie’s Acres (pics from their Fb page)

Kyle figured that if his wife was busy saving them, it didn’t make sense for him to keep on eating them. So he went vegan.

A year on, his business angle is, that though appealing to people’s hearts has its place, creating plant-based foods that taste better and are cheaper than foods derived from animals makes the best business sense.

VM investor Seth Bannon is another remarkable vegan. He was only 14 years old when he began volunteering for advocacy organisations. Fast forward a few years: frustrated by the outmoded technology he found being used in the advocacy world – a good 10 years behind the video games he was playing – he set up Amicus: its mission: “To empower people to advocate for the causes they care about through technology”. Now Amicus’s cutting edge tech powers The Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Everytown for Gun Safety, The Humane League, and more.

Amicus’s success opened Seth’s eyes to the potential for positive social change through business. He co-founded and still runs Fifty Years, a venture fund supportingentrepreneurs solving the world’s biggest problems with technology.”

But back to food. Seth may have ideals, but he has no illusions: “The case for giving up meat is clear: There’s a health case, an environmental case,” he said. (Not to mention an animal welfare/animal rights case.) “But we have largely given up on education as a tool for convincing people.”

As we all know to the animals’ cost, you can show people the horrors of animal ag, you can tell them how it’s wrecking the planet and contributing to climate change, you can say, animal products are bad for your health, but some people just do not want to know. The entrepreneurs Seth is backing, he says, look at the market through a “strict business lens.” 

So the VM look to support plant-based products that will be yes, healthier and environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, but most of all cheaper to produce than the current animal products they are looking to replace.

Geltor is a good example – a less expensive as well as cruelty-free plant-based method of making a replacement for gelatin  (currently produced by boiling the skin, tendons, bones from cows and pigs). Geltor’s aim is to disrupt/subvert the gelatin market with what is hoped will be a game-changing animal-free alternative. Because even if people don’t care about the animals, hard economics is an unanswerable argument.

The Future of Food: The Top 2 Trends Shaping The Food & Beverage Industry In 2018

CB Insights which sifts millions of media articles to track trends, lists the top 8 food trends for 2018. And the top 2 of the 8 are…… (drumroll here please):

Food Trend Number 1 Diet tribalization intensifying

That’s industry in-speak for rapid growth in the number of consumers adopting certain lifestyle-based diets, in particular the vegan diet (we’re a tribe!), and the paleo diet. “The paleo diet emphasizes natural, sustainable, plant-based foods, which relates to overall trends toward plant ingredients within the food space. Vegan and gluten-free foods have also moved into the mainstream since 2012.”

Revere (vegan energy drink powders), Rhythm Superfoods (vegan kale snacks) Koia (plant-based smoothies) are some of the vegan start-ups which have drawn investment this year. And tellingly, while start-ups in vegan and veggie meal kits like Sun Basket and Daily Harvest continue to attract funding, meal kit start-ups that are non-diet-specific (ie for omnivores) are struggling.

Food Trend Number 2: Alternative proteins diversify and attract meat leaders

With the runaway success of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Food, and ever-increasing consumer demand for plant-based foods, start-ups are sprouting up all over. And some are pioneering new kinds of plant protein – not just nuts and soy. We’re seeing pea protein, algae protein and chickpea protein. Ripple is a great example. Ripple attracted funding of $43.6 million. That is a lot of funding. Its pea-based ‘milk’ is already sold widely in major grocery store chains. And no cows were hurt in the making of this milk.

The Ripple Effect

This time we’re not talking pea milk. The financial and technological stimulus the Vegan Mafia has provided to the plant-based market has created such a stir in the food industry, it’s less like a ripple, more like a tidal wave. Meat corporations cannot afford to be left behind. The US’s biggest meat producer Tyson, last year acquired a 5% stake in Beyond Meat, and followed this by setting up a $150 million venture capital fund to support the development of plant-based foods. Tyson is excited about the fund because it gives the company “exposure to a fast-growing segment of the protein market”.² General Mills, Hormel Foods, and Maple Leaf Foods are some of the other giants grabbing a piece of the plant-based action.

Not satisfied with that, many of the mainstream companies are producing their own plant-based product lines. Pret A Manger for example opened a vegetarian-only restaurant, Veggie Pret.

veggie-pret-outside
UK-based Pret A Manger’s gamble with vegetarian-only restaurants paid off when it registered a 70 per cent increase in sales, enabling it to make it a permanent fixture © Pret A Manger

That proved so popular, this year the company announced plans to make it permanent. Ben and Jerry’s and Hellman’s are among others capitalising on the growing demand for vegan foods too.

Big Investors outside the food industry

Big investors outside the food industry, alarmed by the ravages animal ag inflicts on animals, the environment and the climate, are predicting and promoting a plant-based future too. In 2016 “a group of 40 investors including Aviva and Swedish state pension funds managing $1.25 trillion in assets launched a campaign to encourage 16 global food companies (including Kraft Heinz, Nestle, Unilever, Tesco and Walmart) to respond to the material risks of industrial farming and diversify into plant-based sources of protein.”

“The plant-based meat market is set to reach $5.9 billion by 2022 and could make up a third of the market by 2050 according to some estimates. Worldwide sales of non-dairy milk alternatives more than doubled between 2009 and 2015 to $21 billion over concerns regarding saturated fat levels, lactose intolerance, hormone content and antibiotic use in dairy cows, as well as questions on animal treatment.”

“Our population is set to increase to 10 billion people by 2050 and supplying protein to everyone will prove to be a challenge if we rely only on animal-based sources. This presents a compelling opportunity not only for forward looking investors but also innovative companies who want to profit from a burgeoning plant-based protein market that is set to grow by 8.4 percent annually over the next five years.”²

But would any of this have happened without the initial and ongoing $100s of millions impetus from the Vegan Mafia?

The host of pioneering plant-based companies, and the vegan investors backing them from behind the scenes, give us hope for the future. With the torrents of bad news we get daily on the sorry state of our world, it’s sometimes hard not to get down. But committed, driven, and talented vegans like Seth, Ryan, Kyle, Bill and the rest, still in the summertime of their lives, using their wealth so effectively to address the problems of the planet, set a rainbow for us in an otherwise dark and stormy sky. Long may the Vegan Mafia, and all the animals they are saving continue to flourish. And here’s hoping for a better tomorrow.

Follow Charlie’s Acres on Facebook here


Sources

¹Wiki

²Plant based alternatives attract investment from meat producers – Lifegate

Vegan mafia: food investor network includes Bill Maris, Kyle Vogt – CNBC

Billionaire tech entrepreneur Kyle Vogt, 30, is revealed to be the buyer of San Francisco’s most expensive mansion after dropping $21.8 million for it – Mail Online

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This is very interesting – and also hopeful.: Conservation X Labs using the tech startup model to work on challenges in the difficult and complex space of environmental protection.Read more here


Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for Sustainability & the Planet? UN Scientist Says Not

“As a Livestock Policy Officer working for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I have been asked many times by the press to report on the negative environmental impacts of livestock.” Anne Mottet, PhD.

“Doing so, I came to realize that people are continually exposed to incorrect information that is repeated without being challenged, in particular about livestock feed. This study [will] better inform policy makers and the public.”

Anne Mottet’s study concludes that farming livestock is “a much smaller challenge to global food security than often reported.” I remain unconvinced.
Dr Mottet is an enthusiast for livestock farming Here are her reasons:
  • Meat makes up 18% of global calories and 25% of global protein consumption and provides essential micro-nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and calcium
  • Livestock use large areas of pastures where nothing else could be produced
  • Animals add to agricultural production through manure production and draught power
  • Tending livestock provides income for people in rural areas
  • Because cattle graze and forage, they only need 0.6kg of protein from human food to produce 1kg of protein in milk and meat
  • Milk and meat are of “higher nutritional quality”. Livestock “turn edible crops into highly nutritious, protein-rich food.”
Dr Mottet’s points suggest livestock farming is an efficient use of resources

But is it? Critics of livestock farming say, because the animals consume food that could be eaten directly by humans, and need a lot of it to turn it into comparatively small quantities of meat or dairy, it’s a hugely inefficient food system. For example, it takes 7 kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef.

Not true, says Dr Mottet. Her study appears to show that only 3kg of cereals are needed to produce 1 kg of meat. To me that still sounds wasteful, just not quite so wasteful. In any case the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) does not agree with her figure:

“The production of meat, milk and eggs leads to an enormous loss of calories grown in fields, since cereals and oil seeds have to be cultivated to feed to animals. According to calculations of the UNEP, the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Feed conversion rates from plant-based calories into animal-based calories vary; in the ideal case it takes two kilograms of grain to produce one kilo of chicken, four kilos for one kilogram of pork and seven kilos for one kilogram of beef.”

And according to the Union of Concerned Scientists Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world.”

If we are left in any doubt about livestock farming’s wastefulness, how about this? Thousands upon thousands of indoor cows – not outdoors grazing and foraging –   dutifully turning food humans could eat themselves like grain, into human food of “higher nutritional quality” (we’re talking the cows’ milk Nature intended for their own cow babies, so ‘human food’?) – Only then for niagaras of the stuff to be tipped straight out into fields or dumped in manure lagoons. Because that’s where 43 million gallons of US milk got jettisoned in the first 8 months of 2016. 43 million gallons surplus to requirements – not needed as ‘higher nutritional quality’ food for humans, but simply wasted. Efficient? Not so much.

Grazing and Foraging – The CAFO

The trouble with Dr Mottet’s ‘grazing and foraging’ point is, the vast majority of farmed cattle in the world never get the chance to graze and forage. Modern day cattle and dairy farming have given us the prison that is the CAFO.

“In the United States and other parts of the world, livestock production is becoming increasingly dominated by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In a CAFO, animals are crammed by the thousands or tens of thousands, often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, scratch the earth, or eat a blade of grass.”

“With the rise of factory farming, milk is now a most unnatural operation. The modern dairy farm can have hundreds, even thousands of cows. The animals spend their lives being fed in an indoor stall or a crowded feedlot. One of the largest dairy farms in the world is under construction in Vietnam and is slated to hold 32,000 cows.”

 Healthy food?

As for the “higher nutritional quality”, you certainly get plenty of extras in your milk: the hormones and growth factors produced in the cow’s own body, and with them synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone, used to increase milk productivity. Perfect to knock your own delicately balanced hormone systems out of whack. Then there are the antibiotics. And the poisons: pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, melamine, and carcinogenic aflatoxins. So the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine tells us, based on a multitude of reliable research studies.

What about the cattle’s flesh. How many warnings have there been in the last few years about the risks of meat consumption, especially red meat? For trustworthy mortality risk statistics, check out Harvard Health Publications from Harvard Medical School, Cutting red meat for a longer life.

Dr Mottet’s cattle feed piechart

livestockpro

Unusable for human food?

Dr Mottet’s pie chart suggests that only 14% of crops fed to cattle would be suitable as human food. But statistics from her own employer, the FAO would appear to tell another story altogether: “Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.”

Of the 330 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S., 260 million acres are used to grow fodder crops. That is 78.78% of all land in the States available to grow food, that is at present growing food to be fed to animals so they can be turned into food for humans. Are all of those crops unsuitable for humans? And is all of that land unsuitable for growing food for humans?

Globally, 33% of the Earth’s arable land is growing fodder crops for livestock. 40% of the world cereal production goes into their stomachs. Fodder crops are commonly alfalfa, barley, soy, kale, canola, swede, turnip, maize and millet – all of which can be eaten directly by humans. Dr Mottet’s figure of 14% doesn’t seem to tally with the statistics from her own organization of crops taken to feed farmed animals which could go straight to our kitchens instead.

Livestock farming’s environmental impact

Dr Mottet’s focus is on the sustainability of farming livestock, but apart from the briefest reference in her opening sentence, she does not mention the damage livestock farming wreaks on the environment. Yet environmental degradation inevitably impacts the very global food security she says farming livestock provides, because it impacts the health and viability of the planet itself. Are any of these aspects addressed in this study?

Fertilizer Growing crops to feed livestock in itself causes a massive amount of pollution. Take for example this year’s ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico spreading over an area bigger than the size of Wales – de-oxygenated sea, death to all the marine life in it. “The environmental campaign group Mighty Earth has blamed the meat industry for the dead zone, claiming much of the nitrate and phosphorous pollution came from fertilizer used in producing vast quantities of corn and soy to feed meat animals.” And incidentally naming as the main culprit Tyson, America’s biggest meat producer.

Manure Is the animals’ manure a valuable commodity boosting agricultural productivity? Its disposal is in reality often problematic: “Algae blooms, salmonella and E. Coli, groundwater contamination, and bad smells are just a few of the problems animal manure can cause. In small doses, it’s the stuff of life—the fertilizer plants need to grow. Mishandled, it’s an environmental disaster in waiting. Each year, farm animals in the United States produce over 335 million tons of manure. That’s roughly the weight of 1000 Empire State Buildings.” Modern Farmer

Meat processing plants There is no question that industrial agriculture is polluting the nation’s waterways, but huge factory farms are not the only culprits: processing plants also dump millions of pounds of toxic waste into rivers, lakes, and streams” Read more – USA: Meat is Murdering American Rivers

Water “The production of one kilogram of beef requires 15,414 litres of water on average. The water footprint of meat from sheep and goat (8,763 litres) is larger than that of pork (5,988 litres) or chicken (4,325 litres). The production of one kilogram of vegetables, on the contrary, requires 322 litres of water.” (A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products)

Extinctions Think Amazonian rainforest.Diets rich in beef and other red meat can be bad for a person’s health. And the practice is equally bad for Earth’s biodiversity, according to a team of scientists who have fingered human carnivory—and its impact on land use—as the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna. Already a major cause of extinction, our meat habit will take a growing toll as people clear more land for livestock and crops to feed these animals, a study in the current issue of Science of the Total Environment predicts.” Science Magazine. Read more

Greenhouse gases Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all GHG emissions” produced by human activity.

And this from ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ 2006: “A 2,000 kcal high meat diet produces 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan diet, and twice as many as a vegetarian diet. Moving from a high meat to a low meat diet would reduce a person’s carbon footprint by 920kg CO2e every year – equivalent to a return flight from London to New York. Moving from a high meat diet to a vegetarian diet would save 1,230kg CO2e per year.”

Both reports from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization – interestingly, Dr Mottet’s own organization.

“According to a recent analysis, just a single dietary change — substituting beans for beef — could nearly satisfy the United States’ emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.”

To be fair, Dr Mottet does say, certain [livestock] production systems contribute directly to global food security”, and her points do make some sense if she’s talking about rural economies in less developed countries. Then the animals may be ‘useful’ to pull carts and carry loads and their manure may be beneficial to the land. And the animals may graze pasture unsuitable to grow food for humans. But in those places livestock numbers are minuscule in comparison with the numbers in the biggest livestock farming nations such as India, Brazil, China and the USA, where none of these things is true. Quite the opposite:

“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unprecedented level of risk to the public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.” Robert Martin, Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. And the same is just as true of all other major meat and dairy producing countries too.

130617-pulse-interview-2016-international-year-of-pulses-charlie-higgins-320x202Only last year the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (Dr Mottet’s own employer) promoted the vision of plant food, not livestock as the future for global food security, and designated 2016 ‘The International Year of the Pulse’

Pulses  are economically accessible and contribute to food security at all levels [They] are an inexpensive source of protein – a crucial component of any healthy diet, but especially in poorer areas where meat, dairy and fish are economically inaccessible. Pulses can also serve as a source of income, as smallholder farmers who grow pulses can sell them at markets,” and turn them into added value products for additional income.

“FAO also added that as an affordable alternative to more expensive animal-based protein, pulses are ideal for improving diets in poorer parts of the world, where protein sources from milk if often five time more expensive than protein sourced from pulses.” UN News Centre

The FAO specifically recommends the farming of peas, beans and lentils, not cattle, in those rural economies where Dr Mottet wishes us to believe farming livestock makes such an important contribution.

But still, Dr Mottet’s conclusion is:

“Animal production, in its many forms, plays an integral role in the food system.”

She ends her report with the FAO’s estimate that given the ever-increasing global demand, 70% more animal products will be needed to feed the world by 2050 – and that will of course require still more land. Yet already, with 50 billion food animals being raised and slaughtered each year, the Earth is being overwhelmed by food animals that consume massive quantities of energy and resources, whose wastes foul waterways and farmlands, and when eaten excessively, degrade our health.” CAFO the book

But Dr Mottet places her faith in science to provide ever-improving FCRs – feed conversion ratios. “FCR is a ratio measuring the efficiency with which the bodies of livestock convert animal feed into the desired output.” Or, as I prefer to put it, it’s the science of bleeding ever more out of the farmed animals (genetically engineered to maximize their ‘productivity’) while feeding ever less in (in terms of resources).

It doesn’t add up

As we have seen, Dr Mottet study appears to directly contradict other United Nations’ reports, some emanating from different branches of the UN, and some from her own, the FAO.

A report from United Nations Environment Programme’s International panel of sustainable resource management 2010 reported in The Guardian “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.” 

Another report, this time from the UN’s International Research Panel (IRP) August 2016. Technocracy News’ headline ran: “The United Nations would like to remove every meat animal from the face of the planet if it could, and especially cattle.”

And then of course, there is the United Nations’ “International Year of the Pulse”, for which they produced an altogether wonderful book (pdf here) – so much more fascinating, appealing, and colourful than the humble bean and lentil might lead you to imagine. I would urge everyone to take a look.

“Thanks to their high levels of protein, fiber, and other nutrients; low requirements for water and other agricultural inputs; long shelf life; and cultural and culinary relevance around the globe, [pulses are] an uncompromising enemy of hunger and malnutrition worldwide and a genuine superfood for the future.”

The future is beans, Dr Mottet. Not beef. Even the FAO says so.

Help yourself, help the planet  Go vegan

Update

28th September 2017 – Even the President of Unilever agrees! Read her piece: Plant-Based Diets: A Game-Changer For Our Food System, Our People And Our Planet

Also Global methane emissions from agriculture larger than reported, according to new estimates 11% more, in fact.

Dr. Julie Wolf, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), senior author of the study said: “In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher

 

Dr Mottet is wrong on at least 4 counts:

3rd Oct 2017 Firstly, the fact that some cattle graze on grass does not make farming them less problematic in terms of sustainability.

“Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use. Ultimately, if high consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is.”

That is the conclusion of a recnt study by Dr Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford, Cecile Godde from CSIRO and a team of international experts. Phys.Org

5th Oct 2017 Secondly, the Extinction & Livestock Conference hosted by CIWF and WWF in London. WWF’s report Appetite for Destruction with staggering statistics about how the production and consumption of meat and dairy is devastating the planet. Their particular focus was Dr Mottet’s own area – crops grown for animal feed. In 2010 an area the size of Yorkshire was needed to grow soy for cattle feed just in the UK. Now in 2017 the amount of land needed to produce crops for animal feed worldwide is equivalent to the size of the EU. The threat to food security is near its tipping point. WWF, like the FAO before them and many national governments around the world, urgently advises us to eat more plants, and cut back on meat and dairy. Meat and dairy are destroying the planet and driving 60% of Earth’s species into extinction.

And thirdly, meat and dairy are not of “higher nutritional quality” as Dr Mottet claims. Apart from the health risks I referred to above, feeding animals energy- and protein-rich crops produces animal products containing less of the healthy omega-3 and more saturated fat. You would need to eat 6 chickens today to obtain the same amount of omega-3 you would have got from one chicken in 1970. “There are serious concerns that our current food system will not be able to meet the future fatty acid needs of our growing global population.”

Fourthly, soil degradation and depletion. 80% of Earth’s land used for agriculture is given over to livestock grazing or growing feed. Philip Lymbery of CIWF quoted at the conference a 2015 FAO report that agriculture as a whole has degraded the soil to such an extent that there are only 60 harvests left in it. “The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation.” George Monbiot in the Guardian Sorry Dr Mottet, your improved FCRs are simply not going to  cut it.


Disclaimer
I am no match for Dr Mottet either in terms of qualifications or access to the data. However, it seemed important to draw attention to other statistics and expert opinions, with which her arguments and conclusions appear to be in conflict.

PS There are 58 varieties of pulses around the world. I counted them!



Sources

Livestock production, a much smaller challenge to global food security than often reported

Agriculture at a Crossroads – Global Agriculture Org.

Welcome to the World of CAFO Farms become factories. Rivers of waste. Communities under siege. Declining health.

America’s mega dairy farms

The Wall Street Journal

Scientists find polluted sea ‘dead zone’ that is bigger than Wales – The Independent

What to do with all the poo? – Modern Farmer

Sustainability heavyweights take aim at environmental impacts of soy, beef, palm oil – Conservation International

 UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet – The Guardian

Tax Meat Until It’s Too Expensive To Eat, New UN Report Suggests – Technocracy News

FCR – Wiki

Related posts

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy Revisited

Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land Air & Water

Another Nation Trims Meat From Diet Advice

If everyone on Earth ate a Western diet, we would need two Planet Earths to feed us. We’ve only got one and she’s dying

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

Which is Your Burger of Choice for the Future of Food?

Favourite Food for Cows?

 

 

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats

If you step into the stillness of the snowy pine forests, where China meets Far East Russia and the mighty Amur river flows into the Sea of Japan, do not expect an encounter with Panthera pardus orientalis. A sika deer or two, elk, and even with a bit of luck, wild boar may cross your path – but never the Amur leopard. It’s as elusive as it is rare. Only 70 remain in the wild – the world’s rarest wild feline. Even conservationists who’ve spent years working with them count themselves lucky if they get to see so much as a paw print, or the site of a kill. The cats themselves will never be seen, except on occasional camera trap footage.

panterkop

It is just possible though, you’ve seen this beautiful animal in a zoo. There are around 200 in zoos’ captive breeding programs – still a perilously small population. This leopard will not be coming off IUCN‘s Red List any time soon.

The good news

But now there is great news. Just last month China approved a new national park for the Amur leopard, and its almost equally rare cousin, the Amur (Siberian) tiger.

kristiansandtiger9

The two carnivores have seen illegal logging shrink their habitat, and numbers of their prey of preference, elk and deer, dwindle as a result of poaching. There have even been reports of tigers hungry enough to stray into residential areas taking dogs and cattle.

This is Amur-Heilong, home of the Amur leopard and the Amur tiger, an area as big as Alaska straddling the border of two of the world’s greatest nations, China and Russia

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 19.25.02

A few facts about this exciting new national park in Chinese Amur-Heilong

  • At 5,637 square miles, it will be 60 percent bigger than Yellowstone National Park
  • Communities and factories within the new national park area will be relocated, to avoid conflicts between wildlife and humans
  • At its heart will be a centre for monitoring, research and rescue of the big cats
  • The park will be completed by 2020

The surprise

Talk conservation, and China has scarcely been a country that leaps to mind. We are much more likely to think of the millions flocking from rural villages for a new life in rapidly growing industrial cities.

Or China’s incredible production levels: as in Qiaotou the ‘button capital of the world’, churning out 15 billion buttons and 200 million meters of zippers a year. Or one worker on his/her own racking up – what surely is not humanly possible – 80,000 umbrellas a year.

Or the spectacle of an entire city’s population scurrying about their business in face masks, hoping this won’t be the year they become one of the three quarters of a million who will die prematurely, the result of the country’s appalling levels of pollution.

All a far cry from wild Amur-Heilong, “one of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world, vast steppe grasslands and unbroken taiga.”

But with the turn of the 21st century China turned too, in a surprising, historic and incredibly welcome new direction. The heavily industrialised country with its brutally damaged environment and waning biodiversity announced its intention to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century. With its hand held and guided along this unfamiliar path by an array of notable conservation and sustainability agencies¹, China’s ambitious target is to build “a resource-saving and environmentally friendly society by 2020.”  An ambitious target in a positively astounding time frame.

(While President Xi Jinping is personally invested in reversing “severe ecological damage” and building a greener future for his country, his counterpart in the White House is busy dragging the US back in the opposite direction)

Part of China’s grand green plan is an entire, revamped national park system to be developed over the next three years, with the Amur-Heilong reserve as just one piece of the jigsaw. The fabulously visionary Bird Airport is another. 9 pilot parks already established. Hopeful and exciting times in the Peoples’ Republic!


Brought to the brink

kristiansandtiger5

Apart from the Amur tiger, to which it will give a wide berth, the leopard has no enemies to fear but one – the most feared animal on the face of the planet, Man. The cat has been hunted for its beautifully marked and luxuriously thick coat, and hunted again because it preyed on the deer and elk that human hunters crave for themselves. Humans felled and burned its forests, and crisscrossed its territory with railways and lethal roads until all that was left for the cat to roam from its vast historic range was an area the size of Dorset. And a population brought to an all time low of 35. Man it was that brought this leopard to near-extinction.

wcs-amleop-camtrap-3_2011-1

Over the river into Russia

Just the other side of the great Amur river, Russia is also working hard to turn around the fate of Panthera pardus orientalis. In 2012 Russia created, also in Amur-Heilong, a secure national park for the cat, good habitat with ample prey, the Land of the Leopard. This short word picture of a camera trap clip is testimony to the park’s success:

“The leopard steps forward to the roe deer carcass, wedged among the rocks where she dragged her prey two days earlier. She looks back along the trail and coughs discreetly. Three small whiskered faces emerge, and her six-month-old cubs scamper over the rocks to greet her. She steps back and allows them to feed. 

It’s a heart-warming scene of health and productivity. “

whf-argun-hi-res
Wildlife Heritage Foundation

(How much would we give for a glimpse of one of those ‘three small whiskered faces’!)

Russia too is making history

From the 2007 low of 35 leopards, the population today at 70 is ‘stable’, and hopefully still on the up. Good news. But Land of the Leopard is reaching capacity, so Russia, partnering with its own set of conservation agencies², has earmarked an additonal but separate reserve for the leopards to the northeast, at Lozovsky. The Amur leopards that once slipped like shadows through the Lozovsky forest wilderness were wiped out 30 years ago, but their prey animals are still in good supply. It’s never been attempted before, but the scientists reckon reintroducing the cats is a viable option.

No-one though wants to chance moving any of the few and precious Land of the Leopard cats. Far too risky. So this is where, we hope, the zoos’ captive breeding programs can make a real contribution to conservation.

argun-anuy-by-jackiemarwellbtinternet-com-wildlife-heritage-foundation-1
© Jackie Thomas
whf-amur-boys-2
Wildlife Heritage Foundation

“Young leopards bred from these captive animals will be raised in a special breeding center inside the reserve, and the cubs chosen for reintroduction must pass rigorous tests, proving that they can hunt in the wild, and that they still retain the ‘panic response’ fear of humans.”

Everything is ready and waiting for them right now. So provided cubs born in captivity can adapt successfully to the wild, two or three breeding pairs of Amur leopards may be stealing silently through the snow in Lozovsky as early as the end of this year. And if the program works out as hoped, it will pave the way for more reintroductions in the future.

Two nations, two stories

Humans brought the Amur leopard to crisis point. It is still on human behaviour that the future of the leopard depends. For the cat’s population to have a chance of bouncing back,“the communities that make their living in this remote corner of the world must be prepared to share their forests with the big cats.”

In Russian Amur-Heilong the people are already onside. Over centuries they’ve learned the wisdom of sharing the land with predators. Besides, today’s Amur leopards are immensely popular stars in their own “reality show” (camera trap footage) on Russian TV. Even President Putin is a fan.

In China though, the mindset is different. So,“an outreach program in the Heilongjiang region is working to convince locals that leopards are worth more than just their pelts,” and the forests more than just timber. Conservation agencies are organising cooperatives to show the people more sustainable ways to live with and from the forests, such as harvesting Korean pine nuts, or working for the park itself, including as park rangers.

The great powers finally get it together

Two great nations divided by one great river which marks their common border. Two great nations dividing between them Amur-Heilong, the land of the Amur leopard and the Amur tiger.

narvinskii-pass-tunnel
Image:Phoenix Fund

You can drive across the border from China to Russia. The two big cats of course can’t. They know nothing of borders and divisions, and care even less. And that used to put them in great danger, because what 15 years ago was a quiet road, is now a major highway buzzing with traffic from a new and sizeable city on the Chinese side. That is what makes Russia’s money-no-object Narvinskii Pass Tunnel, a new wildlife corridor opened in 2016, running for a third of a mile underneath a major migration route for the cats, truly a matter of life and death.

So, two nations joined across the Amur by road, but still acting separately in their efforts to bring the iconic big cats back from the brink.

Until now. “Six months ago, the Russian government signed an agreement with Beijing University that enabled, among other things, the sharing of camera trap images.” These two beautiful cats have finally brought the nations together, and in a new spirit of co-operation”  the two powers are at last reaching hands across the divide. 

It may have taken longer than it ought, but it’s another historic step very much in the right direction. Let us hope it will result in many more ‘small whiskered faces’ caught on camera in the years to come.


Breaking news
Wild tigers to reappear in Kazakhstan after 70 years

Last Friday (Sep 8th), Kazakhstan & the WWF signed off on an historic reintroduction of wild tigers – Amur tigers to be precise. Not the same as the Caspian tiger driven to extinction in Kazakhstan 70 years ago, but closely related.

The Fund is providing $10 million (8.3 million euros) for the project.

WWF’s Russian representative Igor Chestin hailed the signing as a “event of global significance” but warned “It will be years before tigers appear on this territory because the territory needs to be specially prepared.”

Kazakh Agriculture Minister Askar Myrzakhmetov said work on a specially protected natural area for the tigers would start at the beginning of next year.

“In fact, we are talking about restoring a whole ecosystem, where this species is set to be reintroduced,” Myrzakhmetov said at a press conference in the Kasakh capital Astana.

Read more

And Nature Needs Us to Work Together with China -Wild Foundation

altawebheader1All images with kind permission of ALTA

¹Nature Conservancy, Yale University, the Natural Capital Project, the Paulson Institute, and WWF

² WWF, IUCN and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)

Sources

Tigers and Leopards to Get New National Park in China, 60% Bigger Than Yellowstone – EcoWatch

Land of the Leopards – bioGraphic

Reporter’s Notebook – Inside a Chinese Factory Town

Pollution in China – Wiki

Qiaotou – Wiki

Our Planet: Ecological Civilization – UN Environment

Related posts

World First – China’s Bird Airport

Tiggywinkles, Tigers & Tunnels

 

We Owe It To The Earth

Even if you’re not the praying kind, and even if the message is still somewhat anthropocentric, I’m sure you’ll agree it is very heartening that these words are flying out across the world to 1.2 billion catholics and 300 million Orthodox christians – and particularly those of any faith or none we hope may be listening in presidential homes and palaces – urging us to protect, preserve, respect. And cease to exploit.

Joint message of Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the World Day of Prayer for Creation

“The story of creation presents us with a panoramic view of the world. Scripture reveals that, “in the beginning”, God intended humanity to cooperate in the preservation and protection of the natural environment. At first, as we read in Genesis, “no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up – for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground” (2:5). The earth was entrusted to us as a sublime gift and legacy, for which all of us share responsibility until, “in the end”, all things in heaven and on earth will be restored in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). Our human dignity and welfare are deeply connected to our care for the whole of creation.

“However, in the meantime, the history of the world presents a very different context. It reveals a morally decaying scenario where our attitude and behaviour towards creation obscures our calling as God’s co-operators. Our propensity to interrupt the world’s delicate and balanced ecosystems, our insatiable desire to manipulate and control the planet’s limited resources, and our greed for limitless profit in markets – all these have alienated us from the original purpose of creation. We no longer respect nature as a shared gift; instead, we regard it as a private possession. We no longer associate with nature in order to sustain it; instead, we lord over it to support our own constructs.

“The consequences of this alternative worldview are tragic and lasting. The human environment and the natural environment are deteriorating together, and this deterioration of the planet weighs upon the most vulnerable of its people. The impact of climate change affects, first and foremost, those who live in poverty in every corner of the globe. Our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly implies the recognition of and respect for all people and all living creatures. The urgent call and challenge to care for creation are an invitation for all of humanity to work towards sustainable and integral development.

“Therefore, united by the same concern for God’s creation and acknowledging the earth as a shared good, we fervently invite all people of goodwill to dedicate a time of prayer for the environment on 1 September.  On this occasion, we wish to offer thanks to the loving Creator for the noble gift of creation and to pledge commitment to its care and preservation for the sake of future generations. After all, we know that we labour in vain if the Lord is not by our side (cf. Ps 126-127), if prayer is not at the centre of our reflection and celebration. Indeed, an objective of our prayer is to change the way we perceive the world in order to change the way we relate to the world. The goal of our promise is to be courageous in embracing greater simplicity and solidarity in our lives.

“We urgently appeal to those in positions of social and economic, as well as political and cultural, responsibility to hear the cry of the earth and to attend to the needs of the marginalized, but above all to respond to the plea of millions and support the consensus of the world for the healing of our wounded creation. We are convinced that there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

This is a message not just for the 1st of September, but for every day of every year.

Update

6th October 2017 Catholic institutions announce largest ever faith-based fossil fuel divestment – EcoWatch

Source: The Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation – Vatican Radio

A page of environment petitions

Related posts

A Very Quick Critique of the Pope’s Message on Climate Change

Walking Hand in Hand with Nature

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

The One Thing Vegans are NOT doing & Need to Start doing – TODAY!

“I have been vegan for the past 7 years, vegetarian since 21 and animal lover all my life. During those years, I came to realize how my own actions –  and the way I was taught to think and act  – hurt my most beloved creatures in the world, hurt the planet, hurt our health. “

Vegan Illustrator Miki Mottes

In spite of veganism’s high profile these days, Miki identified 3 problems we have when trying to get our message across:

  • People still (erroneously) think going vegan is very very hard, and means depriving ourselves – but wishing we didn’t have to – of all our favourite things to eat and drink. To them we are the hairshirt brigade
  • People often see vegans as angry, aggressive and judgmental (in part because they don’t like having to justify their choices even to themselves)
  • “People don’t enjoy seeing images and videos of slaughterhouses while having their breakfast. Even if truthful (the truth food companies pay billions of dollars to hide from the public), this tactic usually achieves the exact opposite: it numbs people. They no longer look at the images and simply feel under attack.”

So let’s take a look at how the opposition, the meat and dairy industries habitually promote their products and make us feel good about consuming them.

Miki says, “Simple: with harmless, sweet and fun campaigns. Think happy cows, smiling kids (with a milk mustache) and laughing pigs. Industry giants made these products an important part of our childhood and family moments. No wonder thinking differently about them is so difficult.”

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – Make It Fun!

Miki decided to create his own cute, fun characters – they went viral

homepage_posers_protein_iron_calcium

Before long he found himself bombarded with requests for more information. “First about iron and calcium sources and then about pretty much everything that had to do with a plant-based diet.”

It soon became a full-time job and Miki launched simplehappykitchen.com with “simple and relatable information about ingredients, nutrients, their sources and their effect on our health and the planet, [which] allows more people to open up, listen, and adopt new ideas.” It was a natural progression to produce his Simple Happy Kitchen book.

page_samples1.jpg

“These days I get thank you messages from young mothers, educators and fitness enthusiasts saying how helpful my work is. I don’t ask if they are vegan or not. I know that with the right information, delivered in the right manner, more people will happily adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle.”

And so on that upbeat note, let’s finish with some more fun stuff about how easy it is to be vegan!

 

Download for free Miki’s Protein, Calcium & Iron printable posters here

Follow Miki on Facebook & Twitter

See more of his cute artwork here

Help to go vegan here

Images from the Simple Happy Kitchen website

Source

The one thing vegans are NOT doing and need to start doing. Today. – Medium

Related posts

What DO vegans eat?

Cake Anyone? A Slice of Surprise

Art First, Eat After – Carve up your Fruit & Veg Japanese-style

 

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

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What happens? Nature fights back!

We’ve done our best to trash the planet. We’ve plundered the earth of precious stones, covered it in concrete to sell people things they don’t need, contaminated it with deadly radiation, declared a piece of it a DMZ to keep apart the heavily armed guards of two nations that hate each other, covered it in land mines, built factories on it for poison gas and chemical weapons so we can better kill each other, and even managed to dry out the 4th largest lake in the world by exploiting its water for our own questionable ends.

For me, two telling themes emerge from the wildlife stories below: the ruthless devil-take-the-hindmost greed of the capitalist system we humans have created; and our unbridled propensity for violence and war.

Yet even out of the trail of destruction we leave behind, Nature – which is so much bigger than the human race – takes over, nurturing life.

Given less than half a chance, just look what Nature does.

(Thanks to One Green Planet for the article below)


Haven for horses in the desert

kolmanskophorses
upload.wikimedia.org

Abandoned in 1954, Kolmanskop, Namibia was once a flourishing diamond mining town until the mines were eventually exhausted of their riches. The human inhabitants of the town moved on and left what had been their homes, schools and shops to be taken back by the desert and the rare Namib Horse.

abandondednamibia
shazandfrank.wordpress.com

Their origin is unknown as these horses are not indigenous to the region but by limiting human intervention, only offering water support during extreme drought, these horses have been able to adapt incredibly well to the unforgiving terrain and grow in numbers over the years in the ruins of this forgotten town.

Abercrombie and Fish?

abandonedkoi
boredpanda.com

Arson and safety issues plagued the New World Shopping Mall in Bangkok, Thailand until it was shuttered in 1997. The roofless structure sat empty, collecting rainwater in it’s basement until a 1600 square foot pond formed. Mosquitos began to take up residence, annoying locals around the forgotten structure so much that they introduced some koi and catfish into the pond to combat the problem.

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals.

Left to breed uninhibited, the fish flourished  in their new environment and turned the mall into their own private aquarium. The future of the fish is unclear as there are questions about the stability of the building, but for now locals visit the fish to throw them food.

abandonedsquirrel
nhbs.com

While walking around the woods surrounding his summer home in Salo, Finland, photographer Kai Fagerström came upon a derelict house. Not one to miss a chance to snap some unique shots, Fagerström ventured inside to see that the house may have been derelict but it was far from empty.

abandoned-badgers
ngm.nationalgeographic.com

The house was teeming with animal tenants like badgers, mice, foxes and birds to name just a few. In fact, 12 different species of animals were all living together in harmony under the same roof, becoming the subjects to his photo book The House in the Woods.

Life finds a way in the shadow of disaster

01-chernobyl-animals-adapt_-1190-1
Very rare Przewalski horses

In 1986 the residents of Pripyat, Ukraine were forced to abandon their homes as the nearby Chernobyl Power Complex experienced what is considered the worst nuclear meltdown in history. The area has been deemed uninhabitable for the next 20,000 years as radiation levels in the area continue to measure off of the charts, but that hasn’t stopped a large variety of wildlife and insect species from moving in.

abandonedchernobyl
sullydish.files.wordpress.com

In fact, the native animal populations like wild boar, dogs and horses have thrived in the exclusion zone, making the area around Chernobyl a natural refuge in the absence of human occupants. Scientists have only recently been allowed access to study the area and its inhabitants, with the results providing an unsure glimpse at how the thriving populations will be effected by the radiation for generations to come. Only time will tell, but for now the city of Pripyat is populated with a diverse selection of life.

Wildlife can’t read the ‘Keep Out’ signs

dmz-birds
news.discovery.com

In place since the Korean War Armistice in 1953, a 250 km long and 4 km wide swath of land known as the Demilitarized Zone separates North and South Korea from coast to coast. With people only being allowed to enter through special permit over the last 60 years, the area has become the perfect place for a large variety of indigenous and critically endangered wildlife to live undisturbed.

abandoneddmz2
news.nationalgeographic.com

Animals like the endangered white necked crane, vulnerable Amur gorals, the asiatic black bear, Siberian musk dear and the nearly extinct Amur leopard are among the 2,716 different species thought to inhabit the area.

After the dust settled in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, the waters surrounding the area became so overfished that local penguin populations began to decrease dramatically.  Ironically, it was this very overfishing and the ravages of the war that preceded it that ended up creating a unique natural habitat for the penguins to start rebuilding their numbers and living freely.

abandonedpenguins
wondermando.com

As a deterrent to the British, the Argentinian army laid 20,000 land mines along the coast and pasture lands surrounding the capital that remain to this day. Too light to set them off, the penguin population lives happily and totally undisturbed in this unlikely sanctuary.

This subway car is going nowhere

abandonedsubway
fineprintnyc.com

Since 2001 the Mass Transit Authority of New York has been participating in a program that retires old subway cars and dumps them along the eastern seaboard to create artificial reefs. Known as Redbird Reef, the cars are stripped of floating materials and then cleaned before they’re dropped into the ocean from barges.

abandonedseaturtle
eventbrite.com

By 2010 the program had placed over 2500 cars into the water in the hopes of giving marine life in the area a home to breed and thrive, including black sea bass, flounder, turtles and barnacles.

Don’t forget to take your carrots!

abandonedrabbits
s1.dmcdn.net

The tiny island known as Okunoshima Island in Takehara, Japan is also colloquially known as Usagi Jima, or “Rabbit Island.” Abandoned after World War II, the island had been home to a poison gas facility.

abandonedusagijima
montrealgazette.com

How the rabbits came to be on the island is a source of debate but with larger animals like cats and dogs being banned from its shores, the bunnies of Usagi Jima are free to roam wild and multiply while taking the occasional carrot from an adoring tourist.

This island gets an (elephant) seal of approval

abandonedanonuevo
cdn.c.photoshelter.com

Formerly a Coast Guard light station until it was abandoned in 1948,  Año Nuevo Island in California is teeming with wildlife. Now part of a nature preserve operated by the California State Parks, the island boasts one of the largest northern elephant seal mainland breeding colonies in the world.

abandonedanonuevo2
apt.ap1.netdna-cdn.com

It also plays host to cormorants, terns, otters, California sea lions as well as the rare and endangered San Francisco Garter Snake.

Just surreal

abandonedaraldesert
i.imgur.com

What was once the fourth largest lake in the world at 26,300 sq mi – that’s bigger than all the Great Lakes of North America with the exception of Lake Superior, the Aral Sea in Central Asia is now on the verge of being completely dry due to rivers and dams diverting its water elsewhere. The effects of this were devastating and the area is being monitored so environmental improvements can be made. Leaving behind a sandy desert and stranded fishing boats, the dry lake bed now sees local camels roaming freely amongst wasted hulls to take a rest from the sun.

abandoned-camels
worldofmatter.net

Revitalization efforts are underway and showing real promise for the area and the wildlife that has moved in, including not only camels but asiatic foxes, wolves and boars.

A place dedicated to taking life becomes a place that preserves it

abandonedbison
cdn.colorado.com

Once a chemical munitions plant, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Commerce City, Colorado last saw production in 1982. Clean up and decontamination of the site kept humans from entering the area, which left a perfect opening for animals to move in and create an involuntary refuge.

abandonedarsanal
fws.gov

In 1986, much to the surprise of the U.S. Wildlife and Fish Service, it was discovered that not only was there a communal roost of bald eagles taking up residence but also 330 additional species of wildlife had moved in. Today the site is a National Wildlife Refuge and boasts deer, bison, coyotes and owls.


These good news wildlife stories leave a bitter aftertaste – in most cases (thankfully not all) the animals are making their lives in spite of the wreckage wrought by human hand.

The DMZ seems an apt metaphor for the present state of the planet: hostile peoples pointing killing machines at each other, and in the little space left between, Nature.

Nature generating and nurturing transformative life – in abundance.

Creating, not destroying.


Sources

Cover pic i.imgur.com

Awesome Abandoned Places Around the World Occupied by Animals | One Green Planet

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

The Wildlife Haven that’s the UK’s Best Kept Secret

Dodos & Dinosaurs – Should We Bring Them Back?

Well, we can put the dinosaur question to bed right away, because it can’t be done. Those particular animals have been extinct for more than 65 million years and there simply is no viable DNA to recover.

Dodos? Yes. The dodo is on the list of ‘Candidate Species for De-extinction’. To be a possible candidate the chosen animal must have a living genetic relative, and the dodo does have one, and a very pretty one at that – the Nicobar pigeon, seen here

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Of the two main contenders for resurrection, one is large and iconic like the dinosaur – the woolly mammoth. And the other is a bird like the dodo – the great auk.

So how would it be done?

You have to start by retrieving the animal’s DNA, either from fossils in museums or from preserved tissue in permafrost. From that sample the whole genetic code is rebuilt. Enter our friend CRISPR and the DNA is edited into an embryo of its nearest living relative. (There are a couple of other methods if you want to read more)

With the mammoth (relative Asian elephant) we’re already at this stage. Next we need a mother to carry that embryo to term. Or if not a mother, at least a womb which in this case will be an artificial one.

Great auks could be edited into razorbill DNA with a mother goose as parent. Projects for ‘de-extincting’ heath hens and passenger pigeons are also on the move.

That said, it’s all – if not entirely a pipe-dream – still a long way off. Not in my lifetime anyway.

But why bother?

All projects for reviving extinct animals are being coordinated by Revive & Restore.

They are great believers in de-extinction and here’s why:

  • Preserving biodiversity and genetic diversity
  • Restoring ecosystems that have diminished since the animals went extinct
  • Importantly, estorative justice – undoing the harm that we humans did to them in the past
  • Advancing science to prevent future extinctions

An example of where de-extinction research is already proving beneficial is the American Chestnut tree. A fungus rendered it extinct in its natural environment, but the genome of lab specimens has been tweaked to make it fungus-resistant. And now it’s ready for successful reintroduction.

Homo Sapiens

In March, a panel of five experts discussed an intriguing topic the recent Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate in New York: if we went extinct ourselves, would it be a good idea for a superior life form to bring us humans back?

Not that we would get a say in such a scenario. But my own preemptive answer would be NO, NO, NO, bearing in mind the forces of destruction we’ve unleashed on the planet and all the other species we (don’t) share it with.

The panel’s objection to the idea was very different Their worry would be what this superior life form might do with us:

Were another intelligent life to de-extinctify humans, would they put us in a zoo-like environment? For a sentient being, that would beextremely frightening and scary,” said panelist Greg Kaebnick, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institute in Garrison, New York. “The animal welfare concerns just get overwhelming.”

Funny how that matters for humans but not for any other sentient animals already held captive in zoos. Hard to believe an intelligent person could make such a remark and not pause to reflect on what he has just said. Come to think of it though, perhaps a zoo (where we could inflict no further harm) might be the best place to contain such a dangerous species as Homo Sapiens.

Why not to bother?

Let’s forget humans for a moment. Aside from the practical scientific difficulties, why is de-extinction problematical? There are many compelling reasons:

  • If the de-extinctified animal is not a perfect copy of its forebears, could it be classified as the same species, or would we actually be playing God and creating a whole new species, a Frankenstein’s monster?
  • What of failed attempts resulting in maimed, deformed, stillborn animals?
  • If the animal did turn out a perfect copy, wouldn’t it immediately have to go on the endangered Red List?
  • What if appropriate food sources and habitat no longer exist?
  • What if the microbiota (the bacterial life within the species’ body, vital in maintaining its functioning) no longer exists and cannot be replicated?
  • Alternatively what if the DNA of a virus had, unbeknownst to the de-extinctifiers, incorporated itself into the animals’ genetic code? De-extinction carries the possibility of apocalyptic fallout
  • What effects might there be on present ecosystems? Another dangerous unknown
  • How many animals of one species need to be de-extinctified to provide a wide enough gene pool? We know it can’t be done for dinosaurs, but even if it could, “It would take about 5,000 Velociraptors (or any dinosaur species, for that matter) to make a sustainable population with sufficient genetic diversity. “ Todd Marshall
  • Where exactly does human responsibility for the revived creatures end?
  • And most importantly of all to my mind, wouldn’t the money at present spent on de-extinction research, be put to better use protecting, and improving the habitat of, the huge numbers of species already at high risk of extinction?
  • And, might funding de-extinction of a small number of species actually threaten the survival chances of a larger number of already existing species?

For me it’s a no-brainer, and researchers in biodiversity agree. The answer to those last two questions is a resounding Yes. In New Zealand for example, government funds at present earmarked for reviving 11 extinct species threaten to sacrifice at least 31 existing ones. The negative impact on biodiversity looks to be even greater in Australia where funding is allocated for 5 extinct species. More than 8 times that number of existing threatened species could be saved for the same money.

We’re hopelessly failing to safeguard life forms in the here and now, so is it wise to use scientific expertise and precious funding to bring back the distant dead –  those that really are as dead as a dodo?

Jurassic Park? Inspired idea for a movie. Let’s just leave it where it belongs – on the silver screen.

 

Sources

Why We Do What We Do – Revive & Restore

Why we shouldn’t bring back the mammoth and other extinct animals – ZME

Were Humans to Go Extinct Should the Species Be Revived? – LiveScience

Should we resurrect extinct species? MNN

Is It Possible to Clone a Dinosaur? – LiveScience

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World First – China’s Bird Airport

Birds. Airports. Those two words rarely if ever sit happily together. The Airbus forced in 2009 to make a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River after Canada geese were sucked into both engines, triggered an unstoppable wave of bird slaughter at airports round the world. The unfortunate animals just happening to be in the ‘wrong’ place were gassed, shot and poisoned in an attempt to prevent bird ‘strikes’ on aircraft. Still are. Airports in China included. At China’s east coast Lishe Airport, for instance, the grassland where migrating egrets stop to feed is being sprayed with rat poison.

“Where biodiversity is most in trouble, it’s in trouble because of direct conflict with human activity.” 

Gretchen Daily

So, the world’s first ever custom-built airport for birds? Mudflats, reed beds, lakes and shallow rapids – something for every feathered frequent flyer. Not a plane in sight – and in China?
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Lingang Bird Sanctuary is an ‘airport’ designed with the safety and well-being of migratory waterbirds in mind. (Rendering: McGregor Coxall)

China’s conservation record has not been so hot in the past, to put it politely, so it’s a big surprise, but an incredibly welcome one. In actual fact, the super-power is now ahead of the game in the management of flourishing ecosystems and has declared its vision of becoming the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹

“It’s just such a historic moment in China, with the highest level of government pushing for a level of investment in nature that’s completely unprecedented.” Yale University ecologist Gretchen Daily, 

The Chinese government partnered with Yale and with Gretchen, co-director of the Natural Capital Project, for research on the state of their network of national parks and nature reserves. And now the ecologist is helping the Chinese ‘reimagine’ these spaces to reverse the decline in biodiversity, and at the same time provide ecosystem services such as sandstorm protection and flood control.

“We’re recommending a great expansion of nature reserves to encompass all of the major groups of biodiversity that we studied, which includes plants and the four vertebra groups — mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. That involves many new reserves being established”

And the Lingang Bird Sanctuary in Tianjin is such a one. It has been “specifically designed to accommodate thousands of daily takeoffs and landings by the 50 million birds traveling along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.” This flyway, one of 9 major bird migration flyways across the globe, stretches over 22 countries – the list includes China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, taking in Indonesia and Thailand on the way.

The new ‘airport’ at Lingang is all good news:

  • It’s where it’s most needed, sitting in the most threatened of all 9 global flyways, and in a country where 70% of intertidal habitat has been lost in the last 10 years
  • It’s expected to provide the perfect refuelling stop for those millions of migrating waterbirds – more than 50 species
  • The design² includes an education and research centre – another plus for bird conservation
  • It will provide green lungs for the city of Tianjin, frequently blanketed with smog so thick it  shuts down its real airports
  • It will also act as a ‘sponge city’³ (more below)
  • It transforms a former ugly, dirty, smelly landfill site into a fabulous green eco park
  • It will provide a much-needed green space where humans too can enjoy the outdoors, breath fresh clean air, wander along miles of walking and cycling trails, watch the wonder of migrating birds and hopefully learn the value of making space in our overcrowded world for other living creatures
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A birder’s paradise, Tianjin’s new wetland sanctuary will also help to scrub the city’s notoriously polluted air and prevent major urban flooding events. (Rendering: McGregor Coxall)
Let’s hope Lingang, due to be completed in 2018 ready for its visitors, human, avian and hopefully a bounty of other wildlife, will provide a template for such projects in the future.

¹The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet

Wow – way to go China! Other countries take note. Ms Daily though sounds a note of caution:

“Aligning the activities of over a billion people around conservation might prove to be a challenge, even with the best of leadership we can hope for.”


²Australian landscape architecture firm McGregor Coxall (“We Value Cities Ecologies & Communities”)  partnered with Avifauna Research in this ambitious project.


³Sponge Cities
Lingang bird airport is one of 16 pilot projects in the new Sponge City initiative. In the most populated country in the world, where half of its 527 rapidly-growing cities suffer water shortages classed by the UN as ‘severe’, and another half have woefully inadequate flood protection, there’s a pressing need for storm water to be ‘reimagined’. Last year for instance, the floods in north and central China killed at least 150 people with many more missing, destroyed 53,000 houses and saw hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
But all that water can be turned from a disaster into an opportunity. ‘Reimagine’ the city as a giant, super-absorbant sponge. Catch the water with rooftop gardens, and at road-level plant-filled ditches (called bioswales) instead of concrete, and lo, you have water for gardens and urban farms, for flushing toilets, and even replenishing drinking water supplies. And zero flooding.

 

Sources

China to debut world’s first bird ‘airport‘ – MNN

Airports’ global bird slaughter – 100,000s gassed, shot and poisoned – The Ecologist

China Floods – BBC News

Helping China Rethink its Approach to Conservation – Yale Environment

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