Meet Naruto “Person of the Year”

Whatever you may think of PETA, this is a genius move IMHO. By honoring Naruto, the crested black macaque with a famously goofy grin, as “Person of the Year” the organisation is emphasising that “he is someone, not something”. And what a person he is! I only wish he were able to revel in this accolade – though as long as he is safe and happy…. Go Naruto!

Monkey takes selfie

To find out more about the strange tale surrounding Naruto’s fame, look at Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled

Source

Indonesia’s selfie-snapping monkey named ‘Person of the Year’

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

ENJOY!

Article by Angela Nelson

Brian Valente's photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards.

Brian Valente’s photo of a laughing seal is a finalist for the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards. (Photo: Brian Valente/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

The 2017 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards finalists have been announced, and this year’s crop doesn’t disappoint in the humor department with hilarious expressions, amusing antics and even a little fun with perspective.

While you may laugh out loud (or at least crack a grin), keep in mind the contest has a serious goal: highlighting wildlife conservation efforts.

 ‘Let Me Clear My Vision’ is one of 40 finalists in this year’s contest. (Photo: Arkaprava Ghosh /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This year, more than 3,500 entries from 86 countries were submitted to the contest, which was started by photographers Paul Joynson-Hicks and Tom Sullam.

From 40 finalists, the category and overall winners will be announced Dec. 14. The overall winner gets a week-long, all-expense-paid, photographer-led safari in Kenya.

‘Hitching a ride’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: Daisy Gilardini/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

“Conservation was always at the heart of the competition, along with the fact that people seemed to enjoy images of animals doing entertaining things,” said Sullam in a statement. “But essentially living in a country that has some of the best wildlife in the world — Tanzania — and seeing how destructive human actions can be to this wildlife, made us want to do our little bit to help.”

 A terrifyingly big grin in ‘Smile.’ (Photo: Eugene Kitsios/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Joynson-Hicks and Sullam recently released a new book of some of the funniest photos (the “best of the best,” they say) to come through the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. Some of the proceeds go to the Born Free Foundation, a wildlife conservation charity.

 Any mom will immediately understand why this photo is called ‘MOM MOM MOM MOM.’ (Photo: Barb D’Arpino/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Take a look at more of our favorite finalists, including the fed-up mother owl above who has had it with her little ones.

 ‘Animal encounters’ is a 2017 finalist. (Photo: jean-Jacques Alcalay /Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

He needed to get a better view — or maybe he really likes crowd-surfing.

 ‘WTF’ is a thing even in the animal kingdom. (Photo: George Cathcart/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

Redditors would have a field day with this elephant seal photo as a meme.

 Fun with perspective in ‘Outsourcing seatbelt checks.’ (Photo: Graeme Guy/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

It looks like this giraffe is peering into the plane as it comes in for a landing. Maybe this airport employs wildlife as part of the security team.

 All aboard the ‘Foster Monkey Escape’! (Photo: Katy Leveck/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

These two monkeys in Indonesia are making a getaway on a borrowed motorcycle.

 What a cutie in ‘Cheering sea otter.’ (Photo: Penny Palmer/Comedy Wildlife Photo Awards 2017)

This sea otter is living his best life and loving it. We should all be so lucky.


Source: These comedy wildlife photo finalists will make you belly laugh

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Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2016

Just Wow! Best Bird Photos of 2017 – Animalista Untamed

Cutest Wildlife Pics Ever – Woodland Creatures ‘Building’ Snowmen! – Animalista Untamed

Wildlife Conservation Society’s favourite pictures of 2016 – Animalista Untamed

Russian Miner Takes Stunning Photos of Foxes in the Wild

Apes Much Cleverer than We’ve Been Told – And Other Monkey Business

I doubt I’m alone in thinking that when it comes to scientific studies, researchers do have a tendency to find what they’re looking for. And if you believe as a human that you sit astride the topmost rung of the evolutionary ladder, your ‘scientific’ view of other animals’ abilities is already skewed out of true.

This is exactly what has happened over two decades’ worth of studies into apes. Yes, the scientists did say apes are clever – just not as clever as us. But conducting a new analysis of all those studies, Dr Leaven¹ discovered that “what we think we know about apes’ social intelligence is based on wishful thinking and flawed science.”

“The fault underlying decades of research and our understanding of apes’ abilities is due to such a strongly-held belief in our own superiority, that scientists have come to believe that human babies are more socially capable than ape adults. As humans, we see ourselves as top of the evolutionary tree. This has led to a systematic exaltation of the reasoning abilities of human infants, on the one hand, and biased research designs that discriminate against apes, on the other hand.” 

Staggeringly, even when apes clearly outperformed young human children in tests, researchers interpreted this as a result of apes’ inferior mental abilities!

How did the scientists get it so wrong? Basically, all these years their inbuilt bias meant they weren’t comparing like with like. But if you’d like to find out more, click here

A few of the ways science has misled us into thinking apes are dumber than we are:-

1. Apes can’t ‘ape’

Not true! ‘Aping’ is one of the many words and sayings taken from the animal kingdom, presumably for good reason. Yet current theories hold that apes – in spite of having given us the word – aren’t actually much good at aping at all. In fact, we’re told they are worse at imitating actions they see than children are. Hmm, I wonder if the studies that established that ‘fact’ were included in Dr Leaven’s review. Because it does appear that studies up till now have ignored an important area of imitation – social interaction.

A new study from Lund University, published in the journal Primates, found that in social interaction, chimps and humans playing the imitation game scored an even draw. The research team “systematically observed the spontaneous interactions between zoo visitors and chimpanzees at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden”, and discovered that humans and chimps imitated the other exactly the same proportion of times.

So in fact, apes are pretty good at aping. (Interestingly, some of the Furuvik chimps at least must have been having fun because “several times we observed prolonged interactions that took on a game-like back-and-forth character”) Want to know more? Click here

2. Chimps have to imitate others to learn new things

Not true! Once again scientists have been maintaining for who knows how long another wrongful idea about apes – that chimpanzees learn how to use tools not by working it out for themselves, but only by watching their elders and betters. Which is kinda strange considering they also thought that apes weren’t much good at aping. Researchers noted that in the wild, chimps use sticks to scoop edible algae from the surface of water. So in a new study they provided chimps at Twycross Zoo – who’ve never had the chance to watch this being done – with some sticks and pieces of food floating on the surface of water in a container. The zoo chimps had no trouble retrieving the food with the sticks, and spontaneously used the same scooping action employed by their wild cousins.

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I’m guessing the real test was a little more challenging than this!

“Given these results, the long-held assumption that apes must observe one another in order to show these behaviours may have been due to an illusion of cultural transmission – created by the apes arriving at the same independently”, concluded Dr Claudio Tennie. More here

“Increasingly, we see their inner lives as very similar to that of humans”

3. Chimpanzees can’t reflect on their own state of knowledge & work out how to fill the gaps, like humans do

Not true! Yet one more way science has underestimated apes’ abilities for years. Another new study discovered that apes are able to assess in their minds if they don’t have all the facts they need to make a decision, and try to get that missing information, so they can make that decision.

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Study co-author Christoph Völter says: “Our study indicates that great apes seek information particularly when they miss a critical piece of information such as the location of a required tool. The results suggest that great apes monitor their own knowledge states and that they use this ability flexibly to fill gaps in their knowledge.”

Find out more about the test here

4. Apes can’t tell what others are thinking like humans can

Not true!“Understanding when someone else has a false belief [eg about where an object is hidden] is a mark of advanced social cognition in people” but yet again, “researchers had believed that great apes lacked this capacity.” Now it looks like “great apes, like people, may have the capacity to “read” the minds of others in social interactions.” 

Find out the fun way they discovered this by watching the video especially made for the apes to watch. “By using eye-tracking technology, the scientists showed that 17 out of 22 apes tested switched their gaze to show they had correctly anticipated when the man [believing he knew where his assailant in the ape suit was hiding] would target the wrong haystack.” The red dots I think represent the eye-tracking.

“This cognitive ability is at the heart of so many human social skills,” said Christopher Krupenye of Duke University. “I think our findings start to suggest that maybe apes have a deeper understanding of each other than we previously thought.”
Prof Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who was not involved in the study, said that the findings confirm that theory of mind is not an exclusively human ability. “Increasingly, we see their inner lives as very similar to that of humans,” he said. Report from The Guardian. Jeez, science has been underselling our nearest relatives for so long.
But there is one surprising difference. The dating game – opposites attract

True! But only for chimps. This is one way our primate cousins, our closest living relatives, are quite unlike us, because in spite of our frequent assertion that opposites attract, it’s just not true – not for us. We humans it seems, make a point of assortative mating – choosing a partner with a similar genome to ourselves, maybe to give us a better chance of passing on to our offspring the good stuff – brains and beauty etc.

Chimps are not averse to a bit of monkeying around with a variety of partners. But when it comes to making little chimps, the female is more picky in her choice – it’s what is known in the scientific world as negative assortative mating. Never heard of it? I certainly hadn’t, and I doubt the chimps have either. But the female does it anyway. And she’s good at it. She seems to know not just how to avoid males she grew up with who might be related to her, but how to discriminate between outside males, to get herself the most dissimilar daddy for her chimplings.

How does she do it? Researchers just don’t know, but“a best guess [would be] based on appearance, smell, or sound”, says senior author of the paper Professor Anne Pusey. More on chimp dating and mating here

Ponso’s Tragic Story

A new appreciation from these various studies of just how very little apes differ from us (apart from in the way they choose a mate of course), somehow makes Ponso’s story even more heartwrenching. Ponso is one of 20 chimps – many of them captured from the wild – used for research in the 80’s by the New York Blood Center in Liberia. The Center infected the chimps with viruses, performed biopsies on them, and kept them chained up by their necks.

When NYBC had finished with the chimps, they left them, then aged 7-10 years, on an island off the Ivory Coast. Eleven died within months, and the remaining nine were moved again to another island.

Soon after, a further five chimps died of disease and hunger, leaving only Ponso, his mate and their two children. There is no natural source of food on their island, and the little family hung on to life only through the remarkable kindness of Germain, a retired farmer from a nearby village. Every day Germain pushed his makeshift boat through the shallow water the short distance to the island, with bananas, bread and water. His was the only kindness they had ever experienced.

But in spite of that, at the end of 2013 Ponso’s mate and children all died within days of each other. Germain says Ponso helped him bury them. And ever since, Ponso has been completely alone. The rapturous welcome, enormous hug and showers of kisses he gave a new visitor Estelle Raballand, director of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center² when she visited is a measure of his grief and loneliness.

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Ponso’s dedicated carer Germain Djenemaya Koidja says the ape is “like my child” Image Phys.Org

What next for Ponso? Germain who loves Ponso like his own child, would like him to stay on his island, but with a new mate so he need be lonely no more.³ Others wish to see a sanctuary created in Ivory Coast, for Ponso, and for the rapidly dwindling population of chimpanzees still remaining in the wild. But it’s looking like he will be transferred to Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia where he will have company at last, of it is said, at least two females.

Ponso’s story reminds us that it’s not just in mental abilities that apes so closely resemble us, but in the love, grief, loneliness and suffering they experience too. So my hope is that Ponso will find chimp paradise at Chimfunshi, and he will relish the new companionship awaiting him there. God knows, he has suffered enough in his 40+ years of life. Doesn’t he deserve some happiness at last?

If you would like to donate to help Ponso and the Wildlife Orphanage, you will find the SOS Ponso gofundme page here


PS Despite conflating apes and monkeys in the title, I now know, rather belatedly, that apes are not monkeys and monkeys are not apes. Easiest way to tell which is which? Apes, like us, have no tail. Monkeys do. Apes and humans have 95% DNA in common.


 

¹Dr Leaven of Sussex University, lead writer of report “The mismeasure of ape social cognition”

²The Loneliest Chimp in the World – Mail Online

³Helping Ponso, sole survivor of ‘Chimpanzee Island’ – PhysOrg

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Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled

This story began on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi six years ago, and reached its climax in San Francisco just this Monday. Is is a happy ending? Maybe, but not entirely.

Way back in 2011 British wildlife photographer David Slater set off to spend a few days trailing and photographing a troop of macaques. According to the popular version of the story, David left his camera unattended for a time, and Naruto, a 6 year old male macaque known to conservationists, seized his chance. He fancied trying out his own pictorial skills – with famous results. Who hasn’t seen that wonderful toothy-grinned selfie?

Slater’s version of events is markedly different. He claims that after failing to get the monkeys to keep their eyes open in close ups, he’d spent some time coaxing them into pressing the shutter on his camera themselves. “It wasn’t serendipitous monkey behavior. It required a lot of knowledge on my behalf, a lot of perseverance, sweat and anguish, and all that stuff.”

Whichever is the truth, a collection of David’s photos including Naruto’s selfie was published in a book by a San Francisco publishing company, Blurb Inc, and the selfie went viral.

And that’s when the trouble started. In 2014, Slater took action against Wiki to stop them using the selfie without permission. Wiki refused claiming that as the monkey was the creator of the image, the photo was uncopyrightable. The impenetrable legal wrangling dragged on, and then in the autumn of 2015, PETA declaring itself Naruto’s legal representative, filed its own suit against Slater in an attempt to claim the monkey’s ownership of the selfie’s copyright. PETA’s argument was that US copyright law did not exclude nonhuman animals.

If PETA’s claim could be upheld, it might open up a significant pathway towards the holy grail: rights for nonhuman animals. But the judge turned the argument around, ruling that nonhuman animals were not covered by the Copyright Act.

Naturally PETA appealed and just last week oral arguments were heard in San Francisco’s ninth circuit court of appeals. Some interesting points of law were raised:

  • Whether Peta has a close enough relationship to Naruto to represent him in court
  • The value of providing written notice of a copyright claim to a community of macaques
  • And whether Naruto is actually harmed by not being recognized as a copyright-holder

“There is no way to acquire or hold money. There is no loss as to reputation. There is not even any allegation that the copyright could have somehow benefited Naruto,” said Judge N Randy Smith. “What financial benefits apply to him? There’s nothing.”

At one point, Judge Carlos Bea considered the question of how copyright passes to an author’s heirs: “In the world of Naruto, is there legitimacy and illegitimacy? Are Naruto’s offspring ‘children’, as defined by the statute?”

Slater’s publisher, also a defendant, even questioned whether Peta had identified the right monkey. “I know for a fact that [the monkey in the photograph] is a female and it’s the wrong age,” their lawyer said. “I’m bewildered at the American court system. Surely it matters that the right monkey is suing me.”

So, to cut a long story short, Naruto’s case was finally settled out of court. It was agreed that Mr Slater should retain 75% of any future revenues from the images while the other 25% be donated to charities protecting crested macaques in Indonesia.

A good result? The protracted legal wrangling over Naruto’s selfie has ruined David Slater. He could not even afford the flight to San Francisco to be present at the appeal, or pay his lawyer. “Every photographer dreams of a photograph like this,” Slater said “If everybody gave me a pound for every time they used [the photograph], I’d probably have £40m in my pocket. The proceeds from these photographs should have me comfortable now, and I’m not.” Instead he is struggling to get by, so much so he is “seriously on the verge of packing it all in”.

And PETA has had no success, as was hoped, in moving the Animal Rights agenda forward. That is incredibly disappointing.

The one good that we can take from the story – consolation for both parties – is that it’s thrown the spotlight on these endangered macaques. “These animals were on the way out and because of one photograph, it’s hopefully going to create enough ecotourism to make the locals realize that there’s a good reason to keep these monkeys alive,” Slater said. “The picture hopefully contributed to saving the species. That was the original intention all along.”

 

 

Sources

Lawsuit settled over rights to monkey’s selfie photo – Phys.Org

This Selfie May Set a Legal Precedent – PETA

Monkey selfie photographer says he’s broke: ‘I’m thinking of dog walking’ – The Guardian

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Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

20 year old Cecilia is famous. So much so, she will surely go down in history. Marcelino, her ‘boy next door’ at Sorocaba Great Apes Sanctuary in Brazil, is turning on all his charm for his sweet neighbour. He thinks she’s pretty special but he, like Cecilia herself, has no idea just how special.
Last November (2016) chimp Cecilia became the first animal ever to have been adjudged a nonhuman person in a court of law.

The judgement by the court in Mendoza Argentina granting Cecilia habeas corpus meant release, finally, from the cramped zoo she’d been confined in her entire life. Up until that memorable day it was all she had ever known, a miserable life made even more wretched by the deaths of her lifelong friends and companions, Charly and Xuxa. Can you imagine it. Cecilia was left heartbroken and alone.

It’s little wonder then, even after four months at Sorocaba she is still depressed. It takes more than a few short months of freedom and loving care to obliterate the emotional scars of 20 years imprisonment.

Cecilia, though special in terms of legal history, is just one of the many traumatised chimps, trafficked and mistreated in circuses and zoos before finding a safe haven at Sorocaba. “It is very important to talk to them so they don’t feel lonely,” says Merivan Miranda, one of the 30 carers. “So that they know there is someone there who understands them.”

When she first arrived, Cecilia “used to spend all her time lying down and did not interact with anyone,” says sanctuary vet Camila Gentille. Before handsome Marcelino moved in as her neighbour, the sanctuary staff had already tried a bit of matchmaking with Billy, but Billy was “too impulsive” for sad Cecilia.

But she is slowly getting better. And now, when Marcelino calls to her, she is starting to show him some interest, and even joining in the conversation.

Pedro Ynterian, director of the sanctuary, is certain that with time Cecilia will overcome her depression.“That is what she is seeking to do, so that she can partner with someone, and stop living alone.

“And she will manage to do it.”

Cecilia – now a person, no longer property.


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Tommy, Kiko, Hercules & Leo

You may already know these guys as the chimp clients of the altogether awesome lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Unlike Cecilia though, their right to be designated nonhuman persons under the law has been denied by a succession of presiding judges in New York courts.

Woeful as this is for the 4 chimps – and all the others for whom the precedent would be set – Steven though disappointed is undaunted. He remains utterly convinced that advocacy for legal personhood and not advocacy for welfare improvements is the way forward for the animals.

Here is the upbeat opening of his keynote speech at the recent Animal Rights National Conference 2017:-

“It’s the beginning of the end of the age of animal welfare and animal protection and the end of the beginning of the age of civil rights, true legal rights, for nonhuman animals.

“It is the beginning of the end of activists having to beg and plead and cajole other human beings in an effort to get them to do the right thing for nonhuman animals, to get them to try to respect the fundamental interests of nonhuman animals, whose interests are presently invisible in courtrooms, invisible to civil law. And it’s the end of the beginning of the struggle for personhood and the civil rights of nonhuman animals for whom we demand those fundamental legal rights to which justice and equity and scientific fact entitle them.”

Steven continues (my paraphrasing):

There have been laws to protect animals’ welfare in America since the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties which stated, “(n)o man shall exercise any Tirranny or crueltie toward any bruite Creatures which are usuallie kept for man’s use.” But to what extent, if at all, things have improved for animals “usuallie kept for man’s use” in the last 376 years is open to dispute. In spite of animal welfare laws working their way on to statute books in most countries and states, they remain, in Steven’s words, “pathetically ineffective”)

And there are other problems with pushing for improvements in animal welfare. One is that those who make money from them, the meat companies, the farms, the labs, the circuses, the zoos, the puppy mills can always, and often do, choose to ignore our advocacy on the animals’ behalf.

Another is that even if the owners of the animal ‘property’, or their political representatives do yield to public concerns, what has been conceded can as easily be revoked. Take the hard won successes for animals former President Obama signed into federal law. Along comes Trump – no friend of animals he, nor indeed of anything else much except money – and with one stroke of the pen, he can strike them out. Indeed, some are already consigned to the presidential trashcan, and more look like heading that way.

High welfare or low, protected or not, the animals still have “the problem of being a thing versus being a person.” 

“For years I have talked about a great legal wall that exists, and has existed, for 2000 years between things and persons. On the ‘thing’ side of the wall, today, in 2017, are all the nonhuman animals of the world. You have to understand what a legal thing is.

“A legal thing is an entity that lacks the capacity for any kind of a legal right. It lacks inherent value. It only has instrumental value for legal persons.

“It is a slave to the master. A legal person is a master to the slave. All of us here are legal persons. We are the owners of things, whether that thing is an elephant or this podium.”

But you don’t have to be a human being to be a legal ‘person’. A corporation can be a person. In india a mosque, a Hindu idol, the Sikh holy books are all legal persons. In New Zealand a river and a national park are both persons under that country’s law.

Let’s not forget Cecilia. And in July this year the Supreme Court in Colombia declared a bear a person and issued a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus gives the right to bodily liberty and can only be granted to a legal person.

Today the NhRP is working with lawyers in 13 countries on 4 continents “to help them win personhood for as many nonhuman animals in as many countries as we possibly can.”

In the USA the NhRP will shortly be filing a lawsuit for elephants, and moving against the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

Steven finds a parallel between US courts denying his nonhuman clients personhood, and personhood being denied in the past to black and Native Americans, and women – unthinkable as that is to us now.

“They were wrong then. They are wrong now”

“With respect to the judges who are ruling that way now, at some point they, or their children, or their grandchildren are going to be embarrassed by the fact that they said such things in cases involving such extraordinary beings as chimpanzees or orcas or elephants.”

I am certain Steven is right. But much as I wish for it, I cannot see how this is going to help all the myriads of other animals in the world. Steven and his team have based the arguments they bring to court on the basis of the autonomy of their (at present captive) clients. The NhRP’s plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.” In their natural state, in the wild, a chimp, an elephant, a dolphin and an orca are all animals, it is universally agreed, who make their own decisions and determine their own lives. That autonomy NhRP says, is more than sufficient for them to be deemed persons. (Remember, you have to be a person to have the right to bodily liberty)

But what of other wildlife – pigeons, rats, frogs, fleas? Aren’t they autonomous too? Don’t they have a right to bodily liberty? But what judge is going to concede their personhood?

And what of the billions and billions of farmed animals? There are massive vested interests determined that cows, pigs, hens and sheep should never be considered autonomous and entitled to legal rights as persons.

Take this, for example, from the Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s home page: “Radical activist organizations are leading the fight to grant animals the same legal rights as humans and eliminate the consumption of food and all other products derived from animals. The ideology of the animal rights movement- that animals are not ours to own, enjoy, or use in any way- is a direct assault on farmers and pet owners.”

In June last year Canadian MPs voted down Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s Bill C-246 — the Modernizing Animal Protections Act. Mr Erskine-Smith was not proposing animals should be designated persons in law. Nevertheless, Tory MP Robert Sopuck voiced the strong concerns of many about the idea of moving animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and placing them into the public morals section. He said such a step would have “drastic implications” for farmers, hunters, trappers, anglers, and medical researchers. Clearly many of his fellow MPs agreed. The bill was defeated 198 to 84.

How will these nonhuman animals ever cross that wall that Steven talks about from property to personhood? Humans, especially those who exploit nonhuman animals for profit, will never be willing to give up the power bestowed on them by ownership. And unfortunately, it’s humans who make the laws that decide on the status of animals, and humans who enforce them.

“The Nonhuman Rights Project now, and we hope others in the future, are no longer going to ask. We are going to demand the rights that nonhuman animals are entitled to. The day of animal welfare and animal protection is passing and will soon be over.”

Fighting talk Steven, fighting talk. I so wish it could be true.

Please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights

Watch “Unlocking the Cage” – Full movie

An Enchantment of Birds

Chances are, when you wake up in the morning the first thing you hear is the joyful chirruping of birds. And does a day ever go by without at some hour being graced by their presence, even in the middle of the busiest metropolis?

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Of all wild animals, birds have to be the most familiar to us all, the least secretive, the easiest for us to spot. They usually – but sadly far from always – have little need to conceal themselves from dangerous humans, for it is they, not we, who possess the kingdom of the air.
With their dazzling colours, extravagant variety, and incredible abilities – the sheer magic they impart to our lives – isn’t An Enchantment of Birds exactly the right umbrella-term for the avian life of Planet Earth?

Here I’ve pieced together a crazily random patchwork of the new and not-so new, the bright interspersed with patches of a darker hue. And a few small ways we can give a helping hand to these animals that so enrich our lives.


It doesn’t get darker than murder. ‘A murder’ is the collective name bestowed – surely undeservedly – upon the common crow

What a slur on these sociable and clever birds. A murder of crows. Possibly acquired because where there were corpses there were crows. In times gone by, they cleaned up the human detritus from the gallows and the battlefield, and superstitions sprang up like a thicket around them. Nor has it done anything for their sadly besmirched reputation that their feathery finery is entirely black, the colour of night and dark deeds.

And that these remarkable animals actually hold funerals for their own deceased, serves only, in human eyes, to put the seal on their association with death.

The raven, another member of the the clever corvid family, is likewise cloaked in mystery and superstition
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Legend has it for example, that if ever the ravens abandon the Tower of London, the Tower and the kingdom will fall.

(Legends are engaging, but there is a sadness behind this one. By the time of King Charles 2nd in the 17th century, these magnificent birds had been nigh on exterminated throughout their natural range, including in the city of London. They were only able to find refuge at the Tower under the king’s protection. Then and ever since, 6 ravens have been kept at the Tower – with one wing clipped to prevent their flying away. Read why this is harmful to the birds and sign the petition here or below)

The Guardian in its report on some recent raven research incidentally cites other examples in myth and fiction of the bird’s supposed prescient powers:

  • Ravens have long been associated with powers of foresight
  • Their collective name is ‘a conspiracy’
  • In Greek mythology, they are associated with the god of prophecy
  • In the TV hit Game of Thrones a three-eyed raven appears in a prince’s prophetic visions
  • Edgar Allan Poe’s haunting 1845 narrative poem The Raven, a cornerstone of American literature, features a raven as an uncanny harbinger of doom.

Enchantment indeed.

Who knows whether ravens can truly see into the future – nonhuman animals have such a variety of astonishing abilities that nothing would surprise me. Whatever, it did come as a surprise to the pair of Swedish scientists featured in the Guardian report, that ravens show great ability in planning for the future.

It’s little more than a decade since we humans were forced to concede, with the discovery that other Hominidae/Great Apes have the mental capacity to plan ahead, that our species is not, as was previously assumed, unique in this respect. Now it seems that in this exclusive but expanding club, ravens too can claim their rightful place. And indeed completely outshine species much closer to homo sapiens, like monkeys. No doubt many of us humans as well!

Researchers Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi reveal their discoveries

Is this perhaps another example of science finding ‘proof’ of something we’ve intuitively known for millennia?


There’s recycling, and then there’s recycling

What are nests but beautiful and ingenious examples of natural recycling? A new usefulness is found for dead twigs and leaves, moss, straw, feathers and sheep’s wool snagged on fences. But also man-made litter: string, twine, ribbon, lace, cotton, jute, yarn. Even the odd rubber tyre.

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And plastic. But it must be white. Transparent or green plastic will not do. Black kites have taken to adorning their nests with the stuff. Why? Not to dazzle a mate with their artistry, like the male bower bird. In the kite nest-building enterprise the male and female are equal partners. These embellishments of trash seem to serve pretty much the same purpose in the kite world as screwing an alarm box to the front of our house does in ours: sending a message to would-be intruders and thieves – Keep Out! This fascinating article in Science magazine will tell you more.

Recycling just got quirkier
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Image BBC News

In Mexican and Latin American cities today, house finches and sparrows are also busy recycling the waste humans leave behind. They are collecting discarded cigarette stubs from the streets to weave into their nests. This strange behaviour doesn’t arise from any shortage of nest-building materials. Or from dubious taste in architectural ornamentation. These little birds have discovered that the nicotine in the stubs works as an effective anti-parasitic, keeping their chicks free from infestations. Birds have long been known to line their nests with vegetation rich in compounds that drive away parasites, says Nature magazine. In the city, such vegetation may not come so readily to bird’s beak. But stubs there are a-plenty.

So, more feathered creatures putting human waste to good use – what’s not to like? Sadly, there is a dark side to this quirky story too. Cigarettes may possibly be as injurious to bird health as they are to ours. If the concentration of the tobacco parasiticides from the stubs in the nest becomes too great, it can harm the chromosomal development of unhatched chicks, with who knows what long term results. Read more – I promise this too is interesting stuff.


Meanwhile, members of the parrot family (collective name ‘a prattle’) – those Einsteins of the flying squad – have a different but equally remarkable trick up their feathered sleeves

The males have a nice line in rhythmic drumming to woo prospective mates. And they all create their own drum solos. As Science Advances rather stuffily puts it, Over 131 drumming sequences produced by 18 males, the beats occurred at non-random, regular intervals. Yet individual males differed significantly in the shape parameters describing the distribution of their beat patterns, indicating individual drumming styles.

What’s more, they’re very picky about their choice of drumsticks. Here is a male palm cockatoo showing us how it’s done.

(Thanks to AwarenessHelps for this little gem)

Enchanting as all members of the parrot family are, here’s Why We Should Think Twice Before Getting a Parrot for a Pet


And finally to a bird that endears itself to everyone, the penguin (collective name ‘a huddle’)

Is it because they remind us of comical waiters we have an especially soft spot for these cute and snappily-suited birds? Their precarious existence though is far from ‘cute’. Theirs is a harsh world full of dangers, many of them man-made – commercial fishing depleting the penguins’ available food source, entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, habitat disturbance, and of course climate change. 10 out of 18 of the world’s penguin species are sliding towards extinction.

As part of their “Protect a Penguin” campaign, BirdLife International joined forces with virtual reality producer, Visualise to bring us an amazing 5 minute immersive experience,”Walk with Penguins”, a 3D 360 nature film, the first of its kind.

Using 3D 360 film, we can get people closer to penguins and give people that magical feeling of being with them—and ultimately that can lead to a greater support for their conservation. 

As the sun sets on the penguin colony within which you stand, and you learn of their plight through the voice over, you can’t help but feel an emotional connection. Director of Conservation BirdLife International Richard Grimmett

To get the very best from the immersive experience check info here

Click on image if you would like to #ProtectaPenguin

Petitions

Free the Tower of London ravens

Stop Unregulated Domestic Breeding of Parrots in Canada

Save Newly Discovered Australian Parrot Species From Extinction

We’re well passed World Penguin Day (April 25th) but you can still sign this petition to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources asking them to establish what would be the world’s two largest marine sanctuaries around Antarctica

7 Penguins Drowned at Calgary Zoo: Shut Down the Exhibit!

 

Other sources

Ravens of the Tower of London – Wiki

Collective nouns for birds

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So How Are We Different?

From One Green Planet

“How we treat animals is often dependent on how they display characteristics we think are human.”

That is why London-based animal photographer Tim Flach focuses his lens on the close-up detail that “beautifully highlights the similarities between animals and humans. Flach told the New York Times that he wants his photos to engage people in debates about our relationship with animals.”

“If you go to the supermarket today, we’re more used to seeing packaged animals with no feathers and no head,” he says. He aims to show us how they should be seen. More and more we are learning about nonhumans’ personality, intelligence, and emotions, that are just like ours.

Animals display loving tendencies towards their young, their family, and their friends

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They have proven to be much more intelligent than we ever thought possible

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Though we feel like we are above or “better than” animals …

Photographer Takes Stunningly Simple Photos to Show Human and Animal Similarities

… they are incredibly similar to us in many ways

 

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Their emotional capacity is astounding

Photographer Takes Stunningly Simple Photos to Show Human and Animal Similarities

Even the animals we consider completely different from us have human-like qualities

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If you truly look at the animals around you …

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… you will find how much you have in common with them …

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… and how amazing they truly all are

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Please, please, please check out Tim’s website. I have rarely, if ever, seen such stunning photos of animals. The man is a genius!

 

Source

Photographer Takes Stunningly Simple Photos to Show Human and Animal Similarities | One Green Planet

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Animal cruelty-free testing methods will be tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

“Animal testing is considered unnecessarily cruel by many, especially since new methods are being developed to take its place. The most promising are organ-chips that contain human cells and imitate the complexity of particular organs. Now they are on their way to being commonly used. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration Office has just entered into an agreement last Tuesday with the company Emulate that creates ‘organs-on-chips’ to develop and test the technology.

“Using these organ-chips could eliminate the need to test drugs or cosmetics on animals. These chips are much more accurate than animal testing, which is good for animals and for us. The chip is the size of an AA battery. It is transparent and made out of flexible polymers. The chip contains little channels filled with tens of thousands of human cells and fluid that imitate human functions and reproduce blood and air flow similarly to in the body. Therefore, chips can recreate breathing motions and muscle contractions.
“‘We are excited to begin this relationship with FDA as a potential first step toward accelerating the adoption of our Human Emulation System for broad application as a new testing platform for a wide range of products that are reviewed and approved by regulatory authorities to protect and improve human health.’– Geraldine A. Hamilton, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate.”

Isn’t this epic? A fantastic breakthrough – not even so much the technology which has been around for a while, but the fact that Emulate has been able to forge this agreement with the FDA.

Though no-one knows exact numbers, it is reckoned that every year more than 100 million animals in the US alone, are subjected to chemical, drug, food, and cosmetics tests, as well as medical training exercises and experiments at universities. And that’s without including mice, rats, birds, and cold-blooded animals, which actually make up more than 99 percent of animals used in experiments, but because they are not covered by even the limited protections of America’s Animal Welfare Act, go uncounted

Cruelty Free International tells us:

  • The USA heads the list of the top 10 animal testing countries in the world, which include Japan, China, Australia, France, Canada, the UK, Germany, Taiwan and Brazil.
  • Animal experiments are sadly not in decline, and in many parts of the world are on the increase  (e.g. China) or remain at the same level as they were in the 1980s or 1990s (e.g. the UK, Europe).
Whatever, one animal being tortured in a lab – and it always is torture – is one too many.

The US Department of Agriculture is responsible for monitoring the application of animal welfare legislation for animals in labs. It’s not exactly renowned for the rigour of its oversight at the best of times. Then two months ago this headline appeared in The Washington Post:

USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website about the treatment of animals at thousands of research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.”

So this latest news from Emulate and the FDA is all the more welcome – and surprising, considering the state of play in Washington DC right now.

Where the US leads, others are swift to follow. Let us hope this will indeed be the beginning of the end of animal suffering in laboratories.

Meanwhile, here are 10 animal research petitions you can sign, all on one page: Care2 Animal Research petitions

And urge the European Commission and the European Parliament for a moratorium on animal experimentation here

And read more about the new cooperation between Emulate and the FDA here.

Read more about biomedical research in the US here.

Other sources

Animal Testing 101

Facts and figures on animal testing

USDA abruptly purges animal welfare information from its website

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Cover pic LiveScience

Bonnie & Clyde, High Park Zoo Toronto,

8 More Kinds of Animal Craziness

What you never knew you wanted to know about animals – but you really do

Episode 2

Did you know that –

Chimps

Are champs at recognizing rumps? It’s not the face, but the butt they look at to tell one buddy from another – and they do it just as easily as humans distinguish faces. Bright colours, it seems, count for both species. In humans, females’ red lips are attractive to males, a fact well-known to lipstick manufacturers. No lipstick for chimp females though. It’s the red rump that’s the big turn-on in chimp society. The redder the better because when the rump blushes even deeper crimson the male knows his lady is ovulating and it’s now or never.

The Mysterious ‘Silkhenge Spider’

In the jungles of Peru and Ecuador, builds a very special protective playpen for its young? In spite of extensive publicity in the world of science, no-one yet knows what species this clever beast belongs to. Watch this video of spiderlets being born, and hear the scientists trying to unravel the mystery

Grizzly Bears

Run fast? So fast they would win the race against that lightning-speedster Usain Bolt himself, no competition. Don’t be fooled by that large lumbering appearance. These beasts can run at 30mph, and that’s just when they’re cruising. If you put them under pressure or make them mad, who knows what their top speed might be? Never try to outrun a grizzly. If Usain couldn’t do it, you and I certainly can’t!

The female shark

Has learned to grow an extra-thick skin? And not because she gets insulted more than most. It’s just that during mating, her male counterpart has the unpleasant habit of biting her – hard. Those jaws are not a thing to be trifled with!

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Tarantulas

Are right-handed? At least we think so. Right-handed? With 8 legs, or is that arms? I reckon the Honduran curly hair tarantula deserves a prize for its name alone. And if not for its name, its size. It’s as big as a grapefruit. Eek. It seems more often than not, male curly-hairs choose to take a right turn rather than a left in a laboratory maze, when in either direction there’s the promise of their favourite food, cockroaches. Ditto in pursuit of females. The difference is statistically significant (ie. happens more often than if by chance). “Furthermore, the team observed that the male spiders prefer to use their right eyes and feet while moving.” Not so much right-handed, more right-footed then.

Whatever, there’s no call for alarm, arachnaphobes. It seems this species is pretty docile, unless you’re a cockroach that is. And isn’t he a magnificent beast?

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Japanese snails

Are a knockout? Literally. Two snail species of the genus Karaftchelix are said to be “unusually aggressive”. Can you even imagine an aggressive snail? A contradiction in terms, surely. But these ones are veritable Snail Samurai. While most snails in danger retreat into the safe haven of their shell, these two kinds are no shrinking violets. They use their shell not for retreat, but attack – as a weapon of war, swinging it vigorously and very effectively at their predator, the carabid beetle. See the warriors in battle here:

Egyptian fruit bats

Bicker? A lot. They row over food, feud over their favourite spots in the roost, and even have romantic tiffs. And the way they talk varies depending on the particular bat person they are addressing. No different from us then. Before this latest study, scientists thought all that noise was just saying ‘get the heck out of here’, or words to that effect. But after running 15,000 calls through a “machine learning algorithm” (don’t ask – I don’t know) the researchers discovered the squabbling was much more complex than you might expect. And they expect more intriguing discoveries from bat-speak yet to come.

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Humans

Used to have a penis bone? Seriously. What is a penis bone? What’s it for, and how come we were so careless as to lose it? It’s scientific name is a baculum, and it’s an ‘extra-skeletal’ bone, which means it’s not attached to the rest of the skeleton, “but floats daintily at the end of the penis”. Again, eek. A variety of mammals have hung on to theirs but ours is not even vestigial like the appendix – it’s gone for good. The scientists have various colourful speculations as to its purpose. And also why our evolution alone among primates found no further use for one. As you may have suspected, it’s all about the mating game. Different species, different mating strategies. Some need’em, others don’t.

To find out more about how we lost the penis bone and see a photo, click here. More links to today’s animal craziness at the bottom of the page.

I hope you have enjoyed these fun facts. I actually put them together with another more serious purpose in mind. Shouldn’t we marvel at the infinitely fascinating,  colourful, varied and complex life on this planet of ours, and do all that we can to keep it safe? Sadly, new species are being discovered that are already extinct. There is so much we don’t know. So much more to discover and wonder at. Let us treasure it at its true worth which is beyond price.
Please take a look at this list of simple eco-friendly things we can all do to make a difference:
 40 Unexpected Ways You Can Help the Environment Right Now
And this one is the daddy of all eco tip lists:
Green Eco Tips for a Healthy Planet

 

If you want to find out more about chimps rump recognition, click here

To find out more about the amazing silkhenge spider, click here

To find out more about speedy grizzlies, click here

To find out more fascinating facts about sharks, click here

To find out more about this wondrous Honduran arachnid and his right-footedness, click here

To discover the evolutionary significance of the samurai snails, click here

To learn more about bickering bats click here

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8 Kinds of Animal Craziness

 

 

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