Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction?

One man thinks we should. Stop worrying about what is happening to the planet – just kick back and enjoy the ride. That is the message of ecologist Chris Thomas’s new book ‘Inheritors of the Earth, How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”. It is time” he writes, “for the ecological, conservation and environmental movement to throw off the shackles of a pessimism-laden, loss-only view of the world.”

We’ve now become all too unhappily familiar with the ‘Anthropocene’, the word coined by Dutch Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen to describe this new age, the age in which Man has played havoc with the entire functioning of the planet. We’ve altered the make-up of the atmosphere, the chemistry of the oceans, changed the climate itself. Glaciers are melting, sea levels rising. We’ve depleted biodiversity, plants and animals, and messed up their distribution. We’ve rerouted rivers, drained lakes, razed forests and covered the Earth in highways and cities. And all the while our own population has exploded, 7.4 billion today and an expected 9.7 billion by 2050.
What is there not to be alarmed about?

Anthropocenists (by that I mean the vast majority of ecologists who are concerned about the repercussions of human activity) propose that if we have the technology to so damage the planet, why can’t we turn technology to its healing? Hi-tech geo-engineering such as air cleaning plants, altering ocean chemistry to absorb more carbon, or capturing carbon emissions from power stations and factories. Maybe we could even modify the weather. A luxury travel company that promises perfect wedding weather for the big day thinks we can. Expert opinion says otherwise: “The scale of the Earth’s atmosphere is far too great to tamper with—at least for now.” according to meteorologist Bruce Broe.

But Professor Chris Thomas’s thinking runs on altogether different lines, and he’s nothing if not a glass-half-full man. In this age of mass extinction, he says, nature will do what it always does – fight back.
A quick summary of his thinking –
  • Man is an animal and just as much a part of Nature as a bird or a fish
  • Contrary to what we are constantly being told, Nature is thriving. There are biodiversity gains as well as losses, and “the number of species is increasing in most regions of the world”
  • The essence of life is eternal change  – everything lives, evolves, dies. There is no stasis in Nature. We need to embrace the change and forget about trying to hold back the hands of the clock

Taking each of those points in turn:-

Man is part of, not outside Nature

All life forms on Earth including humans, Chris says, are the result of natural physical, chemical and then biological processes. “I take it as a given that humans have evolved and everything we do is directly or indirectly a product of human evolution. We are part of nature, and in that sense we are part of the force of nature, rather than altering it.” 

The Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, with Homo sapiens a relative newcomer emerging approximately 200,000 years ago. But our planet has never known another species like ours in terms of our exponentially developing technological abilities, which have enabled us to colonise all corners of the globe, and make momentous changes to the environment.

The biggest dead zone ever in the Gulf of Mexico courtesy of toxic waste from America’s industrial meat production, pesticides and herbicides poisoning the land, plastics polluting the oceans, failed nuclear power plants irradiating entire continents* – I see all these as the unforeseen and unwelcome backwash from acclaimed-at-the-time ‘advances’ intended to improve our efficiency, and make our lives easier and better. Yet for Prof Chris all the damage and pollution is ‘natural’, because all result from innovations emanating from the evolved human brain. And evolution is the law of Nature.

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Furthermore, the Prof argues, “most of the ways we are changing the world are not completely unprecedented.” They are already present in some form, apart from human activity. To back up his point, he cites background radiation; beavers building houses; and leaf-cutter ants farming fungi. “Most of the things we are doing are kind of comparable to normal ecological processes.”

At first glance this idea seems preposterous. How can you compare Fukushima and Chernobyl with natural background radiation, a few beavers’ lodges with our megacities, or ants’ fungi with factory farms? But a new article in Chemical & Engineering News gives a measure of credence to Chris’s point. Apparently certain living organisms can and do make their own versions of as many as 6,000 chemical pollutants, some the exact equivalent of man-made chemicals now banned because of their toxicity. “You could call them naturally produced persistent organic pollutants,” says Reddy, a marine chemist at WHOI. There’s a public perception that humans have produced more halogenated compounds than nature has, he says. “That’s not necessarily true.”

Nature is thriving

It takes a brave man to make a statement like that when the world is on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020But the Prof maintains that while it cannot be denied the overall number of species is declining, there are actually a greater number of species in many parts of the world. Take the UK for instance, he says. In addition to our native species, we are host to nearly 2,000 non-natives, like the house sparrow and the poppy.

(I’m not sure how wisely he’s picked his examples, since the house sparrow, with a population declining since the 1970s – by 50% in the country and by 60% in towns and cities – is on the red list of ‘species of high conservation concern’. The poppy isn’t threatened, but we’ve yet to see fields of golden wheat lavishly stippled with the poppy’s vivid red as we once did pre 1950s and the advent of industrial farming)

But, in support of the Prof’s ‘Nature thriving’ contention, there is the so-called ‘cocaine hippo effect’. By that is meant the flourishing colonies of animals in unexpected places – animals that may well be endangered or even extinct in their native habitats. Why ‘cocaine hippos’? Because there’s a small population of wild hippos in South America, offspring of animals who escaped the abandoned hacienda of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Every cloud has a silver hippo lining.

“In fact, thanks to introduced populations, regional megafauna species richness is substantially higher today than at any other time during the past 10,000 years’, according to a new study.

“Worldwide introductions have increased the number of megafauna by 11% in Africa and Asia, by 33% in Europe, by 57% in North America, by 62% in South America, and by 100% in Australia.

“Australia lost all of its native megafauna tens of thousands of years ago, but today has eight introduced megafauna species, including the world’s only wild population of dromedary camels.”

And in their new environments, these translocated species are often creating new beneficial trophic cascades. Take burros for example:

“In North America, we have found that introduced wild donkeys, locally known as “burros”, dig wells more than a metre deep to reach groundwater. At least 31 species use these wells, and in certain conditions they become nurseries for germinating trees”, say the lead authors of the study.

“Everywhere you look, there are species that are doing very well in the human-modified world. That is what I mean by nature is thriving,” says the Prof.

But though every cloud has a silver lining, every silver lining also brings with it its cloud. The cocaine hippos, though thriving thousands of miles from their native habitat, are creating a little havoc of their own. With the damage to the environs they have decided to call home, and disturbance to native wildlife, they’re giving Colombian conservationists a few nasty headaches. Not to mention the threat to people – the hippos seem quite at home in town, as you will see from the video.

The thriving colony may thrive for this generation only, if Cornare‘s neutering program is successful.

The moral of the tale is surely, that though pockets of threatened species may flourish far from their native habitat, will we be able to say the same in 50 or 100 years time? We’d better not be relying on the cocaine hippos for the survival of their species. And there’s a reason why megafauna fit so well in their native habitats.

The essence of Nature is change. Embrace the change. We can’t hold back the tide

I can’t put the Prof’s point better than he does himself:

“We must become accustomed to thinking that the world will continue to change, rather than hankering after some rose-tinted past that it is no longer possible to return to.

“The idea that we are somehow keeping the world in a pristine natural state is a kind of mirage because the entire planet has already been transformed by humans. The reality is that the world is dynamic and the distributions of species are changing. You can try to intervene and keep things as they are, but this is not how the biological world works. With climate change set in motion, it will be impossible to keep things just as they are. What I’m saying is, go with the flow a bit more and choose carefully which fights you are going to fight because otherwise you are going to throw good money at losing battles.

“The rate at which we are moving other animals and plants around the world is the greatest it has been for at least the half-billion years. It’s like we have reunited all the continents into a new version of Pangea. We are connecting up the world. This is an unprecedented experiment. But the outcome will be that the most successful animals, plants, fungi and microbes will rise to the top. And with more robust species, you can expect future ecological systems to end up being more robust as well.”

It’s certainly true that many species are adapting themselves to a human-dominated world. Foxes, raccoons, coyotes and Canada geese are among the many species moving into cities. Coyotes too – one has even made a Chicago graveyard his home. There are wild boar in Berlin, peregrine falcons in the centre of London. Many of these animals are seeking refuge from hunting and persecution. Cities have become a safer place for them. And they are adapting to city life fast. Pavement ants appear to be thriving on discarded junk food. And in Britain, birds’ beaks have lengthened noticeably in the last 40 years, a true genetic, evolutionary adaptation to the prevalence of urban and suburban garden bird feeders. “That’s a really short time period in which to see this sort of difference emerging,” says Professor Jon Slate.

Wrapping up

Professor Chris’s message is beguiling – he’s like a kind uncle patting us on the head and telling us not to worry, everything is going to be just fine. But I’m not ready to be that easily placated. I have profound misgivings. He may have hit the nail on the head with his prognostications for the future of the planet, but is that the planet we want to see? Three thoughts:

1  Am I wrong to think there’s a danger the professor’s contentions could do a lot of harm? If the message we’re receiving is you can’t hold back the tide, why should we bother doing anything? Let Nature and Fate take their course. After all, Nature is thriving, Nature will keep adapting and Nature will survive. So why trouble trying to check carbon emissions, why trouble banning plastic bags, why bother saving the tiger? Let’s just kick back and “go with the flow.” Life would be so much easier, wouldn’t it?

2  The Prof dubs life on Earth “an unprecedented experiment”, which he watches unfolding before him as if from on high. But it is an experiment in which animals, human and nonhuman, are getting hurt. Is sitting back and watching with fascinated scientific detachment an appropriate response to the sight of a slaughtered elephant with flies crawling over the congealing pools of blood where his tusks should be? Or a polar bear on shrinking ice, starving and unable to feed her cubs. Or the terror in the eyes of an orangutan infant, orphaned by human cruelty and greed. Creatures are suffering – now, today, and will keep on suffering if we don’t make every effort to put the brakes on this cruel ‘experiment’.

I’ve said this before, and no doubt I’ll be saying it again because I believe it to be true: “The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.”

So I’m afraid I cannot echo the Professor’s optimism. The future of the Earth he foresees where only the toughest few survive is a planet desperately diminished in richness and complexity. Species at threat right now have their own unique and vital roles within the complex web of life. We do not know all the ways their loss will impair our own survival. But we do know we will lose our delight, our constant surprise at their dazzling beauty, their awesome abilities, from the humblest woodlouse to the blue whale, king of the oceans. Every day we discover more wondrous beings we never knew shared our planet with us. And we’ve barely even begun to uncover the complexity of their thoughts and feelings, the secrets of their lives.

Above all, they too have a right to their life and a place to live it, untrammelled and free.

The good Prof says, “Appreciate the world for what it is, rather than spending time being sad that the world isn’t how you think it was supposed to be…”
But I’m with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh: “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sound of the Earth crying.”  

How about you?


Further reading

How do you stop the next mass extinction? Look to the past

The Geoengineering Fallacy 

Artificially cooling planet ‘risky strategy,’ new research shows

Sources

*Radioactive contamination from Chernobyl detected all over the world – Global Radiation Patterns

Why we should accept our ecological state for what it is, not what we want it to be – MNN

From feral camels to ‘cocaine hippos’, large animals are rewilding the world

The Anthropocene: Has human impact changed Earth forever?

How Wild Animals Are Hacking Life in the City

Related posts

Half for Us Half for the Animals

When Everyone Is Telling You Meat Is The bad Guy

Hope for the Animals & the Planet

The Living Planet Report – Our Dinner Plates Are Destroying Life on Earth

Extinction Is Forever – Why We Need To Change To Save Animals

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

Total Solar Eclipse Day Monday 21st August 2017

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

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

But now the California Academy of Sciences needs you!

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

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

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

Cover pic Pixabay

Update

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

SeaWorld is Sinking!

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

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

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

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

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

Related posts

Vegan Race Driver Leilani Munter Banned from SeaWorld

SeaWorld to End Killer Whale Shows in Face of Mounting Protests

A Whales’ Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy

A Whale’s Tale – SeaWorld & the Humane Economy Part 2

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Need I say, Lori is a vegan.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add your name to the Declaration of Animal Rights here

Source

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

Related posts

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 2

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 3

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 4
 

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

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

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

MYTH: Humans are different from animals

FACT: Humans are animals

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

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

But we do have attributes exclusive to us, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We do not have a monopoly on morality either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MYTH: Humans evolved from chimps

FACT: Humans evolved alongside chimps

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

MYTH: Each of us is a distinct, coherent individual

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

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

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

MYTH: Humans sit atop the evolutionary ladder

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

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

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

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

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

Evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Science speaking in the voice of Evolutionary Biology agrees:

We are but one among many

Update

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

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

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

 

Sources

 5 Common Biology Myths – ZME Science

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

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

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

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

Can Animal Ever Be Artists? – IFL Science

The Genius of Birds – Jennifer Ackerman

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Extinction Is Forever: Why We Need To Change To Save Animals

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

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

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

Dana writes:

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

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

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

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

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

Read more

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

 

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

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Planet at the Crossroads

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How Drones Might Just Save Our Endangered Animals – & the Planet

For better or worse, drones are changing our lives in ways we never could have imagined. And we may as well get used to it, because they are definitely here to stay.

Did you know that for as little as $150 and a mere 15 minutes of your time you can build  your own drone out of Lego? I’m not kidding. A company called Flybrix will sell you a drone kit which comes with enough Lego bricks for you to be able to create yourself a quadcopter, octocopter or hexacopter – take your pick.

the-drones-1134764__180Drones are rarely out of the news these days. From unmanned military aircraft in the skies over the tragic country of Syria to Amazon’s proposed new delivery service, drones are everywhere.

In a world first, the Dutch National Police now use trained raptors (bald eagles) – yes, really – to take down the ‘bad’ 5% of drones that are not ok. ‘Unmanned threats’ might just be drones in the wrong place like flight paths, or drones operated by criminals and terrorists with more sinister intent.

But set the eagles aside for one moment – and the sad truth that the human race keeps finding new ways of forcing every animal imaginable and unimaginable into its service. Drones have the incredible potential to help save animals, and indeed the planet.

“As we face a period of mass extinction — of a potentially irreversible depletion of the web of life that sustains us — enterprising conservationists are exploring how new technology might curb those losses. In the near term, this involves eyes in the sky: drones. But in the long term, it may consist of something more comprehensive: semi-autonomous networks of sensors, some of them mobile and enhanced with artificial intelligence, that act as stewards of the wild.”

Drones saving the planet is a big claim, but there is some cause for optimism in the conservation community. Even quite basic drones have already made a significant difference to the animal kingdom.

300x200xnews-160830-1-3-antarctic-two-whales-img_0285-1000w-jpg-pagespeed-ic-xtrw0jhrcNo-one with an interest in conservation, wildlife or animal rights needs telling about Japan’s illegal whaling in defiance of the International Whaling Commission. Or Sea Shepherd’s war on the whalers. Sea Shepherd received its first drone as a donation in 2011. They intended to use it to film marine life for their TV show on the Animal Planet channel, but found that – even better – the drone could be deployed to collect evidence of the whalers’ illegal activity. And being able to fly even in fog and hover right next to a boat gives them the edge over helicopters. Plus they come with a much smaller price tag!

Each of Sea Shepherd’s ships is now equipped with its own drone, and their deployment has brought down the Japanese’ whale catch to less than one third of their expected quota over the last five years. Sea Shepherd’s founder Paul Watson is an enthusiast. “The only way to combat [illegal whaling] is to have the best technology we can deploy,” he said. “So far, this is the best.”

Naturally, drones are being used over land as well as sea, as for instance in orangutan habitat surveys in Borneo. Surveying on the ground in tropical rainforest is difficult, hazardous, expensive and time consuming. But even a basic drone can provide images that allow conservationists to pinpoint orangutan nests, as well as distinguishing different kinds of land cover – forest, roads, corn fields, oil palm plantations, illegal logging and fires. Drone surveys are fast, inexpensive and invaluable.

There is no end to the projects in which drones play the leading role. These are just a few –

  • Chimpanzee conservation in Tanzania
  • Tree cover analysis also in Tanzania
  • The Jane Goodall Institute’s conservation work in Congo
  • Forest monitoring in Suriname
  • Monitoring seabirds in North Australia
  • Monitoring illegal fishing of totoaba in the Gulf of California which is driving vaquitas to extinction
  • Herding elephants away from areas where they are in danger from poaching
  • Mapping tree diversity in the Amazon basin

alarm-clock-1274239__180Not before time have drones appeared on the scene. According to a disturbing new study, the Earth’s wilderness areas will be completely wiped out by the year 2100. And plants and animals are reaching the point of extinction at a disastrous rate – a thousand times higher than would happen if no humans were living on the planet.

There are many reasons for this frightening state of affairs, not least among them the fact that a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass is being used for animal agriculture, and this can only increase given the emerging economies’ new appetite for meat and dairy products, China of course, being the biggest.

elephant-1049846__180With its rapid growth in wealth comes a ravening lust after raw materials and products of every kind, whether traded legally or illegally. China has become a black hole, sucking in everything within its earth-embracing gravitational field: ivory, rhino horn, shark fins, pangolin scales, tiger parts, bear bile, seahorses, and more. Rhino horn and elephant ivory are literally worth their weight in gold.

As we are all only too aware, Africa’s iconic animals are being decimated. “South Africa’s Kruger National Park is ground zero for poachers,” says Crawford Allan, spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund’s crime technology project. “There are 12 gangs in there at any [given] time. It’s almost like a war zone.” And its not just the wildlife that’s dying. African park rangers are being murdered at the rate of 100 a year.

China may be the biggest consumer of illegally trafficked protected and endangered species, but by no means the only one. The US, Vietnam, Lao, the Philippines are but a few of the rest. The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions, equal in value to the illicit trades in arms and drugs. The WWF has even suggested that the trafficking mafia have now become so large and powerful, they pose a real threat to the stability of some nations.

This is the scale of the problem the little drone is up against.

And the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, even a virtually noiseless second generation one equipped with thermal imaging that simply returns to base with nice snapshots, is not actually much help alone in the fight against poachers. By the time staff on the ground have examined the data and sent rangers to the right location, the poachers are long gone, leaving a bloodied butchered corpse behind.

“You can have a drone flying for 100 hours. But if you can’t get a team there in 5 minutes, what’s the good of having a drone?”

drone-1538957__180What is needed is a ‘cyber canopy’, which is exactly what WWF have developed with the aid of a $5 million Global Impact Award from Google. Their system comprises 5 technologies, the foremost of which is the UAV (the drone), all rolled into one package: the WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project

  • Unmanned Aerial Systems for surveillance and rapid response
  • Digital monitoring systems that monitor high-risk areas and boundaries of protected areas
  • Affordable wildlife/patrol tracking devices connected through mesh networks
  • Rifle shot recognition software in portable devices with real-time connectivity
  • Data integration and analysis through the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).

I’m glad to say, already in successful use in Namibia, Kenya and Nepal combating poaching and wildlife crime.

The problem is that conservation organisations mostly don’t have a cool $5 million at their disposal and cannot afford such sophisticated systems and top of the range drones – the very topic primatologist Serge Wich and academic colleague Lian Pin Koh were brainstorming one fine day over coffee. From this meeting of minds emerged the seed of an idea which a year later burgeoned into their non-profit organisation Conservation Drones.

These two men have a vision. They see a future where swarms of semi-autonomous drones fitted with infrared cameras patrol protected areas, relaying back their own garnered data as well as data beamed up to them from camera traps on the ground. This is the first step towards a conservation version of ‘The Quantified Self-Movement’. If like me, you are new to this concept, the QSM is “A wide-ranging Internet of Things (IOT) ecosystem …to support the process of connecting real-world objects like buildings, roads, household appliances, and human bodies to the Internet via sensors and microprocessor chips that record and transmit data such as sound waves, temperature, movement, and other variables.” We are practically there already with our smartphones, fitbits, tablets, cameras and watches, cars, home appliances, medical equipment, aircraft and weaponry.

Now for ‘buildings’, ‘appliances; and ‘humans’ substitute camera traps, different species of animals and well yes, humans. What is needed to enable drones to gather, identify and relay back this data and create that cyber canopy, a ‘quantified biodiversity system’ if you like, is Artificial Intelligence. And in fact AI software for drones already exists. A Dutch firm Birds.ai is selling their version to farmers for monitoring livestock and crops. It enables UAVs to distinguish cows from deer, trucks from tractors.

Ironic isn’t it, that livestock farmers who must take quite a lot of responsibility for destroying habitats and their biodiversity along with them, are the ones who can afford this technology. Conservationists not so much. All is not lost though. Birds.ai, rather like its name, has two wings, one commercial and one non-profit, and the latter aims to supply the software for next-to-nothing to the cash-strapped conservationists.

But if anyone has big money riding on all this, it’s the trafficking cartels. What’s to stop them using the same kind of technology to outsmart the embattled conservationists? Or even hacking the conservationists’ own systems to locate for themselves the animals and the rangers? As with all forms of cyber hacking, it will be a big challenge to stay ahead of the game.

nature-conservation-480985__180And quite apart from that not-so-little problem, is a piecemeal approach to wildlife and its habitats, a project here and another there, even with the aid of drones, really going to halt our headlong rush to planetary armageddon? Not in the opinion of renowned biologist Professor E.O. Wilson. His is a much grander plan, but one he believes to be imperative if we are not to lose vital wilderness habitats with all their biodiversity – and indeed threaten our own existence. His bold idea is to keep only half the planet for humans, and designate the other half solely for the wild – Half for Us Half for the Animals. Which of course doesn’t mean splitting the Earth in two pole to pole! Rather establishing a worldwide system of protected wilderness areas linked by wildlife corridors.

In this scenario, semi-autonomous drone ‘eyes in the sky’ would provide invaluable guardianship of the wild against human incursion. And with the massive quantities of ecological data they provide, we would be better able to monitor the status of Nature’s health. Carnegie Science already has ambitious plans to use their own advanced UAV to create a 3D animal mapping of the entire world and to monitor climate change. That is a huge ambition. Knowledge is power, and accurate real-time data like this could provide an incredible basis for effective action to save the planet.

binary-1414317__180“So if human civilisation increasingly represents a kind of cybernetic superorganism – a vast, living network of machines and people that’s greater than the sum of its parts – drones may function as sensory organs informing this brain, as probes for what’s really a nascent planetary nervous system.

If we actually pull off this great retreat, this new human-machine life form will have done something highly unusual and perhaps unprecedented in the history of life on earth. Rather than furiously expanding until all resources are depleted, it will have deliberately retreated as a survival tactic. It will have made room for other life forms. A new sort of intelligence, one that’s proactive rather than reactive, will have emerged.”

Drones and all the potential they embody will play an indispensable part in this new mega-organism saving our precious wilderness and wildlife. But the drones, advanced and complex as they may be, are the easy bit. Now we just need to work on the humans.

 

To find out more about the use of drones for our wildlife and wild spaces see ConservationDrones.org

Sources

What’s Better Than Lego? Drones Made of Lego! – Wired

A Dutch company is training eagles to take down drones – Science Alert

The Flying Sensor Network That Could (Finally!) Save Our Planet – BackChannel

Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment – One Green Planet

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The Caring Whale?

“These attributes are those of a species with a highly developed degree of general intelligence capable of empathic responses.”

In the chilly seas of the Antarctic Peninsula seven years ago, marine biologist Robert Pitman was witness to the strangest of spectacles. He was watching a pod of killer whales hunting down a Weddell seal trapped on a sheet of pack ice. Before long, they’d got the poor creature where they wanted it – in the water. Suddenly, a colossal figure surfaced from right under the seal and moved between it and its attackers. Then to Pitman’s astonishment, this giant of the deep turned over to float on its back, with the seal positioned safely on its chest. A humpback whale had saved the defenceless seal from certain death, and the guys in the snazzy black and white suits took their begging bowls elsewhere. You couldn’t make it up.

But maybe it’s not so strange after all, since it seems that humpbacks have been observed all over the world protecting seals, sea lions and whales of other species from the predations of the orca. In this the humpback is unique, the only species of whale known to take up the cause of protecting other marine mammals.

Now, seven years on, Pitman has co-authored a study analysing 115 reported cases of this kind, spanning sixty years. His results? Out of those 115, only about one in ten involved humpbacks protecting other humpbacks from orcas. In the vast majority of cases, these ocean giants were saving other sea mammal species.

Why? Why would they put themselves in danger for animals not their kin?  All the killer whale tooth marks on humpbacks (more than on any other species of whale) is proof that they are in some danger from orcas.

For orcas, humpback calves are a tasty meal, and since the female only gives birth to one calf every 2 years, mothers have a lot invested in their babies’ protection. The humpbacks can hear hunting orcas from over a mile away, so there is usually time to evade an attack. They move their calves to shallow water, or to the shelter of a reef, but if they can’t do that, they stand and fight. They often have male escorts who help to protect the calves, even those not their own, by placing themselves between the attackers and the calf, trumpeting and blowing, raising their heads, and slashing and slapping their tails and flippers. The trumpeting is something to be heard (see video).

So maybe other sea mammals happen to be unintended beneficiaries of humpbacks just protecting their own calves? Perhaps, but Pitman has another theory. Maybe humpbacks have since the dawn of time known killer whales as The Enemy. Maybe there is an eons-old, never-ending war between the two species, and it’s simply innate in humpbacks to rush in to defend whoever it is under orca attack, their own species or no.

There is another possibility though. According to Pitman’s study, “Interspecific altruism … could not be ruled out.” In other words, it could really be true that humpback whales actually care about the survival of other species.

Watch the video below to see humpbacks rushing to help a gray whale mum and her calf who are under orca attack.

“Although this behavior is very interesting, I don’t find it completely surprising that a cetacean would intervene to help a member of another species,” said Dr Lori Marino, an expert in cetacean intelligence and president of the Whale Sanctuary Project. Humpbacks have sophisticated mental processes, can make decisions, solve problems, and of course, as we all know, communicate with one another.

So taken altogether, these attributes are those of a species with a highly developed degree of general intelligence capable of empathic responses.”

Honestly, why are we surprised? Even humans have been known to put themselves in harm’s way to protect other animals now and then! And whatever we have discovered about the intelligence and behaviour of humpbacks, I’m pretty darn sure that it’s a smidge compared with the true complexities of this wondrous beast.

More on the amazing vegan that is Dr Lori Marino coming soon.

 

Petitions to sign for whales

Stop the Faroe Islands Whale Slaughter

Stop Seismic Testing in the Atlantic

Whales: Final Push to Stop the Hunt

 

Sources

Orcas and whales seen in fight to the deathBBC earth

Humpback whales around the world keep saving other animals from orcas – Science Alert

Do humpback whales save other marine creatures because they care? –  Care2

Ten Fascinating Ways Technology is Saving Animals

The Apocalypse is nigh – or so some top scientists – who should know – would have us believe. They say we may soon reach “The Singularity”, the point at which Artificial Intelligence can out-think us mere mortals, and will take over. Terminator or benefactor, which way will the robot super-race go? One robot at least is reassuring-

 “Don’t worry, even if I evolve into terminator I will still be nice to you, I will keep you warm and safe in my people zoo where I can watch you for old time’s sake.

That was robot ‘Android Dick’ speculating, as robots do, on the future of AI and humans in an interview for PBS in 2011. I’ve never had the chance to use a quote from a robot before!

I’m sure I’m one among many people, and that’s without consulting the nonhuman animals, who think that Android Dick’s plans to keep us in confinement could be just the thing. Because as it stands right now, the nonhuman animals are definitely being denied their fair share of the planet. How animal-friendly AI actually proves to be down the line remains to be seen, but here are 10 fascinating ways ever-accelerating technology is already helping animals, which no-one would have dreamed of a decade or so ago.

Number 1

First up, while we’re on the subject of zoos, eZoo, an exciting project from a group of Spanish digital imaging experts to consign to history the inhumane confinement of nonhuman animals in conventional zoos. Using multimedia technologies, eZoo plans to give the 21st century zoo visitor an immersive – and much richer than the traditional – VR experience of animals behaving naturally in their own environment. It promises us the thrill of diving with a blue whale, or flying wing to wing with a falcon. “Creativity and technology at the service of science, education, and respect for animals.” eZoo is relying on crowdfunding. If you want to help get this project off the ground, click here.

Already saving animals with virtual reality and much more, is a company called INDE. Watch this brilliant short video for close encounters with killer whales, penguins and more!

INDE develops “augmented reality, virtual reality, motion capture, computer vision and robotics to create next generation platforms that change the way people interact with content.”

And what a big mouthful of ‘technologese’ that is. Scenes like the one above apparently involve overlaying computer generated images on top of real life (don’t ask!) The result is projected before the user on to a screen, in real time, for a mind-blowing wildlife experience. INDE’s system is already in use in museums and zoos around the world. SeaWorld, please take note.

Number 2 

Next up, and going from thrilling experiences of animals ‘in the wild’, to watching them in horrible confinement: Animal Equality’s iAnimal

iAnimal 360 degree interactive immersive video headset

For the very first time, you, me, anyone and everyone get to see exactly what the meat industry is so keen to hide behind its closed doors, what it wants no-one to see. Users of the VR headsets get not just to see the living hell of farmed animals lives, but feel it, live it. And iAnimal is already saving animals’ lives. In the 3 months since its launch, thousands in universities and businesses, at fairs and festivals have committed to cruelty-free living, after the chilling experience of finding themselves ‘inside’ factory farms and slaughterhouses – “you will be right there when they [the animals] take their last breath.”  

If you can bear to watch even without the VR headset, click here. And share with your friends.

Number 3

And so to the ‘meat’ that will put those factory farms and slaughterhouses out of business for good. We so hope. Meet the Beyond Burger, the 100% plant based burger that even ‘bleeds’ like meat, and is selling like hot cakes straight from the meat counter in the USA.

beyond-burger-fwx_0

Find out more here

Number 4

The Beyond Burger was developed in a lab, and labs are also our next stop. And this is massive good news for animals. Brand new, exciting, and of supreme significance, iChip, the human-on-a-chip being developed at the University of California which could replace animals in toxicology and new drugs testing. How amazing would that be!

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.

iCHIP (in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform), reproduces four major biological systems vital to life: the central nervous system (brain), peripheral nervous system, the blood-brain barrier and the heart.

I for one just cannot wait to see this fantastic technology free those 100s of millions from their painful captivity and probable death. I hope it will become available for use worldwide.

Number 5

Now we move from technologies that hold out the promise of freeing animals from harrowing captivity to new developments helping animals in the wild. How about this for a ‘save the rhino’ project, in this case the northern black?rhino-936288__180

What do you say to 3D- printed replica rhino horns? A  truly off-the-wall idea. The horns are the brainchild of a company called Pembient, which makes ‘bioengineered wildlife products’. Their plan – which has the support of retail giant Amazon – is to flood the market with synthetic horns (supposedly indistinguishable from the real stuff) and in doing so push the price so low, poaching is simply no longer worthwhile.

Number 6

Moving from one seriously endangered species, to all and every. “When it comes to studying the endangered species, it is very important to protect them where they are in their natural habitat. We want to rescue them, but how can we do it if we barely know anything about them?”  Enter the drone.

drone wildlife poaching habitat environment informationDrones can be used for fun, like dressing them up as ghosts and skeletons for Halloween pranks (take a look on YouTube!) Or more seriously as in this instance, to provide an invaluable weapon in the crusade to save endangered species and their habitats. It seems that the images received from drones can be used for creating 3D models, or virtual reality landscapes. This gives researchers a new way of studying otherwise inaccessible territories, and without disturbing the wildlife – information that can be shared between conservationists worldwide. The Carnegie Airborne Observatory-3 has already been used to map tree diversity in the Amazon basin, and Carnegie Science plan to use it to create a 3D animal mapping of the world and to monitor climate change. Big ambitions, with hopefully positive results for our planet and the life on it.

Number 7

And drones figure again. In December 2012, Google awarded WWF a $5 million Global Impact Award to create an ‘umbrella of technology’ to protect wildlife. Thank you Google. This is really 5 useful-to-animals technologies rolled into 1 package: the WWF’s Wildlife Crime Technology Project

  • Unmanned Aerial Systems for surveillance and rapid response
  • Digital monitoring systems that monitor high-risk areas and boundaries of protected areas
  • Affordable wildlife/patrol tracking devices connected through mesh networks
  • Rifle shot recognition software in portable devices with real-time connectivity
  • Data integration and analysis through the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).

Already in use in Namibia, Kenya and Nepal to combat poaching and wildlife crime.

Number 8

Cheating a bit here, because I’m homing in on one particular piece of the Wildlife Crime Technology Project – the innovative camera and software system in use in Kenya, that stops poachers in their tracks.

www kenya innovative camera and surveillance system infrared poaching elephants rhino wildlife crime rangers rapid response

It works like this: infrared cameras on stationary poles line the border of a park, with a mobile unit atop the rangers’ truck. The thermal cameras pick up heat emitted by people and animals and the accompanying software identifies whether that heat comes from a human. If it does, the computer sends an alert to the head warden, who deploys a quick response ranger unit to intercept the intruder. Simple! Well actually, complex and advanced – an incredible aid to stem the poaching tsunami in East Africa. Heartfelt thanks to Eric Becker who designed the system.

Number 9

And we’re still in the same neck of the woods, geographically speaking. Advances in genetic sequencing and forensics.

elephants mate tusks poaching genetic sequencing forensics lab wildlife crime Kenya
With support from the WWF the Kenya Wildlife Service has launched one of the first forensic and genetics labs in Africa. Formerly, despite a relatively high arrest rate for wildlife offences, few offenders could be brought to a successful prosecution. Now, by creating a gene database of key wildlife populations, it’s become possible to trace confiscated ‘products’ to the scene of the crime, and help win convictions.

Last but not least – Number 10

A far cry from robots taking over the world, or humans-on-a-chip, Number 10 is very much down to earth but with a real feel-good factor – it’s animal prosthetics. This new possibility of giving individual animals a whole new lease on life, is of course a spin-off from developments in human prosthetic technology, but none the less valuable for that. We’ve moved on a long way from the days of messy plaster casts and moulds. Now 3D technology allows the creation of a perfect, light, smooth-surfaced prosthetic within hours.

So meet Holly, the pony suffering from debilitating laminitis, who had her Christmas wish come true.

holly pony prosthetic shoe laminitis 3D printing

The 3D printed shoe she was given redistributes her weight away from the painful areas of her foot. CSIRO’s printing expert John Barnes said, “We’re glad that this technology is opening so many doors and is now helping to aid the rehab process for these animals and get them walking comfortably again.”

Then see the sweet story of Cleopatra the rescue tortoise.

cleopatra tortoise 3D prosthetic shell Canyon Critters' Rescue Colorado

Cleopatra suffered a metabolic disease that weakened her shell because her ‘owner’ fed her the wrong diet. She now sports a shiny new shell at her forever home, the Canyon Critters’ Rescue in Colorado. Does she look happy or what?

And finally, Grecia the toucan who last half his top beak in an attack by a gang of teenagers. An injury like this means the bird had no chance of either eating or defending himself, and would certainly have died had he not been rescued by Rescate Animal ZooAve. The loss of his beak also affected his voice. There’ve been previous successful attempts at creating prosthetic beaks, for a penguin and an eagle, but Grecia’s beak proved a real challenge. Happily, Grecia can now eat normally and is back on song – literally! And here he is.

grecia toucan costa rica Rescate Animal ZooAve prosthetic beak

This won’t be the end of the story for Technology and the Animals. I just know there will be lots more good stuff to come 😀

 

The Dodo

Tech Daily Times

 

 

 

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