Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Cast your vote for People’s Choice!

Curious Encounter (Photo: Cristobal Serrano/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

 

Article below written by Jacqueline Gulledge

“Any close encounter with an animal in the vast wilderness of Antarctica happens by chance, so Cristobal was thrilled by this spontaneous meeting with a crabeater seal off of Cuverville Island, Antarctic Peninsula. These curious creatures are protected and, with few predators, thrive,” Serrano wrote in his submission for his photo seen above.

This year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition held by the Natural History Museum in London selected a group of images for its annual LUMIX People’s Choice Award. More than 45,000 entries were submitted from professional and amateur photographers from 95 countries, and the selections have been narrowed down to 25 entries.

“The images showcase wildlife photography as an art form, whilst challenging us to consider our place in the natural world, and our responsibility to protect”

the museum’s organisers wrote in a press release.

Last year’s People’s Choice Award winner captured a particularly poignant and compelling moment when a female lowland gorilla lovingly embraced a man who had rescued her from poachers who wanted to sell her for bushmeat.

In its 54th year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the oldest competition of its kind. “Inspiring audiences to connect with the natural world is at the heart of what we do as a Museum, and that’s why we’re so proud to run this competition. The LUMIX People’s Choice Award is special to us because it gives the public the chance to choose the winner, and I’m looking forward to seeing which of these beautiful photographs emerges as the favourite,” wrote Ian Owens, director of science at the Natural History Museum and member of the judging panel.

To help you choose your favourite, we present all 25 entries, with information about how each photographer captured the image.

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Family Portrait (Photo: Connor Stefanison,/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A great grey owl and her chicks sit in their nest in the broken top of a Douglas fir tree in Kamloops, Canada. They looked towards Connor only twice as he watched them during the nesting season from a tree hide 50 feet (15 meters) up.” — Connor Stefanison, Canada

Bond of Brothers (Photo: David Lloyd/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“These two adult males, probably brothers, greeted and rubbed faces for 30 seconds before settling down. Most people never have the opportunity to witness such animal sentience, and David was honored to have experienced and captured such a moment.” — David Lloyd, New Zealand/United Kingdom

Painted Waterfall (Photo: Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“When the sun beams through a hole in the rock at the foot of the La Foradada waterfall, Catalonia, Spain, it creates a beautiful pool of light. The rays appear to paint the spray of the waterfall and create a truly magical picture.” — Eduardo Blanco Mendizabal, Spain

Under the Snow (Photo: Audren Morel/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Unafraid of the snowy blizzard, this squirrel came to visit Audren as he was taking photographs of birds in the small Jura village of Les Fourgs, France. Impressed by the squirrel’s endurance, he made it the subject of the shoot.” — Audren Morel, France

One Toy, Three Dogs (Photo: Bence Mate/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“While adult African wild dogs are merciless killers, their pups are extremely cute and play all day long. Bence photographed these brothers in Mkuze, South Africa – they all wanted to play with the leg of an impala and were trying to drag it in three different directions!” — Bence Mate, Hungary

Sound Asleep (Photo: Tony Wu/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“This adult humpback whale balanced in mid-water, headon and sound asleep was photographed in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. The faint stream of bubbles, visible at the top, is coming from the whale’s two blowholes and was, in this instance, indicative of an extremely relaxed state.” — Tony Wu, United States

Three Kings (Photo: Wim Van Den Heever/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Wim came across these king penguins on a beach in the Falkland Islands just as the sun was rising. They were caught up in a fascinating mating behaviour – the two males were constantly moving around the female using their flippers to fend the other off.” — Wim Van Den Heever, South Africa

Teenager (Photo: Franco Banfi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Franco was free diving off Dominica in the Caribbean Sea when he witnessed this young male sperm whale trying to copulate with a female. Unfortunately for him her calf was always in the way and the frisky male had to continually chase off the troublesome calf.” — Franco Banfi, Switzerland

Red, Silver and Black (Photo: Tin Man Lee/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Tin was fortunate enough to be told about a fox den in Washington State, North America, which was home to a family of red, black and silver foxes. After days of waiting for good weather he was finally rewarded with this touching moment.” — Tin Man Lee, United States

The Extraction (Photo: Konstantin Shatenev/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Every winter, hundreds of Steller’s sea eagles migrate from Russia, to the relatively ice-free northeastern coast of Hokkaido, Japan. They hunt for fish among the ices floes and also scavenge, following the fishing boats to feed on any discards. Konstantin took his

Otherwordly (Photo: Franco Banfi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A school of Munk’s devil ray were feeding on plankton at night off the coast of Isla Espíritu Santo in Baja California, Mexico. Franco used the underwater lights from his boat and a long exposure to create this otherworldly image.” — Franco Banfi, Switzerland

The Orphaned Beaver (Photo: Suzi Eszterhas/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A one-month-old orphaned North American beaver kit is held by a caretaker at the Sarvey Wildlife Care Center in Arlington, Washington. Luckily it was paired with a female beaver who took on the role of mother and they were later released into the wild.” — Suzi Eszterhas, United States

The Bat’s Wake (Photo: Antonio Leiva Sanchez/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“After several months of field research into a little colony of greater mouse-eared bats in Sucs, Lleida, Spain, Antonio managed to capture this bat mid-flight. He used a technique of high speed photography with flashes combined with continuous light to create the ‘wake’.” — Antonio Leiva Sanchez, Spain

Unique Bill (Photo: Rob Blanken/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The pied avocet has a unique and delicate bill, which it sweeps like a scythe, as it sifts for food in shallow brackish water. This stunning portrait was taken from a hide in the northern province of Friesland in The Netherlands.” — Rob Blanken, The Netherlands

Gliding (Photo: Christian Viz/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“With conditions of perfect visibility and beautiful sunlight, Christian took this portrait of a nurse shark gliding through the ocean off the coast of Bimini in the Bahamas. Typically these sharks are found near sandy bottoms where they rest, so it’s rare to see them swimming.” — Christian Vizl, Mexico

A Polar Bear’s Struggle (Photo: Justin Hofman/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Justin’s whole body pained as he watched this starving polar bear at an abandoned hunter’s camp, in the Canadian Arctic, slowly heave itself up to standing. With little, and thinning, ice to move around on, the bear is unable to search for food.” — Justin Hofman, United States

Shy (Photo: Pedro Carrillo/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The mesmerizing pattern of a beaded sand anemone beautifully frames a juvenile Clarkii clownfish in Lembeh strait, Sulawesi, Indonesia. Known as a ‘nursery’ anemone, it is often a temporary home for young clownfish until they find a more suitable host anemone for adulthood.” — Pedro Carrillo

Fox Meets Fox (Photo: Matthew Maran/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Matthew has been photographing foxes close to his home in north London for over a year and ever since spotting this street art had dreamt of capturing this image. After countless hours and many failed attempts, his persistence paid off.” — Matthew Maran, United Kingdom

Resting Mountain Gorilla (Photo: David Lloyd/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The baby gorilla clung to its mother whilst keeping a curious eye on David. He had been trekking in South Bwindi, Uganda, when he came across the whole family. [As he was] following them, they then stopped in a small clearing to relax and groom each other.” — David Lloyd, New Zealand/United Kingdom

Clam Close-up (Photo: David Barrio/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“This macro-shot of an iridescent clam was taken in the Southern Red Sea, Marsa Alam, Egypt. These clams spend their lives embedded amongst stony corals, where they nest and grow. It took David some time to approach the clam, fearing it would sense his movements and snap shut!” — David Barrio, Spain

Isolated (Photo: Anna Henly/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“Snapped from a helicopter, this isolated tree stands in a cultivated field on the edge of a tropical forest on Kauai, Hawaii. The manmade straight lines of the ploughed furrows are interrupted beautifully by nature’s more unruly wild pattern of tree branches.” — Anna Henly, United Kingdom

All That Remains (Photo: Phil Jones/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“A male orca had beached itself about a week before Phil’s visit to Sea Lion Island, Falkland Islands. Despite its huge size the shifting sands had almost covered the whole carcass and scavengers, such as this striated caracara, had started to move in.” — Phil Jones, United Kingdom

Ambush (Photo: Federico Veronesi/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“On a hot morning at the Chitake Springs, in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe, Federico watched as an old lioness descended from the top of the riverbank. She’d been lying in wait to ambush any passing animals visiting a nearby waterhole further along the riverbed.” – Federico Veronesi, Kenya

Ice and Water (Photo: Audun Lie Dahl/Wildlife Photographer of the Year)

“The Bråsvellbreen glacier moves southwards from one of the ice caps covering the Svalbard Archipelago, Norway. Where it meets the sea, the glacier wall is so high that only the waterfalls are visible, so Audun used a drone to capture this unique perspective.” — Audun Lie Dahl, Norway

These are the 25 images from the Natural History Museum of London contest showcasing animals and landscapes in the running for the People’s Choice Award. To cast your vote, click here, and then on an individual image, and follow the prompts there. Voting is open until Feb. 5, and all images are currently on display at the Natural History Museum of London.

 

Source: Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Vote for your favorite! | MNN

Related posts

LOL – Comedy Wildlife Awards 2018

Comedy Wildlife Awards 2016

 

Love Whales? Then Listen to This – New App Streams Whale Songs in Real Time

How are your ears? Are you up for a bit of citizen science listening to the song of the whales? You are invited to help explore and conserve marine life around the globe, starting with studying and saving the southern resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest.” That’s some invitation, an invitation hard to refuse.

The Orcasound project app sends the sounds picked up by a network of underwater microphones (hydrophones) located in the Salish Sea off the U.S. state of Washington, straight to your laptop, tablet or phone. The idea is to gather data to raise awareness of the damage noise pollution is doing to marine wildlife, particularly the pods of orca for whom the Salish is home territory. And then use that data to better protect these beautiful and iconic creatures.

AI algorithms are being developed to analyse the underwater sounds, but they only get us so far. Nothing beats the human ear. “We actually have some listeners who will sleep with the hydrophones on in their bedroom,” says Scott Veirs, Orcasound’s lead researcher, “and their brains can wake up when they hear a killer whale sound, even if it’s just a faint killer whale sound in some ship noise. That sort of signal detection is right at the cusp of what machines are struggling to do.”

Orcas communicate to each other in a language of whistles, screams and squeaks, as in this video

They also use a clicking noise to echolocate prey. Both their talk – keeping them with their pod and passing on information – and their clicks – finding food – are critical to their survival. Underwater noise pollution could so disrupt this natural behaviour as to wipe them out.

Minky whales and humpbacks as well as harbour porpoises frequent the Salish Sea. So before we make a start at listening to orca song, to help us distinguish one underwater sound from another Orcasound features an interactive image of Salish sealife. We can click on any of the ‘objects’ in the image, animate or inanimate, and hear the different sounds each produce. Now we’re all set to go. 

And so without further ado, I give you Orcasound Live

Killer whale "porpoising" in the Hood Canal waterway, south of the Salish Sea in the U.S. state of Washington. Leaping out of the water can actually be energy-efficient for marine animals traveling at high speeds. A killer whale “porpoising” in the Hood Canal waterway, south of the Salish Sea in the U.S. state of Washington. Image by Minette Layne via Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0.
To discover why your contribution to this research will be so vital, see the threats to orcas here – Killer Whales Endangered

Source 

Pod-cast: New app streams whale songs for web users in real time

Related posts

Wildlife Tourism – Good or Bad for the Animals?

The Caring Whale?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Tourism: Good or Bad for the Animals?

If anyone knew a thing or two about mountain gorillas it was the remarkable Dian Fossey. Ms Fossey, the first to study gorillas at close quarters, loved these animals with a passion. Humans – not so much. Her every breath, her every ounce of energy, her life’s blood, was spent protecting the gorillas by keeping humans at bay.

In the Rwanda national park where she established her research station, she had 4 of her own staff destroy 987 poachers’ snares in 4 months. (In the same period, Rwandan park rangers destroyed none. A desperately poor local community makes its livelihood where it can, and if that means poaching gorillas, so be it, was their thinking.)
Apart from fighting a war against one kind of humans, the poachers, Ms Fossey was fierce in her hostility to another kind – wildlife tourists. She had three seemingly incontrovertible reasons for her opposition to ecotourism. Firstly, humans would damage the habitat. Secondly, humans could infect the great apes with anthroponotic diseases (diseases which could jump the species barrier from us to them) such as TB, flu, the common cold, chicken pox, measles and herpes. With no natural immunity to these infections, gorillas could, and did die. And thirdly, the very presence of humans would affect the great apes’ natural wild behaviour.

I wonder how she would react today if she knew that the International Gorilla Conservation Programme now actively promotes tourism to her precious primates’ habitat. The charity’s rationale is simple: tourism provides a living for the impoverished locals living around the national parks and gives them a vested interest in protecting rather than poaching the animals. And the Rwandan government runs a scheme ploughing back 5% of income from gorilla tourism into local development projects like road construction, clean water supplies, sanitation, and health centres accessible for all. What better incentive could the local population have to see that the gorilla tribes thrive?

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Mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Good news story

This policy does indeed appear to be working. Kirsten Gilardi, director of Gorilla Doctors is adamant, “Gorilla tourism revenue has absolutely saved them from extinction.” (Her team of medics attending the gorillas with hands-on health care for four decades is also a beneficiary of ecotourism cash.) From the desperate level of only 240 remaining in 1978, and Ms Fossey fearing they would be extinct by the year 2000, the apes now number 1000 – still on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Endangered list, but no longer Critically Endangered. It’s a reason for “cautious optimism”, says the IUCN, a good news story of ecotourism directly benefitting wildlife.

And there are others:

  • Money from tourism was used to expand the habitats of cheetahs and African wild dogs, slowing population decline
  • Ecotourism funded the restoration of hoolock gibbons’ and golden lion tamarins’ habitat, reversing human-inflicted environmental degradation, and boosting growth in their respective populations
  • Wildlife management staff are safeguarding the future for African penguins and the great green macaw by using ecotourism money to control the birds’ predators –  natural animal predators and human poachers

Find more ecotourism good news stories here.

Ecotourism is huge

Around the world, national parks and nature preserves receive 8 billion visitors a year at a conservative estimate, in all probability many more. Ecotourism generates in excess of $600 billion, so researchers discovered in a first-of-it–kind study.

“Global ecotourism pays for 84% of national parks funding and 99% of funding for the habitats of threatened mammals, birds, and frogs—funding that’s vital for protecting many threatened species.”

So far so good then. Did Dian Fossey get it wrong?

As with most things in life, there are no easy answers, and the jury remains out.

Of those billions of dollars generated by tourism to national parks and preserves, how much is actually spent on conservation of these amazing habitats and their wildlife? A small fraction. Less than $10 billion – and nothing like enough.

“These pieces of the world provide us with untold benefits: from stabilising the global climate and regulating water flows to protecting untold numbers of species. Now we’ve shown that through tourism nature reserves contribute in a big way to the global economy – yet many are being degraded through encroachment and illegal harvesting, and some are being lost altogether. It’s time that governments invested properly in protected areas.” -Andrew Bainford Professor of Zoology at Cambridge University.

So what about the rest of the money from ecotourism? If governments aren’t investing it in protected areas, where is it going? According to USA Today Corrupt governments frequently take a large cut of the profits from ecotourism, leaving little or none for local communities that are directly affected by the influx of visitors.”

And as we’ve already seen, benefit to local communities, giving them a stake in protecting their local wildlife, is a vitally important desired outcome of ecotourism. Without it, poaching will continue. But all too often corrupt governments allow “international corporations and developers from outside the area  into popular destinations. Their hotels and stores take money away from the local economy. In addition, the original residents have to pay the same inflated prices for food and water as tourists do, putting a greater financial burden on them.”

And Ms Fossey was 100% right about some of the other downsides of ecotourism
  • Noise
  • Litter
  • Pollution
  • Habitat degradation
  • Land gobbled up for visitor centres, cafes, tourist lodges, and toilet blocks for the growing numbers of visitors, and the roads to reach them
  • Wildlife accidentally killed by cars
  • Wildlife deliberately killed by hunters and fishers
  • Tourists passing on disease

As for that last point, it seems tourists are far more concerned about contracting a disease from contact with wildlife than they are about themselves passing infection to the animals. Anthropologist Dr Michael Muehlenbein found that though as many as 86% of tourists knew they could pass disease to wildlife, they clearly didn’t care too much because two thirds said they would still touch or feed wild primates if they got the chance.

“Imagine you’ve spent $2,000 to go to Malaysia to see the orangutans and you’ve got a cold. Are you going to stay away? It becomes a complex moral question: How much do you respect the life of other animals over your vacation experience?”

Personally I don’t see it as that ‘complex’. A tough decision naturally, but not a complex one. Though it’s ‘only a cold’ for us, it could kill that animal we would so like to see up close and personal. When we are watching wildlife, let’s be the responsible ones and follow the advice here.

What if we travel on foot to see the wildlife and keep ourselves to ourselves?

What could be less harmful to wildlife than rambling quietly along a woodland trail, soaking up the forest scents and listening to the birdsong? Sad to say, even this most gentle activity is not as innocuous as it seems. Just the fact our being there has an effect. A recent study found that the longer a forest trail is used, and the bigger the number of people walking it, the greater the adverse effect on forest birds. “We show that forest birds are distinctly affected by people and that this avoidance behaviour did not disappear even after years of use by humans.” The birds simply never get used to our being there.

“This is important to show because pressure on natural habitats and nature protection areas is getting stronger and access bans are often ignored,” says Dr Yves Botsch of the Swiss Ornithological Institute.

And an earlier study found that the mere presence of humans is more terrifying to smaller prey animals like badgers, foxes and raccoons – who we may have thought were habituated to us – than the presence of apex predators like bears and wolves. And that we “may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined.” 

When you consider that at least 83 percent of the Earth’s land surface is directly affected by the presence of humans and human activity in one way or another, this particular piece of research is not good news.

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Guided tour by snowmobile Yellowstone National Park

Overall, human disturbance detrimentally affecting animals’ survival and mating behaviours can lead straight down the path to extinction

Take the New Zealand sea lion for example. The habitat disturbance and fishing brought by ecotourism is killing young sea lion pups. This animal is predicted to be extinct by 2050, a direct victim of ecotourism.

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On land, nature preserves can have well-defined boundaries, theoretically easier to protect. Yes, we do have marine conservation areas, but the thing about water is that it flows. No oceanic conservation area’s boundaries can keep out pollution or stop rising sea temperatures. Marine animals are also disproportionately affected by humans’ plastic waste. The dead sperm whale washed up on a beach in Sulawesi this week had 1000 pieces of plastic in its stomach: 115 plastic cups, plastic bags, bottles and even flipflops. On top of that animals such as whales and dolphins are badly affected by underwater noise from shipping.

All of these problems are far more likely to be exacerbated than mitigated by ecotourism.

In the Arctic, for example, 53% of 80 populations of Arctic animals in the ‘open-water’ period of September when the ice is at its minimum are adversely affected by ship traffic, by collisions, by noise disturbance, by the changes these trigger in the animals’ behaviour. Most of these animals are found nowhere else on Earth.

And Arctic ice is shrinking.Summer sea ice cover has shrunk by over 30 percent since satellites started regular monitoring in 1979.” And less ice means more ships.

“More than a century ago, due to the short Arctic summer, it took Roald Amundsen’s wooden sailing ship three years to make the journey” through the Northwest Passage. Amundsen could only sail in the brief  ‘open water’ time and was iced up all the rest.

Fast-forward to summer 2016. A cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 passengers negotiated the Northwest Passage in 32 days. The summer “open-water” period in the Arctic has now increased by more than two months in some regions. 

Less ice, more ships. More ships, more harm to the animals.

It’s as simple as that. Whales and walrus are among the most vulnerable, and narwhals most vulnerable of all. So you may want to rethink your Arctic cruise. And, as if the harm shipping does to Arctic wildlife were not bad enough, cruise ships also take the trophy when it comes to being the most environmentally-unfriendly way to view wildlife – one cruise ship releasing fuel emissions equivalent to a million cars, in one day.

The last thing we want is to harm the very wildlife we love going to see. So how can we nature-lovers see nature without destroying it?

In spite of all the negatives, there can be no doubt that ecotourism makes animals more valuable in money terms alive than dead. That gives it huge potential to protect nature and save endangered species. But the responsibility of making that happen lies with each of us individually. Planning a trip? Do some thorough research. For potted advice check out The Essential Guide to Eco-Friendly Travel .

But for in depth information go to Responsible Travel which the Guardian rates The first place to look for environmentally friendly holidays.” The  Responsible Travel website is packed to the brim with information on how to be a wildlife-friendly ecotourist. Find out Responsible Travel’s stance on wildlife, and wildlife tourism issues here.

You may also want to check out the Rainforest Alliance Certified hotels and tour operators, and Green Global Travel. And take WAP’s pledge here: “I stand with World Animal Protection and will not take part in any holiday activities that involve touching or taking selfies with wild animals. Wildlife. Not entertainers.”

In the end it’s all down to us as individuals, our choices. Just as we shape the kind of world we want to live in with our eating, shopping and everyday living choices, so with our travel. Our choices are making the difference between life and death for the animals.

Updates

14th December 2015 Tourists may be making Antarctica’s penguins sick

18th December 2018 The impacts of whale shark mass tourism on the coral reefs in the Philippines

4th January 2019 ‘Conservation never ends’: 40 years in the kingdom of gorillas – the story of how ecotourism saved the mountain gorillas of Rwanda

10th January 2019 Singapore eco-tourism plan sparks squawks of protest

Related posts

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Shooting Goats on the Rooftop of the World

Shooting lions (and other things that move)

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Sources

Dian Fossey

Problems with Ecotourism

Learning from gorillas to save killer whales

Mountain gorilla population rebounds

Ecotourism saving mountain gorillas in Africa

Why Ecotourism is Dangerous for Wildlife

Arctic Ship Traffic Threatens Narwhals and Other Extraordinary Animals

It’s not trails that disturb birds, but the people on them

Ecotourism: Funding Conservation or Forcing Extinction?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Going to Find Out What They’re REALLY Saying AT LAST?

“Scientists are experimenting with artificial intelligence in order to decode and interpret animal vocalizations such as barks, growls or howls into a language which humans can understand.”*

“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone” 

Professor Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University speaking to The Guardian.
Rapunzel the Conversational Cat
My brother has proper conversations with his cat Rapunzel. Not unusual among those of us who have companion animals, you might think. When I say ‘conversations’ though, I mean proper two-way, back and forth discussions on matters of serious import, along the lines of “What do you think of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, Punzel?”
Punzel: “The woman doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please don’t talk to me about Brexit. I’m depressed enough as it is by the state of the world.” And so on.
Of course Rapunzel doesn’t actually say that. She’s a real cat, not one in a fairytale, in spite of her name. My brother helpfully speaks her lines for her. He thinks she’s a socialist, but maybe he’s got her all wrong. When she does meow for herself, what is she saying? It could well be, “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.”  She may even be a closet Tory. Without the key to unlock cat-speak, no-one will know.
Dr Dolittle & Zoolingua
For those of us who couldn’t live without animals somewhere in our lives, the tale of animal-loving Dr Dolittle is particularly captivating. The story goes that Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia teaches him the language of the animals. The good doctor opens his home to an ever-growing menagerie of animals whose speech only he can understand, until – the final straw for his long-suffering sister who keeps house for him – the arrival of a crocodile. A creature too far. She gives her brother an ultimatum – me or the animals. I love it that he chooses the animals!
Don’t we all want to be Dr Dolittle? What if we really could understand every word our cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits utter? Well now maybe we will be able to do just that, thanks to something called Zoolingua, a project born from Professor Siobodchikoff’s work with other furry little creatures.

 

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Meet the Prof & the ‘Villagers’
It’s true to say Con Siobodchikoff is the world expert on North American prairie dogs, having studied them closely for 30 years. Prairie dogs are not dogs at all of course. They are rodents, but every bit as fascinating as the canines in our homes. What Prof Con discovered over three decades is that the animals use “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.
These engaging little creatures live in ‘villages’ of underground burrows, and take it in turns to stand guard, watching out for predators. With hundreds of hours of recordings of prairie dog chatter, the Prof and his team discovered that whoever is on lookout uses particular calls for different predators, and the other ‘villagers’ respond according to the type of call.

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Deciphering Prairie Dog-ese  with AI
Using advanced artificial intelligence to analyse the recordings, they found that the little rodents have specific ‘words’ for ‘human’, ‘hawk’, and ‘coyote’, and their language is sophisticated enough to distinguish between coyotes and domestic dogs.
Professor Con noticed that there were interesting individual variations in calls about specific dangers. So although there was a distinct call for ‘coyote’, for instance, there were also varying elements around the call. He began to wonder if the calls might be doing more than specifying the threat as a coyote. Could they actually be describing the coyote?
Experiments
The Prof had four human volunteers walk through the prairie dog village in identical clothing except for the colour of their shirts: one wore blue, the next yellow, then green, and finally grey. Analysis of the rodents’ calls revealed they were indeed describing each individual human, and not just in terms of shirt colour:
“Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’” says Slobodchikoff.
The prairie dogs’ linguistic ability turns out to be astonishing. When the team placed a picture of a large black oval near the village, the animals created an entirely new alarm call for it. The team took the picture away, and later brought it back. The little rodents all voiced exactly the same alarm call in response to it. It appears the components of the new call are describing the size, shape and colour of the oval in ‘words’ already part of their rich vocabulary. If that is not language, I’d like to know what is.
Dialects
Prairie dog villages in different locations have their own dialects. The Professor says that the animals he has studied for so long in Gunnison AZ are unlikely to understand Mexican prairie dogs, and vice versa. But then, it’s pretty unlikely they will ever need to!

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Prairie Dogs Love to Chat
Most fascinating of all, it seems they love a good gossip. “Prairie dogs also have what I call social chatters, where one prairie dog will produce a string of vocalizations, and another prairie dog across the colony will respond with a different string of vocalizations. 

“If animals seemingly as simple as rodents have a language replete with nouns, adjectives, syntax and dialects, think what higher-order animals might be saying”

the Prof concludes.

Guilty of Arrogance?
It is such a giveaway of our skewed perspective on our own status relative to other creatures, that there exists a long history of measuring nonhuman animals’ intelligence by their ability to understand and use OUR languages. Well-known examples are Koko the gorilla, Alex the parrot, Tilda the orangutan, Noc the beluga whale, Koshik the elephant, and Chaser, the border collie who knows more than 1000 words.
But thankfully we are now beginning to grasp that, in the words of evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk:

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

– even when it comes to language. All nonhuman animals that live in social groups exhibit complex behaviours. And complex behaviours require complex communication. Thankfully we are starting to take, can I say, a more respectful approach, attempting to unlock the secrets of the nonhumans’ own languages, their conversations with each other. And, being fascinated, and humbled, by what we are finding out about their complexity and sophistication, thanks to the work of dedicated zoologists like Prof Siobodchikoff.
Not Quite There Yet
“We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication,” says Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Mississippi.
So best not get too excited just yet at the prospect of understanding your enigmatic feline as well as he/she gets you. Perhaps a read of Professor Slobodchikoff’s book, “Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” can give us a few pointers. As yet we don’t have access to the kind of sophisticated AI that is helping him unravel the secrets of the prairie dog. Wait till the Prof has succeeded in converting his system into a handy pocket-size translator of dog-, cat-, or guinea pig-ese. Won’t that be a wonderful thing – a bestseller for sure.
It has to be said though, his Zoolingua is still very much a work in progress. Even the Prof thinks it might take 10 years. But watch this space!

 

Sources

*Pet translator might enable humans to communicate with animals

Can any animals talk and use language like humans?

When Will We Learn To Speak Animal Languages?

Related posts

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

Thinking Pigs

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

 

 

 

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.

evolution-2305142_960_720

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

Making the Case ― Again ― for Saving Imperiled Species 

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.


monkey-1863833_960_720

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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