It Really Doesn’t Pay to Look Too Cute

“Otters are… cute, romantic, loyal and intelligent. They hold hands to ensure they don’t float away from each other, live in close family units, use tools to access food, and pat stones in the air and then roll them around their bodies. These unique behaviors and human-like characteristics have made them hugely popular animals, globally. “

Adam Gekowski, photographer and filmmaker

(And that, sadly is their undoing.)

“Aw, adorable!”, we find ourselves murmuring. It’s an instinctive human response when we encounter other animals – especially the cute furry ones – in photos, videos, nature films, or if we’re really lucky, in the flesh.

Our desire for face to face encounters in particular is all down, it seems, to “our natural affinity for life… the very essence of our humanity [that] binds us to all other living species.” So says the blurb on the book ‘Biophilia’, authored by renowned naturalist E. O. Wilson. He believes we are born with this urge to connect with other life forms. It’s innate, he says, hardwired into our biology. “Our existence depends on [it], our spirit woven from it.”  Biophilia– love of what lives.

City life

But nowadays we have a problem giving expression to this instinct. Our increasingly urbanised life offers fewer and fewer chances for animal encounters. Right now 3 million of us are moving to cities every week. By roughly 2040, it’s expected 66% of the world’s population will be living in cities.

Nonetheless, “even in urban environments, the animal connection is real and strong. We need to live with animals because they offer us so much, not the least of which is someone to love.” – paleoanthropologist Pat Shipman. I think she’s nailed it right there, don’t you?

So, given we have that innate need for animal connection, where can we find ways to satisfy it in the city, especially in the busiest, most crowded city of all with 38 million humans squeezed into it, Tokyo, Japan?

The answer for many lies in caring for a cat or a dog, hopefully rescued ones. That may not be so easy for the residents of Tokyo. Housing here is at a premium – often there is just no room for companion animals, and many landlords forbid them. On top of that, few people would have time to take care of them since Japanese culture dictates notoriously long working hours. (Shockingly, the Japanese have a specific word for death attributed to overwork – karoshi.)

Now stir the following disparate ingredients into the Tokyo mix:

  • Japan’s birth rate last year was the lowest in historyMany 20 -30 year olds remain single and/or childless – no-one to love and care for
  • Otters do look undeniably cute
  • Social media is hugely influential (Instagram’s Japanese otter celebrity Takechiyo, for instance, has 300,000 followers)

And what does it all add up to? 

The latest craze, Tokyo’s otter cafes

Which for a price, offer the promise of half an hour’s cuddle time to city dwellers and visitors in need of their animal ‘fix’.

otter-913421_960_720

Several of these places appear on TripAdvisor. In some cafes, visitors are let into a small room containing the otters, and are allowed “to run riot” with them. In others, the otters remain caged and visitors can feed them through small holes.

But however the individual cafes are organised, and however much the visitors enjoy their encounters (and most really do. Only 11% of visitors to one cafe left reviews on TripAdvisor expressing real concern for the animals), one thing is guaranteed:

No good whatever is to be had for the otters themselves. It’s quite tragic that the very love people have for, and want to give the furry creatures, “translates into behaviour that is incredibly harmful to the animal,” says World Animal Protection’s global head of the Wildlife. Not Pets campaign.

“The otters are heard whimpering, shrieking and making distress calls while customers are interacting with them. Some are kept in solitary conditions with no natural light, others are seen biting their claws and exhibiting traumatized behavior – some of the worst housing conditions included small cages with no access to water.”

One otter seen by the WAP team was so stressed it had bitten the end of its tail off.

Otters are semiaquatic animals, and Asian otters typically live in streams, rice paddies, and marshes, in large family groups. A far cry from a Tokyo cafe full of excited noisy people.

Even apart from the suffering of a wild animal kept in captivity, otters do not make for good petting, or for good pets, even though well-edited video clips might lead you to think so. When WAP visited Instagram star Takechiyo in his home for example, they saw him looking very cute and placid for a few minutes, picking up small pieces of cat food and popping them into his mouth.

“However, the illusion was quickly shattered as he then went on a tour of destruction around the house; climbing on all the furniture, chewing, shrieking, and even biting and scratching our translator. It was a lightbulb moment – otters may look cute, but they make terrible pets. Otters are best observed at arm’s length and in the wild.”

Orphans stolen from the wild 

The otter craze is not confined to Tokyo. It’s sweeping across Southeast Asia. In Thailand for example, there are at least 10 large Facebook groups devoted to keeping pet otters. Otter-mania is hiking sky-high the price on the animal’s head. Just one can fetch several thousand dollars. And where there is money to be made, there is no shortage of people with few scruples wanting a piece of the action. To supply the booming market, farmers, hunters and traffickers are shooting or electrocuting adult otters and stealing their babies. Even law enforcement agencies and government officials are involved, and it’s thought likely there are links to organised crime.

As a result, three out of four otter species found in this part of the world are now at risk of extinction, according to the IUCN.

What can we do?

The good news is, there are a number of positive steps we can all take to help captive otters in Asia, and indeed other wild animals.

1  Let’s Shut Them Down Now petition

2  The easiest of all: Think before we click

It’s all too easy to click on some cute animal video, to comment or follow. Let’s pause for a moment. Is it a wild animal taken from its natural habitat? Then it’s certain to be suffering for our entertainment. World Animal Protection suggests instead of the automatic click, we change the conversation online about keeping wild animals, like otters, as pets. “Every ‘Likethey say, “leads to a lifetime of cruelty.”

3   Download the Wildlife Witness app

If you’re planning a trip abroad, you can actually play a part in the detection of illegal wildlife trade. You may spot wild animals being sold in a local market for example. “The Wildlife Witness smartphone app allows tourists and locals to easily report wildlife trade by taking a photo, pinning the exact location of an incident and sending these important details to TRAFFIC – says their website.

4  Never visit cruel wildlife attractions when you’re on holiday – Take the pledge

5  Ban Wild Animal Cafes and ‘Petting Bars’ Sign petition

6  Watch otters the proper way – in the wild. Check here

7  If you haven’t already, take WAP’s exotic pet pledge here

8  Support the rehabilitation work of Cikananga Wildlife Centre in Indonesia. You can also volunteer at the centre

9  Watch and share Aaron Gekoski’s film ‘Pet otters: the truth behind the latest wildlife craze’

Footnote

This is not a case of Westerners pointing the finger eastwards. We have exactly the same problem on our doorstep, only the ‘cute cuddly’ animal in question here is the ring-tailed lemur, taken from tropical Madagascar to the Lake District, northwest England. Armathwaite Hall, a hotel and spa resort near Keswick, offers ‘lemoga’ – outdoor yoga in the company of the primates. Carolyn Graves, owner of the hotel, says: “Lemoga offers our guests the chance to feel at one with nature, at the same time joining in with the lemurs’ playtime.” 

Teaming up with adjoining Lake District Wildlife Park (now doesn’t that sound nice – for a zoo), the hotel also offers walks with alpacas and meet-the-meerkat sessions. Manager of the ‘wildlife park’ Richard Robinson, waxes lyrical:

“I don’t think you ever see an unhappy zookeeper. We spend all our time with animals. We know how it makes us feel and if we can give a little piece of that to people then great.” Interestingly, he omits to say how the animals feel about it.

It’s just a crying shame that we so often give expression to our natural desire for animal connection in a way that is a thoughtlessly one-sided affair.

 

Yoga Studio Set to Exploit Monkeys, Reptiles, and Others – Take Action Now here

 

Sources 

Otter cafés and ‘cute pets craze’ fuel illegal trafficking in Japan and Indonesia

Biophilia – Google books

Asian social media craze fuels cruel trade in otters for pets and cafes

Animal cafes offer drinks and companionship

Lemoga: Lake District hotel offers yoga with lemurs as partners

Related posts

Three Years in Heaven After Sixty Years in Hell – RIP Sweet Lakhi

Wildlife Tourism: Good or bad for the Animals?

Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

Persons not Property – Could the Tide be Turning?

A Promising Way Forward for Animal Rights?

 

 

 

 

 

“My promise to the animals is this: You have all of me”

“My promise to the animals is this: You have all of me. The lioness in the circus—I see you. The pig in the sow stall—I see you. The mouse in the medical experimentation facility—I see you. The fish crushed at the bottom of a trawler net—I see you. I know your suffering, and I will never be silent. I will push forward no matter what life throws my way because the cruelties inflicted on you must end, and I’ll do all I can to see that happen. You have all of me.”

The stirring words of outspoken vegan activist Emma Hurst, representative of the Animal Justice Party (AJP), at her swearing in to Australia’s New South Wales State Parliament. She is now the third vegan activist elected to state office.

My last post Isn’t it Time to Stop the Killing in the Name of Conservation, cast the spotlight on the horrific scale of Australia’s ongoing slaughter of wild and feral animals. Still more blood is shed to ‘protect’ farmers’ and ranchers’ interests – without mentioning the unhappy fate of the farmed animals themselves. So it’s good to know Arian Wallach and the Centre for Compassionate Conservation are not alone in their campaign for kinder ways. Here is an introduction to the Animal Justice Party –

Last month vegan activists stopped the traffic in central Melbourne, while others demonstrated outside abattoirs. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison no less, said their activism was “un-Australian”, and bad-mouthed them as “green-collar criminals”. 40 of them were arrested. He declared his determination not to let them “pull the rug from under our Aussie farmers,”  at present an industry worth $30 billion.

May 18th’s pivotal election

“Australians will return to the polls this Saturday in what’s becoming a pivotal election for animals and the environment. The big question: Will Australia’s next prime minister be friend or foe to the nation’s  animal agriculture industry?”

Veganism in Australia
  • The country has more than 2 million vegans
  • Veganism is especially popular among younger voters
  •  44 percent of young people (aged 18–24) think that veganism is “cooler than smoking.” (Certainly much healthier!)
  • The plant-based food industry there is forecasted to grow 58% by 2020
Why things have to change
  • 1.8 billion animals have been killed for food in Australia so far this year and counting
  • 70% of the $30 billion Australian agriculture is ‘worth’ comes from slaughtered animals
  • 30% comes from milk, wool and eggs (which of course all also mean animal slaughter)
  • Last year the country exported 2.85 million living animals which suffered cruelly over long journeys in cramped shipping containers
  • 2,400 sheep died of heat stress en route from Perth to the Middle East
  • Australia’s animal agriculture accounts for 11% of national emissions of GHGs
  • Over 20 year timescale that actually means 50% because methane has a stronger climate forcing effect
  • “Nearly 85 percent of the population that lives along the coast will be impacted by rising seas, storm surges, flooding, heatwaves, and damage to public infrastructure”
And climate change is already a big problem 
  • Last year Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology issued four Special Climate Statements relating to “extreme” and “abnormal” heat, and reported broken climate records
  • With temperatures around 40°C in December last year, firefighters struggled to contain the 115 bush fires raging across Queensland
  • Piles of dead fox bats, whose brains literally fried in the heat, covered Sydney
  • For the last two years the country’s rainfall has been 11% below average
  • With the severe shortage of grazing on the parched land for their cattle, farmers in Western Australia have been struggling to find the money for the cost of feed, at $10,000 dollars per truckload
  • Farmers have also had to drive round with tankers of water to keep their thirsty cattle alive

In spite of all this, “as far as Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Parliament’s pro-farming majority are concerned, animals are no more than the means to a very profitable end for this Parliament.” (This attitude is what we are all up against.)

The Animal Justice Party, which doesn’t “prioritize a cattle and BBQ culture ahead of a livable climate,” but does, like Emma Hurst, prioritise animal rights, certainly has its work cut out.

If you live in Australia please vote this Saturday for the AJP.

“My promise to the animals is this: You have all of me.”

For the sake of the animals, please share this post widely. Thank you.
Sign Animals Australia’s petition against live exports here and take more actions for the animals here

Sources

Australia Swears in Third Vegan Activist to State Parliament – Sentient Media

Australia’s 2018 in weather: drought, heat and fire 

Related posts

Eat a Steak, Kill a Lemur, Eat a Chicken, Kill a Parrot

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals Part 2

Why I Love Women, Especially Loud Vegan Women

Isn’t it Time to Stop the Killing in the Name of Conservation

 

The Cat Man of Aleppo Returns

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war. It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

The cat man of Aleppo, Mohammad Aljaleel, touched the hearts of millions when his sanctuary featured in a BBC video in 2016. He had to leave the city when it fell to Syrian government forces, but he’s now back – in an area nearby – and helping children as well as animals, reports Diana Darke.

(There is nothing I can possibly add to this amazing story, except to say that if you want to see what true humanity looks like, look no further than Diana’s account below of this exceptional man.) 

Just weeks after the video was filmed, Mohammad Aljaleel (known to everyone as Alaa) watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then chlorine-gassed, during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo.

Most of his 180 cats were lost or killed. Like thousands of other civilians he was trapped in the eastern half of the city under continuous bombardment from Russian and Syrian fighter jets.

As the siege tightened, he was forced from one Aleppo district to another, witnessing unimaginable scenes of devastation. Yet throughout, he continued to look after the few surviving cats and to rescue people injured in the bombing, driving them to underground hospitals.

When the city fell in December 2016, he left in a convoy, his van crammed full of injured people and the last six cats from the sanctuary.

“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” Alaa says. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”

After a brief recuperation in Turkey, he smuggled himself back into Syria – bringing a Turkish cat with him for company – and established a new cat sanctuary, bigger and better than the first one, in Kafr Naha, a village in opposition-held countryside west of Aleppo.

Alaa and Ernesto
Alaa and a cat called Ernesto

Using the same crowdfunding model employed successfully in east Aleppo, funds were sent in by cat-lovers from all over the world via Facebook and Twitter.

But Alaa has always worked for the benefit of the community, as well as the cats themselves.

In Aleppo, he and his team of helpers bought generators, dug wells and stockpiled food. Even at the height of the bombing, they ran animal welfare courses for children, to develop their empathy. They also set up a playground next to the sanctuary where children could briefly escape from the apocalyptic events taking place all around them.

The new sanctuary has expanded to include an orphanage, a kindergarten and a veterinary clinic. Alaa and his team resemble a small development agency, providing services that government and international charities cannot or will not. He strongly believes that helping children to look after vulnerable animals teaches them the importance of kindness to all living creatures, and helps to heal their own war traumas.

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war,” he says. “It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

As a boy growing up in Aleppo, Alaa had always looked after cats, spurring his friends to do likewise, even though keeping cats and dogs as pets is not customary in Syria or the rest of the Arab world.

He started working aged 13, as an electrician, but also turned his hand to many other jobs – painter, decorator, IT expert, satellite-dish installer… he even traded toys between Lebanon and Syria.

He worked hard and he learned how to get things done. “May the dust turn to gold in your hands, Alaa,” his mother used to say.

His dream was to become a fireman like his father and work in search and rescue, but such jobs were handed out only to those with connections, and the connection through his father was not enough. So for years his applications were rejected.

The sanctuary's vet, Dr Youssef
The sanctuary’s vet, Dr Youssef

“Of course I would never have wished for a war in order to make my dream come true. I wish I could have achieved these things without the suffering I have seen,” he says.

“God blessed me by putting me in a position where I could help people by being a rescue man, but in my worst nightmares I never imagined a war like this for my people or for my country, or even for a single animal.”

During the siege in Aleppo he used to visit both Christian and Muslim old people’s homes, distributing food. Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra regularly chided him, calling him a kaafir, an unbeliever, but he continued regardless.

“Our Prophet Muhammad was good to everybody. He spoke with all Christians and Jews. I believe in Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, because all of them had a noble aim. I’m a Muslim, but I am not a fanatic. I just take from religion everything that’s good and that I can learn things from,” Alaa says.

Despite the difficulties he has endured, Alaa has always maintained a wicked sense of humour. At the new sanctuary, a tabby called Maxi the Marketing King is chief fundraiser, soliciting “green kisses” in the form of dollar bills via social media accounts.

Maxi, aka King Maxi
Maxi, chief fundraiser

Alaa wears a T-shirt with “Maxi’s Slave” written on it, and gets ticked off for smoking too much or for not cooking gourmet meals. He admits his shortcomings. “We submit to Maxi’s authority as the ruler of his kingdom. But even with Maxi’s leadership it wasn’t easy to launch the new sanctuary,” he says.

Maxi's "slave"

This is an understatement. The rebel-held area where Alaa now lives is semi-lawless and when powerful gangs realised he was receiving funds for the sanctuary, they attempted to kidnap him. He was no longer being bombed, but his life was still at risk.

As well as cats, the new sanctuary has dogs, monkeys, rabbits, a chicken that thinks it’s a cat, and an Arabian thoroughbred horse.

“There are so few thoroughbred horses left inside Syria now that I worry about finding him a mare to breed with. I plan to perform the role of a traditional Syrian mother and try to find him a wife, so that he can have children and start building up the population of thoroughbred horses in Syria again,” Alaa says.

Fox at the sanctuary
Injured fox, rescued by the sanctuary

All the animals have names, generally awarded by Alaa. An aggressive black-and-white cat who came to the sanctuary, stole food and terrified all the other cats was nicknamed al-Baghdadi, after the Iraqi leader of Islamic State (IS).

“Of course, this cat was a million times better than that evil murderer al-Baghdadi, but this name came to mind because his presence in the sanctuary coincided with the arrival of IS gangs in Aleppo,” Alaa says.

Cat and cockerel
A cockerel that behaves like a cat… 

A large ginger tomcat was given a Trump hairstyle and christened The Orange President of the Sanctuary. A pair of speedy acrobatic cats were called Sukhoi 25 and Sukhoi 26, after Russian fighter jets.

“They’re old planes, but effective enough for the job required of them in Syria. We always knew when the Russians were coming to bomb us because of their very loud engine noise. We’d shout: ‘Watch out! A Sukhoi is coming!'”

Alaa’s reputation inside Syria has travelled far and wide, and the government is well aware of his activities.

A hawk
And a resident bird of prey

In 2017 he was called by the Magic World Zoo, south of Aleppo, which asked desperately for his help to feed the neglected lions, tigers and bears – which he did, despite the dangers of the journey which involved passing through Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoints. While there, he discovered he had been recommended by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture.

“It was funny that the ministry knew about us and was handing over responsibility for the zoo animals to us,” he says. “The Magic World Zoo gave me a lot of headaches.”

Alaa was eventually able to negotiate a solution for the animals with a charity called Four Paws, which arranged for the animals that hadn’t died to be transported out of Syria to new homes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Jordan.

In the new sanctuary he looks after 105 children, of whom 85 are “orphans” (in Syria the word covers children who have lost a breadwinner, as well as those who have lost both parents). Only 11 children actually sleep in the orphanage at present, because it isn’t finished, but all receive education, food and clothes, for which Alaa pays 25 euros per month.

The biggest risk is the instability in the region. Clashes break out periodically, as it’s close to the border with Idlib province, which is controlled by rebel groups who often fight each other. No-one knows what will happen next to that part of Syria and who will end up in charge.

“I blame all fighting parties equally – no matter who they are or why they say they’re fighting – for the killing of civilians,” Alaa says.

“We are rebuilding our communities and my role in that is to rebuild my sanctuary for cats. Friendship between animals is a great thing and we should learn from them. I’ll stay with them no matter what happens.

_105920908_feedingfb2_976.jpg

“It seems the world cannot solve wars and conflicts these days. That’s why there are now so many refugees around the world, but especially here in the Middle East.

“I do not want to be a refugee. I want to stay in my country, in Syria. I want to help people in any way I can.”

Diana Darke is the author, with Alaa Aljaleel, of The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo.

All pics from BBC

A page full of videos about Alaa and his work

Source Return of the cat man of Aleppo – BBC News

Related posts

The Four-Legged City Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

A Thousand Happy Faces & Wagging Tails

What Man Scars, Nature Heals

Cover pic. Apollo butterfly, European Green Belt

It cannot be denied that the human world is often a place of nightmare, rife with hatred and war: nation against nation, race against race, tribe against tribe, sect against sect, political systems pitted one against the other, hostile factions splintering their own countries to the point of destruction. In the many wars of the last century 108 million humans died at the hands of other humans.

But human conflict doesn’t just kill humans. Bombs and bullets rain down on human and nonhuman animals alike.
And wars cause famine. Animals starve, and animals are eaten by starving humans. Animals are forced to suffer everything we like to inflict on our own kind, and more.
Animals are even slaughtered simply so they don’t have to be fed. On the outbreak of World War II, the British government persuaded the population it was their patriotic duty to have their beloved pets put down. The first week of the war witnessed a mass euthanasia of three quarters of a million “non-essential animals”. Cat owners were  prosecuted for giving their pet a saucer of milk.
At London Zoo, fruit bats, crocodiles, alligators, snakes, spiders, and lion cubs were also euthanised..
And then there were those animals we forced into the thick of it, conscripted into a war that wasn’t theirs: “elephants, dogs, cats and pigeons, even chickens, were all recruited to help in the war effort, and many of them died.” 

Turning to a different arena of war, in the 80 years since WWII, “70 percent of Africa’s protected nature reserves have been turned into battlegrounds” taking down animal populations with them. In one decade, in Mozambique alone, 90% of hippos, zebras, elephants, antelope, and other herbivores perished. Happily, the wildlife has since bounced back, almost to its pre-conflict levels.

Ironically, this very belligerence that in our kind seems so deeply rooted, sometimes has the opposite, unexpectedly happy effect not of destroying animals and Nature, but creating space for her and respite for wildlife.
How does this happen?

Mostly, all that is needed is for us to be removed from the scene. Healing Nature does the rest. This happens by chance when we create a No Man’s Land between the territories of two hostile parties. In No Man’s Land there are no humans to hunt, trap or poison the animals (human hunters kill 4 times as many smaller carnivores as do the large wild predators). No farming to plough up and fence off potential habitat, or blitz the land with pesticides. And just as importantly, there is silence.

Because even when we are not fighting each other, or persecuting the animals, not doing anything at all directly harmful, our mere presence, the mere sound of the human voice – this may come as a surprise – terrifies the creatures and drastically inhibits the natural behaviours they need for survival such as foraging or hunting. Researchers from Western University found that we humans are far scarier to badgers, for instance, than are any of the apex predators like wolves and big cats. In fact, simply the sound of people talking filled badgers with a paralysing terror

They concluded that we could be messing up wild animals’ lives even more than previously imagined” not by doing anything in particular, just by being around.

And it gets worse. If we are doing more than just being there, there are at least four ways we could actually be causing wildlife to develop cancer. We humans are it seems an oncogenic species. (‘Oncogenic’: tending to cause tumours) Some accolade!

So, time to remove the humans
The No Man’s Lands

1. The Iron Curtain

The Communist Soviet Bloc’s Iron Curtain stretching from “the Barents Sea at the Russian-Norwegian border, along the Baltic Coast, through Central Europe and the Balkans to the Black and the Adriatic Seas,” all 12,500 kilometres of it, holds the record as the longest ever No Man’s Land in the world. This several hundred metres-wide scar of barbed wire, land mines, watchtowers and Kalashnikov-bearing border guards, dividing the whole of Europe and splitting Germany into two opposing camps, forcibly confined its citizens, and kept them from the ‘contamination’ of Western democracy.

image-1
An abandoned DDR watch tower in Germany (photograph by Niteshift/Wikimedia)

The Curtain remained in place for forty years until it finally came down in 1989. And in that time Nature turned what was a fearful zone of death for humans, into a line of life for wild animals, an ecological corridor for wolves, bears, lynx and eagles. Along the 1,400 km strip dividing Germany alone, more than 600 threatened animal and plant species flourished.

Fortunately, conservationists in both the East and the West of the reunited Germany, were themselves united in their desire to keep that space for Nature, to protect this wildlife paradise from the inevitable human tendency to appropriate the land for human ends.

From what had been a symbol of human hostilities was born the European Green Belt, stretching along the borders of 24 states, and proudly owning a sweeter record, the record of being the longest and largest ecological network of its kind in the world.

2. The Korean DMZ

The present day DMZ, the de-militarised zone forcibly separating the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north, and the Republic of Korea in the south, is pint-size in comparison. Stretching 250 kilometres from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and 4 kilometres wide, it can be seen from space as a green ribbon dividing the Korean peninsula roughly in half.

In all other respects though, with all its layers of razor wire, thousands of land mines and military guards, it bears a grisly resemblance to the former Iron Curtain. And yet, in spite of the DMZ being “steeped in violence” and “one of the most dangerous places on earth”, Nature has reclaimed this symbol of enmity too, and transformed its 1000 sq kilometres into a haven buzzing with biodiversity, with thousands of species, many of which are either already extinct or endangered in both countries.

The beautiful red-crowned crane Korea Japan
The beautiful red-crowned crane

There are “Manchurian or red crowned cranes and white naped cranes, nearly 100 species of fish, perhaps 45 types of amphibians and reptiles and over 1,000 different insect species. Scientists estimate that over 1,600 types of vascular plants, and more than 300 species of mushroom, fungi and lichen are thriving in the DMZ. Mammals such as the rare Amur goral, Asiatic black bear, musk deer and spotted seal inhabit the DMZ’s land and marine ecosystems. There are even reports of tigers, believed extinct on the peninsula since before Japanese occupation, roaming the DMZ’s mountains.

Right now, North and South are making reconciliatory noises. If the two Koreas decide to reunify, there would be no more need for the deadly DMZ. But the DMZ has become the “ecological treasury” of the two Koreas. And even more completely priceless, since over the last 100 years of almost ceaseless conflict, industrial scale mining, deforestation, and soil pollution, ecosystems are in dire straits on both sides of the divide.

Luckily, as with the former Iron Curtain, scientists and citizens in both the ROK and the DPRK, and elsewhere in the world, recognise the richness of Nature in the DMZ, and have been for some time working hard to safeguard the future of its unique ecology. Moves are afoot to get the DMZ recognised by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site. Various NGOs are involved, foremost the DMZ Forum whose mission is “To support conservation of the unique biological and cultural resources of Korea’s Demilitarized Zone,

“Transforming it from a symbol of war and separation to a place of peace among humans and between humans and nature.”

What better mission could there be.

No Man’s Lands aren’t always borders

1. Take the compound of brutal dictator Idi Amin

The “Butcher of Uganda” was responsible for murdering some 300,000 of his own people. His failed invasion of Tanzania proved to be the last throw of the dice for this unspeakable man, and in 1979 he was forced to flee the country. In the video below we can see for the first time how 40 years of Nature’s handiwork has turned the place where this monster plotted his atrocities into a peaceful wildlife paradise.

And this is not the only place once scarred by his dreadful presence. The beautiful island of Mukusu, a spectacular 23-acre paradise in Lake Victoria was the despot’s combined holiday home and torture camp.

“Henry Kabwgo, a fisherman living in a wooden shack on the island’s main beach, recalled how during fishing trips he would often see bodies bobbing in the lake, dumped from the shore by Amin’s henchmen. Then the crocodiles would eat them.” Unsurprisingly he described Amin as “a terrible man, a savage”.

Fisherman fishing boats Lake Victoria Uganda
Fishermen Lake Victoria

I have not been able to discover how the island looks in 2019, but photos dated 2005 show Nature’s living cloak of greenery softening the ruins that were once the site of bloody horror.

2. No solid borders divide the ocean

While humans are busy killing each other at sea, they can’t be troubling the fish. Back to WWII once again. Fishing boats were requisitioned and fishermen drafted. And any that were not, would have been foolhardy in the extreme to risk venturing out on to the menacing waters of war. The fish got left in peace. Nature is never slow to seize an opportunity, and fish populations burgeoned.

fish-1240740_960_720

Not only that, but when warships sank, as many did, they made perfect artificial reefs, rapidly colonised by an abundance of marine life. 52 German warships abandoned on the seabed off the north coast of Scotland for example, “are now thriving marine habitats”. Nature once again creating life from the detritus human hostilities leave behind them.

But to every rule, there has to be an exception. Sometimes Nature can prevail even when there are too many  humans

In 1945, a certain school of hungry oceanic whitetips, known to be the most aggressive of all sharks, found themselves a new and plentiful supply of food. No encounter with these animals could be worse surely, than the feeding frenzy that followed the Japanese sinking of the USS Indianapolis near the Philippines. In the 12 minutes it took the warship to founder, 900 sailors made it into the Pacific ocean, but the blood from injured men and the thrashing in the water soon attracted the whitetips.

To begin with they satisfied their hunger only with the dead. But when rescue finally arrived, the survivors had been in the water four whole days, and only 317 remained alive. No-one knows exactly how many men the whitetips devoured, but estimates reckon at least 150. If you have an appetite for reading the gruesome story in full, you can do so here

The event, though undeniably horrific for those seamen, was spawned by humans’ own enmities, one people against another. But Nature finds a way to transcend the deadly worst we can do to each other, and to her.

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

She always does.


Update

11th May 2019  Rare Asian black bear spotted in Korean DMZ

Related posts

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear

What Happens to Animals When People Disappear 2

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

Sources

Rewilding war zones can help heal the wounds of conflict

In Germany, a symbol of division is reborn as sprawling nature reserve

The Iron Curtain

The Cold War had an unintended side effect

How wildlife is thriving in the Korean peninsula’s demilitarised zone

Idi Amin’s island of slaughter for sale

The Worst Shark Attack in History

Animal victims – It’s not just humans that die in wars

 

 

 

Voices for the Voiceless – A Year of Victories for the Animals

Victories won for animals by just a few of the many voices raised for the voiceless in 2018
In the UK,
Animal Aid 

Infographic-1

Since the graphic above was prepared, “more developments have taken place. For example, more than 30 organisations have now taken the decision to cancel live reindeer events. While it has been an excellent year, there is still so much work to be done.

“With your help, we can achieve even more for animals in 2019. Why not get involved straight away by visiting our Take Action page?”

PETA UK 2018 highlights
The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Awards for inspiring animal advocates
This year’s full list of winners:
  • Christine (Chris) and George Rockingham, from Norfolk, for a lifetime’s dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating animals at their PACT sanctuary for nearly 25 years.
  • Michel Birkenwald, from London, for drilling more than 100 ‘hedgehog highways’ in South West London to help hedgehogs navigate to new areas to forage.
  • Ralph the Golden Retriever, from Hertfordshire, for changing the life of his companion Paul who was left paralysed after a car crash six years ago.
  • Debbie Bailey, from Derbyshire, for her work to protect badgers from culling through vaccinations.
  • Michelle Clark, from London, for starting her voluntary run, not-for-profit organisation Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) that cares for and helps homeless people and their dogs.
  • Nigel and Sara Hicks, from Cornwall, for their dedication to treating injured and orphaned orangutans in Borneo for six months every year, for nearly 10 years.
  • Chloe Hennegan, from the West Midlands, for running her rabbit rescue and rehabilitation centre Fat Fluffs since 2008.
  • Trisha Shaw, from Warwickshire, for her many years volunteering and raising thousands of pounds for her local dog charity Pawprints.
  • Natalia Doran, from London, for setting up Urban Squirrels, a licensed squirrel rescue in her own home.
World Animal Protection 2018 proudest moments

Too much to mention – these are just a few of our proudest moments: 

  • 29 travel companies committed to stop promoting elephant entertainment venues, making a total of 226 
  • 10 bears used for baiting and dancing were given new lives in our partner sanctuary in Pakistan 
  • We reached more than 500,000 KFC petition signatures, and are in talks with the fast food chain to improve their animal welfare standards
  • 83,000 dogs in Sierra Leone and Kenya were vaccinated against rabies  
  • We helped 454,774 animals recover from 12 disasters around the world  
  • The disaster preparedness work we did with governments and NGOs this year will help protect 52,000,000 animals in future
  • Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Lidl and Tesco have all joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) which we helped set up in 2015 to tackle the problem of Ghost Gear (marine pollution from abandoned or lost fishing nets and lines)

In Australia,

Animal Australia Year in Review 2018

In the US,

Click on the link below to see a wide range and a long list of achievements won for wildlife by the Humane Society of the US:-

Wildlife gains for 2018 range from bans on wild animal circus acts to major fur-free announcements

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is winning victories for animals in the US courts of law

“As 2019 approaches, we’re looking back at our biggest legal victories for animals over the last 12 months. These are just a few highlights – watch the video from Executive Director Stephen Wells to learn about all the legal advances we made for animals.”

 

Previous posts related to voices for animals in the legal system:-

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 4

Animals Can Legally Be Considered ‘Victims’ – Oregon Supreme Court

Will Today Be the Day Chimpanzees Become Legal Persons?

Good News in a Bad Week

Persons Not Property – Could the Tide be Turning?

Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

Naruto & the Selfie – The Case is Settled

“My job is to give people hope” – Jane Goodall’s Call to Action

‘How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?”

Who better to open the Guardian’s new series The Age of Extinction, than the renowned primatologist Jane Goodall? Her lifespan of 84 years has seen a horrifying loss of wild animals of all kinds, along with their habitats.
And yet she believes if we come together and play our part in our own lives, we can “heal some of the harm we have inflicted.” This is her message to us all:

During my years studying chimpanzees in Gombe national park in Tanzania I experienced the magic of the rainforest. I learned how all life is interconnected, how each species, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has a role to play in the rich tapestry of life – known today as biodiversity. Even the loss of one thread can have a ripple effect and result in major damage to the whole.

jane_goodall-1

I left Gombe in 1986 when I realised how fast chimpanzee habitat was being destroyed and how their numbers were declining. I visited six chimpanzee range states and learned a great deal about the rate of deforestation as a result of foreign corporations (timber, oil and mining)and population growth in communities in and around chimpanzee habitat, so that more land was needed for expanding villages, agriculture and grazing livestock.

Chimpanzees were affected by the bushmeat trade – the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. I saw traumatised infants, whose mothers had been killed – either for the same bushmeat or the illegal animal trade, for sale in the markets, or in inappropriate zoos where they had been placed after confiscation by local authorities.

But I also learned about the problems faced by so many African communities in and around chimpanzee habitat. When I arrived in Gombe in 1960 it was part of what was called the equatorial forest belt, stretching from East Africa through the Congo Basin to the West African coast. By 1980 it was a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills, with more people living there than the land could support, over-farmed soil, trees cut down on all but the steepest slopes by people desperate to grow food for their families or make money from charcoal. I realised that unless we could improve their lives we could not even try to protect chimpanzees.

But chimpanzees, and many other species are still highly endangered. Over the last 100 years chimpanzee numbers have dropped from perhaps two million to a maximum of 340,000, many living in fragmented patches of forest. Several thousand apes are killed or taken captive for the illegal wildlife trade. Orangutans and gibbons are losing their habitats due to the proliferation of non-sustainable oil palm plantations. We are experiencing the sixth great extinction. The most recent report from WWF describes the situation as critical – in the last 49 years, we have lost 60% of all animal and plant species on Earth.

We are poisoning the soil through large-scale industrial agriculture. Invasive species are choking out native animal and plant life in many places. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by our reliance on fossil fuels, destruction of the rain forests and pollution of the ocean. Increase of demand for meat not only involves horrible cruelty to billions of animals in factory farms, but huge areas of wild habitats destroyed to grow crops for animal feed.

So much fossil fuel is required to take grain to animals, animals to slaughter, meat to table – and during digestion these animals are producing methane – an even more virulent gas than carbon dioxide. And their waste along with other industrial agriculture runoff is polluting soil and rivers sometimes causing toxic algae blooms over large areas of ocean.

Climate change is a very real threat as spelled out in the latest UN report*, as these greenhouse gases, trapping the heat of the sun, are causing the melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, more frequent and more intense storms. In some places agricultural yields are decreasing, fuelling human displacement and conflict. How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk the Earth is destroying its only home?

Because many policymakers and corporations – and we as individuals – tend to make decisions based on “How will this affect me now, affect the shareholders’ meeting, the next political campaign?” rather than “How will this affect future generations?” Mother Nature is being destroyed at an ever faster rate for the sake of short term gain. This, along with our horrifying population growth, poverty – causing people to destroy the environment simply to try to make a living – and the unsustainable lifestyles of the rest of us who have way more than we need, is the root cause of all the planet’s woes.

It is depressing to realise how much change I have witnessed during my 84 years. I have seen the ice melting in Greenland, the glaciers vanishing on Mount Kilimanjaro and around the world. When I arrived in Gombe the chimpanzee population stretched for miles along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Buffalo, common then, are locally extinct and only a few leopards remain.

19a37d78670a0dca9e7115ac3e46c454

The water of the Lake was crystal clear, fish and water cobras were abundant, and there were crocodiles. But with soil washed into the lake and over-fishing, that changed. When I spent time in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in the 60s and early 70s, rhino and elephants were plentiful. I grew up in the south of England. The dawn chorus of the birds was magical – so many of them have gone, along with the hedgehogs that used to rustle through the vegetation at night. In May and June we had to draw the curtains at night to keep out the hundreds of cockchafers – May bugs, attracted to the light – today it is rare to see even one, and the clouds of mosquitos and midges are almost gone.

Yet I believe we have a small window of opportunity when, if we get together, we can start to heal some of the harm we have inflicted. Everywhere, where young people understand the problems and are empowered to take action – when we listen to their voices, they are making a difference. With our superior intellect we are coming up with technological solutions to help us live in greater harmony with nature and reduce our own ecological footprints. We have a choice each day as to what we buy, eat and wear. And nature is amazingly resilient – there are no more bare hills around Gombe, as an example. Species on the brink of extinction have been given a second chance. We can reach out to the world through social media in a way never before possible. And there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle the impossible and won’t give up. My job is to give people hope, for without it we fall into apathy and do nothing.


info_12569In 1994, the Jane Goodall Institute launched the Tacare program, working in collaboration with the villagers themselves. A holistic program including restoring fertility to the farm land (no chemicals used), improved health and education facilities, water management programs, microcredit opportunities (particularly for women), family planning information, and scholarships to keep girls in school. Today this operates in 72 villages throughout the range of Tanzania’s remaining chimpanzees, most of whom live in unprotected village forest reserves. Village volunteers learn to use smart phones, patrol their forests, and note any illegal activities as well as signs or sightings of animals. This information is uploaded onto a platform in the cloud, including Global Forest Watch.

Tacare now operates similar programs in six other African countries. “The villagers have become our partners in conservation,” says Goodall. “They know that protecting the environment benefits them as well as wildlife.”


*Jane’s call to action is urgent. According to the UN report she mentions, we have only 12 years left to get control of climate change. “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.” – Debra Roberts for UN IPCC

 

Related posts

Futurology Offers More Hopes than Fears for the Animals & the Planet

There is Always Hope for the Animals & the Planet

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

High Schools Across China are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses

These Are the Heroes Putting Their Lives on the Line for the Animals of Paradise

And for an entirely different take on the topic – Should We Look on the Bright Side of the 6th Mass Extinction?

 

Fiona the Hippo Predicts Superbowl Winner – Harmless Fun or Shameless Exploitation?

“Fiona the hippo knows who will win Super Bowl 2018. This is science.”

Apparently.

Harmless fun or shameless exploitation? A bit of both. Fiona certainly looks to be enjoying her salad, so hopefully no hippo was harmed in the making of this video.

All I can add to my previous post about adorable Fiona, is that Cincinnati Zoo knew what it was doing when it appointed its marketing director. No profitable opportunity is missed. He/she is making the little hippo worth her ever-expanding weight in gold for the zoo’s coffers.

The zoo is non-profit, so let us hope all those extra dollars Fiona is unwittingly spinning  will conserve wildlife where we want it to be – in the wild.

Update 5th February 2018

Fiona was right on the button, or should I say, on the lettuce. She picked the underdog Eagles and the underdogs won! I believe the POTUS will be visiting Cincinnati this week. I do hope he doesn’t get to pay a visit to little Fi. Now that would be cruelty to animals.

Sources

Photo and video from CZ

Here’s Who Will Win Super Bowl 2018, According to a Hippo

Related posts

Adorable Baby Hippo’s First Birthday Wipes CZ’s Slate Clean of the Killing of Harambe

14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses!

“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”

This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.

What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.

Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –

  • Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
  • In 2016 the Chinese government formulated a vision to become the ecological civilization of the 21st century
  • Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
  • And in 2017, then the market for 70% of ivory, China announced its ban on the ivory trade
  • Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”

Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.

Bear bile farming 

Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.

Dogs and cats

Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.

Animal in Zoos

Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.

Donkeys for Ejaio

Donkeys hit with sledgehammers before having their throats slit. Then skinned. Their skins are rendered down into ejaio, a gelatin considered to be a cure for all ills in traditional Chinese medicine.

Illegal imports of endangered animal parts in huge quantities from around the world

Animals Used in Science

Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.

At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!


(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)


Postscript

China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.


Updates

8th March 2018 Massive new panda national park in China will try to save the iconic species

¹Demographics of China

².Indexmundi

Sources

High Schools Across China Are Now Offering Animal Welfare Courses! – One Green PlanetOne Green Planet

Facts about Cruelty to Animals in Asia

China moves to protect coastal wetlands used by migratory birds

Related posts

World First – China’s Bird Airport

Hands Clasped Across the River for Two Big Cats

The Next Extinction – Donkeys??

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy

 

Adorable Baby Hippo’s 1st Birthday Wipes CZ’s Slate Clean of the Killing of Harambe

“Some days, it’s more like being a Hollywood star’s agent than a communications official for the zoo. That’s what happens when your prematurely born hippopotamus becomes a global celebrity.”

– Dan Sewell, spokesperson for Cincinnati Zoo.

Remember the furore in 2016 when Harambe the gorilla, after rescuing from the water a 3 year old boy who had climbed a fence and fallen into his enclosure, was shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo? Harambe was born in a zoo and died in a zoo – his life was ended for him just one day after his 17th birthday. He could have lived until he was 40.

But now Harambe is yesterday’s news, and Cincinnati Zoo has been celebrating a different birthday, and I mean celebrating. All that adverse publicity has become no more than a bad dream. Fiona the baby hippo, who has showered the zoo with her golden stardust since the moment of her birth, has just turned 1. And Cincinnati Zoo decided to throw a big party open to all. The human party-goers received gifts: hippo bathmats, Fiona-themed postcards stamped with her footprint (yes, really), cake and ice cream. The zoo’s animals were not left out. They got “party favours” of special enrichment toys.

As Harambe before her, Fiona is a global celebrity – but not like him for what many believe was an avoidable death, but for the tenacity with which she clung on to her little life. The little hippo was born prematurely in the zoo and needed the same kind of special care from the humans as a human baby. After 2 weeks, she took her first steps. 2 days later she took her first dip in a tub. Her cuteness cannot be denied.

By this time, she had captured the imagination of thousands, if not millions, and the zoo was receiving cards, drawings and donations for the little one. They followed her day-by-day progress as she grew and got steadily stronger. By April she was weighing in at a healthy 150 lbs. Needless to say, visitors are flocking to see her. (Numbers for CZ are up from 1.63 million in 2016 to 1.87 million last year.} When Fiona’s little head peeks out, the roar of delight from visitors can be heard all over the zoo.

 

“Zoo director Thane Maynard’s own “Saving Fiona” will later this year join the growing library of books about her. The Cincinnati Reds baseball team will feature a Fiona bobblehead, and the minor-league Florence, Kentucky, Freedom plans a Fiona snow globe this summer. There will be a “Fiona’s Cove” exhibit at next month’s annual Cincinnati Home & Garden Show.”

26907194_10155896536945479_968299272777731402_n

Add to that list the Fiona calendar, Fiona-themed T-shirts, cookies, ornaments, and beer. There will even be special edition Fiona ice cream. So as well as the extra visitor revenue, the zoo has made almost $500,000 in licensing agreements with the local businesses cashing in on her fame, and no doubt much more to come.

Animal babies are good news for zoos, and never more so than when the zoo’s reputation has been tarnished by the scandal surrounding an untimely death – RIP Harambe. With Fiona’s birth, especially as the poor babe was premature (will she/won’t she pull through – the tug on the heart strings) CZ hit the jackpot.

And while the tlc given to Fiona to help her survive her premature birth was assuredly admirable, zoos are easily tempted to favour their balance sheets over a zoo baby’s welfare. Ueno Zoo in Japan is a case in point. Its panda cub Xiang Xiang is being “put on overtime.”

Ueno Zoo’s first  since 1988 will be on display for an extra two hours every day until the end of January and working a full seven-hour day from February to cater to the thousands of fans of the cuddly celebrity.”  Note “working”. A captive animal has no say.

On the other side of the Pacific, zookeepers at LA Zoo have coaxed a mother okapi and her baby out of their enclosure so the zoo can put the little one on display. Since the natural habitat for this reclusive species is deep in the dense rainforests of central Africa, it is hard to see how this could possibly be in the best interests of mum or baby. The zoo claims, “the mother and father were paired under a species survival plan by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to increase the okapi population. The numbers of okapis in the wild has declined to between 10,000 and 50,000.”

Is it cynical to wonder if this is a nice piece of greenwashing? While exposure to noisy crowds of gawking humans will surely be extremely stressful to a reclusive animal like the okapi, I doubt okapi junior is doing much harm to the zoo’s gate receipts.

Who doesn’t love to see babies? Unregulated roadside zoos and so-called ‘sanctuaries’  deliberately breed from their animals to please the punters. But as Ueno and LA zoos make clear, ‘reputable’ affiliated zoos engage in the same activity. It is after all a surefire way to draw in the crowds and keep gate receipts buoyant. So, what when zoos get more babies than they bargained for? Or those erstwhile babies have outgrown their adorable babyhood?.

If a zoo baby is unlikely to be a mega money spinner like little Fiona, theirs is a very different fate. Remember Marius the baby giraffe at Copenhagen Zoo? Marius was killed with a bolt gun, and cut up and fed to lions before a crowd of schoolchildren. His crime? He was ‘surplus to requirements’ – too genetically similar to the other giraffes in the zoo.

Just this month a Swedish zoo admitted “putting down” – such a nice gentle euphemism – 9 healthy lion cubs in the last 5 years. They too were simply ‘surplus to requirements’.

“Helena Pederson, a researcher in animal studies at Gothenburg University, said the euthanisation of animals in zoos raised the question of whether such institutions should be open.” Indeed!

These examples have hit the headlines, but killing unwanted animals is a commonplace in zoos. Look beyond the stardom of the Fionas and the Xiang Xiangs and zoos are more often places of death than of new life.

The sad truth is, the interests of humans, especially their monetary interests, will always prevail over the best interests of the nonhuman living beings and their right to their lives.


A pioneering project in China

“The Landmark Entertainment company, known for its work on “Jurassic Park: The Ride,” “Kongfrontation” and “The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 5D” at Universal Studios, is building a new project in China that will feature a virtual zoo, a virtual aquarium, an interactive museum and a digital art gallery — and the group is doing it all with no live animals. It’s called the L.I.V.E. Centre (Landmark Interactive Virtual Experience), and the project started in 2014 with funding from a group of investors from China. It’s slated to open between 2017 and 2018.” Read more

What a wonderful way this will be to get up close and personal with wildlife and be immersed in the animals’ natural habitats! I hope this cage-free concept will finally draw a line under the thousand-years-and-more history of the captive animal menagerie that is the zoo.

If you’re not yet convinced, take a quick look at 14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

Further reading

Animal Equality: Zoos

10 Facts About Zoos

Zoos: Pitiful Prisons

Sources

Photos and videos from CZ’s Facebook page

Hippo-y birthday to Fiona! The popular preemie is turning 1

Everyone’s favourite hippo is turning 1

Japan’s latest overtime example? Xiang Xiang the panda

Los Angeles Zoo puts baby okapi on display

Related posts

14 Reasons Not to Visit Zoos – in Pictures

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Apes can’t ‘ape’

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

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

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

2. Chimps have to imitate others to learn new things

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

chimps-1273602_960_720
I’m guessing the real test was a little more challenging than this!

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

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

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

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

animal-17671_960_720

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

Find out more about the test here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ponso’s Tragic Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

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

²The Loneliest Chimp in the World – Mail Online

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

Related posts

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

So How Are We Different?

8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens

Why Cows Need Their Friends

Thinking Pigs

8 Amazing Piggy Facts & Faces