Monday, December 28, 2009

Standard Operating Procedure 13

photo by cm0rris0nWhile in our nortwestern states, the gray wolf fights for survival, a little-known subspecies, the Mexican Gray Wolf, fights a very desperate battle. As far as we know, there are only 52 Mexican Gray Wolves left in the wild.

There has been a re-introduction plan to help the species survive. But at the same time there was Standard Operating Procedure #13, which dictated that any wolf that is accused of killing any livestock three times must be shot.

Two and a half years ago, Alpha Female 924, one of only 3 breeding females in the entire Mexican Gray Wolf population, reached her third strike, and was killed.

Fortunately, outrage over that killing led to a change in procedure. Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took control and ruled that SOP13 will not be in force in the future.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also coming up with new programs to help local ranchers to coexist with the wolves.

Alpha Male 923 and the pair's four offspring could not be reached for comment.

But this is definitely a step in the right direction.

More information can be found at BiologicalDiversity.org and the Washington Post, which also has a beautiful picture of a Mexican Gray Wolf.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Here's a couple of videos for Christmas. Happy animals! I hope your Christmas is happy as well.





If you're reading this on Facebook, click here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Playtime!

There's probably a couple of things going on here that the cats like. I know that a couple of my cats really enjoy smooth textures; one goes for shiny hard plastic, another for nylon fabric. They'll just sit and paw at it, claws out, but their claws have no traction, and they enjoy the sensation very much.

In this video, the kittens have a huge amount of smooth plastic they can go at with all four feet. The smooth surface plus the challenge of beating gravity probably add up to one of the best cat play areas ever.

And it's just a darn cute video. This is the full unedited version, not tricked up with unnecessary cuts or repeats.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Dark Side

My goal in writing this blog is to inform anyone I can about the intelligence and loving nature of the animals whose societies surround us everywhere. I want to be positive and uplifting.

Sometimes I can't help but look at the dark side. I rail against such blind myths as "wild" and "domesticated" and the damage they do to our perceptions of animals, but I try to balance that by showing what really paying attention and truly observing animals can reveal.

Sometimes the dark side overwhelms me. Tigers are being killed to extinction because of the crazy belief in magic--tiger penises are supposed to have mad crazy aphrodisiac powers. This is a closed circle of insane beliefs, because if you believe something will have an effect on you, in an aspect that is largely psychologically-controlled, then it will. The tiger has no magical powers, but it is the victim of a self-perpetuating circle of insanity.

And my current trip into the dark side is the result of a similar story in the news about belief in "magic" in Africa: Albino people are supposed to bring disaster wherever they go, but a dead albino person can be carved up and sold for $75,000 because their body parts are believed to have magical powers. So these people have little refuge while alive and plenty of people trying to kill them. All because of unexamined, insane myths.

But if people are willing to do that to other people in their own towns, how can I hope that people will ever examine and discard their myths about other species?

OK... I'm sorry. I promise to return soon with a more uplifting post.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Playing with a Polar Bear

Polar bears have a bad reputation. Everybody knows they are one of the most fearsome species on earth. So what happens when a hungry polar bear comes across some Husky dogs that are chained up and can't run away?



This story is on YouTube in several different versions, but I think the one above is the best, simply showing what happened without a lot of extraneous nonsense.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Part of the Pride

Part of the PrideKevin Richardson has a new book out now called Part of the Pride, a memoir in which he tells how he came to be "The Lion Whisperer".

Here's a short quote from early in the book, when Richardson was just being introduced to the lions at the Lion Park:
...We came to another enclosure containing two older cubs. At 6 or 7 months, they had reached an age where they could no longer be petted by visitors to the park, and they were big--much bigger than I had expected. One was called Napoleon and the other, which had yet to be christened, had the most incredible clear eyes.

Conventional wisdom--or perhaps superstition--among lion keepers, I later learned, was that one should never trust a lion with clear eyes. Like a lot of things people told me about lions over the years to come, and like conventional wisdom in general, that little gem turned out to be bullshit.
Oh, yes -- I'm going to like this book.

Here are some other rules about lions that Richardson was told:
  • Don't look them in the eye.
  • Don't turn your back on them.
  • Don't crouch or kneel or they will climb up on your back.
  • Don't run.
  • Don't make any sudden movements.
  • Don't scream. Talk quietly.
I can tell you right off that "don't look them in the eye" is bullshit. Every captive lion or tiger I've seen--that hasn't had his spirit broken or hasn't given up trying to make contact with humans--wants you to look them in the eye. They want you to recognize that there is a person in that fur. That sort of contact is the solid foundation of a good relationship with the animal.

Besides, lions, like cats, use the 'slow blink' as a means of letting you know everything is cool with them. You can't exchange this signal if you don't look them in the eye.

As for never crouching in the presence of a lion, click here to read what I learned from a very endearing lion.

I was so glad to see Richardson dismiss silly "conventional wisdom" as bullshit. So much of it is. He has learned through first hand experience how to treat animals, and he has been rewarded with some of the most wonderful animal friendships, even with animals others wouldn't go near.

I will definitely be reporting more from this book. Below is a short video of Kevin Richardson with some of his animals.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Words vs. Thinking

I haven't posted for a while; part of the reason was the flu, the other part is that I've gotten bogged down in other people's words while trying to research new articles. I'll try to break free by limiting my own words in this new post.

Bog 1: Tom Regan spends a lot of time philosophizing in his The Case for Animal Rights, but too many words can serve to hide the truth more than examine it. And if he can say that humans have a higher life quality than any other animal, he must not realize that such a statement is only a little bit different than Descartes' "biological machines" view of animals.

Bog 2: Some scientists do recognize that animals have societies and cultures of their own. But they're afraid of going all the way with this idea. That leads to a lot of roundabout language. Still, this article is interesting, about male dolphins bringing a bouquet to a prospective mate: Dolphins Use Weeds to Get Girls.

And here's an earlier article about whale culture: Culture Shock

There. I hope that ends my writer's block.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Advances in Language Study

Often I am reminded of the damage being done to people's awareness by some of our colleges and universities. Ridiculous ideas like, animals are mere biological machines (Descartes), animals' actions are merely conditioned reflexes (Skinner), and language appears to be a uniquely human phenomenon, without significant analogue in the animal world (Chomsky) are religiously clung to and promoted, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary available to any true observer.

Fortunately, there are people who are willing to observe and learn.

starlingA study of starlings, led by Timothy Gentner of the University of California (San Diego), shows that these birds not only have a language of their own, this language includes complicated sentence structure. Although the scientists did not actually decipher the birds' language, they created an artificual grammar from recorded starling songs and found that the birds were able to understand what is called recursive sentence structure, such as changing "the bird sang" to "the bird the cat chased sang".

From the article on the UCSD web site:
Gentner says, "The more closely we understand what nonhuman animals are capable of, the richer our world becomes. Fifty years ago, it was taboo to even talk about animal cognition. Now, there are [TV shows] on the subject and no one doubts that animals have complex and vibrant mental lives. This study is a powerful statement about what even birds can do: Look at what they’re learning."
I'm glad that Gentner can believe that "no one doubts" these things. I wish that philosophy were true in all schools.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cruel to be Kind?

In today's New York Daily News, Stephen Budiansky writes that when people pamper their dogs, they don't necessarily give the dogs what they really need to be happy.

And, just like when I read Budiansky's book "If a Lion Could Talk", I think he has a point, but he goes about making that point in the wrong way.

In today's article, he ridicules such things as doggie day care centers, designer pet foods, and people who refer to themselves as "pet parents".

While I would agree that there are plenty of useless (or worse) excesses for people to waste their money on, I would like to give the "pet parents" the benefit of the doubt and hope that they actually want what's best for their dog. What they need is education along that line, not ridicule. Reducing such education to a glib line like 'you must be crueler to be kind' is not helpful or even correct.

Budiansky argues that a dog needs to know its proper place in the family structure. Of course, this is true. It's true for any animal (or human) that has a relationship with any other animal (or human). A clear idea of one's role in any society, no matter how microcosmic, is of key importance to one's psychological well-being.

That Budiansky credits this need to a mythical wolf-social-structure gene that 'all dogs still carry' is a red herring and gets in the way of the education all animal "parents" need. Any decent tiger handler will tell you pretty much the same thing I said in the previous paragraph; that you need to establish for the tiger what the family or society structure is, for the well-being of all involved. And I defy anyone to find the "wolf-social-structure" gene in a tiger.

What I'm saying is that Budiansky needs to leave the ridicule and false science behind and concentrate on the education that dog owners (and all animal owners) need: your animal needs to have a clear picture of his role in your family. The entire value of Budiansky's article is found in the last paragraph. You have to be firm; you have to be consistent; you have to take on the role of a true parent. You have to pay attention to your animal. There is nothing "cruel" about any of this. It's what any social animal needs to be happy and a good family member.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More from Shaun Ellis

I have received a great deal of encouraging comments about what I've written about wolves and especially about the previous article with a true story from Shaun Ellis (whose book, The Man Who Lives with Wolves, will be available this coming Tuesday).

Because of these positive reactions, I would like to offer another passage from Mr. Ellis' book:
Once upon a time wolves and men lived alongside one another, each respecting and benefiting from the other's way of life. Sadly, those days are gone and I believe that we are the poorer for that. The natural balance in nature that they promoted has been whittled away and several species, including our own, have been allowed to go unchecked and become diseased--in the truest sense of the word.

This may be a little fanciful but I believe that as well as healing the natural world and restoring its balance, human society could benefit from having wolves roaming the forests once more. We could learn a lot from the loyalty they display to family members, the way they educate and discipline their young, the way they look after their own, and the circumstances in which they use their considerable weaponry to kill.

The world is not ready for that, but I like to think that in some small way my work of the last twenty years might have begun the process.
I share those feelings and hopes. And the positive responses I'm getting give me hope that maybe the world is ready for that.

For more about Mr. Ellis and wolves, check out his web site, WolfPackManagement.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Saddam Hussein of the Animal World?

propaganda posterIn case you don't get the reference in the title of this post, I've included a picture of a poster that's frequently used by people who want to exterminate all wolves from North America. It's just part of the propaganda that people (inexplicably, to me) deliberately perpetuate.

Turning from propaganda to truth, next week a new book will be published called The Man Who Lives with Wolves. The man is Shaun Ellis, who has been on TV in the show Living With The Wolfman. Ellis is an expert on wolf behavior as a result of many years of living with wolves and paying close attention to them.

The following is condensed from the Preface of this new book. Mr. Ellis says,
I was helping out at a wildlife center in Hertfordshire, just north of London. A man appeared outside the wolf enclosure one day, pushing a child in an old-fashioned wheelchair with a large tray on the front of it. He told me that he and his son, who may have been 13 or 14 and who, I could see at a glance, was severely disabled, had driven 500 miles from Scotland. He had heard that we allowed members of the public to interact with wolves and he wanted his son to meet one.

The Man Who Lives with Wolves by Shaun EllisI was surprised that this man had gone to such lengths to show his son a wolf. The child didn't look as though he would get anything out of the encounter. He sat immobile, silent, staring into space, and I doubted that he would even be able to stroke the animal's fur. Normally, I loved this part of the job. Children arrived with such preconceptions. They pulled back when the wolf came near, convinced by all the stories they'd read and the cartoons they'd watched, that wolves were sly, vicious creatures that ate grandmothers, blew down the houses of little pigs, and ripped the throats out of little girls. I had grown up with exactly the same terror. It had taken me many years to discover that wolves are actually shy, intelligent animals with a very sophisticated social structure, whose bloodthirsty reputation is not deserved. I found nothing more gratifying than watching children touch the wolves and listen to what I had to say, and watch their prejudice and ignorance fade away.

I felt almost evangelical about this. I thought that if children could feel wolves' coats and look them in the eye, they could make up their own minds about them so that in time, future generations will be ready to give back to wolves the place in the world that is rightfully theirs.

Whenever I introduced a child to the wolves, it was vital that the child not become frightened. I had to watch their reaction carefully so that I didn't do more harm with this exercise than good. This boy didn't speak. His disabilities were clearly mental as well as physical. I asked the father, as tactfully as I could, whether the child would be able to indicate when he no longer wanted to be near the wolf. "He won't be able to," said the man, bluntly. "He has never spoken, and never reacted in any way to anything. And he has never expressed an emotion in his life."

Common sense was screaming at me to tell this man to turn around and take his poor child back to Scotland. But for reasons I can't explain, and a few I can, I agreed to go ahead.

We had a young wolf called Zarnesti who had been hand-reared and was not nervous around humans. His jaw had been crushed soon after he was born, and he looked a bit like Goofy in the Mickey Mouse cartoons.

I went into the enclosure and came out carrying Zarnesti. He was about three months old, the size of a spaniel, and a wriggling, struggling bundle of energy. It was all I could do to hold him; he was almost flying out of my arms as I put him down on the tray of the wheelchair, in front of the boy. I had the pup in a vise-like grip, but something miraculous happened. The moment Zarnesti saw the child he became still. He looked into the boy's eyes and they stared at each other. Then the pup settled down with his back legs tucked under him and his front legs stretched out in front. I took one hand off him and realized very quickly that I could take the other hand away, too. After a few moments, still looking into the boy's eyes, the cub reached forward and started to lick the boy's face. I lunged to intercept him, afraid that Zarnesti would nip the boy's mouth, which is what cubs do to adult wolves when they want them to regurgitate food. But Zarnesti didn't nip; he just licked, very gently.

The scene was electrifying. As I looked at the boy I saw one single tear welling up in his right eye, then trickle slowly down his cheek. Guessing that this had never happened before, I turned to his father. This big strong Scotsman was watching what was unfolding in front of him with tears streaming down his face.

In a matter of seconds, the wolf cub had gotten through to this boy in a way that no human had managed to do in fourteen years.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Get Real

Everybody knows about Michael Vick, the guy who made dogfighting--not only unconscionably cruel but illegal in all 50 states--into a misdemeanor that nobody cares about as long as people involved in it can play football. Now, dogfighting is in the news again as the Supreme Court tries to decide whether to strike down the law that makes it illegal to sell videos of dog fights.

One of the justices said that they have to consider the rights of people who like dogfighting, who like cockfighting, and so on. The arguments extended to the right to sell snuff films and to establish a "human sacrifice channel" on cable.

All this centers on the First Amendment and the right of free speech. None of it considers the suffering of the animals involved. None of it considers the depravity involved--although the Supreme Court is reserving the right of the government to squelch things relating to sex and obscenity.

Obviously, since they are operating in a world where logic and reason do not apply, the answer to the problem will not come from lawyers and courts. The answer will come from eliminating the need some people feel for these inexcusable things.

I want to help move things in that direction. That's the basic impetus for what I write here. I don't know how to speed up the process. Things like the popularity of the Christian the lion video give me hope. The Supreme Court doesn't.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Another Interspecies Friendship

This is a story about just one of my own cats. They're all unique personalities, but this one was a standout. He was the happiest cat in the world.

He was gray--the purest gray you have ever seen on an animal. And he had a white chest, to give him the classification of a tuxedo cat, plus a splash of white on his nose and chin.

We found him at the county animal shelter. He was one year old at the time. His previous owners had given him up because someone in their family was allergic to him. It was definitely their loss and our gain.

We took him home in a canvas bag that the shelter volunteer had assured us was escape-proof. Five seconds into the car ride, he popped out of the bag. All cats must earn their names, and this one had quickly earned his: Houdini.

When we arrived home, our other cat, a pure black cat named Lucky, was sleeping on the couch. Violating all known wisdom about how to introduce a new cat to a household, we threw Houdini onto the couch next to Luck. Luck reacted about how you'd expect, and ran upstairs. For three days Luck expressed suspicion, distrust, and general displeasure at this invasion of his house, during which time Houdini always responded in a way that obviously said, "I'm happy, why aren't you?" Houdini won. Houdini always won. The two cats became the best of friends.

That pattern was to be repeated by Houdini all his life. He would burst into a room, spring onto your lap, or sometimes just jump straight up in the sure faith that you'd catch him in your arms, and then assuage whatever adrenaline he'd caused to flow with a loud purr that never stopped. He loved life and loved everyone, and he just naturally assumed that everyone loved him. I never once saw him angry. He never got upset at other animals in the vicinity, even other cats. Everyone was a potential friend to him--cats, dogs, squirrels, people. He was no fool; even at an advanced age he outdistanced a dog that jumped into our yard with evil intentions. But everywhere he went, even at the veterinarian's office, he perked up at the sight of other animals and was eager to meet them. The vet never could hear his heartbeat because Houdini was always purring.

And Houdini loved to watch people work. Houdini's world was already perfect, and it was just so wonderful to him to watch people make it more perfect. When I constructed book shelves, he was there to make sure every measurement was exact, every screw driven in straight. And purring his approval all the time.Houdini - photo by Tim Gadd

When my wife would work in the garden, Houdini would be there. You could see his double enjoyment of sitting in the warm sun and watching my wife work. Anyone could just immediately tell this was a happy cat. Houdini even made friends with the squirrels who lived in our trees. It was a remarkable sight to see Houdini and a squirrel sitting close together on the grass, apparently having a conversation that we were not privy to.

As much as I wish that a life force like Houdini could exist forever, old age snuck up on Houdini like I suppose it does on anyone. Oh, there had been signs--like, lately you had to bend over to catch him when he jumped straight up to your arms. But he still was always the same Houdini, always happy, always purring.

Houdini had had a history of infections in his mouth. Some antibiotics and a lot of struggling to get them into him always had put him right. But the time inevitably came when even the antibiotics couldn't kick-start his aging immune system any more. It was such an infection that would take Houdini from us soon.

Despite our best efforts, Houdini got weaker and weaker. One day, toward the end of March, we were having an unusually warm spell, so I took Houdini outside to enjoy some time in the sun. I placed him on the little landing outside our kitchen door, about 5 feet high off the ground, and I stood on the ground next to him, to protect him. In his current condition he was weak and unsteady on his feet.

As he was lying there with me standing guard, I was startled by a loud rustling sound at the back of our yard. I quickly realized the sound was made by a squirrel, who was charging full speed up the yard, directly at me! Never had any of the squirrels allowed me to come within 20 feet of them, so all sorts of scary thoughts, of rabies and such, raced through my mind. But something told me to do nothing, even as the squirrel ran up to me, right up to my feet, and then ran past me and up a tree stump directly across from the kitchen landing--and the same height as the landing. The squirrel just sat there, looking intently at Houdini. Houdini was too ill to return the look, but I can only conclude that the two friends could still carry on one last wordless conversation. After all, something had told me not to fear the charging squirrel. I felt privileged to be a witness to the event, and grateful for the sun and warm weather that had prompted the occasion. Houdini's squirrel friend stayed and watched Houdini with me for quite some time. But as the sun moved, Houdini was left in the too-cool shade. Houdini meowed softly to be taken back in to the warm house. The squirrel watched me pick up Houdini and carry him into the house.

Whether you believe animals communicate telepathically, or just enjoy each other's company, I was impressed by this obvious display of friendship, and I was glad the two friends had one last chance to see each other.

Houdini died peacefully on our couch a few days later. Friend to everyone that wanted him for a friend, he was definitely a life force that cannot be forgotten.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Animals + Live TV for Thursday Lite

A couple of videos for Thursday Lite... First, Freud the myna bird performs on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show:



Then, Hernandez the beagle finds Ed McMahon a bit scary:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Calling All Lion Fans


I am repeating my call for anyone who may have a copy of the TV show "Jack Paar and His Lions". This was a wonderful show showing many different lions interacting with the people who loved them.

I know someone out there has saved a copy; probably on 16mm film, but any way to get the visuals for this wonderful show will be greatly appreciated (I have the soundtrack only).

The audio player here will play for you a short excerpt from the show. It would be great to see the cubs as well as hear them...  

(Picture colorized by White Lion Restorations.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pointing the Finger

There is a very flawed article in the September 21 issue of Time magazine; the article's title is The Secrets Inside Your Dog's Mind, written by Carl Zimmer.

The gist of the article is that dogs understand what it means when you point to something, and other animals don't.

Along the way to making an evolutionary argument for why this is, Zimmer gets many things wrong.

Zimmer uses now-debunked myths about wolves and their social bonds to make some of his points. But in reality, the hierarchy of a wolf pack is not all that complex, and there is not a constant struggle for the role of alpha male. A natural wolf pack is a family unit. This is according to one of the world's leading experts on wolves, who deeply regrets his old role in perpetuating such myths. See "Everybody Knows..."

The next problem in the article seems to come from the research scientists: the idea that humans are fundamentally different from all other animals. That brings me back to one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Gareth Patterson, an expert on lions:
We are not much different in fact to many other forms of animal life; and it is because of subtle human conditioning -- not the actual facts -- that we are raised to believe there is a wide gap between what is human and what is animal.
Starting from an erroneous point of view is going to lead to erroneous conclusions, unless these research scientists can be very honest with themselves about their biases.

Zimmer then says dogs' behavior is determined by their evolutionary origins, giving as an example the idea that if your dog licks your face when you come home, this is because wolves will lick a pack member's mouth when he returns from a hunt, to induce him to regurgitate some food.

OK, then why do my cats greet me when I come home, and appear to be satisfied with a pat on the head or even just a "hello"?

I don't know what to make of the next example in the article: A dog will act guilty when scolded after the dog did something wrong, AND act guilty when scolded for no reason. This is supposed to show that dogs don't have a sense of right and wrong. But come on now, think back to when you were a little kid--wouldn't you do the same sort of thing? I know I did.

Zimmer also says that while dogs may recognize a word like "Frisbee", they can't use it in a sentence. OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but that's the gist of it. But how much attention have people actually given to dogs' language skills? It is now known that prairie dogs have a spoken language, with nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and that they put these words together in meaningful ways. How long until other animals are allowed into the language club?

I have to leave my analysis there for now; my final word is that we should be very wary when a writer presents guesses at what happened thousands of years ago as plain fact. And if you watch the video that's linked in the Time article, see if you don't agree with me that the tests they are using on the dogs are also very flawed--the dogs have a number of ways to find the treat, not just by following a person's pointed finger.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

People Need Animals

One of the reasons I wish to increase understanding of animals is that people need animals in their lives. A life without animals is seriously empty.

In Japan, many entrepreneurs are using this fact to their advantage. They are opening cafes where you can pay to pet and play with an animal. People say that doing so greatly relieves their stress levels.

Here's a brief video about a bunny cafe:

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Drunk

I'm probably going to get hate mail about this, but the video's owner insists that the squirrel in the video was OK later. And animals all over the world do get drunk on fermented fruit all the time; a lot of them actively seek it. Plenty of people can relate to that, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Interspecies Friendships

Since I mentioned interspecies friendships, and since the ASPCA web site is always worth a plug, they have a page called Best Buddies, where people send in their own pictures of animals that are friends. One of the best such pictures is the one seen here, Geronimo the cat and Bhupen the hamster, owned by Bhuvana Lagasse. You can read their story on the Best Buddies page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lion and Duck


The photo above was taken at the Valley of the Kings animal sanctuary in Wisconsin.

I'll just ask one question: Do you suppose the duck is calm because of the fence, or do you suppose the two of them are enjoying each other's company?

There have been a lot of inter-species friendships reported. Here's one about a cat and a crow.

You can see the full-size photo at djedfre's photo blog.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Real Wolves

As the wolf hunting continues in Idaho and Montana, and as the pro-hunting forces continue their propaganda that is so ridiculous that even one pro-hunting person called it "embarrassing", it's time to hear from someone who actually knows wolves, who works with them every day.

On the PBS site is an interview with Sausha Seus, a wolf trainer with Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife, an animal training service based in Heber City, Utah. That link above will take you to the full interview; here are significant highlights:
What was it like the first time you came face to face with a wolf?
The first time I came face to face with a wolf I was five. It felt like looking into another universe. The same is true today, 26 years later. The eyes of a wolf pierce your soul.

Have you ever been frightened by one of your wolves?
No.

What can humans learn from wolves?
The sense of utter and complete devotion to family. An alpha male wolf will hunt and bring back food in this “belly basket” and regurgitate it for his mate and pups. The alpha male will starve himself in the process if necessary. The bond of a wolf is about loyalty, and it is unbreakable.
Also on the PBS site is a brief comic-book version of the story of Ernest Thomson Seton, the naturalist who started out as a wolf hunter. It's an interesting story, although the focus of the comic-book version is askew: The most significant words in the story make up only a portion of only one page.

Those words are: "He looked into the eyes of the wolf he had hunted for so long...and what he saw was not a killer, but a creature of dignity: courageous, loyal and loving."

As I have said before, the truth about animals can be found by listening to those who have actually paid attention to them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Monkeys Will Pay to See Porn

Apparently, there's not enough to do at Duke University, because a bunch of the guys at the Medical Center did a study that proves monkeys will pay for porn. The porn in this case involves pictures of "sexually receptive" female monkeys. (Gotta love that scientific terminology.) And no, I'm not posting a picture with this story.

The monkeys "pay" by giving up rations of cherry juice. Those monkeys love their cherry juice, but not as much as purient pictures.

The monkeys will also pay, but not as much, to see pictures of other monkeys of "high social rank"; this is equivalent to our gossip magazines, like People.

So... what's the news we can use here? That animals will pay for porn? Or that people aren't as far removed from monkeys as they thought?

(As reported in Scientific American, based on a paper published in Current Biology.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Keep Your Dog Sane

insane dogA dog is not a burglar alarm. Don't leave him out in the yard unattended, "for protection". If you need a burglar alarm, call ADT.

If you want a dog "for the kids", make sure your kids actually want a dog and are up to the on-going job of owning a dog.

Realize that a dog has a mind. You must establish a real, mutually respectful relationship with the dog. This is for your sake, the dog's sake, and the sake of everyone around you.

Make sure your dog gets some real exercise every day. One-on-one play is necessary for a social animal like a dog. Physical exercise keeps the dog healthy physically, social interaction keeps the dog healthy mentally.

Teach your dog where your property boundaries are. This will not only make your dog a better neighbor, it will make him more secure in his own territory.

Pay attention to the dog. If he is barking, find out why.

A dog that is ignored, confused, or has no real connection with his family will gradually go insane. I've seen it happen more than once.

A healthy and happy dog will reward you with more hours of happiness and love than you thought possible. But remember that when you take on a dog you take on the roles of caretaker, teacher, parent, and playmate for the life of the dog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cats Have Claws

a cat who needs his nails trimmedThe act of declawing a cat is banned in 25 countries and one US city. Why? Well, put your hand on the table, palm down. Look at your hand, and imagine someone chopping off the end of each finger, below the base of the fingernail. That's what declawing does to a cat.

San Francisco is considering a law to also ban the procedure. Amazingly, the San Francisco ASPCA and the California Veterinary Medical Association OPPOSE the law. They say if people can't declaw their cats, they will abandon them. There is no evidence to support this claim.

It seems to me to be a simple anti-cruelty issue. Declawing is cruel. If a person can't stand to have an animal around without mutilating it, they shouldn't have an animal. Cats have claws. If you don't like that idea, don't get a cat.

Dealing responsibly with a cat includes trimming their claws regularly, either by learning to do it yourself or having a pro do it. But it's not that hard to do. Tip: If your cat struggles while you're trimming his claws, pick a time of day when your cat is sleepy. He'll put up with it much better.



Dealing with a cat's claws on a day-to-day basis is easy, too. Even our youngest cat, who is full of energy and loves to play (and play rough) knows to ease up when playing with me and almost never scratches me. Yes, "almost". Accidents happen, and you have to be an adult and deal with them. She learned to ease up quite easily: If she hurt me while playing, I said "OW!" and stopped playing. All my cats understand "OW!". If it was an accident that drew blood, I show them the blood immediately. They invariably give the eye blink response, indicating they didn't mean to do that. And they remember the next time we play.

It comes down to this: Your pet can think and learn. If you establish a mutually respectful relationship, life is better for everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: If A Lion Could Talk

Here at "Intelligent Life is All Around Us", I often point out how research scientists must leave logic behind to desperately hang on to the notion that any and every non-human species of animal does not have any consciousness. This erroneous notion from the bad old days of Descartes is religiously clung to, and is still taught in our colleges and universities. Such an ability to deny reality gave the world such things as dissection of live, unanesthetized dogs--after all, those cries they made could not possibly represent pain, since dogs are not conscious and cannot feel pain.

On the other hand, I probably will spend the rest of my life collecting and presenting evidence that animals are capable of thinking, feeling, and loving just as much as you or me.

Stephen Budiansky ostensibly campaigns for a philosophical middle ground, saying that we can't know what goes on in an animal's mind, or if it has one, and that we should not think of an animal in human terms; that if a lion could talk it would no longer be a lion. He fails to manage this balancing act, and ends up falling on the wrong side of the fence. He contends that professional biologists are too sentimental, that any study that shows that any animal can have emotions, intellect, and/or consciousness *must* be flawed and biased.

However, such studies and conclusions are slowly on the increase, and I contend that the scientific world is slowly catching up with reality because of it.

To prove his point about flawed studies, Budiansky must trot out the 100-year-old story of Clever Hans, the horse that was supposed to be able to do arithmetic. It turned out that the horse could not do arithmetic -- and why should a horse spontaneously show arithmetic abilities? This horse was actually intelligent enough to learn and notice body language in his owner that nearly every other human did not see. And so the story of Clever Hans proves... what? That a horse didn't know arithmetic? So the people involved were silly for believing that a horse could spontaneously do sums--big deal. What has that got to do with the bigger questions at hand?

If Budiansky were better able to support his idea that we should not try to see animals as equals, but instead respect them as separate and unequal coinhabitants of Earth, he would have a worthwhile book. After all, thinking of animals solely in terms of human society is not valid either. Human behavior is driven by any number of societally-induced rules and assumptions. One cannot expect a horse or a rabbit to have identical motivations as a human--even I will show you that a rabbit does not think the same things as a human, but that does not mean that a rabbit doesn't think. And even among humans one cannot expect a believer in one religion, for example, to have the same motivations as a different believer. Where Budiansky falls on his face is in denying consciousness to all nonhumans. Language is the reason, he says. But in reality, other species do have language, although maybe not in ways that fit Budiansky's carefully convoluted definition of language.

Budiansky will allow that all nonhuman vertebrates are equally intelligent. What he cannot properly explain is why the word "nonhuman" is necessary in that sentence. He will allow that differences in each species' bodies results in differing perceptions and differing observed reactions to stimuli. But he cannot come up with a convincing argument why humans should not be part of the same continuum, or even why humans should not try to understand other species in terms that humans understand. I will agree that total anthropomorphism is not the answer, but anthropomorphism is a step toward understanding animals by relating our own experiences to theirs.

There is a practical problem with the separate-and-unequal idea as well: it does not take into account human nature. "Separate and unequal" always ends up being transformed into "inferior" and therefore unimportant, and therefore disposable. This leads to the destruction of other species.

The full quote referenced in the title of this book is, "If a lion could talk, we would not understand him." I know that if a Russian or a Greek talked to me (in his native language) I wouldn't understand him, either. That doesn't mean those people don't talk. And I will tell you that lions and other animals do talk, in their native languages, and it takes keen observation to begin to understand them. (I could teach you to say a word in tiger language, a very handy word should you ever find yourself face to face with a tiger...)

Given the proven biological similarities between humans and other animals, is it not a leap of illogic to *presume* that other animals do not have mental lives similar to ours? (It *is* only a presumption; no one has proved that they don't.)

Given the experiences of people who actually spend a great deal of time with animals, how can a thinking person presume that they don't? Recognizing emotions in animals is something that happens whenever anyone who is truly observant spends some actual time with animals. Fortunately for animals and humans alike, we can also vicariously observe the intelligence and emotions of animals--take the worldwide sensation of Christian the Lion for example, which surely will have long-lasting effects on overall perceptions of animals.

Budiansky says, "To understand what we truly can about how animal minds work inescapably means to abandon any real hope of penetrating their thoughts, or of translating their thoughts into human terms." But in what other terms _can_ we understand them? To say that Christian the lion loved John Rendall and Ace Bourke may be anthropomorphizing, but it does convey an accurate understanding of his actions, his body language, and the realities of his life with those two men. You could say that we do not know exactly what was going on inside the lion's mind, but then I seriously doubt that even you and I have exactly the same definition of what love is.

In the end, I think Budiansky's "separate and unequal" approach to animals has good intentions at its roots but is ultimately indefensible. I believe a "different but equal" approach is more realistic and in the long run beneficial to all life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Cute

"Too much" cuteness for Thursday Lite:




Followed by lions and doggies and cats, oh my:




And Kevin Richardson in a "lion sandwich:"

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nature or Nurture?

A story on NPR last week says that 10-month-old babies and dogs make the same 'mistake' in a test devised by child psychologist Jean Piaget. 1-year-old babies and wolves raised by humans do not make the mistake.

The test involves placing a toy behind one of two partitions. If the younger babies or the dogs see the toy put in place A repeatedly, they will look there first even if they have seen the toy moved to place B. (You can see an example of this test on YouTube.)

Psychologists cannot agree on why young babies make this error. Nevertheless, Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, decided he could use this test to make some guesses at the evolution of dogs.

It turns out that dogs make the same mistake as the younger babies, while wolves, like the older babies, will head straight to place B when they've seen the toy moved there.

Miklosi came to the conclusion that dogs trust people more than their own senses and that this is an evolutionarily-inspired trait that was part of the domestication of dogs--and, conversely, wolves do not have the "domestication genes".

There's a couple of problems with this conclusion. For one, it relies solely on only one of the possible explanations of why babies act the way they do. Also, it does not explain why dogs do not grow out of that behavior and act the way the wolves do, while babies will do so quite quickly.

Now, consider this: some have said that our pet dogs are like "perpetual puppies"; that the way they are raised keeps them in a baby-like state because that is the way people want them to behave. I think this idea brings us closer to understanding the results of Miklosi's experiment.

Miklosi's conclusions are rooted in the idea that "domestication" is a genetic trait that arose through evolution. I still contend that "domestication" is a myth and that the proper way to look at animals' interaction with humans is in terms of socialization, and that there is much evidence for this. Look at Christian the lion or the many lions George Adamson worked with. These animals were well socialized, not domesticated. Look at the wolf in the Mission: Wolf video I posted yesterday, in which the animal is in the process of becoming socialized to humans. On the other hand, look at feral dogs or feral cats. If "domestication" is supposed to be an intrinsic trait, what happened to their domestication genes?

The NPR story also quotes Clive Wynne, who studies dog cognition at the University of Florida: "It's a very thought-provoking experiment. I think like a lot of good studies, it doesn't lead so instantly to conclusions. It leads to new questions."

Thank you, Mr. Wynne. Keep those questions coming.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mission: Wolf

A little south of the insanity I've been writing about this week is a place called Mission: Wolf Sanctuary, in Colorado. Here's an interesting and informative video from them:



Note they use the word "(un)socialized" as opposed to "wild/tame" or "domesticated".

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Attractive Lie

The age-old question is, what characteristic separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom? No one has ever come up with an answer that stands up to actual observation. "Using tools" was a popular answer for a long time. It's not true. Lots of animals have been observed using tools, even tool that they made themselves. "Language" was another popular answer, and this one held up for a long time because if you don't understand a language, it's easy to believe there is no language being used. But more and more animal languages are being observed, and scientists have even gotten down to such things as deciphering individual words and syntax used by prairie dogs.

Other, weaker answers have been proposed to that age-old question; all have been proven wrong.

I have an answer to propose, assuming the question itself is even valid--What separates humanity from animals? The ability and the desire to deny reality. I'm not saying that humans are the only animals that lie or deceive--any predator tries to deceive its prey, up to a certain point anyway--but I don't know of any other animal that wants to believe the lie.

There was a perfect example of this just this week--the story of the 2 wolves, one healthy, one suffering from a gunshot wound, who (we are told) killed 120 rams (and only rams from the mixed herd, because the wolves knew that the rams were the more valuable animals in the herd), and then the two wolves piled the bodies in a corner of the pasture. This utterly fantastical story is being used as justification for the wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. Those who want justification for their actions have no desire to think about this story or question it. They don't ask what sort of atomic-powered wolves these must be to have achieved a kill like that. They don't wonder what method the wolves used to pile the bodies--did the wolves drive a forklift, or did they use their atomic power to just casually toss the bodies through the air into the corner? An unquestioned lie is perfectly good justification for what they want to do.

This desire to deny reality is in every aspect of our society. Recently, it seemed like every web site in the country featured the picture of the man who cheated on his wife and had to stand on a street corner wearing a sign as his punishment. But it turns out that the whole thing was a hoax, a publicity stunt by a radio station. But how many web sites featured the truth about the story just as prominently as they had featured the lie? After all, an attractive lie brings in more people than a boring truth.

And now I return to what I referred to above: Is the question of what separates man from animal even a valid question? Every person I know of who works closely with animals and observes them carefully will say that it is not a valid question. One of my favorite quotes is from Garreth Patterson, sometimes called the Lion Man of Africa:

We are not much different in fact to many other forms of animal life;
and it is because of subtle human conditioning
-- not the actual facts --
that we are raised to believe there is a wide gap between
what is human and what is animal.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Are Hunters Stupid?

For today's article, I yield this space to George Wuerthner, wildlife biologist and former Montana hunting guide. He has written an excellent article for New West. Please read it. (The photo here is also by George Wuerthner.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thursday Funny

Re-starting the tradition of Thursday Lite, here's a little musical number...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"I just wanted to beat my buddies to the punch"

The wolf hunt in Idaho continues because the judge who has the power to stop it hasn't made up his mind yet. Within hours of the official start of the season, 2 wolves were killed, a female tricked into the open with the sound of a wounded animal, and another who was said to be "harrassing" the hunter's horse.

What makes the wolf hunt so notable is that it is promoted and supported by lies.

Here's one of the lies: "The wolf population in the region has been growing by 20% to 30% every year." Let's look at that number. It's hard to find a hard number for the number of wolves in the region when they were first protected by the Endangered Species Act; some estimates go all the way down to 0. But let's take a very low number: 2. Two wolves, one breeding pair. And let's take the middle of that population growth figure: 25% per year. If that were true, there would be about 5000 wolves in the region, not the 1645 counted recently. Obviously the population has not been growing at the stated rate.

Another lie: "The wolves are wiping out the elk (and other ungulate) populations." This has been distilled into a popular bumper sticker: "Save 100 elk: Kill a wolf". But people with even the slightest knowledge of nature know that wolves do not wipe out their prey populations. They take the old and the sick. Wolves keep the elk populations strong and healthy.

Wolves also eat other animals, not just the big fancy ones that people want to kill themselves. They eat fish; they also eat mice and other rodents. Wolves keep the rodent population under control, thus wolves help farmers.

Shall I keep going? We're supposed to believe that, in Montana, two 80-pound wolves--one of them wounded by a gunshot--killed 120 200-pound rams in one night and --get this-- "piled [them] into a corner" of the pasture. That's an actual quote from the news article in The Missoulian.

But I can make all the arguments I want; the wolf hunt is based on irrationality, fear, and hatred. I don't know how to fight that. I said that yesterday and today I read in the Salt Lake City Tribune that someone with better credentials than I agrees with me:
Western Wildlife Conservancy Director Kirk Robinson called the wolf hunts "expressions of hostility" that aren't based on science.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Bad Old Days Are Back

The wolf is one of the most hated species on the face of the earth, thanks to ignorance, misconception, and propaganda and lies actively created and spread for the purpose of keeping hatred of the animals alive.

By the 1970s, wolves in North America had been hunted to the brink of extinction. Then, in 1974, there came legal protection from the Endangered Species Act. The wolf population of the northern Rocky Mountains increased over the next 35 years. The population now numbers 1645 wolves.

Hundreds of scientists agree that the population needs to grow to 2500 to assure a sufficient gene pool for the health of the entire species. In other areas, where the wolf population is very low, wolves are showing severe physical defects because there simply is not any way for them to avoid inbreeding.

But the wolves have been de-listed from endangered species status. The government thinks that 150 wolves per state in the northern Rocky Mountain region is enough.

And so today the hunting begins. The hatred will be vented via high-powered rifles. And if you think all this isn't based in hatred, you haven't seen the posters people have created, comparing wolves to any and every icon of evil, such as Saddam Hussein.

There is a book, written by someone who actually observed real wolves in their real habitat. You may have heard of this book; it's called Never Cry Wolf, written by Farley Mowat. His extensive observations totally debunked the myth of the wolf as a wanton killer; he revealed the devoted family life of the wolf "pack", which actually is a family unit. The book is oddly hard to find; a search at amazon.com does not easily turn up the current in-print version. The link above will take you to exactly that page.

So with the wolf population nowhere near what it needs to be to be healthy, people are poised once again to ambush and decimate the population, tear apart family units, until the wolf is again on the brink of extinction. With only 1645 wolves across the entire northern Rocky Mountain region, 11,000 hunters have bought wolf hunting licenses in Idaho alone.

It is a sad day for both the wolf and man.

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Australia Zoo's Tigers

The Australia Zoo is one of the very few zoos in the world that devotes so much time and care to interaction between humans and the tigers at the zoo.

The goal is twofold: Proper socialization makes the tigers easier to handle, and the public gets a better idea of the true nature of these wonderful animals.

Here is a very touching video of three tiger cubs' first introduction to the "big pool" at the zoo. Notice how at the very start that mutual respect between the tigers and the zoo people is stressed. Notice also how the zoo people pay attention to the needs of the tigers.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Aesop Didn't Lie

About 2260 years ago, around the year 250 B.C., Archimedes yelled "Eureka!" after getting into his bath and realizing that the volume of his body displaced the same amount of water, making the tub overflow.

About 350 years before that, Aesop told the world the tale of the thirsty crow who, upon finding a pitcher with a low level of water in it, put stones into the pitcher to raise the water level up to where he could drink it.

This month, scientists got around to proving that crows would really do that.

Well, OK, the scientists looked at rooks, a close relative of the crow. (But if you think crows are any less smart, have a look at Recognizing the Intelligence of Crows.)

To prove that the rooks understood the concepts of displacement and volume, they offered a plastic tube in which there was a low level of water, on top of which was floating a worm. The rook could not reach the worm, but when the scientists made some stones available, the rook would drop them into the water one at a time, stopping when the water was just high enough for him to reach the worm. The rooks also would choose larger stones over smaller ones, to get the job done faster.

Seeing is believing:



Aesop used the story to teach the moral that you'll get a job done if you just keep at it. Our scientific community just now got around to recognizing that birds can really be that smart.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Quote from George Adamson

"I really have no patience with people who maintain that an animal's life and actions are governed by pure instinct and conditioned reflexes. Nothing except reasoning powers can explain the careful strategy used by a pride of lions in hunting, and the many examples we have had from Elsa of intelligent and thought out behaviour."
...and he certainly had plenty of hours of actual, careful observation to back up that claim.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Christian's Birthday

Today, August 12, 2009, marks the 40th anniversary of the birth of Christian, the lion that touched the heart of millions of people around the world with his enthusiastic and loving greeting of the two men who had raised him, after they had been apart for a year.

It's amazing that so long after his death (no lion can live for more than 20 or so years) he has more fans than ever and so is accomplishing so much now for wildlife in Africa through the donations he has generated for the work of The George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust and Wildlife Now.

It's amazing for me to think that I've known and promoted his story for 37 years--I still have the 1972 Readers' Digest "condensed" version of the book, which is where I first read about Christian.

I'm going to overuse the word "amazing", but Christian was an amazing lion. You can see his intelligence and spirit in his face. And John Rendall and Ace Bourke are two amazing gentlemen, and did an exceptional job in providing the most wonderful, loving care for him. The bond of love and trust between them and Christian was so great, it even amazed George Adamson, "the father of lions".

I've written a lot about Christian and what he means to us now, and how his legacy has enriched the world. You can use the search box in the right-hand column to find those articles. Or you can revisit the page about Christian that I created back in 2002--the first web page about him. Or you could visit one of the links above to make a donation to the George Adamson Trust to help today's wildlife.

And then you can re-enjoy the beautiful love of a lion for his family:

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Perceptions (Again)

A real toyAnimals are who they are. This site is about raising awareness of who they are. People's perceptions about animals are often far removed from reality, and this applies even to those who are supposed to be objective observers. You can see this theme running throughout all my articles here.

Today, I write about people's perception of other people in relation to animals, housecats specifically, because this particular situation has a direct bearing on the cats' mental well-being.

Purina's division called Tidy Cats, the company that makes cat litter, conducted a survey that led to the conclusion that the majority of people who do not own cats consider those who do own more than one cat to be somewhat mentally out of balance.

Specifically, the terms used to describe those who have more than one cat were:
  • Homebody (75%)
  • Lonely (69%)
  • Crazy cat lady (58%)
Furthermore, the non-cat-owners judge the multiple-cat-owners' houses to be:
  • Smelly (75%)
  • Covered in cat hair (85%)
  • Cluttered (66%)
In the interest of full disclosure, I will say here that I share my home with 3 cats. I would also like to point out that the most common comment from strangers visiting my home, after a cat peers around the corner at the visitor is, "I didn't know you had cats!" So much for the 'smelly' myth. Part of taking proper care of cats is keeping the litter boxes clean. It's that simple.

But why should owning more than one cat be perceived as some sort of personality or mental disorder?

I would tell you that having a reasonable number of cats ("reasonable number" being defined as the number you can take proper care of; and that number will vary depending on the owner's home and abilities) is beneficial for the cats themselves.

Cats are not all loners, as popularly perceived. Last year, we adopted two kittens who had been living together. They are not litter-mates but they are very close in age. They obviously love each other very much, and enjoy each other's company immensely. They normally sleep together and play together.

(Our third cat is much older and is more likely to keep to himself, but he does play with them occasionally and enjoys watching them play at other times.)

The pure joy the cats (especially the younger two) get from each other's company, and the fun they have together, is something I would not want them to be deprived of. While any one of them could get by on his or her own, their lives are obviously enriched by having peers to be with.

So why should owning two or so cats be perceived by so many people as a problem? The people who own the cats don't perceive it that way. It's the people who don't have the experience that perpetuate the myth that it's a problem.

And so we have yet another myth involving animals that needs to be busted.

The Tidy Cats folks have a campaign going to do just that. They call it the Campaign to End Cattiness. I hope it's successful.

The less that people's perceptions of animals are clouded by myths, the better off everyone will be.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Sharks At Play

Everybody knows sharks are just instinct-driven eating machines, right? Can you imagine the word "shark" without the word "attack" close behind?

Well, you know what "everybody knows..." means. (If you don't, then see The Myths of Wild and Domestic and Everybody Knows...) But can you imagine sharks as playful?

The ReefQuest Centre for Shark Research uses the example of the Porbeagle shark to show that sharks do indeed engage in play.

They cite accounts of sharks playing with floating objects. Plus, the sharks will roll in seaweed, apparently just for the tactile pleasure of it. And they will engage in games of chase when one shark swims off trailing a long piece of seaweed.

On the site they acknowledge that people will try to explain such behavior in ways that perpetuate the 'unthinking killing machine' stereotype, but they say that actual observation makes the "play" explanation the most reasonable and compelling.

And, speaking of actual observation, quote:
Many English sport anglers are well aware of the Porbeagle's curiosity. These sharks are apparently fascinated by anglers' balloon floats (from which bait is suspended), prodding them repeatedly with the snout and sometimes even trying to bite the soft, spheroid wonders; when a balloon that a Porbeagle was exploring 'pops', the shark typically shakes its head then pauses momentarily, as though it simply cannot believe its eyes (fish just don't do that sort of thing!).
Unfortunately for the sharks and for our perceptions of the world around us, there's more money to be made from the "killing machine" image.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Disney Force

Combining the themes of my last two posts, there have been several reports in the news this week that people who run guinea pig rescues (and there are a LOT of them) fear that the hit movie G-Force will result in a lot of people buying guinea pigs just because their kids are enthralled by the animated characters, with the end result that the guinea pigs will be dumped in a couple of months when they don't live up to expectations.

I find that a little hard to believe, but I have never really been aware of the influence the media has on people in general. It is a truism that "101 Dalmatians" resulted in mass purchasing of such dogs, which led to mass disappointment when everyone discovered that their temperament is not the same as the hand-drawn puppies on the screen. Now with computer graphics, the on-screen animals can look even more like the real thing, so if line drawings can create such a fad, I suppose animation that looks almost real can, too.

I would hope that parents can have a little bit of sense and buy something like this or this to satisfy a kid's craving for his own furry secret agent. A live animal is not a toy. A toy is a toy. A live animal is a thinking, feeling, loving being.

How about this, parents who must give in to their kids' whims: Guinea pigs pee and poop all the time, they eat their own poop, and your house will smell like a barn unless you constantly clean the cage.

But I suppose the ones who need to be warned won't be reading a column like this.

Guinea pigs do make good pets, for people who have the right temperament. They are social animals and enjoy companionship. They are also fragile and can easily break their backs, which is why I cringe when I think of hordes of kids trying to emulate the movie action with a "disposable" real live animal.

For the thinking person who is considering getting a guinea pig, this page at Seagull's Guinea Pig Compendium looks like a good place to start getting some information.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cucumber Battle

A couple of Guinea Pig videos for Lighten Up Thursday. In the first one, there's three of them, and only one cucumber...



And the second one is a guinea pig vocalizing. Looks like he has an amusement park for a home. Which is a good thing...

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Just Machines

I am constantly perplexed by the way some people perceive animals. For example, I've written about how language gets warped and changes people's perceptions (i.e., the phrase "dumb animals" is NOT supposed to mean they're stupid), and I frequently will comment on how the scientific community is only now beginning to crawl out from under the horribly damaging notion that animals are mere "biological machines".

But while the biological sciences may be leaving the "machine" idea behind, the electromechanical field is bringing it back. There are an increasing number of robotic "pets" and apparently some people find them an acceptable substitute for the real thing.

That's the premise of this video from Slate V:



I notice that the one robot that was considered the most pleasing was the Pleo, a robot dinosaur. I would guess that the biggest reason for its success is that no one has ever seen an actual dinosaur, and so the robot was working with a blank slate. Anything that it did would be realistic enough, because there was never a real standard to judge by. On the other hand, none of the robot dogs looked any more like a real dog than that joke robot in the Woody Allen movie.

But can anyone get the same satisfaction from a machine as from a real animal?

I guess it depends on how they connect with real animals.