Site update

Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.

You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT'

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ornaments and jewlery from poop

Don't let the snowman shape fool you. Frosty's lower torso is made out 100% real reindeer poop!
Miller Park Zoo, in Bloomington, Illinois is selling this special necklace, called the Magical Reindeer "Gem" at their zoo boutique. Each of Rudolph's droppings are dehydrated, sanitized in an autoclave machine, painted and drilled that sits all pretty on your chest and just inches away from your mouth.
The idea came about from the zoo's Superintendent, John Tobias. The website explains:
John’s grandmother use to gather her grandchildren and take them outside on Christmas Eve to scatter home made chocolate chips. She would tell the children that the chips would attract Santa and his reindeer to their home, because the reindeer would know that other reindeer had already visited and left droppings…

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kakapo mating FAIL

Fry finds 'funniest ever' mating ritual

When Stephen Fry goes in search of the rare kakapo - "the old night parrot of New Zealand" - he finds himself privy to an unusual mating ritual which is "one of the funniest things he has ever seen".
Fry and zoologist Mark Carwardine have been tracking down some of the most endangered animals on the planet in a six-part series.

Last Chance to See goes in search of the Kakapo on Sunday 4 October at 2000BST on BBC Two.
Previous episodes are available at the Last Chance to See website.

Thanks to Amy C. for the link

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sierra Leone elephants 'wiped out' by poachers: official

From AFP

FREETOWN — Poachers "wiped out" the entire elephant herd in Sierra Leone's only wildlife park, wildlife managers said Thursday after police said they had arrested a gang of 10 poachers.

"It is likely that the elephant population is wiped out," Ibrahim Bangura, senior superintendent of the agriculture ministry's Conservation and Wildlife Management Unit.

The six elephants were shot and "crudely butchered, their bodies slashed with sword marks and their tusks virtually wrenched from their skins," said Bangura.

Police said 10 poachers were arrested after the discovery of the elephant carcasses and those of four buffaloes in Outamba Kilimni national park, near the border with Guinea.

The men, from Sierra Leone and Guinea, are being held in the northern town of Koinadugu.

"We believe the killing was done between September and October and this is a great blow to all of us," said Bangura.

"We had treasured the elephant population in the park as they are very important to the development of ecotourism in the country."

Tourism Ministry officials said a crack military unit has been stationed near the park after frequent incursions by poachers from Guinea and Mali hunting wild animals.

Thanks to Jessica G. for the link

David Suzuki blasts media for excessively poor climate change reporting

editor's note: This is a perfect follow up post to the Ed Begley Jr. video I found yesterday. First off, I think Dr. Suzuki is right. The media and us as media consumers, do not care about problems that are so big they seem out of control; but scientists/advocates are also to blame. Scientists are not good at reaching the population and disseminating their important messages. If we wanna hate on the population as a whole, media & government, we also must look at ourselves (environmental advocates, conservationists and scientists) and hate on ourselves for being ineffective as well. For the perfect discussion of this, watch the movie Flock of Dodos.- M.A.
Thanks to Chrissie E. link for the link.

Flock of Dodos trailer

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eight Ways In-Vitro Meat will Change Our Lives

Written By Hank Hyena

"Future Flesh" is squatting on your plate. Are you nervous? Stab it with a fork. Sniff it. Bite! Chew, swallow. Congratulations! Relax and ruminate now because you're digesting a muscular invention that will massively impact the planet.

In-Vitro Meat -- aka tank steak, sci fi sausage, petri pork, beaker bacon, Frankenburger, vat-grown veal, laboratory lamb, synthetic shmeat, trans-ham, factory filet, test tube tuna, cultured chicken, or any other moniker that can seduce the shopper's stomach -- will appear in 3-10 years as a cheaper, healthier, "greener" protein that's easily manufactured in a metropolis. Its entree will be enormous; not just food-huge like curry rippling through London in the 1970's or colonized tomatoes teaming up with pasta in early 1800's Italy. No. Bigger. In-Vitro Meat will be socially transformative, like automobiles, cinema, vaccines.

1. Bye-Bye Ranches.
When In-Vitro Meat (IVM) is cheaper than meat-on-the-hoof-or-claw, no one will buy the undercut opponent. Slow-grown red meat & poultry will vanish from the marketplace, similar to whale oil's flame out when kerosene outshone it in the 1870's. Predictors believe that IVM will sell for half the cost of its murdered rivals. This will grind the $2 trillion global live-meat industry to a halt (500 billion pounds of meat are gobbled annually; this is expected to double by 2050). Bloody sentimentality will keep the slaughterhouses briefly busy as ranchers quick-kill their inventory before it becomes worthless, but soon Wall Street will be awash in unwanted pork bellies.

Special Note: IVM sales will be aided by continued outbreaks of filthy over-crowded farm animal diseases like swine flu, Mad Cow, avian flu, tuberculosis, brucellosis, and other animal-to-human plagues. Public hysteria will demand pre-emptive annihilation of the enormous herds and flocks where deadly pathogens form, after safe IVM protein is available

2. Urban Cowboys.
Today's gentle drift into urbanization will suddenly accelerate as unemployed livestock workers relocate and retrain for city occupations. Rural real estate values will plummet as vast tracts of ranch land are abandoned and sold for a pittance (70% of arable land in the world is currently used for livestock, 26% of the total land surface, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). New use for ex-ranch land? Inexpensive vacation homes; reforested parks; fields of green products like hemp or bamboo. Hot new city job? Techies and designers for In-Vitro Meat factories.

3. Healthier Humans.
In-Vitro Meat will be 100% muscle. It will eliminate the artery-clogging saturated fat that kills us. Instead, heart-healthy Omega-3 (salmon oil) will be added. IVM will also contain no hormones, salmonella, e. coli, campylobacter, mercury, dioxin, or antibiotics that infect primitive meat. I've noted above that IVM will reduce influenza, brucellosis, TB, and Mad Cow Disease. Starvation and kwashiokor (protein deficiency) will be conquered when compact IVM kits are delivered to famine-plagued nations. The globe's water crises will be partially alleviated, due to our inheritance of the 8% of the H2O supply that was previously gulped down by livestock and their food crops. We won't even choke to death because IVM contains no malicious bones or gristle. (Although Hall of Fame slugger Jimmy Foxx choked to death on a chicken bone, about 90% of meat victims are murdered by steak).

4. Healthier Planet.
Today's meat industry is a brutal fart in the face of Gaia. A recent Worldwatch Institute report ("Livestock and Climate Change") accuses the world's 1.5 billion livestock of responsibility for 51% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Statistics are truly shitty: cattle crap 130 times more volume than a human, creating 64 million tons of sewage in the United States that's often flushed down the Mississippi River to kill fish and coral in the Gulf of Mexico. Pigs are equally putrid. There's a hog farm in Utah that oozes a bigger turd total than the entire city of Los Angeles. Livestock burps and farts are equally odious and ozone-destroying. 68% of the ammonia in the world is caused by livestock (creating acid rain), 65% of the nitrous oxide, 37% of the methane, 9% of the CO2, plus 100 other polluting gases. Big meat animals waste valuable land -- 80% of Amazon deforestation is for beef ranching, clear-cutting a Belgium-sized patch every year. Water is prodigiously gulped -- 15,000 liters of H20 produces just one kilogram of beef. 40% of the world's cereals are devoured by livestock. This scenario is clearly unsustainable, and In-Vitro Meat is the sensible alternative. (Although skeptics warn that IVM factories will produce their own emissions, research indicates that pollution will be reduced by at least 80%.) Once we get over the fact that IVM is oddly disembodied, we'll be thankful that it doesn't shit, burp, fart, eat, over graze, drink, bleed, or scream in pain.

5. Economic Upheaval.
The switch to In-Vitro Meat will pummel the finances of nations that survive on live animal industries. Many of the world leaders in massacred meat (USA, China, Brazil) have diversified incomes, but Argentina will bellow when its delicious beef is defeated. New Zealand will bleat when its lamb sales are shorn. And ocean-harvesting Vietnam and Iceland will have to fish for new vocations. Industries peripherally dependent on meat sales, like leather, dairy and wool, will also be slaughtered. Hide and leather-exporting nations like Pakistan and Kenya will be whipped, but South Korea will profit on its sales of "Koskin" and other synthetic leathers. Huge plantations of livestock crops (soybeans & corn) in Brazil, USA, Argentina, and China can be replaced with wool substitutes like sisal. Smaller nations that excel in food processing will thrive because they'll export IVM instead of importing tonnage of frozen meat. Look for economic upticks in The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, France, and especially Japan, who's currently one of the globe's largest importers of beef.

6: Exotic & Kinky Cuisine.
In-Vitro Meat will be fashioned from any creature, not just domestics that were affordable to farm. Yes, ANY ANIMAL, even rare beasts like snow leopard, or Komodo Dragon. We will want to taste them all. Some researchers believe we will also be able to create IVM using the DNA of extinct beasts -- obviously, "DinoBurgers" will be served at every six-year-old boy's birthday party.

Humans are animals, so every hipster will try Cannibalism. Perhaps we'll just eat people we don't like, as author Iain M. Banks predicted in his short story, "The State of the Art" with diners feasting on "Stewed Idi Amin." But I imagine passionate lovers literally eating each other, growing sausages from their co-mingled tissues overnight in tabletop appliances similar to bread-making machines. And of course, masturbatory gourmands will simply gobble their own meat.

7: FarmScrapers.
The convenience of buying In-Vitro Meat fresh from the neighborhood factory will inspire urbanites to demand local vegetables and fruits. This will be accomplished with "vertical farming" -- building gigantic urban multi-level greenhouses that utilize hydroponics and interior grow-lights to create bug-free, dirt-free, quick-growing super veggies and fruit (from dwarf trees), delicious side dishes with IVM. No longer will old food arrive via long polluting transports from the hinterlands. Every metro dweller will purchase fresh meat and crispy plants within walking distance. The success of FarmScrapers will cripple rural agriculture and enhance urbanization.

8. We Stop the Shame.
In-Vitro Meat will squelch the subliminal guilt that sensitive people feel when they sit down for a carnivorous meal. Forty billion animals are killed per year in the United States alone; one million chickens per hour. I list this last even though it's the top priority for vegetarians, because they represent only 1-2% of the population, but still... IVM is a huge step forward in "Abolitionism" -- the elimination of suffering in all sentient creatures. Peter Singer, founding father of Animal Liberation, supports IVM. So does every European veggie group I contacted: VEBU (Vegetarian Federation of Germany), EVA (Ethical Vegetarian Alternative of Belgium), and the Dutch Vegetarian Society. And PETA, mentioned earlier, offers $1 million to anyone who can market a competitive IVM product by 2012.

My final prediction is this: In-Vitro Meat relishes success first in Europe, partly because its "greener," but mostly they already eat "yucky" delicacies like snails, smoked eel, blood pudding, pig's head cheese, and haggis (sheep's stomach stuffed with oatmeal). In the USA, IVM will initially invade the market in Spam cans and Hot Dogs, shapes that salivating shoppers are sold on as mysterious & artificial, but edible & absolutely American.

Original Article and further reading can be found HERE.

Thanks to Adam A. for the link

Street Art: Joshua Allen Harris' Inflatable Bag Animals

from youtube:
Using only tape and garbage bags, artist Joshua Allen Harris creates giant inflatable animals that become animated from subway air when fastened to a sidewalk grate.

Thanks to Claudio T. for finding the vid

Ed Begley Jr. FTW!

Actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr. "discusses" climate change on Fox News with Stu Varney. Fantastic argumentation, so good to see someone really stand up to the lies and fear-tactics of Fox News!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reintroduced orangs get microchipped

Orang utans get trackers 
Associated Press via

KUALA LUMPUR - VETERINARIANS have been tracking three orang utans they implanted with tiny transmitters as part of efforts to protect the endangered primates once they reintroduce them to the wild, a Malaysian official said on Monday.

French and Austrian veterinarians worked with the Wildlife Department in eastern Sabah state on Borneo island to implant specially designed coin-sized transmitters in the necks of the orang utans for the first time ever in September, said Dr Senthilvel Nathan, the department's chief field veterinarian.

The orang utans' jungle habitat in Sabah has shrunk over the decades and their numbers have plummeted as loggers cut down the forests and plantation farming encroached.

Fewer than 11,000 orang utans remain in Sabah. Up to eight times that number existed 15 years ago, a French-based conservation group, Hutan, has estimated.

The three orang utans are among about 250 primates that were cared for by humans after being found sick, injured or orphaned when they were young. They now live in a 15 square-mile (40 sq.-kilometre) reserve that can only handle a limited number of them, Dr Senthilvel said.

The transmitters will not be able to show any imminent threat to the orang utans, but they will allow officials to monitor their whereabouts in the wild and find them quickly if necessary

Monday, November 23, 2009

Grandmother monkeys care for baby

a+b) Grandmother GM1 retrieves her granddaughter GD1 then lets her suckle:
c) GMI then grooms her returning daughter who reunites with her own infant

From BBC Earth News
By Matt Walker

Two grandmother monkeys have been seen intervening to raise their own grandchildren, providing essential care including suckling the young.The scientists who witnessed the behaviour say it is the first unambiguous example of such behaviour shown by a non-human primate.The observations were made in a free-ranging group of Japanese macaques living in Katsuyama, Japan. Details of the grandmothers' actions are published in the journal Primates.

The same group of wild, free-ranging Japanese macaques ( Macaca fuscata ) have been studied since 1958, so scientists have kept a record of the birth date and blood relationships of each individual. One scientist, Dr Masayuki Nakamichi at Osaka University in Japan, has been studying the animals' social interactions for 30 years.

However, the behaviour of two macaque grandmothers surprised even him.

"We know that some monkeys... sometimes adopt infants. In most cases, it is females who have lost their own infants," Dr Nakamichi says. "However, in the present cases, the old, probably post-reproductive mothers started to take care of their young granddaughters. "It is very unusual for females who have not had their own young offspring for years to start to take care of other infants."

Dr Nakamichi and colleagues at Osaka University first observed a monkey known to them as GM1, a 24-year-old female macaque, looking after her granddaughter GD1.The infant GD1 was the offspring of GM1's own daughter, known as M1.GM1 started looking after GD1 just 20 days after her birth. And she intervened even more when the infant's mother M1 unexpectedly went missing from the troop. Then the grandmother held, groomed, carried and retrieved the abandoned and now two-month-old infant, even placing her nipples in the infant's mouth. The grandmother looked after her granddaughter in this way for at least six days, before the mother returned and gradually resumed her role.

The second case involved a 23-year-old monkey dubbed GM2, who looked after her 14-month old granddaughter, GD2. In this case, the mother, M2, was busy nursing a second, younger infant. So the grandmother stepped in, allowing her granddaughter to take her nipple on numerous occasions. She was observed still looking after her granddaughter in this way 5 months later.

In both examples, the researchers believe the grandmothers were providing essential care. Without the intervention of GM1, the scientists say her granddaughter would have died within two weeks. Because GM1 had not had offspring for six years, she would not have been able to provide milk for the infant, but her actions would have protected her and kept her warm. The second grandmother, GM2, did likely provide her granddaughter with nutritious milk, as the infant was seen actively suckling. It is likely that the repeated suckling by the granddaughter over a few weeks induced her to begin producing milk again.

The behaviour of the two elder monkeys offers support to an idea called the 'grandmother hypothesis'. "It is an idea that post-reproductive grandmothers can play an important role in the survival of their grandchildren, although they cannot produce their own offspring," explains Dr Nakamichi. By doing so, he says, females can improve the chances that their own genes will be passed on down the generations.
The idea helps explain why mammals such as monkeys can live well beyond reproductive age, as by doing so, they can continue to promote the survival of their relations.

However, definitive evidence for the hypothesis has been difficult to obtain. Numerous studies have shown that monkeys such as vervets, Japanese macaques and langurs will form close relationships with their grandchildren, investing time in them and occasionally helping to protect them. Yet other studies on Japanese macaques, baboons and titi monkeys, for example, do not show that the presence of grandparents improves an infant's survival.

In other social mammals such as elephants, grandmothers may also occasionally help out with grandchildren. But usually the grandmother has more offspring of her own, and does not provide essential, life-saving care.

"To our knowledge, there have been no reported cases in which, instead of a mother, a grandmother without dependant offspring has continuously provided essential care for the survival of her dependant grandchild, which is in accordance with the grandmother hypothesis," Dr Nakamichi and colleagues write in the journal Primates.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Citation: Nakamichi M, Onishi K, Yamada K (2009) Old grandmothers provide essential care to their young granddaughters in a free-ranging group of Japanese monkeys (Macaca fuscata). Primates DOI 10.1007/s10329-009-0177-7

All Hail the Unendangered Wild Turkey

from Cool Green Science the Blog of the Nature Conservancy
Written by Matt Miller

Imagine sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner in a world without wild turkeys.It’s hard to conceive—if you live in the United States, chances are you’re just a short distance away from a large population of these birds. They roam forests, wood lots, farm fields and prairies from Maine to Florida, from New Jersey to California. But a century ago, many conservationists sat down to their Thanksgiving dinner, and, indeed, contemplated a world where gobbles ceased to echo through the woods.
The turkey, in short, seemed doomed. In the early 1900s, the world’s wild turkey population was an estimated 30,000 birds—a smaller number than today exists for orangutans, polar bears and African elephants, all species with futures causing considerable angst among conservationists. Rampant poaching and habitat destruction offered little hope for the wild turkey’s future.

But today, 7 million turkeys trot, cluck and scratch around North America, occupying almost all suitable habitat and even expanding beyond their original range. How conservationists (and turkeys) pulled this off should offer some lessons—and hope—for those of us acing conservation challenges today. The American model of wildlife management has since colonization been based on the idea that wildlife belonged to the people—a philosophy that led to a classic “tragedy of the commons” situation. People shot, ate and sold whatever they felt like, whenever they felt like it. But conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell framed our common ownership of wildlife in a new way: as a common investment that all people had a stake in protecting. The United States passed wildlife protection legislation. Even more importantly, it enforced that legislation. Citizen-conservationists played a vital role, from protecting habitat to funding turkey reintroduction efforts. Groups like the National Wild Turkey Federation worked closely with state and federal agencies to ensure full restoration of turkey numbers.

There were mistakes and flawed ideas, of course. At one point, many state agencies used hatchery programs in an attempt to reestablish wild birds. But those turkeys proved naïve to predators and hunters, and were susceptible to disease. Overall, conservationists were spectacularly successful. Too many environmentalists take species like turkeys—and white-tailed deer and Canada geese and other abundant species—for granted. They’re so common it seems unbelievable that they ever really needed help. And the fact that they thrive alongside humanity, if we’re being honest, invites skepticism. After all, deep down, many suspect that humans and the rest of nature just can’t get along.

Not many environmentalists, I suspect, see a flock of geese on a city golf course and exclaim: “Success!”

Which is too bad.

Because at one point turkeys (and deer, and geese) faced a future every bit as bleak as rhinos and tigers do today. A century ago, many conservationists felt hopeless about long-term prospects for what are now considered common North American game animals. As conservationists, we’re striving for a future when people can thrive alongside abundant rhinos, orangutans, elephants and pandas. While we work towards that worthy goal, let’s not forget to be thankful for the turkey. Long may its gobble echo through the hardwoods, and may the turkey’s own conservation story show us the way as we work to conserve the earth’s other magnificent creatures.


via Geekologie

Fellatio by Fruit Bats Prolongs Copulation Time

Oral sex is widely used in human foreplay, but rarely documented in other animals. Fellatio has been recorded in bonobos Pan paniscus, but even then functions largely as play behaviour among juvenile males. The short-nosed fruit bat Cynopterus sphinx exhibits resource defence polygyny and one sexually active male often roosts with groups of females in tents made from leaves. Female bats often lick their mate's penis during dorsoventral copulation. The female lowers her head to lick the shaft or the base of the male's penis but does not lick the glans penis which has already penetrated the vagina. Males never withdrew their penis when it was licked by the mating partner. A positive relationship exists between the length of time that the female licked the male's penis during copulation and the duration of copulation. Furthermore, mating pairs spent significantly more time in copulation if the female licked her mate's penis than if fellatio was absent. Males also show postcopulatory genital grooming after intromission. At present, we do not know why genital licking occurs, and we present four non-mutually exclusive hypotheses that may explain the function of fellatio in C. sphinx.

from the discussion
We speculate that the female C. sphinx licks the male penis to increase penile stimulation, stiffening the penis and maintaining the male's erection. At the same time, the female's saliva may increase lubrication, thus facilitating intromission and thrusting. In combination, these features may prolong copulation in C. sphinx.

So in a similar way to the anthropoid primates, the C. sphinx females (like most animals) are not passive during copulation but rather communicate with the male, in this case by licking his penis. We propose a series of adaptive hypotheses to explain genital licking in C. sphinx. First, genital licking may lubricate the penis or increase penile stimulation, prolonging the duration of copulation. Prolonged copulation might assist sperm transport from the vagina to the oviduct, or stimulate secretions of the pituitary gland in the female and hence increase the likelihood of fertilization. Second, prolonged copulation might be a method of mate-guarding, because the mates would normally segregate after copulation to form unisexual groups which persist throughout the non-breeding season. Third, fellatio may confer bactericidal benefits and assist in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) both to females, and to males that lick their own penis briefly after copulation. Saliva has a protective repertoire that goes beyond antibacterial activity to include antifungal, antichlamydial, and antiviral properties as well. Finally, genital licking may facilitate the detection and identification of MHC-dependent chemical cues associated with mate choice.

Thanks to Dieter L. for the link

Saturday, November 21, 2009

From the Club PAN blog: FREE conservation education downloads

All 10 lessons from the Club P.A.N. conservation education program are available for FREE download now! Just visit the Club P.A.N. blog or homepage for more information and all the links!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Launch of Gola Forest Website

The Gola Forest Reserve has a great new website, full of beautiful images, news on the cross boundary park and information on the ongoing research and activities in the area. Please check it out!

Dogs sniff out Vietnamese rhino poop for eventual genetic analysis

from the WWF facebook page
WWF: Dogs to sniff out the state of Vietnam's critically endangered rhinos

Vietnam – Highly trained detection dogs are being used help to determine the population status of the Javan rhino in Vietnam, in an attempt to save one of the world’s rarest mammals from extinction.

WWF researchers have teamed up with national park rangers using two detection dogs from the United States to determine the population status of the Javan rhinos in the forests of southern Vietnam, home to one of the world’s last two remaining populations of the species.

Javan rhino (rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) were thought to be extinct on mainland Southeast Asia until hunters in Vietnam killed an individual in 1988. It is believed less than ten remain, but no conclusive survey has ever been conducted to verify this.

“The Javan rhino is possibly the rarest large mammal on Earth,” said Sarah Brook, leader of the WWF rhino project in Vietnam. “This field survey aims to reveal the secrets of Vietnam’s little known Javan rhino population in an effort to save it from extinction.”

Samples of the dung will be sent to Queen’s University in Canada where DNA analysis will detect the sex and number of animals. The Zoological Society of London will carry out a hormone analysis to show the animal’s breeding capability.

After just five days of surveying the area, seven rhino dung samples have been found. These specimens have given the project team confidence that they will be able to gather all the necessary scientific information. The results of these analyses will used to formulate an urgent rhino conservation plan.

“The rhino is not only a rare animal unique to this country, but protecting the rhino is a flagship for conservation efforts in Vietnam,” said Hien Tran Minh, Country Director for WWF Vietnam. “If we lose the rhino the future does not look good for Vietnam’s other rare and endemic species.”

The Javan rhino is a highly valued commodity in the illegal wildlife trade, with the rhino horn, skin and faeces used for medicinal purposes. Habitat encroachment from agricultural expansion and planned hydropower development also pose increasing threats to this small population.

To improve protection for rhinos and other wildlife threatened by poachers, WWF in collaboration with the Asian Rhino project is supporting local communities to join the Forest Protection Department and national parks staff.

Rhinomania’, a blog written by the WWF team, will keep the public up to date on the rhino survey as well as on life in the national park.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

National Geographic Tales: Being Fed by a Wild Leopard Seal

Paul Nicklen describes his most amazing experience as a National Geographic photographer - coming face-to-face with one of Antarctica's most vicious predators.

Thanks to Cleve C. for the link

UN: Fight climate change with free condoms

The battle against global warming could be helped if the world slowed population growth by making free condoms and family planning advice more widely available, the U.N. Population Fund said Wednesday.
The agency did not recommend countries set limits on how many children people should have, but said: "Women with access to reproductive health services ... have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse gas emissions."
"As the growth of population, economies and consumption outpaces the Earth's capacity to adjust, climate change could become much more extreme and conceivably catastrophic," the report said.
The world's population will likely rise from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050, with most of the growth in less developed regions, according to a 2006 report by the United Nations.
The U.N. Population Fund acknowledged it had no proof of the effect that population control would have on climate change. "The linkages between population and climate change are in most cases complex and indirect," the report said.
It also said that while there is no doubt that "people cause climate change," the developing world has been responsible for a much smaller share of world's greenhouse gas emissions than developed countries.
Still, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, the U.N. Population Fund's executive director, told a news conference in London on Wednesday that global warming could be catastrophic for people in poor countries, particularly women.
"We have now reached a point where humanity is approaching the brink of disaster," she said.
In three weeks, a global conference will be held in Copenhagen aimed at reaching a deal to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 industrial countries to cut heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions.
On Wednesday, one analyst criticized the U.N. Population Fund's pronouncements as alarmist and unhelpful.
"It requires a major leap of imagination to believe that free condoms will cool down the climate," said Caroline Boin, a policy analyst at International Policy Network, a London-based think tank.
She also questioned earlier efforts by the agency to control the world's population.
In its 1987 report, the U.N. Population Fund warned that once the global population hit 5 billion, the world "could degenerate into disaster." At the time, the agency said "more vigorous attempts to slow undue population growth" were needed in many countries.
According to Boin, "Numerous environmental indicators show that with development and economic growth we are able to preserve more natural habitats. There is no causal relationship between population density and poverty."
In this month's Bulletin, the World Health Organization's journal, two experts also warned about the dangers of linking fertility to climate change.
"Using the need to reduce climate change as a justification for curbing the fertility of individual women at best provokes controversy and at worst provides a mandate to suppress individual freedoms," wrote WHO's Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum and Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan.

Hippo vs Croc - Hippo wins!

Images from

English Summary by G. Schubert
When the crocodile got close to a group of approximately 50 hippopotami in Serengeti National Park (Tanzania), it tried to flee by climbing upon their backs. One of the hipos attacked the croc nevertheless and according to the photographer, the crocodile did not survive.

From the site:
Attacke: Mit seinen mächtigen Kiefern greift ein Flusspferd im Serengeti Nationalpark (Tansania) ein Krokodil an. Flusspferde können äußerst aggressiv werden und mit einem einzigen Biss einen Druck von mehreren Tonnen entfalten. In dieser Situation war die Lage für das Krokodil aussichtslos. Laut dem Fotografen, dem die spektakulären Bilder gelangen, hat das Reptil die Auseinandersetzung nicht überlebt. Den entscheidenden Fehler hatte das Krokodil begangen, als es sich unvorsichtigerweise in die Nähe einer Gruppe von 50 Flußpferden begeben hatte - darunter eine Mutter und ihre Jungtiere. Die folgende Flucht über die Rücken der Tiere war nicht von Erfolg gekrönt.

thanks to Gisela F. for the link

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Disney's oceans trailers

Earth Day 2010

Research Determines Exactly What All Women Want, All The Time, In Every Scenario...Except Not

A great pop science write-up on decades of animal research (human and non) on female mate choice- MA.

by Leigh Bond

Who says that women only like jerks? A new study published in the journal Science from Binghamton University and the University of Arizona adds yet another clue to the mystery that is female sexual selection.  "Nice guys don't always finish last," says the press release.

Of course, the nice guys in question happened to be insects. Researchers in this study observed the effects of a controlled group of male water striders – both aggressive and low-key, and their sexual relations with the females in the group. According to the study led by Omar Tonsi Eldakar of the University of Arizona’s Arizona Research Laboratories, groups of “gentlemen” water striders mated with  more females than did groups of the “psychopath” suitors. The research contradicts previous laboratory studies finding sexually aggressive males more successful at reproducing, said Eldakar. In previous studies, the females were blocked from leaving the areas populated by the sexually aggressive males; this study showed that actually given a choice, the females would leave whenever the jerk bugs came around - the nice bugs got the girls.
A lesson, according to Scientific Blogging, for all women. Their article based on the study approvingly notes that, "Female water striders don't like the bad boys and they don't even have to reach the age of 30 before they wise up about choices in males." Of course, most water striders die off before their second birthday. But still: human ladies could learn a thing or two!

This is not the first time a news release or article has claimed that the key to human sexuality lies in understanding our animal friends. Nor is it the first time that  the evidence contradicts previous research. To wit: Seahorses want their ladies large and pushy, capable of producing bigger, better eggs; the fickle female katydids change their type by the season – in winter, they like the ‘cool guys’ and in summer, they ‘like them hot.’ Peahens may play it shallow and like their peacock flashy , but redback spiders swear that smaller mates make better lovers and like them fast and frisky. High balling isn’t for all species however - male sand gobies play a different game and pull their ‘Mr. Mom’ card to snare their lady’s heart and nest; female beetles show that swimming the low tides of the gene pool bodes for superior egg fertility – studies have shown that higher paternity shares go to males with lower genetic quality. Bowerbirds apparently don’t care one way or another - they’d really just like their nest to be blue.

Of course, the human evidence is just as contrarian. In the battle between dads versus cads, a study by the University of Michigan shows that women prefer dads – “men who are kind, compassionate and monogamous” over classic Byronic heroes, dominant, dark and daring – or at least for the long term. Counter this with a Cornell University study that swears women in cities really just want men with money, and suddenly “nice” isn’t quite enough. Rich jerks won’t cut it either though, according to a UCLA study published in the journal Personal Relationships that shows women prefer prestige, true, but will still shy away from coercive encounters. And being rich won’t save a marriage either, according to John Gottmann at the University of Washington, who says despite any superficial qualities, happiness lays rooted in friendship .

All this information might lead one to believe that the idea of "what women want" – a neatly packaged biological urge all women are evolutionarily compelled to follow – is a bunch of crap.
Daphne J. Fairbairn, Professor of Biology at the University of California: Riverside, and editor of “Sex, Size and Gender Roles: Evolutionary Studies of Sexual Size Dimorphism” warns about not approaching these studies-- or their sexed up press releases--with a critical eye. “It would be nice if societies work this way, but they don’t,” she says, of the environments created by scientific research.
The real world is not a controlled environment – it’s messy, cut-throat, and competitive. Scientific studies typically generate an idea of something that could work, but are less successful at demonstrating something that already does. Water striders case marks a classic example: different experiments setting up different artificial environments, and coming away with different results. Moreover, we should note, women and water striders are not the same thing. Not even close. And the idea that our behaviors and actions can be determined by evolutionary or biological drives we inherited from either caveman ancestors or our animal antecedents is reductive at best, lazy and offensive at worst.  

In other words: all this talk about scientists proving what ladies REALLY want? It's about PR departments of hospitals and research institutions marketing their fascinating-to-few-but-other-scientists breakthroughs by making a journal in Nature sound like Cosmo.  It's about media outlets looking to fill a slow news day with stories that sound like sex advice instead of scientific advancements. What's it's not about is any resonating truth about female sexuality.
Sex sells, as they say.  But when it comes to research "proving" what women want, we're not buying it

Bird Feathers "Sing"

Male club-winged manakins vibrate their wings to create violin-like sounds to impress females, a new study says. Video Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Saturday, November 14, 2009

from CNN: chimps are not pets!

As a follow-up to my previous rant, I am posting this CNN "debate" on why chimpanzees (or any wild animals) should not be kept as pets. The piece also mentions that legislation against the primate pet trade is now being debated in the US government - good news!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kipunji evolutionary history revealed

From ScienceDaily 
Africa's Rarest Monkey Had An Intriguing Sexual Past, DNA Study Confirms

The most extensive DNA study to-date of Africa's rarest monkey reveals that the species had an intriguing sexual past. Of the last two remaining populations of the recently discovered kipunji, one population shows evidence of past mating with baboons while the other does not, says a new study in Biology Letters. The results may help to set conservation priorities for this critically endangered species, researchers say.

A shy tree-dwelling monkey with a black face and long brown fur, the kipunji (key-POON-jee) was unknown to science until 2003, when it was discovered in a remote region of southern Tanzania. Until recently, little was known about its biology except what scientists could glean from observations and a single specimen found in a farmer's trap. The first analyses revealed that kipunji represented an entirely new genus of primate, Rungwecebus. Now, thanks to additional DNA samples collected from dung and tissue -- the most extensive genetic data to date -- scientists have a more complete picture of the genetic makeup of this monkey.

The kipunji is found in two tiny forest fragments totaling less than 7 square miles, researchers explained. Of the last two remaining populations, one is in Tanzania's Southern Highlands, and the other lies 250 miles away in a mountain range called the Udzungwas. Armed with six dung samples from the Udzungwas -- the first ever genetic material from this population -- and two additional tissue samples from the Southern Highlands, the researchers were able to reconstruct the genetic relationships between these populations and kipunji's closest kin.

Confirming other reports, the Southern Highlands population contained bits of DNA that are similar to baboons. This suggests that the two species interbred at some point after they diverged, researchers explained. "Way back in time in the evolutionary history of this population there was at least one event where there was some cross-fertilization with a baboon," said study author Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

In contrast, the researchers discovered that the Udzungwa population showed no traces of baboon DNA. "We thought the DNA from the second population would match the first one, but instead we got something quite different," said first author Trina Roberts of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, NC.

Mating across the species barrier isn't unheard of in the animal kingdom. "We usually think of species' genomes as being contained and not sharing with each other, but sometimes one species picks up genetic material from another through interbreeding," said Roberts. "It's as if the genomes are a little leaky."
The findings help to settle a debate over kipunji's status as a new genus of primate. "They're still separate taxa -- they're not baboons, they're still kipunji," said co-author Bill Stanley of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. "But there's a little bit of baboon DNA that shows up when you analyze their DNA."

Their results may also help to set conservation priorities for this critically endangered monkey. Much of the kipunji's remaining habitat is threatened by deforestation for farming and other uses, the researchers explained. "There's a lot of pressure on the forest for natural resources -- food, medicine, fuel, and building materials," said Davenport. "Part of the challenge we have is making sure the forest isn't degraded any further."

Census data indicate there are just over 1,100 individuals left in the wild, said Davenport. Of these, roughly 1,000 live in the Southern Highlands, and 100 remain in the Udzungwas. Both populations may require habitat protection if we are to preserve the genetic diversity of the species, researchers said.
"Udzungwa is a tiny population," said Roberts. "What we've shown is that it is substantially different from the first population. We may not be able to resurrect it by simply transplanting kipunji from one population to the other," Roberts said.
"If we were to lose it we might in fact lose the true kipunji genome forever," she added.

"Does the baboon DNA help to explain why there are differences in number between the two populations, or is just a remnant of evolutionary history?" asked Davenport. "It's too early to say, but it's something we're looking at."
"We have two separate populations that are slightly genetically different, so until we learn more it is extremely important that we maintain both of them," Davenport said. "It might be that those genetic differences have an impact on their survival in the future."
Additional authors on the study include Kyndall Hildebrandt, Trevor Jones, Eric Sargis, and Link Olson.

Journal reference:
  1. Roberts, T. E., T. Davenport, et al. The biogeography of introgression in the critically endangered African monkey Rungwecebus kipunji. Biology Letters, November 11, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On a MUCH lighter note

This post came up on Dlisted today and was too funny & sweet not to post (especially after this morning's depressing news) 

From by Michael K

Raden Soemawinata, the sexy piece hero who dropped his pants and jumped into the extremely dangerous waters (not really) of Victoria, Australia to save a dog.

When Sue Drummond's dog BiBi was carried off the pier and into the water by a strong bitchy ass wind, she didn't know what to do. Sue couldn't jump in herself, because she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to swim back with her dog. Luckily for Sue and BiBi, a sexy piece with a heart of gold happened to be on the pier. Raden ripped off his pants and jumped in the water to save her. Raden said, "It was pretty cold and windy, but it wasn't such a hard decision to jump in, it wasn't such a great feat. I'm a part-time model, so getting into my jocks isn't so different to what I do for work."

AND GET THIS, the part-time model was on the pier to spread his grandmother's ashes. I think my heart just beat for the first time in weeks! Seriously, the only way this story could get sappier (aka sweeter) is if Sue turned out to be Raden's grandmother's long-lost best friend from childhood who she was trying to find right before her death. They could make a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie out of this starring Milo Ventimiglia and Estelle Parsons. They can call it "Brought Together By BiBi."

The next time I'm in Victoria, Australia, I'm going to dress in a fluffy white dog costume, hold my nose and jump the hell in. Maybe a part-time in boxer briefs and ankle socks will come to my rescue.

And I love that in the [...] thumbnail below, Sue is busy giving a little sugar to the hot part-time model while BiBi is basically being choked to death. Priorities!

More pictures can be found here

Rant of the Week - captive chimpanzee attacks

Maybe you have heard about the chimp attack victim who is sitting down with Oprah this week to show her face and tell her story. Here is a link from ABC news on her story.

Eventhough I sympathize with the victim, the issue i find incredibly irritating about all this is that her mauling is not teaching anyone anything about how to prevent such things in the future. At the end of the ABC article, like any article about such attacks, are statements such as this:
  • "Herold [the owner] said Travis [the chimpanzee] was acting strangely earlier in the day of the attack so she gave him the anti-anxiety drug Xanax, but later retracted that statement."
  • "Police at the time of the attack speculated that a previous bout with Lyme disease may have accounted for the animal's reported mood swings."
But Travis' "moodiness" simply is not the issue.

First of all, chimpanzees are territorial animals that naturally undertake border patrols and inter-community attacks, where chimps from neighbouring groups are essentially torn apart, much in the same way that the victim in this chimp attack was.
Second, wild animals kept in captivity are like humans kept in workcamps or otherwise unjustly imprisoned; behavioural problems are bound to be observed in these indivduals (one could argue that this does not hold true in zoos with plenty of enrichment and socialization, but that is clearly not the case when owners are privately housing chimpanzees).

This is not in anyway to condone these attacks, this is to say, you can not take non-domesticated animals* and put them in your home and have any expectations other than that they will act according to their natural behavioural repertoire.

Keeping big cats, primates or other wild animal as pets or to use as entertainment is utterly pointless. The animals live sub standard lives (and often shot dead as with Travis) and people end up mauled.

*even if animals has been bred for a few generations in captivity, this is FAR from domesticated and although not wild-born, they are still wild animals.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why You Can't Fake Your Facebook Profile

by Johannah Cornblatt

The photo showed a man in a T shirt and baseball cap standing on top of a mountain. Tien-Yi Lee, a Web-site designer who had joined’s online dating service, says she felt an instant connection. “I saw his picture, and he had a very kind of friendly, sparkly vibe,” she says. “He had a great smile.” A few days later, Lee met the man at a bar in Cambridge, Mass. Lee remembers thinking that the photo on Nerve provided a “very accurate” reflection of her date’s personality in real life. A year after marrying the man from the photo, Lee’s first impressions of her future husband still largely hold true. “The picture was in sync with who he is,” she says.

Lee’s experience is common among those who meet on the Internet, according to a new study on the role of physical appearance in creating first impressions. The study, which will be published in next month’s issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that you can actually learn a great deal about a stranger’s personality from appearance alone.
More than 700 million people worldwide are now using online social networking sites that showcase personal photographs, but few realize just how accurate first impressions online can be. The findings from this study and other research on personality suggest that the photos you post online provide a wealth of information about who you are—whether you like it or not.

In the study, observers looked at full-body photos of 123 people they had never met. The observers viewed the people either in a controlled pose with a neutral facial expression or in a natural pose and then rated them on 10 personality characteristics. The authors of the study combined self-reported ratings from the people photographed with evaluations from close acquaintances to determine how well the observers were able to guess the traits. Even when people stood in the controlled pose, the observers accurately judged some major personality traits, including extroversion, self-esteem, and even religiosity. When people stood in a natural position, the judgments were accurate for nine of the 10 personality traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, likability, self-esteem, loneliness, religiosity, and political orientation. 

“A lot of people don’t like to admit that they make judgments based on appearance, but it’s inherent in everything that we do,” says Laura Naumann, director of the Personality Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the study. “Anywhere you have a profile and pictures are being posted, people are using that information.” (Accuracy was lowest for neuroticism, a finding consistent with research demonstrating that neuroticism is extremely difficult to detect on first impression in real life.)

How participants stood and whether or not they smiled provided the biggest clues about personality.  Extroverts apparently smile more, stand in energetic and less tense poses, and appear healthy, neat, and stylish. While more obvious cues—like wearing a cross or a Star of David—gave viewers information about religiosity, there was also a strange correlation in this study between standing in a relaxed position and being more devout. “I think a lot of people forget that our posture says a lot of things about us,” Naumann says. “Even if we were to put everyone in the same white jump suit, people’s inherent personalities might still come through in how they stand.”

Clothes and accessories can be misleading. While men who dressed more neatly and formally were accurately judged as more conscientious, assessing conscientiousness in women was much more difficult. “Some women might not do their homework on time or show up to a meeting on time but still have a conscientious appearance,” Naumann says. The report suggests that this gender disparity might stem from the fact that society places more pressure on women to look their best.

Research has shown that people are often clueless about how they’re viewed on the basis of their online profiles. “A lot of the time we think we come across a certain way, but we don’t,” says Simine Vazire, an assistant professor of psychology who runs Washington University’s Personality and Self-Knowledge Lab and an author of the study. “On the Internet, that’s multiplied by a million, so we should be careful about how we broadcast ourselves.”

A forthcoming study on Facebook, which will be published in Psychological Science next year, found that online social networking sites are not effective for promoting “idealized” identity. Instead, such sites often portray personality quite accurately, a finding that might help explain their popularity. As with the study on personality based on physical appearance, the Facebook study found that accuracy was strongest for judging extroversion and openness.

While it’s difficult to influence the way strangers judge you from a photograph, it’s even harder to control your overall online persona when other features like friend lists and Facebook message walls come into play. “If I want to appear extroverted, I can’t just suddenly create 450 friends and have them post on my wall and have photos of me yelling drunkenly at the camera at yet another party,” says Samuel Gosling, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas and an author of both personality studies. “You can’t just fabricate those.”

Vazire says the research suggests that strangers can know as much about your personality as acquaintances just by looking you up on the Internet. “It’s another example of how pervasive personality is,” she says. “You can’t outrun your personality. It’s going to follow you everywhere.”

Vazire warns against putting too much stock in a single profile photo, though. And Tien-Yi Lee should know. Although she instantly fell for her future husband’s smile on, he was the fourth date she found on the Internet that week—and number 97 overall. 

Do the Evolution - Pearl Jam

I don't think I fully appreciated this music video when it came out, so here it is again.

From Wikipedia:
Pearl Jam has stated that the novel Ishmael influenced the writing of the album Yield, and according to the novel's writer, Daniel Quinn, this song comes the closest to expressing the ideas of the book. Vedder stated:

This Daniel Quinn book, Ishmael...I've never recommended a book before, but I would actually, in an interview, recommend it to everyone....But this book, it's kind of the book of my ... My whole year has been kind of with these thoughts in mind. And on an evolutionary level, that man has been on this planet for 3 million years, so that you have this number line that goes like this [hands wide apart]. And that we're about to celebrate the year 2000, which is this [holds hands less than one inch apart]. So here's this number line; here's what we know and celebrate. This book is a conversation with a man and an ape. And the ape really has it all together. He kinda knows the differences between him and the man, and points out how slight they are, and it creates an easy analogy for what man has done, thinking that they were the end-all. That man is the end-all thing on this earth. That the earth was around even so much longer before the 3 million years. Fifty million years of sharks and all these living things. Then man comes out of the muck, and 3 million years later he's standing, and now he's controlling everything and killing it. Just in the last hundred! Which is just a speck on this line. So what are we doin' here? This is just a good reminder...And I'm anxious to see what happens. You know, I've got a good seat for whatever happens next. It'll be interesting.

Do the Evolution Lyrics from

I'm ahead, I'm a man
I'm the first mammal to wear pants, yeah
I'm at peace with my lust
I can kill 'cause in God I trust, yeah
It's evolution, baby

I'm at peace, I'm the man
Buying stocks on the day of the crash
On the loose, I'm a truck
All the rolling hills, I'll flatten 'em out, yeah
It's herd behavior, uh huh
It's evolution, baby

Admire me, admire my home
Admire my son, he's my clone
This land is mine, this land is free
I'll do what I want but irresponsibly
It's evolution, baby

I'm a thief, I'm a liar
There's my church, I sing in the choir:
(hallelujah, hallelujah)

Admire me, admire my home
Admire my son, admire my clones
'Cause we know, appetite for a nightly feast
Those ignorant Indians got nothin' on me
Nothin', why?
Because... it's evolution, baby!

I am ahead, I am advanced
I am the first mammal to make plans, yeah
I crawled the earth, but now I'm higher
2010, watch it go to fire
It's evolution, baby
Do the evolution

Monday, November 9, 2009

Dogs worse for the planet than SUVs? That's barking mad!

picture from A. Melnyk
Written by Clark Williams-Derry
From Sightline Daily via my friend Carol R-L

You may have seen the meme circulating around the internet: some researchers from New Zealand are claiming that owning a dog has as much impact on the planet as owning an SUV. I'll let New Scientist summarize their case:
[A] medium-sized dog...consume[s] 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily in its recommended 300-gram portion of dried dog food...So that gives him a footprint of 0.84 hectares...
Meanwhile, an SUV...driven a modest 10,000 kilometres a year, uses 55.1 gigajoules, which includes the energy required both to fuel and to build it. One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year, so the Land Cruiser's eco-footprint is about 0.41 hectares - less than half that of a medium-sized dog.
It's just the sort of counter-intuitive claim that gets lots of attention on the brave new internet era. So interesting! So science-y! So Twitter-able!

And yet, so false! Once you sniff around the numbers, it quickly becomes apparent that those researchers are barking up the wrong tree.

Let's get one thing out of the way: I'm not a dog owner. Much to my kids' dismay, I don't even want a pet. Nor do I own an SUV. So, in theory,'t have a dog in this fight. Still, this claim struck me as so wrong that it made the hair on my neck stand up. And I'd hate to have someone catch scent of this meme and conclude that buying an SUV is no big deal -- "It's not like I'm buying a dog or anything" -- if the real numbers don't support that conclusion. (That's the risk of bad information: it can lead us to make choices that are in stark conflict with our values.)

So let's paws for a moment, and see if this sleeping dog is actually a lie.

First, let's look at that SUV. The calculations behind the internet meme say that it's driven about 6,200 miles per year (10,000 km). And yet, according to the US Department of Energy, a real SUV in the US is driven an average of 13,700 miles annually. Already, the internet meme is off by a factor of roughly 2.2. I haven't checked whether the 10,000 km figure is reasonable for New Zealand -- but it for the US, their mileage assumptions certainly skews the numbers in favor of SUVs, and against dogs.

And then there's the total energy estimates. The pet-pessimists estimate that an SUV (in their calculations, a 4.6 liter Toyota Land Cruiser driven about 6,200 miles) consumes 55.1 gigajoules of energy in both fuel and amortized manufacturing energy every year. That, too, is low. A Land Cruiser gets about 15.25 mpg in combined city/highway driving -- meaning that if it's driven 10,000 km, it consumes about 407 gallons of gas, or 53.6 gigajoules worth of energy. But once I add in the energy used to produce that gas, along with what's likely a low-ball estimate of the "embodied" energy from vehicle manufacturing, I get get about 74.9 gigajoules -- 44 percent more than the authors estimate. Yet again, they've low-balled the impacts of the SUV in a way that makes dogs look worse by comparison. (Here, I'm drawing from the data collection and calculations I did for our CO2-by-transportation-mode charts. And I'm looking only at energy, not at the additional climate and pollution impacts of emissions from tailpipes and smokestacks.)

So even before you start to look at dogs, the authors have underestimated the environmental impacts of SUVs by a factor of at least 3. And that's not including the indirect impacts of SUVs -- the parking spaces we build for them; the roads and bridges they drive on; the impacts of insurance and licensing operations; etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Then there's flip side: the authors' claims about the impact of feeding pets. The anti-doggists estimate it takes .84 hectares -- or about 2.1 acres of cropland -- to meet a a pooch's food needs for a year. There are a little over 70 million dogs in the US (the Humane Society says 74.8 million, the veterinarians say 72.1 million, and the pet food industry says 66.3 million, for an average of 71.1 dogs). So by the authors' estimates it must take about 150 million acres of US farmland to feed our dogs. In all, there are 440 million acres of cropland in the US -- suggesting that the equivalent of one-third of all US cropland is devoted to producing dog food.
We use the equivalent of a third of all US cropland to feed dogs? That's barking mad!

To see why it's wrong, you can look from the bottom up, at the foods that dogs eat. Or you can look from the top down, at the aggregate sales of dog food vs. the entire agricultural economy. I'll do both.

First from the bottom up: what, exactly, do dogs eat? The anti-pet-ites seem do a good job of calculating dogs' calorie requirements. Canines wolf down a lot of food: a mid-sized dog consumes roughly 30 calories per pound of body weight per day. (Smaller dogs eat as many as 40 calories per pound of body weight, while larger dogs eat as few as 20 calories per pound. Call it the yapping-to-napping spread.) I couldn't find the average weight of dogs in the US, but the median dog breed listed here has an adult weight of 47 pounds. If that's representative of US dogs, then the average dog will eat 1,410 calories today, give or take -- which, as I read it, is roughly what the authors' figures imply.

So the real problem with the authors' calculations isn't with their estimates of how much each pet eats. It's with this statement:
[A] medium-sized dog...consume[s] 90 grams of meat and 156 grams of cereals daily
Strike that: most dogs DO NOT eat meat and cereals. With a few exceptions, they eat "meat" and "cereals." The "meat," in particular, tends to be byproducts -- things that people in the US simply won't eat, even in hot dogs. Here's one description of the ingredients in pet food:
The protein used in pet food comes from a variety of sources. When cattle, swine, chickens, lambs, or other animals are slaughtered, the choice cuts such as lean muscle tissue are trimmed away from the carcass for human consumption. However, about 50% of every food-producing animal does not get used in human foods. Whatever remains of the carcass -- bones, blood, intestines, lungs, ligaments, and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by humans -- is used in pet food, animal feed, and other products. These "other parts" are known as "by-products," "meat-and-bone-meal," or similar names on pet food labels.
Even the cereals dogs eat are often deemed unfit for human consumption. I'm not trying to gross you out here, or encourage you to feed choice cuts to your pooch. Instead, I think it's probably a good thing that dogs eat things that humans won't -- since otherwise they really would be eating people food, which really would increase their environmental impact. But since most dogs get their calories and protein from the waste products of people food, the idea that the environmental impact of dog food is additional to the impact of human food is simply wrong.

Of course, that's not to say that dog food has no environmental impact. Dog food, and meat byproducts generally, provide some financial contribution to the meat industry, and hence to the overall planetary impact of meat production. Dog food also also requires energy for processing, packaging, and transportation.
Yet when you look at pet food from a macro-economic perspective -- that is, from the top down, rather than the bottom up -- dog food is little more than a rounding error. Total retail food sales in the US topped $1.1 trillion in the US in 2008 (see table 36 from the USDA's Agricultural Outlook statistics.) But according to the pet food industry, retail dog food sales totaled just $11 billion in 2008. By that measure, dog food represents about one percent of the total food economy.

Looking more narrowly at the economics of meat byproducts, I found these USDA estimates of meat "price spreads", which show that meat byproducts are worth somewhere between 4 and 15 percent of the total value of livestock, depending on the year and the kind of animal. And obviously, dog food is only one of many uses of those byproducts -- there's also food for other pets, and a variety of industrial uses as well. So based on the economics, there's just no way to attribute much of the impact of agriculture on our dogs.
In short, whether you go by the macro-economics, or by the actual constituent parts of dog food, there's simply no principled way to say that the dog food has the same impact as human food. I'd be very surprised if ANY principled life-cycle assessment found that dog food has more than a small fraction of the overall environmental impact of US agriculture. My guess is that dog food accounts for a maximum of 5 percent of all US crop production, and possibly as little as 1 percent. That's a far cry from the one-third that the authors imply.

Of course, dogs have indirect environmental impacts, just as SUVs do: veterinarians, energy for heating and cooling, the food calories that humans use while walking their dogs, etc. I won't even try to tally them up, because there's no real point. Just looking at the numbers so far -- combining the underestimates of SUV impacts with the overestimates of dog food impacts -- the anti-doggites are off by a factor of at least 18, and probably more.

But because I'm doggedly persistent, I'll mention one final issue. The authors of the original meme estimate that:
One hectare of land can produce approximately 135 gigajoules of energy per year
I haven't looked at the original book, so I have no real idea what this means. A well-located solar power installation can produce roughly 10 times that much energy per acre per year. Perhaps it's got something to do with biofuels -- maybe the net annual production of corn ethanol per hectare, after accounting for the energy for fertilizer, tractor fuel, and distilling. Yet having run the numbers before, I've concluded that there's absolutely no way run the US SUV fleet -- roughly the size of our dog population -- on corn ethanol alone. There's just not enough cropland in the country to do it. But obviously, we power our fleet of dogs (and cats and people and horses, etc.--and even some cars) fairly easily with the cropland we've got.

Let's be clear -- I'm not claiming that we should ignore the environmental impact of dogs. That's one of reasons that I, personally, am reluctant to own one! But I think that making an empirical claim without doing solid research does a grave disservice to public discourse. Being wrong can have consequences -- including, potentially, encouraging people to make the wrong choices, even if their heart is in exactly the right place.

So I say to the folks who made the original claim: Bad Researchers! Fur Shame!!! And to the rest of you: let's consider the "dogs are worse than SUVs" meme debunked: buried in the back yard, put to sleep, and whatever other bad dog pun comes to mind.

(Note: I *AM* a dog owner and am totally biased- MA)

The Bare Bears of Leipzig Zoo

via GeekologieDlisted and the Daily Mail

Vets have been left baffled by the sudden hair loss of  the three female Andean/Spectacled bears who live at the Leipzig Zoo. Some experts believe it could be due to a genetic defect though the animals do not seem to be suffering from any other affliction. The bears, which originate from South America, normally have fluffy dark brown fur and would now be growing a thicker fur coat to keep warm during the winter. But instead, Lolita, Bianca & Dolores have developed rashes and inflammations on their skin. Unfortunately for the bears, their lack of hair has been pulling in the crowds who want to catch of glimpse of their bareness.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

monkey economics: "only the cooperative survive"

Monkey business: Jungle economics
By Kevin Voigt, CNN from
* Primatologists are investigating how economics operate among monkeys
* The more time monkeys are groomed, the richer they are within the group
* Experiments show exchange rate of 'grooms' vary with supply and demand

In Indonesia, researchers have watched how long-tail macaques trade for sex. In South Africa, vervet monkeys climbed the ladder of their social group by learning a new trade in apples.
This line of study examines how economic models explain social behavior in the natural world.
"Animals neither negotiate verbally nor conclude binding contracts, but nevertheless regularly exchange goods and services without overt coercion and manage to arrive at agreements over exchange rates," European researchers wrote in a recent paper on market behavior among vervet monkeys in South Africa.

"It's really looking at the economy of nature," said Michael David Gumert, a primatologist and assistant professor in the division of psychology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. Gumert spent 20 months in the jungles of Indonesia studying long-tail macaques, observing the mating market among the monkeys.

While the U.S. dollar may be the primary global currency among humans, in the primate world coinage can be best called "The Groom" -- the more time you get being groomed, the richer you are within the monkey social group, researchers have observed.

Gumert found that male monkeys "pay" for sex by grooming female monkeys. After being groomed, females would mate nearly four times an hour with the groomer, and are less likely to mate with others. But the larger the market of male companions, the higher the price of sex:

Areas with low density of males, the price was only eight minutes of grooming. In areas where there were more males, the price could double to 16 minutes.

Sex isn't the only commodity for sale in the jungle. Female macaques will line up to groom a new mother in order to hold her offspring, Gumert observed. "When a mother has a baby, the other females are attracted to the baby and want access to it," he said.

The findings support the "biological market theory," a term created by researchers Ronald Noe and Peter Hammerstein in trying to understand reciprocal behavior in primates and the unwritten code of trade that appears in the wild.

"(My colleague) said, 'this looks like a market', and we started investigating in those terms," said Noe, a primate ethologist at the University of Strasbourg.

And like in capital markets, supply and demand rules the jungle. In one recent experiment led by Noe's student, Cecile Fruteau, in South Africa, a low-ranking vervet monkey in the wild was trained to open a box of apples for the group. Instantly, the stock value of the monkey shot up.
"The pattern of grooming she got was like the pattern of a dominant animal," Noe said.

Then the researcher trained another low-ranking monkey the same skill to see what competition would do in the monkey market. And like human markets, the duoply reached a point of equal distribution of grooms.

What fascinates Noe is that without any sort of outward system, there seems to be an innate sense among the group of the value of these new goods and services.

"They make the changes very quickly and seem to have a keen sense of what it is worth," he said.

There may be other forms of currency trading hands that the researchers can't compute -- such as greater tolerance among each other when feeding, or stored knowledge that the improved relationship will come in handy in a fight.

"Grooming is something that is consistent and we can easily measure," said Noe.
Researchers stop short of saying this research has -- so far -- signaled that economics is an innate trait in our closest animal cousins, but it raises thought provoking questions if there is an evolutionary dynamic to the forces that gave rise to Wall Street.

From an evolutionary standpoint, the tacit negotiation that happens in primate groups suggests that the maxim that "only the strong survive" isn't quite right, Gumert said. "It seems really more like, 'only the cooperative survive'."