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'

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Programming note until June 2011

Hi everyone, as I am prepping for my defense I only have been updating the DNApes facebook page - in June I will get back to posting everything here but if you want to be kept up to date between now and then please "like" the facebook page and all the articles will show up right in your news stream


Sunday, May 15, 2011

London Zoo criticised over death of baby gorilla Tiny

I think this is a sad but interesting issue to discuss. I certainly see Dr. Sommer's point but if zoo's are trying to provide the proper social structure for gorillas then what choice did they have? On the other hand, this comes back to the question I have brought up here several times - what is the role of zoos in conservation? I think most zoo apes are far far away from natural conditions, no matter how hard zoos try. In which case, strictly adhering to wild gorilla social structure maybe should not be the priority. They could have had a 2 female and infant group and introduced the other female to the new silverback. Once the infant was older and his mother started cycling again the mother and juvenile could probably be introduced to the silverback without incident. Many zoos have ape groups that are divided so that some are on display and other not at any given time. It is cleearly not a black and white issue and its something that should be discussed. -MA

From the BBC via the Vigilant Primate Genetics Lab facebook page
London Zoo criticised over death of baby gorilla Tiny
Tiny, a baby western lowland gorilla, with his mother Mjukuu Keepers waited months to introduce Tiny and his mother to the new male

A leading evolutionary anthropologist has called London Zoo "incompetent" over the death of its baby gorilla in an attack by a silverback.

Professor Volker Sommer said he was "bewildered" why seven-month-old Tiny was introduced to new male Kesho.

In the wild, when a new male takes over an existing group, there is a danger he will kill any young fathered by other males to ensure his genes survive.

London Zoo said it took expert advice and did all it could to cut the risks.

The young western lowland gorilla, who was fathered by a male that died last year, was injured on Thursday when he and his mother Mjukuu were introduced to Kesho for the second time.

Vets believe Tiny, the first gorilla to be born at the zoo for 22 years, may have suffered internal injuries following a scuffle in which he broke an arm.

The infant underwent a three-hour operation to pin his arm but vets were unable to revive him.

Prof Sommer, an advisor to the International Union for Conservation of Nature on great apes, said introducing Tiny to the silverback "ignored findings accumulated over the last 40 years".

In a letter to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), he said: "What on Earth did ZSL expect to happen? Any undergraduate student of zoology could have told you what to expect!

"How can it be that ZSL, an organisation known for being guided by scientific knowledge, ignores findings that have been accumulated over the last 40 years?"

He said those responsible should no longer keep apes if the zoo was not up to scratch with what science told us.

The letter added: "Sorry, but the word 'incompetence' comes to mind for those responsible for this blunder.

"As a logical conclusion, London Zoo should not keep apes anymore."

Kesho's arrival last year was recommended by experts to create a cohesive social group, after the death of the zoo's previous male gorilla.

In the wild male gorillas often attack the offspring of their rivals, so staff were cautious about introducing Kesho to the baby, who was the offspring of the former male.

Kesho had been gradually introduced to the two other female gorillas at the zoo but keepers waited many months for an introduction to the youngster and his mother.

London Zoo said it took advice from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria's European endangered species programme (EEP), and did all it possibly could to lessen the risks.

It said keepers felt it would be unnatural to keep female gorillas without a male leader.

"We always knew the risks and were very open from the beginning about the fact that bringing a new male into a situation where a female was pregnant by another male was very challenging," a ZSL spokeswoman said.

"We held a press conference in August at the science media centre to explain all of this. However, we were advised by the EEP at the time to find a new male for the long-term welfare of the group as a whole.

"It would be unnatural to keep female gorillas without a male leader and would not have met their complex social needs satisfactorily.

"We did all that we possibly could to mitigate the known risks but fundamentally we cannot stop wild animals exhibiting their natural behaviours, and neither should we."

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Conservation International 'agreed to greenwash arms company'

From the ecologist
US environmental charity under fire for close links with controversial companies, including Cargill, Chevron, Monsanto and Shell

Leading environmental charity has been accused of corporate 'greenwashing' after a senior employee was secretly filmed by undercover reporters discussing ways in which the organisation could help an arms company boost its green credentials, the Ecologist can reveal.

Options outlined by the representative of Conservation International (CI) included assisting with the arms company's green PR efforts, membership of a business forum in return for a fee, and sponsorship packages where the arms company could potentially invest money in return for being associated with conservation activities.

The sting was carried out by the London-based magazine Don't Panic, with their journalists posing as representatives of a major international defence corporation.

Don't Panic have produced a twelve-minute film in which they make the allegations

Undercover with Conservation International from alex newby on Vimeo.

The female CI employee was recorded describing how the organisation could help the arms company develop key environmental messages, identify target audiences and craft a communications plan as part of one package offered by the charity.

Footage from the meeting shows the CI representative outlining the benefits of a number of the charity's initiatives, including membership of the 'Business and Sustainability Council', which is offered to companies in return for a payment of $37,500 per year.

The payments would secure the company being publicly listed as a partner on the council, facilitate company representatives meeting with other council members - which includes controversial multinationals Shell, Monsanto and Chevron, amongst others - and provide access to CI expertise and networks.

In the meeting, which took place in London in October 2010, the CI employee also outlined how the charity could potentially facilitate the arms company if it wanted to be associated with protecting an endangered species.

The CI manager explained how the organisation could make introductions to relevant NGOs and potentially help the arms company to develop a PR strategy for the venture, if money was invested in a relevant conservation programme.

Film footage shows the CI employee suggesting North African birds of prey as a possible endangered species mascot for the arms company because of the 'link to aviation'.

In follow up correspondence between CI and the undercover reporters, seen by the Ecologist, CI also outline possible sponsorship options for the arms company, with investment needing to be at least £150,000 over three years.

Close links to big business

Although there is no suggestion of illegality or wrongdoing on behalf of CI, the footage could prove embarrassing to the US-based charity and could fuel growing concerns amongst activists that some NGOs are growing too close to big businesses often linked to environmental destruction and other abuses.

‘That we [the arms company] were not serious about green issues was made clear to Conservation International over and over again [in our meeting],' Heydon Prowse, from Don't Panic, said.

'We told them that one of our key environmental strategies was to recycle bomb shrapnel from battle zones to use again in new bombs and that we were adapting our cluster bomb technology to drop seeds so as to re-forest remote regions. We waited for them to be outraged… they never were.’

CI is linked with at least one other company in the defence sector - Northrup Gruman - which supplies the US military and provides parts for warplanes.

The President and CEO of Northrup Gruman, Wes Bush, also sits on the CI Board of Directors.

Water for elephants star "trained" by electric shock

Steve Bloom, wildlife photographer, posted this on his facebook page along with the following comment which I totally agree with:
"I have not seen Water For Elephants, but came across a video showing cruel training methods. I don't see why any elephant will perform tricks for human entertainment unless coerced to do so by fear and intimidation. We are in an age of greater awareness of animal sentience, and things we would have taken for granted thirty or forty years ago now make us stop, ask questions and take action."
From Animal Defenders International
Movie Star Electric Shocked
Video released today by Animal Defenders International shows the elephant that appears alongside Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the new film Water for Elephants, being beaten and electric-shocked during training.

Water for Elephants, a romantic drama set in a 1930s animal circus in the USA, starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, is premiering all over the world this month, with the London Premier last Tuesday. But the biggest star of the film is 45-year-old Asian elephant Tai, who plays Rosie, supplied by the performing animal supplier Have Trunk Will Travel, of California.

In the film Rosie, played by Tai, is brutally attacked by the circus owner who beats her with a bull hook. But the producers, stars, and trainers have been at pains to stress that Tai was trained with kindness, marshmallows, and positive reinforcement.

Gary Johnson, a founder of Have Trunk Will Travel claimed: “Tai was never hit in any way at all”.

American Humane observed the animal action during filming and said: “We’re here observing prep on Water for Elephants and so we’re here to make sure that everybody knows that not only the action on set but also the prep is humanely done, all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.”

However shocking video, filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005, has been posted online today by Animal Defenders International (ADI) after the London premier, that tells a different story.

* Elephants including Tai are repeatedly given electric shocks with hand held stun guns
* Tai cries out when being shocked into performing a headstand
* Elephants including Tai are beaten about the body and legs with bull hooks
* A baby elephant is hooked in the lip and cries out
* An elephant is pinned with bull hooks whilst her tusks are sawn down, close to the bone

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out. The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”

Kari Johnson, another of the founders of Have Trunk Will Travel has previously stated: “Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk.”

Gary Johnson and trainer Joanne Smith appear in the video giving the elephants electric shocks.

ADI are sending copies of the DVD to the film’s stars and makers.

Jan said: “I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through.”

ADI has also contacted American Humane, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films and the statements being made which effectively endorse the use of performing animals.

What You Can Do

* Please contact ADI today and find out how you can speak up for Tai and all animals being abused in the entertainment industry. If you live in the UK, please contact, if you live in the U.S. please contact and ask for a Water for Elephants Letter Writing Pack.
* Boycott this film and tell your family and friends to take a stand against animal cruelty by only supporting films without animal actors.
* Leaflet moviegoers at a theater near you to educate them about the abuse of Tai and other performing animals. Contact ADI to order leaflets.
* Contact your local theater with a copy of the DVD we can provide you, and politely ask them to make the right choice and stop showing the film.
* Contact ADI for a letter writing pack with sample letters to Water for Elephants actors and movie makers, and sample letters to the editor to help you raise your voice for Tai and the other animals abused for entertainment.
* Write a letter to your local paper about Tai’s abuse and educate the public that animal suffering is never romantic and it is never entertainment. (Sample letters available in our letter writing pack.)
* Contact the Director and Producer and politely ask that they make Water for Elephants the last film they will use live animal actors. (Contacts and sample letters available in our letter writing pack.)
* Share the link to the video on your Facebook and other social networking sites, to spread the word to family and friends.

Biologists Mothers' Day Song

Thanks to Deborah M and Tracy K for the link. A bit late but very educational ;)

Elephants never forget

Thanks to Tracy K for the link!

Frans de Waal on the Colbert report