Carol: Hello Hurst, here we are again! Are you ready to talk about some animal news?
Hurst: Absolutely! I just heard about a new bright blue tarantula species that has been discovered in Guyana. This was a part of an expedition done by the Biodiversity Assessment Team that also discovered 30 more species that were likely unknown to science previously.
Carol: This is so exciting! It is important to know that there is so much biodiversity left to discover in the world, especially when places like Guyana are threatened by mining and deforestation.
Hurst: Absolutely, I agree completely. Except hopefully next time they will discover some sort of small fluffy mammal and not a large blue spider.
Carol: Let’s not be picky. In a turn of sad news, we need to discuss the recent reports of the growing illegal wildlife trade on eBay. A study published in Conservation Biology voices a growing concern about this trade on eBay. This market on eBay exists due to lax regulations causing there to be a small market on the darknet.
Hurst: This is concerning since those illegally selling animal and animal based products do not even feel the need to move to the darknet and are comfortable doing business in the open. But what exactly is the darknet?
Carol: It is basically the black market of the internet, where you can do anything from purchase illegal firearms, buy currency, or order ivory, all anonymously. This trade must be stopped since overharvesting of organisms is the second largest cause of global species decline and extinction. But thankfully eBay has been cooperating with activists to develop specialized computer programs to detect illegal wildlife tracking on eBay. This has decreased the percentage of contraband, of the eBay entries searched, from seven percent to around one or two percent. Their hopes for the future are to not only put a stop to the trading of charismatic animals like elephants and rhinos, but also endangered plants that are traded.
Hurst: Sigh. Do we have any more good news this week to talk about?
Carol: Absolutely! Well, sort of. Last year, a record number of migrant dragonflies were documented in the U.K. While this is a good thing if you like to see dragonflies, which I do, but the reason they are migrating isn’t all that happy.
Hurst: Go on…
Carol: Well, you may have already guessed it. People in the know think that dragonflies are migrating to find suitable habitat, which climate change may be impacting; dragonflies can’t regulate the temperature of their bodies, so they go to places where they can exhibit their natural dragonfly behaviors. But insect migration is not widely understood yet so this is more of a theory at this point. Also, a conservation officer for the British Dragonfly Society tells us that this migration is happening all over the world, not just in the U.K.
Hurst: So the migration isn’t related to Brexit?
Carol: In this case, no. What I learned through researching this story is how there are many organizations that help document migration of all kinds of species. Just sticking with dragonflies, there is the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, the Xerces Society, and the British Dragonfly Society to name a few. The best part is anyone can help document dragonfly sightings – it’s part of a worldwide citizen science effort where regular people can report the dragonflies that they see and that information goes into a big database. There is even an app dedicated to dragonfly watching!
Hurst: Are you saying that scientists aren’t regular people?
Carol: I’m going to pass on that one. While we on news from the UK, did you see all the hubbub that happened this past week around animal sentience?
Hurst: Yeah, there was a lot of confusion with a vote that occurred among the Members of Parliament. The Members are very busy these days reviewing and voting on European Union laws. Because the UK is leaving the EU, the laws that they were governed by under the EU have to be passed through Parliament in order for them to become British law. Evidently last week there was a vote, if it passed, that would have put on official record that the UK recognizes animals as sentient.
Carol: So what was the problem?
Hurst: The vote didn’t pass. This led to criticism from some people who felt like this indicated the government did not care about animals or did not recognize animal sentience. Others called reports about the vote “fake news.” There was a lot of activity on Twitter about it, and it’s still frankly pretty confusing but Andrew Griffin at the Independent summarizes it this way: “Nobody voted that animals aren’t sentient, because that wasn’t ever up for a vote. Instead, they didn’t vote that they were. A number of stories gave a misleading impression by eliding that distinction….what you feel about all of this ultimately comes down to the issues above: whether you think it’s important that animal sentience is specifically recognised in law, whether you think the [existing law on animal welfare] goes far enough, and whether you believe the Government that it is going to guarantee similar protections in its own time.”
Carol: Hmm you’re right, that doesn’t bring much closure to the issue. Well, let’s wrap up this week with a story about photographing animals. No, not animal selfies, which have been in the news recently, but a story about a photographer who takes photos of wildlife to help save them. It reminded me of another story I read recently in Wake Forest Magazine about another photographer who is doing the same thing – bringing a message through photography about how wonderful wild creatures are.
Hurst: It is so great to see that there are photographers using their talents to showcase and protect animals. I think pictures of animals really do more to represent them than words.
Carol: I agree, and I think anyone that has ever searched “puppies” in google images can attest to that.
Hurst: As a matter of fact, I’m doing that right now! See you next week!