Hurst: Hello there Carol, I hope you are ready to talk about some animal news today!
Carol: Yes, let’s go ahead and get into it! I have a glass of champagne in my future.
Hurst: I just finished an NPR article about stray dogs in the United States, and it left me with some difficult questions. According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 million stray dogs globally, with approximately 3.3 million of these dogs entering animal shelters annually. This is simply more dogs than shelters can handle, especially since many no longer euthanize animals. In fact, the number of cats and dogs euthanized each year has dropped from 20 million to 3 million.
Carol: That was a lot of numbers, but I get the point that there are far too many stray dogs and nowhere for them to go. This causes problems because packs of stray dogs can disrupt traffic, possibly harm people, and spread disease.
Hurst: Yes, math is not my forte but even I can see there is an issue here. Thankfully there are many people out there dedicated to finding homes for these animals, but we still need more of the public to embrace adopting dogs, not shopping for them.
Carol: I agree, as do my two shelter pups. It is also important to approach this from a policy standpoint. Many states have spay and neuter laws that attempt to control this population. However, spay and neuter programs must become more of a priority for governments in order to have any effect.
Hurst: Well, in the meantime, people can help by volunteering at animal shelters, fostering, or even adopting a dog into their own home! What a fun way to do good!
Carol: In a bit of holiday good news, I have a feel good story about a reindeer named Little Buddy.
Hurst: With a name like Little Buddy, I don’t doubt this will be adorable.
Carol: Well, it starts off a bit scary but don’t worry, it has a happy ending. Little Buddy lived on a small farm in New York and was enjoying the holiday season when he fell ill from a parasitic disease called Babesiosis. This disease has a low rate of recovery, however thanks to professionals at Cornell University Equine and Nemo Farm Animal Hospital, he received treatment in time. This treatment included a blood transfusion from Moose, Little Buddy’s herd-mate and half-brother. After this operation, Little Buddy began to bounce back!
Hurst: Just in time to pull the sleigh and deliver presents!
Carol: ….Anyway. This provides a great segue into our next subject; veterinary surgeons have completed the first ever brain surgery to treat hydrocephalus in a fur seal!
Hurst: Ah yes, hydrocephalus, the accumulation of excess cerebral spinal fluid in the brain.
Carol: Um yes, exactly. The fluid causes the brain to deteriorate over time. This surgery is the first of its kind! Similar procedures have been done on cats and dogs but never on a pinniped, meaning seals, walruses, and sea lions. With it being the first such operation, it is especially exciting that it was a success. The damage done by the cerebral spinal fluid cannot be undone, however this has dramatically improved the quality of life for the seal.
Hurst: That is very exciting! It will be interesting to see how this may translate into procedures on other kinds of animals.
Carol: So, changing the subject a bit, you know how I’m a big fan of Faunalytics, that research organization that shares information with animal advocates to help them be more effective?
Hurst: That’s a mouthful, but yes, I know you really like the work they do.
Carol: They wrote an exciting piece this week highlighting the validity of reducing the number of animals used in scientific experiments.
Hurst: That sounds good, but how does that work?
Carol: Well, anyone who has a companion animal such as a dog or cat or horse for that matter knows about parasites that can endanger the animal’s health and make their life uncomfortable – I’m talking about anything from fleas and ticks to the variety of intestinal worms that exist. Anthelmintics is the name for a group of drugs given to kill internal parasites like tapeworm and roundworm.
Hurst: Ok, ew.
Carol: Ew is right. The World Health Organization estimates that two billion people have parasitic worm infections and that’s not even taking into account livestock, wildlife, and companion animals. Anyway, this new research is really good news! Even though the 3R principle of animal-based research states that where possible scientific institutions should reduce the number of animals used in experiments, refine the experiment design to be less painful, or replace animals with other means of testing, this new article by two researchers out of the EU says that when it comes to researching the efficacy of these worm-killing drugs, field trials may be the way to go. They questioned the reliability of results – and hence the necessity – of lab-based experiments whereby killing the animal and analyzing the body is often the way data is gathered on whether the drugs are working.
Hurst: Gruesome stuff. But I’m glad to hear that we have some solid evidence that field studies can be just as effective yielding information on these drugs.
Carol: Me too. It was a big news week for animal-based research!
Hurst: Yeah, I know! The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany has also developed a method that will “drastically reduce the number of animals in antibody production” according to an article from Science Daily.
Carol: Ok, break that down for me.
Hurst: So, antibodies are a key factor in biological research and medical diagnostics, but their production takes a lot of time, money, and animals to create and harvest the antibodies. Many of the animals used are mice and rabbits as you might expect but also donkeys, goats, sheep, and llamas. These scientists at the Max Planck Institute have now developed something called secondary nanobodies that are produced on a massive scale in the lab – these nanobodies can replace antibodies in these tests and therefore could drastically reduce the number of animals in antibody production. The best part is that the secondary nanobodies outperform traditional antibodies in many applications.
Carol: You know, you are pretty good at explaining this science-y stuff in ordinary terms.
Hurst: Well, I am a Communications major…
Carol: Ah. That makes sense then. What story did you want to talk about next?
Hurst: Well, I wanted to highlight a few short pieces from Mongabay that caught my eye. The first is about a newly-discovered giant octopus.
Carol: If it is giant, why did it take so long to discover it?
Hurst: Good question – there is a species of octopus living in the Pacific Ocean that has been called the Giant Pacific Octopus for some time now. This new discovery has determined that this may be more of an umbrella term as more “offshoots” are documented such as the frilled giant Pacific octopus that was noted in this study.
Carol: I had to look up the plural of octopus and learned that it is octopuses, however octopodes is also sometimes used. Evidently, octopi is incorrect.
Hurst: Ok, noted. But did you have something to say about octopodes?
Carol: Oh yeah, thanks for keeping me on track. They are super smart and will actually return your gaze when you look at them.
Hurst: Ok, I’m not sure how you know that but moving onto the next newsflash, it seems that waterbirds keep up with national policies.
Hurst: You heard me right – the authors of a new study published in Nature indicate that ducks, flamingos and pelicans could serve as indicators to show the impact that governance has on biodiversity. They used “abundance data” for 461 waterbird species at over 25,000 survey sites around the world and found that the areas that were the most politically stable also had the most robust conservation programs in place, and were correlated with higher abundance of waterbirds.
Carol: Well, that seems like an important finding since quantifying global patterns of biodiversity change is critical for understanding the human-related impacts as well as for assessing the effectiveness of conservation efforts.
Hurst: That was so many fancy words in one sentence, I’m impressed. Well, to close out the year, maybe we should share some of our favorite animal compilations. I’ll go first. I really like this list of top ten happy environmental stories from Mongabay. Most of these stories have wildlife implications, of course, and it links to images of the top 20 new species of 2017.
Carol: Nice. Well, I’ll have to give a shout out to Nat Geo’s 38 best wildlife images of 2017. It would be pretty tough to narrow all the images they have access to down to 38 but their selection doesn’t disappoint.
Hurst: I’ll check them out. It’s hard to believe that we won’t be talking about animal news again until next year!
Carol: It will be in a week, and that joke is never funny, no matter how many times I hear it. However… see you next year!