Cats Cows Bulls Migrating Birds and Robotic Dogs

Carol: Hi Hurst!  What have you been up to this week?

Hurst: Well it’s midterm week, as I’m sure you know, so I’ve been living in the library. I’ve been there so much I’m waiting for them to ask me to pay rent, and not just because I accidentally fell asleep there last week.

Carol: Well, I’ve been reading animal news and we sure have a lot to talk about.  This week’s news ranges from the most beautiful cat in the world to social change around bullfighting.  I’ll start with the latter one since its the most pressing.

Hurst: Who judges whether this cat is the prettiest in the world?  Is there a contest or is this just the owner saying so?

Carol:  Focus. First bullfighting.  This is an excellent piece done by Faunalytics staff.  The author begins by discussing the way that culture shapes the way we view animals. This particular study takes place in Spain and focuses on Spanish style bullfighting that we typically think of including a matador, but I will note that bullfighting takes place in many other countries and in different forms. More on that in a minute.

Hurst: Yeah, focus, Carol.

Carol: Haha, right. Well, bullfighting has been around for centuries, which lends credence to its proponents who feel it is an embedded part of the culture that should be kept intact.  The bull dies a tortured death at the end of most bullfights while hundreds of onlookers watch and cheer.

But as you know, any culture changes as our knowledge advances or as we are presented with different views. Many younger people in Spain and in Spanish-colonized countries are rejecting the notion that bullfighting is critical to their identity, however there are a good chunk of people (39%) in the supportive category. The researchers summarize the piece with a very important point regarding our views toward animals – they are complex, formed by a mix of facts and emotions, and often contradictory within ourselves: “More than anything, the study supports the idea that people can hold opposing views simultaneously on animal issues. For animal advocates, this recognition is important: we don’t always agree with each other, and we don’t even always agree with ourselves.”

Hurst: So you wanted to say something about where else bullfighting occurs?

Carol: Yes, I’ll just mention that it is also practiced in Portugal, southern France, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru, and there are other sports using bulls, some “bloodless” and some not, in India, Japan, Turkey, the Balkans, countries around the Persian Gulf, and the United States.  

Hurst: Ok, that was a lot of education on those massive horned creatures.

Carol: It’s all true, too. No bull.

Hurst: Yeah, moving on…you will like this next story because it involves dogs and wine.

Carol: Wow, two of my favorites! Throw chocolate in there and it’s the ultimate trifecta.

Hurst: The Washington Post story is about Smith Story Wine Cellars and their rise to success, largely due to the social media presence of their big goldendoodle named Lord Sandwich. He has 65,000 followers on Instagram.

Carol: How many do followers do we have again?

Hurst: Not 65,000.

Carol: Maybe we should tag Lord Sandwich?  He’s a creature after all.  Maybe he will help us out.

Hurst:  That could work. Anyway, in 2014 using carefully crafted messaging focusing on farmers, Sandwich’s owners, the Storys, raised funds via Kickstarter to start their wine business and they noticed many of their backers were from Lord Sandwiches followers.  A couple years later, they created a label with Sandwich’s image on it, and pledged to donate a pair of socks for every bottle sold.  They called the campaign Socks for Sandwich and donated the socks to women and children who are victims of domestic abuse, foster children, and disaster relief efforts in Texas and California. In less than five years, the Storys built a brand by combining crowdfunding, philanthropy, and people’s obsession with pets on social media.

Carol: That’s a happy story, but could you get on that Lord Sandwich Instagram tagging thing?

Hurst: Speaking of images and few words, National Geographic had a nice story this week on migrating birds.  Readers have got to check this out – the images of mass numbers of birds in stunning landscapes is enough reason but each image is accompanied by some incredible facts about the birds lives and in particular their migratory journey.

Carol: Give me an example.

Hurst: Well, the lesser flamingos of Keyna’s Great Rift Valley thrive in the extreme environment of high-altitude alkaline lakes, feeding on algal blooms that are toxic to many other creatures. The birds are nomadic – they travel from one lake to another, to find food. The photographer who created their image of thousands of little pink bird-shaped spots shot over 1,700 photos and ultimately combined 30 for the featured image.

Carol:  It’s interesting how something that one animal needs to survive can actually kill another if ingested. It makes you think about how what we do is one part of a great big balanced system.

Hurst: That’s deep. There are photos of albatrosses and penguins hanging out together, sandhill cranes, snow geese, storks, red knots, and northern gannets all en masse. And just to be upfront, there actually are a lot of words in this Nat Geo piece, explaining the whats, whys, and hows behind migration.  For example, birds look to the sun and stars to point themselves in the right direction and time their migrations, and they can use mountains, rivers, and coastlines as landmarks. The article noted that some birds have sensors in the eye that help them detect the earth’s magnetic field, and magnetite—a mineral that acts as a magnet—in their beaks to help them tell which direction to fly.  The light pollution from city lights confuse nocturnal fliers, however, and can really damage their natural rhythms. The more I learn about birds, the more I understand how amazing they are.

Carol: Speaking of amazing, did you listen to this week’s podcast from Mongabay? It’s all about the interesting lives of animals.

Hurst: I did! Their guest this week was Sy Montgomery, a prolific author of animal literature. In this interview, she goes in depth about various animals that she has studied and what makes them so spectacular. I especially enjoyed her descriptions of octopus love. Although octopus mating sounds complicated enough, you know since they have a beak and eight tentacles, it became even more interesting when I found out that sometimes they may just eat each other.

Carol: I suppose the threat of cannibalism keeps things exciting! I found her anecdote about dolphins getting high to be both comical and interesting. Scientists have found that dolphins will purposely consume certain pufferfish in order to get “high,” just like humans do.

Hurst: Do you think they get dolphin munchies? Anyway, this interview with Montgomery really illustrates the paradox of both how alike and different we are from animals.

Carol: Hopefully, seeing these similarities and amazing differences will cause humans to have more respect for animals and treat them more humanely. And speaking of humane treatment, a recent report from Faunalytics showed some of the injustices going on in the Indian dairy industry. More than 78% of dairies had cows tethered on very short ropes at all times, over 78% of dairies did not have access to soft ground for their cows, and 24% of dairies separated calves from their mothers immediately after birth, just to name of few of these stats.

Hurst: These statistics were surprising since cows are held in high esteem in Buddhism and Hinduism, which are the prominent religions in India.

Carol: That is surprising, but it is always important to remember how we treat cows in our own dairy industry before we go pointing fingers at other countries.

Hurst: Of course. I’m sure you remember two weeks ago when we talked about coyote populations in America? Well, the second annual Coyote Challenge is approaching on March 1st.

Carol: Didn’t scientists say it was ineffective last year?

Hurst: Yes, they did. As you recall, the coyote challenge is a program that incentivises locals in Georgia to kill coyotes. However, conservationists argue against this program because by killing adult coyotes, you actually create more coyotes.

Carol: Zombie coyotes??

Hurst: Not quite. Coyotes live in small family groups with a limited number of adult males and females. These adults stop younger animals from breeding. However, when hunters are randomly killing these coyotes, they mess up this structure and younger coyotes end up breeding and creating more coyotes. Hopefully this will be the last coyote challenge, but we will just have to see.

Carol:  Ok, and now for just a few short new mentions.  I promised you more info about a mighty fine feline.  

Hurst: I would have gone with “flawless feline,” but go on.

Carol: Well, you can see the cat on Instagram of course, but I learned about him in this Buzzfeed piece.  His name is Narnia, and lives in Paris.  He has these light blue eyes that look out at you through a symmetrical black and grey face.  Literally, his face is half grey and half black – divided right down the middle of his nose.  It’s really striking and it’s not photoshopped.  

Hurst: You’ve got to be kitten me right now, that cat is adorable! Well our next story is equally adorable. A new dog friendly cafe has opened its doors in New York City. Boris and Horton, names after the owners own dogs, sells wine, beer, and coffee, and allows owners to bring their dogs in to enjoy the canine-friendly atmosphere. No dog? No problem! Patrons without their own dog can play with rescue dogs!

Carol: Are robot dogs allowed?

Hurst: Well they didn’t explicitly say no robot dogs. But I have to ask, what is a robot dog?

Carol: Well, it’s more of a dog-like robot. A company called Boston Dynamics released some more footage of Spotmini, a robot that resembles a dog. So far, people are very divided on whether it is amazing, adorable, or unsettling.

Hurst: I saw that, and I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m leaning more towards unsettled since I saw the video of a human trying to prevent it from opening a door. But if we end up being taken over by robot dogs instead of just robots, it would be an interesting plot twist.

Carol: So it’s time to get ready for some really big animal celebrations coming up, Hurst!  First of all the entire month of March is Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month AND Dolphin Awareness Month.

Hurst:  Noted. I will think about whether my roommates will tolerate my bringing a guinea pig home.

Carol:  The first day of March also has two designations: National Horse Protection Day and National Pig Day, so there is lots for people to choose from to celebrate next week.

Hurst: But I am assuming you are not done?

Carol: I saved the best for last.  March 3 is World Wildlife Day and as you know, Fanimal is launching its Indiegogo campaign on this important day.  This year the focus for World Wildlife Day is predators under threat – the Big Cats!  This animal celebration was developed by the United Nations to call attention to and be a global observance day for all kinds of wildlife, but especially those listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora that we mention often in Creature Feature. There are number of ways that people can get involved, but my favorite is to join Fanimal, which is a animal-loving group of everyday heroes who adopt small practices in their lives to help animals.   

Hurst: How do people join?

Carol: Well, if they want to sign up for Fanimal updates, they can go to but if they want to go ahead and snag a discounted membership, they can go here to check out some of the fun animal-related merch we are offering. Ten percent of all membership revenue goes to a different animal organization each month.  Fanimal exists to leverage and amplify the good work that so many organizations are doing, like those protecting the world’s wildlife. Fanimal is launching its crowdfunding campaign on World Wildlife Day to call attention to both.

Hurst: Awesome.  I’ll share your Fanimal Facebook updates too.

Carol: Please do. I’d love for Fanimal to have a success story like Lord Sandwich’s winery!  Can you please get them to follow Creature Feature on Instagram?

Hurst: I can try.  See you next week, Carol!

Carol: See you next week, and be nice to any guinea pigs, dolphins, horses, pigs, or big cats that you run across!

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