Whales Macaques Moose Frogs Dogs and Grizzly Bears

Carol: Hi Hurst!  I’m baaaaaack….

Hurst: Oh joy. I’m missing John already.

Carol: He did a great job last week, as I expected he would.  You know, he sends me lots of animals-in-news stories throughout the week.  I think he’s our #1 fan.

Hurst: Everyone needs groupies. Who do you think should be our next guest writer?

Carol: Well at first I was thinking Jon Stewart because of his obvious connection to the news but now I think Tracey Stewart, his wife, would be my ultimate aspirational guest columnist because of her enthusiasm for animals and advocacy.  Check out her own column at The Daily Squeal and her work with Farm Sanctuary.   

Hurst: That would be exciting.  I was thinking more along the lines of my fourth grade science teacher.

Carol: Well, enough dreaming, let’s dive into this week’s news. When I was a little girl, I wished that I could talk to animals. Specifically, I wanted to be aquaman.  

Hurst: I still wish that.

Carol: Well, I read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about how some archaeologists are shifting their approach to past whaling cultures who would claim to communicate with whales. In the past, the stories of communicating with whales were quickly written off as primitive rituals, but now anthropologists and archaeologists are starting to include Indigenous beliefs and worldviews in their own understanding of the past. At the same time, biologists have been learning things about whale behavior and biology that confirm what Indigenous people have been saying about whales for a 1,000 years.  

Just to give one example, the Iñupiat people insisted that the smell of wood smoke would keep whales away, while conventional science insisted that whales could not smell. But, as it turns out a Dutch scientist has now proven that whales do have the biological structures to have a sense of smell.  Another point for Team Indigenous.

Hurst: That’s great that modern day scientists are starting to corroborate and value Indigenous knowledge instead of dismissing it as mystical and superstitious.  

Carol:  So, now you will believe me when I say that I know exactly what my dogs are thinking.

Hurst: Hmmm…that seems a bit different. But before we leave the topic of ceastaceans, I read a glowing movie review of the new Disneynature film Dolphin.  This documentary follows on the heels of other animal-focused hits like Born in China, Bears, Monkey Kingdom, African Cats, Chimpanzee, Wings of Life, The Crimson Wing, Oceans, and Earth.  I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure the cinematography is worth the price of the ticket alone.

Carol: Movies are a great way to escape, but after a stressful day of teaching a hundred college students, sometimes a hot bath accompanied by a glass of wine is great way to unwind. I’d take that any day over telling Millenials to get of their phones during the movie.  No offense, of course, with you being a Millennial and all.

Hurst: Of course. None taken, I’m actually live-tweeting this conversation right now.

Carol:  But it seems that soaking to de-stress isn’t just a human thing.  The snow macaques who bathe in the hot springs at Japan’s famous Jigokudani Monkey Park also need to take a dip to help forget their troubles.

Hurst: I don’t blame them.  They have thousands of tourists coming to gawk at them each year.  Who wouldn’t be stressed?

Carol: Right. Not to mention all the animal selfies that I’m sure the tourists are attempting. But really, the stress is from the cold environment. Twelve females of various social ranking were the focus of a new study about animal adaptation to climate. Some of the females were more aggressive during the winter mating season, which correlated with a higher concentration of a certain stress hormone in their bodies, as well as a higher social ranking.  Consequently, they were also granted more hot spring time than the lower-ranking monkeys. This benefited them by reducing the energy expenditure needed to keep their body warm, but also reduced their stress hormone levels. This is interesting because these Japanese macaques have figured out a way to counter cold climate stress, which also has implications for their reproduction and survival. By the way, the researchers found all of this out through examining stress hormone levels in their poop.

Hurst: Somehow it always comes back to poop. So in pet news, we have a few interesting stories to discuss…one story came out this week that every pampered pooch will want to read.  It contains a list of nine canine-friendly luxury hotels and not surprisingly, many are located in the U.S.  However, resorts from Mexico, Ireland, France, and England also made the list. Many of the amenities aren’t a shocker: welcome baskets of pet toys, artisanal treats, dog-walking and dog-sitting services, grooming services, cushy dog beds, walking trails, nearby parks, and of course dog boots and umbrellas.  My favorite was either the beach location in Mexico that offered pet cabanas and personal dog attendants, or the place in Apsen that offered gourmet handmade food and the Puppy Jet Lag Kit. It goes without saying that these resorts have the ability to throw your dog a birthday party as well.

Carol: Wow. I don’t know how my two have made it this long without a doggie manicure.

Hurst: In a more serious story, the South China Morning Post celebrated a Hong Kong resident who has made it her personal mission to save dogs from the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China.  I thought you’d want to hear about this since we talked about this very issue in our Animals, Tourism, and Sustainability class last semester.  

Carol: I totally do!  In class, we discussed a thoughtful piece that Hannah Brown had written about the festival, which carefully presented a legal argument about why the festival should be stopped.  As Westerners, we are horrified at the thought of eating dogs, but from a cultural perspective, this can be seen as hypocritical since we have designated other species as “food” and have festivals where we come together around eating animals…barbecue or ribs or lobster for example.  This cultural rationale for stopping the festival doesn’t really hold water.

Hurst: Well, last year, a truck on its way to the festival containing 1,000 caged dogs was intercepted by activists and other sympathetic volunteers. When the drivers could not produce health and transportation certificates for the dogs, the authorities were called and the activists were allowed to relocate the dogs to shelters. From there, the dogs received medical attention and some have been flown to the States to their new adoptive parents. Because of Hong Kong policies regarding quarantine, it is difficult for that many dogs to be kept there, so the hope is to find volunteers to check in dogs to a Cathay Pacific flight that will transport them to the U.S. to new families.

Carol: Switching from dogs as food to food for dogs, Bloomberg reported a story about a company called Wild Earth is hoping to make pet food with lab-created protein versus the various animal parts that go into it now.

Hurst:  Mmmm, you make all that sound so appetizing.

Carol: Well, think about this…Americans have 184 million dogs and cats and spend a collective $30 billion on food for them each year.  Pet food makes up 30% of meat consumption in the U.S. and their total animal-derived calorie intake is approximately 33% that of humans.

Hurst: Holy cow.

Carol: Holy fake cow if Wild Earth has anything to do it.  This article states that food consumption by dogs and cats relates to 64 million tons of greenhouse gases every year, and developing fake-meat pet food will drastically decrease the amount of water and energy needed to produce all of Fido and Fluffy’s nosh.  Additionally, you don’t have the potential concern about all the meat-laden food recalls we hear about on a fairly regular basis.

Hurst: That’s cool that changing the way we make pet food could have such a positive environmental impact. On to the next subject – we talk a lot about poaching here at Creature Feature, but effective solutions seem to be few and far between. However, researchers have developed infrared drone technology to monitor endangered species at night, when they are especially vulnerable to poachers.

Carol: That makes sense, so at night everything appears gray through the infrared cameras except for the heat signatures of animals and humans, which are bright yellow.

Hurst: Exactly. This technology was put to the test when monitoring the Riverine rabbits of South Africa. Being one of the most endangered mammals in the world, only about 1,000 of these animals have ever been seen. But thanks to these new cameras mounted on drones, five rabbits were seen on camera, which is relatively a large amount. Not only does this technology have great potential for protecting endangered animals and detecting poachers, but it can also be used to get more accurate numbers when determining the size of an animal population. And determining population size is vital when asking for legislation to protect these animals.

Carol: Speaking of endangered animals, I’m sure you saw the piece about Donald Trump eliminating protections for almost 300 threatened species.

Hurst: I absolutely did, and I have a lot of feelings about it.

Carol: Feelings aside, this could result in rescinding the policy that grants the same protections to threatened species that endangered ones receive. This would have far-reaching effects on many unique species like Southern sea otters, northern spotted owls, piping plovers, Yosemite toads, Santa Catalina Island foxes, and gopher tortoises, just to name a few out of the 300 species currently listed as threatened. If threatened animals do not receive the same protections as endangered animals, then numbers will have to become critically low before any protection is enforced, and then of course, it may be too late.

Hurst: Obviously if this policy is taken away, numerous plants and animals will suffer. You can keep up with the status of this amendment on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s website. I will certainly be refreshing this page and holding my breath.

Carol: Well don’t pass out. If you don’t mind I’m just going to hop on over to our next story. Frogs have seen a significant decline since the 1990’s due to a deadly fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis. This fungus feeds on the skin of frogs, inhibiting their ability to take in air and water through their skin. This fungus is believed to be the cause of extinction for at least 200 species of amphibians globally.

Hurst: I’ve heard it’s not easy being green, but they really weren’t joking were they?

Carol: But there is hope. Recently there has been a ribbeting new discovery. Some frogs are developing a resistance to this fungus. Researchers are currently trying to figure out how some amphibian species are now not only surviving the infection, but their populations are recovering. New research shows that frogs that survived a Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis outbreak can more effectively defend themselves using antimicrobial secretions in their skin.

Hurst: I’m glad that story had a hoppy ending. Did you see the article about the man kicking the moose?

Carol: Is this the setup for a joke or a news story?

Hurst: A little bit of both. A hiker in Alaska encountered a moose on a trail and decided the way to get them to move was to kick them. As you can guess, it wasn’t the smartest decision to kick an animal that is much larger than you. The moose returned the favor with a good stomp to the man’s foot. To give you an idea how much that probably hurt, the average adult moose weighs about 1,000 pounds.

Carol: As the old saying goes, mess with the moose and get the horns, or something like that.

Hurst: I don’t think that’s quite right, but let’s move on. Officials in Idaho have presented the idea of a hunting season that would allow for the killing of one male grizzly. In addition, Wyoming is considering a season in which 24 bears could be killed, two of which would be female.

Carol: But weren’t grizzly bears taken off the endangered list just last year?

Hurst: Yes, and that is the main cause of concern for those trying to stop this new season.  Grizzly bear populations are protected in Yellowstone National Park, which is surrounded by Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. With two of these states allowing hunting of the grizzly bears and the high risk that hunters won’t know the difference between a male and a female, this could hurt the population.

Carol: That is concerning. We will have to keep our eye on this story to see how the various stakeholders assess the outcome. Well, it’s time to wrap up this week’s news talk. Don’t forget that April is National Frog Month and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month. It’s like a two for one special!

Hurst: Your enthusiasm is contagious. I will be sure celebrate both of those by…uhhhh rescuing a frog from my local animal shelter?

Carol: Just be kind to all animals you run across, especially if they are green.

Hurst: See you next week!


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