Condors Badgers Sloths Spaniels Peacocks Squid and Millennials

Carol: Happy Hairball Awareness Day, Hurst!

Hurst: Wait, you are joking, right?

Carol: Nope! April 25 is National Hairball Awareness Day. There is even a hashtag for it.

Hurst: Well, that’s just purr-fect. But we also just had Earth day; you know that right?

Carol: That too!  But back to cats. Little kittens are licked by their moms so this method for personal hygiene gets ingrained. Some cats are very…let’s say “enthusiastic” about their self-grooming.  Even the most regal and dignified feline will eventually hack up a hairball. They happen more often in the spring, when cats are shedding their winter coats and severe hairballs can even require surgery.

Hurst: Yeah, it’s not really that becoming. So, how do we lick this problem?

Carol: Ugh, that was terrible. Well, the main thing is to have regular bonding time where you brush Kitty to reduce the amount of ingested fur. There are some vet-recommended diets for hairball prevention, and if your cat is inclined to have hairballs quite often, you should mention it to your vet.  

Hurst: Let’s move from cats to badgers. I read a shocking story about badger culling in the UK.

Carol: Huh! I feel like it takes a lot to shock you. What’s the scoop?

Hurst: Well, evidently badger killing has been legal in certain parts of the UK since 2013. The government began with a trial to see how culling badgers might decrease the proliferation of bovine tuberculosis (TB), which has been spreading in the UK for two decades. In 2016, Bovine TB reached 29,000 cows. The disease enters herds mainly through importing undiagnosed cattle, as well as from badgers, which is the wildlife species that harbors this disease the most. The UK has a 25-year plan to address Bovine TB by reducing the import of cattle from areas known to have the disease, and by vaccinating or killing badgers, however, the vaccines have been out of stock for the past two years.  Meanwhile thousands of badgers are being shot, along with a whole lot of other wildlife.

Carol:  Why the other wildlife?

Hurst: According to the head of Badger Trust, some people are feeling like they have been given a nod to take issues with wildlife into their own hands.  Bats and birds of prey are being killed as well, which is considered a wildlife crime; in fact, a new report has categorized over 1,200 crimes, however it is thought that many more have gone unreported and undiscovered.  Some researchers are criticizing the culling program, saying that most of the badgers killed don’t have Bovine TB, and that the cull is disrupting social groups which results in badgers traveling outside of their normal environments, potentially spreading the disease. Some say that the disease is actually most frequently passed from cow to cow.  

Carol: That’s a complicated mess to figure out.  Sometimes we get it wrong regarding our relationship to animals, or even traits of animals we observe.  I just ordered a new book by zoologist Lucy Cooke. It’s called The Truth About Animals and it’s all about misunderstandings that we have of various species. I heard about it in an NPR interview with the author this past week.

Hurst: Well, the title of the book sounds perfect for an animal lover like you.  What kinds of misunderstandings does she discuss?

Carol: Well, sloths for example.  We like to think of sloths as lazy and slow, and not all that impressive in comparison to say a cheetah who is fast and sleek. But Cooke defends the sloth saying that it is an extremely efficient animal in terms of energy conservation.  This energy efficiency has made it successful in terms of survival. She criticizes, and rightfully so, our tendency to view animals through our own set of values and interests. She also has created the Sloth Appreciation Society, which of course I immediately joined.

Hurst: Of course.

Carol:  I signed you up, too.  Hope that was ok.

Hurst: Ah, that is why I received that sloth poster in my inbox.  Well, if you count Twitter as a news source, and I do, I saw another book you would like.  It’s called The Animal Lover’s Guide to Changing the World by Stephanie Feldstein and it is available for pre-order from all the usual online book sellers.

Carol: Holy cow, that title pretty much sums up Fanimals mission!  I have to meet Feldstein and Cooke!  By the way, I just pre-ordered the book as I was typing out this sentence.

Hurst: I knew you’d be excited about that. So, on a totally different topic, would you consider your husband Brian to be a flashy dresser?

Carol: Ummm, I definitely don’t know where this is going but I wouldn’t call him flashy. He can certainly pull off a stylish look but doesn’t go overboard in my opinion.

Hurst: Ok, good. I just read a story this week in the Post about how male animals who try to use a flashy appearance to attract females might be more prone to extinction.  There has been debate for some time about whether flashy traits, such as the peacock’s plumes or the elaborate dances of the birds of paradise, make it harder to evade predators. Others argue that because it is harder for flashy males to survive, the ones that do survive pass the best genes along, suggesting that sexual selection by females solidifies the species’ adaptation process and make the species more resilient.  However, this article said that there is evidence that flashier males do in fact die off before their duller counterparts.

Carol: Oh, yeah, I think Brian is safe. He definitely doesn’t have any elaborate dance moves.

Hurst: The next story I want to discuss is about yours truly.  Well, not me specifically, but my people…Millennials.  Usually I hate stereotypes about millennials, but this story I think might be have some merit.  Many of us don’t like to touch raw meat. The texture is just gross, not to mention the blood and juices that go along with it.

Carol: Cool. That means I am a Millennial.

Hurst: Actually, you’ll need to up your Instagram game before saying that again. Anyway, a company called Sainsburys is creating packet-to-pan options for people who are worried about this sort of thing.  A recent report by a consumer research firm found around 40% of young people prefer not to handle raw meat, compared with 25% of the larger population.

Carol: Of course, this is not something to be celebrated, as this is one more step disconnecting us from the reality of what we are eating.

Hurst: Right, I am also grossed out by raw meat, but I just decided to stop eating meat altogether last year on Earth Day. In honor of Earth Day, National Geographic published a piece in which they list some environmental victories that have occurred since the first Earth Day in 1970. Some of my favorites were the success stories of endangered animals like the California condor, black-footed ferret, and gray wolves, thanks to environmental activists and the policies they help to enact.

Carol: It is always refreshing to hear some good news about the environment and the animals that live in it. It is good to know that when we work hard, real change can be made!

Hurst: Absolutely. This next piece of news is really the bomb, but it probably isn’t what you are ant-icipating.

Carol: Less bad jokes, more news please.

Hurst: Noted. A new species of ant has been discovered in Borneo. However, this ant is a little different from others in the sense that it explodes when it feels threatened.

Carol: Did you say explode?

Hurst: See! Not what you were ant-icipating! Anyway, this new species called Colobopsis explodens, is a subdivision of Camponotus saundersi. The two were previously lumped together, however it has been determined that Colobopsis explodens tends to be more trigger-happy with its kamikaze maneuver, as well as possessing a more saturated “Yellow Goo”. This goo is currently being analyzed but is thought to possess toxic qualities to accompany its unpleasant spicy smell.

Carol: This reminds me of my favorite ant joke. What do you call an ant from overseas?

Hurst: I’m not going to encourage you…

Carol: Important!  Get it? But moving from jokes to a feel-good story, did you see the story about the dog that adopted the fox pups?

Hurst: Sounds like a new Disney movie.

Carol: A spaniel in Newquay, U.K. has adopted three fox babies after their mother went missing. The owners assumed that they were her puppies since she was producing milk and caring for them. They even accidentally sold two of them as dog puppies before realizing their mistake.

Hurst: I bet that would be an interesting first trip to the vet for the new fox owners.

Carol: Speaking of interesting, I read an article this week about cases when bigger isn’t better. Research shows that larger mammals are much more likely to go extinct due to human activity. When humans arrived to an area, we hunted the larger mammals. The reasoning behind this is that it is more worthwhile to hunt a large mammoth, for example, as opposed to a whole lot of rabbits in order to feed a large group of people. The large mammals are also more likely to go extinct because when a species is large, there tend to be less individuals in the population.

Hurst: The decline of large mammals brings down the average mammal size. In Australia, the average mammal size is one tenth of what it was when humans were absent from these ecosystems. And now the average weight for a mammal in North America is 17 pounds, compared to 216 pounds before humans.

Carol:  All this talk about big prehistoric mammals makes me think of Mr. Snuffleupagus. He was my favorite Sesame Street character.

Hurst: Ok, that was random. Mine was Big Bird, but being a giant yellow bird I don’t think he would have fared well against human hunters either.

Carol: I don’t want to think about it. In a bit of mysterious news, a possible new squid species, or squid-like species, has been discovered in the deep ocean. This squid takes on a bizarre bent-over posture that scientists believe could be for collecting “marine snow,” bits of organic matter that floats down from shallower waters above. Or its strange posture could be for something entirely different; researchers are stumped. You really should check out the video, it’s quite weird looking.

Carol: Don’t call it weird looking! It might be sensitive and remember, Lucy Cooke would remind us not to view animals through our own values. We better wrap up the week’s news with some upcoming celebrations.  Along with Hairball Awareness Day, April 25 is also World Penguin Day, but wait!  The very next day is Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale AND World Veterinary Day.  Obviously, with the two falling on the same day, you know what to take your favorite vet to show some love. April 28 is, of course, Bulldogs are Beautiful Day, so make sure you let the bulldogs in your life know you love them just the way they are.

Hurst:  Well I am personally looking forward to International Respect for Chickens Month in May!

Carol: Does that mean we disrespect chickens in all the other months of the year?

Hurst: I know I don’t. See you next week!

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