Dogs Spiders Gorillas Chameleons Marsupials Slugs and Snowshoe Hares

Carol: Hi Hurst!

Hurst: What’s up, Carol!

Carol: You now how I always am looking for great animal-related resources to share with animal lovers, right?

Hurst: Isn’t that pretty much why you started Fanimal and Creature Feature?

Carol: Exactly! Some resources are going to be more serious, some are just for fun, and this next one is a combo. This week PRI did a short radio story that focuses on photographer Elias Weiss Friedman and his two blogs and social media accounts that everyone should follow, The Dogist and The Catist.  This guy has photographed over 15,000 dogs since starting the dog blog in 2013. He has 3.1 million followers. His shots are amazing and he provides a short snippet about the dog’s personality or history. Of course I have a soft spot for all the dogs and cats who have had an gloomy past but are now happily spoiled by their human companion.

Hurst: Nice. I will be sure to check them out. In another doggo dispatch, ABC did a story about states that are enacting laws to ban pet leasing.  

Carol: Leasing pets? Like you do a car? I never heard of that.

Hurst: You aren’t alone. A company in Reno Nevada popularized the practice but drew negative attention as well from animal welfare groups and lawmakers who want to make sure that animals aren’t used as collateral or as a pawn in exploitation.

Carol: What do you mean? How are they exploited?

Hurst: People against pet leasing say that it is predatory, targeting people who cannot afford “designer” companion animals, preying on their emotions to entice them to take an animal home on a lease, but are hooking them in on a contract with high interest rates or fees. Companies leasing pets are under pressure to receive income from the dog while it is still a puppy and at its “cutest.” One such company noted that it charges a “monthly lease fee comprising rent plus depreciation compensating the business for the decrease in the product’s fair market value while the customer is using the product.”

Carol:  Ew. That’s a brutal way to view sweet pooches who virtually has no say over what happens to them. And you mentioned designer dogs, so I’m assuming these aren’t your run of the mill pound puppies.

Hurst:  Correct. Nevada and California have outlawed pet leasing and New York is trying to enact similar laws.

Carol: Well, I’m rooting for their success. Hey, I know you don’t like spiders, so my next story is just for you. Researchers in the U.K. have trained a regal jumping spider to leap to a designated target on demand. The spider’s name is Kim and evidently this is the first time a spider has been trained to jump various distances and heights. Kim was trained by using a gentle tool to take her from one platform to another, which she then learned to do on her own. The scientists did this, not because it’s just fun to train spiders, but so that they could capture her jumps on a high speed camera. The purpose was to better understand how the anatomy of the spider helps her jump long distances so that they could then apply that knowledge to jumping micro-robots.

Hurst: Yikes, I’m not sure what is worse. Jumping spiders or jumping micro-robots. Turning to a slightly larger animal, two wildlife traffickers were nabbed by officials in India trying to sell a tiger skin and tiger bones. A local special task force had gotten intelligence from Wildlife SOS, an NGO that helps rescue and rehabilitate wildlife, and were able to bust two of a six person group who poached the tiger somewhere near the Corbett Tiger Reserve in India.  This was the fourth bust of its kind in six years. The CEO of Wildlife SOS made this statement about the arrest: “Poaching and possession of protected wildlife and illegal trade of body parts is a criminal offence which is non-bailable. If convicted, the accused could be jailed for up to seven years.”  

Carol: I hope arrests like this can help to curb the demand for poaching and trafficking as those involved weigh in the potential consequences.  

Hurst: I hope so too. I know how you like Ellen Degeneres so I think you’ll find this next story very encouraging.  She is partnering with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to raise money to build the “Ellen DeGeneres Campus” for scientists. As you know, Dian Fossey is a legendary figure who lived with and protected the mountain gorillas of Rwanda.  Some of her tactics were unconventional if not controversial, but she is credited for the survival of the group today.

Carol: Who doesn’t love a story about badass women protecting animals?  I’m referring to both Fossey and Degeneres of course. And it’s always great to hear of celebrities using their fame and funds for important causes.  

Hurst: The campus will be located beside Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. It will house a conservation library, labs, a meeting space, an exhibition on mountain gorilla conservation, classrooms, and lodging for students and visiting researchers.  And you aren’t the only one happy about this. The Rwanda Development Board, the government agency that manages the nation’s parks, as well as conservationists and scientists around the world are happy about these new plans. Oh, and the producers of Arrested Development are too.

Carol:  What? This story keeps getting better and better.

Hurst:  Well, you know that Portia de Rossi, who plays Lindsay Bluth Fünke on Arrested Development, is married to Degeneres. They are heading off to Rwanda soon to visit the area.  The producers of Arrested Development wanted to show their support and surprised the couple with a $50,000 check for the Fund while Portia was visiting Ellen’s show.

Carol: Wow, that story is a slam dunk in my opinion.

Hurst: Yeah, it will be great to see the Campus’ impact grow through the years to help he mountain gorillas.

Carol: Moving on to a somewhat disappointing but intriguing study that was recently published. Faunalytics recently discussed a study from the Journal of Consumer Research that found men are less likely to participate in environmentally-friendly behaviors because they associate them with femininity. It is thought that this is due to the fact that environmentalism is associated with caring and empathy, both traits often attributed to women. As well as the fact that green messages are often advertised on household cleaning products, food labels, and laundry items, activities that many men avoid.

Hurst: That is disappointing, I’ll pass along the word to all the other men that we should do better.

Carol: I knew I could count on you. The study came to the conclusion that although ideas about gender are changing, we should work to incorporate environmentally-conscious messages into traditionally masculine spaces.

Hurst: Exactly, I can think of a cha-million reasons that both men and women should care about environmentalism, it’s just a matter of communicating those messages in the right way to be receptive to all people. Speaking of chameleons, there were three new species described in Madagascar recently. One species, Calumma uetzi, makes its body a mosaic of red, blue, and violet when trying to impress females. If the female is not interested, she will become aggressive and turn her body a dark shade of brown.

Carol: I bet the male chameleon gets the message pretty quickly.

Hurst: It seems so. Another species, Calumma juliae, has only been found in an area of six square miles. Although it is possible that it could be found in other places in Madagascar, it is currently in danger as its known habitat has already been greatly reduced by human activity since its discovery in 2016.

Carol: Hopefully humans can take actions to preserve these newly described species. Recently sea turtles and marine mammals have been recovering thanks to protections provided by the Endangered Species Act. This includes species like California sea otters, manatees, most species of large whales, and green sea turtles.

Hurst: That is great news! The Endangered Species Act has really encouraged some effective policies like protecting whales from deafening sonar, requiring devices that allow ensnared sea turtles to escape fishing nets, and controlling light pollution that confuses newly hatched sea turtles.

Carol: Keeping with the conservation theme, animals like snowshoe hares that turn white in the winter are facing new threats as climate change renders their camouflage obsolete. Now that snow is less frequent and not as long lasting in the northern hemisphere, the white coat that once allowed these animals to avoid predators is now having the opposite effect.

Hurst: I also turn a brilliant shade of white in the winter, but so far I haven’t seen too many negative effects. How does conservation fit into this? We can’t change that these animals have evolved to turn white in the winter.

Carol: This is a unique opportunity to combine conservation with evolution. It used to be thought that evolutionary adaptations would take thousands of years to take effect, but we now know that genetic changes can take place as quickly as five to ten generations. Scientists have identified areas where winter coats turn white, where they stay brown in the winter, and populations in which there is a mix of brown and white. If conservationists can keep these populations healthy and connected, evolution will naturally select for brown coats in the newly shortened winter. Scientists are calling this combination of conservation and evolution, “evolutionary rescue”.

Hurst: That sounds like an effective tactic. Maybe evolutionary rescue can be applied to other animal populations that are suffering due to rapid climate change.

Carol: Like the Antechinus marsupials in Australia! They were recently listed as endangered, not because of their suicidal mating tendencies, but because of rising temperatures caused by human activity.

Hurst: Excuse me, but did you say suicidal mating tendencies?

Carol: Indeed I did. These shrew-like marsupials are known for copulating for up to 14 hours. This leaves the males injured, exhausted, and with failing organs, leading to annual mass die offs.

Hurst: That gives a whole new meaning to deadbeat dad.

Carol: And isn’t it ironic that these animals are literally killing themselves, but yet humans are still to blame for their population decline? They have retreated to mountain peaks in southeastern Australia to escape the warming climate, however there they face threats from wildfires and invasive species like foxes and cats.

Hurst: Moving on to a troubling story that shows that not all conservation efforts are created equal…of the protected areas meant to preserve wildlife, like parks, sanctuaries, and preserves, one third is heavily damaged by human developments. Governments around the world have collectively designated 15% of Earth’s surface as protected area. However, many of these areas are being infringed upon by human activity like mining for coal and natural gas. It has been shown that areas with stricter standards about human infringement are more effective in preserving the flora and fauna.  

Carol: One third is quite a large chunk of land that is not fulfilling its purpose. Governments cannot just “designate” areas to fulfill conservation initiatives; they must also actually enforce policies that shield these areas from development.

Hurst: Policy enforcement is just as important as the initial conservation, but it does cost lots of money to do so. What kinds of animal holidays do we have coming up?

Carol: The question is, what don’t we have coming up. May is a non-stop animal party.  

Hurst: I’ve heard of party animal but not the other way around.

Carol: Coming up soon is Biological Diversity Day on the 22nd, followed by World Turtle Day on the 23rd, and National Heritage Breeds Day on May 26th.  Rachel Carson, the author of Silent Spring, has her would be 111th birthday celebrated on the 27th, followed by the double whammy of Whooping Crane Day and Slug Appreciation Day on the 28th.  We end the month with Pink Flamingo Day and International Hug a Cat Day on the 29th and 30th respectively, so make sure you have all those marked in your calendar.

Hurst: Wow, that’s a lot to take in. Didn’t Rachel Carson call attention to how bad chemical pesticides are for the environment, emphasizing that the use of chemicals by humans comes down to a moral question of destroying life?

Carol: Yep!  She’s credited to really kicking off the direction of the modern environmental movement; I can’t wait to celebrate her.  So, have you picked out which cat you are going to hug?

Hurst: No, I’ve been too busy trying to figure out how to show slugs that I appreciate them. Maybe a heartfelt handwritten card?  Oh, and why is it should we appreciate them?

Carol: Well, they are kind of cool. They used to live in the ocean, which is why they need to stay moist. Slugs have both male and female reproductive organs.  Also, they can reproduce by themselves. They smell with their body. They can also stretch out to 20 times their body length, so that it can squeeze a tiny opening.  And they play an important role in nature by eating decomposing vegetation.

Hurst: Well, did you hear what the slug said as he slipped down the wall? How slime flies!

Carol: It sure does. See you next week, Hurst!

Image credit: Vladimir Hula


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