Otters Honeybees Coyotes Hogs Brumbies Skinks and Floating Cats

Carol: Hi Hurst! I don’t know if you are a cat person or a boat person, but if you are, have I got a career opportunity for you!

Hurst: Isn’t the question typically cat or dog person? Either way, I’m intrigued.

Carol: Well, you should probably learn Dutch before you apply, but there is a floating cat sanctuary in Amsterdam making all the media rounds!  It was started in 1966 by a widow who starting taking stray cats on to a barge that she modified to be safe for cats.  Since that time, the barge has been replaced and renovated many times, and has earned the status of an official non-profit organization. It can house around 50 cats; around two thirds are eligible for adoption and the rest are permanent residents.  I did some quick math – the founder died in her 90s in 2005, which means she was around my age when she started it….hmmm..

Hurst: Sounds to me like you are contemplating your own career options. Well, the next story I want to discuss is really hard to bee-lieve!

Carol: Ugh, don’t tell me. It’s about bees.  Well, National Pollinator Week is coming up next week, so at least you are timely.

Hurst: As are you!  June is Adopt-A-Shelter-Cat Month!  Anyway, a new study has determined that honeybees understand the concept of “zero.”  This allows them to join a distinguished club of fellow animals such as dolphins, African gray parrots, nonhuman primates, and preschool humans. The researchers showed honeybees two cards each with a number of symbols on them…you know, triangles or squares.  The bees were trained to go to the card with the fewer symbols on them by rewarding them with a sugary treat.

Carol: That would work for me, too.

Hurst: When the researchers showed the bees a card with one symbol and a card with no symbols, the bees more often flew to the blank card.  The findings may shed light on the advanced analytical ability of “lesser brains,” help us to understand how beings can comprehend the concept of nothingness, and could be applied to our programming of artificial intelligence.

Carol: Well, that is quite the buzz. Moving from the fuzzy honey bee to the furry sea otter, I’ve got some unfortunate news to share about wildlife trafficking going on in Indonesia and Thailand.  It seems there is a high demand for young live otters in this area…around 70% of the animals offered for sale online are not even one year old yet. A report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Otter Specialist Group,  Southeast Asia is home to four species of otters all of which are listed on The IUCN Red List as Near Threatened, Endangered, or Vulnerable. Sometimes these otters are being taken from the wild, and sometimes they are bred for sale, but in either case the IUCN is encouraging Southeast Asian governments to adopt laws against this trade where laws don’t exist, punish online wildlife crime, and work with conservation organizations to educate citizens, which will ultimately reduce the demand for otters as pets.

Hurst: I am always happy when enforcing, investigating, and punishing wildlife crimes becomes a higher priority for local and national governments.  Well, I otter keep things moving along. Last week the planet observed World Environment Day and World Oceans Day so I thought it would be appropriate to bring up yet again a story about plastic.

Carol: You know you are kind of a broken record on this topic, right?  Or to be more contemporary, a broken Spotify stream.

Hurst: Well, I’m happy to say I’m not alone on this – the organizations behind World Environment Day and World Oceans Day as well as thousands of other conservation groups are bonding together to raise awareness about this.  The IUCN stated recently that “Plastic pollution is one of the great dilemmas of our time.”  Packaging alone accounts for one-third of plastics, and most of it is designed to be used one time.  That’s nuts. One time! There are a number of ways that we each can be involved in addressing this issue.  I’ll direct our readers to the Natural Resource Defence Council for their list of actions but anyone can do a search for tips as well.

Carol: This is also timely because World Sea Turtle Day is coming on on June 16.  If polar bears are the iconic animal symbol against climate change, I think sea turtles or whales are the iconic symbol against plastic use.

Hurst: I agree with you.  Hey, a couple weeks ago you brought up some court cases that were just starting to be heard in North Carolina regarding lawsuits against hog farms.  Whatever happened there?

Carol: Right! The property owners adjacent to hog farms were fed up with the noxious smells and environmental and health hazards that were a byproduct of living near the production facilities. They claimed that these problems could be mitigated but that the company was choosing to save money on waste processing over being a good community member and environmental steward.  Well, the courts ordered Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods to award $50 million to the neighbors.  If you sympathize the neighbors, this verdict will have you squaling for joy.

Hurst: Speaking of Australia…

Carol: I didn’t mention Australia.

Hurst: I know, but I couldn’t think of a transition. There is plenty of news coming from the land down under as they just passed the controversial Brumby Law. The law concerns Kosciuszko National Park, a protected area that is home to many unique and threatened species, like the critically endangered corroboree tree frog. This law will protect the introduced wild horses, called brumbies, in the park from being killed.

Carol: I’m assuming this is the same problem we face with wild horses in America. They are charismatic megafauna that bring in plenty of tourism dollars and are loved by locals, however their grazing habits and destructive hooves destroy ecosystems.

Hurst: Exactly. It is a tough situation, but many scientists have come out against this new law because it will cause harm to such a fragile ecosystem. They say that in order for the biodiversity of the park to survive, 90% of the horses must be culled.

Carol: Protecting biodiversity in Australia is vital, especially since a report came out this week that Australia’s large fish species have declined 30% in the past ten years.

Hurst: I want to ask why, but I have a feeling it’s probably the fault of humans.

Carol: You’re correct. This decline is being blamed mostly on overfishing, although climate change is also a likely factor. This ten year study found that biomass of large fish decreased by 36% on reefs that allow fishing and 18% in marine parks that limit fishing. So even protected areas are suffering. This new research is causing waves in a community that considered the protections already in place to be effective. Hopefully the outcome will be more efficient laws to protect these animals.

Hurst: And for our final Australian story, researchers have figured out how the Australian Bluetongue skink uses its unique tongues to scare away predators.

Carol: Tongues? Like multiple?

Hurst: Just wait, it gets weirder. When in danger, the skink opens its mouth to reveal a striking blue tongue, with an even brighter blue tongue in the rear of its mouth. Scientists have discovered that these brightly colored tongues are also very shocking to animals with UV vision. The skinks use their UV tounges to ward off predators with UV vision like birds, snakes, and monitor lizards. However, timing is key, the skinks show their tongues at the last possible moment when a predator is approaching in an attempt to startle them enough for the lizard to escape.

Carol: UV blue tongues? I’m guessing it’s not from eating blue popsicles.

Hurst: Scientist are still unsure if blue popsicles have anything to do with it, but I’m sure they will figure it out soon. Moving from Australia to Madagascar, an invasive toad could be a toad-al environmental disaster.

Carol: A pun about an environmental disaster, such comedic timing.

Hurst I try. The Asian common toad was accidentally introduced to the island of Madagascar, where it has become prey to many different predators, including endangered lemurs. However, this toad is very toxic when ingested, potentially wiping out any species that consumes them. And in addition to being toxic, it is also encroaching on the niches of other organisms.

Carol: I think the scientific term for that is a double whammy.

Hurst: We have seen similar situations in places like Australia where another toxic species of toads has decimated predators. Madagascar has not reached the same point yet, but there is plenty of potential.

Hurst: In good news this week, Vermont became the second state in the U.S. to ban controversial coyote hunts, after California. We have talked about this issue before but it is good to hear that the tides are turning in favor of the coyotes.

Carol: I can be forgetful, please give me a synopsis.

Hurst: To make it short, it was previously the common opinion that killing coyotes would not only help prey species proliferate, but protect livestock and humans from the dangers of coyotes. But conservationists now know that the opposite is true. Coyote hunts allow for the indiscriminate killing of coyotes, which disrupts their social structure, and actually leads to overpopulation of coyotes since it leaves more food for those that remain, increasing litter size.

Carol: Now I remember! I’m glad this misunderstood animal is getting the protection it deserves.

Hurst: I always like when we end with a happy story. But we can’t sign off without mentioning some upcoming animal holidays. American Eagle Day is coming up on June 20th. Turns out this day is to celebrate the once endangered bald eagle, and not a great sale at American Eagle Outfitters.

Carol: I’m looking forward to next week which is Take Dogs to Work Week! I’m not exactly sure how I will bring my dogs in to Creature Feature, but we will figure it out.

Hurst: I’m looking forward to it! I’ll see you and your dogs next week!

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