Hurst: Hi Carol! I’m going to dive right in. Unless you’ve been away from all types of media, I’m sure you heard about Koko.
Carol: I sure did. It’s probably the story of the week.
Hurst: Right. Sweet Koko was a western lowland gorilla who helped us learn so much about her species! I heard that she died in her sleep at the age of 46.
Carol: That’s right. Animal psychologist Penny Patterson began teaching Koko to communicate with signs while Patterson was a graduate student in 1972. Koko learned hundreds of signs over the years and really gave us insight into how empathetic, kind, and smart gorillas are. Throughout her life, Koko had six kittens/cats that she cared for. If you want your heart to completely melt, I highly recommend searching for video of Koko signing or being nurturing with her kittens.
Hurst: Awww…well Koko sure was smart. In fact, the next story is about how sometimes smart animals are very mischievous. It seems that crows, rats, raccoons, monkeys, and elephants are curious and bold when it comes to checking out human activity and things that belong to humans. They are often able to outsmart us when it comes to items we’ve tried to make “wildlife-proof.” All of these species can learn, remember, problem solve, and don’t mind changing their behavior to achieve an end.
Carol: I guess I’d add squirrels to the list. My dad has been trying to outwit them for years because they like to feast on his bird feeders.
Hurst: Has he succeeded?
Carol: Since he reads Creature Feature every week, let’s say that he has…
Hurst: Ah, I see.
Carol: And speaking of dad, he told me about this next story. It seems that last month was a banner month for cracking down on wildlife trafficking. While you and I were wrapping up the semester in May, Interpol officers and wildlife officials were making busts and seizures in 92 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America. It was called Operation Thunderstorm and resulted in millions of dollars worth of meat, ivory, pangolin scales, timber, live animals, and animal parts.
Hurst: Wow! That’s fantastic news! Now I want a t-shirt called Operation Thunderstorm.
Carol: Ok, that’s an interesting reaction. But anyway, wildlife crime is worth about $150 billion dollars, which is less than human trafficking, drug trafficking and weapons trafficking, but often the people doing one type of trafficking also do others. Ok so here are some specific numbers: 8 tons of pangolin scales, 43 tons of contraband meat including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale, eel, and zebra, 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, 14 big cats and two polar bear carcasses were seized.
Hurst: Hooray for the good guys! Switching gears to domestic animal news, I have two dog stories to share. The first is about the benefits of dogs at workplaces.
Carol: Well, duh. That’s not a big revelation.
Hurst: To you, it isn’t, and to the 8% of workplaces in the U.S. that allow dogs to join their human companions at work. Dogs have been “working” at Amazon for nearly 20 years. For companies, it is a workplace policy that will attract a lot of folks, including Millennials, and it incentivizes people not to rush home after work or at lunch to let their dog out. It also promotes conversation among colleagues, which can lead to collaboration, and it brings down the overall stress level of people who regularly interact with the dogs.
Carol: I think one of my dogs would do well in a workplace and the other would be a terror.
Hurst: Right, companies have to have some policies in place, or at least some cultural norms, to accommodate people who might not like dogs all that much, or to account for barking or other normal things that dogs do that could get annoying. Of course dogs have to be up to date on shots and there needs to be rules about bedding and shedding to cut down on potential allergy issues. And finally, there needs to be some no dog zones designated.
Carol: That sounds like some good common sense rules for a dog-friendly workplace. Could you imagine if I brought my dogs to class with me? We’d get nothing done.
Hurst: But all your students would be happy! Speaking of emotion, the next story is about how dogs process human emotions. A recent study confirmed that dogs can understand human facial expressions. They found this out by showing dogs pictures of people depicting fear, anger, happiness, surprise, sadness, disgust, or a neutral expression. The results showed that dogs experienced a heightened heart rate when shown faces that depicted “arousing emotional states” like fear, happiness, and anger. Additionally dogs turned their heads to the right or left depending on which emotion was shown, indicating that these emotions are processed on different sides of the brain.
Carol: Wow that is fascinating! However, I am disappointed that you missed the opportunity to call this study a lab report.
Hurst: Your jokes can be pretty ruff, but I like that one. This next story is a big one, literally. Rare footage has been captured in Uganda of the world’s largest hog.
Carol: Not to sound dim, but I feel like footage of the world’s largest hog shouldn’t be rare.
Hurst: You’re right. One would think an approximately six hundred pound hog would be easy to spot and film but researchers actually spent four seasons trying to document the elusive animal. These hogs, like other pigs, are highly intelligent and will avoid any area that has been visited by humans because they realize how much of a threat that people pose. Populations of the giant forest hog are in danger as they face increasing pressure from hunters looking for food.
Carol: Speaking of hunting, this week a state court in Washington ruled that there would be no new permits issued for the black bear hunting program that was deemed unethical due to the use of baits, traps, and hounds. The Fish and Wildlife department justifies this program by saying that they are trying to protect trees from the bears that emerge from hibernation and eat their nutrient rich bark in the spring. This ruling is temporary until the court reaches a final decision later this year.
Hurst: I’ll be interested to see how that works out. This week Delta Airlines caused waves when they announced their new policy on therapy animals on flights. From now on, passengers will not be allowed to bring pitbulls, or similar breeds, with them on their flight, regardless of the fact that they are registered as a service dog. Many different organizations have spoken out about this issue, saying that it perpetuates the harmful stereotypes that lead can to pitbulls being not adopted or put down. Other organizations also a publicly against this policy, claiming it is discriminatory towards people with disabilities and may even be violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Carol: So you could say some people think the new policy is bull? Like pitbull? Get it?
Hurst: Got it. That’s enough news out of me, what news are you excited about this week?
Carol: A manta ray nursery was discovered of the Texas coast! This is exciting because these areas are so rare and so little is known about the beginning stages of these animal’s lives. Scientist studying other parts of the ecosystem were surprised when they first saw the rare young manta rays.They then analyzed 25 years of previous research and photographs from the area. Manta rays have unique spots on their underside, like humans each have different fingerprints, allowing scientists to id them and determine that 95% of individuals in the area were juveniles. Scientist believe that the baby rays inhabit this warm and shallow reef to recover from their ventures into the cold and deep sea to feed on plankton.
Hurst: Well that news is a manta ray of sunshine! This next piece is quite the opposite. As I’m sure you know, recently there have been destructive volcanic eruptions on the Big Island of Hawaii. Not only have these events devastated human settlements, but it has also completely erased entire ecosystems. The molten earth replaced with barren rock what used to be the “best forest left in Hawaii.”, according to experts, with barren rock. These forests are home to unique native Hawaiian species like ‘amakihis and ‘apapanes (both small birds). Now covered in 30 layers of solid rock, scientists estimate that it could take 150 years before the forest begins to resemble what it once was. Not to mention, the lava fully evaporated a 400-year old lake. And finally, the lava entering the ocean completely wiped out coral reefs that will grow back at the rate of about 1 centimeter per year, once the conditions return to normal.
Carol: Wow. That is absolutely devastating. Not to sound dismissive of all that destruction; it However, that is the nature of the Hawaiian Islands. They were formed by violent volcanic activity, and the new eruptions are nothing new to the ever changing ecosystems. My hope is that this will highlight the need for more conservation areas in Hawaii because you never know when the ones you have will go up in smoke.
Hurst: Well I hate to end on that note. Do you have any good animal holidays for me?
Carol: Glad you asked. July is National Bison Month! Which reminds me of one of my favorite animal jokes. What did the buffalo say to his child when he left for college?
Hurst: Ugh I’ll bite, what?
Carol: Bye son! Anyway Fanimal launches this week and I personally consider that to be an animal holiday. Make sure to get your membership while they’re hot!
Hurst: I’ll buy a cake! A vegan one of course. See you next week!