Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Calling All Lion Fans

I am repeating my call for anyone who may have a copy of the TV show "Jack Paar and His Lions". This was a wonderful show showing many different lions interacting with the people who loved them.

I know someone out there has saved a copy; probably on 16mm film, but any way to get the visuals for this wonderful show will be greatly appreciated (I have the soundtrack only).

The audio player here will play for you a short excerpt from the show. It would be great to see the cubs as well as hear them...  

(Picture colorized by White Lion Restorations.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pointing the Finger

There is a very flawed article in the September 21 issue of Time magazine; the article's title is The Secrets Inside Your Dog's Mind, written by Carl Zimmer.

The gist of the article is that dogs understand what it means when you point to something, and other animals don't.

Along the way to making an evolutionary argument for why this is, Zimmer gets many things wrong.

Zimmer uses now-debunked myths about wolves and their social bonds to make some of his points. But in reality, the hierarchy of a wolf pack is not all that complex, and there is not a constant struggle for the role of alpha male. A natural wolf pack is a family unit. This is according to one of the world's leading experts on wolves, who deeply regrets his old role in perpetuating such myths. See "Everybody Knows..."

The next problem in the article seems to come from the research scientists: the idea that humans are fundamentally different from all other animals. That brings me back to one of my all-time favorite quotes, from Gareth Patterson, an expert on lions:
We are not much different in fact to many other forms of animal life; and it is because of subtle human conditioning -- not the actual facts -- that we are raised to believe there is a wide gap between what is human and what is animal.
Starting from an erroneous point of view is going to lead to erroneous conclusions, unless these research scientists can be very honest with themselves about their biases.

Zimmer then says dogs' behavior is determined by their evolutionary origins, giving as an example the idea that if your dog licks your face when you come home, this is because wolves will lick a pack member's mouth when he returns from a hunt, to induce him to regurgitate some food.

OK, then why do my cats greet me when I come home, and appear to be satisfied with a pat on the head or even just a "hello"?

I don't know what to make of the next example in the article: A dog will act guilty when scolded after the dog did something wrong, AND act guilty when scolded for no reason. This is supposed to show that dogs don't have a sense of right and wrong. But come on now, think back to when you were a little kid--wouldn't you do the same sort of thing? I know I did.

Zimmer also says that while dogs may recognize a word like "Frisbee", they can't use it in a sentence. OK, he didn't put it exactly that way, but that's the gist of it. But how much attention have people actually given to dogs' language skills? It is now known that prairie dogs have a spoken language, with nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and that they put these words together in meaningful ways. How long until other animals are allowed into the language club?

I have to leave my analysis there for now; my final word is that we should be very wary when a writer presents guesses at what happened thousands of years ago as plain fact. And if you watch the video that's linked in the Time article, see if you don't agree with me that the tests they are using on the dogs are also very flawed--the dogs have a number of ways to find the treat, not just by following a person's pointed finger.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

People Need Animals

One of the reasons I wish to increase understanding of animals is that people need animals in their lives. A life without animals is seriously empty.

In Japan, many entrepreneurs are using this fact to their advantage. They are opening cafes where you can pay to pet and play with an animal. People say that doing so greatly relieves their stress levels.

Here's a brief video about a bunny cafe:

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I'm probably going to get hate mail about this, but the video's owner insists that the squirrel in the video was OK later. And animals all over the world do get drunk on fermented fruit all the time; a lot of them actively seek it. Plenty of people can relate to that, I'm sure.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Interspecies Friendships

Since I mentioned interspecies friendships, and since the ASPCA web site is always worth a plug, they have a page called Best Buddies, where people send in their own pictures of animals that are friends. One of the best such pictures is the one seen here, Geronimo the cat and Bhupen the hamster, owned by Bhuvana Lagasse. You can read their story on the Best Buddies page.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lion and Duck

The photo above was taken at the Valley of the Kings animal sanctuary in Wisconsin.

I'll just ask one question: Do you suppose the duck is calm because of the fence, or do you suppose the two of them are enjoying each other's company?

There have been a lot of inter-species friendships reported. Here's one about a cat and a crow.

You can see the full-size photo at djedfre's photo blog.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Real Wolves

As the wolf hunting continues in Idaho and Montana, and as the pro-hunting forces continue their propaganda that is so ridiculous that even one pro-hunting person called it "embarrassing", it's time to hear from someone who actually knows wolves, who works with them every day.

On the PBS site is an interview with Sausha Seus, a wolf trainer with Wasatch Rocky Mountain Wildlife, an animal training service based in Heber City, Utah. That link above will take you to the full interview; here are significant highlights:
What was it like the first time you came face to face with a wolf?
The first time I came face to face with a wolf I was five. It felt like looking into another universe. The same is true today, 26 years later. The eyes of a wolf pierce your soul.

Have you ever been frightened by one of your wolves?

What can humans learn from wolves?
The sense of utter and complete devotion to family. An alpha male wolf will hunt and bring back food in this “belly basket” and regurgitate it for his mate and pups. The alpha male will starve himself in the process if necessary. The bond of a wolf is about loyalty, and it is unbreakable.
Also on the PBS site is a brief comic-book version of the story of Ernest Thomson Seton, the naturalist who started out as a wolf hunter. It's an interesting story, although the focus of the comic-book version is askew: The most significant words in the story make up only a portion of only one page.

Those words are: "He looked into the eyes of the wolf he had hunted for so long...and what he saw was not a killer, but a creature of dignity: courageous, loyal and loving."

As I have said before, the truth about animals can be found by listening to those who have actually paid attention to them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Monkeys Will Pay to See Porn

Apparently, there's not enough to do at Duke University, because a bunch of the guys at the Medical Center did a study that proves monkeys will pay for porn. The porn in this case involves pictures of "sexually receptive" female monkeys. (Gotta love that scientific terminology.) And no, I'm not posting a picture with this story.

The monkeys "pay" by giving up rations of cherry juice. Those monkeys love their cherry juice, but not as much as purient pictures.

The monkeys will also pay, but not as much, to see pictures of other monkeys of "high social rank"; this is equivalent to our gossip magazines, like People.

So... what's the news we can use here? That animals will pay for porn? Or that people aren't as far removed from monkeys as they thought?

(As reported in Scientific American, based on a paper published in Current Biology.)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How to Keep Your Dog Sane

insane dogA dog is not a burglar alarm. Don't leave him out in the yard unattended, "for protection". If you need a burglar alarm, call ADT.

If you want a dog "for the kids", make sure your kids actually want a dog and are up to the on-going job of owning a dog.

Realize that a dog has a mind. You must establish a real, mutually respectful relationship with the dog. This is for your sake, the dog's sake, and the sake of everyone around you.

Make sure your dog gets some real exercise every day. One-on-one play is necessary for a social animal like a dog. Physical exercise keeps the dog healthy physically, social interaction keeps the dog healthy mentally.

Teach your dog where your property boundaries are. This will not only make your dog a better neighbor, it will make him more secure in his own territory.

Pay attention to the dog. If he is barking, find out why.

A dog that is ignored, confused, or has no real connection with his family will gradually go insane. I've seen it happen more than once.

A healthy and happy dog will reward you with more hours of happiness and love than you thought possible. But remember that when you take on a dog you take on the roles of caretaker, teacher, parent, and playmate for the life of the dog.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cats Have Claws

a cat who needs his nails trimmedThe act of declawing a cat is banned in 25 countries and one US city. Why? Well, put your hand on the table, palm down. Look at your hand, and imagine someone chopping off the end of each finger, below the base of the fingernail. That's what declawing does to a cat.

San Francisco is considering a law to also ban the procedure. Amazingly, the San Francisco ASPCA and the California Veterinary Medical Association OPPOSE the law. They say if people can't declaw their cats, they will abandon them. There is no evidence to support this claim.

It seems to me to be a simple anti-cruelty issue. Declawing is cruel. If a person can't stand to have an animal around without mutilating it, they shouldn't have an animal. Cats have claws. If you don't like that idea, don't get a cat.

Dealing responsibly with a cat includes trimming their claws regularly, either by learning to do it yourself or having a pro do it. But it's not that hard to do. Tip: If your cat struggles while you're trimming his claws, pick a time of day when your cat is sleepy. He'll put up with it much better.

Dealing with a cat's claws on a day-to-day basis is easy, too. Even our youngest cat, who is full of energy and loves to play (and play rough) knows to ease up when playing with me and almost never scratches me. Yes, "almost". Accidents happen, and you have to be an adult and deal with them. She learned to ease up quite easily: If she hurt me while playing, I said "OW!" and stopped playing. All my cats understand "OW!". If it was an accident that drew blood, I show them the blood immediately. They invariably give the eye blink response, indicating they didn't mean to do that. And they remember the next time we play.

It comes down to this: Your pet can think and learn. If you establish a mutually respectful relationship, life is better for everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: If A Lion Could Talk

Here at "Intelligent Life is All Around Us", I often point out how research scientists must leave logic behind to desperately hang on to the notion that any and every non-human species of animal does not have any consciousness. This erroneous notion from the bad old days of Descartes is religiously clung to, and is still taught in our colleges and universities. Such an ability to deny reality gave the world such things as dissection of live, unanesthetized dogs--after all, those cries they made could not possibly represent pain, since dogs are not conscious and cannot feel pain.

On the other hand, I probably will spend the rest of my life collecting and presenting evidence that animals are capable of thinking, feeling, and loving just as much as you or me.

Stephen Budiansky ostensibly campaigns for a philosophical middle ground, saying that we can't know what goes on in an animal's mind, or if it has one, and that we should not think of an animal in human terms; that if a lion could talk it would no longer be a lion. He fails to manage this balancing act, and ends up falling on the wrong side of the fence. He contends that professional biologists are too sentimental, that any study that shows that any animal can have emotions, intellect, and/or consciousness *must* be flawed and biased.

However, such studies and conclusions are slowly on the increase, and I contend that the scientific world is slowly catching up with reality because of it.

To prove his point about flawed studies, Budiansky must trot out the 100-year-old story of Clever Hans, the horse that was supposed to be able to do arithmetic. It turned out that the horse could not do arithmetic -- and why should a horse spontaneously show arithmetic abilities? This horse was actually intelligent enough to learn and notice body language in his owner that nearly every other human did not see. And so the story of Clever Hans proves... what? That a horse didn't know arithmetic? So the people involved were silly for believing that a horse could spontaneously do sums--big deal. What has that got to do with the bigger questions at hand?

If Budiansky were better able to support his idea that we should not try to see animals as equals, but instead respect them as separate and unequal coinhabitants of Earth, he would have a worthwhile book. After all, thinking of animals solely in terms of human society is not valid either. Human behavior is driven by any number of societally-induced rules and assumptions. One cannot expect a horse or a rabbit to have identical motivations as a human--even I will show you that a rabbit does not think the same things as a human, but that does not mean that a rabbit doesn't think. And even among humans one cannot expect a believer in one religion, for example, to have the same motivations as a different believer. Where Budiansky falls on his face is in denying consciousness to all nonhumans. Language is the reason, he says. But in reality, other species do have language, although maybe not in ways that fit Budiansky's carefully convoluted definition of language.

Budiansky will allow that all nonhuman vertebrates are equally intelligent. What he cannot properly explain is why the word "nonhuman" is necessary in that sentence. He will allow that differences in each species' bodies results in differing perceptions and differing observed reactions to stimuli. But he cannot come up with a convincing argument why humans should not be part of the same continuum, or even why humans should not try to understand other species in terms that humans understand. I will agree that total anthropomorphism is not the answer, but anthropomorphism is a step toward understanding animals by relating our own experiences to theirs.

There is a practical problem with the separate-and-unequal idea as well: it does not take into account human nature. "Separate and unequal" always ends up being transformed into "inferior" and therefore unimportant, and therefore disposable. This leads to the destruction of other species.

The full quote referenced in the title of this book is, "If a lion could talk, we would not understand him." I know that if a Russian or a Greek talked to me (in his native language) I wouldn't understand him, either. That doesn't mean those people don't talk. And I will tell you that lions and other animals do talk, in their native languages, and it takes keen observation to begin to understand them. (I could teach you to say a word in tiger language, a very handy word should you ever find yourself face to face with a tiger...)

Given the proven biological similarities between humans and other animals, is it not a leap of illogic to *presume* that other animals do not have mental lives similar to ours? (It *is* only a presumption; no one has proved that they don't.)

Given the experiences of people who actually spend a great deal of time with animals, how can a thinking person presume that they don't? Recognizing emotions in animals is something that happens whenever anyone who is truly observant spends some actual time with animals. Fortunately for animals and humans alike, we can also vicariously observe the intelligence and emotions of animals--take the worldwide sensation of Christian the Lion for example, which surely will have long-lasting effects on overall perceptions of animals.

Budiansky says, "To understand what we truly can about how animal minds work inescapably means to abandon any real hope of penetrating their thoughts, or of translating their thoughts into human terms." But in what other terms _can_ we understand them? To say that Christian the lion loved John Rendall and Ace Bourke may be anthropomorphizing, but it does convey an accurate understanding of his actions, his body language, and the realities of his life with those two men. You could say that we do not know exactly what was going on inside the lion's mind, but then I seriously doubt that even you and I have exactly the same definition of what love is.

In the end, I think Budiansky's "separate and unequal" approach to animals has good intentions at its roots but is ultimately indefensible. I believe a "different but equal" approach is more realistic and in the long run beneficial to all life.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday Cute

"Too much" cuteness for Thursday Lite:

Followed by lions and doggies and cats, oh my:

And Kevin Richardson in a "lion sandwich:"

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Nature or Nurture?

A story on NPR last week says that 10-month-old babies and dogs make the same 'mistake' in a test devised by child psychologist Jean Piaget. 1-year-old babies and wolves raised by humans do not make the mistake.

The test involves placing a toy behind one of two partitions. If the younger babies or the dogs see the toy put in place A repeatedly, they will look there first even if they have seen the toy moved to place B. (You can see an example of this test on YouTube.)

Psychologists cannot agree on why young babies make this error. Nevertheless, Adam Miklosi of Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, Hungary, decided he could use this test to make some guesses at the evolution of dogs.

It turns out that dogs make the same mistake as the younger babies, while wolves, like the older babies, will head straight to place B when they've seen the toy moved there.

Miklosi came to the conclusion that dogs trust people more than their own senses and that this is an evolutionarily-inspired trait that was part of the domestication of dogs--and, conversely, wolves do not have the "domestication genes".

There's a couple of problems with this conclusion. For one, it relies solely on only one of the possible explanations of why babies act the way they do. Also, it does not explain why dogs do not grow out of that behavior and act the way the wolves do, while babies will do so quite quickly.

Now, consider this: some have said that our pet dogs are like "perpetual puppies"; that the way they are raised keeps them in a baby-like state because that is the way people want them to behave. I think this idea brings us closer to understanding the results of Miklosi's experiment.

Miklosi's conclusions are rooted in the idea that "domestication" is a genetic trait that arose through evolution. I still contend that "domestication" is a myth and that the proper way to look at animals' interaction with humans is in terms of socialization, and that there is much evidence for this. Look at Christian the lion or the many lions George Adamson worked with. These animals were well socialized, not domesticated. Look at the wolf in the Mission: Wolf video I posted yesterday, in which the animal is in the process of becoming socialized to humans. On the other hand, look at feral dogs or feral cats. If "domestication" is supposed to be an intrinsic trait, what happened to their domestication genes?

The NPR story also quotes Clive Wynne, who studies dog cognition at the University of Florida: "It's a very thought-provoking experiment. I think like a lot of good studies, it doesn't lead so instantly to conclusions. It leads to new questions."

Thank you, Mr. Wynne. Keep those questions coming.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Mission: Wolf

A little south of the insanity I've been writing about this week is a place called Mission: Wolf Sanctuary, in Colorado. Here's an interesting and informative video from them:

Note they use the word "(un)socialized" as opposed to "wild/tame" or "domesticated".

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Attractive Lie

The age-old question is, what characteristic separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom? No one has ever come up with an answer that stands up to actual observation. "Using tools" was a popular answer for a long time. It's not true. Lots of animals have been observed using tools, even tool that they made themselves. "Language" was another popular answer, and this one held up for a long time because if you don't understand a language, it's easy to believe there is no language being used. But more and more animal languages are being observed, and scientists have even gotten down to such things as deciphering individual words and syntax used by prairie dogs.

Other, weaker answers have been proposed to that age-old question; all have been proven wrong.

I have an answer to propose, assuming the question itself is even valid--What separates humanity from animals? The ability and the desire to deny reality. I'm not saying that humans are the only animals that lie or deceive--any predator tries to deceive its prey, up to a certain point anyway--but I don't know of any other animal that wants to believe the lie.

There was a perfect example of this just this week--the story of the 2 wolves, one healthy, one suffering from a gunshot wound, who (we are told) killed 120 rams (and only rams from the mixed herd, because the wolves knew that the rams were the more valuable animals in the herd), and then the two wolves piled the bodies in a corner of the pasture. This utterly fantastical story is being used as justification for the wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. Those who want justification for their actions have no desire to think about this story or question it. They don't ask what sort of atomic-powered wolves these must be to have achieved a kill like that. They don't wonder what method the wolves used to pile the bodies--did the wolves drive a forklift, or did they use their atomic power to just casually toss the bodies through the air into the corner? An unquestioned lie is perfectly good justification for what they want to do.

This desire to deny reality is in every aspect of our society. Recently, it seemed like every web site in the country featured the picture of the man who cheated on his wife and had to stand on a street corner wearing a sign as his punishment. But it turns out that the whole thing was a hoax, a publicity stunt by a radio station. But how many web sites featured the truth about the story just as prominently as they had featured the lie? After all, an attractive lie brings in more people than a boring truth.

And now I return to what I referred to above: Is the question of what separates man from animal even a valid question? Every person I know of who works closely with animals and observes them carefully will say that it is not a valid question. One of my favorite quotes is from Garreth Patterson, sometimes called the Lion Man of Africa:

We are not much different in fact to many other forms of animal life;
and it is because of subtle human conditioning
-- not the actual facts --
that we are raised to believe there is a wide gap between
what is human and what is animal.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Are Hunters Stupid?

For today's article, I yield this space to George Wuerthner, wildlife biologist and former Montana hunting guide. He has written an excellent article for New West. Please read it. (The photo here is also by George Wuerthner.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thursday Funny

Re-starting the tradition of Thursday Lite, here's a little musical number...

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

"I just wanted to beat my buddies to the punch"

The wolf hunt in Idaho continues because the judge who has the power to stop it hasn't made up his mind yet. Within hours of the official start of the season, 2 wolves were killed, a female tricked into the open with the sound of a wounded animal, and another who was said to be "harrassing" the hunter's horse.

What makes the wolf hunt so notable is that it is promoted and supported by lies.

Here's one of the lies: "The wolf population in the region has been growing by 20% to 30% every year." Let's look at that number. It's hard to find a hard number for the number of wolves in the region when they were first protected by the Endangered Species Act; some estimates go all the way down to 0. But let's take a very low number: 2. Two wolves, one breeding pair. And let's take the middle of that population growth figure: 25% per year. If that were true, there would be about 5000 wolves in the region, not the 1645 counted recently. Obviously the population has not been growing at the stated rate.

Another lie: "The wolves are wiping out the elk (and other ungulate) populations." This has been distilled into a popular bumper sticker: "Save 100 elk: Kill a wolf". But people with even the slightest knowledge of nature know that wolves do not wipe out their prey populations. They take the old and the sick. Wolves keep the elk populations strong and healthy.

Wolves also eat other animals, not just the big fancy ones that people want to kill themselves. They eat fish; they also eat mice and other rodents. Wolves keep the rodent population under control, thus wolves help farmers.

Shall I keep going? We're supposed to believe that, in Montana, two 80-pound wolves--one of them wounded by a gunshot--killed 120 200-pound rams in one night and --get this-- "piled [them] into a corner" of the pasture. That's an actual quote from the news article in The Missoulian.

But I can make all the arguments I want; the wolf hunt is based on irrationality, fear, and hatred. I don't know how to fight that. I said that yesterday and today I read in the Salt Lake City Tribune that someone with better credentials than I agrees with me:
Western Wildlife Conservancy Director Kirk Robinson called the wolf hunts "expressions of hostility" that aren't based on science.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Bad Old Days Are Back

The wolf is one of the most hated species on the face of the earth, thanks to ignorance, misconception, and propaganda and lies actively created and spread for the purpose of keeping hatred of the animals alive.

By the 1970s, wolves in North America had been hunted to the brink of extinction. Then, in 1974, there came legal protection from the Endangered Species Act. The wolf population of the northern Rocky Mountains increased over the next 35 years. The population now numbers 1645 wolves.

Hundreds of scientists agree that the population needs to grow to 2500 to assure a sufficient gene pool for the health of the entire species. In other areas, where the wolf population is very low, wolves are showing severe physical defects because there simply is not any way for them to avoid inbreeding.

But the wolves have been de-listed from endangered species status. The government thinks that 150 wolves per state in the northern Rocky Mountain region is enough.

And so today the hunting begins. The hatred will be vented via high-powered rifles. And if you think all this isn't based in hatred, you haven't seen the posters people have created, comparing wolves to any and every icon of evil, such as Saddam Hussein.

There is a book, written by someone who actually observed real wolves in their real habitat. You may have heard of this book; it's called Never Cry Wolf, written by Farley Mowat. His extensive observations totally debunked the myth of the wolf as a wanton killer; he revealed the devoted family life of the wolf "pack", which actually is a family unit. The book is oddly hard to find; a search at does not easily turn up the current in-print version. The link above will take you to exactly that page.

So with the wolf population nowhere near what it needs to be to be healthy, people are poised once again to ambush and decimate the population, tear apart family units, until the wolf is again on the brink of extinction. With only 1645 wolves across the entire northern Rocky Mountain region, 11,000 hunters have bought wolf hunting licenses in Idaho alone.

It is a sad day for both the wolf and man.