I seem to be doing that “not post because I have nothing meaty to say” thing, so here’s something reasonably bite size:
Here is a cute “human interest” story about twin foals born on Easter Sunday. It’s pretty nondescript, and the facts are more or less correct (twin foals are pretty rare, because most mares aren’t quite big enough to carry two full size fetuses to term). I only got interested when I saw some screencaps from the video:
Why doesn’t anyone seem terribly concerned about that mare? (Actually, people on forums are concerned — but why hasn’t even one of the hundreds of news feeds which have brainlessly reposted this article even wondered why they can see every rib on the mother?) She looks like a 1 or 2 on the Henneke body condition scale — damn skinny, almost emaciated. Yes, she’s been eating for three, and mares lose body condition when pregnant, especially with twins. But let’s look at some other photos of new equine mothers of twins:
EDIT: I feel better. I’m not the only one that wondered.
I don’t think this is a post so much about this specific situation, even, as it is about this: The reporter and photographer visited the site and took pictures and video and didn’t see (or at least didn’t mention) the mare’s condition. The primary editor at the TV station didn’t mention it, and neither did anyone else at the station which saw the story. Many, many news feeds reposted this article without even appearing to do so much as glance at the photos. What else are we missing, in other news articles on other topics? Consider this article on a “black phase coyote” shot by a hunter. What might the news outlets that covered this story have missed? (Hint, kids: that’s a husky!)
“Grumpy Cat” — whose actual name is “Tard“, theoretically short for “Tartar Sauce” — is just one of many “oh look at the cute animal” memes that have gone past my radar over the past few years. I’ve seen Sam, once voted the World’s Ugliest Dog; Thumbelina, billed as the world’s smallest horse; and an infinite number of critters on sites like Cute Overload.
I have a difficult time enjoying such photos. The animals in them are not natural. Their appearance is generally the result of man messing with animal genes; of overzealous (over)selection for extremely specialized traits; and of practices such as “line-breeding” (a polite term for inbreeding). Animals don’t look like that naturally (the rare ones which do generally do not pass on their genes). Those mutations — usually extremes of the brachycephalic mutation wherein the bones of the face stop growing before the rest of the head — give the animals “human” expressions — and incidentally produce malocclusion of the teeth, tear duct abnormalities, facial deformities, and a variety of other ailments. (Another “popular” mutation for internet-photo-sharing is dwarfism, producing animals with short, twisted limbs, overlarge heads, and, again, a variety of other problems.)
These are not happy animals. I cannot laugh at them, not even if they are humorously posed and captioned. They look the way they do because some humans got together and thought, Wouldn’t it be great if dogs/cats looked more like human babies? and bred siblings to each other until the offspring looked sufficiently funny. The fact that the animal can’t breathe, can’t see, and can’t eat is meaningless — look how cute it is! It almost looks human!
I am not arguing that we should not breed, for example, Persian cats, because breed-standard Persian cats do not necessarily look like “Tard”. (It should be noted, however, that there are good arguments against extreme type-breeding in purebred animals.) I am arguing that, when man’s interference with nature produces its inevitable sports, we not give the poor things contracts to do television commercials and buy T-shirts celebrating them (and, indirectly, the process which produced them). I don’t support irresponsible animal breeding — why should I support its byproducts?
So tiger parts sell for more money than you’ve ever seen, but it’s hard to find them in the wild any more for some reason. What’s an enterprising businessman to do? Why, build a tiger farm, of course. Grab a few tigers, start a “conservation” operation or a “zoo”, and once you get 500 animals you can get a permit to sell your surplus to make “tiger bone” wine:
[Alas, this excellent article on the Asian tiger trade will not embed here. Please visit it in person (it's free to view).]
Wildlife traffickers don’t even have to actually breed tigers. They can just set up a location where it looks like they are captive-breeding tigers, then poach tigers from the wild and sell the parts as though they were from captive bred animals. This apparently works for any species, not just tigers.
Although it does certainly appear that people are breeding captive tigers to sell for parts (in what way does this significantly differ from modern cattle operations?), I have been unable to verify whether or not the farms are also, specifically, starving tigers to death to satisfy nebulous legal issues requiring that the animal have died of “natural causes” for its parts to be sold, as in the following image I found floating around today. The image appears to be a scan of this news article, sourced from this blog entry from the TigerTime web site, which appears to reference a paper called the Straits-Times but was written by a TigerTime employee with no readily apparent source.
This image was what originally made me look into this subject. It just seems too awful to be completely true, and it isn’t. The report quoted above does not mention any requirement in Chinese law stating that animals which have died naturally are specifically legal (it just requires that the parts be “legally obtained”), and research suggests that the starving tigers are a different, though quasi-related, event: the tigers in question appear to have been starved (actually, fed “cheap cuts of chicken”, leading to malnourishment) when the facilities handling them “went into financial difficulties”. Not that it’s much of a relief, especially to the tigers, but it does not look like they were starved specifically so their parts could be sold legally (although I suspect the facility owners did not object to the “happy” appearance of an “extra” carcass or two). It just looks like that’s a “normal byproduct” of their “farming” operation. (Why does that distinction matter to me? Is “inconceivably terrible husbandry practices” better in some way than “deliberately starving animals to death”? Is it even different?)
Just another place where minor curiosity (“Hmmm, that headline looks a mite sensationalistic”) leads to a major facepalm moment: even “wildlife” is being factory farmed. Everything is being factory farmed, somewhere — and factory farming is never pretty. (Check out that National Geographic photo gallery for a picture of what it looks like when humans “captive breed” snakes for the pet trade, if you’re interested.)
Posted in consumerism, idiocy, news, the Machine, zoos
Tagged 2013, breeding, China, Guilin, news, Shenyang Zoo, starving, tiger, tiger bone wine, tigers, trophies, Xiongsen Bear and Tiger Park
Orangutan. Photo courtesy Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation.
Another horrible thing wandered across my radar today, under the lively title “Orangutans being used as prostitutes!!” The attached text (which was written by a random Facebook friend, not a journalist) implied that hundreds of orangutans are being snatched from the trees and used as prostitutes in villages in Borneo. It included a link to a Care2 petition begging everyone to stop the orangutan prostitution industry.
So, some quick research. There’s a bunch of stories on this floating about, and they all seem to reference this story, written on October 3, 2007 by Jack Adams of the online magazine Vice, which appears to be something of a news outlet but whose main-page stories (as of 5/27/12) also include articles like “If You Don’t Like The Spurs, You’re A Wall-Eyed Moron” and “Dave Hill Wrote Some Stupid Book“. The orangutan story is extremely short (9 paragraphs, including the introduction) and does not go into a lot of detail. It also does not in any way imply that orangutan prostitution happens outside of this one incident.
The interview is with Michele Desilets, director of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, founded in 1991. The BOSF web site does not mention Pony or prostitution at all. Neither does Michele Desilet’s Facebook page. You would think that if orangutan prostitution was a huge industry (or even an industry at all), there would be mention somewhere. Instead, we have a tweet from Michele personally (dated April 2012, and directed at someone else who was researching the petition site’s allegation): “The case of Pony the orangutan was the only case we have ever come across of this type. It is NOT common.”
Is the use of animals of any kind (and, arguably, of humans) in a brothel an unforgivable atrocity? Yes. Is it terrible that this happened (and it does seem to have happened), and that the perpetrators won’t be punished (there are no laws forbidding this kind of behavior in Indonesia)? Yes. Is this a sad, sad example of how low some people will sink? Yes. Are hundreds of orangutans being captured for use in Indonesian brothels? No.
What is really threatening orangutans? Habitat loss due to deforestation, related to the palm oil industry. Want to help stop the idiocy? Don’t just sign an online petition — get out there and donate some money, try to reduce your use of products containing palm oil, (here’s a handy wallet card!) or, at the very least, Facebook or tweet about the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (or the animal support group of your choice), and get people angry about a problem that actually exists.
Posted in idiocy, news, self-education, society
Tagged 2007, 2012, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, BOSF, Michele Desilets, news, orangutan, orangutan prostitute, orangutan prostitution, Pony
Just a little something I noticed today….
An egg farm near Roggen, Colorado, owned by Boulder Valley Poultry, burned to the ground on April 30. The extremely brief article (which matches other, extremely brief articles in other papers) declares the event an accident, and winds up by reassuring consumers that their supply of eggs is unlikely to be affected.
Oh, yeah, and 470,000 hens died. In two barns.
What an interesting, unremarked, casual aside. These aren’t unbelievably huge buildings. 235,000 chickens in each one? To give each chicken one square foot of floor space in an open-floor plan (an extremely minimal investment), the barns would need to be 100 ft x 2,350 ft (almost half a mile long). How densely were these chickens packed?
Also, “many local producers have agreed to step up production”. How do you do that, I wonder?
Posted in farming, idiocy, news, random
Tagged 2012, April, chicken, Colorado, egg farm, fire, husbandry, news, poultry, random, Roggen, roggen colorado
A while ago I commented on the discovery, by a man flying a model aircraft equipped with a camera, of a “river of blood” behind the Columbia Packing Company, a Dallas, Texas meatpacking plant. I was interested that the immediate public reaction, in some forums, seemed to be not “What is that river of blood doing there?” but “Wasn’t that photo a violation of the packing company’s privacy rights?” I felt that that kind of attitude could make it difficult for anyone to document anything — including animal rights violations — which happened to be taking place on private property.
Recently, a South Carolina animal rights group with the acronym S.H.A.R.K. sent a reconnaissance helicopter over a group of hunters who were, on private property (Broxton Bridge Plantation), having a “pigeon (or dove) hunt” (according to them — probably one of these) or a “pigeon shoot” (according to S.H.A.R.K.). S.H.A.R.K. planned to shoot video of the event. Of course, the hunters promptly shot down the drone.
Ironically, both the pigeon hunt and the drone launch in this case were apparently perfectly legal. The shooting of the drone might or might not also be legal, but neither it nor the launching of the helicopter was probably the most enlightened way to make the feuding parties’ respective points.
Various news sources are telling me that a “cigarette-smoking chimpanzee” passed away on Saturday, December 10. The name of the chimp in question is Booee (or Booie), and this immediately pinged my memory: was that not the name of a signing chimp — one of the chimps that researcher Roger Fouts communicated with while he was raising Washoe, arguably the most famous of the signing chimps?
Image from Wildlife Waystation Facebook
I wasn’t hallucinating. Here’s a link to a heart-rending little scene from the book Next of Kin, where Fouts describes meeting Booee again after many years apart. And that’s the same Booee, a lifelong lab animal, unwilling participant in probably several dozen experiments until being briefly featured on a television show made him less than political to keep. He was moved to the Wildlife Waystation in California in October, 1995.
This particular chimpanzee could speak to humans. He used sign language to do so, but he could do so — one of the first of a tiny wave of “animals” which could speak a human language. He was part of the community that helped open the door between humans and their closest cousins, the great apes, and helped to start the (still ongoing) movement which is trying to get chimpanzees out of the laboratory. He is part of the snowball that started the avalanche of things like the Great Ape Protection Act, which would have been unthinkable when Booee was born. This guy is one of the founders of a little, slow, quiet revolution in the way humans think about animals.
And something like 90% of his obituaries say “he was on television once”, “he smoked cigarettes”, and “he begged for candy”. Why are those chosen as his defining attributes? Are they just the only ones the news outlets think we’ll understand? Booee is a historical figure. He did a lot for animal/human understanding and the promotion of the idea that animals are not just automatons with fur. It might be hard to encapsulate the meaning of what he was, what he did and the way he changed the world into a blog-sized sound bite, but “cigarette-smoking chimpanzee”? Is that all we can come up with?
I know that the news media are just trying to garner readers, and that “cigarette smoking chimpanzee” probably: a) resonates better for most people than does “signing chimpanzee” and b) is “cuter” and more “sound bite friendly”. But please — is that the only thing you can think of to say? (Here’s the Wildlife Waystation obituary for Booee, in case you’d like to see how to do it with class.)
Two ranch-hands in Wyoming contracted Campylobacter jejuni infections via castrating lambs with their teeth.
I’m sure that, with some effort, they could have found some other way to do that.
This is one of those situations where I can see both with the eyes of an animal welfarist and with those of a ranch hand. The animal welfarist says, “Why are you doing that with no anesthetic?!? With your teeth? Why are you castrating them at all? You could just [insert high-maintenance management program, expensive castration alternative, or impossible immediate job switch here]!” The ranch hand says, “I have 1,600 sheep to do — can you imagine what it would cost, or how long it would take to anesthetize every one? Or to separate every adult ram, because they’ll fight?”
(Hate this problem? Ask why they have 1,600 baby sheep — they have such a large flock because they’ve been forced to expand their business to compete with even larger companies, to supply people who buy wool sweaters and ground lamb from enormous box stores. Buy local, and know what you’re buying.)
Either way, this is another one of those horrible consequences of exceeding the Monkeysphere — the sheep have become items, not individuals — and of assembly-lining the process. Forced to do something 1,600 times in a short period, the ranch hands found the fastest, lowest-effort way they could in which to do it. I notice that no-one checked to see if the sheep caught anything from their mouths!
Posted in farming, idiocy, news, the Machine
Tagged Campylobacter jejuni, castration, husbandry, news, ranch, sheep, teeth, Wyoming
This has been traveling around with no reference of source:
“I think our society needs a huge “Wake-up” call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all…a view from the inside if you will.
First off, all of you breeders/sellers should be made to work in the “back” of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don’t even know.”
….click here for the rest.
Speaking as someone who has worked with rescue people, and interviewed (if not worked) and volunteered at multiple animal shelters, I’d just like to second this, and point out that, while the language is a bit emphatic and there may be slight exaggeration for emphasis, the exaggeration is slight. And the picture of the pile of cats? Absolutely, 100% true to life, or, rather, true to death. That’s a full-size walk in freezer, and imagine how many animals the pictured facility must “handle” per year that they needed to purchase such a thing. And that’s one facility.
Does this piss you off? Scare you? Make you want to hug your kitties? Do something about it. Donate to your local shelter so it can keep animals longer or pay for kennel cough treatment. Ask how you can help educate people about adoption and encourage people to adopt. Above all, don’t get mad at the shelters…they are just dealing, as best they can, with the problem. They didn’t cause it. Does this photo, this article, make you sick? Help your local animal shelter. Help fix the problem.
This past holiday weekend, I listened to someone announce that they had “euthanized” their problem horse (who really did need to be put down — it had a vet-diagnosed neurological condition and was aggressively dangerous). I was thinking of commending them for taking responsibility for the animal and not just selling the problem along to an unsuspecting buyer when they said they had “euthanized” the horse by selling him for slaughter. (“Bam!” they said. “Bolt to the head.”)
Clearly they missed out on the part where horse slaughter was not, at that time, legal in the US — before their horse was “euthanized”, it rode many hours in an open air cargo van — perhaps one designed for horses, perhaps one designed for pigs or cattle — with no food or water, to reach a slaughter plant in Canada. The horse may not have even reached the killing box and its captive bolt gun — it may have died along the way, kicked at the feedlot, crushed or trampled in the truck, or suffering from exposure or dehydration.
There is hope that things may be changing. Recently, Congress has, without fanfare, quietly lifted a five-year-old ban on funding for inspection of horse meat, which indirectly paves the way for re-opening of domestic horse slaughter plants by providing for the inspection of meat produced at those plants. There isn’t currently a budget for horse meat inspection, so the process might be slow, but people who have been witness to the issues surrounding the lack of appropriate facilities in the US are scrambling to get one going, to prevent trips like the one my acquaintance’s horse took.
The closure of domestic slaughter plants in 2007 has not resulted in a reduction of the amount of US horses being slaughtered. They are simply being trucked over the border to be slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, doing nothing but adding a 24 to 72 hour trip in a packed cargo truck — here’s animal behaviorist and slaughter reformist Temple Grandin describing one version of that experience — to the doomed horses’ woes.
We certainly do need to alter a lot of things about the process that is allowing companion horses to be slaughtered for food — including providing education for horse owners, finding help for families who, through no fault of their own, can no longer support their animals, and initiating improvements in slaughter practices and how all slaughter plants (not just ones for horses) are run. There are a lot of problems with this industry, in all countries (graphic link). However, sending horses off to Mexico and Canada is not the answer. Providing a good support network for distressed owners, increasing public education, and bringing the slaughter plants under USDA control won’t fix the problem, but would be a huge step in the right direction.