Monthly Archives: May 2014

Baboon Dog Syndrome

Deformed+wolf.+A+wolf+taken+down+by+hunters+in+Russia_7e8c75_4766173Having been raised by wolves, I was naturally quite interested to find the photo at right wandering around the internet.  What was this curious little beastie?  Photoshop was the word that sprang immediately to mind, but the reality is that this poor critter is (likely) real, and exhibits a spinal deformity common enough to have a name: baboon dog syndrome.

The name appears to have originated in South Africa, where enough animals were found exhibiting this condition that the locals had a name for it.  It’s not endemic to wolves, of course: according to the references below, the South Africans saw the issue in dogs, and apparently it’s also been seen in foxes and other wild canids.  Baboon dog syndrome is differentiated from achondroplasia/dwarfism in that the latter (usually/often) produces animals with shortened limbs and a normal-length spine (resembling a Corgi) while baboon dog syndrome produces animals with what appear to be normal limbs under a half-length or apparently “missing” spine, and often a “bob” tail.

Here are the best references I was able to find online:

  • This forum thread contains references to Genetics for Dog Breeders, by Frederick  Bruce Hutt, which notes an inherited abnormality in dogs which results in an extreme shortening of the entire spinal structure; an illustration of an image by David Klocker Ehrenstrahl of a “fox-dog cross” (unlikely due to differences in chromosomal number) with the condition (Google does not reveal this painting); and a reference to How to Breed Dogs, by Leon Whitney, which supposedly contains a photo of the skeleton of a baboon dog.
  • This thread references a book called Animal Genetics, also by Frederick Bruce Hutt.  Google Books indicates this book mentions “the baboon dogs of de Boom”, described by Dr. H P A de Boom of the Veterinary Laboratory at Ondestepoort in South Africa, and contains photos of such dogs, showing the “typical humped back, short tail, and apparent lack of any neck”.  The dogs are also mentioned in Comparative aspects of reproductive failure, a paper presented at a conference at Dartmouth Medical School in 1966.
  • This imgur thread has some photos of modern-day dogs with the disorder, including this one, as well as a fox and the above wolf photo.
  • animatedgifofPigThis reddit thread contains photos of a dog named Pig who appears to have the syndrome.  A link sends you to the Do Day Day Dog Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, where Pig appeared with her owner Kim Dillenbeck.  A news article on Pig, with video, and some more details about her, is available here.  Pig is visible in the animated GIF above right.
  • This thread contains photos of a horse with the same condition.
  • This page has a passing reference to a similar-appearing condition being caused, in mice, by an overabundance of vitamin A during gestation, which affects expression of the HOX gene.
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Second Livestock: The Virtual “Good Life” For Farmed Chickens

Yes, it’s a joke — at this point.  The nonexistent virtual reality “Second Livestock“, designed by ISU assistant professor Austin Stewart, brings up the idea of providing a virtual natural environment for conventionally farmed animals.  Rather than devote money, time, and space to actually giving the animals what they deserve, we can give them a virtual image of what they deserve.  They’ll believe they are running around and interacting with conspecifics, while in reality we can make their enclosures even smaller, since they won’t know they’re using them….

Knowing that it’s not real(yet), it’s actually funny, especially the little chicken headsets.  But take a moment, and imagine what might happen if this became economically feasible, especially compared to actually providing a natural environment for farm animals.  (While that’s honestly unlikely, Stewart has said further development for actual implementation was an option he would consider.)  Picture dairy cows grazing on a virtual pasture, giving birth to virtual “calves” that could hang around for a bit before being “naturally weaned”, while in reality the calves are taken away at birth (and fitted with a headset and given a virtual “mother”).

Would it be ethical?  If the animal truly believed it had a wonderful — or at least a quasi-natural) life, is there a functional difference from it actually having a wonderful life?  Is this a viable replacement for real space, conspecifics, and interaction?  What if every animal had an amazing virtual life, filled with its species’ own version of wine, women, and song?  (Either way, I’m not sure that either option is adequate “payment” for being consumed as food in the end.)  The authors make a point (arguably, the whole point of the site) that some humans are already partially living in an environment like this one…is that a good thing?  A bad thing?  Just a thing?

No answers here, although my gut instinct tends to the “Are you kidding?” side of things.  I just thought this was funny-becoming-interesting and kind of chewy food for thought.

“Weird Al” Yankovic: The Mystery of Meat

This (sort of) reminds me of that precipitous moment when I realized just how much was going into getting me a cheap hamburger.  I knew it was made from dead cow, but I had this mental image of just one cow — you know, that old picture you got in elementary school of one cow, kept at grass, with lots of space and love.  You don’t picture how many cows died, and what they went through beforehand, until someone grabs your head and shows you and you see it.  I’d like to see what would happen if McDonald’s put out that commercial.

Keep it real, Ronald. Keep it real.