Category Archives: news

Would an Animal Shelter Import a Puppy?

In an article decrying (with some justification) the tendency of animal-rescuing persons to refer to animal-breeding persons with derogatory names, the author stated (emphasis theirs):

Animal shelters in the USA have been casting a wide net to fill their kennels for years. According to the US Public Health Service, Chicago O’Hare was the destination airport for 10,125 dogs imported from overseas in 2006, half of which weren’t vaccinated. Scientists from the Center of Disease Control estimated that over 199,000 dogs (38,100 unvaccinated) came into the country through the Mexican border that year alone, and in 2007, one organization in Puerto Rico by itself shipped more than 14,000 strays in seven years to the United States for adoption at shelters. ABC News reported that according to G. Gale Galland, veterinarian in the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, as many as 300,000 puppies a year – most from countries with little or no health safeguards, are being imported to satisfy the demand for puppies at shelters.

This set off my WTF detector, because, in my experience, I think the last thing the workers at the shelter where I work would ever want to do would be to purchase, with money, more animals for the shelter.  People walk in their door every day with baskets of puppies, often purebred.  At this exact second they have four purebred Beagles, a purebred German Shepherd, a Labrador retriever, a handsome white Boxer, and a mother Pug with two puppies.  Speaking of puppies, there is also a litter of five little Lab/Beagle mixes, at least three other, single, puppies, and some lovely juvenile (teenage) dogs, as well as possibly an infinite number of kittens.  Every cage is full.  For what possible reason would they want to ask for more dogs?

The original G. Gale Galland quote, in a 2007 article about how importation of unvaccinated dogs is prompting concerns about rabies, does indeed say that “as many as 300,000 puppies a year” are being imported — but it does not say that all the animals are specifically going to shelters.  Two paragraphs down in the same article, the Border Puppy Task Force in California describes the puppies as being “sold for $1,000 each in shopping center parking lots on the street”.  The Task Force web site exhorts people not to “pay in cash” for a puppy “on a street corner, in an alley or parking lot, or at a swap meet”.  Most shelters do not sell dogs on the street for $1,000 cash.   Perhaps these imported dogs are not all going directly to shelters?

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

from Kenny123 on morguefile.com

I was surprised to learn that the bit about getting “14,000 strays in seven years” shipped in from Puerto Rico was true, but again, the quote is incomplete: these animals (known as Satos, or Sato dogs) are not just puppies, they are dogs of all ages.  The shelters say that they are being shipped from an area where there isn’t a lot of help available for them to places where they are more likely to be adopted. Critics say that shelters in areas where there aren’t a lot of stray dogs are importing strays from Puerto Rico rather than “go out of business”.  This letter from someone decrying the practice and its matching rebuttal do a pretty good job of summing up this mess.

This National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA) paper appears to be the source of the “10,125 dogs imported through Chicago” as well as the “199,100 dogs entered from Mexico” statements.  Note that the paper refers to dogs, not puppies.  When considering where these animals go, the same paper states: “Some of these increases [in importation] may be explained by the apparent recent expansion in a high-volume international commercial puppy trade.  Breeders overseas and across borders ship puppies to the United States for sale through commercial pet stores, flea markets, and internet trading sites.”  Then it adds, “In addition to imports for commercial sale, several animal rescue operations import dogs from other countries for adoption in the United States.  For example…a humane rescue organization imported 295 dogs to the United States from the Middle East.”  Again, the true answer seems to lie right in the middle: yes, there are clearly shelters importing dogs (and puppies).  There are also breeders and commercial facilities importing puppies.

There seems to be a shouting match going on concerning shelters shipping in animals from other rescues.  My animal shelter would tell you that this process (NAIA calls it “humane relocation”) is a great thing; they are thrilled to be able to send animals to shelters in other states so they have room for the new ones constantly walking in the door.  NAIA (which is headed by a number of people who love animals, many of whom also happen to perform animal research, and also breed dogs) seems to have a number of articles putting down this practice as “money-making” on the part of the receiving shelters.  It’s likely that both sides of the story are true, depending on which shelter you look at, and where you live.  This shelter in Atlanta may well be slowly becoming a for-profit organization and is shipping in animals to keep itself financially afloat, but not all shelters behave like this one, and not all relocation programs are primarily intended to raise money for the receiving shelters.

While it is true that some shelters import pets, from both other US shelters and shelters in other countries, it feels to me as though this is more about NAIA (the primary source of a lot of articles, as well as the term “humane relocation” referring to movement of animals between shelters) using articles about a real concern (unvaccinated imported animals bringing in zoonotic diseases) to support an attack against animal rescue groups’ negative attitude toward pet breeders.  I can see (some of) the thought behind their position: in general, dog (and cat, ferret, horse, etc.) fanciers who take good care of their animals should always be encouraged, be their animals from (reputable) breeder or (reputable) shelter, and, in fact, some breeders are also rescuers.  (Responsibly) breeding pets is not intrinsically a terrible act.  On the other hand, portraying all shelters as money-grubbing, fanatical and untrustworthy “pet shops”, and denouncing a program that (at least sometimes) allows animals unlikely to be adopted in one area to be shipped to another for faster adoption, is not good for the one thing we all love best here: the animals.

How You Can Help The Moira, NY Horse (Or Any Sad Animal)

Moira NY Horse in Need

Let’s repost this with hope it reaches someone who can help >This horse belongs to Frank Burgess and Brenda Waite of the Best Road in Moira NY. The state police have been alerted to the condition of their horses. Please help to keep the heat on their owners so that they are taken away. Not fair.

EDIT: These horses have been helped!  According to the comments below, the NY State Police have been informed about their situation.  It’s not entirely clear whether the horse(s) have been moved, or whether they are still at the site, but various sources strongly indicate that action is being taken.  Also, it seems that Brenda’s last name is Wattie, not Waite.  Thanks everyone!

UPDATES: the first news article, from the Utica Observer-Dispatch.

The local paper, the Daily Courier-Observer, pitches in with its own update on 8/27/13.

And the beautiful mare above is named Dreamer, and has arrived at the Adirondack Equine Center for rehab.  See some photos here!

This morning my Facebook feed turned up the above photo, with attached caption.  It exhorted me to forward the photo on, until “it reaches someone who can help”.  It occurs to me that simply sharing a photo on Facebook is not helpful to this horse in any way.  How can I help this horse?

First, some minimal research.  Like photos of lost children, photos of abused animals tend to persist indefinitely.  Long after the crisis is over, people will continue to forward the photos, trying to help without first checking to see if the animal is even still in danger.  Also, not every forwarded photo of an emaciated animal has the full story — there is no way to verify in this case that the caption matches the photo.  Maybe this animal is already under veterinary care, or this is a “before” photo “borrowed” from an unrelated animal rescue site.  Before taking action, I should check to see if someone else has seen this first.

A quick Google Search By Image for the above picture reveals no immediate matches, so next I search for the names and location in Google.  This reveals only the Facebook posting, which appears to be rather recent because there are not a lot of links.  I also try phrases like “animal control burgess waite Moira NY” and get nothing, so…okay, our initial search reveals that there’s nothing on Snopes or any large sites yet to tell me if this is real or not.  (Often, during research I’ll find local newspaper stories or police blotter postings confirming the story or filling in details.)

One link in particular (as well as the original “share” I saw on Facebook) describes the Facebook post as originating when “[poster] shared Rob Carlsen‘s photo.”  The original post may in fact be here (I looked for Rob Carlsen on Facebook)…it contains the above information and nothing else.  (It also has about 14,000 shares as of this moment…!)  It also does have at least one comment on it from someone promising to look into this, so there’s hope!

In this case I’ll assume, because I love horses, and I’d like to help this one, that this photo has some basis in reality.  Just sharing it on Facebook will only result in the propagation of the photo.  How do I help this horse, from where I am?

First, locate the proper authorities: Google will also tell me where the local humane societies, right near Best Road in Moira, NY, are.  Clicking on the individual links gives me web sites and phone numbers:

  • Potsdam Animal Shelter (315) 265-3199 potsdamhumanesociety.org
  • North Country Animal Shelter (518) 483-8079
  • Tri-Lakes Humane Society (518) 891-0017 tlhsny.webs.com
  • Massena Humane Society (315) 764-1330

The New York State Police has an office in nearby Malone as well: (518) 483-5000.  Searching for “Moira, NY horse rescue” turns up a couple of helpful links:

(I have not researched any of these sites, past looking at their web pages.  I can only assume they are legitimate organizations — either way, calling them will not hurt!)  The next step is to call or email these institutions and politely ask if they have investigated this photo.  Since it’s roaming around on Facebook, they are probably receiving 200+ calls an hour about the picture, so remember to be polite, be brief, and do not waste their time.  In the unlikely event that they don’t know about the photo yet, you’ve informed them of its existence.  If they do know, you’ll be (gently!) nudging them to fully investigate.  If I had friends in New York I would probably mention this to them as well — it is likely they know of other places one could call to try to get confirmation that this horse is, in fact, in trouble, and, if so, to get help to it.  If you have something to offer (time, money, information) you could also consider contacting the lady who answered the original post and offered to drive by.

I suspect that, very shortly, there will be news stories about this horse telling us what really happened to it — I leave the investigative reporting to the people on the ground in New York.  However, when I find out the rest of the story I’ll be sure to add it to this post, to try to close up the story of this horse so when other people find the photo and research it, they’ll be able to see whether their help is still needed or not.

Much better than just hitting “share”, don’t you think?  And not much more effort!  Good luck, anonymous horse!

It’s Okay To Shoot Kittens As Long As We Can’t See

Multiple sources.

Multiple sources.

A sadly tiny blip across the “WTF” radar was the shooting of five kittens by an Ohio policeman named Bob (or Barry) Accorti on June 10, 2013.  The story in brief: homeowner has litter of feral cats in her woodpile; calls police; police send Accorti (a “part-time humane officer”, according to the North Ridgeville, OH, police web site).  The homeowner assumes, and Accorti tells the homeowner specifically, that the cats will be “euthanized” as “the shelters are all full”.  Homeowner pictures “euthanasia” involving the cats being trapped and taken to a shelter and euthanized there.  Accorti, however, conforms to the traditional police method of euthanasia (another link, another link) for “nuisance animals” — and instead shoots the 8-10-week old kittens, right in front of the homeowner and her young children who are watching through the windows.

The department has cleared him of any wrongdoing, concluding that the officer acted as required to remove the nuisance animals and that “research and other animal organizations accept shooting as an acceptable means of euthanasia.”  (Well, yes, they do, but “with conditions” and only in “emergency situations”, requiring that personnel be “highly skilled” and that “pre-euthanasia sedation is recommended” because cats “may be difficult to shoot humanely” (section S1.3.3).)  He was, perhaps, extremely tactless about it, but he did the job he was called to do, and did it in a legally acceptable manner.

Using phrases like “screaming kids” and “helpless kittens“, multiple individuals and organizations are trying to get Accorti punished, somehow, for shooting the kittens.  However, they can’t punish him for shooting the kittens, because shooting kittens is, technically, a viable option, and legal (at least in Ohio) — so instead they’re trying to punish him for shooting the kittens in front of the children.

I am of two minds on this point: I believe we should at least be open and honest about the horrible things we do to animals (only by publicly acknowledging that these things are being done can we stop them being done).  If you’re going to shoot kittens, you should not be able to do it in secret — you should have to do it right out in the open so everybody knows it’s happening, and has ample opportunity to object and/or stop you.  However, I also believe there is a required maturity level juvenile humans should reach before being confronted with concepts like “things die” and “sometimes we cause things to die”, and that the officer was not in a position to dictate whether or not those kids were at that maturity level.  In any case, the officer probably should have at least warned the homeowner before firing, so she could choose whether or not she wanted to educate her children about those ideas at that exact moment.

I think the bigger point, however, is this: if we’re offended and horrified by the shooting of kittens, so much so that we don’t want our children exposed to it, and don’t want to see it ourselves — why don’t we attack, and call to ban, “the shooting of kittens” instead of “the shooting of kittens in front of children“?  Officer Accorti, and his actions, are not the problem here — the problem is that our legal system still regards “gunshot to the head” as a viable method of euthanasia for cats (and a bunch of other animals, including dogs).  If we think that’s so horrible that we’re willing to lynch a guy for doing it, maybe we ought to consider passing legislation prohibiting that method of “euthanasia”.

From Pet to Plate: Guinea Pigs

Recent news articles have brought my attention to the farming of the guinea pig as an alternative meat animal.  Apparently it’s popular in South America, where it’s known as cuyes or cuy.  People eat them whole roasted, rather like tiny chickens, and the author of the NPR piece goes into entirely too much detail about eating the “fingery little hands”.  I am aware that humans will eat just about anything, so it’s not too much of a surprise that someone, somewhere, is eating guinea pig.

The guinea pig is supposed to be more “eco-friendly” than, say, beef — it’s more efficient at turning food into meat and it certainly takes up a lot less space.  Heifer International provides guinea pigs (amongst many other species) to people in developing countries to provide meat and income.  So there might be benefits to farming guinea pigs instead of cattle or pigs.

My immediate concern with the idea is this: it doesn’t really matter what animal you’re talking about — if you’re producing enough of them, they’re going to get factory farmed.  When you picture “guinea pig housing” right now, you’ve probably got a mental picture of something like this:

These are, of course, pet guinea pigs.  They’re in a pretty big space, with a couple of square feet per guinea pig.  Here, according to Google Images, anyway, is what “farmed” guinea pig housing looks like these days:

This is what it looks like when you move from “pet” to “farm” — much less space per animal, more animals in one room.  If guinea pig meat becomes popular, these little farms will want to — will need to, to keep up with demand — become even more “efficient”, cramming more animals in the same area.  What will an “efficient” guinea pig farming operation — capable of feeding several hundred thousand humans — look like?

Twin Easter Foals Born to Underweight Mom

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:

Twin Easter Foals, Tifton, GA

Twin Easter Foals, Tifton, GA

Why doesn’t anyone seem terribly concerned about that mare?  (Actually, people on forums are concernedbut 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:

Premature foal twins return home Twin Foals Born at OSUTwin Shire Foals in Wales

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!)

Real Chicken, with Artificial Chicken Flavor

Another reason (as though we needed another) not to eat factory farmed meat — we’ve “streamlined” the process so thoroughly that the poor chickens who go through it never have time to develop anything that would provide flavor.  They shoot out the other side as essentially large blocks of tofu — thus, a factory farmed chicken must be chemically treated in order to taste like chicken.

Take three different whole chickens, [Marie Wright, chief flavorist at German flavoring company Wild] said — an average, low-priced frozen one from the supermarket; a mass-produced organic version like Bell and Evans; and what she termed a “happy chicken.” This was a bird that had spent its life outside running around and eating an evolutionary diet of grass, seeds, bugs and worms. Roast them in your kitchen and note the taste. The cheap chicken, she said, will have minimal flavor, thanks to its short life span, lack of sunlight and monotonous diet of corn and soy. The Bell and Evans will have a few “roast notes and fatty notes,” and the happy chicken will be “incomparable,” with a deep, succulent, nutty taste.

While I am slowly weaning myself off of eggs and dairy — mostly because of the byproducts of these industries — I have in the meantime at least switched to the eggs of “happy chickens” — not just “free range” but “pasture raised” — from small local farmers (the egg cartons have hand-written expiration dates, and one farm even includes newsletters from their chickens).  I note that the eggs are immediately identifiable as such.  They are huge, and they taste wonderful.  There is really no comparison.

It’s kind of frightening how many chemicals need to be poured over (and fed to) factory-farmed products so they are recognizable to the consumer.  Even if you aren’t particularly interested in how the animals who produce your food are treated, you might be interested in what you could be missing (or adding!) when you consume factory farmed meat.

Bonus link: a look behind the scenes at American flavoring company Givaudan, courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Tigers Being Bred for Trade in China

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.

117

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 farmedEverything 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.)

It’s All Already Been Said

The Huffington Post recently featured an editorial by William T. Talman, M.D., defending animal research.  It’s a…poisonous little read, interesting primarily in that it runs, as though on rails, through the scientific community’s long-standing, standard responses to the animal welfarists’ long-standing, standard objections to animal testing.  There is nothing new here, and everything he says has already been thoroughly debunked.  My inner angry person wants to scream and shout and take down every argument he presents, but it has already been done, in the excellent work Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, by C. Ray Greek and Jean Swingle Greek, which came out more than ten years ago.

If I start pointing out all the errors in this editorial, I will be up all night attempting to re-write Sacred Cows.  I would just like to point out that the man can in no way be considered an unbiased source: here’s a sampling of his rat-based research — any beneficial results of which will still need to undergo testing on humans (“Really!”) before being officially adopted.  (And dude?  People do volunteer to be research “guinea pigs”.  In fact, your own facility has a web site where people can sign up for that very thing.  Why are you dismissing the idea of skipping the “animal” part, and just doing the human research you will still need to do anyway?)

In fact, Talman’s job is trying to convince people that animal research is a great idea.  Here’s an issue of The Physiologist, published by the American Physiological Society — he’s the chair of the APS Public Affairs Committee (or at least he was in 2006 — check out page 44/266 of the PDF).  This is not a disinterested party listing verifiable facts — this is an invested participant feeding you propaganda.

For what it’s worth, my aversion to his arguments is not just automatic denial.  Despite all that I have seen I still think it’s possible to perform animal-based research humanely.  Do I think that we are doing so right now?  Particularly in research?  God no.  Do I think any of Talman’s arguments in this article are valid?  No.  I call absolute shenanigans on this man, and I really wish the Greeks hadn’t written Sacred Cows already, because the urge to explain why this man is wrong is making me want to write it again.  Perhaps I should just mail him a copy.

DIY Mad Scientist Kit Only $99.99

There’s a viral video going around of someone playing “Insane In The Membrane” through the chromatophores of a squid, causing a pretty visual effect.  I’m sure the squid would have been thrilled to know it was sacrificed in the pursuit of such valuable knowledge.

There is a very real possibility that the squid was alive for this “experiment”.  There’s no indication in the video itself, and I can’t find research by the lab (run by Roger Hanlon at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA) which describes its preparation of squid fins for such video, but here is another video by the same lab, which purports to be of “live squid skin closeups” and shows extremely similar footage.  Is anyone else watching the “Insane” video and seeing a live squid being electrocuted so that someone can watch pretty colors dance to Cypress Hill?

Photo via mjas on morguefile.com

Hanlon’s lab is doing actual research on squid coloration and how the animals use color for visual communication; the company responsible for the frivolous “Insane In The Chromatophores” video is called Backyard Brains, and bills itself as “DIY neuroscience for everyone“.  This makes me nervous.  On the one hand: encouraging kids to think about science and to play with the world: this is good.  On the other hand: encouraging kids to rip the legs off live cockroaches to demonstrate neuron activity…”Don’t worry, they can grow back“?  Really?  Their newest “experiment” is the RoboRoach, which encourages kids to wire live roaches up to little electronic control units and steer them around.  I’m speechless.

I’m all for teaching kids science!  Learning is valuable and education is vital, and hands-on experiments are great for getting kids involved and interested.  But…surely there is some other way to demonstrate this phenomenon?  Even if the insects are, as the authors claim, anesthetized, and the hands-on research really does “increase understanding of neuroscience concepts“, what is this teaching kids about treating animals as things whose needs do not matter compared to ours?  How long until little Bobby wonders if the cat also twitches when you wire him up?

Favorite sentence: “It’s very important to avoid anthropomorphizing the cockroach with thoughts like ‘If I do not want my own leg cut off, then the cockroach does not want its leg cut off.'”

That makes it all terribly convenient, doesn’t it?  The cockroach doesn’t care about the loss of a leg in a way it can communicate to us (or in a way that we care to receive), therefore it just doesn’t care, and therefore we can just lop the leg off a cockroach whenever we like, to show kids things about nerve conductivity.  Even if it is valuable science — maybe we could just do this once and then share the video?  We could set it to Cypress Hill.

Apes Still Quite Bright, Humans Remain Insecure

Just a little interesting thing I noticed about this New Scientist article about Kanzi, a bonobo who has, over the course of 30+ years working with humans, learned to do…something.  In fact, he’s learned to do a vast number of things, but it’s hard to say what he knows, because people keep tripping over the language used to describe what he knows.  The question appears to be whether, when an ape, say, uses matches as a tool to start a fire (and then cooks a marshmallow on a stick over it), the ape is using matches as a tool to start a fire, or if it is imitating the uniquely human ability to use matches as a tool to start a fire, without actually having that ability itself.

Apparently the scientists have taught Kanzi how to make stone tools which resemble those made by our ancestors.  And here he is in a video, spontaneously making one and then using it to open a log in which some food is hidden.  The New Scientist article duly reports upon this ape which can make and use primitive tools which closely resemble early human tools, but ends with a lot of not-entirely-impartial reassurance that this tool-using ape is not really a big deal, because Kanzi was taught by humans to perform this task, and “whether the behaviour could arise in nature is unclear”.  Why does it matter whether apes can make stone tools?

One of Jane Goodall’s most controversial discoveries about chimpanzees (cousins to the bonobo, and also apes) was that they made and used (not stone, but plant based) tools.  This disquieted people because humans had been using “use of tools” as one of the distinguishing characteristics which “set man apart from the animals“.  This begs the question Why does man need to be set apart from the animals? but I digress.

The discovery was made almost fifty years ago, but we have not yet gotten over this issue.  Look at how worried the New Scientist article is about implying that apes can use tools, or behave even the least little bit like humans!  “Since these animals are raised in unusual environments where they frequently interact with humans, their cases may be too singular to extrapolate their talents to their brethren.”  I might say they were being cautious about not extrapolating things from the original research which are not strictly true, but when the same publication wrote an article about how scientists have produced a substance which temporarily halts reproductive ability in male mice, it did not use a title like “Scientists Temporarily Halt Reproductive Ability in Male Mice”; it announced “First Non-Hormonal Male ‘Pill’ Prevents Pregnancy“!  Clearly this is not a publication unduly worried about implying possibly misleading things through overenthusiastic interpretation of research results.

Likewise, the title of the Kanzi article is the somewhat sensationalist “Bonobo Genius Makes Stone Tools Like Early Humans Did” — an assertion which the rest of the article then goes on to state, then almost flat-out deny — and there, again, is the bias.  How do we know Kanzi is a genius bonobo?  Apes are hard to keep in captivity — our sample size in this particular research is two bonobos.  Kanzi could be a genius, unusual bonobo…but is it not more statistically likely that he is somewhere under the “average” part of the bonobo bell curve?  Why is it so important that he be exceptional?

The more we relate animal behavior to human behavior, the more we blur the line between human and animal, the less we are able to think of ourselves as something other than animal.  This causes problems on multiple levels:

Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.”

– Dr. Louis Leakey

Contrast the New Scientist article with articles from the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail, both of which serve a more animal-friendly clientele.  No mention of how this behavior may not occur in the wild (Do wild bonobos need stone tools?  Is there evolutionary pressure for such a talent?), just a lot of admiration (and, alas, reference to that bedeviled “baby chimp feeding a baby tiger” photo which really needs to stop getting passed around).  In fact, both of these articles actively paint pictures in which Kanzi is replicating the first steps of the human journey towards tool use and civilization.  What an interesting contrast of style!