Tag Archives: June

“Microfluidic” Chip Mimics Human Organs So Animals Won’t Have To

I never hold my breath on announcements of new technology, but if this pans out it would be a grand step forward towards removing our reliance on animal testing.

Called Organs-On-Chips, it’s exactly what it sounds like: A microchip embedded with hollow microfluidic tubes that are lined with human cells, through which air, nutrients, blood and infection-causing bacteria could be pumped. These chips get manufactured the same way companies like Intel make the brains of a computer. But instead of moving electrons through silicon, these chips push minute quantities of chemicals past cells from lungs, intestines, livers, kidneys and hearts.

The primary purpose of the chips really appears to be “reduction of use of animals in pharmaceutical testing” (rather than, say, complementing animal testing, or simply making vast sums of cash), and they’ve started a company called Emulate in order to market it.  It’s lovely to see someone deliberately (rather than accidentally, or grudgingly) moving in that direction.

Further reading: Here’s a little more in-depth review from the journal Nature Biotechnology.  Also worthwhile: Emulate’s “publications” section, with journal articles describing the chips’ use as models for various human organs.

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Cute Videos Dangerous Without Context

slowlorisbeingtickledMy Facebook feed, like those of most people I know, is filled with videos of animals being cute in various ways, often without context.  I have seen baby chimps feeding baby tigers, the infamous “mama tiger with piglets” photo, and many others.  I try not to forward these videos and images, because the lack of context often conceals terrible things.  Today I saw another example: the “slow loris being tickled” video, excerpted in the gif at right.

Here is a brief summary of why this apparently-very-cute video should not be forwarded.  Basically, the lack of context makes this video appear to show a cuddly pygmy loris engaged in a playful interaction with its owner, and implies that lorises make good pets and enjoy human interaction.  This message is incorrect and spreading it can cause trouble for both lorises and humans.

In fact, the arms-raised posture you see in this video is a defensive one used when a loris is frightened.  This intimidated loris is feeling uncomfortable and is raising its arms for better access to the brachial glands in its armpits.  It can lick these areas to create a “venom” which can damage other lorises and cause a serious reaction in humans.

Lorises do not make good pets.  They, like most wild animals, are not designed to live in human habitations and they do not enjoy being handled.  The (illegal) pet trade (along with the trade in “traditional medicine“) is decimating the populations of wild lorises.  “Pet” lorises often have their teeth forcibly removed to reduce their ability to produce a venomous bite.  They often die of stress even before being sold as pets.  Reposting the above video without context only reinforces the message that lorises make good pets, encouraging more people to buy them, and fueling the trade.

What can you do to help?  Before reposting a cute video of an exotic animal doing something cute, do a simple google search to try to get some context.  Do not repost videos or pictures of exotic animals being treated as pets.  Instead, point out why they do not reflect reality and/or proper treatment of the animals involved.  Don’t just be a link in the reposting chain — break it.

For contrast, here is a video of a domestic kitten genuinely enjoying a playful interaction with a human.  As a domesticated animal, this kitten is descended from generations of animals used to coexisting with humans, and makes a great pet.  Instead of reposting a video like the loris video, consider posting a video like this one.

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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”.

Coyote: Compare and Contrast

Nehalem Bay State Park coyote

Aggressive coyote at Nehalem Bay State Park. Photo has many attributions — It’s probably from the Oregon Parks & Recreation Department, via a visitor who snapped a photo of what is believed to be the relevant coyote.

On June 21, 2012, a 20-pound female coyote attacked a five-year-old girl in Nehalem Bay State Park in Oregon.  The girl is fine.  The coyote is not, but you wouldn’t know it from this National News article, which reports, both in its headline and in the text of the article, that the offending coyote was “removed” from the park.  That sounds like it was live-trapped and relocated, doesn’t it?  Only at the end of the fourth paragraph do we see what really became of the coyote — apparently it was “safely taken from the park by lethal means“.

“Safely taken”…by “lethal means”?  Not safely for the coyote, surely.

For contrast, here’s an alternative article, about the same event, whose angle implies the coyote was “tracked down and killed”.

Here’s an article that says the girl was “nipped” by the coyote; here’s one that says she was “bitten”; here’s one that says she was “attacked”.  Here’s an article calling the event an “encounter”, using a headline which carefully implies the coyote was not necessarily at fault (“Coyote killed after encounter left 5-year-old girl injured“), and specifically not using the word “bitten”, yet still using the word “attacked” later in the article.  And here’s one that deliberately emphasizes that the attack was made upon a “little girl”.  What do you suppose actually happened?

And, as a bonus, here’s the first article published verbatim by a different news agency without the original byline.  Notice that they changed the headline to include the word “attack”, even though the word “attack” appears nowhere in the article?

This is why I never trust information from just one source.  Journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but it doesn’t often happen that way.