Miscellaneous: General, including Animal Behaviour



Click here to get to the site of this painter,
and click on the word Gorrindo to enter the site.

We've given you two headlines, the first (in blue) being the original, and the second (in red) aims to be a more informative headline, so you can gain an idea of what the article is about more quickly. The source is also given in case you want to track down the original article.

See also:


Monkey see, monkey decipher

Baboons can recognise English words

source: New Scientist vol 214 no 2861, April 21st 2012 p17

Jonathan Grainger and team from Aix-Marseille University, France, have discovered that baboons can recognise English words. They studied six captive baboons, which learnt to categorise four-letter groups into English words and non-words, with food as a reward. The baboons were then able to tell whether a four-letter sequence was a word, even when they had not seen it before. This implies that they had mastered rules governing letter ordering. The baboons did not understand the meaning of the words, nor were they able to associate them with sounds. However, the study does point to some of the basis of skills that humans use in reading having evolved a very long time ago.


Farm drugs ban mooted

Ruling commits FDA to reassess ban on antibiotics for health farm animals

source: New Scientist vol 213 no 2858, March 31st 2012 p6

The National Resources Defense Council has won a court ruling in New York which forces the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reassess usage of antibiotics for healthy farm animals. A ban on non-therapeutic usage of tetracycline and penicillin was first put forward in 1977. These drugs account for some 50% of antibiotics used in livestock farming in 2010. Livestock farming in turn accounts for 80% of total antibiotic usage in the USA. Meanwhile, a team led by Lance Price from the National Genomics Research Institute, Arizona, has shown that a Staphylococcus aureus strain arising in humans in 2003 was picked up by livestock and became resistant to two antibiotic types before reinfecting humans as a new S. aureus strain, which had become more difficult to treat.


Let's stick together

Female solidarity makes for a more peaceful society

source: Kate Roach
New Scientist vol 211, no 2830, September 17 2011 starts p53, 4 pages long

Bonobos have a common ancestor with chimps, but their societies are very different They are relatively peaceful, and egalitarian. Chimps are dominated by males who wage war and kill infants. Amy Cobden, from Atlanta's Emory University, sees bonobo society as influenced by plentiful food, while chimps compete with gorillas on their territory. Chimps split up to seek food, where gorillas leave scarce food on the ground. Chimps are more peaceful where there are no gorillas. Bonobos also split up, though males tend to forage alone, whereas females are more likely to diverge from chimp groups. Female bonobos influence the group more, and are together for longer. They are also in oestrus for longer, with a similar conception rate to chimps. This means that males are less able to monopolise attractive females. There are also more males, so group size increases.


Claws for thought

Research on animal mental life

source: Emma Young
New Scientist vol 211 no 2819, July 2 2011 starts p40, 4 pages long

Even fruit flies show selective attention, using memory. Bruno van Swinderen from Queensland Brain Institute, Australia, has found out that they explore novel items in preference to familiar ones, and that memory impairment affects their ability to deal with novelty. Memory can help hummingbirds plan for the future using stored information on flower location, and timing of visits. Rats, octopuses and primates also appear to plan.
Crows can show flexible behaviour, using foraging twigs to investigate scary objects, according to Joanna Wimpenny from Alexander Kacelink's centre at Oxford University. One crow could bend wire to remove food from a tube in another location. Corvids also protect stores of food that others may know the location of. This suggests a 'theory of mind'. Chimps, however, do not appear to grasp abstract concepts like force or gravity, and may use inappropriate tools such as floppy objects to reach food. Brain imagery indicates that some animals may be capable of conscious thought, but there is no consensus yet as to whether this is true for non-human animals.


Creature contacts

Humans shaped by contact with other animals

source Pat Shipman
New Scientist vol 210 no 2814 May 28 2011 starts p 32, 5 pages long

Human beings from different cultures have long had close contact with other animals. Other mammals do not care for different species. Tools used for cutting meat date from some 2.6 million years ago, and this marks a move from a vegetarian to a more carnivorous diet. Meat and fat helped with human brain development. Tools allowed humans to compete with other carnivores, as did understanding animals' minds. Humans sought new hunting grounds and spread from Africa to Eurasia. Prehistoric art shows that information on animals was exchanged. Language helped humans exchange information on the past and future.

The first animal to be domesticated was the dog, and this process may have begun around 32,000 years ago. Domestication of animals can provide benefits such as fur and wool, manure, and power for transport, and animals are also a source of mobile wealth. It allowed humans to colonise all areas, and involved deepening our understanding of animals.

The link between humans and animals has shaped humans in many ways, from becoming successful hunters, to developing language, to successful domestication. Understanding other animals is part of being human, and they have shaped the nature of humanity.


Nature's great masterpiece

Elephants can have complex societies

source: Liz Else
New Scientist vol 210 no 2814 May 28 2011 starts p 28, 2 pages long

Elephants are social animals which can have complex societies, according to Cynthia Moss, head of the Amboselli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. The project has tracked more than 2,500 elephants, and found that elephant societies can both split and merge, according to environmental conditions. Elephants are capable of co-operation and grieve for their dead. Hunters tend to focus on older elephants, but it is older males who breed, and older females are more experienced, so better able to cope with dangers posed by lions. Elephants have a strong sense of smell, and appear to have empathy. More research is needed in these areas. Meanwhile, poaching for ivory is a serious threat to elephants.



Sadistic cladistics

Classification of vertebrates more complex than believed

source: Graham Lawton
New Scientist vol 210 no 2813, May 21 2011 p30

Cladistics is a taxonomy system developed by Willi Hennig, an entomologist from Germany, during the 1960s. Hennig focused on genetic relationships of species, looking at their evolutionary ancestry. Mammals were developed from just one ancestral species, which neatly diverged from the tree of evolution at a single point. This is also true for birds. Mammals can therefore be defined as a clade, as is the case with birds. Amphibians can also be seen as a clade, if extinct species are excluded. Reptiles, however, do not form a true clade, because their common ancestor was also the ancestor of birds and mammals. Classifying fish is also more complex than thought. Biologists generally use traditional, less accurate classifications in their everyday work, because they are less cumbersome.


The babysitters' club

Shared childcare fosters co-operation and altruism in social animals

source: Mairi MacLeod
New Scientist vol 209 no 2804, March 19 2011 starts p48, 4 pages long

Some researchers believe that shared childcare encourages co-operation and altruism in certain species. In humans this also helped foster language, technology and culture. Humans can collaborate in teams, read emotion in others, and may even be kind to strangers. Captive marmosets show more altruism than chimps, when able to pull food in the direction of a neighbour's cage. Marmosets are co-operative breeders, while chimps are independent breeders. Infants in co-operative societies may survive better if they can judge non-related adults. Elephants are also co-operative breeders, as are African wild dogs. Wolves also share water and food, and may help disabled or injured members of a group.

Domestic dogs are descended from wolves, and perform better on tasks such as imitation in comparison with animals that have simuilar sized brains. Researchers have observed dogs consoling victims after fights. Socio-cognitive tasks, like imitation, also include gaze understanding and social learning. Co-operative breeders donate information as well as food, in other words they are teachers. Tamarins bring young dead insects, then live prey, then show where prey is hidden, according to the youngsters' ability. Matrilineal groups may also encourage co-operative breeding because adults in a group are related to the young.


Whales form babysitting circle

Female sperm whales share care of offspring

source: New Scientist vol 202 no 2711, June 6 2009 p17

Female sperm whales share the care of their offspring, so that mothers can look for food. Shane Gero and team from Canada's Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, observed whales in the Sargasso and Caribbean seas. They found that Sargasso mothers took turns to care for calves, while Caribbean calves were left with female relatives, because there are fewer whales in the Caribbean, so fewer mothers to set up a babysitting circle. There are evolutionary advantages for the females concerned, since their calves, or relatives' calves are more protected. Large groups are also safer against attacks from predators.


How do we study language evolution?

Language evolution in humans, dogs, and other animals

source: W. Tecumseh Fish
New Scientist vol 208 no 2789, 4th December 2010 
starts pii, two pages long

Language allows humans to express thoughts as signals, and to turn signals into thoughts. Dogs can give information about themselves and the outside world through barks, but they cannot provide complex information, such as an account of their lives as puppies. Vervet monkeys can give calls signalling eagle predators and different calls signalling leopard predators, allowing the group to take appropriate evasive action, under cover or in a tree. This ability is innate, so they are unable to develop it to signal novel predators. Honeybees can signal the location of
resources, though not with detailed information, such as the colours of flowers.

Shared traits can come from common ancestors, and these traits, called homologies, contrast with convergent traits, which develop separately in different species, in response to changes in the environment, which in turn affects selection pressures.

Many animals, such as dogs, can learn to understand words, or new signals. A border collie, Rico, has learnt hundreds of names of objects. A bonobo called kanzi has done this and perceives word order differences. Neither Rico nor Kanzi can produce words in human language. A seal called Hoover learnt to talk human sentences, but did not understand what they meant, and mostly used them to impress females seals at mating times.

Some animals can be trained to interpret and produce words. Alex, an African grey parrot, could talk and use appropriate words for numbers, shapes and colours. Being able to produce
complex sounds may be a later development than understanding their meaning.


Culture club

Social learning in humans and other animals

source: Kate Douglas
New Scientist vol 208 no 2787, 20th November 2010 
starts p 38, four pages long

Research in recent years has shown that many animals species are capable of developing socially learned traditions, and so have culture. A group of chimps, for example, may develop its own tools to fish for termites, or its own grooming style. Many animals can teach these cultural traditions through social learning.

A whale or dolphin group can develop its own songs, while a group of orang-utans may have a tradition of members blowing raspberries to others before sleeping. Species can benefit from individuals copying what other individuals in their group do, because it allows them to adapt to environmental changes in a way that hard-wired behaviours do not. Even birds can learn from
each other, for example, blue tits raised by great tit parents, and blue tits raised by great tits learn the foraging traditions of the parents that raise them.

Learning by copying can, however, be harmful if animals don't change from learned traditions when their environment changes. Animals can also develop customs that are unhelpful. Humans tend to copy other humans who have prestige. Humans also use explicit demonstration rather than just learning through observation. Children tend to imitate those people who conform to social norms. Innovation can still come when triggered by outside forces, like climate change and increases in cultural exchange. The internet allows information sharing and for individuals to join with others sharing their concerns. Groups have their downsides, but also provide conditions for cultural diversity.


Sleep tight

Controversies over why animals sleep

source: Emma Young
New Scientist vol 197 no 2647, March 15 2008
starts p 34, 5 pages long

Researchers disagree on why animals sleep. Some researchers see sleep as having a biological function. University of California, Los Angeles' Jerry Siegel, argues that sleep may have evolved to protect animals and conserve energy.

REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep, when the brain is active, is linked to memory improvement, and seeing patterns and rules, according to studies with humans. Dolphins, however, may not experience REM sleep, Siegel notes. Meanwhile, Oleg Lyamin, from Russia's Utrish Dolphinarium in Moscow, has found that fur seals use just one hemisphere for sleeping, at any given time, and have very low REM levels, during their hunting expeditions at sea, but their sleep patterns change to resemble those of other mammals their size when they return to land. They also do not experience REM rebound, unlike dogs or humans deprived of REM sleep.

Siegel argues that a possible function of REM sleep is to permit animals to wake up more alert than if they were woken when not in REM sleep. REM could also, he suggests, help keep brainstems active, so would not be needed by dolphins with one hemisphere awake. Meanwhile, Chiara Cirelli, from University of Wisconsin Madison's Center for Sleep and Consciousness, argues that non-REM sleep is important in moderating synaptic connections in mammals and birds.

Siegel does not discount biological functions of sleep, but argues that it is unlikely to perform a key function. He notes that bullfrogs do not sleep. Giraffes sleep very little, and lions sleep some 14 hours daily. John Lesku, from Germany's Max Planck Institute for Ornithology, Starnberg, has discovered that larger brains tend to be liniked to higher levels of REM sleep, and that sleep patterns tend to be similar between species that have close genetic relationships.

Siegel argues that being awake is more risky than being asleep. Bats that eat flies which can only be found for a few hours a day tend to sleep the rest of the time. Isabelle Capellini, from England's University of Durham, sees sleep as having evolved for biological reasons, with ecological factors affecting how long animals sleep. Siegel, on the other hand, places more importance on ecological than on biological factors.


Will overcrowding sink Noah's ark?

Defining species, and implications for conservation

source: Bob Holmes and Jeff Hecht
New Scientist no 2422, November 22 2003
starts p 6, 2 pages long

It has become more difficult to define species, with new discoveries, and disagreements as to whether a particular group of animals constitutes a species. This makes conservation decisions difficult, because it is unclear what we should conserve. Elephants and gorillas, for example, could have more species than previously thought. In constrast, other animals, such as the red wolf, are no longer considered to be species. The red wolf is likely to have resulted from a cross between a coyote and a wolf.

Paul Hebert, biologist from Guelph University, Canada, is tackling the problem by focusing on one gene, cytochrome C oxidase I, in order to identify species. There is disagreement on what constitutes a species, and it is more complex than whether offspring can be fertile. Species can be seen as lineages that have evolved separately, a view that could more than double the number of species.


Fairer sex drove evolution

Importance of females in primate evolution

source: Robert Adler
New Scientist no 2422, November 22 2003 p16

Three studies confirm the importance of females in primate evolution. Joan Silk and team, from California University, Los Angeles, have found that the survival of baboon offspring is linked to the strength of the social bonds of the mothers. Their work is based of 16 years' research in Kenya. Females remain with their groups, setting up relationships that last for life, and they set up coalitions. Males, in contrast, tend to move away from their natal groups. Almost 25% more of the very sociable females' offspring survived to be a year old, compared to offspring from mothers who were less sociable, and this was not affected by the status of the mother. Meanwhile, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia's Thore Bergman, has studied the impact of simulated role reversals, using tapes which trick baboons into thinking that higher ranking baboons have switched status with lower ranking baboons. He has found that females are more affected when the apparent role reversal involves more than one family, rather than a reversal within the family. This appears to show cognitive skills, since reversals involving more than one family affect the whole group. In a third study, University of Virginia, Charlottesville's Patrik Lindenfors, has studied primate evolution. He has found that increases in male size follow the development of species with large groups of females. Females appear to be important in the development of both large groups, and the intelligence needed to be part of those groups.


Life's little builders

Niche construction and evolution

source: Kevin Laland and John Odling-Smee
New Scientist no 2421, November 15 2003
starts p42, 4 pages long

Living creatures are able to alter their environments, as well as being affected by their environments. Conventional views tend to focus on the way that natural selection adapts species to environments, but niche construction is important, and goes beyond beavers making dams, and the like. Niche construction is worthy of study, due to its importance in evolution. Eartworms are a good illustration of niche construction and its importance. They have altered soil chemistry and construction through mixing plant and inorganic material, and producing worm casts. Cumulative change means that modern earthworms inhabits environments that their ancestors altered. Niche construction means that earthworms shape the pressures of natural selection. Ecosystems can be understood as super-constructions that constituent organisms have created. Sometimes species pull in opposite directions, since species' activitities are not always coordinated.

Understanding niche construction can help with conservation. It can help understand how humans affect ecosystems, and how ecosystems can be preserved through preserving the impact of niche construction, rather than species that construct niches.


Animal smugglers face jail

US measures to control monkeypox

source: New Scientist no 2420 November 8 2003 p5

The US plans a ban on selling and transporting prairie dogs, as well as importing rodents from Africa. This is to prevent outbreaks of monkeypox. Penalties include jail terms for individuals, as well as fines.


Wild beast watchers pounce on new sightings

Big cats living wild in Britain

source: John Vidal
Guardian January 11 2003 p10

The number of sightings of big cats in the wild in Britain increased to a new peak in 2002. The British Big Cat Society received over 1,000 reports, and some zoologists believe that the population of big cats in the UK is increasing. There have been sightings in every county, and a wide range of big cats sighted, including jungle cats, ocelots, pumas, leopards and lynxes. The cat society aims to collect evidence using special cameras able to take photos at night. The big cats usually follow streams and railway lines, and have become accustomed to cars and people. They only present a risk to the public if they are surprised or cornered. The cats could interbreed, which may lead to a population explosion.

Zoologists who believe that there are many wild cats in Britain include London zoo's Quentin Rose, who has identified 18 reports of ocelots and jungle cats, that he believes are reliable, as well as 27 leopard sightings and 32 sightings of pumas. Glasgow zoo's Paul Paterson believes that big cats are being imported by rich owners, and are then being dumped. Some of these exotic imports can breed with domestic pet cats, with some hybrids also producing offspring. He believes that the Dangerous Wild Animals Act may have led many people to dump exotic pets. Meanwhile, the police are calling for more controls of dangerous animals, while a government wildlife officer argues that there is little hard evidence, like road kills, and killings of livestock, to support these claims.


UK revealed as a key location in wildlife smuggling

Report on wildlife smuggling mentions key UK destinations

Source: Paul Brown
Guardian December 9 2002 p9

Traffic, an organization aiming to detect wildlife crime, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have released a report, 'Switching Channels ' on smuggling protected wild species. The report cites three key channels in Britain, Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick airports, and Waterloo International. Plants are affected, as well as animals, with 21,600 tree ferns found in one illegal shipment. Live hatchlings of rare species of birds have been found mixed with hatchlings of domestic chickens. Permit papers for shipments may be falsified, and smugglers may even try to secrete snakes and eggs on their bodies. The trade in wildlife seems to have attracted drug smugglers and the Russian mafia, using existing routes also used for smuggling weapons, humans, and drugs. Routes may be complex, involving wildlife passing through several countries before they reach the UK. Some countries are particularly involved in smuggling wildlife. They include the United Arab Emirates, where endangered species can be purchased freely at the Blue Souk and in the free trade zones.


One in four pet shops appall vets

Survey finds poor conditions in some British pet shops

source: Felicity Lawrence
Guardian December 5th 2002 p9

The Consumers' Association has reported a survey of British pet shops in Which? magazine, carried out by vets. The vets found that animals suffered dirty and overcrowded conditions in a quarter of shops surveyed. Pet shops are meant to give appropriate advice to would-be buyers on how to care for the animals on sale, in line with voluntary licensing guidelines, but only half the stores were able to do so. The survey covered 42 shops, chosen at random, with 16 of the shops being independent, and 26 shops being part of chains. Three of the stores caused so much concern that Which? reported them to the authorities. Conditions at seven stores led the inspectors to comment that their licenses should not be renewed unless improvements had been implemented. Which? editor, Helen Parker, argues for annual inspections of pet shops, by both vets and environmental health officers, and favours compulsory guidelines.


Giant hissing cockroaches outlawed

Thailand bans hissing cockroaches as pets

Source: Independent August 21 2002 p11

Thailand has banned the sale of giant hissing cockroaches as pets, due to concerns that they could transmit diseases. The cockroaches come from Madagascar, and can achieve a length of 10 centimetres, or four inches.


Public enemy No 1? Outcry as 5,000 hedgehogs are sentenced to death

Scottish Natural Heritage to allow hedgehog cull

source: Paul Kelbie
Independent December 18 2002 p1

Scottish Natural Heritage is to allow a cull of hedgehogs from some Scottish islands where they are a threat to sea birds. The isalnds are Benbecula, South Uist, and North Uist. The hedgehogs moved there in 1974, brought by someone wanting garden pest control. The birds at risk include redshank, dunlin and snipe, all birds that have nests on the ground. There has been an estimated drop in numbers of some of these bird species of almost 60% in the five years to 2002. Critics of the cull argue that the hedgehogs should be transferred elsewhere rather than killed.


Exotic species and the law

Legal aspects of keeping exotic species as pets

source: Penny Cusdin
In Practice vol 24 no 7, July/August 2002
starts p398, 4 pages long

Vets are increasingly being asked to treat exotic animals, so they need to know about UK laws on keeping such animals as pets. The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act covers British wildlife, but exotic species are defined as species that aren't normally British natives. The 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act deals with public safety issues arising from private keeping of species listed in a Schedule. Laboratories, zoos, and other commercial enterprises are exempt. The Act deals with arrangments for the care of these species, rather than banning them as pets. The Schedule in force in July 2002 was set out in 1984, and includes spiders, scorpions, reptiles, birds, and mammals. A local authority licence is needed to keep animals listed in the Schedule. Vets have to visit the premises where the animals are kept. The licence has to be renewed annually, and has to state numbers of animals as well as the species.

Bengal cats and wolf-dog hybrids need a licence, even if they are far removed from leopard cats or wolves. All members of the crocodile family, and poisonous snakes are also included, as are most primates. Non-poisonous snakes, birds of prey, and parrots are not included. The British adder is included, though most British wildlife is excluded.

Vets have a duty to clients of maintaining confidentiality, but where the animal's welfare is at stake, or there are public safety concerns, vets may need to report cases of unlicenced animals to the local authority.

The 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act aims to protect species native to Britain. It is both illegal to release non-indigenous species, and to take wild-living native species as pets, or to kill them. Animals may be looked after because they are disabled, and they then have to be released. Euthanasia is permitted if the animal's medical condition warrants it.

Other relevant legislation includes CITES laws relating to trade in species that are endangered. Vets may have trouble assessing whether animals they see have been legally imported, though they can report suspicions to the police or their local authority.


Winning streak

Conflict and social organization in the animal kingdom

source: Lee Dugatkin
New Scientist March 9 2002
starts p32, 4 pages long

Past experience can affect whether animals win or lose fights, and observing conflicts can also affect behaviour. This can affect levelsof aggression in animal societies, and the extent to which societies are meritocratic or autocratic.

Gordon Schuett has studied copperhead snakes, and he has found that male snakes that lose a fight are more likely to lose subsequent fights against males of a similar size that had not fought before. The first fight is likely to be won by the larger male, and the loser is then likely to be affected by the experience of losing. Winners, though, were not more likely to win their next fights against males of the their size. The 'winner effect' is, however, found in some other species such as rats, and so far it is found alongside a 'loser effect, rather than on its own.

Computer simulations have been used to study winner and loser effects. Players with high scores and high opinions of their ability relative to their opponents are more likely to fight. Where both have a low assessment of their ability, neither fights. Where one player has a high estimation and the other a low estimation, one attacks and the other cowers. Fights occur when both have a high estimation. Winner effects have been linked to linear hierarchies, and loser effects are linked to autocratic hierarchies, with one alpha and little interaction among the remainder of the group members.

Bystanders observing fights may be more likely to attack losers, and less likely to win fights against animals they have seen winning. Bystander winner effects can lead to attacks on omegas, while bystander loser effects can lead to aggressive encounters, with no observable hierarchy.

Animals may intervene and stop fights, perhaps to prevent an individual from becoming to powerful. The simulation suggests that intervention is more common where there are 'winner effects', but not where there are 'loser effects'.


Virtuous nature

Possibility that animals may have a moral sense developed from social play

source: Marc Bekoff
New Scientist July 13 2002
starts p 35, 4 pages long

Most behaviour experts consider that a moral sense is only possessed by humans, but observations of captive and wild animals living in social groups indicate that they may be able to tell right from wrong. They may use moral codes, and from this, develop notions of fair play, which all help bond them in their groups. Using ideas of fair play may also help humans and other animals to survive.

We first need to look for evidence of feelings and empathy that are the basis of empathy. Humans and other animals have the same sorts of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals), and neurological structures, and these chemicals and structures are the neural basis for empathy and other feelings. Monkeys have been found to refuse food if it meant that another monkey was given an electric shock. Rats can show a similar reluctance to take food if it causes suffering to another rat. San Francisco State University researcher, Hal Markowitz, also observed a male Diana monkey teaching a female monkey how to perform a task to obtain food, by doing the task for her, and letting her take the food.

Monkeys appear to have a sense of embarrassment, while ravens and whales can be observed showing changes indicating thy are falling in love, and iguanas have been found to show pleasure.

Social play among infant coyotes, wolves and dogs involves rules and special signals such as play bows, so actions like biting change their meaning. Players, may also take care not to use all their force in these games, for example when biting or body slamming. Subordinate animals may be allowed to take the upper hand. Inequalities of dominance, strength and size are reduced, and this can help to encourage reciprocity and cooperation, important in play. Canids that do not abide by the rules may be ostracized.

Social play may help animals to develop a sense of morality, and to learn moral norms that can also be used when giving care, grooming, defending resources, and sharing food. Morality may help animals to flourish.

There appear to be benefits to both individuals and groups from both play and a moral sense. Animals that play a lot have better brain growth. Cognitive skills are improved, and this includes behavioural flexibility, learning, and logical reasoning. This could help animals to develop hunting and other survival skills. Coyote pups that don't play are also more likely to live alone as adults, and adult coyotes living alone tend to die younger. A moral sense could also be beneficial for groups, as well as individuals. Groups need rules to live in harmony and compete against other groups, and coyote packs where cooperation is strong are better able to send away intruders.

We humans should stop thinking of ourselves as different from other animals. We didn't develop virtue, and are not morally superior. We have moral responsibilities towards non-human species, and should regulate the way that animals are used more strictly. We need to accept our similarities with other animals to have a moral relationship with them and with nature in general.


Pet travel scheme to be extended to North America

Pets from North America may be allowed into UK without quarantine

source: Veterinary Record vol 151 no 1, July 6 2002 p2

The UK government plans to allow pets from Canada and the US to enter the UK through the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), though this is conditional on further research on this topic, scheduled for completion in autumn 2002. Animal health and welfare minister, Elliot Morley, has announced that a risk assessment on the possibility of rabies being imported into the UK was commissioned by the government, to help with making a decision on whether to extend PETS to North America. This research found no significant risk. Peer review of the research has raised some questions, and the government has commissioned more research to look at those questions. This additional research should be finished in autumn 2002, when Morley expects to make another announcement on a possible extension of the PETS scheme. The government is also talking to the European Commission about treatment of Canada and the US within planned European Union regulation.


The pet purrfect garden

Advice for pet owners on creating gardens

source: Gill Page
Garden Answers February 1998

The UK has several million pet owners who need tips on how to create gardens for themselves and their pets. They should select robust plants, avoiding conifers if they have male dogs that lift legs to urinate - the tree could turn brown. Dense evergreens have two advantages, providing pet hiding places, and covering soil, so lessening the chance of digging.

Blue Cross is a pet welfare charity which helped produce a pet friendly garden for the Hampton Court Flower Show. This garden included a raised pond, a shady place to provide shelter from sunshine, a viewing platform made from wood, and a wicker tunnel for pets to play.

Cat owners should use netting to cover fishponds, give cats lots of hiding places, supply scratching posts such as fence posts, and catmint, close greenhouse doors, and ensure bird food is put in places cats can't get to. Dog owners should use shady locations for outdoor kennels, put delicate plants in raised beds, and give dogs grass or hard surfaces for play. Dogs may want to use ponds on hot days, so bubble fountains over stones may be better water features for dog owners.

Poisonous plants include rue, laburnum, and autumn crocus, and puppy owners need to take especial care with these, though cats tend not to eat poisonous plants.

Dog and cat poo should not be composted, due to risks from parasites breeding on the compost heap. A toilet area can be provided for cats and dogs, using sharp sand. It should be cleaned regularly, and raised if pet owners have children, and can be hidden by plants.


Truth or consequences

Studies of courtship in the animal kingdom

source: Sharon Levy
New Scientist June 15 2002
starts p30, 4 pages long

Courtship can involve risks in the animal kingdom, for example the risk of attracting and being eaten by a predator. This is true for many species and animal types, including sparrows, frogs and fireflies. One view of why males take such risks is that the males that stand out most tend to be healthier and fitter.

Males may also use caution, for example fish which only display strongly at night, when females spawn. They may also use camuflage, such as frogs that sing by noisy waterfalls when predator bats are about. Females may also sometimes prefer cautious males. Female guppies appear to favour drab males more if there are many predators in the environment. This may be because they have to mate fast to escape predators, or because their preferences may change towards the drabber males. Female crickets also like long trills, but tend to favor males with shorter trills when they are in a dangerous environment.

There are males which seek to mate with females attracted by strong displays of other males, and this can happen among crickets and wax moths. Some male bluegill sunfish may have a similar appearance to females, and fertilize eggs in territories created by males which display to attract a mate, and which defend the territories. There is a debate as to whether such behavior is honest or sneaky. It may be that it involves a three-way allaince, with all three fish benefiting, the males and the female. The males may gain more mates in cooperation than they could almone, and they females may want both types of fish as fathers for her offspring. It may also be that the importance of a mating strategiy lies simply in its success, and honesty is not a relevant factor.


Pets can strengthen children's immune system, study shows

Health benefits of pet ownership for children

source: John von Radowitz
Independent June 15 2002 p6

Researchers from the University of Warwick, England, have found that children from families with pets have stronger immune systems, according to saliva tests. Their immunoglobulin A antibody levels were more stable. These children also fell ill less frequently, with fewer days off school, a trend especially noticeable among younger children from five to eight -years-old. While having a pet seems to be good for children on the whole, children can also catch diseases and parasites such as roundworms, from pets.


How the Horse Whisperer's tactics lifted a sink school

Monty Roberts' techniques used on children

source: Amelia Hill
Observer June 9 2002 p9

Monty Roberts, also called the Horse Whisperer, who has just brought out 'Horse Sense for People', has had his techniques shown in a movie, starring Robert Redford. His methods have been used by a schoolteacher, Stephen Taylor, at Kingshurst Junior School in Birmingham, England. Many children at this school are poor, or have special needs, and the school was struggling. It has greatly improved, and Roberts' methods are credited with this success.

Roberts believes that positive consequences should follow positive actions, and negative consequences should follow negative actions. Taylor used these ideas to develop contracts for the children with rules that teachers and students agreed on, relating to rewards and punishments. The headmaster agreed to implement the scheme. Roberts is pleased with the results - he has tried to get US schools to use his methods, which emphasise a non-confrontational approach. Riberts argues that too often coercion is used on children, who are similar to horses, in that they tend to run away if threatened. They can bth, however accept guidance when people negotiate and communicate with them. Children can be helped to become secure, and responsible for their actions.


Pet Travel Scheme: progress reviewed, risks assessed

UK Pet Travel Scheme assessed after two years

source: Veterinary Record vol 150 no 22, June 1 2002
starts p 674, 3 pages long

The UK Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) has been reviewed by the Royal Society of Medicine in London, May 2002. The pilot scheme began in february 2000, and some 45,000 animals came into the UK beween that date and Feb 2002. Eurotunnel accounted for 51%, ferries for 42% and 7% came by air. Problems with documentation and the timing of tapeworm and tick treatments have led to some animals being rejected when their owners tried to embark them.

PETS covers 24 European countries and an additional 27 destinations. EU regulations may come into force by 2003, harmonising pet animal movements, and bringing in two classifications for risks from rabies. Animals travelling from countries where the risk is seen as low would only need rabies vaccination. Animals from high-risk countries would need blood testing, and have to wait for three months before leaving, as well as being vaccinated. Cats, dogs and ferrets are included in these EU draft regulations.

The reservoir for rabies in Europe and North America tends to be in wild animals, though world wide, domestic dogs are the main reservoir. Wildlife vaccinations are seen as the way to control rabies in Europe and North America. Eastern Europe accounts for most European rabies cases, though some cases have been seen in Germany. Raccoon dogs are one host, and they have become feral in some European locations, following their introduction through fur farms. The other key host is the red fox, and there has been a successful European vaccination programme for foxes.

Wildlife accounted for 93% of North American cases in 2000, and there are more wildlife hosts in North America. Coyotes, which are five times as numerous as domestic dogs in the US, foxes, bats, skunks and raccoons can all harbour rabies. Raccoon rabies has spread to Canada, and vaccines have been less effective on raccoons than on coyotes and foxes.

University of Bristol's Susan Shaw is also concerned about babesiosis and leishmaniasis, which have begun to appear in the UK. Canine leishmaniasis is common in Spain and Italy. Vets have to use cattle products to treat dogs with babesiosis, due to delays in importing drugs geared to dogs, for which a licence is needed. Shaw is concerned about these diseases, and others from the New World, since UK pets do not have immunity to such novel diseases.

Meanwhile, pet owner, Ann Rennie, has called for more information to be made available to owners after her experience of taking two fox terriers from Scotland to Greece. She found obtaining export certificates to be a problem, and they were needed from countries that the fox terriers travelled through.


Pulling together on welfare

British Veterinary Association’s views on plans for new animal welfare legislation

source: Veterinary Record vol 150 no 18, May 4 2002 p557

The British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans a new bill to update legislation covering domestic animals, which would bring together different laws, including the 1999 Breeding and Sale of Dogs Act, and the 1911 Protection of Animals Act. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) supports plans for this bill, and argues that it is important to look at animal welfare for captive, wild, farmed and companion animals. The BVA foresees primary legislation on cruelty and poor conditions of welfare, with greater detail provided by secondary legislation for individual species, and different circumstances, like transit and slaughter. Good welfare includes freedom from disease, pain, hunger, and thirst. Legislation should also tackle issues such as fighting, baiting and tethering. The BVA argues that The Farm Animal Welfare Council’s recommendations on farming practices should be noted, and similar welfare councils should be set up for wild and companion animals. Care should be taken to ensure that British legislation is both enforceable, with standards clearly set out, and that it fits in with European Union directives.


Sharp rise in cases of animal cruelty

RSPCA reports increase in animal cruelty cases

source: Jason Bennetto
Independent April 30 2002 p6

The number of calls to the RSPCA reporting cruelty to animals has increased by over 350,000 to 1.5 million in 2001 compared with 1991, while complaints investigated have risen to 123,156 from 86,531 in this period. Meanwhile, there were 2,449 convictions in 2001 compared with 2,718 in 1991.

The RSPCA has set out a plan for a bill of rights for animals, including entitlements to veterinary treatment, shelter, water, food, freedom from distress and fear, and freedom to express behaviour that is normal for the species. This proposal for legislation is being considered by government ministers.


Smugglers in wildlife ‘are wiping out species’

World Wide Fund for Nature report on trade in endangered wildlife

source: Michael McCarthy
Independent February 18 2002 p12

The World Wide Fund for Nature has released ‘Traded Towards Extinction’, a report on trade in endangered wildlife, analysing items confiscated on their entry into Britain. Some 570 items are confiscated by customs each day, including products made from rhinos and leopards, and live birds and frogs. Interpol estimates the value of wildlife crime at over 5 billion pounds sterling annually, second only to drugs in terms of money from illegal trade. The report is concerned that there are insufficient customs resources to tackle the problem, which could lead to extinction for some species. There tend to be few prosecutions, and the law should be changed, the report adds.

Imported live animals include fennec foxes, rattlesnakes and poison arrow frogs. Many animals die on the journey. An estimated 96% of legally traded animals come from the wild, and 88% of parrots imported into Britain are wild caught. Trade in African grey parrots in particular involves corruption, with export quotas exceeded by many countries. Over 6% of wild African grey parrots are traded every year, of a total population estimated at 600,000 in the wild, and such levels of trade cannot be sustained. Australian tree ferns are especially popular in Britain, and this also endangers wildlife habitats in their states of origin, such as Tasmania and Victoria in Australia.


Jail house flock

Benefits of prisoners being able to care for pets

source: J.D. Carpentieri
Guardian, Weekend August 25 2001 p65

Prisoners have traditionally been permitted to keep pets in many British jails, and it can bring great benefits, according to Elizabeth Ormerod, a vet who has researched this. Prisoners in a maximum security jail in Ohio, US, were found to be more cooperative and sociable, and staff discovered that they had been caring for a sick sparrow. Dog training programmes are especially beneficial, Ormerod argues. Purdy Correctional Centre for Women has a successful programme allowing women inmates to train abandoned dogs for rehoming. No woman involved in this programme has gone back to jail after her release. Prisons elsewhere are copying this scheme, and there are similar programmes in Australia, Spain, and South Africa, as well as other parts of the US.

The UK has lagged behind in terms of encouraging prisons to provide programmes involving pets. This is because politicians have sought to impose a tough regime in prisons, following the example set by Conservative politician, Michael Howard. Prison authorities have feared that such programmes might be understood as being too soft. Tabloid newspapers tend to reinforce such views, when they call for prisons to inspire terror.

Examples of governors’ fear of appearing to be soft on prisoners were found by Omerod, who discovered that fish were hidden during the visits of a minister of state. Meanwhile, a new governor at Garth prison, Lancashire, has declared the end of a programme whereby inmates bred budgies to be given to older people locally. Such a move is short-sighted as well as mean-spirited. Research shows that pets can help people to become nicer.


Who shares wins

Gardening for pet owners

source: Janet Wright
Guardian, Weekend June 16 2001 p71

Gardeners and pets can live in harmony, but gardeners need to think of ways in which they can create gardens that suit both them and their pets, according to garden designer UK’s Judy Fenyvesi. Terriers may benefit from having sandpits for digging, for example, and this may help keep them away from flower beds.

Richard Barrett wrote ‘The Pet Friendly Garden’, which provides practical advice for pet owners. He suggests that owners crawl round their gardens to too it as their pets do.

Pets need water and shade, and they can enjoy their gardens more if they have play equipment. Cats like to be able to stalk through plants with differing heights. Bamboo is a good choice due to its flexibility when struck by charging pets. Fenyvesi has discovered seed mixes that are cat-friendly, allowing cats to eat safely. White vinegar is a way of deterring cats from eating treasured plants.

Plants that are poisonous for dogs include clematis, crocus, lily of the valley, laburnum, hyacinths, geraniums, foxgloves, bluebells, buttercups, and chrysanthemums, according to the National Canine Defence League. Pets can also be poisoned by slug pellets, so it is better to grow plants that slugs prefer not to eat, like oriental poppies and fuschias. Organic gardening is safer.

Cats can be protected from cars and other dangers outside gardens by high fences made from wire mesh, with sufficient wobbliness to preent the cats from climbing.

Pets also need an outside toilet. They can be trained to use a tray, and may choose their toilet location themselves.


Dangerous pets ‘must be better controlled’

RSPCA calls for more restrictions on dangerous pets

source: Owen Lean
Independent on Sunday February 3 2002 p9

The RSPCA has called for tighter controls on keeping dangerous pets in Britain. There are loopholes on the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 (DWA) which mean that some dangerous animals may be kept with no licences or inspections. Pets that cause concern include boa constrictors, crocodiles, and poisonous snakes. Two Eurasian lynxes were once found in Yorkshire, housed in a shed which was only locked by means of a wooden peg. The RSPCA is concerned that some of these animals could seriously harm humans, or even kill them.


Circuses face new curbs in animal protection bill

Plans for new animal welfare laws

source: Marie Woolf
Independent December 31 2001 p6

Plans for new animal welfare laws are to be published in Britain. They include a proposal to ban the usage of animals taken from the wild in circuses. There are also planned restrictions on the usage of whips, goads and tethers on performing animals, and new restrictions on animals classed as dangerous. The housing of circus animals will also be covered. Parliament is unlikely to study the proposals until 2003. The RSPCA would prefer a complete ban on circus animals, but the government does not plan to ban performing horses and dogs.

The proposals also include a raising of the age when children can buy pets from 12 to 16-years-old. New standards are also proposed for animal breeders, including puppy farms and horse stud farms, as well as for riding stables.

Some categories of animals will be excluded, such as hunted animals, and animals used for laboratory experiments, though farm animals are covered, as well as circus animals and pets. Critics argue that laboratory animals will suffer from lower standards. Hunting will be dealt with in separate legislation.


Call for tighter control on the welfare of circus animals

Government commissioned study group calls for better animal welfare legislation for circus animals

source: Veterinary Record vol 143 no 18, October 31 1998 p489

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, which includes representatives from circuses, animals welfare groups, and zoologists, has called for better animal welfare legislation to cover circus animals. There are particular problems regulating circuses, since they are mobile, and laws vary from place to place. Training varies in terms of quality and methods, and animal instructors do not have a formal training structure. Animals may suffer from stress during performances. Usage of wild animals may affect wild populations, and wild animals may have trouble adapting to captivity. Changes proposed by the group include the introduction of a licensing system for circuses.


Code of practice for animal rescue organizations

Code of Practice published by Association of British Dogs’ Homes

source: Veterinary Record vol 143 no 18, October 31 1998 p489

A code of practice has been published by the Association of British Dogs’ Homes (ABDH), and it aims to improve care standards for cats, as well as dogs in rescue centres. There are 16 members of the ABDH, which include the Blue Cross, Cats Protection League, National Canine Defence League, and RSPCA.

Minimum standards for cleanliness, heating, and housing are set out in the code, which focuses especially on disease control and veterinary care. A veterinary surgeon should be appointed to deal with disease prevention and general care. The code also calls for rescue organizations to avoid destroying healthy animals, and for vets to be involved in euthanasia, with control over the disposal of carcases.

There are specific guidelines covering transport, feeding and keeping records. Behavioural programmes are recommended for cats and dogs, as well as free running every day, to help with socialisation and encourage play. The need to ensure that new owners and rescue pets are well matched is also stressed.

People considering setting up new animal charities are encouraged to think of setting up links with existing charities instead.

The code can be obtained by contacting the ABDH through Battersea Dogs’ Home, 4 Battersea Park Road, London SW8 4AA.


Law of the jungle

New view of biodiversity and evolution

source: Oliver Barker
New Scientist February 9 2002
Starts p28, 4 pages long

Ecologist, Steve Hubbell, argues that chance explains much of biodiversity. He has moved away from ideas of niche adaptation, and looks instead at factors such as immigration of new species, and the numbers of existing species. Species that are already successful are likely to stay that way, and develop new species. They are also likely to be older. Hubbell’s ideas are controversial among biologists. He has published a book on this topic, called ‘The unified neutral theory of biodiversity and biogeography’.


Top pandas hit the high spots

Male pandas and marking

source: New Scientist March 2 2002 p23

Male giant pandas mark territory by urinating on vertical surfaces, and other pandas stay away if the mark left by the panda is high up, according to Zoological Society of San Diego’s Angela White, who studied pandas in a Chinese nature reserve. Pandas may raise their legs, and even do handstands to be able to leave a high mark. This behaviour is similar to that of some male humans after they have been drinking alcohol.


Men behaving sadly

Implications of research on testosterone and aggression levels in sheep

source: Rachel Nowack
New Scientist March 2 2002 p4

Irritable male syndrome is a condition found in Soay sheep following a drop in their testosterone levels in winter, after the rutting season. The research was carried out by the Human Reproductive Sciences Unit, Edinburgh, which is run by the Medical Research Council. Researcher, Gerald Lincoln, studied eight rams, and the frequency of their fights. He found that rams with low testosterone levels were at greater risk of hurting themselves. Their fights changed from ritualistic battles of the rutting season to irrational attacks by nervous animals when the season had ended. Irritable male syndrome has also been found in other animals when their breeding season ends, including red deer, Indian elephants and reindeer.

It is possible that human males may suffer from this condition, though human males do not usually suffer such dramatic falls in testosterone levels as rams do. Stress and other factors can lead to falls in testosterone levels of primates and other animals, as corticosteroid levels rise. It is unclear whether men under stress would benefit from testosterone therapy, since raising levels of testosterone can bring side effects, such as greater vulnerability to heart disease. It is also unclear what the normal testosterone level for a human male should be.


Animal magic

Advantages and disadvantages of having pets in schools

source: Jerome Monahan
Guardian Education December 11 2001 p5

There is a debate in the UK on whether pets should be kept in schools. Aberdeen city council has banned this practice, because schools take on great responsibilities when they keep pets. The council, and the RSPCA also believe that living creatures should not be caged, and other creatures should not suffer in order for humans to learn. Children, however, like to have pets in schools, and so does the Society for Companion Animal Studies (Scacs), which sees interacting with animals as important for children’s education.

Scas argues that school pets often receive better than average care, and children learn to respect and cherish animals through learning from school pets. The charity has published guidelines to help teachers choose and care for suitable pets. Guinea pigs can be frightened easily, and hamsters tend not be be sociable. Gerbils, however, are diurnal, and are a better choice. Rabbits should have access to outdoor runs, while dogs need somewhere quiet in the daytime, so they can rest. Exotic species are not really suitable for schools, Scas argues.

Vetwork UK is an animal welfare charity from Scotland, and sees it as important for school pets to be protected from excess stress, This applies especially to prey animals, like gerbils, which may perceive noisy children as predators. Many schools see pets as a way to bring together children, and boost teacher morale. Schools which have enough space may also provide wild areas and ponds for animals and water birds, like ducks.

School pets can be vulnerable when schools are burgled, which reinforces the RSPCA’s opposition to keeping pets in schools, yet the high number of abandoned animals in Britain, and the prevalence of cruelty against animals among some children underlines the message of Scas that children need to learn more about how to care for animals.


Spoiling for a fight

Models of animal aggression

source: Jon Copley
New Scientist July 28 2001 p16

Cambridge University researcher, Rufus Johnstone, has studied the impact of eavesdroppers on levels of aggression in animal populations. Eavesdroppers avoid fighting until they have seen other animals fight, and have observed the outcome, and they are then more likely to fight the combatant they have seen lose. Johnstone has added to a model developed by University of Sussex researcher, John Maynard Smith. He classed animals as hawks, with a tendency to use violence, and doves, with a tendency to back down if confronted. Eavesdroppers play hawk or dove according to their observations. They can initially be successful, but if there are many eavesdroppers, they are more likely to meet each other. Two eavesdroppers that previously observed each other losing conflicts may take on a hawk role, and their conflict can escalate, according to Johnstone. He sees aggression levels as higher in animals populations with eavesdroppers than in populations with just hawks and doves that do not eavesdrop.


Hedgehogs get a taste for spiked drinks

Risks to hedgehogs from drinking cider and beer in garden slug traps

source: Daily Mail May 17 2001 p33

British Hedgehog Preservation Society spokesman, Ann Jenkins, is concerned about hedgehogs that get drunk from sampling cider and beer in garden slug traps. Hedgehogs have been seen wandering erratically after a drink, snoring on their sides following a boozy session, and suffering from bad hangovers. There is concern that these hedgehogs could be attacked by predators while they are incapable of running away due to drink.

Cider and beer traps are often used by gardeners to kill slugs, avoiding the need for pesticides. The drink is put in a small container and left in the garden, where it also seems to attract hedgehogs overnight. These traps can be made with lids that do not have big enough holes for hogs’ snouts to get in, according to Jenkins.


No way out

Effect of caging on animals

source: Andrea Lord
New Scientist January 26 2002
starts p34, 5 pages long

Stereotypies are repetitive rituals performed by caged animals, and some humans also carry out repetitive actions. Stereotypies are often symptoms of mental disorders, when performed by humans. Both animals and humans which have been given amphetamines can exhibit stereotypies. Tests on animals have shown that those exhibiting stereotypies in captivity tend to persist in inappropriate behaviour outside their cages. Parrots, blue tits and voles were given food rewards for looking in a certain place. When the food was removed and put elsewhere, those with stereotypies did not learn to look somewhere new, but instead carried on looking where the food used to be.

Caged animals suffer stress because they are unable to respond to their instincts, like stalking, or burrowing. Stress resulting from a caged environment may affect brain chemistry and neurotransmitters in the brain, according to University of California’s Joe Garner, who carried out the tests, with University of Oxford’s Georgia Mason. These changes in the brain may prevent caged animals from reacting to environmental changes. Younger animals are less affected, and their stereotypies may cease after an improvement in the environment. Durham University’s Michelle Turner is a specialist in autism, and also sees parallels between some types of human and animal repetitive behaviour.

Brain damage is not, however, always the cause of stereotypies. University of Lincoln’s Daniel Mills has found that horses can be cured of long-term stereotypies that have lasted 12 years, by putting a mirror in their stables, so he doubts that brain pathology is involved. Brain damage may result from extreme conditions, which are counter to those that an animals has evolved to deal with, or when the animal’s development has been affected at a critical time, Mills argues. Mason likewise sees some severe animal stereotypies as linked to brain damage, but only those which are irreversible.

There is a case for enriching the environment that animals are kept in. Stereotyping animals often hurt themselves. Tests to study the behaviour of laboratory animals are also likely to be invalid if the animals have been driven mad by their environment.


Egg-eating hedgehogs in Western Isles threaten to push seabirds to extinction

Hedgehogs introduced into South Uist threaten sea birds

source: Matthew Beard
Independent August 4 2001 p9

Hedgehogs have been introduced to islands in the Outer Hebrides where they are threatening the survival of sea birds by eating their eggs. Number of snipe, lapwing, dunlin, and other ground nesting birds have dropped, and hedgehogs are seen as the culprits.

Researchers cleared an area in South Uist of hedgehogs, and found that birds there were more successful at nesting. Hedgehogs outside the protected nesting area were found trying to enter it to find eggs. The results of the study have been reported in Journal of Applied Ecology.

The hedgehogs were thought to be insectivores, when they were introduced in 1974. British legislation does not allow foreign species to be introduced to parts of Britain, but such restrictions do not apply to relocations of native species.


A ripple in the pond

The importance of ponds as wildlife habitats

source: Gail Vines
New Scientist May 5 2001 p43

Garden ponds can lead their owners to take a greater interest in environmental issues, according to the head of the British Environment Agency, Barbara Young. Ponds are important as wildlife habitats, and can house more species than rivers. They are especially important as havens for endangered species, and some species are only found in ponds, according to the Ponds Conservation Trust. Young sees a need to go beyond ponds as ecological niches in hostile environments, and to pay more attention to the environment as a whole.


Something like us

Cognitive ethology, and the case for animal consciousness

source: Gail Vines
Based on interview with Donald Griffin
New Scientist June 30 2001
starts p48, 4 pages long

Scientists have tended to avoid the area of animal consciousness, because evidence is not easy to find, but this area can help in understanding animal evolution, and it is questionable to take decisions based on notions that animals lack consciousness. Some understanding has developed of animal communication. Behavourism argues that animal behaviour should be explained by looking at stimulus and response, and that asking about conscious thoughts and subjective feelings is unscientific. Yet we can infer what humans are thinking and feeling through communication, both verbal and non-verbal. Animal communication can also be studied to make such inferences.

The idea of cognitive ethology was developed in ‘The Question of Animal Awareness’ by Donald Griffin, which was published in 1976. The stress is that animal cognition, or ways in which animals process information, think and reason, is important for understanding animal behaviour.

Scientists often argue that animals don’t or can’t do something when evidence is weak. Bees communicate through dances, and may even have consciousness. Honeybees have small, but very complex brains. We tend to assume that hard-wired behaviour that is genetically programmed involved lack of consciousness, yet humans are conscious of sneezing, and much learned behaviour does not have to be conscious. Consciousness may help animals to tackle unpredictable challenges and use their central nervous systems more efficiently. Animals other than humans can dream, and may even have fantasies.


Self-cleaning carpet

Patent for bacterial spores that reduce the smell from organic material on carpets

source: Barry Fox
New Scientist June 24 2000 p7

New patents include an idea from Jeffrey Fredenburgh and Anne Cordick for bacteria that deal with house training accidents by pets and toddlers. A dry mix of spores of a type of bacteria can be used on new carpets to become activated if the carpet becomes damp. Activation means that the bacteria release enzymes digesting material from accidents and thus preventing smells. They revert to their dormant condition when they have finished eating the organic material from accidents that is their food source.


Gone native

Animal conservation, alien species, and feral cats in Australia

source: Melanie Cooper
based on interview with John Wamsley
New Scientist November 17 2001
Starts p48, 4 pages long

There are some 25 species of Australian mammals that are under threat, and there is a need to tackle the problem using methods that are effective in terms of saving species rather than just attracting funds. The government has sometimes reclassified species as not being under threat, though their numbers are low, and there is no agreement on the definition of ‘endangered’. National Parks have tended not to be effective in this area, and a representative from the National Parks has opposed the reintroduction of native species in sanctuaries. Native species are important for biodiversity.

Alien species and feral cats are a problem for native Australian wildlife. Sanctuary workers were not permitted to interfere with these cats, despite the destruction of wildlife they caused. Animal liberationists protested at the idea of feral cats being attacked. A campaign has led to a change in the law, and any cat found in a wildlife sanctuary can be shot, even a cat with a collar. The public has realised that feral cats can cause problems, and the term ‘responsible cat owner’ is now commonly used.


My pet possum

Case for replacing conventional pets with native species in Australia.

source: Stephanie Pain
based on interview with Michael Archer
director, Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia
New Scientist April 29 1999
starts p40, 4 pages long

Australia has unique animals, and its native species are disappearing. One way of preserving them could be for Australians to keep suitable native species as pets instead of cats and dogs. Suitable animals include quolls, rodents, and some smaller possums. People tend to value animals more once they get to know them as pets. Quolls are clean, playful, and friendly. They bond with people when raised as young animals, and wake up when owners come home from work in the evening. They are also good mousers. Tasmanian devils would perform well as guard animals. Quolls are sociable, as are sugar gliders, though kangaroos and wombats are less sociable, and the adults tend to be indifferent to humans. Antechinus is an unsuitable species for a pet, since it bites a lot.

Vets are building up understanding of Australian native animals. Regulations vary from state to state in Australia, and endangered and rare animals cannot be kept unless it is for research. Marsupials can be bought in the US, where an industry is developing around them. Cats damage the environment and kill native animals, and should ideally be shipped away from Australia. Native animals could be bred using registered breeders and managed colonies, with young animals sold to the public to raise funds for conservation.


Internet fuels booming market for rare species

Conservationists fear impact of internet on trade in rare species

source: Karen McGregor
Independent on Sunday September 17 2000 p26

Conservationists are concerned that the development of the internet has meant an increase in numbers of rare animals traded world wide, and that this could affect species in Africa and elsewhere. This is a particular problem in Madagascar, where many species are under threat as their habitats are eroded. Purchasers tend to come from the US, Europe, and Japan. Fennec foxes are among animals traded. The trade is mainly legal, but there is concern about illegal trading, and that the harvesting of wildlife may not be sustainable.


Lifeline tossed to flood victims

Pets rescued from Venezuelan floods

source: The Animals' Agenda March-April 2000 p10

Venezuela was hit by floods in December 1999, and over 30,000 people died. Pets were also affected, some buried, others caged with no food, or left wandering. Ricardo Rodriguez, a rescue volunteer, set to work to help pets after the teams helping humans had left. He rescued around 80 dogs, and released monkeys and parrots. He argued that animals had rights, as well as humans.