Why The Fuss About Wolves?

There is an ongoing discussion among conservationists when it comes to which species to protect, and which ones to allow to die out. As conservation efforts have limited resources, and as larger and larger portions of the planet are being developed to meet the needs of human population growth, the idea that we can try to save all species that face extinction is, unfortunately, quite naive. One such animal that finds itself in the center of this debate is the panda, which costs a fortune to keep alive and breeding with little to no chance of their numbers becoming stable in the wild again. Some argue that we shouldn’t spend such enormous amounts of money on keeping the panda alive when those resources could be better spent elsewhere, just because it is cute and cuddly. Others argue that it’s cuteness is precisely why so many people donate to keep it alive in the first place, and thus it should be protected in order to encourage enthusiasm towards conservation efforts.

I have heard similar arguments made not by conservationsists, but by laypeople in regards to wolves. Many, even those who are not enthusiastic about conservation, have heard and one point or another people discussing wolf populations, either efforts to reintroduce them into places where they have been extinct for decades, or decrying countries like Norway for allowing hunters to kill off huge percentages of their wild wolf population legally.

What, I am often asked, is the reason behind all of this fuss over wolves? I mean, they are predators! They kill other animals, they are just one more danger to humans, and farmers hate them because they kill off the odd sheep as well. Why spend all of this money and make such an effort to reintroduce a couple dozen wolves into places where no one wants them, when other species could be protected instead?

Recently, I came across a video that summarizes the case study of Yellowstone National Park very nicely. In just a few minutes, you can see what a huge impact wolves can have on their ecosystem.

Despite their villanous representation in cartoons or certain nature documentaries, top predators are essential to the balance of life as we have enjoyed it for centuries. Wolves are incredibly important, and can do wonders for their ecosystems.

And, let’s not forget that without wolves, we would have never had dogs. And without dogs, videos like this would never have existed, and what a tragedy that would have been for all of us.

 

Environmental Tips: Do You Know About Microfibers?

I often post short videos which showcase interesting inventions designed to tackle an environmental problem. This time, I want to post a video about a few tips that you can do in order to cut down on a form of pollution that is not spoken about very much, and that is microfibers.

You may recall the issue with microbeads found in certain soaps, which pass through water filters and end up in the stomachs of fish and other sea life, which was found to be so damaging that some countries have now banned them. However, another form of pollution which works in a very similar way, and on a much larger scale, are microfibers.

It turns out that, every time you wash an item of clothing, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of microfibers are shed from that clothing and enter into the water supply. Much like microbeads they are small, so up to 40% of them make it into the water supply. Also like microbeads their small size means that they are consumed by wildlife and, while the amount you produce on your own may not seem like much, the accumulated effect of a world full of washing machines is devastating. One research group estimated that “microfibers make up 85% of human-made debris on shorelines around the world”.

Just think about that for a second. With all of those horrid pictures we’ve seen of shorelines littered with plastic bags and garbage, they pale in comparison to the amount of microplastic crap we’ve dumped in our oceans.

The real difference is we don’t see microplastic pollution with the naked eye. It doesn’t make for horrifying pictures, and as such, very few have even heard about it.

So, what are we supposed to do about it? Stop washing our clothes? Hardly. That intro was the downer part, but there are little things that you can do in order to mitigate your contribution to microfiber pollution.

I’m going to look into those filters for my washing machine. I think that is probably one of the most effective ways of cutting down on this kind of pollution.

And who knows! Maybe, if more and more people make a stink about this, we might actually be able to get regulations on how washing machines are produced, or how synthetic clothes are made. If we don’t spread the news, however, that will never happen.

I Can Relate

I now live in a country with much shorter summers and generally colder weather than where I grew up. Because of this, when we do have the occasional unseasonably warm day, I am happy in a tentative way. Actually, this comic perfectly summarizes my reaction on these days.

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Forgiveness and Respect

I have mentioned before that I am a TYT member, and as such I had heard that Wes Clark Jr. was bringing a group of veterans to stand with Standing Rock. Cenk referred to it as “the cavalry has arrived”, indicating the power of the support and the hope that the police, who have been routinely brutalizing the peaceful protesters of Standing Rock, might think twice before doing so to veterans, as they might even lose the support of Fox News if they did so.

I was excited about the strong message and curious about the outcome, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I had not considered what kind of message that would send to the Native Americans themselves.

Just like many people forget that not everyone sees Thanksgiving as a fun family holiday, I completely overlooked the horrible history that Native Americans have towards the US military, and how badly they have been brutalized by them in the past. While the presence of veterans at Standing Rock might help to keep the police brutality in check, the irony of veterans coming to help a Native American cause was surely not lost on many there.

I am so glad to say, though, that Wes Clark Jr. and the veterans did not overlook this history in the slightest, and made a gesture that both surprised and moved me.

Jon Eagle Sr., Tribal Historic Preservation Officer at Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has reported something wholly unexpected happened at the Standing Rock Reservation today. The veterans gathered to join the Dakota Pipeline protest stunned the gathered tribal members when they took a knee and asked for forgiveness

They report that there was not a dry eye in the house, and I believe them. While asking for forgiveness does not right the past wrongs, this humble gesture and mutual respect was moving to say the least.

While President Obama has finally blocked the DAPL for now, the fight is far from over given the upcoming Trump Administration. Now, more than ever, it is critical to not let the media forget about this issue, and to stand with Standing Rock.

April Fool’s Year

I can say with quite a bit of certainty that 2016 has turned out to be the most bizarre year of my lifetime, thus far. Whether politically in the wake of Brexit and the Trump Presidency, or personally in the face of a string of mindboggling incidents in the lab that defy logic and the laws of probability. I have found myself numerous times, and throughout the entire year, pausing and checking that it is not April Fool’s Day, from January to November.

One such day was when I read an IFLS title: 10,000 Endangered Scrotum Frogs Have Died Near Lake Titicaca. Which, of course, in my mind read as “Loads of Ballsack Frogs Died Near Lake BoobyShit”.

I check my calendar. It’s late October. OK IFLS, you got me, I’m clicking on the link. Why, pray tell, have the ballsack frogs perished so?

There’s something strange going on near Lake Titicaca with its scrotum frogs (and it didn’t happen on April 1).

Oh good, so it’s not just me who thought that was a title worthy of an April Fool’s prank. Please, do go on.

At least 10,000 of these fat, wrinkly, and very rare frogs have mysteriously died in Peru. Thousands of the frogs were discovered floating in the river Coata by members of the Committee Against the Pollution of the Coata River. The river flows into Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, which straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.

Speaking to IFLScience, Arturo Muñoz of the Bolivian Amphibian Initiative explained what was behind previous mass-deaths in Bolivia between May and April 2015. 

“We found sulfide levels were very high in the lake,” Muñoz told IFLScience. He added that heavy rains and strong winds could have released sulfides from the bottom of the lakes and rivers, which subsequently might have killed the frogs.

The frogs maybe far uglier than the ballsacks they’re named after, but that is still very sad. More than anything else, they seem to be an indicator for some major pollution concerns in the area.

According to the locals, they have been concerned about the unchecked pollution for a while, and have been largely ignored, until they brought the dead frogs to their protests as evidence of what is happening in their communities.

Quite apart from chuckling at their funny names, the fact that this is a fun story to write about could actually bring a little international attention to a very real and hereto largely ignored problem in Peru. Who knows, if enough people follow the story in the hopes of learning more about the scrotum frog, authorities in the area might feel pressured to investigate and respond a bit more than they have so far. Already, in the light of these mass frog deaths, they seem to be giving at least a token response to the outcry.

This is one of those posts that embodies the Italian phrase da ridere per non piangere, which literally means, to laugh so as not to cry. You have a choice, cry over the ever worsening state of our environment and pollution levels, or laugh because you just learned that there is such a thing as a scrotum frog, which lives in lake Titicaca.

Pineapple Is The Fashion

I read somewhere that pineapples used to be insanely expensive in Britain, as they were a novelty item imported from the colonies in the New World. Not that people ate them, but that they used to carry one around under their arm at parties as a status symbol.

As hilariously ridiculous as that sounds, I came across this video that that puts a new spin on the use of pineapples as a modern fashion item.

 

Personally, I’m not ethically opposed to leather. If we’re killing cows for food, keeping and using their hides for clothing seems to me to be perfectly logical. However, any use of something that is normally thrown away and which generates additional income for those who need it is, in my opinion, great.

I’d rather have pineapple shoes than crocodile ones. Though, not the white and gold ones that show up on the video screenshot, please. I don’t think those are for anyone over the age of 10. The others in the video seemed nice enough!

Sweden With Another Good Idea

The gradual chipping away at our massive environmental problem continues with Sweden coming in with a great idea. They are now going to give tax breaks to people who actually fix things, rather than just throw them away.

The Swedish government is introducing tax breaks on repairs to everything from bicycles to washing machines so it will no longer make sense to throw out old or broken items and buy new ones.

Sweden’s ruling Social Democrat and Green party coalition is set to submit proposals to parliament on Tuesday to slash the VAT rate on repairs to bicycles, clothes and shoes from 25% to 12%.

It will also submit a proposal that would allow people to claim back from income tax half of the labour cost on repairs to appliances such as fridges, ovens, dishwashers and washing machines.

He hopes the tax break on appliances will spur the creation of a new home-repairs service industry, providing much-needed jobs for new immigrants who lack formal education.

 

For decades, Italy has had tax breaks for people who make artisinal things, in an effort to not lose the craftsmanship that made Italy famous for so long in the face of giant chain stores. But tax breaks for fixing things? That’s genius.

The constant throwing away of perfectly good things has always rubbed me the wrong way. If this law will actually put a dent in that, and create jobs? I am all for it, and I hope that other countries will do the same. After all, laws banning supermarkets from throwing away food, rather making them donate it has spread across many countries in Europe too, let’s hope this one does the same.

Anthropocentrism Strikes Again

I’ve posted before about the dangers of anthropocentrism, and the need to be aware of it when making decisions regarding animals. In my previous post, I was referring specifically to the pet trade. However, this time I am talking directly to the subset of animal rights activists who break into facilities, and don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.

The other day, two young activists broke into a South African marine park, stole a penguin, and released him into the wild. As the penguin in question was born in captivity, their actions have almost certainly condemned the penguin to a slow death due to starvation, as well as greatly injured his two chicks and female partner who relied on his presence to help look after their young. One of them has already died. Not great news, for one of the few breeding pairs of African penguin trying to do their part in keeping their endangered species afloat.

These kinds of stories infuriate me. While I am sure that the penguin thieves in question thought they were helping, their ignorance and stupidity actually did far more harm than good.

I remember a few years back when animal rights activists broke into a research facility in Milan and wrecked the place, mixed up the mice, and even opened a few of the cages. This, of course, cost the facility untold amounts of money, set back their research into psychiatric diseases by years if not decades, and led to the euthanizing of pretty much all of the mice that were fiddled with.

Now let me tell you something, as someone who works in this field. If wild mice had any idea how good lab mice had it, they would line up outside the doors and beg to be chosen. The regulations as to the comfort and well-being of laboratory mice is intense. Their cages are especially designed for their comfort. Any experiment done with mice has to pass an ethics committee, who decides whether or not the mice will suffer any kind of pain, or distress, if the research is important enough to warrant the sacrifice of mice and if the minimum number possible is being used. You are not allowed to freak them out, torture them before you kill them, starve them, let them be cold, be alone, or any of the things that wild mice face on a regular basis. They lead cushy lives, and their lives are used to give us important, lifesaving insights into all manners of human diseases, from cancer to schizophrenia.

That does not mean that you can’t push for a reduction in the use of lab mice. No one will be on your side more than the researchers themselves, if for no other reason than mouse work is very expensive and the permits to conduct it can take over a year to approve. The problem is, it’s the best we have so far.

Don’t like zoos? Push for legislation to get them shut down. Don’t like animal research? Work on an alternative model system that makes the use of mice obsolete. I can get behind many animal rights ideals, but I cannot abide people being stupid, reckless and irresponsible with their lofty goals.

Mice are not people. Penguins are not people. That doesn’t mean you can’t care about their lives, but it does mean that what is good for a person is not necessarily good for an animal. If they had asked Buddy the penguin if he would rather be ripped from his family and starve to death or stay where he was, I think the answer would have been quite obvious.

These kinds of people are the reason why many people, including myself, shy away from the label “animal rights activist”. If these people really wanted to make a difference they would stop giving the movement a bad name, and maybe the entire concept would gain more traction and respect.

This Week In Zoology: It’s Seal Pup Time!

If you’re in Ireland, this is the time of year in which you might come across some adorable baby grey seals.

Usually, This Week In Zoology features strange and sometimes hilarious facts about animals. This time, however, I thought I’d help the Irish Wildlife Trust spread a few facts about what to do if you run across a seal pup on the shores.

Many people don’t realize that seal pups are supposed to be on the shores. They’re not stranded, and so if you see one, don’t try to put it back in the water. You can observe it from afar, take as many pictures as you like, but don’t try to approach it, touch it, or let your dog anywhere near it. While the “common knowledge” that touching a baby bird will make it’s mother abandon it is a myth, it can happen with baby seals, so please don’t handle it.

If, on the other hand, the seal pup looks sick, injured or is completely unattended by its mother, you can contact Seal Rescue Ireland for help. They have a very helpful infographic on their website as well, which lets you know what an unhealthy or injured seal pup actually looks like.

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Even if you are not in Ireland, these rules generally apply to all seals, so if you do run across one on your morning stroll down the coast, now you know what to do, when to be concerned, and when to just snap a picture and leave them be.

I Could Actually Make That!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I like to post the odd environmental invention, something that usually involves either re-appropriating garbage in a clever way, or selling something that causes less waste to be produced in the first place.

However, this video I came across is something that I could actually make myself! Apparently, these women came up with a simple, ingenious idea to reuse the hundreds of plastic bags people waste after doing their shopping. They found a way to crochet them into mats, which they donate to homeless people.

 

That actually looks like fun!

Now, luckily, the problem of plastic bags is not so dire here in Germany. The shopping bags people use are large, hardy and reusable, if they even use plastic shopping bags at all, and not those cloth carriers. I doubt I would purchase enough plastic bags in a year to be able to make half a mat.

However, in the States, I still see my family double bagging their shopping in those flimsy little plastic bags featured in the video, and then throwing them in the garbage once they get home. Next time I’m there, I’ve found myself a project!