Should We Revive Mammoths?

ImageIt’s a question as old as things that are old, and was brought up in the iconic Jurassic Park in 1995 – if we have the power to resurrect lost species, should we? It’s talked about from time to time, but scientists in Russian and South Korean scientists are teaming together to actually put some money where their collective mouth is.

They struck the agreement in 2012, and it’s been over a year, and I’ll tell you what, I’m getting antsy. The thing is, I’m still not 100% sure I’m okay with it. It’s not just that I’ve seen Jurassic Park and vehemently disagree with Richard Attenborough or something of that ilk – it’s that I can’t figure out the “why.”

I’d love to see a mammoth. I’d geek out over seeing a sabertooth tiger or a moderately sized, herbivore dino. But is that enough reason to bring it back? The motivation seems to be based in “Well, it’s awesome.” Okay, so since we can, we should, yeah?

That’s not doing it for me. I want a reason beyond the human need to visually consume mammoths, which I feel is behind 90% of all desire to clone the DNA of a frozen extinct animal. The other 10% may be true curiosity that has nothing to do with the cool factor. Perhaps we can even learn something from studying mammoths, though it’d be difficult, seeing as how the new mammoth would be living in an entirely different environment with entirely different predators (see: none).

I’m not saying we shouldn’t revive dodos – I’m saying I want to know why we are. Cloning living animals to make for greater food supplies makes some sense to me, even if it makes me nervous. But cloning something dead simply to see it alive isn’t reason enough. Scientists will be bringing an entire species back to life – that’s pretty heavy when you take a step back and think about it. It’s a heavy topic when fiction tackles the subject of reanimating ONE person back to life, much less an entire group of creatures that no living person has ever seen walk the earth.

I say let’s consider that maybe humans are being a little selfish when we try to clone dead species – sorry humanity, but you can’t see it all. Stuff happened in the past that you’ll never witness, and more stuff will happen in the future that you’ll never witness; get used to it.

At least Jurassic Park is coming back to theaters

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Dying for Their Kraft

Animals in advertising are pretty much a golden goose – dogs doing human things inevitably sells beer. Cows scrawling misspelled messages inevitably sells chicken. Horses looking majestic inevitably sells…beer again. But a recent story has cast a light on the dangers of animals being used for advertising.

A shark died on the set of Kmart commercial a few weeks ago, after it was transferred across the country and kept in a small pool for a time. You can read the details in the link. It’s a troubling situation, and one without an easy answer. After having some horses die at the HBO show, Luck, and several other occurrences of similar animal deaths, the question has to come up:  should we not use animals as “actors?”

Granted, Luck was cancelled, and yes, Kmart was “saddened,” but are these going to stop people from employing animals in commercials, TV and film? Should it? With CGI nowadays, it isn’t hard to recreate a shark or a horse or a sloth, so maybe there’s no need to use the real thing. Geico’s certainly doing alright.

Accidents happen – you can’t prevent that. And accidents happen to people on set, too. But the people are making a conscious choice to get involved, and they know the risks. Plus, they’re getting paid, and to my knowledge, that shark wasn’t in SAG. It wasn’t like the shark died for its art – it died so that people can be coerced into buying cheaper boxes of Kraft mac n’ cheese from a Sears-owned department store behemoth.

I don’t expect to see only CGI dogs in Bud Light ads anytime soon (if I have my way, I don’t expect to see any Bud Lights ads at all ever again). It seems like individual situations are drawing the anger of people, but the big question of “Is this ethical?” is being sidestepped. I think it’s time we had that larger conversation.

A New Frontier in Birdwatching

The classic visage of a birdwatcher usually includes a pair of black binoculars suctioned to one’s eye sockets. And probably a hat.

But birdwatching isn’t just for binoculars anymore – this product looks like it’s integrating youth-oriented technologies with a typically non-youth-oriented pastime. So here’s to hoping the kiddos of today start using their iPhones to capture interesting videos of birds instead of using them to fling birds into poorly constructed pig houses.

http://www.birdphotobooth.com/#sthash.26yLuach.U6scA0km.dpbs

A Horse is a Course, Of Course, Of Course

This whole horse meat scandal happening over in Europe has been gripping – the shock, the horror, the backlash – it’s got all the elements to a great story. Cover up, conspiracy, lies and horse meat. Everyone’s up in arms about being lied to, and more importantly, the fact that they’re eating horses. All I have to say is this:  what’s the big relative deal?

Now let me explain what I mean when I say that – I do NOT want to eat horse flesh when I’m being told it’s beef. I do NOT want to start munching on horse meat as part of my healthy, daily breakfast. I do NOT condone the awful lies perpetrated by those individuals who saw fit to blatantly mislabel and sell this meat. I DO think it’s all much more benign than what’s happening constantly in the United States every day.

Chickens get dipped in bleach. Cows are pumped full of more hormones than a teenage boy ought to see in his entire high school career. Livestock live indoors, stomping around in their own feces and gas-choked air. These situations sound horrific (they are), and that’s what happening with factory farming here in the U.S. Is that really worse than eating horses?

People are losing their minds because an animal that normally is ridden is instead being eaten, but no one really cares if the slab of cow on their plate was raised in its own waste product. It’s the same horror people feel when they hear about Chinese folks eating dogs. It’s a travesty to eat a dog, but it’s almost sacrilegious to say you refuse to eat that cage-raised beef. Maybe it’s an unfair comparison to make, but I would much rather eat free range horse meat than chlorine-dipped chicken.

So, yes, let there be uproar, but for the right reason – the food industry lied. Get angry about that. But if you’re going to be angry about what kind of meat you’re putting into your body, your indignation may be better placed elsewhere.

Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill

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A recent study has surfaced showing that domestic cats kill billions of mice and birds per year. That’s BILLIONS with a “b.” Pretty staggering statistic, and some bird enthusiasts are especially up in arms about it – not without justification, as the bird deaths total 500 million. The big question is:  whose side do we take in this Cats vs. Birds war?

It’s a bit of a sticky situation. Bird-lovers call for less cats so less birds are killed, but the extreme solution is probably a lot of cat euthanasia, and no one wants to kill millions of cats to save millions of birds (or for any reason, for that matter). I’m sure cat-lovers aren’t shooting off fireworks at the thought of Whiskers biting the head off a dove every day, either. Neither side is happy to see the other side’s animal of choice suffer or die simply because they’re a danger to their own favorite.

It’s a shame that so many birds die at the paws of housecats, but we can’t just put down hordes of cats because they kill birds; that’s nature. As much as domestic cats may not be “of the natural environment” and there are certainly too many strays and feral cats in the country, it’s still their natural instinct to hunt birds and mice.

It’s like being upset at a dog for barking when another dog barks in the distance – yes, it’s understandably annoying when you’re trying to watching Downton Abbey and Rufus won’t shut up. But can you really be mad at the dog for doing what his ancestors have done for tens of thousands of years?

No one says we should put down lions for killing too many gazelles – would we suggest euthanizing lions if the gazelle population was being cut down by the same ratio as these birds? Maybe.

Or is it the fact that we keep cats as pets that’s the problem? Left out in the wild, maybe natural selection would do its job and there’d be far less cats in the world. Or maybe cats would adapt and become top notch bird assassins, and we’d never see a cardinal again.

A plausible answer is to neuter/spay all cats, even taking in strays to do so. That would keep cat populations from growing exponentially and would save some birds in the process. Having “cat runs” if you own felines is another answer – these enclosed, outdoor structures allow cats to enjoy the outdoors without killing the local wildlife (and it’s safer for the cats, too). Inevitably, some will think these solutions just don’t go far enough…

All I know is that no matter if you’re a bird-lover or a cat-lover, you can respect the other side’s arguments and understand why their precious animal isn’t any better or worse than your precious animal.

Or you could just buy a ferret and get out of the debate altogether.

Mental Disorders Aren’t Just for Humans Anymore

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Have you ever felt like your dog was depressed? Your cat was paranoid? Your ferret was schizophrenic? Don’t write off your suspicions as wild delusions just yet.

A recent report from veterinarians and scientists at the Lackland Air Force Base has shed light upon a problem facing military dogs – they, like human soldiers, can return from war with post-traumatic stress disorder. They display irritability, jittery behavior, and anti-social tendencies and are not easily cured of these combat ills.

It’s not an entirely new discovery that animals will display what were once thought of as generally human qualities, but this report brings up questions about the nature of human disorders and psychological issues. Namely:  what issues does my pet have?

A big chunk of the U.S. population owns some sort of pet, be it a cat, dog, parakeet or naked mole rat, and every pet owner I’ve known (a.k.a. every person I’ve known) personifies their pet. “Mittens is smart! Fido is bashful! Mr. Me-ow-gi is wise!” And it’s not baseless – animals certainly seem to have distinct personalities. It’s only natural that we’ll start diagnosing our pets like we diagnose ourselves.

How many times have you been on WebMD because you were pretty sure you had some odd ailment that was probably going to kill you? (How many times did the ailment turn out to be hypochondria? Most times.) Children are getting diagnosed with ADHDat high rates, and pharmaceutical companies have a pill for everything these days. This is not to say they’re not real diseases or disorders – it’s simply that we are eager to label our issues, physical and mental, and our pets are next.

I’m pretty sure my dog could be diagnosed with depression:  he’s put on a few ounces, lies around a lot, and overeats at every opportunity. He’s also a pug, and there is nothing more naturally depressed than a pug face. I’ve met a few felines that seem to be stricken with agoraphobia – they get very uncomfortable in wide-open spaces and just want to nestle into an empty oatmeal tube. The next time my friend’s cat attacks me and then immediately tries to snuggle, I’ll change my description of him from “moody little jerk” to “bipolar manic-depressive.”

I suppose it’s best to leave all the analysis to the professionals. Just like with WebMD, it’s sometimes a little more hype than reality when a person’s emotions dictate their diagnoses, and that probably is the case when we laypeople label our pets’ problems. Maybe my dog doesn’t have depression – maybe he’s just a portly, middle-aged pug. Maybe canine post-traumatic stress is more Pavlovian conditioning than it is PTSD in the clinical sense of the term. Maybe my friend’s cat is really just a moody little jerk. I don’t know – I’m not an animal psychiatrist.

But if animal psychiatry is your chosen field, you may just be about to experience a boom in your industry.

Turtle Pee: Biologists Have a Urinary Eureka

There are many biological studies out there that come and go without receiving the notice they deserve. Many are of great importance to the human race, wildlife, and the planet in general.

This is not a study to go unnoticed. The National Geographic post about biologists discovering a species of turtle that urinates through its mouth is too fascinating and odd not to repost. Plus, the research could benefit those who have kidney failures and require dialysis, albeit in a slightly unsavory manner…

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/10/121012-turtles-urine-pee-mouth-science-animals-weird/