Thursday, July 30, 2015

Silence Over Poisonings Has Devastated Lions

When I wrote about the lion population of Africa declining from 200,000 to 30,000 over the course of 20 years, not one person commented, though this blog receives 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day.
A lion by the name of "Cecil" was illegally killed by a Minnesota slob hunter.

The Internet is now expressing outrage, but what has actually devastated lions in Africa is not white hunters, but silence in the face of systematic poisoning by local natives.

A few facts:

  • Prior to 1928, Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe was a desert largely devoid of wildlife as it had no surface water. Beginning in the late 1920s and continuing through to the 1940s and on to today, a series of bore wells were put in, first by white hunters and later by the government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), to bring water to ponds and pans (no-drain areas of the park). As a result, Hwange now has over 30,000 elephants (more than it should), as well as between 400 and 500 lions, and the requisite zebra, gazelle, white rhino, black rhino, cheetah, giraffes, buffalo, wildebeest, hippo, and leopard, as well as over 400 kinds of birds. In 1949, Hwange was declared a National Park and it now comprises 1.4 million hectares (5,405 square miles). To put it another way, Hwange is about the size of Switzerland.
  • The lion population of Africa has not been devastated by sport hunting, but by systematic poisoning of lions by local people using American-made ant poison (Furdan) made by FMC. When I wrote about the lion population of Africa declining from 200,000 to 30,000 over the course of 20 years, not one person commented on the problem even though this blog receives 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day.
  • Fees paid by tourist hunters support public lands protection, maintenance and management all over the world, and that is as true in Africa as it is in the United States. Managed hunts are not only an income-producer, they are also a way of reducing overpopulation, when it exists, and removing problem animals in conflict with local people. Africa has not gone the way of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, which decided to kill off all of its wolves and lions. Instead, is is managing them within a massive park system. Is this park system perfectly managed? No, but it is generally improving with better electronic communication equipment, improved ground transportation, better salaries, better training, and more cross-border cooperation.
  • Cecil the lion lived so long (13 years), and became so habituated to people, that he was given a name, which is the only reason most people care about him or know about him. The day he was killed, Cecil was wearing a locator collar which the professional hunter's guides unsuccessfully tried to destroy when they realized he was wearing it. It was the locator collar than led researchers to the skinned and headless corpse of the lion. When the Minnesota hunter found out the lion was wearing a locator collar, he apparently went ballistic on his guide. He had been out to shoot a leopard, not lion, and had only shot the lion because he was urged to do so by the professional hunter.
  • The Minnesota hunter who shot Cecil may not have done anything illegal, though there are a LOT of reasons to ask questions, as he has had serious hunting violations in the U.S. in the past. It is LEGAL to bait lions in Zimbabwe, to shoot them with a bow and arrow from a blind, to kill them outside a national park in a private hunting area, and to kill collared lions. That said, this hunt was still illegal as the guides, who had been paid $50,000 dollars, did not have the proper license to shoot a lion, and they knew that. The guides were shooting over bait which, while common and legal in Zimbabwe, is illegal in most U.S. states, and immoral everywhere. The lion was shot with a crossbow, not an archery bow, and was shot so badly that it dragged off into the bush for 40 hours before it was successfully tracked down and shot with a gun. This was a horrible death at the hands of a slob hunter who was operating outside the law as he had in the past. Zimbabwe has already hauled in the hunter's guides, charged both of them, and released them pending trial. The professional hunter will likely abscond to South Africa or elsewhere. The Minnesota dentist may face charges in the U.S. or in Zimbabwe, but he is unlikely to face anything more than a massive legal bill and impressive fines. Though lions are critically threatened in Africa, their plight has not yet risen to "endangered," and they are not protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
  • Dr. Walter J. Palmer, the Bloomington, Minnesota dentist who shot Cecil the lion, is a member of the notorious "Safari Club International," which is one of the most crime-plagued group of rich slob hunters on the planet. Members routinely "bag" trophy animals on canned hunts.  These animals are often old zoo animals shot in fenced fields called "private game preserves" even when they are quite tiny. This is the worst of hunting, not the best, and the fact that Dr. Palmer is a member of Safari Club International, and has previous hunting violations in the U.S., says quite a lot. As Ted Williams once noted in Audubon magazine: "Last time I looked the record book of Safari Club International (the biggest promoter of canned hunts) contained 17 entries for 'introduced [from Europe] North American wild boar,' all 17 from a game preserve in Nova Scotia called Shangri-La, where the 'wild boars' were fed commercial hog chow and 'hunted' in enclosures that averaged 75 acres."
Shot between fences?  Almost certainly.

Watermelons Then and Now

One of the first things to go extinct is memory
, and that's probably more true in the case of fruit and vegetables than it is for most things, as fruit and vegetables do not store.

And so it was with some interest that I came across a 17th-century painting by Giovanni Stanchi, which shows a type of watermelon that no longer exists because we have "improved" the fruit by making it larger, redder, and largely seedless.

The modern watermelon is mostly red placenta and no baby (seeds), with the red color a function of intense selection for lycopene, the same chemical that makes tomatoes red.

A Pack of Opportunity

This is from a No-Kill Shelter in Costa Rica

I am thinking these folks need a dog-food company sponsor.

Purina, here's a chance for great visuals and great PR.

Imagine a spot with a pack run through the mountains, with a little music along the lines of "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" from the old Coca Cola commercial.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Front Yard Deer Tonight

This young deer is in my front yard right now, and let me walk up within 15 feet of him and take a cell phone picture. Is this a great country or what? I live just one stop light to Georgetown, so this is hardly the country.

I made omelette's with bacon tonight. I always put the extra grease on dog food kibble, and scatter it in the yard for fox to find. Tonight is their lucky night!

Airstream Dreams

This is pretty great.  

A Maine Wedding

Goodbye Monhegan.  Good to know you!  Not a bad place for a marriage!

Very Early Twitter

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Memory in a Pair of Boots

Vincent Van Gogh understood
that an old pair of boots not only tells stories but carries memories.

Van Gogh painted his first pair of boots and shoes in 1886, and did three more pictures of the same in 1887.

Gas Guns to Battle Beasts on Galapagos, 1934

EQUIPPED with gas guns effective at 150 yards, a scientific expedition in search of new specimens will give battle to the animals abounding on the Galapagos Islands. Located about 500 miles west of Ecuador, these islands have been a magnet for scientists since Charles Darwin first obtained valuable data for his “Origin of Species” from study of its animal inhabitants. Source

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Run to Maine for a Happy Marriage

I'm in Maine today, on Monhegan Island, about 12 miles off the coast. Lobster pots, boats, floats, and ropes. My brother is getting married to a lovely woman today, of whom I very much approve. May they grow old and happy together!   

What are We to Make of the Bogota Skins?

Physical evidence of the existence of a species does not necessarily mean that this species has ever existed. Here, I am specifically talking about birds, where it turns out some "extinct" species are based on single skins collected in the 19th or early 20th Century.

The problem with birds is that they hybridize a lot, and bird species are not always very distinct from each other.  Several species of hummingbirds that we know of only due to single examples collected for the millenary trade. These so-called "Bogotá Skins" (for their central shipping point out of South America to Europe) may in fact represent evidence of a new species of now extinct hummingbirds -- or they could simply represent hybrids of other hummingbirds. With about 10 percent of all bird species known to cross the "species barrier," it's hard to know.

What is known for sure is that at least one "Bogotá Skin" thought to perhaps be a cross-breed one-off was, in fact, a new species and it is not an extinct species. The Cone-billed Tanager was rediscovered in 2003 by D. Buzzetti in gallery woodland and Cerrado in the Emas National Park, and was independently rediscovered at the same locality in 2004 by B. A. Carlos.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Inceptionist Terrierman

Made in Dreamscope

China Drives the End of the Game in Tanzania

Tanzania had lost two-thirds of its elephants in just four years, as demand from China for their ivory tusks has sent an organised army of criminal poachers into its game reserves.

Howard Frederick, who did the Tanzania elephant census in 2013 and 2014, told The Telegraph: “I had never seen anything like that – there were carcasses everywhere, whole family groups on their sides, between three and seven animals, wiped out.”

America's 10 biggest cities, By Decade, From 1790

Saturday, July 25, 2015

American Canine Demographics

As I noted in an earlier post, there are approximately 75 million dogs in the U.S. 

Every year about 7 million new dogs are acquired in the U.S. to replace those that die from disease, old age or accident.

Of these 7 million new dogs, approximately 53 percent are crossbreeds or mongrels, and approximately 47 percent are "pure breeds".

More than half of all U.S. dogs are mixed breeds.

To put a number on it, that works out to be approximately 3,710,000 dogs of mixed ancestry, and approximately 3,290,000 dogs that are pure breeds.

In 2014, to pick a year, the American Kennel Club registered less that 500,000 pure bred dogs (the number may be less than 400,000).

To put it another way, AKC registrations represented about 15 percent of pure bred dogs and about 7 percent of all dogs acquired that year. Since 2006, the AKC has not, so far as I can tell, published counts by breed.

About a quarter of pure breed dogs are AKC-registered

Assuming the same canine distribution as was evident in 2006 when breed count data was last reported, of the less than 500,000 pure bred dogs registered by the AKC in 2014, the top 10 breeds (out of 184 breeds total in 2015) will represent a little over half of all dogs registered, while the bottom 50 breeds will represent less than 1.5 percent of all dogs registered.

More than half of all AKC dogs are in the top 10 breeds.
The bottom 50 breeds sum to 1.2 percent of AKC-registered dogs.

Top Ten AKC Breeds in 2014
  1. 4. Bulldog
    5. Beagle
    7. Poodle
    8. Boxer

US & UK: Comparative Canine Demographics

In the UK, there are approximately 5.3 million dog-owning households (21% of all households) which combined own around 7 million dogs.  The average dog-owning household owns about 1.3 dogs.

In the US, there are approximately 48 million dog-owning households  (38% of households), owning around 72 million dogs. The average dog-owning household owns about 1.5 dogs.

To put it another way, in the U.S. we acquire over 7 million new dogs a year in order to replace those dogs that die due to disease, accident, or age  -- more dogs than are owned by ALL people in the U.K.

To put it still another way, the U.S. has about 5 times the population of the U.K., but we have about 10 times more dogs because we have more households per capita, a far higher percentage of households owning dogs, and each household also is more likely to own multiple dogs.

These numbers are approximate.  In the U.S. some sources put the total number of dogs at over 77 million and the average number of dogs per household at 1.7, while there is a similar "wobble" in the data on the U.K side.

Colorful Flying Dinosaurs

Friday, July 24, 2015

Real Change or Window Dressing at the AKC?

The AKC has launched an American version of the UK Kennel Club's "Assured Breeder Scheme."

The AKC version is called the Bred with H.E.A.R.T. program, and to be included breeders have to have their dogs tested for breed-specific health issues.

As part of AKC’s century-long commitment to advance the health and welfare of all dogs, the AKC has a new program called Bred with H.E.A.R.T. The program gives AKC a new way to engage, encourage and recognize ALL breeders who meet specific health testing standards and who participate in continuing education. Click on the links below to learn more about the specific commitments that an AKC Bred with H.E.A.R.T. breeder makes to the health and well-being of their dogs.

Breeders who sign up and test their dogs will be able to put "Bred with H.E.A.R.T." banners and logos on their web sites, get $5 off per litter on registrations, and get a discount on microchips.

Will that be enough to launch a sea-change at the AKC?

Time will tell, but I doubt it.

That said, is it a good move in the right direction?

It is!

With registrations falling through the floor (now down 75%), the question is whether half measures and tepid actions are enough.

When your brand is this badly damaged, is there any saving it?

Does the AKC have a sensible economic model that is actually based on selling healthy dogs as pets, which is what most people actually want?

Up to now, the answer is NO, and I do not think this step -- however much it is in the right direction -- is enough to change that answer.

But let's see what happens.

The program is new and perhaps it will get stronger and better positioned.

Positioning is critical.  For example, the new program is not mentioned on the AKC Breeders page at all (as of 7/24/2015), nor is it clear how the lay public is supposed to tell this program from the "Breeder of Merit" program.  Perhaps they are not.  If that's the case, then this new program is destined to be little more than a fig leaf used for window dressing.

The H.E.A.R.T. name itself is a bit problematic.  What does it stand for? 

Apparently it stands for "Health, Education, Accountability, Responsibility, and Tradition."

But what does that mean?

Is the AKC saying it is going to be accountable and responsible for producing healthy dogs?

Or are they going back to the old saw:  "we only register dogs," which has always been nonsense.

As I have noted in the past:

It is the AKC that mandates that dogs be bred in a closed registry system in which increasing levels of inbreeding are the inevitable byproduct.

It is the AKC that green lights the standards which select for defect and which mean that most members of some breeds suffer their whole lives.

It is the AKC that credentials judges who have no idea of what they are doing because they know nothing about working dogs or even the basics of anatomy.

It is the AKC that gives show dogs zero points for health, zero points for work, and zero points for temperament.

It is the AKC that not only allows puppy mill dogs to be registered -- it goes out of its way to solicit their business, giving them cheaper registration deals, creating special computerized registration programs for them, and even inviting them into their guest suites at Westminster.

It is the AKC that refuses to allow any breed club to mandate health tests as a requirement for registration.

It is the AKC that refuses to allow any breed club to mandate working tests as a requirement for registration.

It is the AKC that refuses to allow any breed club to delay registration until a dog is an adult and is actually proven to look like the breed it is supposed to be.

Will a web sticker change all that? Not a bit of it. And that remains the root of the problem.

You Bred Raptors?

When I first heard the name of this band, I thought it was a reference to birds of prey. Nope. Apparently, it's a reference to a line from the movie Jurassic Park

Of course, properly understood, a bird is a dinosaur.

Tastes like chicken.

That's an 8-string base, a pretty good percussionist, and a cello. It works, especially as a sound track to a movie short!  The inside-joke in this clip is that the music group "You Bred Raptors" makes its day-to-day money busking in the subways.

West Meets East in Virginia Elk Herd

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (has honored the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for creating a positive impact on the industry by presenting the organization with its Civic and Environmental Partnership Award. The the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation used both funding and volunteer manpower as part of a collaborative effort to assist with the reintroduction of more than 100 elk on their native Virginia range.

What does elk reintroduction have to do with Mines, Minerals and Energy?

After stripping the top off of mountains to get coal, and pushing the slag into creek bottoms, thereby killing the creeks, the now-flat mine site is then skinned over with a layer of dirt and is then "haired over" with a layer of grass seed. A flat field at the top of a mountain is pretty perfect habitat for elk, and the presence of elk changes the story, which is something the coal mining industry is always desperate to do.

Water pollution, black lung, horrible mine safety, and damn few jobs created?

Disappeared mountains, air pollution, and all the profits shipped to New York City?

Let's not talk about that! Let's talk about the elk!

“Reclaimed coal surface mines, natural gas well locations and pipeline right of ways have created fragmented forests with grass-covered fields that now offer grazing habitats for the elk herds, along with shrubs and trees branches for wintertime grazing. This partnership has been successful and continues to bring rewards to the environmental restoration and civic awareness in Virginia.”

Notice that cutting down the forest is presented as a positive: creating fragmented forests. As if we needed any more of that!

Fish on Fridays

Mr. Rose's big catch, a muskie, Alden, Michigan, 1910.

Temple Grandin On What Concerns a Chicken

What concerns a chicken, and how do we know? Temple Grandin has a few thoughts, and she notes that what a human wants in life is not necessarily what tops the list for a chicken:
I think there are certain behavioral needs we should satisfy, and you can actually, scientifically, look at what things a hen wants the most. There are objective ways to measure [a hen's] motivation to get something she wants — like a private nest box. How long is she willing to not eat to get it, or how heavy a door will she push to get it? How many times will she push a switch to get it?

A private nest box is something she wants, because in the wild she has an instinct to hide in the bushes so that a fox doesn’t get [her eggs]. Give her some pieces of plastic to hang down that she can hide behind. Give her a little piece of astroturf to lay [her eggs] on. Give her a perch, and a piece of plastic to scratch on, and at least enough cage height so she can walk normally. I’m gonna call that apartment living for chickens. Do they need natural elements? Being outside? Science can’t answer that. I mean, there are people in New York that hardly go outside.
Colony house egg operation with egg seclusion spot

So is there a good set up for chickens?  There is!
There’s a new kind of cage design — furnished cage, enriched housing, colony housing — they’re all the same thing. The birds can walk at full height. They have a very strong urge to lay their eggs in a secluded spot, so the cage has a little nest box, a perch, and a place for them to scratch. For a large-scale commercial operation that’s probably a good alternative. Now if you raise them in loose housing without cages, you do have problems with dust — it’s hard to keep the atmosphere good. There are tradeoffs on the different systems. I think the colony house is the way to go.

One of the trade-offs, Temple Grandin notes, is cost, and she doesn't think that's insignficant.
[W]e’ve got 25 percent of people in this country working minimum wage jobs and they gotta buy the cheapest eggs they can lay their hands on. I think eggs are a necessity — beef you could say is a luxury, but not eggs.

So, to put a bottom line on it:  We can improve things for egg laying chickens so they have  a life worth living, and that can be done and still keep eggs economical.

The trick is to listen to the chickens -- they will tell you what their high-value preferences are. That includes egg-laying privacy, but not necessarily access to the outdoors or grass.