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We actively monitor change covering more than 150 key elements of life.

A Mundane Comedy is Dom Kelleher's new book. Extracts will appear on this site and across social media from late 2021. Please get in touch with any questions or thoughts.

The 52:52:52 project, launching both on this site and on Twitter in late 2021 will help you address 52 issues with 52 responses over 52 weeks.

What's Changing? - Animals

Animals

 

Please see below selected recent animals-related change.

 

See also:

 

October 2021

  • Animals already practice social distancing and quarantining. Some bees are even dragged out of the nest if they’re sick, claimed Quartz. ​​

 

September 2021

  • For humans, adapting to climate change will mostly be a matter of technology. More air conditioning, better-designed houses and bigger flood defences may help ameliorate the effects of a warmer world. Animals will however have to rely on changing their bodies or their behaviour. In a paper published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, a team led by Deakin University in Australia shows that is already happening. Climate change is already altering the bodies of many animal species, giving them bigger beaks, limbs and ears.
  • Twenty-three more species were declared extinct. Humans are to blame for the disappearance of the ivory-billed woodpecker and the rest of the list, warned Quartz.

 

July 2021

 

May 2021

  • The UK government introduced a wide-ranging plan to improve the welfare of some animals. The animals covered by the proposal includes pets, livestock and creatures in the wild. Measures include banning the export of live animals for slaughter, the keeping of primates as pets, and formally recognising the sentience of animals.
  • Psyche noted that human hatreds take on a depressing variety of forms: in addition to individual hatreds, the world roils with xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and on and on and on. Less remarked upon is an underlying zoophobia – a fear of, or antipathy towards, animals – that’s manifest in many of the slurs and insults directed at other human beings. Calling a person an animal is usually a comment on their unrestrained appetites, especially for food (‘like a hungry animal’), for sex (‘they went at it like animals’), and for violence (‘they’re like wild animals’). We also have purpose-made insults comparing people to specific kinds of animal: pig, chicken, rat, cow, slug, snake, cockroach, bitch, etc.
  • Neurologist Aysha Akhtar pointed out that, back in 2004, some 92 per cent of drugs passing preclinical tests, including those tested on animals, failed to reach market. And the failure rate had actually increased to nearly 96 per cent by 2015. Psyche acknowledges that experiments with animals have led to helpful health treatments. In earlier centuries, mouse models were key to the development of penicillin; experimentation with dogs led to success in blood transfusions and the development of insulin; and research with dogs, rodents and monkeys brought about the polio vaccine. More recently, cancer research using rodents and monkeys has helped researchers grasp facts about tumour biology, which has lead to oncology treatments. However, in the 21st century, with so many advancements in bioscience, the route forward may lie not in bigger and better cages or nicer enrichment to help laboratory animals pass their endless hours in confinement, or in strengthening weak guidelines for use of laboratory animals. Instead, it should perhaps rest on recognising that the most successful, as well as the most ethical, science of human health does not and will not involve the use of animals.
  • The technologist and novelist JM Legard proposed an interspecies currency: a digital currency “that could allow several hundred billion dollars to be held by other beings simply on account of being themselves and no other and being alive in the world”.

 

April 2021

 

March 2021

 

February 2021

  • A report warned of a "catastrophic" decline in freshwater fish, with nearly a third threatened by extinction. Conservation groups said 80 species were known to have gone extinct, 16 in the last year alone. Millions of people rely on freshwater fish for food and as a source of income through angling and the pet trade. But numbers have plummeted due to pressures including pollution, unsustainable fishing, and the damming and draining of rivers and wetlands. The report said populations of migratory fish have fallen by three-quarters in the last 50 years. 
  • Scientists sequenced the oldest DNA ever found. It belonged to a mammoth from at least a million years ago.
  • The black-browed babbler bird, native to Asia, surfaced in an Indonesian forest for the first time in 170 years. 

 

December 2020

  • Ravens rival chimps’ intelligence. A scientific study pitted animals against each other in a battle of the brains and found that even young birds kept up with adult monkeys.
  • Humans have long domesticated other species but, in what might be a first, a non-human vertebrate domesticated another animal, reported Exponential View.   
  • Americans spent nearly $100 billion on pets and pet care in 2020, a sum that has grown by about 5% a year since the recession of 2008. That’s more than what they spend on smartphones or at the movies, combined, and greater than the GDP of Ethiopia. As animals have transformed from property to de facto children for many, a massive and lucrative industry has developed to feed and care for them. Quartz looked at the industry that’s grown around the boom in pet ownership, and why the idea of personhood - viewing our pets as we do humans - threatens to destabilise it.
  • From trainers to counsellors, a burgeoning field of animal behaviorists is promising to help pet owners foster optimal human-pet relationships.

 

October 2020

 

September 2020

  • According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the world’s animal population has fallen by more than two-thirds in the last 50 years. A study of 4,000 species of mammal, fish, bird, reptile and amphibian between 1970 and 2016 identifies the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history – but the first to be caused by humanity (climate change, deforestation, and the conversion of natural habitats into farmland being the main factors). But there are glimmers of hope: evidence of the impact made by properly-implemented conservation projects such as the legal protection given to forest elephants in Ghana, blacktail reef sharks in Australia and tigers in Nepal, reported Tortoise Media,
  • Migratory birds are dying in midair in the US. The side effects of climate change are probably a factor, warned Quartz.

 

July 2020

  • The circus life is not a natural life for an animal. They have to undergo long journeys. Arduous training and performance schedules. Extended periods in chains or cages. They can’t socialise or exercise normally, and they develop behavioural and health problems as a result. Gradually, laws are now being passed around the world to spare them this cruelty.
  • Fish are more vulnerable to global warming than we thought. Forty per cent of species will find ocean and river temperatures too hot by the middle of the century even if warming is kept to the middle of the range of possible scenarios. This is not because adult fish can’t handle warmer water. It’s because fish don’t spawn and embryos don’t develop, according to a new study of 700 species in Science. Cod, pollock and sockeye salmon are especially at risk. Severe warming could wipe out 60 per cent of species by the end of the century. Warming of “just” 1.5 degrees, on the other hand, would enable many of them to adapt, noted Tortoise Media.
  • Hundreds of elephants mysteriously died in Botswana. The country, which has ruled out poaching as the reason, is now conducting lab tests to find out what’s killing the animals, noted Quartz.
  • About one in four species on the Red List of Threatened Species now face extinction, according to an update by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of those is the North Atlantic right whale, of which only about 100 breeding females are thought to remain. The Trump administration lifted restrictions on commercial fishing in what had been the Atlantic’s only fully protected marine sanctuary - the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument off New England. The area is frequented by right whales, which the IUCN says are now one step from extinction.
  • Tortoise pointed to new evidence that polar bears might move to the edge of extinction by the turn of the century because of climate change. The animals hunt seals on Arctic ice. And, as the ice breaks up, it becomes harder for them to find food. Researchers fear that populations could collapse as mother bears lack the nutrition to feed their young. There are currently 26,000 or so bears but big declines have been measured in their more southerly populations

 

May 2020

  • The deepest ever sighting of an octopus was made by cameras on the Indian Ocean floor. The animal was spotted 7,000m down in the Java Trench - almost 2km deeper than the previous reliable recording. Researchers report edthe discovery in the journal Marine Biology.
  • On Hainan island off the coast of China a new breeding pair of Hainan gibbons wasspotted, which means they’re marginally less rare than they were, but still the rarest primates in the world. Numbers fell from 2,000 in the 1950s to around 10 in the 1970s but have since recovered to 30 or more.

 

April 2020

  • Much of our understanding of animal communication has come through observations of auditory and visual symbol, such as the guttural caws of a raven or the shifting colour scheme on the skin of the chameleon. But the real Rosetta Stone for translating the language of nonhuman nature might be through chemical signals. As scientists develop and utilise new technology that can detect on and decode these chemical dialects, we are just beginning to better understand what certain creatures are really saying to each other. 
  • Australia is training animal disease detectives. Vets will learn how to identify new pathogens that appear in animals, in a bid to prevent a future pandemic of a zoonotic disease.
  • According to a study published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, climate change is causing nightingales to evolve with shorter wings. Researchers believe that birds with smaller families and smaller wings are more successful in the shorter breeding season caused by rising temperatures. But as longer wings are critical for the birds’ migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe it could put them at risk. It’s an example of “maladaptation” – when the evolutionary changes driven by changing conditions can actually cause a species harm. Nightingale numbers in England have fallen by 90 per cent in the past 50 years.

 

March 2020

  • The pandemic could harm Africa’s great apes in two ways: they could become infected, and they could be put at greater risk of poaching as tourism dries up and with it the funds for their protection. Scientists writing in a letter to Nature say infection is the most pressing risk and that a halt to tourism to prevent people getting close to mountain gorillas is therefore vital. That said, there is no evidence yet of human-to-ape infection and once infected they could carry the virus without showing symptoms. That didn’t happen with Ebola, though, which is thought to have killed thousands of chimpanzees and some gorillas too, leading to the question as to whether a human vaccine could work in apes as well.
  • A 500 million-year-old worm may offer a key to evolution. The organism is the earliest ever recorded with “bilateral symmetry”: its blueprint is in everything from dinosaurs to humans.
  • Researchers said that they had identified the oldest modern bird skull found to date. The seagull-sized bird shows characteristics present in modern ducks, turkeys, and chickens — indicating it may be a common ancestor from a time before the genetic lineages split. The fossil is thought to have formed around 67m years ago, meaning that the species may have lived alongside the last of the dinosaurs.

 

February 2020

  • Ban China’s wild animal trade, urged Quartz, adding that if we want to thwart viral epidemics, we should be urging China to make its temporary ban permanent.
  • Scientists discovered the first creature that doesn’t need oxygen to live. It’s changing the definition of what an animal can be.

 

January 2020

  • A study from the University of Sydney analysed audio recordings of cows in various emotionally loaded farmyard scenarios. The findings reveal communication goes beyond just mother-child relations - cows have unique voices and share emotions with each other throughout life.
  • A flock of new species was discovered. Researchers identified 10 new species of birds off the coast of Sulawesi in Indonesia.
  • Primatologist Frans de Waal examined chimpanzees’ inherent capacity for fairness, reciprocity and empathy - ‘higher emotions’ that used to be consider the exclusive province of Homo Sapiens– especially toward the more feeble members among them; something that would fly in the face of the ‘survival of the fittest’ delusion quoted by social engineers.

 

December 2019

 

November 2019

 

October 2019

 

August 2019

 

July 2019

 

June 2019

 

May 2019

 

April 2019

 

March 2019

  • Sustainable pet food company Wild Earth launched dog treats made of fermented koji, a type of fungus. The US-based startup aimed to revolutionise the pet food industry industry by making sustainable, cruelty-free, and healthy products. Currently much pet food is meat-based. Wild Earth said their koji dog treats contain all the amino acids that dogs need, while using 90% fewer resources than similar meat-based treats. 
  • Humans are wiping out chimpanzee culture. Human activity has already pushed chimpanzee populations to the brink, but research now shows chimps’ distinct cultural behaviours are at risk, too.
  • The Economist reported on a fossil site which has been discovered in China containing many animals that have not been seen before. Palaeontologists have only caught glimpses of ancient ecosystems, because most of the earliest animals lacked hard body parts, and soft material tends to rot away when hard material fossilises. The bodies of the animals in this new site, which dates back roughly 518m years, appear to have been better preserved because they were killed by a sudden mud burial.
  • Further reading:

 

February 2019

 

January 2019

  • Beyond Meat filed an IPO for $100 million - perhaps a key step towards realising the economic potential of a meat substitute market estimated to be worth $6.4 billion by 2023.
  • While much of the problem lies with pet owners, obesity is also rising among domestic and wild animals that aren’t overfed, claimed Quartz.
  • Scientists are using facial recognition to fight chimpanzee trafficking. The “ChimpFace” algorithm searches through social-media posts for the faces of stolen apes.

 

December 2018

 

November 2018

  • A government directive allowing the medical use of tiger bone and rhinoceros horn took effect in China after a 25-year ban. Usage of the animal parts is restricted to patients at approved hospitals with “critical” conditions or “difficult and complicated illnesses”. Global conservation groups are furious. China’s step backwards shows that the popularity of traditional medicine has not waned as much as previously believed.
  • There’s no better place in the world to be a pet than Japan, where spending on cats alone contributes around ¥2.3 trillion ($20 billion) to the economy every year, reported GZEROMedia. Since 2003 there have been more pets than humans under 15 in Japan, but cats just recently overtook dogs as the pet of choice.

 

October 2018

 

September 2018

  • The oldest known animal was found in fossil form. Ediacarans existed 558 million years ago, at least 20 million years before the Cambrian explosion of life.
  • Cows prefer to set their own schedules, too, reported Quartz. After installing milking robots, one Icelandic farm saw its 80 cows produce 30% more milk.
  • A recent University of Minnesota study found mice and rats were just as likely as humans to fall foul of lab experiments involving delays and rewards. In each case, the more time invested waiting for their ‘prizes’ (for the rodents, flavoured pellets, for the humans, funny videos) the less likely they were to quit the pursuit before the delay ended. According to some researchers, this pattern may suggest some evolutionary reason for this economically irrational flaw.
  • Scientists identified a “flexitarian” shark species. The bonnethead is the first known omnivore shark, relying on seagrass for 60% of its diet.
  • Hedgehogs have disappeared from most of the English and Welsh countryside. Scientists think their numbers have fallen by at least 80% since the 1950s, thanks to intensive farming and rising badger populations.
  • Bees increasingly love the buzz of urban life, reported Quartz, while their country cousins are living in a bee wasteland created by insecticides.

 

August 2018

 

July 2018

  • Global coworking powerhouse WeWork announced that it would no longer let its 6,000 employees expense meals containing meat, or serve meat at its events. WeWork stated in an internal memo: "New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact - even more than switching to a hybrid car".
  • A Quartz writer argued that feeling compassion and respect for the creatures around us doesn’t necessarily preclude eating meat. Whether we’re vegans or devout carnivores, our actions will sometimes have ramifications that cause harm to other living things. What’s important, the writer believes, is interrogating our individual ethics and responsibilities.
  • As humans gain an ever-increasing understanding of animals’ ability to think, feel, and experience pain, many of us are asking whether eating meat is morally acceptable. Can you care for animals and also eat them, asked a Quartz article.
  • Quartz noted that scientists test new chemical compounds on animals because we they claim we still don’t completely understand the world around us. New compounds might interact with living cells in unexpected ways, causing unforeseen harm. But an artificial intelligence system published in the research journal Toxicological Sciences showed that it might be possible to automate some tests using the knowledge about chemical interactions we already have. The AI was trained to predict how toxic tens of thousands of unknown chemicals could be, based on previous animal tests, and the algorithm’s results were shown to be as accurate as live animal tests.

 

June 2018

 

May 2018

 

Pre-2018

  • Juxtaposing this with this EU communication from 2012 on animal welfare illustrates clearly how, so often, poetry trumps policy. I myself had an awakening realisation about how we should treat non-human animals, and captures perfectly why I protested against animal exports many years ago and eventually stopped eating meat entirely. In contrast, the dull but worthy EU prose (perhaps it contains good news for animals, perhaps it doesn't, but who's going to wade through it to find out?) 
  • All this in the one continent which - above all others - should remember and recoil from shipping sentient beings in trucks.
  • Seeing humans as social animals, rather than rational machines, and arguing that the latest neuroscience suggests that the experiental view of the world espoused by the likes of David Hume trumps the mind/body divide of the Cartesians, David Brooke explored new insights into human nature and the forces that shape our choices and actions.
  • The environmental impact of the lifecycle/supply chain of animals raised for food may have been vastly underestimated.
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