Please see below selected recent animals-related change.
- 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.
- Crows are famously brainy birds, and a recent study suggests they possess a kind of consciousness, something once thought to be the exclusive domain of humans and some primates. By measuring brain activity in crows performing a visual task, the researchers found that on top of the crows’ basic sensory experience, the birds have another layer of awareness. In the journal Science, the authors argue that these two layers of perception constitute a form of what humans call subjective experience.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- For primatologist Frans de Waal, changes in our attitude towards animals are long overdue. This applies equally to certain academic disciplines, which still place our species closer to the gods than to the rest of the animal kingdom, as well as to how we treat the animals in our care. The only possible exception is those we keep at home. They often lead pampered lives, whereas all other animals are left out in the cold. On old-fashioned farms, animals had names, pastures to graze in, mud to wallow in, or sand to dust-bathe in. Life was far from idyllic, but it was appreciably better than it is nowadays when we lock up calves and pigs in narrow crates of stainless steel, cram chickens by the thousands into sunless sheds, and often don’t even let cows graze outside anymore. Instead, we keep them standing in their own waste. Since these animals are mostly kept out of sight, people rarely get to see their miserable conditions.
- The climate crisis is causing birds to shrink, according to a study of 70,716 specimens from 52 North American migratory bird species. The findings showed that from 1978 to 2016, the length of the birds' lower leg bone - a common measure of body size - shortened by 2.4%. Over the same time, the wings lengthened by 1.3%. The evidence suggests warming temperatures caused the decrease in body size, which in turn caused the increase in wing length. The birds most likely to survive migration were the ones with longer wingspans that compensated for their smaller bodies.
- Further reading:
- Further reading:
- Animal Languages: The secret conversations of the living world - Eva Meijer
- Dog ‘talks’ to her owners using an assistive device - Big Think
- Love, War, and Circuses: The Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Humans - Eric Scigliano: Fremdsprachige Bücher
- Start the Week, Animals and us -BBC Radio 4
- Who is a non-human person? - Big Think
- Cows need friends to be happy. Research shows that bovines form close individual bonds - but large dairy farms often split up friends.
- Further reading:
- Brazil has lost 500 million bees. Deregulated agricultural pesticides are the prime suspect in this massive wave of apian deaths.
- Over 40% of insect species are threatened with extinction. Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera and dung beetles (Coleoptera) are the taxa most affected. Four aquatic taxa are imperiled and have already lost a large proportion of species. Habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines. Agro-chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes.
- The Animal Protection Index establishes a classification of 50 countries around the world according to their commitments to protect animals and improve animal welfare in policy and legislation.
- Further reading:
- Humans have been fishing for tuna for 42,000 years. But before they became the most commercially valuable creatures in the sea, tuna was considered a low-quality catch, fit only for cans of cat food. Now, threatened by overfishing and climate change, the once ubiquitous fish are on the brink of extinction.
- Fish can be heartbroken too. Researchers say that female central American convict cichlids that lose their mates are gloomy.
- Quartz believes that octopuses may be the next "lab rats", as biologists have much to learn from studying the intelligent, but utterly alien invertebrates.
- Quartz also believes that honeybees are hogging the spotlight. Other endangered pollinators are less glamorous but more valuable.
- The conventional meat industry raises billions of animals and turns over $1tn (£785bn) a year. However, the huge environmental impacts have been made plain in recent scientific studies, from the emissions driving the climate crisis to wild habitats destroyed for farmland and the pollution of rivers and oceans. However, most of the meat people eat in 2040 will not come from slaughtered animals, according report by the global consultancy AT Kearney, based on expert interviews, that predicts 60% will be either grown in vats or replaced by plant-based products that look and taste like meat.
- A wave of research into animal cognition reveals that just about anything we do, other creatures can do too. Sometimes, they can do it far better. To probe the nature of intelligence, scientists examined animal skills and compare how different species think and found that various species, from crows to bees to elephants, perform better than.humans on certain tests. For Popular Science, the timing couldn’t be better. With AI poised to enter everyday life, we are anxious about what will happen when we’re outflanked by machines. Animal-cognition research suggests that maybe we shouldn’t be too worried: It turns out we’ve been sharing the planet with superior alien intelligence all along.
- Further reading:
- Are Animals Moral Agents? - IAI TV
- Tuna on brink of extinction - Quartz
- Why Humans Are The Most Irrational Animals - IAI TV
- Global meat production is projected to double to over 450 million tonnes by 2050 with demand increasing by 4% per year driven by urbanisation, income growth and globalisation. Globally, the livestock industry employs at least 1.3 billion people and consumers spend up to $1 trillion on meat every year. This livestock intensification has allowed production to meet rising demand leading to severe health, welfare and environmental consequences, according to Chatham House. Meat production is a major contributor of environmental change and land resource depletion and is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile around 70% of global agricultural land is used for some aspect of livestock production, contributing to land degradation, biodiversity loss and water pollution, as well as poor animal welfare.
- Quartz claimed that wasps are the first invertebrates to show evidence of transitive inference, a skill humans long thought was theirs alone. The research found that wasps can use a form of logical reasoning to infer unknown relationships from known relationships, according to a press release. Essentially this means they can work out that if is X is greater than Y, and Y is greater than Z, X is greater than Z - an ability that was thought to be a key human trait for thousands of years.
- The idea that you cannot kill any animal is "fatally flawed" as a conservation concept, some scientists argue. Conservation measures should concentrate on species or habitats rather than individual animals, they observe. Invasive species, they argue, often require mass culling of an animal in order to protect an endangered species.
- Further reading:
- A Quartz article noted that in the last 50 years, we went from animals having zero rights to prosecuting humans who mistreat animals. Many now recognise that humans don’t have the right to violate these animals’ natural rights. Perhaps we might arrive at a time when all humans will be on a vegan diet, eating in-vitro meat, and all of the animals’ habitats will be preserved.
- Further reading:
- 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:
- According to Impossible Foods, the destructive impact of animal agriculture on the global environment far exceeds that of any other technology on Earth. The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocketship combined. Animal agriculture pollutes and consumes more water than any other industry.
- Further reading:
- Can Fish Recognise Themselves in the Mirror? - Smithsonian
- Do Animals Have Feelings? - The Atlantic New Tab
- Sea Turtle Populations Soared by 980% After Legal Protections: - Global Citizen
- Sleepwalking towards the insectopocalypse - Financial Times
- The ethical case for wearing leather, fur, and silk - Quartzy
- 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.
- Scientists have long used the “mirror test” to measure self-awareness in animals. If a creature is preoccupied by the reflection of a strange mark on their body, they are considered conscious. However Quanta explained that a clever fish can do this, some researchers are questioning the test. Others wonder if human cognition is too limited to get how consciousness manifests in other living things.
- Tens of thousands of species are still being discovered each year. From spinning spiders to vibrant red coral, 2018 was full of "wondrous new plants and animals", according to Quartz.
- However, the population of wild reindeer in the Arctic has crashed by more than half in the last two decades, due to climate change.
- The mirror test says more about humans than about animals. claimed Quartz. We need better ways to gauge animal self-awareness.
- Further reading:
- 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.
- Animals like chimpanzees are autonomous beings with rich emotional lives, claimed an animal rights lawyer who's working to get courts to recognise them as "legal persons" and grant them rights.
- Ants have used antibiotics for millions of years, reported Quartz: a species of fungus farmers teamed up with bacteria to produce chemicals that fight off parasites.
- Many scientists have long believed that only people have personality- all other living beings merely respond to conditioning. But that’s changing, according to Hakai magazine. Kelly, a dolphin with leadership qualities and a mischievous bent, is part of a growing body of evidence that shows we are not alone in exhibiting distinctive characteristics.
- An “extinct” tree kangaroo was caught on camera. The elusive marsupial hadn’t been seen for 90 years.
- Further reading:
- 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.
- Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest is outdated, claimed Quartz. Researchers say “sluggish” creatures with low metabolic rates are prime candidates for surviving extinction.
- A writer for Aeon argued that if the only morally relevant factor is ‘can they suffer?’, then there is no relevant moral difference when animals rather than human suffer pain that we can alleviate.
- If 2018 is the year of mainstream veganism, then according to The Guardian, then there is not one single cause, but a perfect plant-based storm of factors. People cite one or more of three key motives for going vegan - animal welfare, environmental concerns and personal health - and it is being accompanied by an endless array of new business startups, cookbooks, YouTube channels, trendy events and polemical documentaries. The traditional food industry is desperately trying to catch up with the flourishing grassroots demand.
- New animal species and behaviours are reportedly emerging within the growing urban sprawl, including fluorescent light loving arachnids and traffic exploiting, nut-cracking Japanese crows.
- Meanwhile, a French park has recruited crows for garbage pickup, reported Quartz. The clever rooks have been trained to pick up litter and move it to a receptacle in exchange for a treat.
- 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.
The evolution of the human brain is one of the wonders of nature, but a philosopher of science asked recently: what if intelligent life on Earth evolved not once, but twice? He wondered how the octopus - a solitary creature - became so smart and traced the story from single-celled organism 3.8 billion years ago to the development of cephalopod consciousness, casting new light on the non-human animal mind.
Crows are even smarter than we thought. A recent experiment showed they remember the tools that work best—and how to make them.Another example: according to research at the University of Washington's Avian Conservation Laboratory, crows hold "funerals." when they see a corpse of their own kind they gather together and squawk loudly.
Meanwhile, living among humans seems to favour fearless problem-solvers interested in new things: that’s how city birds get smarter than rural birds.
- ASOS, the online fashion retailer, has announced a major new change in the products it will - or rather won’t - carry, noted Quartz. Under pressure from the animal-welfare group PETA, the company has joined the likes of Zara, H&M, Gap, and others in ditching mohair, but it’s also going a few steps further. The company’s new policy will ban products using cashmere, silk, feathers (including down), bone, horn, shell (including mother of pearl), and teeth from ASOS’s websites too. It will be fully in effect by the end of January 2019.
- What separates our mind from an animal's? Maybe we think it's our ability to design tools, our sense of self, or our grasp of past and future-all traits that have helped us define ourselves as the planet's preeminent species. But in recent decades, these claims have eroded, or even been disproven outright, by a revolution in the study of animal cognition. Based on research involving crows, dolphins, parrots, sheep, wasps, bats, whales, and of course chimpanzees and bonobos, Frans de Waal explored recently both the scope and the depth of animal intelligence.
- Animals like lobsters feel pain. Our laws need to protect them, Quartz argued in 2018. On the news of Switzerland banning the boiling of live, non-stunned crustaceans of the species, it’s time to reopen the ongoing discussion about animal consciousness and cognition.
- 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.