Fluffy Friday – More Animal Welfare Teaching

I am on annual leave this week, which is glorious, particularly as there are so many developments in the pipeline at work. Lots of exciting things coming up. Look out for MOOC news coming soon, as well as some news about what we’re doing for World Animal Day in October.

There may or may not be a post next week, depending on how much fun I get up to on my annual leave, so while you’re waiting, why not vote on some possibilities for the future.

Go to Strawpoll to vote!

Cecil the Lion and Trophy Hunting

This week’s horrible animal welfare story comes courtesy of a certain American dentist, yes we’re talking about the trophy killing of Cecil the lion.

I won’t name the gentleman (the Guardian has no such qualms), but according to the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, he . . .

  • Paid $50,000 for the privilege (Cecil is a well known personality of the park thought to bring in thousands of dollars annually, at a conservative estimate)
  • Spotted the lion in the park and then lured him outside of the park with bait
  • Shot the lion with an arrow, failed to kill it
  • Followed the lion until were able to shoot it with a gun, killing it.
  • Did so with no permit
  • Removed the lion’s radiotracking collar

The Telegraph rightly points out that locals who had been found guilty of hunting without a permit would be imprisoned if found guilty. I sincerely hope rich hunters have to abide by the same legal systems.

I’m not totally against hunting. In cases of overpopulation, a skilled hunter able to kill an animal quickly and humanely in its natural environment is what I would consider a ‘good death after a good life’. The hunter needs to kill the right animals (this is never the big males) and I would prefer if the animal’s body was used after death, but I’m okay with this.  I’m not even necessarily against culling lions, but I want there to be valid conservation reasons behind it. My ethical viewpoint, which is a pretty common one, is that animal use needs to be justified, and one person’s enjoyment does not allow me to approve of the painful and prolonged death this lion suffered. (I talk more about animal use in the Value post).

For a humane death we need to be using the right kind of gear. While it’s very impressive shooting things with a bow and arrow, it’s not the cleanest kill-method. Take the Makah people who live in Washington State. When they were allowed to hunt grey whales again, as part of their traditional hunting, they chose to use high powered rifles to make as quick a kill as possible. I really like the Makah’s story for a number of reasons (and frequently contrast it with UK fox hunting with my students, to varying degrees of success), including that the not all of the tribe were keen on the idea of starting up their hunting again.

A modern bow and arrow is a fearful weapon, but still not one that kill as quickly and reliably as a gun. Guns are extremely effective weapons, and short of being stunned prior to killing, a high caliber bullet to the brain is a quick and painless death.

Despite my disagreements with the method, what’s happening to this hunter right now isn’t right. We protect animal welfare because we want to be better, we should protect human welfare for the same reason. This guy should be prosecuted in a court of law, protected from the internet’s mob-happy vengeance.

Animal Welfare on Your Holidays

This week we have to revisit the Isla Nublar welfare audit to talk about one of Jurassic World’s best loved scenes . . . the petting zoo.

Of course it’s all oooh and ahhh when they’re babies and they’re cute, but the common love for this scene does raise an excellent point. While you’re out and about on your summer holidays, you might be tempted to do something animal related as an animal lover. I do this too. But think very carefully about how you use the animals on your holiday trip. Do you really want a picture of you sitting beside a declawed and defanged tiger that has a pretty poor quality of life?

But animal-focussed tourism can also bring a lot to a local economy, as well as being a pleasant experience for you, so how can you be a responsible animal lover on your holidays?

The ABTA has some good animal welfare guidance on their website and if you’ve booked through a travel agent they’ll want to hear about your experiences doing an animal-related activity. My tips would be:

  • Does the animal have access to water and shade?

This is especially important in warmer climates, but any animal performing needs to have access to plenty of fresh water and shade that it can avail itself of at any time.

  • Can the animal leave the situation?

Is the animal to get up and go if too many humans invade its space, or at the very least, if the animal displays behaviour suggesting it’s uncomfortable, will the tour operator accept this and end the session?

  • Does the animal look healthy?

A good indicator of welfare is general health. A thin, obese, flea-ridden or otherwise diseased animal is A) not going to be feeling very happy anyway, and B) unlikely to be living in a good environment.

So with that – enjoy your holidays!

Weekend Mortality and the 7-day NHS

jilly:

Necessary reading for anyone looking to understand some nonsense figures being batted about by UK politicians

Originally posted on juniordoctorblog:

“If you are admitted to hospital on a Sunday, you are 15% more likely to die than on a Wednesday”.

This is Jeremy Hunt- quoting a paper without atribution from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, conducted in 2010 by Freemantle et al [1] amongst nearly 15 million admissions.

Here is the actual paper:
Here are the ACTUAL conclusions
  1. Patients admitted on a Sunday were more likely to die over the next thirty days than a similar cohort of admissions on Wednesday- the ratio was 1.16 and the result significant, suggesting a true result of increased deaths by 16%
  2. 94% of these ‘admissions’ were emergencies
  3. 34% of deaths occurred within three days of admission
  4. You are actually less likely to die if you are IN hospital on the weekend – the Sunday to Wednesday ratio here is 0.92, or 8% LESS likely. As the authors also conclude, this…

View original 1,252 more words

Chronicles of Athena – One Year

This week Athena is one year old! We went from this …

Athena 9 Weeks Old

Athena’s first day with me, discovering Netflix for the first time

To this …

Athena at One Year

Athena as a one year old, not getting into Sense8 on Netflix and very much enjoying the sunshine

 

The aging process is a strange thing, and something me and a colleague have been talking about lately. For Athena, there’s still a way to go. She still has a kitten’s energy, and still finding her own individuality. Purina has a fun age chart on their site here, which suggests that as a rule of thumb, we would consider Athena to be equivalent to a 15 year old human. These kinds of rules are sometimes confusing for pet owners. Athena isn’t likely to start using heavy eyeliner and locking herself in her room (although one night I did walk into the bedroom to find her alone, sitting beside the mood lighting and seemingly listening to the Genesis I had playing), but these companion animal aging rules are more to give you a comparison between the physical maturity and the kinds of behaviours you might expect.

For all my ideas of getting and well-socialising a kitten, Athena has developed her own ideas of how she should behave. Her personality is that of a live wire, cautious and curious bundled up with affection. When we went to stay with our lovely friend Kay while the central heating was being installed, Athena very quickly adopted Kay into the pride and spent the morning accidentally miaowing and making noise outside of Kay’s bedroom, feigning shock and delight when Kay got up (and then looking less impressed when Kay wouldn’t let her in the shower).

I’d love to ask Athena what she thinks of her life, does she enjoy it, what would she change, is she happy with me? But I don’t think she really has any comprehension of a different life, no power to imagine the comparison. What she does know is that she loves her fluffy pillow on the windowsill, she doesn’t know what hunger is, and she’s never felt much pain, and she gets cuddles whenever she asks. I think that means she’s had a good first year. Here’s hoping she’ll have many more.

Happy Birthday, Athena!

Fox Hunting in British Politics

Today, the UK’s House of Commons was supposed to vote on relaxing the fox hunting with hounds ban in England and Wales. But they’re not going to. If you’re not a citizen of the United Kingdom (and even if you are) you might be very confused by the situation.

The United Kingdom is composed of several countries, check out C. G. P. Grey’s video for a very good explanation of terms. A proportion of these countries want to be independent. Recently, 45% of the Scottish electorate wanted to become independent, which manifested itself in a massive swelling of the ranks of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) elected to the United Kingdom’s government of Westminster.

Before we go further, I think I have to say something about my own voting here. I don’t make a secret of my political affiliation and you could find out without much difficulty, but in my role as communicator/educator on this blog, I want to present you with the science and let you make up your own opinion. Although I’m open to hearing if you think I should make my affiliations public in relation to this post.

The right wing conservative government therefore only has one supporter in Scotland, an MP from the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.  In Scotland there is also a Labour MP who opposes the majority conservative UK government but still supports the union. And there is also one Liberal Democrat MP who outright lied about the SNP party’s leader and who is currently being sued by his constituents.

This means that 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in Westminster are held by a party who want independence from the rest of the UK and who are there to increase devolved powers (the SNP believes that independence can only come from a mandate set by Scotland’s devolved parliament, not from Westminster – the impetus for independence must come from the Scottish voters.). But what does any of this have to do with animal welfare? For this I should direct you towards another YouTube video:

For some reason, possibly because we still live in what is technically a theocracy, class matters in the United Kingdom’s politics. The conservatives are the party for the upper class, and the upper class like to go fox hunting. So despite the fact that fox hunting with hounds (note this terminology, because you won’t hear it in much of the media) has been banned in England and Wales by the Hunting Act in 2004. In Scotland, similar legislation had been in place since 2002. The Conservatives wanted to relax this ban to allow foxes to be pursued by a pack of hounds, in essence to allow fox hunting as we think of it to happen again.

Although foxes in Scotland were never at risk (although our legislation is not without criticism), the SNP finally decided they would vote on this matter, and their vote would not be in favour of relaxing the ban. So we have a party which wants independence voting on an issue which does not affect their constituents (although their constituents have very strong feelings about the issue, because foxes are cute, presumably, or more cynically: because the average Scottish voter has no love of the aristocracy and hunting). And Nicola Sturgeon, the party’s leader, said the choice to vote on this issue was made, in part, to jerk the leash of the Conservative government and remind them how much power the SNP has.

Here’s the thing – it’s taken 600 words to summarise the political situation around this lack of a vote, but this is no victory for animal welfare. Nowhere in those 600 words do we consider the scientific evidence behind fox hunting. So here it is:

Hunting with hounds does not control fox populations (Rushton et al, 2006). In fact, fox numbers may increase (Lozano et al, 2013). Managing foxes as an agricultural pest needs to be done in a sustainable, long-term model covering large areas (McLeod et al, 2010). To top it off, farmers aren’t really convinced that foxes are an agricultural pest (Baker and Mcdonald, 2001) and only tolerate hunting-with-hounds that happens on their land. Pursuit hunting is not humane, and the method of death that hounds enact on hunting is not humane either. The ban is resisted because it is spoiling peoples’ fun (Marvin, 2007). Even though drag hunting is still supported and allowed, but somehow is less fun than smearing blood on one another.

We have no scientific evidence supporting fox hunting with hounds other than the fact that a very small, but very rich segment of the population want to do it occasionally and they’re slightly put out when they don’t get a chance. It’s not an effective pest control method and it’s not a humane death. Of all the issues to draw a line in the sand on, we’ve chosen one where a utilitarian would come to a clear conclusion after reviewing the scientific evidence. We’ve chosen an issue where it’s more important to posture about on what side of Hadrian’s Wall we come down on, than to review the scientific evidence.

Chronicles of Athena – 52 Weeks

Athena is currently trying to climb the bookcase in order to then climb back down the rolled up rug that’s resting against it. The rolled up rug is hugely fascinating to Athena, as are all of the many, many toys that were liberated from beneath the sofa when the rug was taken up.

Why are the walls bare and the floors littered with toys you may ask? I wish I could explain to Athena how much she’s going to love what’s coming. You see, we’re getting central heating installed next week.

This is very exciting for me, never mind Athena. It’s been over five years since I’ve lived somewhere that has central heating, or even a combination boiler (this is Edinburgh, it’s how we roll). The thought of having hot water on demand is pretty intoxicating. As Athena has lived most of her life in a pretty cold environments, I’m not sure how she’s going to handle it, to be honest. But next time she watches the snow from the window, she’ll be able to gently toast her bottom on a radiator. As Athena loves toasting her bottom on laptops, I think she’ll be pleased with the developments.

Bacon Double Down

There was an interesting pair of articles in io9 last week, the report of double muscled pigs being bred by researchers in South Korea and China, and differences between how American scientists and the American public view science related issues.

Seeing these two articles so closely together was interesting.

The first thing that jumps out is that in America, there is a 51 percentage point gap between scientists and the public regarding whether or not it’s safe to eat genetically modified foods. You can play about with the day at the Pew Research Centre’s site where they have a fun inforgraphic to demonstrate how this changes with gender, age, science knowledge, etc. The story of the double muscled pigs then should evoke some concern in these people, no? Scientists meddling where they don’t belong?

But of course double muscling is old news – in fact we understand it pretty well. It’s a genetic mutation that inhibits the production or uptake of myostatin, a muscle growth regulator. So these animals have big muscles. There are a few breeds of cattle that have been selected for this mutation, such as the Piedmontese breed, and it’s a mutation that occurs in some whippets too. Deliberately adding the gene in a line of pigs is cool, but we also have pigs that glow in the dark.

The concern about double muscled pigs might come from the idea that humans shouldn’t genetically manipulate animals, but seeing as we’ve been doing it for a long time, I think it’s more the tool that some people object to. This innate distrust of the mad scientist.

But what really interested me in the double muscling article was the assertion that this development might help feed the world. I agree that it could, but not because we’re suddenly doubling down on our bacon production. After all, the world’s beef production isn’t purely carried by the Piedmontese and Belgian Blue (although they are important breeds). But the technical capacity we have to engineer our animals, with appropriate ethical supervision, really will help us in one of the theatres of world food production.

We just need to overcome that 50% point difference between us and the public to help us get there.

Chronicles of Athena – Fifty One Weeks

Let me tell you the story of Athena and the big storm.

You see, on Wednesday night we had a big storm. The storm went on for hours, lots of bright, flashing lightning (Theenie loves lightning she has discovered), followed intermittently by rolling, deep thunder (Theenie . . . less sure about that part). And accompanied with not very much rain, which meant that it was still hideously hot afterwards.

Athena woke me when storm started, bouncing between the windowsill and the bed and talking to the lightning in a manner that was suspiciously like “Wake up! You’re missing it! Looooook!” But her tolerance for the storm was such that after about fifteen minutes of watching the lightning she got much too overstimulated and had to come into the bed for a cuddle (of course, she needs to be right on top of me even though it’s roasting), and then once she was reassured enough to be purring loudly and painfully kneading my arm, she was brave enough to go back to the window and watch the storm again.

Rinse and repeat for two hours.

We didn’t sleep well on Wednesday night.

As AskReddit is back after Chooter-gate I’ve been entertaining myself with this thread asking: If your pet took you to the human vet, what would they be worried about?

Best entry so far…

“Doctor, he pees in the drinking bowl! IN THE DRINKING BOWL! I don’t think he’s all there, mentally. He’s like 20 and still not house broken.” –pickmetoo