Animals of Interest

Nancy Rogowski

ElephantImageA recent edition of the ScienceTimes, a section of the NY Times includes several noteworthy animal articles. Elephants Get the Point of Pointing, by Carl Zimmer writes about a new research lead by Dr. Byrne’s suggesting elephants understand human pointing, a rare gift in the animal kingdom.   Dr. Byrne’s states, “Even our closest relatives, like chimpanzees, don’t seem to get the point of pointing.”  Researchers have done tests, such as putting food in one of two identical containers and then silently point at the one with food.  Primates and most other animals studied fail the test, some have done well, such as domesticated mammals, especially dogs.  These results have prompted researchers to speculate that during domestication animals evolve to become keenly aware of humans.  Dr. Byrne’s began to wonder if elephants would pass the pointing test, so last year one of his students went to Zimbabwe, and for 2 months tested 11 elephants.  The study found that 67.5% of the time elephants could follow the pointing.  Dr. Byrne’s would also like to study the pointing test on whales and dolphins but thinks “they make elephants look easy to work with.”

Think Elephant International, a not-for-profit organization that str

meekratsimage

ives to promote elephant conservation through scientific research and educational programming announced a study on April 17, 2013 co-authored by 12-14 year old students from East Side Middle School in NYC, revealing elephants were not able to recognize visual cues provided by humans, although they were more responsive to voice commends.  The study is a three-year endeavor to mooseimagecreate a comprehensive middle school curriculum that brings elephant into classrooms as a way to educate young people about conservation by getting them directly involved in work with endangered species. This research tested elephant pointing to find food hidden in one of two buckets, and the elephants failed this Continue reading

Republic of Marshall Islands Opens World’s Largest Shark Sanctuary

Gillian Lyons

We all know that sharks hold a certain fascination in the American mind.  I myself cannot drag myself away from the television during the Discovery Channel’s shark week.  What you may not know is that according to the IUCN, up to 30 percent of pelagic shark species (those that live in the “open ocean”) are considered threatened, due at least in part to a large commercial “sharking” industry, an industry which conservation organizations estimate kills 73 million sharks per year.

In an effort to battle the large, lucrative, “sharking” industry, the Republic of the Marshall Islands has recently announced that it was to be home to the largest shark sanctuary in the world.  In the 768,547 square mile sanctuary, commercial hunting for sharks is banned, as is the sale of shark products.  A violation of these bans can result in fines ranging from 25,000-200,000 dollars. Continue reading

8.7 million and counting….

Gillian Lyons

A recent New York Times article, published in late August, discussed a new study, which estimated the number of species living on the Earth to be approximately 8.7 million, give or take 1.3 million.  To me, this number seemed astronomical (though I sometimes feel that there are 8.7 million different species of bugs that manage to get into my house every week).

After reading a few articles on the study, something got me thinking.  In one particular article, it is noted that one of the study’s authors feels that population estimate studies are particularly important due currently accelerated rates of extinction, brought about by a host of human activities.  This piqued my curiosity.  With 8.7 million estimated species on the earth, just how do the extinction rates measure up?  I decided to check this out. Continue reading

Fries, Beer, and the IUCN Colloquium

David Cassuto

Belgium is pretty cool.  Ghent is an absolutely beautiful city, filled with the kind of stunning architecture that one might expect to see in European cities better known for their visual splendor.  And did you know that Ghent was the second-largest city in Europe (behind Paris) for quite a while, quite a while back?  Just up the road is Bruges – a medieval city that was a bustling center of commerce until its harbor silted up 400 or so years ago.  As a result, it still looks much as it did then.  And back then, it looked mighty good.

Let’s see… what else?  The pommes frites – to which I had been looking forward with almost maniacal glee – were not all that.  In my experience (admittedly limited to Ghent), one can do much better on St. Mark’s Place in NYC.

The beer, however.  Oh, the beer.  Oh, it’s good.  It’s good beer.

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Brasilia and Now Ghent (Belgium) — Still Talking Climate Change & Agriculture

David Cassuto

So here I am on a plane again – this time to Belgium on my way to the Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law, which is taking place in Ghent.  I’m back in steerage this time; no business class for our hero.  I swore I would never go back but here I am.

Amidst all the hubbub, I need to recap my time in Brasilia even as I head for Europe.  Brasilia was a very interesting time and I once more want to reiterate my gratitude to the U.S. State Department for making my time in Brazil so rich and rewarding and for taking such good care of me.  This was my first time in Brazil’s capital and I enjoyed it – from the stunning architecture to the fact that the city is laid out like an airplane.  In addition to speaking at private university (entirely successful and well-attended), I lectured also to a government think tank called IPEA.  There, I encountered probing questions from a very informed audience.  When I mentioned the idea of treating meat consumption as a luxury for purposes of regulating and taxing carbon emissions, one of my hosts asked what I thought of the idea of a “meat cap.”  Not only is it an intriguing notion about which I need to think more, but so much do I love the term that even if it were a completely wacky idea, I would probably support it anyway.                    Continue reading

Does One Compromise Over Whale Slaughter?

David Cassuto

The hoo-ha is growing over the recent proposal by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to lift the existing outright ban on whaling in exchange for the scofflaw nations (Japan, Norway & Iceland) ceasing  “scientific whaling” (in the case of Japan) and getting to kill more of some different kinds of whales (in the case of Norway & Iceland).   Scientific whaling is simply the slaughter of whales under the guise of research.  It’s a loophole in the IWC ban that insults the intelligence of anyone who believes that words (like science) ought to have meaning.   Last year, of the 1700 whales killed by the 3 whale-killing countries, roughly half were killed by Japan in the name of “science.”  Even the Japanese recognize the silliness of this approach.   Continue reading

IUCN Academy Colloquium — No Animal Law Here…

David Cassuto

I’m currently in China having all kinds of interesting experiences.  For example, it was only in Shanghai a few days ago that I saw my first wheelchair-accessible urinal.  I’ve also seen more pictures of Chairman Mao in the last 2 days than I had seen in the previous . . .  well, ever.   I’m here for a series of meetings.  Presently, I’m in Wuhan attending the Colloquium of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law – an annual meeting of an organization dedicated to the teaching of environmental law around the world.

I did not speak about animals at this Colloquium.   Neither has anyone else.  In fact, today’s lunch speaker presented some data about the research interests of the membership and animal law merited mention only as one the disciplines least often listed as a primary research interest.  Indeed, I’m one of only 6 academy members who did list it.

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