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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GEIG – A Coda and a Step Forward for Animal Ethics

This was a very productive 5 day meeting of GEIG.  In addition to attending some fine discussions and papers over the last several days, I also officially joined the IUCN CEL Ethics Specialist Group, something I mistakenly thought I had done in Barcelona at the IUCN Congress back in the fall.  The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is the world’s largest NGO and the oldest environmental organization in the world. The Commission on Environmental Law (CEL) is a subsidiary organization of the IUCN and the Ethics Specialist Group (ESG) forms a subgroup of the CEL. The ESG wishes to add animal rights to its agenda, a development about which I could not be more happy.

The IUCN (the parent organization – not the CEL) has traditionally excluded animal organizations from membership because their aims do not align with those of the Species Survival Group, a powerful constituency within the IUCN, which advocates for traditional hunting.  As I mentioned a while back, I believe this policy of exclusion serves only those who oppose a diverse environmental agenda.  Environmentalists do not agree on everything but we share a common goal.  Given the stakes, we would be wise to focus on the areas where we agree rather than where we differ.  Part of my mission for the next few years involves working to open the IUCN to animal groups and to the vision such organizations bring to the world’s environmental agenda.

I feel very good about joining the ESG and even better about the warm welcome my animal advocacy agenda received.  The larger IUCN moves slowly (it convenes only quadrennially) but this is important work and I am willing to (try to) be patient.

–David Cassuto

A quick follow-up from Barcelona…

Over the last several days I have talked to a number of folks about working the animal agenda into the international environmental arena. I am cautiously optimistic about the chances for substantive reform. My conversations with some of the directorate of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law (an organization of law schools around the world which devote significant resources to the teaching of environmental law) proved productive. I believe Animal Law will make its way on to the Academy’s radar as an important component of environmental law. In addition, I have joined the IUCN Ethics Specialist Group with the expressed intention of promoting this issue within that group. My views and agenda were welcomed there as well.

This will be a multi-year effort that will require diplomacy and patience. I welcome the assistance of any or all who wish to help and I look forward to continuing this discussion both on and off-line.

David Cassuto

The IUCN and Animal Advocacy

I write this post from Barcelona where I am attending the World Conservation Congress, the quadrennial meeting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is a unique coalition of countries, NGOs, and others whose common cause is protection of the environment. I am a member of the delegation representing Pace Law School’s Center for Environmental Legal Studies, which is a member of the IUCN. My delegation forms part of the 8000 or so people who have converged on Barcelona for 10 days of meetings and politicking aimed at setting environmental policy for the world for the next four years. Last night featured an address from 2006 Nobel Laureate, Mohammad Yunus and today we heard from Ted Turner.

What does it have to do with animals? Well, that’s exactly the issue. Animal advocacy, which should be front and center at a congress like this, is instead relegated to subtext. Many sessions focus on endangered species, ecosystem and habitat management, and marine mammal protections but nothing specifically treats animal welfare for its own sake, ethics or rights. That gap underscores an issue about which I intend to blog a fair bit in coming days – the schism between the animal and environmental communities and if and how it can be healed.

At first blush, it is hard to see why friction should arise between those whose passion is environmental protection and those for whom animals (who both live in and form part of the environment) come first. One would expect synergy and cooperation between linked causes. Alas, no. Here at the IUCN, for example, animal advocacy cannot even find a place at the table. Not long ago, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) applied for membership but was denied because its mission did not align with IUCN’s stated goals of supporting indigenous groups’ right to hunt and of sustainable take policies.

I find this exclusionary policy baffling. Nowhere is the “big tent” approach more necessary or urgent than in the realm of environmental protection. IFAW (and other animal advocacy groups) may have a different set of goals than those who support hunting but both find common cause in IUCN’s larger mission of the conservation of nature. Excluding those who support the protection of animals because they are sentient, self-aware beings whose lives matter for their own sake is divisive and unnecessary. It ignores enormous areas of agreement among the parties and sows dissension instead of unity.

I consider myself both an environmental and an animal advocate. Yet, I do not find common cause with everyone or every issue in either community. In my view, those differences create strength and diversity rather than problems. By contrast, rigid doctrinal requirements undermine momentum towards shared goals and create needless friction among would-be allies.

I intend to raise this issue everywhere I can in the next week and a half and to see what I can do to put in on the agenda for the future. Further bulletins as events warrant.

David Cassuto

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