Sunday, March 24, 2013

Listening to Non-Human Animals

It is frustrating to me how humans under value and underestimate the richness of non-human animals intelligence, their lives, relationships with each other and overall awareness of the world around them.  Whether we are guilty of judging them as compared to humans or we only see them for their value to us as resources, food or clothing we negate their desire and right to live their lives.  They, no less than us, want to live.

This was driven home to me once again this morning as I listened to the American Public Media show, On Being.  Krista Tippett interviewed the acoustic biologist Katy Payne.  Ms. Payne discovered and documented the songs of humpback whales.  She moved on to study African elephant communication.  Her work points out just how little we know about the other creatures with whom we share this planet.  I simply cannot emphasize enough how new the field of animal behavior (ethology) is in comparison to other scientific fields of study. 

I urge you to listen to the show.  Not only is it informative, it's also touching.  The discussion starts on a positive note and finishes with a serious discussion of the plight of wild elephants from both poaching and culling.  You can listen to the show here: Whale Songs and Elephant Loves

For more information about Katy Payne and The Elephant Listening Project, visit these links:
Katy Payne
The Elephant Listening Project

I will end with a quote that was life altering for me:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”

Henry Beston

Sunday, March 17, 2013

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth A Pound of Cure

The title refers to a well-known quote from one of our founders, Benjamin Franklin.  Personally, I think it is easily as important as a guideline on how we live as is the Golden Rule.  I do my best, when making a decision or before going forward with an action, to consider the consequences.  If only those who wield power or who influence our lives now and into the future would adopt such a long range vision instead of seeming to only be concerned with immediate gains or results (the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico & Keystone XL pipeline to cite two examples), I feel all life on this planet would be better served.  That includes the lives of the powerful and otherwise influential as well.

Once again Moyers & Company had a powerful episode today.  His guest on the show was Anthony Leiserowitz, a researcher with the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.  I feel that everyone should take a little bit of time out of their busy schedules to watch this show.  The information provided, along with the presentation of that information, puts forward a wealth of information necessary for every person everywhere.  It isn't filled with charts or incomprehensible facts and figures to write down or commit to memory.  Instead he presents an easily understandable reason to move NOW to take action to do something about climate change.  He also presents facts in a reasonable way that anyone can understand, with or without an advanced degree in any of the sciences.

Some of the facts he presents are startling.  Working with Gallup, a worldwide poll about climate change was taken.  In some countries, they found that up to 75% of the people polled had NEVER HEARD about climate change.  He delineates six distinct groups based upon their position on climate change.

Most people rely on the media for their information.  Not only do environmental issues receive short shrift in the media, but climate change is barely a blip on the media's radar.  If our information sources don't treat this issue (or group of issues) as critical, why would the general populace?  Add to that the current state of our media, where a few corporations or moguls control most of the print and airwaves in the marketplace.  Plus the media rely upon advertising revenues to keep them up and running.  If the advertisers have a policy of denying climate change, what are the chances that the media will give front page coverage to the problems of climate change?  We have the internet, right?  Well, contrary to a current commercial - not everything you read on the internet is true.  Unfortunately much of the internet is polarized and biased.  A rush to be first in reporting something often leads to the wrong information being put out there.  We only need to look back to last summer when CNN reported that the Supreme Court had overturned the Affordable Care Act.  They didn't read the full verdict and were left standing with egg all over their faces.

Below is the video of Moyers & Company with Anthony Leiserowitz.  It's about 45 minutes long.  It is worth YOUR time.  Please take that time and watch it.  Let me know what YOU think.

For more information on Anthony Leiserowitz, visit this link.

Information about the Gallup Poll can be found here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Mary Leakey, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas

As an undergraduate majoring in zoology in the late 60s I read the book African Genesis by Robert Ardrey.  It was one of the books that changed my life.  I can’t provide you with specifics but I remember nearly 50 years later that the book had a great impact on me.  

The book introduced me to Dr. Louis B. Leakey and his wife Mary Leakey.  They spent most of their lives in Africa, primarily in the Olduvai Gorge.  Mary, a paleontologist, made a number of amazing discoveries of the earliest humans.  

Dr. Leakey provided me with women role models in zoology, biology and ethology.  There were very few women in those fields, either working or studying, in the late 60s.  The biological sciences were the bastion of men, from history to the present.  Dr. Leakey was responsible for sending Jane Goodall to Gombe to study chimpanzees, Dian Fossey to study gorillas and Birute Galdikas to study orangutans. 

I clearly remember the outrage voiced by my major professors that a young woman, without a degree in any of the biological sciences, had been sent to study chimpanzees.  They never seemed to miss a chance to deride Jane Goodall.  The fact that Ms. Goodall named the subjects of her field research was considered outrageous, unscientific and received the majority of their scorn.  Science was Objective, science did not bring emotions into research.  No serious scientist could discover valid information if they did not stand apart from the non-human animals they were seeking to study.  Any conclusions drawn would be suspect, at least in their eyes.  

I, on the other hand, rejected that conclusion.  That, in and of itself, caused me to question many of the methods of scientific study where non-human animals were concerned.  It actually caused me to become a bit of a thorn in their sides.  I actually walked out of one of my Animal Physiology classes where we were expected to chloroform white rats and then decapitate them.  I had always had a problem with killing frogs in biology, but the method employed was more humane than decapitation of a mildly anesthetized animal.  

As everyone knows by now, my professors were wrong.  Not only has Jane Goodall become one of the most respected chimpanzee experts on the planet, but the work done by both Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas has advanced our knowledge of gorillas and orangutans, and changed the public view of primates in particular for the better.  These women, as well as those who followed their examples, have changed the methods by which many more researchers are conducting their studies of many species of non-human animals. 

To learn more about Mary Leakey, visit this link.

Visit The Jane Goodall Institute to find out more about Ms. Goodall and her work.

Although Dian Fossey was murdered by gorilla poachers in 1985, her work has continued.  Ms. Fossey founded The Gorilla Fund before her death in 1978.

Orangutan habitat is disappearing, primarily due to the palm oil industry.  Palm oil is used in many products and pre-packaged foods. Ms. Galdikas continues to work diligently to protect orangutans who, without her dedication, would likely be extinct in the wild by now.  Orangutan International Fund is the non-profit she has established to educate and ensure orangutans continued protection.