The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is a North American membership organization that offers accreditation to its institutional members that meet their qualifications. They are the largest zoological organization in this hemisphere and have counterparts in both Europe and Asia. The majority of large zoos in major metropolitan areas are AZA accredited.
This week, AZA raised some eyebrows when they announced their partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – an organization which promotes keeping animals in the wild, and wildlife rehabilitation, and rescue, all laudable sounding goals. But IFAW’s critics, along with those of AZA would argue that their goals are not always based on best practices or science but on ideology, and that they often prioritize their own self-interest ahead of their stated missions. Worse, they seek to enforce their ideology through coercive legislative campaigns. In other words, IFAW is criticized for being the international counterpart of the Humane Society of the United States.
It is worth nothing that when it comes to adopting pets, virtually everybody subscribes to a “no-kill” philosophy – at least at the most basic level. After all, what kind of monster doesn’t want every adoptable shelter animal saved? We all do! But of course, it can never be that simple, because when we move beyond the basics, many people – well-meaning people who share the same goals – have strong disagreements on how shelters and rescues should be run, on animals and public policy, on how adoptions should be handled, and even on how we define terms such as “adoptable” or “saved.”
Ever wonder why the tiny fennec fox looks like its ears are on loan from the much larger red fox? Its giant ears aren’t just for fashion and to better hear their prey. They also serve as a pair of radiators to dissipate excess heat from their bodies. This is an extremely valuable adaptation, given the arid environments they inhabit. African elephants, with their thin, floppy ears, engage in this practice as well – fennec foxes just do it in a more dramatic (and cuter) manner.
When it comes to saving water, one method that might seem unpleasant to us is reabsorbing urine. It’s something we can actually do to a point, but nowhere to the extent of desert animals who have adapted to the practice. In this category, the true champion pee-holder is Australia’s spinifex hopping mouse, whose ridiculously efficient kidneys squeeze nearly every usable drop of liquid from their pee – reabsorbing, reabsorbing, and reabsorbing – until they produce solid urine! Best not to try that one at home.
That’s just two animals. There are countless other species with amazing extreme-environment adaptations like the fennec fox or spinifex hopping mouse. But while these animals are impressive, that doesn’t mean they are indestructible. In fact, some animals with extreme adaptations may be at an increased risk of extinction due to climate change, pollution, and/or habitat loss than others, because they are already living near their edge of survivability – if things get much hotter and dryer and they have nowhere else to go, they will simply die out.
At first glance, this reads like “just another week, just another French Bulldog robbery.” Frenchies are a popular breed, and there have been numerous incidents like this in the last few years. Recently, and perhaps most famously, Lady Gaga’s dogwalker was injured by a shooter, and two of her Frenchies were stolen. However, there are several details here that speak to larger cultural issues.
First, the dog is purportedly worth $7,000 – a price tag that, even accounting for inflation and the breed’s enormous popularity, is far too expensive for most people’s tastes. There’s popularity, and well… there’s this. People desire specific types of dogs, and this shows how far they will go to get them.
Second, Melani’s coat color/pattern is merle, a color combination that the French Bulldog Club of America and many other AKC breed clubs disqualify because it can be linked to problems if improperly bred.
Finally, the pregnant dog is only 10 months old. At this young age, the dog is still growing, so even though it is physically possible for dogs to become pregnant at this age, allowing a young female to be bred at her first heat cycle is uniformly opposed by experienced breeders and kennel clubs. While this story has something of a clickbait headline, the details within may be even more attention-grabbing to those of us who are involved in animal husbandry.
Admit it: when you see a reptile mother, the first adjectives to pop into your mind probably don’t have much to do with nurturing. And perhaps that isn’t entirely unwarranted: countless species of animals’ duty to their progeny ends roughly around the same time as their eggs are fertilized. This includes many species of egg-laying reptiles, which leave their young long before they hatch (the scads of unsupervised baby turtles we see crossing the road each year will attest to this). But “many” doesn’t mean “all,” and in the case of a few reptiles, the care they provide to their young is truly above and beyond!
An example of this was recently captured in videos of a 3-legged alligator mom building a nest and limping back and forth to her hatchlings as she gently carries them into the water. While the video is extraordinary and heartwarming in its way, it turns out this behavior is really quite ordinary for alligators. Alligator moms guard their eggs, and even respond to unhatched young calling to them from inside their shells. Sometimes, they will even aid in the birthing… er, hatching process by carefully biting into a hatchling’s shell! From there, they stick around for up to two years, helping and protecting their offspring until they are large enough to fend for themselves. Believe it or not, the hatchlings need this help: alligators – at least the young ones – have several natural predators.
Observing this behavior is a fascinating reminder that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. It is also tantalizing in the questions it raises: crocodilians (the order alligators belong to) are actually more closely related to birds and dinosaurs than to other living reptiles, Hmmm… after seeing this, it’s hard not to wonder if nasty ol’ T-rex was actually a doting parent.
Well, this is certainly a splash of cold water to hear, but it was preceded by a reminder of the numerous other services offered by the shelter – some of which may prevent pet relinquishment altogether: assistance with pet food and supplies, rental deposits, and even vaccines and other veterinary necessities. While many of us think of rescue for homeless pets first when talking about animal services and charities, there are several other ways shelters or animal organizations can help… many of which can be used to keep a pet from becoming homeless altogether.
There are many things to consider in Rosenthal’s story. For example, if a dog gets off its property due to owner negligence and kills someone’s livestock, a reasonable argument can be made that the dog’s owner should pay for the livestock, rather than punishing the dog for simply expressing its natural instincts. If the law is too black and white in such situations, it should be updated to reflect our values and current understanding of animal behavior. This seems to be the case with a chicken-killing Siberian Husky named Luna that was defended by Rosenthal in 2011 (even the chickens’ owner didn’t want to see the dog put down – he only wanted to be reimbursed for the cost of his animals). Similarly, if a large dog is attacked by a much smaller dog, and things end poorly for the smaller dog, should the larger dog be euthanized on the grounds that it is an “aggressive dog?” Again, most would agree this should be case-by-case, rather than blanket condemnation for the dog that bit last.
However, while there are clear instances where dogs should be fought for and protected from euthanization, there are other examples of Rosenthal defending dogs that have been highly contentious. For example, he defended a dog that killed a 1-year-old, which is a line many people – quite understandably – will never cross, no matter how “misunderstood” the dog may be, or whether the death was actually just a “tragic accident” (as it was framed in court). In this instance, perhaps “contentious” is putting it mildly – Rosenthal received hate mail and death threats for that one.
Another aspect of this story that is troubling is the judges’ habit of giving this lawyer wins by simply sending the dog in question off to live in another state or county. That’s not a real solution. We all love dogs, but some dogs are legitimately dangerous, and shifting this responsibility – and risk – to another jurisdiction doesn’t help anybody. Frankly, it is dangerous. There are too many examples of people’s hearts, belief systems, egos, and/or obligations pushing them into giving a vicious dog “one more chance,” adopting it out, and opening the door for tragedy to strike. This is the road we go down when dogs with serious behavioral issues are shipped off to other states.
This is truly amazing stuff. Bar 20 has been using its digester since late 2021 and has already seen great results. The eventual goal is to produce more energy than is used at the farm, which is not at all unrealistic. Reducing carbon emissions from both vehicles and agriculture while simultaneously gaining something positive are obvious boons, but there are other benefits, as well: fertilizer and animal bedding are also produced by the digestion process. The catch? Getting started with this process is expensive. There are currently 40 operational digesters and several more on the way, but at least currently, these projects are generally unaffordable without the help of state incentives and private investors.
For such an anodyne-sounding term, the word “bycatch” can be quite the grenade. It is generally associated with commercial fishing, and, at its most basic level, refers to any species of animal you didn’t intend to catch while fishing. Crabs, the wrong species of fish, and – perhaps most famously – dolphins all come to mind as examples of bycatch. However, while the term is accurate, albeit vague, “bycatch” is also viewed as an enraging, industry-manufactured euphemism by animal rights activists and some of the more vociferous critics of commercial fishing. To them, it is a term that “sugarcoats the indefensible” – waste, suffering, ecological devastation (you know the drill). OK, that’s predictably over-the-top, but we’ll concede that bycatch sits among industry buzzwords like “harvest” or “free-range,” that, even when well-intentioned, have the potential to raise at least as many questions as they answer.
Off the coast of Alaska, where pollock are caught (pollock are the white groundfish that often end up in fish fillet sandwiches), there is a long history of salmon bycatch. This is bad news, as there are indigenous people who depend on salmon for food, and some of the Pacific salmon species are endangered. However, the nets used by Alaskan pollock fishers now use salmon excluders, which allow salmon to escape from pollock nets.
A more colorful solution comes from Oregon, where it was recently discovered that an ecologically vital smelt, the eulachon, will follow LED lights (especially green ones) placed on the bottom of a shrimp net, keeping them from being inadvertently scooped up. Interestingly, nobody is quite sure why eulachons follow the lights – but follow they do, and that is the important thing.
For seabirds, the oft-forgotten victims of bycatch, streamers (called tori lines or, more aptly, bird-scaring lines) have been equipped on many boats, flapping threateningly over fishing lines, and more importantly, over the tantalizing bait that birds sometimes attack and get hooked on. When used properly, these lines have been hugely successful.
And finally, for our beloved cetaceans, instead of visual cues, a device called a banana pinger (surprise! – it looks much like a mechanical banana) is now being attached to fishing nets, emitting obnoxious high-frequency pings when submerged. The good news so far: dolphins and porpoises are not fans of it! There has been some fear that hungry porpoises, clever as they are, would become habituated to the noise, and begin exploring the delicious interiors of fishing nets once again, but so far, there is little evidence of that happening.
While none of these innovations are perfect, they make a difference and are chasing an important ideal… and more are finding their way into the field (and the water) every day.
This month, due to a congressional directive, USDA APHIS discontinued its use of “teachable moments” with licensees when enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. Teachable moments occurred when inspections found small, isolated non-compliances that didn’t affect the overall care and welfare of a licensee’s animals. These non-compliances were able to be corrected quickly with a little guidance, and they were documented for the record and future inspections. It is important to note that licensees with histories of multiple or serious non-compliance issues were not eligible for teachable moments.
Individuals with historical knowledge of USDA APHIS enforcement practices find this change incredibly unfortunate and counterproductive. Teachable moments were a valuable tool for producing honest relationships, education, and better animal welfare outcomes. Moving to an “enforcement only” model breaks a vital connection between licensees and inspectors; it creates an environment where even the best operations no longer view the USDA and its inspectors as collaborative sources of knowledge and improvement, but as adversaries to distrust and fear. This change helps no one and no animal.