Archive for May, 2012
We all know about the large number of species going extinct each day (20 to 200), but did you know that 18,000 new species of plants and animals are discovered each year? In true David Letterman style the International Institute For Species Exploration (http://species.asu.edu/) has developed a top ten list of the most charismatic, unusual and bizarre organisms discovered each year. The 2012 members are the Bonaire banded box jelly, the devil’s worm (a nematode found living 1.3 km under the earth in a South African gold mine), the night-blooming orchid (the first plant to do so), the dive-bombing wasp, the spongebob squarepants mushroom, the Nepalese autumn poppy, the wandering leg sausage (a large Tanzanian millipede), the walking cactus (related to velvet worms), Sazima’s tarantula (an iridescent blue Brazilian tarantula), and, my favourite, the sneezing monkey of Myanmar. This monkey, with black fur and a white beard, has such a dramatically upturned nose that water leaks into it when it rains, causing it to sneeze. To avoid rainwater dripping into its nose it tends to sit with its head between its legs. It doesn’t seem like a terrific idea, as hunters find them by following the sneezes, but presumably the upturned nostrils convey some evolutionary advantage? Maybe they stop the monkeys getting cream in their nose when they have Devonshire tea?
Dr. F. Bunny
Sneezing monkey when it’s not raining.
Atheists are commonly asked, “How can there be morality without God?” This is the wrong question. The question should be, “How can there be morality with God?” God is incredibly divisive and regularly pits his followers against the non-believers. The trouble is that all theists consider themselves to be his followers. God must be very keen for people to come and stay with him because he has been, and continues to be, one of the major causes of conflict throughout the history of the world. Before judging the amoral atheists consider that atheists do not raise armies to destroy non-atheists. Atheists do not blow themselves up, or anyone else for that matter. Atheists are very tolerant of other people’s imaginary friends and do not force them to recant their beliefs. They don’t burn people at the stake, behead them, threaten small children with eternal damnation, subjugate women or build extravagant monuments to their imaginary friends. Atheists decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They don’t rely on anachronistic scribblings to tell them what to do, scribblings such as those I have listed below. Unfortunately these edicts are a little too general and need some clarification and updating. I would appreciate it if anyone can help me out.
a) When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev 1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
b) I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obliged to kill him myself?
c) A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev 1:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this?
d) I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her (While visiting Morocco I was offered 1000 camels. Of course I refused. He then increased it to 2000 camels. That represented serious currency. Unfortunately my wife threatened me with serious violence, so I was forced to decline his generous offer, much to my daughter’s relief)?
e) Lev 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Indonesians, but not New Zealanders. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own New Zealanders?
f) I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev 15: 19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.
g) Lev 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or are there some allowances for reading glasses?
h) Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev 19:27. How should they die?
i) I know from Lev 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean, but may my son still play football if he wears gloves?
j) My uncle, a farmer, blatantly violates Lev 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). I have also heard him curse and blaspheme. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev 24:10-16). Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair?
Definitely an oldie but a goody. How can there be morality without God? I’m sorry what was the question?
Dr. F. Bunny
Recently I was in Florida at a veterinary conference. Attached to the conference facility was a large hall full of exhibitors touting everything from the latest surgical instruments to stem cell treatments. There was also a booth belonging to Alley Cat Allies (https://www.alleycat.org). Intrigued, I sauntered over to take a look. Unfortunately they represent an organisation that, rather than attempting to solve the feral cat problem, seem destined to perpetuate it by their program of trap and neuter. This works by catching feral cats, desexing them, vaccinating them and then letting them go again. The result is a vaccinated population of cats that cannot breed, which will hopefully lead to a gradual decline in the population.
Unfortunately what it doesn’t address is the fact that feral cats, sterilised or not, still need to eat. In Australia it is estimated that cats chew their way through 3.8 million native Australian animals annually (http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/wildlife-ecosystems/wildlife/threats_to_wildlife/cat.html). Add that to the fact that they also spread diseases such as toxoplasmosis, a condition which causes large numbers of marsupial deaths each year. After some “lively” discussion the Allies put it to me that the situation in America is different to Australia, as American animals evolved with a feline presence e.g. bobcats and mountain lions. Unfortunately no one mentioned this to the sea otters that are dying of toxoplasmosis off the California coast.
The only sensible way to manage feral cats is to euthanase them. No one would suggest trap and neuter programs for foxes or rabbits (at least I hope not) and I don’t see why feral cats should be treated differently. They are treated differently because of our emotional attachment to cats (as discussed in “All Animals Are Equal”). One argument advanced against the trap and euthanase method is that fresh cats will wander in to fill the void. Good. Then they can be euthanased too until, hopefully, there are no more cats left to euthanase. The New Zealanders have successfully re-introduced a number of native bird species to some of their offshore islands. They were only able to do this, not by desexing and releasing cats, but by removing every last one of them.
The root of the problem obviously goes back to irresponsible cat owners who, for whatever reason, lose interest in their pet and decide to turn it loose on the world instead of either rehoming it or having it euthanased. For a more realistic discussion of the feral cat problem see “Who’s For Cats?” at http://www.whosforcats.com.au/.
And the definition of a feral cat? According to a friend of mine, it’s any cat found more than 100 metres from a house that doesn’t answer to “Here Puss, Puss, Puss”.
Dr. F. Bunny
As I mentioned in a previous blog (Zoo Based Conservation – What have the Romans, er Zoos, done for Us, I mean Conservation? 9/2/12) zoos have a somewhat dubious record when it comes to conservation and endangered species programs. This is at least partly because traditional zoos contain two powerful opposing forces, which are constantly at war with each other. On the one hand we have the keepers who interact directly with both the public and the animals. They are there because of a passion for conservation and a love for the animals they work with on a daily basis. On the other hand we have the managers. Many of these people have no animal related backgrounds. The zoo is just another place to work and it exists primarily to entertain and make money.
Because this dichotomy exists zoos are constantly at war with themselves. Keepers complain because insufficient funds are allocated to conservation programs and animals are expected to perform excessively. Managers complain because keepers are being too precious about their animals and fail to understand that without the money brought in by visitors there can be no funding for “nice to do” activities, like conservation programs.
Many of the gains made by zoos are being eroded in the interests of entertainment. While the chimpanzee tea parties will hopefully remain a thing of the past, zoos have reinstalled amusement park rides and are more and more willing to have hand raised, humanised animals engage in hands on contact and photo opportunities with visitors. As mentioned previously, this does no one any favours.
The solution? Make zoos charitable institutions that can be accessible to the public for the purpose of education, but do not rely on gate takings from visitors for their existence. Ensure that all staff share the same vision by emphasizing experience in conservation and animal management at all levels of the organisation above other attributes. None of the really good managers ever work in zoos anyway because the pay is so poor compared with real companies. If you’re going to have barely competent people at least have ones with some passion for conservation.
Dr. F. Bunny