Archive for May, 2013

What’s New Pussycat?

Following on from last year’s “Bless You!” post (29/5/12) here is the 2013 list of the top ten new species discovered in the last year, as compiled by the International Institute For Species Exploration (http://species.asu.edu).

We have a fossilised species of hangingfly from China  (does it count as a new species if it no longer exists?), Semachrysa jade (a green lacewing from Malaysia), Lucihormetica luckae (a luminescent cockroach from Ecuador), Eugenia petrikensis (a two metre high myrtle shrub from Madagascar), Paedophryne amanuensis (a frog from New Guinea which, at 7.7 mm long, is officially the world’s smallest vertebrate), Ochroconis lascauxensis (a black fungus found associated with Paleolithic rock art on a cave wall in France), a species of snail-eating snake from Panama, the lesula monkey from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the carnivorous lyre sponge found in deep water (average 3399 metres) off the California coast, and the Lilliputian violet from Peru.

In a world so covered by the human footprint it continues to amaze me how little we really know and how much is still to be discovered.

Dr. F. Bunny

Green Lacewing Luminescent Cockroach

Semachrysa jade                                                                    Lucihormetica luckae

Smallest VertebrateLesula Monkey

Paedophryne amanuensis                                             Lesula monkey with remarkably human-looking face.

Snail-eating SnakeLyre Sponge

Snail-eating snake                                                           Lyre sponge

 

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Wildlife Preserves

Wildlife Preserves

In order to preserve the wildlife of the wilderness at all, some middle ground must be found between brutal and senseless slaughter and … unhealthy sentimentalism. (Theodore Roosevelt 1905)

We cannot win this battle to save our species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love. (Stephen Jay Gould, from an essay titled “This View of Life: Unenchanted Evening.” 1991)

These quotes highlight our main difficulty when it comes to “saving” wildlife: our relationship with other species. On the one hand we cannot treat them as a limitless resource or commodities to be used as we see fit because that will drive even more of them to extinction. However, we also cannot treat them as cute, fluffy, incredibly fragile toys that are either smothered by love and affection or locked in a cupboard because they are far too precious to play with.

The problem with both attitudes is that they separate us from the natural world. There still seems to exist a belief that we humans live our lives in one world while nature exists in a completely separate world and ne’er the twain shall meet. Going down the senseless exploitation road ignores the fact that we are all interdependent and that by destroying the natural world we will, eventually, destroy ourselves as well. The other path, that of locking nature up in preserves, also ignores the fact that we are dependent on it for our survival and that there is nothing wrong with utilising it, as long as we do it in a sustainable manner.

In this regard there is much we can learn from some traditional cultures that, while causing their own fair share of extinctions, did manage to use the world around them in a reasonably sustainable manner. They certainly did not lock their resources away for no one to use or cover them with a cloak of mawkish sentimentality. They did, however, devise means that prevented over harvesting, possibly one of the few times where religious superstitions actually caused some good in the world.

Tim Flannery cites an example in his book, “The Future Eaters”. Many moons ago in far north Queensland the indigenous Gugu-Yalandji people hunted tree kangaroos throughout the forest, except in sacred story places. Story places were off limits to people and acted as tree kangaroo reservoirs. When the reservoirs filled up animals dispersed into the surrounding areas where they could be hunted. A similar situation existed in New Guinea.  When Europeans came along they replaced these local superstitions with Christian superstitions. The story places were now no longer sacred, people were no longer forbidden entry and the tree kangaroo population crashed. The story place myth was probably started by one of the world’s first conservationists, or at least someone with enough foresight to realise that if they did not devise a method to limit tree kangaroo hunting they would very soon become extinct.

Many years on we don’t appear to have made much progress. While some of us still adhere to religious superstitions about not eating pigs and shellfish, or cows being sacred, we seem incapable of grasping the scientific fact that if we kill all the tree kangaroos (substitute any species you like here) we will also not survive. It is a pity there were no religious myths about not killing passenger pigeons, dodos, moas, or quaggas, as appeals to science and logic do not appear to work.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Soft Kitty, Warm Kitty, Little Ball Of Fur

Cat cafes seem to be another peculiarly Japanese phenomenon (although the first one opened in Taiwan). After paying an exorbitant fee I was given what was possibly the worst cup of coffee I have ever had, and then ushered into what was really just a house with several rooms. There were 20 or so cats wandering about with a few more sitting in cages. Apparently they get stressed by too much stroking and need some down time to recover, so cats are rotated through the café.

As soon as I sat down I was pounced upon by a ginger and white feline wearing an Elizabethan collar. It could obviously tell that I was a veterinarian. Not being a cat person, it intrigues me that whenever there are a group of people in a room the cat always heads straight for me. The admission price gave me an hour to interact with our furry friends. According to a number of reports all this stroking is supposed to lower my blood pressure and alleviate stress (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/98432.php). I find that being unable to get up for fear of upsetting the cat in my lap does exactly the opposite.

There was also a dog cafe around the corner but, instead of being a place where you could pat a dog, throw a stick, and get your groin licked, it was actually somewhere you went with your dog where the two of you could enjoy a romantic dinner together.

IMG_6672IMG_6673

I assume these sorts of places exist in Japan because of space restrictions that force many people to live in small apartments that do not accommodate pets. This started me thinking about the whole concept of pets. Although no other group of animals has attempted to domesticate another species (unless you count ants farming aphids) I can understand why humans did it. Cats kept vermin out of grain stores, dogs helped with hunting, horses provided transport, cattle gave milk, chickens laid eggs, sheep made wool and they all (depending on the society you lived in) provided a readily accessible source of protein.

What I have trouble grappling with is when the domesticated animal, often a dog or cat, transcends its utilitarian purpose and becomes a surrogate child. At the risk of generalising, this phenomenon seems to be more common among childless middle aged women. Many wildlife carers fall into this bracket and, while they all say they are only looking after the animal or raising it so it can be released back to the wild, in many cases this does not happen because the animal has become that person’s child.

I find this disturbing for a number of reasons. Presumably these people are lacking love and affection of a human kind and so seek it from a different species, a species which apparently never complains or criticises and just gives unconditional love. At least that is what they would have you believe. The reality is, unfortunately, quite different. Animals are held in a human environment and expected to conform to human rules and standards. They are no longer allowed to hunt, mark their territory, or roam free and seldom have the opportunity to socialise with their own species. It is ironic that many of the animals that are taken to veterinarians because of “behaviour problems” are really only attempting to act as nature intended. Because that does not conform to our lifestyle many of them spend their lives on animal versions of antidepressants.

There is also the disease aspect. I remember a carer who brought her eastern grey kangaroo joey to me because it had intractable diarrhoea. We cultured Campylobacter from the joey. Interestingly the carer subsequently developed diarrhoea caused by the same bacteria. On further questioning it transpired that she took the joey to bed with her each night. Recently 15 people in a Canberra nursing home also developed Campylobacter gastroenteritis, this time courtesy of a healthy but infected puppy (http://www.smh.com.au/act-news/puppy-ban-over-aged-care-illness-scare-20130318-2gbkb.html).

The problem is that we are trying to force our animal friends to live human lives, when they wish to live animal lives. It is a shame that the value of an animal always seems to be measured by what it can do for us. Why can we not just enjoy them for who they are and co-exist on this planet without constantly having to touch, fondle and otherwise manipulate them?

Dr. F. Bunny

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Traditional Hunting

Why Japan, the country with the world’s third largest economy, wants to persist in killing whales is beyond me. The activity attracts an enormous amount of negative publicity and cannot make much of a contribution to its national economy. Still, other developed countries such as Norway and Iceland, are going down the same route. Do they just not want other countries telling them what to do or are they really that keen to preserve their ancient traditions? If that is the case then I would rather they came right out and said it, instead of continuing under this guise of “scientific whaling”. While not a marine mammal veterinarian I do spend an inordinate amount of time perusing wildlife/veterinary/conservation journal articles and cannot remember ever coming across a single “scientific whaling” article. When I was in Norway I noticed whale on a restaurant menu. Perhaps they were conducting a scientific taste test?

Tradition is often invoked as an inviolable reason for doing something (in a similar way to religion being given to justify reprehensible acts such as female genital mutilation) that common sense, morality or scientific data would prevent. This is blatant hypocrisy as it is only used to justify specific activities rather than an entire lifestyle. I would be much happier about the Japanese invoking their traditional right to kill whales or the Inuit their right to kill polar bears if they also invoked their traditional right to walk rather than use snowmobiles, hunt with bows, arrows and spears rather than rifles, and whale in small boats with harpoons rather than large ships with cannons and exploding harpoons.

Nowadays whale and polar bear products have all been replaced by alternatives and the true significance of tradition falls a little flat when local people in Canada sell their culturally important polar bear quotas to sport hunters.

While much of the hunting debate focuses on potentially dwindling population numbers, which is very important, as a veterinarian I feel that at least some emphasis should be placed on the humaneness of the activity. In this way I have less of an issue with killing polar bears than with killing whales because, ironically, the advent of more advanced weapons makes it more likely to kill a polar bear humanely. However, it remains impossible to kill a whale humanely.

“Tradition” is really just another in a long line of excuses, along with provision of food, challenge, thrill, pride, profit and just plain fun, to justify hunting and killing. It is time to admit that we are evolutionarily hard wired to hunt. As Rick Ridgeway says about hunting in his book, “The Shadow of Kilimanjaro”, “you were doing what you were designed to do, and that is the ineffable attraction.” We have become just like the domestic cat who no longer needs to hunt to eat, but retains an innate need to stalk and chase and kill.

Dr. F. Bunny

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