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TOPIC: animals


A Naturalist's Defense Of The Modern Zoo

Zoos are often associated with animal cruelty, or at the very least a general animal unhappiness. But on everything from research to education to biodiversity, there is a case to be made for the modern zoo.


MADRID — Zoos — or at least something resembling the traditional idea of a zoo — date back to ancient Mesopotamia. It was around 3,500 BC when Babylonian kings housed wild animals such as lions and birds of prey in beautiful structures known as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Ancient China also played a significant role in the history of zoos when the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) created several parks which hosted an assortment of animals.

In Europe, it wouldn't be until 1664 when Louis XIV inaugurated the royal menagerie at Versailles. All these spaces shared the mission of showcasing the wealth and power of the ruler, or simply served as decorations. Furthermore, none of them were open to the general public; only a few fortunate individuals, usually the upper classes, had access.

The first modern zoo, conceived for educational purposes in Vienna, opened in 1765. Over time, the educational mission has become more prominent, as the exhibition of exotic animals has been complemented with scientific studies, conservation and the protection of threatened species.

For decades, zoos have been places of leisure, wonder, and discovery for both the young and the old. Despite their past success, in recent years, society's view of zoos has been changing due to increased awareness of animal welfare, shifting sensibilities and the possibility of learning about wild animals through screens. So, many people wonder: What is the purpose of a zoo in the 21st century?

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Gimme Shelter! Using Tech To Rethink How We Protect Endangered Species

Human-made shelters don’t always keep creatures out of harm’s way. Can technology help design a better protect birds and possums?

In 2016, Ox Lennon was trying to peek in the crevices inside a pile of rocks. They considered everything from injecting builders’ foam into the tiny spaces to create a mold to dumping a heap of stones into a CT scanner. Still, they couldn’t get the data they were after: how to stack rocks so that a mouse wouldn’t squeeze through, but a small lizard could hide safely inside.

Lennon, then a Ph.D. student at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, aimed to protect skinks, snake-like lizards on which non-native mice prey. When road construction near Wellington displaced a local population of the reptiles, they were moved to a different site. But the new location lacked the rock piles that skinks use as shelter.

So, Lennon and their colleagues set out to create a mice-proof pile of rocks. It proved harder than they thought.

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Silver Lining To Sicilian Heat: Baby Boom Of Endangered Sea Turtles

Italy has experienced a difficult summer of climate disasters, but the country is experiencing a boom in turtles' nests, with Sicily leading the way.

SAN VIOTO LO CAPO — In the summer of Italy's climate disasters, from floods in Milan to fires in the south, at least there is some good news: the boom of nests of the Caretta caretta turtle (or loggerhead sea turtle), one of Italy's emblematic endangered species.

Now, the turtle is experiencing a golden moment precisely because of the planet's warming, which has made Sicily a natural cradle for these baby reptiles. The animal had previously tested the Sicilian waters, but this year's temperatures have also allowed them to colonize previously challenging lands.

After Sicily's fires, it was a turtle nest on the beach of San Vito Lo Capo that became a symbol of rebirth for the northwestern Sicilian section of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).

"Our response, and that of all those who love life, to the criminals who indiscriminately start fires, burning nature, causing death and despair, is to protect life, nature, and all living beings, both plants and animals," said the volunteers as they safeguarded the turtle nest, watched over by the local lifeguard, beachgoers, and young people who will take turns until the hatching, expected at the end of August.

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Hummingbirds Consume Alcohol But Don’t Get Drunk, New Lessons For Human Alcoholism

Like many creatures, hummingbirds consume alcohol, which they're able to metabolize quickly. A new study explains how they do it — and how it might just helps us understand why humans are so attracted to alcohol.

WARSAW — Hummingbird feeders, which people use to attract the beautiful creatures to their homes and gardens, are typically filled with some variety of sugar water. Though this is an easy and accessible way to feed the bird, it is also a breeding ground for fermentation. In many cases, these feeders end up being full of alcohol.

This isn’t something that avian enthusiasts should worry about, however, as this fermentation process also takes place in nectar-rich flowers. The fact of the matter is, most hummingbirds are consuming large amounts of alcohol in their diets every single day.

So why aren’t our small avian friends keeling over while they fly? A recent study examines their diets, and explains exactly why hummingbirds are able to metabolize such high levels of alcohol.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Laure Gautherin

Le Weekend: Barbie Ban, Sziget Festival Kicks Off, Salvator NFTi

👋 Oraire ota!*

Welcome to Saturday, where we take a look back at what’s been happening in the culture world this week, from the Barbie movie getting banned in Kuwait and Lebanon to the start of Hungary’s Sziget Festival and the transformation of a famous painting into an NFT. For our special Summer Reads edition of Worldcrunch Today, we feature an article by Wieland Freund in German newspaper Die Welt — and three other stories from around the world on animals.

[*Nkore, Uganda]

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Yannick Champion-Osselin

Traditional Rites With Animal Cruelty Spark New Debate Around The World

Many longstanding traditions in countries around the world are based on animal suffering. Is it time to bring them to an end?

As heat settles in, so does the height of grindadráp. Between Iceland and Norway, the Faroe Islands practice whaling in drive hunts known as the grindadráp, or “grind." For years, activists have called for an end to this practice, which has been called a “cruel and outdated tradition."

The Faroese government has said that this form of traditional hunting still makes “economic and environmental good sense”. They defend its sustainability – maintaining they hunt only the abundant pilot whale – while activists call it an uncontrolled, irresponsible practice that violates animal welfare standards. Since the grindadráp resumed in May, more than 500 dolphins have been killed.

Animal rights activists have called for the Faroes to be excluded from the International Island Games to put pressure on the Faroese government and bring attention to their cause. They have also set up a petition to end the grind. In June, the parliament of fellow island nation Jersey voted to condemn the practice.

Meanwhile, Iceland has suspended this year's summer whaling over animal welfare concerns, arguing the methods employed are no longer acceptable. Experts believe this may end Iceland’s controversial fin hunting altogether.

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Bethany Brookshire

Animals And AI: How Researchers Are Trying To Prevent The Next Pandemic

To head-off a new spillover, scientists are combining a menagerie of animals, AI-driven models, and open communication.

At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, while most Americans were still going out to dinner and living normal lives, a Chinese scientist sent an urgent request to the higher-ups at Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The researcher was in lockdown due to the spread of the new pneumonia-like disease, and he wanted to know if the U.S. facility — a hub for mouse breeding and research — had a lab mouse that could contract the illness.

For decades, scientists have studied non-human animals to better understand infectious diseases. These species have been used to test vaccines and treatments, and more recently, scientists have been studying these creatures for clues about whether any of their viruses could infect humans — a process known as a spillover. And it turned out that Jackson Lab did have the ability to spin up a line of genetically modified mice that could replicate some of the aspects of a Covid-19 infection in humans.

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Frédéric Schaeffer

Dog Cloning, E-Collars, Cat Seafood: China's Over-The-Top Pet Market Is Booming

The Chinese pet market is booming, driven by young city dwellers who are increasingly reluctant to have babies. Care, food, yoga classes, strollers, specialized detectives and pet-cloning are all part of a 35 billion-euro industry.

BEIJING — Short-legged and white-haired, Juice (or "Guozhi" in Mandarin) may not be a pedigree dog, but he's got excellent learning skills and a real talent for acting.

At nine years old, the little mongrel has already made a name for himself in dozens of Chinese film and TV productions. But as he grows older, his owner, animal tamer He Jun, worries about the stress of long shooting days and dreams of finding an understudy to match his star actor. "We were hoping to keep his excellent genes for longer," explains Jun.

The problem: the dog can't reproduce, having been neutered at an early age. He Jun eventually found the solution by knocking on the door of Sinogene, the first Chinese biotech company to provide pet cloning services.

"I was a little nervous at first, as cloning is a brand new, cutting-edge technology for me," says Jun. But the fear was soon dispelled: "Little Juice learned quickly, and can be trained just as easily as the original Juice."

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Joanna Wisniowska

Moose In Our Midst: How Poland's Wildlife Preservation Worked A Bit Too Well

Wild moose have been spotted on Polish beaches and even near cities. They're a rare example of successful conservation efforts, but they're increasingly coming into contact with people.

GDANSK — Images of wild moose roaming the streets and beaches of Poland’s Baltic coast have been cropping up online more frequently. What should someone do if they encounter one? According to Mateusz Ciechanowski, a biologist at the University of Gdansk, the best option is to leave them alone.

“This is the result of the consistent protection that has been provided to this species of moose,” said Ciechanowski. “As the numbers increase, so does the animals’ range”.

Various media outlets have been publishing reports about spotted wild moose in the cities of Gdansk, Gdynia, and Sopot with increasing frequency. Perhaps more surprising is that these moose have been seen on beaches as well.

Centuries ago, moose could be found all over the European continent. But, like the European bison, they were often hunted for their value as an attractive game animal.

Aside from population declines due to hunting, the drainage of European wetlands also decreased the number of viable moose habitats. The animals, which prefer marshy areas, dwindled without the proper natural environment to flourish in.

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Ula Chrobak

Get That Dog *On The Couch! Diagnosing And Treating Canine Anxiety

As with people, some dogs may be more neurologically prone to anxiety. But canine stress is often mistaken for mischief.

A couple of week after I adopted my dog, Halle, I realized she had a problem. When left alone, she would pace, bark incessantly, and ignore any treats I left her in favor of chewing my belongings. When I returned, I’d find my border collie mix panting heavily with wide, fearful eyes. As frustrated as I was, though, I restrained the urge to scold her, realizing her destruction was born out of panic.

Halle’s behavior was a textbook illustration of separation anxiety. Distressed over being left alone, an otherwise perfectly mannered pup might chomp the couch, scratch doors, or relieve themselves on the floor. Problem behaviors like these tend to be interpreted as acts of willful defiance, but they often stem from intense emotions. Dogs, like humans, can act out of character when they are distressed. And, as with people, some dogs may be neurologically more prone to anxiety.

So concluded a recent brain imaging study, published in PLOS One, in which researchers performed resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging on 25 canines that were deemed behaviorally “normal,” and 13 that had been diagnosed with anxiety, based on a behavioral evaluation. The scans revealed that anxious dogs had stronger connections between several of five brain regions that the researchers called the anxiety circuit: the amygdala, frontal lobe, hippocampus, mesencephalon, and thalamus.

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Mridula Chari

What Elephant Intelligence Can Teach Humans About Getting Along

Experts say that understanding how the giant mammals weigh risk and reward could help prevent clashes with people.

In 2018, news spread around Saroj Duru’s village that four elephants had gathered at a nearby lake. Such creatures didn’t typically visit her region in central India — they were known to stay further north in more forested habitats — and so, out of curiosity, Duru and her neighbors walked down to see them.

The elephants rested in the water as people jostled at the shore, trying to get a closer look. Others climbed trees for a better view. After an hour of savoring the thrill of seeing such large animals, Duru headed back home. She was not sure when she would see them again.

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Alidad Vassigh and Irene Caselli

Did An Argentine Landowner Bulldoze To Death Hundreds Of Penguins?

Between 300 and 500 birds (not to mention eggs and chicks) are thought to have died near a natural reserve, potentially all because of a land dispute.

PUNTA TOMBO, ARGENTINA — A resident of the southern Argentine province of Chubut has been charged under animal cruelty laws for allegedly bulldozing over and electrocuting hundreds of penguins from the Punta Tombo natural reserve, home to the world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins.

As Argentina daily Clarín reports, a possible land dispute within the property neighboring Punta Tombo may be the cause behind the death of between 300 and 500 Magellanic penguins, and the destruction of dozens of nests and countless eggs.

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