Paper Wildlife

For your caturday viewing pleasure – a miniature world of paper wildlife with an important message.

From the National Geographic Short Film Showcase: “Paper predators and prey spring to life in this visually stunning short from directors Dávid Ringeisen & László Ruska. An ordinary desk and typical office supplies are the backdrop for this micro-universe that carries the macromessage of wildlife conservation. While humans are left out of the piece, their impact is still present in a discarded cigarette butt that sparks an imaginary forest fire and an overflowing wastebasket that pollutes a fantastical rolling-chair river. This piece is part of the filmmakers’ MOME thesis project, the animation department at Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary and was created for WWF Hungary.”

Click here or on image to view video

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Image: National Geographic. Short Film Showcase: Step Into a Miniature World of Animated Paper Wildlife

The Zoo Dilemma

There is a very good chance that at some point, almost every person either as a child or adult has visited a zoo and, held the belief that zoos were a good thing, acceptable ways in which to educate people about wild animals that they could never hope to see outside of the confines of a man-made world created to house them. We have learned that zoos help ensure the survival of certain species in captive populations that are both genetically diverse and stable, and a captive animal is better than an extinct animal.

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Over the years opinions on zoos have greatly changed, as has the belief that forever in captivity is acceptable while we allow species to go extinct in the wild. While natural extinction events have occurred throughout the earth’s history we are currently in the 6th mass extinction, and this time around the cause is directly related to humans. If the current rate of extinction continues and we cannot save habitat or preserve wildlife in their natural environment, is it beneficial to continually breed species into a life of captivity?

A male lion at a Japanese zoo was filmed trying to pounce on a little boy with his back turned, and in this video the lion can be seen crashing into the protective glass wall. Similar videos have been shared and deemed “cute” or “funny” when in fact it is not as lions like most big cats, see small kids similar to prey. This lion is acting on instinct but meets with frustration when he cannot fulfill his natural tendencies. It is now excepted that keeping predators like lions in zoos is not only cruel but potentially dangerous.

Are zoos really doing something positive or are they having the opposite effect on people, and can zoos ultimately survive as people change their views of them? The Toronto Zoo, which has been in operation since 1974, has seen a drop in visitors as well as revenue in recent years. Typically that’s when they make changes, bring in new animals or start new programs to attract visitors. Bringing in new animals or making changes costs millions, which the zoos will hopefully make back, but do any of these initiatives truly help conservation?

Among the many other moral and ethical issues surrounding zoos, one stands out in particular – that is the dirty secret of Surplus animals. It is the hidden world of what happens to animals when they are considered ‘non-essential’ either from a genetic or profit standpoint. These surplus animals are euthanized, traded to other zoos or worse, sold to private individuals, game reserves, canned hunting facilities, circuses and even roadside zoos. The lucky ones may end up at a proper sanctuary, where they are cared for for life, but many do not.

Zoochosis is another well documented problem whereby animals are impacted psychologically by being in captivity. This stereotypic behavior includes repetitive swaying, pacing and licking or biting of walls and bars. It is all abnormal behavior and clearly demonstrates that animals in zoos suffer. Even the best zoos cannot ever hope to fully duplicate what animals would experience in the wild, all they can do is try to prevent this behavior by providing proper enrichment.

If this isn’t enough to sway your opinion on zoos, then the two very recent and disturbing events of the past few months should. The first one was the killing of two lions in a Chilean zoo after a man jumped into their enclosure in an attempt to commit suicide, then not long after Harambe the Gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo was shot and killed after a young boy got into his enclosure. Animals subjected to a life in captivity by humans, then killed because of human error and oversight. Sadly these were not the first cases of animals to be killed at zoos due to breaches, and they will likely not be the last.

Then there is the purposeful killing of animals like Marius the giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo, and a 9 month old lioness at Denmark’s Odense Zoo who were both publicly dissected for ‘educational purposes’. This is also the zoos way of doing population control on surplus animals. It’s important to remember that lions are a species on the verge of collapse in the wild so the idea that any zoo would be breeding and killing healthy animals is simply preposterous.

Lion publicly dissected at Denmark's Odense Zoo. Image Vice

Lion publicly dissected at Denmark’s Odense Zoo. Image ViceNews

The case against zoos is growing and more main stream media outlets are picking up on it, the tone mirrors the way many people now view zoos – that there days may be numbered and we need to start looking at alternatives. In an article written about Orca’s in captivity, David Hancocks, ex-director of Woodland Parks Zoo in Seattle tells BBC News that he imagines “zoos of the future with fewer big charismatic animals, giving attention to small species that do well in captivity, in environments that are stimulating for them, and even with very small life form exhibits that showcase the interdependence and interconnectedness of the natural world”. He also says that it as it becomes more clear that most of the standard big star attraction animals in zoos shouldn’t be in captivity and he expects the public to “react in similar ways to the way they have reacted to the revelations about what was happening in SeaWorld.”

We also need to ask ourselves if we are really learning that much from zoos? My personal experience says not much, a few zoo visits didn’t teach me anything that I wasn’t able to learn on my own via other sources like reading or watching TV programs. Once I finally fulfilled a life long dream of seeing my first lion in the wild I knew that I could never look at a captive zoo lion again and feel right about it and, I believe deep inside most of us know it is wrong. In his book, Raising Kids Who Love Animals, child psychiatrist Sujatha Ramakrishna wondered whether a trip to the zoo is an educational experience, or if it only encourages them to treat animals with disrespect. He came to the conclusion that even the good zoos were bad after visiting different ones and noting behavior of the animals and people viewing them.

Though I hoped to find evidence to the contrary, I must conclude that zoos continue to be detrimental to animal welfare, and that they do not teach children positive lessons about animals. Kids who watch leopards pacing in mindless patterns get a completely inaccurate picture of what large predators are all about. They also learn that making sentient beings suffer for human amusement is acceptable. We want to teach kids to show kindness towards animals, not stare at their misery while eating popcorn.” – via Global Animal

Ideally in a perfect world all types of zoos would be abolished and only sanctuaries of the highest standard would exist, places where animals can live out their natural lives with the best care and environments possible. Sanctuaries will unfortunately be a necessity as there will always be wildlife to rescue and rehabilitate, but unlike zoos, they do it without breeding or exploiting animals. Reputable sanctuaries work to ensure the animals mental and physical well-being are a priority and can also play a role in educating the public.

Zoos have been around for a long time and date as far back as ancient Greece, their history is bloody and disturbing and while in some places they can be considered to have come a long way, in many countries the horrors continue to this day. Surely the case for abolishing zoos where they are literally death camps for animals should be a priority, and working to phase them out everywhere a future goal.

In the meantime what does the future hold for zoos? This is where technology can help with something called a virtual zoo. This would bring the experience of being at a zoo without the captivity and suffering that comes with it. Landmark Interactive Virtual Experience (L.I.V.E), a company behind entertainment experiences such as Universal’s ‘Jurassic Park: The Ride,’ and ‘The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 5D’,  is planning on creating a virtual zoo and aquarium in China. This will be the first of its kind and is set to open in 2017 or 2018.

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L.I.V.E  image of a virtual zoo

Landmark Entertainment Group CEO Tony Christopher told Fortune magazine that they will have the ability to “put you in the African savannah or fly you into outer space.” Besides entertainment it also has the ability to educate without causing harm, and although it can never be a substitute for conserving animals in the wild the technology could be a big step in helping reduce the number of animals kept in zoos. While widespread use of technology like this may be a long way out, it is still good to know that one day people of all ages will be able to have the ‘zoo’ experience without the negative aspects associated with traditional zoos.

Even with technology, nothing beats the real thing and conservation of wildlife and habitat should remain a key priority going forward, perhaps the virtual zoo of the future will one day help financially benefit conservation directly. Until that time when we have finally moved away from the traditional model and no longer have wildlife in captivity, we are left faced with the zoo dilemma that can be either solved or perpetuated by the choices we make.

If you are looking for activities to do with or without kids that doesn’t involve a trip to the zoo, here is a list of six ideas that will give you all the benefits and help animals at the  same time!

  • Visit an animal sanctuary
  • Get outside to observe wildlife habitats and learn about local flora and fauna
  • Visit local parks and hiking trails
  • Watch education documentaries
  • Walk dogs or help out care for cats and animals at your local shelter
  • Read or share books on wildlife or animals with kids

Update: on June 15, since posting this piece a lion named Zawadi was injured at the Oregon Zoo while children watched. Footage shows the lion entering the training area through a hydraulic door, which then shuts chopping off the tip of his tail. The show only came to a stop because the audience started yelling.

The Cougar – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous

The Cougar  – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous by author Paula Wild is a book I first came across over a year ago and was drawn to it partly due to its focus on cougars in western Canada. The author was born in the U.S. but moved to British Columbia (BC) where she currently resides, and where much of the book is focused. BC and in particular Vancouver Island, contains the largest concentration of cougars in Canada and in all of North America or the world, making the area a hot spot for cougar activity and encounters both positive and negative.

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The opening chapter includes the story of two young children who had fended off and survived a cougar attack on Vancouver Island in 1916 as well as insight into why the author decided to write the book. There are quite a few references to cougar attacks throughout, both historical and modern-day accounts, but the author mentions that her interest in writing about the cats wasn’t based on these experiences alone. Besides wanting to know how to prevent or survive an attack, she was also driven by a need to know more about an animal that is strongly linked to the same landscape she and many other people share. After hearing a cougar ‘scream’ near her home, listen to what that sounds like here, and reading an article about safety in cougar country she decided to delve into the world of this magnificent but highly misunderstood and persecuted big cat.

For those not familiar with the history of cougars in Canada there is a decent introduction of what the cats met with when the first settlers arrived. The cats were declared ‘varmints’ a threat to livestock and people, they were to be destroyed at all costs, and by any means. Extermination campaigns and bounties were the norm, one cougar hunter was so successful that the Canadian government even provided hunting hounds for him. Many of these sanctioned bounties in Canada, as well as in the U.S., ended in the recent past when the bounty system was realized as an ineffective means of controlling the population and attitudes towards the cat started changing.  By that point the numbers of cougars killed was staggering. In the book it is stated that during the bounty years an estimated “21,871 cougars were killed in BC alone“.

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The history of the cougar in Canada, as well as the U.S. is disturbing however, it is important to acknowledge the past to ensure that we never repeat it again. Cougar in British Columbia – Historical Image Government of BC, Ministry of Environment

The Cougar touches on a variety of topics including safety in cougar country, research, behavior, biology, the captive animal crisis and the rise of cougar encounters. Some researchers think that encounters are increasing due to the cats recovery in particular areas, while others feel that it is a direct result of the presence of more people and in cougar territory. Humans are simply putting more pressure on cougars, their prey and habitat which ultimately can have an impact on the cats behavior. All of this is a recipe for more conflict and to avoid it the public must educate themselves and wildlife agencies and government must be supportive. Unfortunately at the moment Canada continues to fall behind on almost all fronts when it comes to cougars – in research, education of the public and protection of the cats from persecution.

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Cougar attacks are still very rare – you are more likely to drown in your bathtub, be killed by a pet dog, or hit by lightning.

Fear-mongering and sensationalism still exists, especially in the main stream media, and cougars are for the most part portrayed as a public threat, but thankfully some of the old attitudes towards cougars are slowly changing, with the knowledge that they already do co-exist with people remaining out of sight, preferring to avoid humans when they can. Researchers are now also aware of the vital and important role they play in healthy ecosystems, managing prey species and enriching our landscapes.

The trade off with living in or near cougar country means we must take responsibility and learn to safely coexist with them taking precautions to ensure people, pets, children and livestock are safe.

The Cougar – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous addresses many of the key issues surrounding cougars as well as being an interesting read, especially for those who would like to know more about cougars in western Canada where they exist in what could be considered their last great refuge.

Lion Queens

Protecting Lions in India’s Gir National Park, Forest is a serious job and one that a has been taken on by a group of women known as the ‘Lion Queens’.

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The Lion Queens of India – Image Sakal Times

The Lion Queens started in 2007 when the state of Gujarat decided to employ a small group of women in the forestry department in Gir National Park. Instead of taking ‘desk jobs’ the women opted to take on the extremely tough but rewarding roles as forest guards.  Today 46 women forest guards working right on the front line, a further 43 women have been recruited and are going through intensive training right now.

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Working and risking their lives to protect wildlife. ImageThe Hindu

Gir is home to the highly endangered Gir Lions as well as a host of other wildlife including leopards, crocodiles, deer, snakes and Hyena. The Lion Queens rescue Lions, and other wildlife, arrest poachers, work with local villagers to reduce human-wildlife conflict, bottle feed leopard cubs and overcome dangers almost every day in their jobs.

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Gir is the sole home of the Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) about 523 of them, and is considered to be one of the most important protected areas in Asia due to its supported species. Image Vishwa Gujarat

One of the toughest of the Lion Queens is Rasila Vadher, who now heads up the entire wildlife rescue team, can be seen here in this video which gives you a taste of what these amazing ladies do to keep wildlife and people safe.

Mountain Lions in Washington Need Your Help

Mountain Lions in Washington need your help. This is a chance for all US residents, as well as people outside of the US, to speak up for North America’s big cat.

Via The Cougar Fund – a petition filed to ask Governor Inslee to reverse the Wildlife commission’s decision to increase the hunting quota for Cougars to tragic and unsustainable levels.

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  • In April 2015, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission raised the hunting quota for Cougars (Puma concolor) by 50 to 100 percent in areas of the state where wolves also live.
  • The Commission made this decision without providing prior notice to the public, and without the benefit of a formal presentation of Cougar population dynamics by the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own biologists.
  • On June 30, animal welfare, conservation organizations filed a formal petition that asked the Commission to reverse this arbitrary decision.
  • On August 21, the Commission voted 7 to 1 to keep its controversial decision in place, ignoring more than 1,300 citizens and several non-governmental organizations.

“According to 13 years of Washington–based, scientific research, the Commission’s April 2015 quotas will harm some Cougar populations and increase mortality to dependent cougar kittens. If a hunter kills a nursing female Cougar, her young kittens will die from starvation or dehydration. Additionally, when hunters remove the stable adult cougars from a population, it attracts young male cougars to these vacancies. The immigrating young males often times will kill the kittens from the previous male so they can sire their own. In the process, however, females defending their kittens are also frequently killed too. It’s not just the one Cougar in the hunter’s crosshairs who dies: hunting causes a harmful domino effect in Cougar populations.”

Please contact Governor Inslee using this easy to complete FORM and urge him to support the appeal and reverse the Commission’s ill-considered decision.

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Image – The Cougar Fund – Facebook

Big Cat and the Spotted Skunk

Proof that even the big predators, carnivores like Mountain Lions, can be chased off their kills by smaller animals. Watch a tiny Spotted Skunk temporarily send this big cat packing right at about the 4:15 mark.

This is a supplementary video for an article published in The Canadian Field-Naturalist and was taken with a motion-triggered camera.

“Encounter competition occurs frequently over food resources and may include kleptoparasitism, where scavengers usurp prey killed by carnivores. Scavenging may have important adverse effects on carnivores and may result in higher than expected kill rates by predators. We placed a camera trap on a Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) carcass killed by a Cougar (Puma concolor) in California. We then documented a series of encounters in which a Western Spotted Skunk (Spilogale gracilis) temporally usurped the carcass from the Cougar, and also successfully defended the carcass when the Cougar returned and attempted to feed. The Spotted Skunk was about 1% of the mass of the Cougar, and this video documents the largest published size differential of a mammalian species engaging in successful encounter competition.”

Never Forget a Face

Lions in East Africa may soon be some of the most recognized Lions around with the recent implementation of Lion Facial Recognition technology.

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Each Lion has distinct identifying features

Lion Guardians a conservation organization working to find and implement long-term solutions for people and lions to coexist across Kenya and Tanzania, recently launched the Lion Identification Network of Collaborators (LINC). The database of Lion profiles were built with the first facial-recognition software specifically designed to analyze the faces of big cats and distinguish them from one another.

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LINC software scans facial features for patterns that can match an image to an individual.

Traditional GPS collars tend to be more expensive and pose major challenges like having to replace the batteries every couple of years which can only be done while the animal is sedated. LINC will allow easier monitoring of the Lions locations and activity which will assist both conservation organizations and other wildlife researchers. It will also be less stressful for the animals as they won’t have to be captured and collard.

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LINC will aid in a better understanding of Lion population dynamics caused by human expansion.

Unlike Leopards, Cheetahs or Tigers who all have distinct identifying spots or stripes used to identify them, adult Lions lack these recognizable coat markings making facial recognition a viable method for tracking them and help to ensure researchers never forget a face.

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Facial recognition technology has already been used with other wildlife including helping to track India’s Bengal Tigers.

Lion Guardians launched the project in June of this year and the hopes is to have approximately 1,000 Lions added to the database within the next few months. The more images they have added to LINC the better the software will be and it will become easier to identify individual cats. Conservationists will keep track of the Lions course of travel from one area to another using the information to better understand where they find mates, water and prey.