Crustacean Placation Nation

The Swiss are worried about lobsters.

live-maine-lobster-640-2017-BOGOThey are concerned that lobsters are sentient and can feel pain.  So, if you want to eat a lobster in Switzerland, you can’t drop it, live, into a pot of boiling water, which is the preferred cooking method in Maine and other lobster-loving states.  Instead, according to this article in USA Today, you need to either electrocute the lobster, or lull it into an insensate state by dipping it in salt water — and then stabbing it in the brain.  I’m not sure, frankly, why those methods are viewed as more humane than the classic drop into a pot of boiling water approach, but we’ll just have to take the word of the Swiss — who don’t eat many lobsters in any event — that the lobsters would prefer the electric chair or a knife to the brain.

Switzerland’s constitution apparently has an “animal dignity” provision, and Switzerland is a leader in the animal rights movement.  Swiss laws enacted in furtherance of that constitutional protection say that dogs can’t be punished for barking and that anyone who flushes an unwanted goldfish down the toilet violates the law.

The logical extension of this movement is to prevent humans from eating any animals, or for that matter domesticating them, breeding them, and preventing them from roaming free and impairing their liberty.  And if humans can’t eat other animals, the “animal dignity” provision presumably would prevent one animal species from gobbling up another animal species, too.  Why should humans be restrained, when other animals get off scot free?  Bears shouldn’t be able to eat fish, for example, and hawks and eagles can’t snatch up eat mice or voles, and wolves and coyotes should be barred from eating chickens, rabbits, or your neighbor’s annoying little yapper dog.

This seems like a pretty confusing approach to the food chain.  Me, I think I’ll still enjoy freshly boiled lobster.

The Airport Zoo

Delta has announced that it is going to tighten its standards for allowing people to fly with “comfort animals.”  Speaking as a frequent business traveler who recently saw a dog take a dump right in the middle of the concourse of the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood airport — which faces a lot of other challenges, including being, consistently, one of the most crowded and unpleasant airports around — I applaud Delta’s stand.

150-94503-sugar-glider-1460579077Delta believes that the influx of “comfort animals” is getting out of hand, and reports that there have been incidents in which the animals have exhibited aggressive behavior, including growling and biting, have fouled airport terminals like the incident I witnessed, and have even attacked a passenger.  The Delta statement also said that passengers “have attempted to fly with comfort turkeys, gliding possums known as sugar gliders [pictured above], snakes, spiders and more.”  Now Delta will require that passengers seeking to bring animals on board present evidence of the animals’ good health and vaccinations, sign a document confirming that their animals can behave in a closed airplane cabin, and presumably demonstrate that they really need to have the animals board the plane with them in the first place.

I’ve got no problem, of course, with visually impaired people using guide dogs, which are always well behaved, but I agree with another statement that Delta made:  “Ignoring the true intent of existing rules governing the transport of service and support animals can be a disservice to customers who have real and documented needs.”  The reality is that people are pushing the envelope with their animals, just as people are pushing the envelope in claiming “disabilities” that entitle them to board before the rest of us.  Anyone who has traveled much recently has seen the explosion of animals in airports, and I’m confident that most people have witnessed unpleasant incidents like the one I saw, or had to endure barking dogs while waiting for a delayed plane, or watched two “comfort” dogs growling at each other at a gate.

I’m a big fan of dogs, but they really don’t belong in airports, or in the passenger compartments of airplanes.  And that goes double for “comfort turkeys,” gliding possums,  spiders, snakes, and the rest of the modern airport zoo.

Primate Rights

A New York state appeals court has rejected a request to issue a writ of habeas corpus to free two chimpanzees who are kept in cages — one in a warehouse in Gloversville, New York, and the other in a storefront in Niagara Falls, New York.  The writ sought to have the primates moved from their cages to an animal sanctuary.

article-2034439-0dbb7fa500000578-543_306x338In the case, the New York courts were presented with expert evidence “that chimpanzees exhibit many of the same social, cognitive and linguistic capabilities as humans and therefore should be afforded some of the same fundamental rights as humans.”  In a nutshell, however, the court of appeals concluded — correctly, in my view — that the fact that chimpanzees exhibit some humanlike characteristics is simply not enough to make them “persons” in the eyes of the law.  The court reasoned that “[t]he asserted cognitive and linguistic capabilities of chimpanzees do not translate to a chimpanzee’s capacity or ability, like humans, to bear legal duties, or to be held legally accountable for their actions.”  And, the court added, the flip side of personhood would mean that chimpanzees could be held criminally accountable for killing or injuring humans — something that has not been done, obviously, because chimpanzees do not have moral culpability for such acts, nor do they have the capacity to understand the proceedings against then or to assist in their own defense, which is what courts typically look for in deciding whether a defendant is competent.

You can read the court of appeals decision here.

Although I think the law cannot recognize primates like chimpanzees as “people,” with all of the rights of people, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be afforded some rights, beyond being viewed as mere property.  The court of appeals’ decision summarizes expert evidence that indicates that chimpanzees have an impressive array of qualities that we associate with thinking beings, such as “recognizing themselves in reflections,” “setting and acting toward goals such as obtaining food,” “communicating about events in the past and their intentions for the future, such as by pointing or using sign language,” “protecting others in risky situations, such as when relatively strong chimpanzees will examine a road before guarding more vulnerable chimpanzees as they cross the road,” “making and using complex tools for hygiene, socializing, communicating, hunting, gathering, and fighting,” “counting and ordering items using numbers,” “showing concern for the welfare of others, particularly their offspring, siblings, and even orphans they adopt,” and “resolving conflicts” and “apologizing.”

At some point, we need to ask ourselves — do creatures that exhibit these kinds of qualities and characteristics really deserve to be put into cages at the whim of whoever purchases them?

Parrot Purgatory

Last night we went to a seaside bistro that featured a parrot to give the bar area a distinctive, tropical, piratical feel.  It was a beautiful bird, large and colorful, with that kind of wise look around the eyes that parrots always seem to have.

I felt sorry for that beautiful bird.  I’m sure it would rather be back in its nest in the jungle, but its wings were clipped, and it was confined to its perch with only a dish of peanuts before it.  Worst of all, some old guy was constantly in its face, repeating the same annoying whistle, over and over and over again, in hopes that the bird would imitate it.

But the bird didn’t.  It squawked and flapped and, I think, tried to ignore the guy.  Maybe the bird was just not interested, but I preferred to think that the bird was knowingly refusing to be some cheap entertainment for a boozy codger in a ball cap.  I’d like to think that parrots have pride, even in what must seem like parrot purgatory.

Happy Birthday, Colo

Yesterday Colo, the first gorilla born in captivity, celebrated her 60th birthday at the Columbus Zoo.  She is the oldest gorilla on record and has exceeded the typical life span of captive gorillas by two decades.  The Zoo put on a party, and Colo got birthday cakes made of squash and beets that featured mashed potato dressing.

e0db6a60910241c781760ada8f99048a-e0db6a60910241c781760ada8f99048a-0Colo has been a staple of the Columbus Zoo since before I was born, so she’s really been around for a long time.  She was there when I went to the Columbus Zoo for the first time in the early ’70s, she was there when Kish and I took the boys to the zoo in the ’90s, and she is still there now, to impress another generation of kids with the gravity and power and majesty of gorillas.

The Zoo cites Colo, and her unusual longevity, as an example of what zoos can do to help animals live longer with better diets and medical care.  She is one of a number of zoo animals that are exceeding their expected life spans.

I’m not a fan of zoos; I always feel sorry for the animals because they are in captivity rather than being free.  Of course, the best zoos, like the Columbus Zoo, really focus on preservation and see great value in introducing kids to animals; they reason that making that connection can help the animals in the long run by making people care about whether a species is thriving in its natural habitat.  Unfortunately, for every well-run zoo there are appalling stories about zoos where the animals are neglected and mistreated and left locked in cages.

So happy birthday to you, Colo.  If you have to be in a zoo, I’m glad you’re in a zoo that cares.

Squirrel And Carrot

IMG_6329With an abundance of trees, and lots of fences that serve as de facto elevated highways, the backyards in our German Village neighborhood are a squirrel’s paradise.  You see the bushy-tailed rodents scampering up and down trees, leaping from branch to branch, munching on nuts, and generally enjoying lives that seem like one big frolic.  And when one of the neighbors puts out fresh carrots for squirrels to enjoy, so much the better!

This little guy attacked a carrot that was about as long as he was with evident and territorial relish.  Apparently, squirrels really like carrots.

Animal Eyes

On the home stretch of this morning’s walk, as I moved along a section of Route 62 where there are woods on both sides of the road, two deer stood on the pavement while a car approached.  Fortunately, they crossed over without incident, and the car slid by.

Normally the deer would promptly vanish into the trees.  This time, though, the female stood, framed in the glow of a street light, and stared at me, her primal black eyes glittering in the lamplight.  It was unnerving — and suddenly I felt all of my senses on high alert, providing the kind of acute awareness of my surroundings not felt since I was in a movie theater with a high school date, conscious of every movement she made and trying to figure out whether they meant that she was receptive to holding hands.

The deer wasn’t watching to admire my walking form.  The only logical conclusion was a fawn was still on my side of the road, and the mother deer was waiting and watching to make sure they were reunited.  If so, that meant I needed to get out of the area without confronting Bambi, or the two deer might come down on me in an unpleasant New Albany version of When Animals Attack.  So I listened carefully, sniffed the air and smelled the lingering musky odor of the two deer that had passed, kept one eye out for the mother and the other for the child, and kept moving ahead at a steady pace.  The mother watched me the whole way.

My primitive senses aren’t very sharp, because I never saw the fawn, but after I passed I turned back to see what was happening.  Sure enough, the mother crossed the road again, and a small deer emerged from hiding right where I had passed.  The mother sensed my presence and turned and stared at me again with those intense, wild eyes.  I decided it was wise to move along.

It’s Michigan Week!

On Saturday, Ohio State will play Michigan in the annual renewal of the greatest rivalry in sports.  Each year, Michigan Week is a much-anticipated time, when every member of Buckeye Nation focuses anew on The Game.

But here at Webner House, we are also about education.  And today, we’re interested in learning about Michigan’s mascot, the Wolverine.  It looks like a deranged skunk, and it’s a member of the weasel family.  So far, it seems like an appropriate mascot for Michigan, all right.  But what about other attributes of the animal?  Specifically, does a Wolverine have any kind of special odor?

Imagine our surprise when we learned that, according to environmentalgraffiti.com, the wolverine is one of the seven smelliest creatures in the world — right there between the bombardier beetle, which shoots a stinky combination of liquid and gas from its rear end, and the musk ox, which has exceptionally smelly urine.  The website explains about wolverines: “They’re seldom seen by humans, but they’re frequently smelled. Like most members of the weasel family, the wolverine has glands that it secretes fluid from to mark its territory. The musky scent is supposed to be very unpleasant, and has given the wolverine the colourful nicknames of ‘skunk bear’ and ‘nasty cat’.”

It’s official — even environmentalists think the Wolverines stink!

On The Value Of Real And Imagined Pet Insurance

When I saw a headline stating that one of the hottest new benefits some of America’s largest companies are offering to employees is pet insurance, I thought it was a great idea.

IMG_3790Of course, initially I thought it was casualty insurance.  How appropriate, I thought, to finally recognize the obvious catastrophic loss potential found in every otherwise innocent looking dog.  Whether it’s chewing through an expensive handbag and countless pairs of shoes, or knocking over a bottle of dye that leaves an indelible stain on brand-new Berber carpeting, or experiencing gastric or intestinal incidents that permanently ruin fancy throw rugs after eating an entire wheel of brie or trying to consume an “action figure,” the misadventures of our pooches can have a profound impact on the pocketbook.  Why not offer insurance that properly recognizes that dogs are an awesomely destructive natural force, like hurricanes or tornadoes?

But the insurance that’s being offered is pet health insurance — and that’s an even better idea.  Under the options offered by the plans, the cost per pet ranges between $10 and $57 a month, depending on the coverage and deductible.

Having such coverage surely would help when pet owners have to make decisions about costly medical care for their companions.  It’s an awful, wracking process when a family on a budget has to decide whether to to spend thousands of dollars on surgery and medication on a beloved family pet whose remaining life expectancy would be short under even ideal conditions.  No one wants to try to put a dollar value on the life of a pet that has become a member of the family, and having some help in paying the bills that would allow that life to continue would make the decision so much easier.

The Animals Of The Chernobyl Zone

We all remember Chernobyl — the 1986 Soviet nuclear disaster that spewed radiation equivalent to more than 20 Hiroshima bombs in an area of Belarus and the Ukraine — but what has happened in that area since?

The Soviets evacuated almost every human (a few holdouts still remain) and restricted access to an area twice the size of Rhode Island.  Then, two interesting things occurred.  First, animals that had been eliminated from the area due to Soviet modernization efforts moved back into the ecosystem, and an animal population explosion began.  The Chernobyl zone has become one of the largest nature preserves on the European continent, and now is home to lynxes, wolves, moose, otters, boar, owls, and a huge array of other wildlife.  The animals live their lives against a backdrop of crumbling Soviet style buildings that are falling apart against the one-two punch of the elements and Mother Nature.  It’s like a post-apocalyptic sci fi novel — except it’s real.

The second point is even more interesting:  the animal population has been exposed to radiation levels thousands of times greater than what is thought to be safe, but the generations of animals are not exhibiting the kinds of deformities or mutations that scientists expected.  In fact, the animals look pretty normal.  A Russian photographer named Sergei Gaschak has spent years taking photographs of the animals of the Chernobyl zone, and as the accompanying photo from The Independent reveals, they are beautiful and wild and noble — just like animals of the same species in non-radioactive areas.

What does it all mean for humans?  I don’t think anyone is suggesting that people should move back into the Chernobyl Zone just yet, but perhaps the success of the animals means we still have a lot more to learn about radiation and its real effects on living creatures.  Humans, and other mammals, may just be a lot hardier than scientists working in their laboratories think.

We All Could Use A Lesula

They’ve just discovered a new species of monkey, called a lesula.  According to scientists, it looks like an “owl-faced monkey,” but it has a bright blue butt — a color unknown elsewhere in monkeydom, which otherwise seems to specialize in vividly hued behinds.

I’m not particularly interested in the lesula’s keister, unusual though it may be.  I’m much more intrigued by the lesula’s very human-looking face.  Look at those large, intensely accepting eyes!  Look at that placid expression, that calm demeanor!  The lesula looks like a strange combination of your Mom when you were about six, a stolid priest hearing confession, and Tony Soprano’s psychiatrist.

With a face like that, who wouldn’t want a lesula around the house?  It looks like you could tell the lesula just about anything — no matter how boring or bizarre — and it would pause for a moment, nod in a kindly fashion, and then say gravely, yet sympathetically:  “Go on.”  Can’t you imagine going to a bar with the lesula after a long week of work, buying it a beer, and starting a conversation by saying: “You wouldn’t believe the week I had . . . . “?

Unlucky Penny

Generally speaking, Penny is a well-behaved dog.  But sometimes, the ancient appetites are just too strong, and the animal urges will overpower even the most careful training.

Consider when you discover the enticing aroma of Cheerios in the kitchen, and see a cereal box invitingly perched near the edge of the counter.  How could any dog resist?  And once your head enters the box, and you taste the delectable, heart-healthy, crunchy oat goodness, of course you are going to thrust your head in ever deeper, so that each little O finds its way to your ravenous stomach.

And when you are done — not sated, perhaps, but done, because there is nothing left in the box — all there is to do is wait in cellophane silence for discovery, reprimand, and freedom, all the while savoring your succulent snack.

The Raccoon Beneath The Grate

A raccoon, and perhaps a family of raccoons, appears to live in the storm sewers in our neighborhood.

Once, on a morning walk, I saw a hunched shape scrabbling across the street and toward the sewer grate in the pre-dawn darkness.  The raccoon plunged into the sewer.  When we passed by a few moments later, it was there, wearing its mask, perched just beneath the grate, its beady black eyes glittering with the reflected light from a nearby street lamp.  The dogs lunged toward it, and it vanished.

The encounter gave me the creeps.  I have no interest in dealing with potentially rabid creatures, and I don’t like the idea of raccoons using the storm sewer as a kind of vagabond superhighway underneath our neighborhood.  Now, whenever I pass the sewer, I can’t help but look to see whether those black eyes are there, staring back.  Usually they aren’t, and I start to think that perhaps the raccoon is gone.  But every once in a while the eyes are there again, following our movements as we quicken the pace to get past the grate, and I shudder anew.

I don’t remember my dreams when I awaken, but I’d be willing to bet that those beady black eyes through the sewer grate have appeared in a nightmare or two.

 

The Coyotes Of Columbus

No one would mistake Columbus, Ohio for the Wild West, but we now have one thing in common — coyotes.

A peaceful suburbanite will sip her morning coffee and look out into the backyard, and be startled to see a brown, loose-limbed creature ambling across the lawn.  They call them “urban coyotes,” and studies indicate that they are thriving in cities across the northern states.  The urban coyotes tend to be more nocturnal than their rural counterparts, are better fed, and live longer, too.  They often live in packs that claim specific territories.  And while no one knows exactly how many there are, because most coyotes are too smart to be easily caught and tagged for electronic monitoring, researchers estimate that there are anywhere from hundreds to several thousand in most metropolitan areas.

Although timid suburbanites are worried that the coyotes might devour the house cat and small dog population, the coyotes mainly feast on small rodents and the eggs of those annoying Canadian geese — and thereby are helping to save the world from being buried in goose droppings.  I’d say they are providing a valuable service in that regard, and don’t mind if they take an occasional stroll through our neighborhood.

Why Did Zebras Get Their Stripes?

Why do zebras have stripes?  It’s a question many kids have asked their parents, and one that many scientists have tried to answer.  Now researchers say they’ve solved the puzzle, and it has to do with . . . flies.

Awful, blood-sucking horseflies, to be precise.  The researchers contend that the patterns of stripes reflect light in a way that makes zebras unattractive to flies.  They conclude that the coats of black and brown horses, poor devils, reflect light in a horizontal way that horseflies love, whereas the coats of white horses don’t reflect light in that way and, as a result, white horses are less troubled by painful fly bites.  When stripes were added, the researchers found, even fewer flies were attracted.  Hence, they believe that stripes evolved to keep flies away.

Color me skeptical.  Much as it sucks to be bitten by blood-sucking flies — and it does — it’s not life-threatening and wouldn’t seem to be a sufficient cause for a significant evolutionary detour.  If it were, we wouldn’t be seeing black and brown horses romping through the pastures of Ohio, and elsewhere.  As I understand evolution, the process of natural selection works only if a genetic variation makes the individual with the variation more likely to survive and reproduce.  A variation that allows you to be more successful at avoiding non-life-threatening fly bites wouldn’t seem to fall into that category.

On the other hand, it could be that lady zebras long ago decided that black-coated males who were covered with biting flies were less attractive potential mates than those cool, laid-back striped dudes over by the watering hole who weren’t frantically twitching their tails at swarms of horseflies.  Or, alternatively, the black-coated lady zebras tormented by blood-sucking flies were less likely to be in a receptive reproductive mood than their serene, striped counterparts.