Elephant Remembers Old Trainer in Emotional Reunion

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/good-news/elephant-remembers-old-trainer-in-emotional-reunion/ar-AAB5qoG?OCID=ansmsnnews11

Stephanie Officer
Ad 00:35 – up next: “Elephant Reunites With Old Trainer”
Elephant Reunites With Old Trainer

As the adage goes — an elephant never forgets.After 35 years, Kristy the Asian elephant still has fond memories of her former zookeeper, Peter Adamson. He was Kristy’s trainer in the early ’70s and ’80s, when she lived at a zoo in Scotland that is now closed.

The pair reunited at the Neunkircher Zoo in Germany while Adamson was visiting friends in Germany.

He found out Kristy was still alive at 52 years old and still healthy. The average lifespan for Asian elephants is 48 years.

Adamson contacted the zoo and officials arranged the emotional reunion.

As that reunion unfolded, a pair of baby elephants got a second chance at life.

a close up of a man: Kristy the Asian elephant was reunited with her trainer after more than 30 years.© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Kristy the Asian elephant was reunited with her trainer after more than 30 years.The calves somehow slipped into a pit in Sri Lanka, struggling there for three hours before wildlife officials brought in an excavator to dig an escape route.

It took a little upper body strength, some wiggling and a little bit of help before both tots were able to climb out.

Wildlife officials used loud crackers to chase the calves back into the wild, so they could run right back to their mothers — capping an adventure they may never forget, either.

The Rapid Decline Of The Natural World Is A Crisis Even Bigger Than Climate Change

A three-year UN-backed study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has grim implications for the future of humanity.
 

Nature is in freefall and the planet’s support systems are so stretched that we face widespread species extinctions and mass human migration unless urgent action is taken. That’s the warning hundreds of scientists are preparing to give, and it’s stark.

The last year has seen a slew of brutal and terrifying warnings about the threat climate change poses to life. Far less talked about but just as dangerous, if not more so, is the rapid decline of the natural world. The felling of forests, the over-exploitation of seas and soils, and the pollution of air and water are together driving the living world to the brink, according to a huge three-year, U.N.-backed landmark study to be published in May.

The study from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform On Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), expected to run to over 8,000 pages, is being compiled by more than 500 experts in 50 countries. It is the greatest attempt yet to assess the state of life on Earth and will show how tens of thousands of species are at high risk of extinction, how countries are using nature at a rate that far exceeds its ability to renew itself, and how nature’s ability to contribute food and fresh water to a growing human population is being compromised in every region on earth.

Left top: A durian plantation in Raub, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Soaring demand for durians in China is being blamed

Left top: A durian plantation in Raub, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. Soaring demand for durians in China is being blamed for a new wave of deforestation in Malaysia.
Right top: A palm oil plantation encroaches on a wildlife reserve in Sabah, Malaysia.
Left bottom: The Kinabatangan River flows through a wildlife reserve in Sabah, Malaysia. The overuse of pesticides during the heavy equatorial rains creates a deadly runoff into the fragile river and its tributaries.
Right bottom: A palm oil plantation and factory in Sabah, Malaysia.

Nature underpins all economies with the “free” services it provides in the form of clean water, air and the pollination of all major human food crops by bees and insects. In the Americas, this is said to total more than $24 trillion a year. The pollination of crops globally by bees and other animals alone is worth up to $577 billion.

The final report will be handed to world leaders not just to help politicians, businesses and the public become more aware of the trends shaping life on Earth, but also to show them how to better protect nature.

“High-level political attention on the environment has been focused largely on climate change because energy policy is central to economic growth. But biodiversity is just as important for the future of earth as climate change,” said Sir Robert Watson, overall chair of the study, in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.

“We are at a crossroads. The historic and current degradation and destruction of nature undermine human well-being for current and countless future generations,” added the British-born atmospheric scientist who has led programs at NASA and was a science adviser in the Clinton administration. “Land degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change are three different faces of the same central challenge: the increasingly dangerous impact of our choices on the health of our natural environment.”

Around the world, land is being deforested, cleared and destroyed with catastrophic implications for wildlife and people. Forests are being felled across Malaysia, Indonesia and West Africa to give the world the palm oil we need for snacks and cosmetics. Huge swaths of Brazilian rainforest are being cleared to make way for soy plantations and cattle farms, and to feed the timber industry, a situation likely to accelerate under new leader Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist.

Industrial farming is to blame for much of the loss of nature, said Mark Rounsevell, professor of land use change at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, who co-chaired the European section of the IPBES study. “The food system is the root of the problem. The cost of ecological degradation is not considered in the price we pay for food, yet we are still subsidizing fisheries and agriculture.”

This destruction wrought by farming threatens the foundations of our food system. A February report from the U.N. warned that the loss of soil, plants, trees and pollinators such as birds, bats and bees undermines the world’s ability to produce food.

An obsession with economic growth as well as spiraling human populations is also driving this destruction, particularly in the Americas where GDP is expected to nearly double by 2050 and the population is expected to increase 20 percent to 1.2 billion over the same period.

Human have had a huge impact on the world but we make up a tiny fraction of the living world. In the first ever calculation o

Human have had a huge impact on the world but we make up a tiny fraction of the living world. In the first ever calculation of the biomass of life on Earth, scientists found that humans make up just 0.01 percent of all living things. Source: Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo, PNAS, 2018

Nature is likely to be hit particularly hard over the next 30 years, said Jake Rice, chief scientist emeritus at the Canadian government’s department of oceans and fisheries, who co-chaired the Americas study. High consumption and destructive farming will further degrade land and marine ecosystems, he added, although the pace of destruction is diminishing because so much has already gone.

“The great transformation has already taken place in North America but the remote parts of South and Central America remain under threat. A new wave of destruction is transforming the Amazon and Pampas regions [of Latin America],” said Rice.

All of this comes at a huge cost and has implications for the systems that prop up life on this planet, throwing into doubt the ability of humans to survive.

Future generations will likely experience far less wildlife, said Luthando Dziba, head of conservation services at South African National Parks, who co-chaired the section of the IPBES report that focuses on Africa.

Humans have caused the loss of around 80 percent of wild land and marine mammals, and half of plants. Source: Yinon

Humans have caused the loss of around 80 percent of wild land and marine mammals, and half of plants. Source: Yinon M. Bar-On, Rob Phillips, and Ron Milo, PNAS, 2018

“Africa is the world’s last home for a wide range of large mammals but the scientific consensus is that under current scenarios to 2100 more than half of African bird and mammal species could be lost,” said Dziba.

Around 20 percent of Africa’s land surface has already been degraded by soil erosion, loss of vegetation, pollution and salinization, he said, adding that the expected doubling of the continent’s population to 2.5 billion people by 2050 will put yet further pressure on its biodiversity.

While people are familiar with the threats to whales, elephants and other beloved animals, the problem goes far deeper than that. Animal populations have declined by 60 percent since 1970, driven by human actions, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund study.

And insects, vital to the diets of other animals, as well as the pollinators of our food, are facing a bleak future as populations appear to be collapsing. Land use changes and increased pesticide use are destroying habitats and vastly reducing numbers. In Europe, up to 37 percent of bees and 31 percent of butterflies are in decline, with major losses also recorded in southern Africa, according to the pollinators section of the report.

A major assessment of insect studies conducted over the last few decades found that 41 percent of insects are in decline. Sou

A major assessment of insect studies conducted over the last few decades found that 41 percent of insects are in decline. Source: Sánchez-Bayoa and Wyckhuy, Biological Conservation, 2019

“Species which are not charismatic have been politically overlooked,” said Rounsevell. “Over 70 percent of freshwater species and 61 percent of amphibians have declined [in Europe], along with 26 percent of marine fish populations and 42 percent of land-based animals … It is a dramatic change and a direct result of the intensification of farming,” he said.

This destruction is also driving mass human migration and increased conflict. Decreasing land productivity makes societies more vulnerable to social instability, says the report, which estimates that in around 30 years’ time land degradation, together with the closely related problems of climate change, will have forced 50 to 700 million people to migrate.

“It will just be no longer viable to live on those lands,” said Watson.

The study will also recognize that much of the remaining wealth of nature depends on indigenous people, who mostly live in the world’s remote areas and are on the frontline of the damage caused by destructive logging and industrial farming. According to IPBES, indigenous communities often know best how to conserve nature and are better placed than scientists to provide detailed information on environmental change.

Brazil – which nationwide hosts about 42,000 plant species, 9,000 species of vertebrates and almost 130,000 invertebrates – has an indigenous population of almost 900,000 people, says the report.

“What surprised me the most about this study was that it became clear that the older cultures, like the indigenous peoples of the Americas, have different values which protect nature better [than Western societies],” said Watson. “No one should romanticize indigenous peoples, and we cannot turn the clock back, but we can learn a lot from them on how to protect the planet.”

Indigenous people, however, continue to experience discrimination, threats and murder. In Brazil, for example, Bolsonaro’s election has cemented a pro-corporate, anti-indigenous agenda that has already started to undermine the rights of the country’s native communities.

Left: Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.<br> Right: Members of the Munduruku indigenous tri

Left: Aerial view of deforestation in the Western Amazon region of Brazil.
Right: Members of the Munduruku indigenous tribe on the banks of the Tapajos River protest against plans to construct a hydroelectric dam on the river in the Amazon rainforest on November 26, 2014 near Sao Luiz do Tapajos, Para State, Brazil.

Although their conclusions are stark, the IPBES authors are not entirely gloomy about Earth’s prospects. In offering practical options for future action, they want to show that it is not too late to slow down or even reverse degradation.

They will also recognize that individual and community actions to plant trees, regenerate abandoned lands and protect nature can have a major positive impact.

Many other solutions to save nature have been put forward by individuals and countries.

Veteran biologist E.O.Wilson proposed that half the Earth needs to be protected to have any hope of avoiding disaster. Elsewhere, indigenous people in Latin America have argued for the creation of one of the world’s largest protected land areas, stretching from the southern tip of the Andes to the Atlantic.

Several countries are taking bold initiatives to restore land, both to help meet climate targets and to protect and enhance biodiversity. Pakistan intends to plant 10 billion trees (although its previous billion tree campaign was not without controversy), Ethiopia has mobilized communities to regenerate 15 million hectares of degraded lands and the Green Wall project is pushing for a 4,970-mile long belt of vegetation across Africa. Meanwhile, the U.N. Environment program has reported a surge in the number and size of marine protected areas.

Public awareness of the crisis is also growing, with new social movements setting up to put pressure on governments to act urgently. The Extinction Rebellion movement, which began in London in October, argues that we face an unprecedented emergency. Backed by academics, scientists, church leaders and others, including Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Vandana Shiva, it claims to have spread to 35 countries in its first two months. Children too are joining in. On March 15, thousands of young people across 30 countries plan to strike from school and protest against inaction on climate change.

But despite these moves to reverse the ongoing destruction of the natural world, the big picture remains worrying. Ambitious global agreements like the Aichi targets set in Japan in 2010 and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals around protecting nature, may not be met at current rates of progress, say the report authors.

Ultimately, Watson concludes that saving nature will require a major rethink of how we live and how we think about nature, but that it is possible to turn this dire situation around if governments want it to happen.

“There are no magic bullets or one-size-fits-all answers. The best options are found in better governance, putting biodiversity concerns into the heart of farming and energy policies, the application of scientific knowledge and technology, and increased awareness and behavioral changes,” Watson said. “The evidence shows that we do know how to protect and at least partially restore our vital natural assets. We know what we have to do.”

For more content and to be part of the ‘This New World’ community, follow our Facebook page.

HuffPost’s ‘This New World’ series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to thisnewworld@huffpost.com

Donald Trump: World-renowned primatologist Jane Goodall likens US President to a chimpanzee

‘To impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: Stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks,’ says prominent conservationist

Primatologist Jane Goodall has since been echoed by prominent psychologist Professor Dan P McAdams

Primatologist Jane Goodall has since been echoed by prominent psychologist Professor Dan P McAdams ( EPA )

World-renowned primatologist Dame Jane Goodall has likened Donald Trump‘s behaviour to that of a chimpanzee.

The British conservationist first gained international recognition for studying chimps in what is now Tanzania and has studied the primates for more than 50 years.

“In many ways the performances of Donald Trump remind me of male chimpanzeesand their dominance rituals,” she told The Atlantic during the 2016 presidential election.

“In order to impress rivals, males seeking to rise in the dominance hierarchy perform spectacular displays: Stamping, slapping the ground, dragging branches, throwing rocks.”

A more aggressive display was likely to lead the male to higher positions in the hierarchy and allow it to maintain its status for longer, she said.

Mr Trump’s election campaign was littered with bombastic statements and since becoming President, he has issued increasingly aggressive threats towards North Korea.

In his first address to the UN General Assembly, he said the US may have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Dame Jane’s analysis of Mr Trump’s behaviour has since been echoed by prominent psychologist Professor Dan P McAdams.

Describing what he called a male chimpanzee’s “charging display” in an article in The Guardian, Professor Adams, of Northwestern University, said: “The top male essentially goes berserk and starts screaming, hooting, and gesticulating wildly as he charges toward other males nearby.”

He added: “Trump’s incendiary tweets are the human equivalent of a charging display: Designed to intimidate his foes and rally his submissive base, these verbal outbursts reinforce the President’s dominance by reminding everybody of his wrath and his force.”

Dame Goodall has previously condemned the Republican President’s plans to scrap key US climate change policies as “extremely depressing”.

Mr Trump resolved to take America out of the Paris climate change agreement, although in recent months has appeared to soften on the issue.

“There’s no way we can say climate change isn’t happening: it’s happened,” Dame Jane said in March during her first trip to the US since the election.

“There is definitely a feeling of gloom and doom among all the people I know.

“If we allow this feeling of doom and gloom to continue then it will be very, very bad, but my job is to give people hope, and I think one of the main hopes is the fact that people have woken up: people who were apathetic before or didn’t seem to care.”

“It’s a miracle!”: Bees living on Notre-Dame cathedral roof survive blaze

 

Notre-Dame cathedralImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionCathedral beekeeper Nicolas Geant says the bees would have got “drunk” on smoke from the fire

Notre-Dame’s smallest residents have survived the devastating fire which destroyed most of the cathedral’s roof and toppled its famous spire.

Some 200,000 bees living in hives on the roof were initially thought to have perished in the blaze.

However Nicolas Géant, the cathedral’s beekeeper, has confirmed that the bees are alive and buzzing.

Mr Géant has looked after the cathedral’s three beehives since 2013, when they were installed.

That was part of an initiative to boost bee numbers across Paris.

The hives sit on top of the sacristy by Notre-Dame’s south side, around 30m (98 ft) below the main roof. As a result, Mr Géant says they remained untouched by the flames.

European bees – unlike other species – stay by their hive after sensing danger, gorging on honey and working to protect their queen.

High temperatures would have posed the biggest risk, but Mr Géant explained that any smoke would have simply intoxicated them.

“Instead of killing them, the carbon dioxide makes them drunk, puts them to sleep,” he told AP.

Beekeepers commonly use smoke to sedate the insects and gain access to their hive.

“I was incredibly sad about Notre-Dame because it’s such a beautiful building,” Mr Géant said in an interview with CNN.

“But to hear there is life when it comes to the bees, that’s just wonderful.”

“Thank goodness the flames didn’t touch them,” he added. “It’s a miracle!”

 

Fossil ‘mother lode’ records Earth-shaking asteroid’s impact: study

AFP.

Washington (AFP) – Scientists in the US say they have discovered the fossilized remains of a mass of creatures that died minutes after a huge asteroid slammed into the Earth 66 million years ago, sealing the fate of the dinosaurs.

In a paper to be published Monday, a team of paleontologists headquartered at the University of Kansas say they found a “mother lode of exquisitely preserved animal and fish fossils” in what is now North Dakota.

The asteroid’s impact in what is now Mexico was the most cataclysmic event ever known to befall Earth, eradicating 75 percent of the planet’s animal and plant species, extinguishing the dinosaurs and paving the way for the rise of humans.

Researchers believe the impact set off fast-moving, seismic surges that triggered a sudden, massive torrent of water and debris from an arm of an inland sea known as the Western Interior Seaway.

At the Tanis site in North Dakota’s Hell Creek Formation, the surge left “a tangled mass of freshwater fish, terrestrial vertebrates, trees, branches, logs, marine ammonites and other marine creatures,” according to Robert DePalma, the report’s lead author.

Some of the fish fossils were found to have inhaled “ejecta” associated with the Chicxulub event, suggesting seismic surges reached North Dakota within “tens of minutes,” he said.

“The sedimentation happened so quickly everything is preserved in three dimensions — they’re not crushed,” said co-author David Burnham.

“It’s like an avalanche that collapses almost like a liquid, then sets like concrete. They were killed pretty suddenly because of the violence of that water. We have one fish that hit a tree and was broken in half.”

The fossils at Tanis include what were believed to be several newly identified fish species, and others that were “the best examples of their kind,” said DePalma, a graduate student and curator of the Palm Beach Museum of Natural History in Florida.

“We look at moment-by-moment records of one of the most notable impact events in Earth’s history. No other site has a record quite like that,” he said.

“And this particular event is tied directly to all of us — to every mammal on Earth, in fact. Because this is essentially where we inherited the planet. Nothing was the same after that impact. It became a planet of mammals rather than a planet of dinosaurs.”

The paper is to be published in the Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences.

‘Super mom’ spotted on a Minnesota lake — with 56 ducklings in tow

(And that number has since grown to 76!)

CHRISTIAN COTRONEO

July 26, 2018, 4:35 p.m.
Mother duck leading babies on lake

When Cizek first photographed this family, there were around 56 babies. He came back later and counted 76 of them. (Photo: Brent Cizek)

When wildlife photographer Brent Cizek bought a small plastic boat last winter, he was hoping to ply the lakes of northern Minnesota and capture the most intimate scenes of animals in their natural environment.

He had no idea how intimate he would get.

But it wasn’t until June that he truly tested the little boat on one of the state’s bigger bodies of water, Lake Bemidji.

“Well, it wasn’t the greatest idea as it was quite windy that day and the waves were tossing my boat around in any direction that it wanted to,” Cizek tells MNN.

“I decided to carry on, knowing that it wasn’t likely that I would see anything, much less be able to take a photograph with the choppy water.”

He managed to steer his boat along the shoreline. Then he spotted what seemed to be a gathering of birds. As Cizek edged nearer, he could make out a mother duck — a common merganser — and trailing her were ducklings. One… two… three…

“The closer that I got, the more my heart started racing as I had never witnessed something like this before,” Cizek recalls.

The brood had swum under a boat dock. When they emerged, Cizek counted more ducklings.

25… 26…

His boat was still getting tossed around on the choppy waters of Lake Bemidji, and the family kept disappearing under docks.

Cizek eventually decided to bring his boat back to the launch. Maybe he’d see that gathering of mergansers again.

And he did. On the very beach where he was heading.

“As I got closer, the group decided to start swimming back out into the lake, and ‘Mama Merganser’ got out front and all of the chick got in tow.”

33… 34…

“I knew that this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity, so I immediately tried to fire off as many shots as I could, just hoping that one of the photos would turn out.”

55…

Mama Merganser was being followed by a staggering 56 ducklings. (However, it’s worth noting that this brood is very likely a mixed family, not a single brood. In fact, one Minnesota ornithologist humorously called it a “day-care thing,” with one bird taking the lead for many fledglings, no matter how they all came together.)

Meanwhile, a breathless Cizek finally raced home to see if he had any good pictures.

“I found one image that was in focus and that I just loved,” says. “I knew that it would do good on social media, so I posted the photo right away.”

It didn’t take long for that intimate portrait of Mama Merganser and her extraordinary group to take off from that Minnesota lake and shoot across the world.

Over the last month, Cizek has been getting calls worldwide from newspapers and even Jimmy Fallon. But most importantly for Cizek, the image — and the story behind it — was featured on the National Audubon Society’s website.

Cizek, an ardent wildlife lover, is a strong supporter of the organization’s mission to protect birds and their natural environments.

He’s hoping his “once-in-a-lifetime” image will inspire people to stand up for animals like Mama Merganser and her many ducklings. And make a donation to the Audubon Society.

As for Cizek, not even the rough waters of Lake Bemidji could keep him from going back to check on that feathered family.

On a more recent outing, the line of ducklings seemed even longer.

https://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/supermom-duck-babies-lake-Bemidji-cizek?fbclid=IwAR2Q982wu1bvaoKEfo6P5OA0Ev0exTQbdPPJ5sWNMcpN440xEFO-ixTFHDQ

73… 74.. 75…

“I was able to then count 76 babies with her, so she had picked up more babies along the way,” he says. “It’s been remarkable. It’s going to be a sad day when they continue their migration.”

The Power Of Words: How We Use Language To Justify Our Consumption Of Nature

MOJO COLUMNIST SUSAN MARSH WAXES ON HOW WE ‘HARVEST’ LIVING THINGS TO AVOID ADMITTING WE’RE TAKING THEIR LIVES

Susan Marsh asks:  why is it that if a wolf preys upon a native wild ungulate, or even a domestic calf or sheep, it is called a cold-blooded killer, yet when a human hunter shoots an elk it is considered a &quot;harvest&quot; or when thousands of beef cows are sent to slaughterhouses little thought is given, in language, to the truth that those animals are involuntarily giving up their lives to feed humans?  Photo of wolf in Yellowstone courtesy Jacob W. Frank/NPS
Susan Marsh asks: why is it that if a wolf preys upon a native wild ungulate, or even a domestic calf or sheep, it is called a cold-blooded killer, yet when a human hunter shoots an elk it is considered a “harvest” or when thousands of beef cows are sent to slaughterhouses little thought is given, in language, to the truth that those animals are involuntarily giving up their lives to feed humans? Photo of wolf in Yellowstone courtesy Jacob W. Frank/NPS
Sometimes all I have
are words and to write them means
they are no longer
prayers but are now animals.
Other people can hunt them.
…A tanka by Victoria Chang (from Narrative, February 2019)
The words we use.
Lately I’ve been wondering about how carefully we choose the words we use and whether we consider the implications and hidden baggage they carry. Subtle nuances we grew up hearing stick with us for life. Sometimes they are not so subtle and stick like pins in a voodoo doll. Sometimes they live through the ages and invade our collective belief system, the way we unconsciously agree that the sky is blue.
Frederich Nietzsche wrote that “A uniformly valid and binding designation is invented for things, and this legislation of language likewise establishes the first laws of truth.” [On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense1873]. We can’t speak truth without submitting to authority (the dictionary) by which we agree on the word that signifies our meaning. We say the sky is blue, but the words sky and blue are cultural constructions.

In the sciences, we discover truth—until we find out something new, then we cast that adjusted knowledge into stone until the next drop of understanding leaks in. The way we look at the universe is an example: we’ve gone from believing the earth was at its center—and assassinating anyone who thought otherwise—to understanding that our solar system is on the trailing edge of a small galaxy, one among zillions. We are even able to admit that there’s a lot more going on out there than we can imagine.

Yet the truth eludes us if we’re not careful, in part because of our invented language for things. Nietzsche continues in his essay with what he might call the anti-truth: “The liar is a person,” he writes, “who uses the valid designations—the words—in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real.”
Our culture is shot through with lies we agree to accept as if they were the truth. We call it obfuscation, a way of lying to ourselves and coming to believe what we say. Most of us can sniff out deception in the way government and institutions invent euphemisms to hide rather than reveal what they are really talking about. How often do we unconsciously incorporate these terms?
I consider as an example the way we speak about the natural world. By “we” I mean people of the Western tradition, influenced by the likes of Rene Descartes. He called himself rational but denied an obvious and observable truth, that other species are sentient, intelligent, and in possession of emotions. He argued that animals lacked a soul or mind, and therefore had no emotions and could not feel pain. Unfortunately his views became prominent in Europe and North America, allowing people to treat animals as property, not other beings with whom we share this world.
How convenient. We shop for pork and beef without thinking about the suffering that brought animals to our tables. We let unwanted pets out the door and drive away. We deny any hint of kinship by referring to an animal as “it” instead of he or she.
My computer’s grammar police underlined the word whom at the end of the last paragraph. It wanted me to substitute which.
Let’s hope we’re becoming more enlightened about the status of other species as we learn how intelligent they are, from whales to ravens. On second thought, perhaps not. In Wyoming it’s still a time-honored sport to run down coyotes with snowmobiles.

Let’s hope we’re becoming more enlightened about the status of other species as we learn how intelligent they are, from whales to ravens. On second thought, perhaps not. In Wyoming it’s still a time-honored sport to run down coyotes with snowmobiles.

Genome sequencing has placed us in the midst of the pantheon of earthly life: we share 99 percent of our genes with chimps, 90 percent with mice, and 84 percent with dogs—presumably including coyotes. A billion year old ancestral life form that gave rise to both plants and animals left us each with commonalities in our genomes. At last our rational science is helping us catch up to so-called primitive peoples and centuries-old cultures which hold that we are part of the world and all living things are our kin.
In the Western tradition we still use language to set ourselves apart, to create the illusion of superiority. Nowhere is our Cartesian reluctance to acknowledge the individuality of other life forms more prominent than in the lingo of forestry and wildlife management agencies and the land grant colleges that graduate their employees.
We don’t cut down mature lodgepole pine trees; we harvest timber. Even the tree itself is known by foresters as “standing volume” rather than a component of a complex ecosystem which provides food, shelter and oxygen to myriad species. The term ignores the complexity of the tree, an ecosystem of its own, as well as its interdependence on all that surrounds it. “Volume” refers to nothing more than the board-foot, the number of slices 12 inches square and an inch thick that are estimated in a timber stand.
I don’t argue against using lumber. We live in houses. But we treat forests like we do beef cattle, as a lifeless commodity. Private forest-product companies are at least honest about their purpose: they call their forests tree farms.
Those who create useful and beautiful things from wood, who select and cut a tree from their property or a neighbor’s and use it for an object of quality and endurance show a different attitude. Those who cut their own firewood remember and thank the tree whenever they set a log on the fire.
A researcher examines a tree in the middle of a forest to assess how much carbon dioxide it might be sequestering. While touting the vital role trees play in nature is a departure from them being valued only for their stumpage or human uses, it often falls short of recognizing their intrinsic sense of being. Recent studies have shown that trees actually possess their own kind of awareness to things happening the environment around them. It might not be on the level that humans attribute to higher sentience but it is a radical departure from the way trees have been regarded merely as objective commodities that exist to be harvested.  Photo courtesy Lola Fatoyinbo/NASA
A researcher examines a tree in the middle of a forest to assess how much carbon dioxide it might be sequestering. While touting the vital role trees play in nature is a departure from them being valued only for their stumpage or human uses, it often falls short of recognizing their intrinsic sense of being. Recent studies have shown that trees actually possess their own kind of awareness to things happening the environment around them. It might not be on the level that humans attribute to higher sentience but it is a radical departure from the way trees have been regarded merely as objective commodities that exist to be harvested. Photo courtesy Lola Fatoyinbo/NASA
George Nakashima, famed architect, woodworker, and author of The Soul of a Tree has this to say about his work. “It is an art- and soul-satisfying adventure to walk the forests of the world, to commune with trees, to bring this living material to the work bench, ultimately to give it a second life.” This was a man who did not waste wood.
Where language is concerned wildlife fare no better than forests. Hunters don’t shoot deer or elk, they harvest them, as if the creatures of field and forest were planted like corn. Beware when you hear that we must “manage” predators: that means only one thing—kill them.
Some creatures are planted, with the express purpose of harvest. Often these are alien species that wreak havoc with the natives. Fish farms pass diseases to wild salmon and pollute the local waters. Lake trout gobble the fry of native cutthroats, robbing Yellowstone’s grizzly bears of a needed protein source in summer. Rocky Mountain goats, introduced to the Snake River Range in Wyoming for sport hunting, have increased and spread into Grand Teton National Park where native bighorn sheep are struggling to survive.
Wildlife professionals employ terms best suited to the stockyard. Most of us are thrilled to hear the first warbler of spring or the bugle of a bull elk at the end of summer. Biologists refer to these as “territorial behavior.” While accurate enough, notice how much distance between ourselves and our relatives is placed by the use of such bloodless professional diction.
We engage in fine dining while wildlife “feeds.” In my experience, wolfing down a sandwich at work while typing on the computer and answering the phone more closely resembles feeding than dining.
It’s been ten years since a citizen science effort began in our local area (Nature Mapping Jackson Hole). I was part of the group that set protocols for data entry, and I remember a particular conversation about how to describe what the creature observed was doing. We were trying to make our data compatible with that of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department so the entire body of information could be accessed in one place.
We started out with the activity list of Game and Fish, whose focus was somewhat limited. The activity descriptors included walking, standing, running, loafing (resting), and feeding. Breeding and territorial behavior rounded out the list, and if none of these applied we could simply say the creature’s activity was undetermined.
Immediately hands went up in the meeting room. What if it’s a duck? Wouldn’t it be swimming? What if the duck is flying?
The Game and Fish activity list was intended for use in cervids, meaning elk in our corner of the state. Surprisingly, there was a fairly heated argument about whether flying and swimming could be added, since this was an established data base and we were a bunch of upstart volunteers. But we weren’t just counting elk. Our purpose was to gather observations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Some of them swam, some of them flew.
Reluctantly, the Game and Fish representatives agreed to consider the additions. If nothing else, we could add them to our data sheets and if they didn’t fit into the statewide one, there was always the category of undetermined. Who cared, I wondered to myself, what the animal was doing anyway? In the space of a minute a magpie could be walking, flying, feeding, and generally raising hell. Which should I choose?
The debate took another turn when someone asked, “What if the animal is playing?”
Silence. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department habitat biologist squinted as if to ask, are you serious?
The stories of encounters with wildlife began to fill the room, presented slowly and shyly at first and then with more insistence: the elk calf seen kicking up his heels and jumping in circles through a muddy slough. The fox kits chasing one another in a meadow. A raven sliding down a frosty metal roof, flying back to the ridge, and doing it again. A wolf lying on his stomach at the top of a snowy slope and with a gentle kick of his hind feet glissading to the bottom. No one mentioned otters since we all knew they did nothing but play.
The group sorted ourselves into camps: pro-play and anti-play. We’ve seen this with our own eyes, some said. How can we not record it? Couldn’t this information be useful to know under what circumstances wild creatures felt at ease enough to play?
This was foreign territory to the wildlife experts and soon the discussion ended with a resounding No. They’d already given enough ground in accepting flying and swimming, and who knew what kind of crazy activity the rest of us would come up with next? Play remained off the list.
It wasn’t a big deal, yet in a deeper sense it is. Why are we so afraid, especially those of us trained in the sciences, to acknowledge parallels between our behavior and that of other animals? In modern times our aversion to anthropomorphism is drummed into us to the point of feeling innate, but humans have always used it as a bridge between ourselves and others. Medieval renderings of the sun and moon give them human faces. Myths give animals godlike powers and human traits. These have helped us make sense of the world, at least until science shoved them all aside.

We’ve created a culture insulated from wild nature, encouraging us to stop caring that we are adrift. We speak of the land, forests, and wildlife not as aspects of home but of natural resources. We give serious consideration to colonizing the moon or even Mars rather than try to clean up the mess we’ve made of our own planet.

A shared behavior isn’t the same thing as a false attribution of human traits to others. I walk, my dog walks. Do we walk the same way? No. We each do what we do in our own way but there are many things we share, in addition to a good number of our genes, which help us relate to pets and wildlife alike. Seeing ourselves in others, whether people or other species, is the basis for empathy.
How do we unravel the words used to describe, name, tell the truth or tell lies? How do we keep a sharp ear for the subtleties of words that don’t quite hit the mark? And most of all, how do we salvage a scrap of humility as a species whose interactions with other forms of life usually place us on top? We place ourselves above other people as well, in cultures old and new. We areThe People, the chosen ones, the ones whose creed is the only true religion.
We’ve created a culture insulated from wild nature, encouraging us to stop caring that we are adrift. We speak of the land, forests, and wildlife not as aspects of home but of natural resources. We give serious consideration to colonizing the moon or even Mars rather than try to clean up the mess we’ve made of our own planet.
These are diversions, as dangerous as the euphemisms used to distance our relationship with animals and trees. Understanding what we really mean to say requires us to slow down, be more deliberate, seek to communicate and connect. To witness what is before our eyes before we open our mouths.
“If an animal does something, we call it instinct; if we do the same thing for the same reason, we call it intelligence.” – Will Cuppy
 
EDITOR’S NOTE:  Mountain Journal congratulates Susan Marsh for being honored with the Raynes Citizen Conservation Award given by the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative at its 2019 Wildlife Symposium in Jackson Hole. The award, created in honor of naturalists Bert Raynes and his late wife, Meg, recognizes citizens who have made significant contributions to advancing public understanding and appreciation for the natural world.
Marsh, whose art is at right, shares some thoughts after receiving the Raynes Citizen Conservation Award at the 2019 Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative Wildlife Symposium in Jackson Hole.  Photo by Todd Wilkinson
Marsh, whose art is at right, shares some thoughts after receiving the Raynes Citizen Conservation Award at the 2019 Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative Wildlife Symposium in Jackson Hole. Photo by Todd Wilkinson

Cartoon: Smokey’s shutdown survival guide

Two weeks into a shutdown, and our national parks are getting the Bundy Family treatment. Dig a proper latrine and make sure it’s deep enough to hold all the stuff coming out of Mitch McConnell and the White House.

Follow me on TwitterFacebook, or Patreon.

Bees May Understand Zero, a Concept That Took Humans Millennia to Grasp

If the finding is true, they’d be the first invertebrates to join an elite club that includes primates, dolphins and parrots

image: https://thumbs-prod.si-cdn.com/4uqFneYzh6k1sdxlpygxthCm6zY=/800×600/filters:no_upscale()/https://public-media.smithsonianmag.com/filer/ba/6b/ba6b1209-f295-414b-a7f7-f8fc81bef30f/ertnwj.jpg

ERTNWJ.jpg

Australian researchers have shown that bees can distinguish nothing from various positive numbers. (Nigel Cattlin / Alamy)
SMITHSONIAN.COM

As a mathematical concept, the idea of zero is relatively new in human society—and indisputably revolutionary. It’s allowed humans to develop algebra, calculus and Cartesian coordinatesquestions about its properties continue to incite mathematical debate today. So it may sound unlikely that bees—complex and community-based insects to be sure, but insects nonetheless—seem to have mastered their own numerical concept of nothingness.

Despite their sesame-seed-sized brains, honey bees have proven themselves the prodigies of the insect world. Researcher has found that they can count up to about four, distinguish abstract patterns, and communicate locations with other bees. Now, Australian scientists have found what may be their most impressive cognitive ability yet: “zero processing,” or the ability to conceptualize nothingness as a numerical value that can be compared with more tangible quantities like one and two.

While seemingly intuitive, the ability to understand zero is actually quite rare across species—and unheard of in invertebrates. In a press release, the authors of a paper published June 8 in the journal Science called species with this ability an “elite club” that consists of species we generally consider quite intelligent, including primates, dolphins and parrots. Even humans haven’t always been in that club: The concept of zero first appeared in India around 458 A.D, and didn’t enter the West until 1200, when Italian mathematician Fibonacci brought it and a host of other Arabic numerals over with him.

But animal cognition researchers at the RMIT University of Melbourne, Monash University in Clayton, Australia and Toulouse University in France had a hunch that honey bees might just be one of the few species able to grasp the concept. Despite the fact that they have fewer than one million neurons in their brain—compared to 86,000 million in a human brain—the team recognized their cognitive potential.

“My lab was starting to accumulate some evidence that bees could do some advanced cognitive tasks, such as tool use, playing ‘soccer’—manipulating a ball to get a reward—and learning to encode information in human faces,” says Adrian Dyer, a postdoctoral student at RMIT University of Melbourne and co-author on the study. “We were aware that this animal model was very capable of learning complex things … it was the right time to formalize an experiment to see if the bee brain could process the concept of zero.”

To test this hypothesis, the team first taught the bees the concepts of “greater than” and “less than,” which previous research suggested the bees would be able to do. The researchers figured that if the bees could successfully show they understood that zero was less than various positive numbers, this would demonstrate the insects’ understanding of zero’s numerical value.

To do this, they first lured two groups of 10 bees each to a wall where two white panels containing different numbers of black shapes were displayed. They decided to teach half the bees “less than” and the other half “greater than,” using food rewards to train the bees to fly toward the panel with fewer or more shapes, respectively. When comparing two white panels with positive numbers of shapes in each, bees quickly learned to fly toward the correct one.

The real challenge, however, came when one of the panels contained no shapes at all. In several trials, the “less than” bees flocked to the empty panel, and the “greater than” bees to the panel with shapes. Despite the study’s small sample size, the researchers believed the bees were exhibiting zero processing capability.

The bees’ success at zero processing was much better when the blank panel was compared with a panel with many shapes—say, four or five—than when it was compared with a panel containing fewer. In other words, the further the comparison number got from zero, the better the bees were at determining which panel had fewer shapes. Interestingly, this is consistent with the results that researchers have found in human children using a similar experimental design, says Dyer. He says that this similarity in bees’ and humans’ development of zero processing capability suggests that bees and humans are likely conceptualizing zero in analogous ways.

Other bee cognition experts, however, doubt that this experiment definitively proves bees get the zero concept. Clint Perry, a research fellow at the Queen Mary University of London who has spent much of his career studying bee cognition, says that there likely could be other explanations for the bees’ behavior that make him “not convinced” that bees truly are understanding the concept of zero.

“The more parsimonious explanation for the results is the bees were using ‘reward history’ to solve the task—that is, how often each type of stimulus was rewarded,” Perry says. It’s possible the “less-than” bees, for example, were truly just learning that the blank panel earned them a reward 100 percent of the time, the one-shape panel 80 percent of the time, and so on. In other words, they were simply playing the best odds they could with the panels they were shown, without necessarily understanding the concept.

“I could see [bees’ zero processing] as a possibility—being able to count and being able to evaluate the value of numbers could give an adaptive advantage for survival,” says Perry. “I don’t see why [bees] couldn’t. But these experiments should be repeated and the interpretation verified to get at that.”

Dyer remains optimistic about the validity of his team’s results. He also says that this research suggests that the ability to conceptualize zero could be more common than we think—ancient humans, he postulates, likely had the potential for zero processing, cognitively speaking.

“We had some human ancient cultures which appear not to ever have used the concept of zero… but as we look across animal species, we see that their brains are capable of processing this information,” says Dyer. “So ancient civilizations had brains that for sure could process zero. It was just something about how their culture was set up; they were not so interested in thinking about number sequences.”

One practical implication for the research lies in the development of artificial intelligence; Dyer thinks reverse-engineering how the brains of animals like bees work could help us improve the abilities of artificial minds. But the first step is investigating the brain processes behind this ability.

“We’re at the dawn of trying to understand the concept of zero and how our brains might encode it,” he says. “This study produced high-quality behavioral data, and from that you can make some inferences. But we don’t know the exact neural networks at play—that is future work we hope to do.”

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/bees-may-understand-zero-concept-took-humans-millennia-grasp-180969282/#UG6ksM62RUMAOtDz.99
Give the gift of Smithsonian magazine for only $12! http://bit.ly/1cGUiGv
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter