People wearing animal masks set off smoke bombs in Toronto this weekend

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Animal rights activists marched through Toronto streets over the weekend, wearing animal masks and carrying smoke bombs. 

On Sunday, Toronto Animal Rights March walked through parts of downtown to spread a message of “ending the war on animals.” 

“The war on animals is real, it’s merciless, and it’s happening every single minute of every single day,” a spokesperson for Toronto Animal Rights said. “Hundreds of millions of animals are under attack in slaughterhouses, laboratories, and farms… and the perpetrator is us!” 

animal rights march toronto

Some demonstrators at the march wore rabbit masks and carried an army stretcher with an attacked real-life looking coyote, to symbolize that animals are being hurt. Image via Jenny Henry.

During the march, several “die-ins” happened, where demonstrators laid on the ground lifeless while playing the sounds of distressed animals over a speaker. 

The march ended at Old City Hall with activists reading aloud Rose’s Law, a plea for a bill on the rights of all animals. 

Toronto’s animal rights community has hosted a slew of other marches, one in 2019, where the bodies of dead animals were carried throughout the demonstration. 

Organizers of Sunday’s march say they are “imploring the people of Toronto to open their eyes to what’s happening to animals, and make a change to a more compassionate lifestyle.”

Animal rights: Protect wild horses

May 28, 2021 at 12:13 pm Updated May 28, 2021 at 12:13 pm  By Letters editorThe Seattle Times

Re: “Wild horses adopted under a federal program are going to slaughter” [May 15, Nation & World]:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has reached a new cruel low with its Adoption Incentive Program (AIP), paying unscrupulous people to “adopt” wild horses and burros who then sell them to kill buyers all while telling the public they don’t send them to slaughter. Our tax dollars have been misused to remove the horses/burros off our public lands to be replaced with millions of cattle and sheep for far too long.

The BLM is preparing more roundups, leaving very few behind, and wants to use all kinds of birth control, some untested, as reported by the American Wild Horse Campaign. That is a recipe for extinction. A 2017 Public Policy Polling national survey found that 80% of Americans want Congress to keep anti-slaughter protections in place. Our voices are ignored in favor of the ranching industry that thinks it owns our public lands.

If taxpayers want this cruelty to stop, I urge them to contact their senators, representatives and the Department of Interior and tell them to rescind the AIP immediately, stop the roundups and reduce the ranchers’ grazing allotments. The millions of livestock are the ones degrading the landscape, not the thousands of horses/burros.

Gayle Janzen, Seattle

Do animals hug each other?

By Emma Bryce – Live Science Contributor about 14 hours ago

Who else is fond of a warm embrace?

The 17-year-old male bonobo 'Manono' and 4-year-old male 'Pole' hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010.

The 17-year-old male bonobo ‘Manono’ and 4-year-old male ‘Pole’ hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

COVID-19 interrupted one of life’s most familiar acts: the warm, enveloping comfort of a hug. The pandemic taught us many things, some more important than others — but one of those is just how much many of us rely on these embraces for a sense of reassurance, consolation and calm. 

We’ve become profoundly aware of the significance of this simple act in our human lives — but does hugging exist in the rest of the animal kingdom? Are there any other species that embrace in the way humans do?

To answer that, first we have to define exactly what we mean by “hug.” From a subjective human standpoint, of course, a hug happens when someone wraps their arms around someone else. Naturally, this restricts hugging to animals with arms — and those are mainly primates, like us. This quickly reveals that, while we might see hugs as a uniquely human trait, hugging is actually just as prominent in the lives of nonhuman primates.

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Comfort and consolation 

Take, for example, bonobos (Pan paniscus), which are often described as the peace-loving hippies of the primate world. These primates have been a lifelong subject of study for Zanna Clay, a comparative and developmental psychologist and primatologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Clay studies social interactions among bonobos, and much of her observational work takes place at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for bonobos whose lives have been disrupted by hunting. At this sanctuary, it’s common to see troops of infants obsessively clinging to one another as they walk around in tandem. 

“You have quite a lot of young orphans who need quite a lot of reassurance, and they do what we call the ‘hug walk’: They hug together and walk along in a little train,” Clay told Live Science.

Clay says that this behavior is more common in the sanctuary than it would be in the wild — possibly because bonobos are also exposed to embraces from their human caregivers — but it still does occur in bonobos’ natural lives. In fact, this behavior probably has roots in the maternal behavior of female bonobos, which cradle their infants when they are small. Researchers have observed that this hugging behavior is most common in young bonobos and typically occurs after a bonobo has experienced conflict or stress. Often, in these cases, a distressed bonobo will stretch out its arms in a beseeching gesture, and another bonobo will dramatically rush toward the squealing infant and encircle it in a tight embrace. 

“A bonobo might request [a hug], so they will seek someone out and sort of ask for help, or somebody might offer them one,” Clay said. 

Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

It’s difficult to judge animal emotions, but the evidence points to the likelihood that hugging reassures these primates, just as it does humans, Clay said. Intriguingly, in some of her previous research, Clay and her colleagues discovered that orphaned bonobos were less likely to offer sympathetic hugs to distressed peers, compared with young bonobos that had been reared by their mothers. This might indicate the importance of parental care in laying the foundation for this social gesture in primates, Clay said. 

Bonobos may be particularly fond of a good cuddle, but the maternal roots of this embrace make this behavior common across many other primate species. In many of these species, mothers hold their infants closely for extended periods of their infancy. 

For instance, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) — bonobos’ close relatives — are also known to embrace. This is especially notable in tense situations such as “border patrols,” when chimps rove around to assert their presence and protect their territories, Clay said. 

“If they hear a predator, or another chimpanzee group, or something scary, that’s when you’ll see them touching each other and holding on to each other,” Clay said. The hug seems to function as reassurance in the face of danger, Clay added — another relatable feature for humans, who typically reach for one another when afraid. 

Related: Do animals ever get sunburned?

In the case of crested black macaques (Macaca nigra), which live in Indonesia, hugging comes with an added flourish: These monkeys request hugs by audibly smacking their lips — an invitation that’s not reserved for family but extended generously to other members of the troop. 

In addition, young orangutans have been observed rushing to hug each other when confronted with the threat of a snake, thus emphasizing the hug’s apparently reassuring role in times of stress or fear. And in another macaque species, the Tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana), researchers have discovered that consoling hugs are plentiful after a fight — and may even be accompanied by a kiss. 

Proactive peacekeeping 

Most research on hugging in primates focuses on its assumed role in reassuring and consoling others — which makes sense, because this mirrors what hugs mean to humans. But research on the lives of spider monkeys reveals a different reason primates engage in these seemingly affectionate displays. 

Filippo Aureli is an ethologist — someone who studies animal behavior — and is affiliated with both the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico and Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom; he studies how spider monkeys use hugging not to recover from conflict but rather to prevent it. In research based on weeks of observing spider monkeys in the tropical forests of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, he discovered that these primates approach each other and embrace more in scenarios in which tensions threaten to boil over into conflict — for instance, when two unfamiliar monkey subgroups meet after a long time apart and fuse to form a larger troop. Advertisement

“The embrace is done by individuals that have a problematic relationship,” said Aureli, who is an editor on a book about conflict resolution in animals. “They may need to be together, and they may need to cooperate — but they are not best friends. And so, the embrace is a way to send a signal and really manage that conflicted relationship.” He explained that because an embrace involves a high degree of vulnerability — after all, one animal is fully exposing its body to another — this “helps to clarify, ‘Hey, I come with good intentions.'” 

Related: Do animals laugh?

It’s possible that hugging as a means of proactive damage control occurs in other primates, as well. But currently, spider monkeys are the best-studied example of this aspect of the behavior, Aureli said. He described their embraces as “preemptive peacemaking,” and his study even suggests that humans could learn a thing or two from these careful creatures about how to manage conflict. “It’s much better to prevent than to repair,” Aureli said. 

Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log.
Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log. (Image credit: Michael Nunez / 500px)

Speaking of humans, how do our own hugs compare to those of other primates? “At the end of the day, we are primates, and affiliative contact is a superimportant component of our social life,” Clay said. “So, to me, there’s obvious continuity in some of the functions of embracing and hugging with humans.”

As in nonhuman primates, being held and embraced by our parents in our infancy sets us up for the reassuring, consoling function that hugs play in our lives. According to Clay, the one notable difference between our hugs and those of our primate kin is that humans seem to have layered more social symbolism onto the embrace. “I think the difference is that with humans, it’s become a kind of conventionalized greeting or parting gesture,” Clay said. “Apes don’t tend to do that.” 

Beyond primates

Of course, we have to be careful not to assume that hugging looks the same in other species as it does in humans. Hugs in primates are easy to identify because they look like ours, but other species may have hugs that appear different. Advertisement

“If we identify the function of a hugging embrace, then really, the form could be completely different — maybe less fascinating for us as humans, because we don’t recognize it,” Aureli said. “But it could basically fulfill the same role.” 

Primate studies indicate that embraces function to bond, reassure, console and make peace, but hugs could have myriad analogues in other animals. For example, horses groom one another, and studies reveal that this activity decreases their heart rates — a hallmark of comfort and calm. Researchers have observed that if the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) detects signs of distress in its mate, it will rush over and rapidly start grooming the mate’s fur; researchers have interpreted this behavior as a possible act of consolation. In birds, preening between pairs is thought to increase social bonds. RELATED MYSTERIES

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Lions (Panthera leorub heads and nuzzle, which is believed to boost their social connections. Hundreds of other mammal species lean against, nestle and huddle with one another to provide comfort and warmth, or to form a united front against danger — which might play a similar role to the steadying hug we see in primates. Meanwhile, dolphins seem to display a kind of consoling peacemaking behavior: Studies show that these cetaceans are more likely to engage in reconciliatory activities after a conflict — for instance, giving each other a flipper rub, or gently towing each other through the water, like an apologetic piggyback.

So, after the separation and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we might take heart in knowing that what humans know as a hug could have many equivalents in our fellow animals. All around the world, there are animals carrying out small acts of comfort and consolation, and making difficult situations a bit easier for one another. That thought is almost as comforting as a big, cozy hug itself. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Scientists Create Early Embryos That Are Part Human, Part Monkey

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April 15, 202111:01 AM ET

Rob Stein, photographed for NPR, 22 January 2020, in Washington DC.

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Using fluorescent antibody-based stains and advanced microscopy, researchers are able to visualize cells of different species origins in an early stage chimeric embryo. The red color indicates the cells of human origin.Weizhi Ji/Kunming University of Science and Technology

For the first time, scientists have created embryos that are a mix of human and monkey cells.

The embryos, described Thursday in the journal Cell, were created in part to try to find new ways to produce organs for people who need transplants, says the international team of scientists who collaborated in the work. But the research raises a variety of concerns.

“My first question is: Why?” says Kirstin Matthews, a fellow for science and technology at Rice University’s Baker Institute. “I think the public is going to be concerned, and I am as well, that we’re just kind of pushing forward with science without having a proper conversation about what we should or should not do.”

Still, the scientists who conducted the research, and some other bioethicists defended the experiment.

“This is one of the major problems in medicine — organ transplantation,” says Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in La Jolla, Calif., and a co-author of the Cell study. “The demand for that is much higher than the supply.”Article continues after sponsor message


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“I don’t see this type of research being ethically problematic,” says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard University. “It’s aimed at lofty humanitarian goals.”

Thousands of people die every year in the United States waiting for an organ transplant, Hyun notes. So, in recent years, some researchers in the U.S. and beyond have been injecting human stem cells into sheep and pig embryos to see if they might eventually grow human organs in such animals for transplantation.

But so far, that approach hasn’t worked. So Belmonte teamed up with scientists in China and elsewhere to try something different. The researchers injected 25 cells known as induced pluripotent stem cells from humans — commonly called iPS cells — into embryos from macaque monkeys, which are much more closely genetically related to humans than are sheep and pigs.

After one day, the researchers report, they were able to detect human cells growing in 132 of the embryos, and were able study the embryos for up to 19 days. That enabled the scientists to learn more about how animal cells and human cells communicate, an important step toward eventually helping researchers find new ways to grow organs for transplantation in other animals, Belmonte says.


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“This knowledge will allow us to go back now and try to re-engineer these pathways that are successful for allowing appropriate development of human cells in these other animals,” Belmonte tells NPR. “We are very, very excited.”

Such mixed-species embryos are known as chimeras, named for the fire-breathing creature from Greek mythology that is part-lion, part-goat, part-snake.

“Our goal is not to generate any new organism, any monster,” Belmonte says. “And we are not doing anything like that. We are trying to understand how cells from different organisms communicate with one another.”

In addition, Belmonte hopes this kind of work could lead to new insights into early human development, aging and the underlying causes of cancer and other disease.

Some other scientists NPR spoke with agree the research could be very useful.

“This work is an important step that provides very compelling evidence that someday when we understand fully what the process is we could make them develop into a heart or a kidney or lungs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Platt, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Michigan, who is doing related experiments but was not involved in the new research.

But this type of scientific work and the possibilities it opens up raises serious questions for some ethicists. The biggest concern, they say, is that someone could try to take this work further and attempt to make a baby out of an embryo made this way. Specifically, the critics worry that human cells could become part of the developing brain of such an embryo — and of the brain of the resulting animal.

“Should it be regulated as human because it has a significant proportion of human cells in it? Or should it be regulated just as an animal? Or something else?” says Matthews. “At what point are you taking something and using it for organs when it actually is starting to think, and have logic?”

Another concern is that using human cells in this way could produce animals that have human sperm or eggs.

“Nobody really wants monkeys walking around with human eggs and human sperm inside them,” says Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist, who co-wrote an article in the same issue of the journal that critiques the line of research, while noting that this particular study was ethically done. “Because if a monkey with human sperm meets a monkey with human eggs, nobody wants a human embryo inside a monkey’s uterus.”

Belmonte acknowledges the ethical concerns. But he stresses that his team has no intention of trying to create animals with the part-human, part-monkey embryos, or to even try to grow human organs in such a closely related species. He says his team consulted closely with bioethicists, including Greely.

Greely says he hopes the work will spur a more general debate about how far scientists should be allowed to go with this kind of research.

“I don’t think we’re on the edge of beyond the Planet of the Apes. I think rogue scientists are few and far between. But they’re not zero,” Greely says. “So I do think it’s an appropriate time for us to start thinking about, ‘Should we ever let these go beyond a petri dish?’ “

For several years, the National Institutes of Health has been weighing the idea of lifting a ban on funding for this kind of research, but has been waiting for new guidelines, which are expected to come out next month, from the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The notion of using organs from animals for transplants has also long raised concerns about spreading viruses from animals to humans. So, if the current research comes to fruition, steps would have to be taken to reduce that infection risk, scientists say, such as carefully sequestering animals used for that purpose and screening any organs used for transplantation.