Send moral pupport

🦇 Bat Eschner's spooky newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 11 🦇

This week’s issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by the fact I have a buuunch of expenses coming up. If anyone has been thinking about upgrading to a paying subscriber buying me a coffee, this would be a great time.

Thank you *so much* to those who already subscribe or tip me via Ko-Fi. It helps me keep bringing you all the best in animal-human relationships news.


What does “send cute pet photos” actually mean?

When someone on social media asks for others to send cute animal pictures to help cushion a hard day, are they just looking for attention? Samantha Cole dug into the question for Vice. TL;DR: social psychologists say we’re all just craving connection. Pictures of loving relationships, sent by someone who care enough to answer a cry for assistance, they help sate that craving.

Extra credit: I know people get some of the same high off following pet influencer accounts. This is a *deep* rabbithole, but for the moment, enjoy this December 2018 look at a burgeoning industry from Vogue’s Elise Taylor.

Capitalism happens to a *bunch* more animals than we thought

A sweeping new study published recently in Science finds that about one in five species of animal is either smuggled or legally bought and sold, writes Giorgia Guglielmi for Nature. That’s a much larger chunk of the animal kingdom than researchers previously believed.

The analysis revealed that traded species are more likely to be threatened or vulnerable to extinction than those that aren’t bought or sold. Although it is difficult to assess whether trade is responsible for making species rare or whether already-rare species are more likely to be traded, this finding is “alarming”, [University of Florida, Gainesville conservation biologist Brett] Scheffers says, because it suggests that the commercialization of wildlife is threatening species that are already on the cusp of extinction.

Do octopusses dream of aquatic sheep?

A new documentary on PBS shows a scientist speculating that his pet octopus, Heidi, who lives in his living room, can dream, writes Elizabeth Preston for The New York Times. You might have seen the below GIF of her dormant colour changes somewhere in the last few days. Other scientists say it’s possible—but also that Heidi’s owner might be the one dreaming.

Bonus round: CREATURE FEATURE has a policy against sharing images of animals in irresponsible pet ownership situations (scroll down to the footer on this email for the full policy.) I was concerned about Heidi’s life and comfort, so I did a bit of reading, and it seems like the scientist involved and others took some care to make sure she had appropriate accommodations and such, which is good to hear.

If you, like me, are not in the United States with PBS access, you can view the dream sequence on Youtube.


GIF: Heidi the octopus changes from white through yellow and dark violet as she appears to dream. (Credit: PBS)


"Hah," said Simon. "Funny. Ghosts usually make a place colder."

"What is it?" said Alec. "The haunted thing, I mean."

"Cabinet," said Coco. There was a groan from the troupe.

"I hate haunted cabinets," said Tiong Han. "Worse than haunted beds."

"Yah, those doors," said Simon. He winced at some unpleasant memory. "Cabinet door almost took off the lion's horn once. And Alec's hand," he added as an afterthought.

"Worse than chairs," said Tiong Han.

"No, chairs can be even worse," said Coco. "This was before your time, but once a sofa bed almost killed our lion. We had to bring in the Buddha."

"Oh, sofas are different from chairs," Tiong Han. "Sofas are super bad."

—Excerpt from “起狮,行礼 (Rising Lion — The Lion Bows)”, Strange Horizons, Zen Cho


Extra credit

More things I read this week.

  1. Conservation science casts a pall over fat bear week (The New Republic, Melody Schreiber) 

  2. Don’t mothball the owls (Marco Eagle, Omar Rodriguez Ortiz)

  3. Early humans stashed animal bones for later marrow munching (BBC)

  4. They (meaning early humans) also made animal-shaped baby bottles (National Geographic, Meg Gannon)

  5. Animal cruelty might become a felony in Ohio (Mental Floss, Hannah McDonald)

  6. Big animal parts smuggling bust in Malaysia (AFP)

  7. Someone in Florida allegedly made an alligator drink beer (AP)

  8. One seafood company isn’t treating fish as friends *or* food (The Guardian, Maanvi Singh)


Please read me

My most recent work.

  1. When plants cry out for help, their neighbors start screaming, too

  2. California’s massive power outage is a wake-up call for the whole country


Questions? Comments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi.

CREATURE FEATURE is edited by Tracey Lindeman.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.

World Fat Bear Animal Day Week

🦇 Bat Eschner's spooky newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 10 🦇

This issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by today. It’s World Animal Day, which happens to be the secularization of the feast day of St. Francis of Assissi, patron saint of animals. Statues of my boy Frank in the company of birds and other critters can often be found in gardens.

Catholics (and not a few cat-holics, I suspect) take their pets to be blessed on this day. I possess neither faith nor cultural ties to Catholicism, so will not be participating, but I *will* take any opportunity to think about animals for a second. May I interest you in this timely reflection?

Image: Here we see the second bracket competitors in Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week competition, now in its fifth year. Credit: Katmai National Park/Twitter


Crawl but in real life (movie spoiler alert, insofar as this movie has a non-predictable plot)

Okay, before we talk about what actually happened I have to tell you how irritated the movie Crawl made me. The protagonist is unequivocally the asshole in this one, and she’s not an anti-hero or something: we’re supposed to root for her and her dad throughout the movie.

The TL;DR on the plot: college swimmer defies hurricane safety officials and goes back to her childhood home to rescue her estranged dad, who it turns out is trapped in the basement after a gator attacked him. They manage somehow to make it out and mend their relationship, but a buuuunch of people die trying to rescue them. And who can say what other vulnerable people died off-screen (in the Crawl universe, not IRL) because they were such a draw on valuable resources? Honestly. If you want a good review of this dumb movie I recommend this.

Anyways, gators do regularly go missing from wildlife parks in tropical storms and hurricanes. I imagine the wild ones also get bounced around a bit. This summer, Big Tex, the largest captive gator in the US, a thousand-pound, fourteen-foot thicc boye, went AWOL from the Gator Country Adventure Park during Tropical Storm Imelda. He didn’t even maul anybody! He’s back at the park now, writes Martin Pengelly for The Guardian.

Rethinking Dian Fossey’s racist conservation legacy

Although often valorized, Dian Fossey was no hero, writes biological anthropologist Michelle A. Rodrigues for Lady Science. The primatologist, who was murdered in 1985 at her field site, engaged in reprehensible acts as she did her work. There’s more to this piece than I can write here, so I recommend you just click through.

…discussions of Fossey’s “controversial” methods typically gloss over their full extent. Fossey’s “active conservation” included physical torture, psychological torture, and kidnapping of local people near her field site in Rwanda, as she enacted a neo-colonialist conservation program rooted in white supremacy. When we edit out these details when discussing Fossey’s legacy, with students and with broader audiences, and leave out the human costs of her work, we reinforce an implicitly white, Western model of conservation.

Planting pine martens in pre-Brexit Britain

Pine martens, hunted almost to extinction in the last few hundred years, are making a comeback in Britain’s Forest of Dean. Per The Guardian’s Steven Morris, the fuzzy lil otter relatives were yoinked from Scotland, where they’re starting to make a comeback, and have been relocated to a secret spot in the forest, presumably so they don’t get hunted.

“Conservationists hope the animals will breed, spread and eventually link up with a group of pine martens that was reintroduced across the border in Wales,” he writes.

Bonus round: This initiative has been in the making for some years, and reading about it made me wonder how Brexit is likely to impact conservation. The answer appears to boil down to “it definitely will.”  


GIF: A young pine marten in Ireland peeks its head up. (Credit: Nature on PBS)


Extra credit

More things I read this week.

  1. Lay off it with the fake spiderwebs already (CBS San Francisco Bay Area, Don Ford, from this time in 2018) 

  2. Fish have always felt pain like we feel pain (The Independent, Conrad Duncan)

  3. Ming the Apartment Tiger has died (Gothamist, Claire Lampen)

  4. Oregon cattle mutilation update (Associated Press)

  5. Potential Pokemon cannibalism (Polygon, Nicole Carpenter)


Please read me

My work from this week and last.

  1. Why countries with loads of nutritious fish also have the most malnourished residents

  2. Washing machines can spread dangerous bacteria from one load to the next

  3. Researchers used CRISPR to give ‘monarch flies’ superpowers–here’s why


Questions? Comments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi. If you *really* enjoy this newsletter and would like to become a paying subscriber, hit up goforcreaturefeature.com.

CREATURE FEATURE is edited by Tracey Lindeman.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.

Labradoodle? More like Labradon'tle

Kat Eschner's weekly newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 9

This week’s edition of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by the loud guy I heard earlier this week explaining to his girlfriend that what she was looking at was a “partly albino pigeon.” It was not. It was just a regular pigeon going about its grotty regular pigeon business. They come in many colors. Don’t be that guy. Join me in learning more about the history of pigeons.

Image: A labradoodle lies on a mossy wooden bench looking sheepish. Credit: litthouse/pixabay

Essay question: Labradoodles

Labradoodles, a cross between a lab and a poodle , first came on the scene in the late 1980s. They were bred to be guide dogs who made people sneeze less, the Labrador Retriever being an excellent guide dog while the poodle doesn’t shed much. In the years since, the Australian dog breeder who created the labradoodles has concluded he made a terrible mistake.

While Sultan, one of the first labradoodles he bred, went on to be a guide dog for 10 years, the other two puppies from that first litter were hard to adopt out, because potential dog owners thought they looked so weird. As Fiona Peper tells it for ABC, the labradoodle only took off when they started calling it a “labradoodle". Before that, it as just a mutt:

The reason the labradoodle took off was fairly straightforward, according to Jessica Hekman from the Broad Institute in Boston, who researches dog behaviour and genetics.

"A lot of the way that we think about dogs is the story that we can tell about the dogs that we've got," Dr Hekman explains.

"Having the story, 'well this dog is just a mix of a couple of different things' — it didn't used to be a good story.

"So when you start attaching cool names, then it starts turning into a new, cool story."

But as labradoodle originator Wally Conron tells it, other breeders horned in on the labradoodle craze and started mixing dogs with no regard for their temperment or other genetic issues. Even though Sultan served his purpose, Conron is full of regret for starting the doodle craze. “I opened a Pandora box and released a Frankenstein monster,” he told the ABC.

Okay, for starters, the real monster WAS IN FACT Doctor Frankenstein. Suck on that, Wally Conron. Pedantry aside, though, today labradoodles are a popular family pet. I dogsit a friend’s labradoodle from time to time—she is exciteable but very sweet, and Zelda is inexplicably fond of her.

Sure, unethical dog breeders can breed dogs who have health issues and don’t fit well with people. But the broader point I wanted to make here was about dog breeding generally. Dogs are framed as our friends! It is weird that we breed our friends! We don’t breed our human friends!

Speaking about labradoodles, "I find that the biggest majority are either crazy or have a hereditary problem,” Conron said. “I do see some damn nice labradoodles but they're few and far between."

To the extent that dogs are a tool for people—as with guide dogs—I really see the argument for breeding traits. But as I’ve written about before, dog breeding in general is weird. The labradoodle’s weirdness is just a subset of that.


Roundup

More things I’ve read this week.

Wolf vs. wolf-dog

The economic worth of whales

150 dead rescue dogs

Dog-hitting Youtuber not charged

What’s lost as animals vanish

The animals in natural history museums are nearly all dudes


Credit: BBC America


Fiction

“I can get it for way less on Amazon.”

Cursed Object — Dorothy Gambrell

Cat and Girl, the webcomic this strip is part of, is one of my favorites. Like Bloom County, it has been reenergized by a Trump presidency. Perhaps the only good things to come out of a Trump presidency. It’s been a weird time to be in New York, these past two weeks.


New from Kat

My latest.

Why countries with loads of fish also have the most malnourished residents

Despite appearances, your cat does love you

Everything we know about the outbreak of mysterious vaping-related diseases


Where’s the beef (here, it’s all right here)

Kat Eschner's weekly newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 8

This issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by Perry, who I am staying with and caring for during a two-week stint in New York. He is a grompy olde man catte with epic toe floofs who likes to wake me up at 4 am by kneading my head and yowling for breakfast. I’m given to understand that cattes are just like this sometimes.

BY THE WAY, I am in NYC until Sept. 27 and if you are there too, I would love to meet you. kat.eschner@gmail.com

Image: A white long-haired cat with grey ears and blue eyes stares balefully towards the camera. Meet Perry, everybody. Credit: Kat Eschner


Firefighters had to deal with exploding cans of bull semen while trying to *put out* this blaze

A conflagration at a genetics lab in south-eastern Australia destroyed bull semen and all kinds of testing and artificial insemination equipment, in a setback for local farmers. Things came (sorry not sorry) to a head when the fire got hot enough to turn the cryogenic cylinders of cum into projectiles, reports Kellie Lazzarro for the ABC. 

"The liquid inside the cylinders was rapidly expanding and essentially the lids of the cryogenic cylinders were just popping off the top and projectiles were being thrown from the building," a fire services authority told her.

Extra credit: I don’t actually know much about bovine AI (artificial insemination, not intelligence, I can’t imagine why we’d try for SmartCows). If you’re like me, head over to—surprise, surprise—Vice for an inside look.

Seriously what’s up with these bloodless cattle mutilations 

It’s starting to look like eastern Oregon has its own Jack the Ripper. Whoever this person or persons are, they are specifically interested in cattle and possess some… unusual abilities. The local sherriff’s office is keeping a list of the most commonly called in theories about what’s actually going on, reports Anna King for OPB: the Vietcong, aliens, witches, lightning, sharks with laserbeams and vegans are all on the list. 

Cowboys recently found several animals with body parts precisely removed — and it’s happened just like this before in the West.

It happened to Anderson back in the 1980s, when one of the rancher’s mother cows was mysteriously killed overnight. From his homeplace, Anderson pointed to the exact spot where he found her on top of a mountain. He’s never gotten over it. 

Anderson said he had just been near the spot the night before. The next morning, his cow was laid over and dead, her udder removed with something razor-sharp. 

“And not one drop of blood anywhere,” Anderson said.

Breaking: raw steak is grotty and should not be placed on your eye

Opthamologists agree: putting steak tartare on your black eye is not going to do anything good for it, writes Kate Bernot for The Takeout. I didn’t actually know anybody still did this, and frankly I have my doubts that anybody has *ever* done this, but whatever. You do you.

Did you lose a fight with a doorknob? Use your words next time, jeez. For the moment, “..if a black eye is swollen so badly that it’s impossible to see out of it, it’s time to seek medical attention—not run for the refrigerator’s meat drawer,” she writes. “If the injured eye can still be opened wide enough to see normally, then the black eye can probably be treated with just a cold compress. In a pinch, a bag of frozen vegetables—sealed—will also work.” 

Bonus round: A seventeenth-century Goop author recommends the “put a dead cow on it” method for curing gout. Truly, a panacea. 


GIF: Two cows in a painting bobbing awkwardly up and down (Credit: Art UK)


The three-toed sloth is not well informed about the outside world. On a scale of 2 to 10, where 2 represents unusual dullness and 10 extreme acuity, Beebe (1926) gave the sloth’s senses of taste, touch, sight and hearing a rating of 2, and its sense of smell a rating of 3. If you come upon a sleeping three-toed sloth in the wild, two or three nudges should suffice to awaken it; it will then look sleepily in every direction but yours. Why it should look about is uncertain since the sloth sees everything in a Magoo-like blur. As for hearing, the sloth is not so much deaf as uninterested in sound. Beebe reported that firing guns next to sleeping or feeding sloths elicited little reaction. And the sloth’s slightly better sense of smell should not be overestimated. They are said to be able to sniff and avoid decayed branches, but Bullock (1968) reported that sloths fall to the ground clinging to decayed branches “often”.

How does it survive, you might ask.

Precisely by being so slow. Sleepiness and slothfulness keep it out of harm’s way, away from the notice of jaguars, ocelots, harpy eagles and anacondas. A sloth’s hairs shelter an algae that is brown during the dry season and green during the wet season, so the animal blends in with the surrounding moss and foliage and looks like a nest of white ants or of squirrels, or like nothing at all but part of a tree.

—Excerpt from Life of Pi, Yann Martel


Extra credit

More things I read this week. Heads up: the EPA animal testing story is a week old, but it’s a good primer on an ongoing issue. 

  1. EPA is phasing out some forms of animal testing (NPR, Nell Greenfieldboyce) 

  2. Following the lives of 47 rescued fighting dogs 😭 (The Washington Post,Emily Giambalvo)

  3. Best of luck to this polka-dotted zebra foal (Gray News, Ed Payne)

  4. Wilderness areas literally HALVE the risk of extinction for some species, new study suggests (Science, Richard A. Lovett)

  5. Yak on the lam (Nelson County Times, Erin Conway)


Please read me

My work from this week and last.

  1. The key to curing the common cold could lurk within our cells

  2. Most people don’t know the true dangers of HPV

  3. Panic might be triggered by signals from your bones

  4. Fatal car crashes are way more likely with teens behind the wheel—but is inexperience really to blame?


Questions? Comments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi. If you *really* enjoy this newsletter and would like to become a paying subscriber, hit up goforcreaturefeature.com.

CREATURE FEATURE is edited by Tracey Lindeman.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.

Bride of Borkenstein

Kat Eschner's newsletter about animal-human relationships Vol. 3 Iss. 7

This issue of CREATURE FEATURE is brought to you by Zelda, my boon companion in these times of ailment (I have TWO SPRAINED ANKLES, it sucks) and the mascot of this newsletter. Admire her as the Bride of Frankenstein in our *new logo* created by the incomparable Jenna Woginrich of Cold Antler Farm.

IMAGE: CREATURE FEATURE’s new logo shows a pointy-eared dog with a long snout and quirky eyebrows wearing a Bride of Frankenstein wig.


TIL China has emergency pork reserves, and the country might be dipping into them because of African swine fever

The pig situation in China is getting pretty hairy, as Laura He reports for CNN. As the country struggles to contain the spread of an illness that resulted in more than 100 million non-pork-producing pig deaths in the last year, it might dig some of its pork reserves out of the deep freeze. Why? “The government on Wednesday announced more measures to encourage pig farmers and producers to breed more hogs. But they may need to go even further to plug the supply gap,” she writes.

Extra credit: We’ve talked before about the epidemic’s impacts on the country’s smaller pig farmers, but consumers are also getting dinged by the staple food’s rising price.

Sorry, octopus: no spine, no sentience

Leaving the EU will impact pretty much every area of UK law in some way or another. This piece from Alex McDonald in The Ecologist asks how a newly-independent Britain (sigh) will tackle the question of legally recognizing animal sentience, which is currently recognized by the EU but importantly *not* recognized except in specific cases by UK domestic law, which will still be on the books after the great Brexiting.

The insistence upon a scientific definition of sentience is inherently fallible, because it’s built on the same sandy foundation which has caused problems since the start.

Philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists have been working to show how science often tells us more about the people who commission, carry out, and make use of the research than it does about the object of research itself. One important strand of such work is to help us to understand how our scientific thinking is anthropocentric – using humans as the measure against which everything else is compared.

Pro-turkey terrorists hit Fort Mac farm, free five birds

Pro-turkey freedom fighters? Guess it depends on who you ask. This past Monday, around 60 people were involved in an action at the Jumbo Valley Hutterite turkey farm. The group wanted to “highlight the living conditions of the 30,000 turkeys” at the farm, writes Kaylen Small for Global News.

The group left peacefully when two of their demands were met: five turkeys were released into their care, to go live at an animal sanctuary, and Global was allowed into the barns to take footage. There are photos with the article of the turkeys’ living quarters, so do click through if you want to meet your meat.

Bonus round: Speaking of carnivory in its various forms, Ben Wurgaft’s book Meat Planet is out this week (CREATURE FEATURE ran an excerpt a few issues back) and you might consider ordering it.


GIF: A turkey stands in a yard in old black-and-white footage. (Credit: National Archives)


I saw my ex-chicken, Fatty Two-by-Four, in the street. It had been ten years since I saw her last. She was still headless, legless, and featherless—just how she looked when we sent her off to become canned chicken noodle soup. She was lying flat on her back and stretching her nubs like she was getting ready to jog, or like she was a model in an advertisement promoting shaving lotion that alleges to be new shaving lotion, but is really just the same old shaving lotion in a new package. More importantly: How did she escape the soup factory?

—Excerpt from “My Ex and My Ex-Chicken,” Alex Scousen, Catapult


Extra credit

More things I read this week.

  1. Inside Spain’s shepherd school (The New York Times, Raphael Minder)

  2. What should sports fans do when their team mascot is an endangered species? [from May] (The Revelator, Melanie L. Sartore-Baldwin)

  3. Helping the hounds of Florida survive Dorian (People, Kelli Bender)

  4. Anti-vax UK pet owners help create a “ticking time bomb” (CNN, Lianne Kolirin)

  5. Wolves come back—but can they stay? (Cosmos, Lauren Fuge)


Please read me

My work from this week.

  1. Cancer has now surpassed heart disease as the number one killer in some populations


Questions? Comments? Complaints? Contact me at my email or on Twitter. If you enjoy this newsletter and would like to tip me, I am on Ko-fi.

CREATURE FEATURE is edited by Tracey Lindeman.

All images in CREATURE FEATURE are used under Creative Commons licensing. Efforts have been made to ensure that photographs of living animals or natural scenes have been taken ethically, in responsible pet ownership conditions, at AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums or under safe, non-damaging conditions in the wild. If you see an issue with any image we share, please notify me.

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