Posts filed under ‘wildlife’

Excuse me, I was just leaving

I snapped a picture of this large fox snake a few minutes after I stepped over him on my way into the garage.

Even though (or maybe largely because) I’ve spent much of my life working outdoors in areas where poisonous snakes were fairly common, I like snakes. And the wooded bluffs of our property are ideal fox snake habitat (they’re also ideal habitat for ratsnakes and the rare massasauga rattler). So my reaction to unexpectedly stepping over a largish snake was to reach for a camera, not a shovel.

The fox snake is one of Minnesota’s largest snakes.  They eat small animals, birds, eggs, frogs, and lizards. Fox snakes belong to the rat snake group and kill their prey by constriction.

When fox snakes are harassed, they vibrate their tails and strike. Because of this and their superficial resemblance to rattlesnakes, they’re commonly killed by humans who don’t realize their importance in controlling rodent populations.

The largest fox snake on record was observed in the county where we live.

Because this snake is big enough to eat the chicks that should hatch out here in about a week, if I keep seeing him around I’ll catch him and relocate him to a chicken free coulee in the area.

July 5, 2011 at 11:42 pm 16 comments

Foiling urban coyotes

This week local KARE 11 reported that a Maltese in St. Louis Park died from injuries related to a coyote attack.

Jerry Stamm of St. Louis Park let his dog, Cici, outside on St. Patrick’s Day evening, then noticed a coyote in his fenceless backyard.

It’s a sad story that keeps getting repeated with different players. Brilliantly adaptive coyotes are becoming increasingly common in urban and suburban areas around the world. They’ve been a problem here in Red Wing for years and now, following trends of human urbanization, large numbers of the wily tricksters are relocating closer to the city.

“It’s a blessing and a curse to live in a place like Minnesota,” Peggy Callahan said, from the Wildlife Science Center.

Callahan says there are more coyotes than black bear in the state — well over 25,000. They extended east of the Mississippi after 1915, spreading to 48 states. Residents in St. Louis Park, Minnetonka, and Golden Valley have reported coyote sightings.

How should pet owners respond to the threat of sharing their environment with coyotes? The smartest course of action is to deal with it much like you would face a problem with your dog’s behavior — in a proactive way with smart action instead of reactively in fear.

If coyotes live in your area follow these rules to avoid conflicts.

  • Make sure all pets (cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens) are protected by a sturdy, coyote-proof enclosure when they aren’t under your direct supervision. This includes potty breaks, as Mr. Stamm discovered.
  • Keep dogs and cats up to date on vaccinations. Coyotes can carry diseases that are transmissible to pets.
  • Don’t put out food for deer or other ground-dwelling wildlife near your home. Keep areas under bird feeders clean to discourage rodents that may attract coyotes.
  • Don’t feed your pets outside.
  • Keep garbage, compost and other waste in well secured containers.
  • Keep your dog on a leash on all walks unless he has solid off-leash obedience skills. And even if your dog is brilliantly well trained – it is still important to keep him in your sight.
  • If you see coyotes near your home yell, wave your arms, flash bright lights, bang things together and otherwise act like a dangerously mad threat. Don’t let them feel comfortable near your home.

Men have lived side by side with coyotes since we left the trees. Significant problems with the arrangement are more common now because there are few human-free areas left for coyotes to live in. Reduced hunting pressure from humans, and an increasing number of humans who actively or inadvertently encourage coyotes to acclimate to their presence has also created a near perfect environment to increase conflicts between our species.

Coyotes aren’t evil or malevolent, they’re just smart and opportunistic and you don’t need help from the Acme Corporation to foil them. If you put one tenth as much effort into discouraging coyotes as they do into looking for ways to take advantage of you – you’ll come out ahead in the game.

March 31, 2011 at 10:48 am 7 comments

But is he humane?

From Thursday’s Telegraph we learn that in the United Kingdom:

It is legal to kill grey squirrels and most people do it by trapping and shooting. But it must be done in a humane manner or you will be fined under animal welfare laws.


However the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals argue that most people will be incapable of killing a squirrel without causing “unnecessary suffering” and will therefore be in breach of the law. They recommend taking the animal to the vet to be put down for around £30 or calling in pest control experts who will shoot the animal or kill it with a blow to the head.

So we have a law that does much to discourage residents from killing grey squirrels. This, despite the fact that:

The grey squirrel is having such a profound impact on British wildlife that the IUCN have now listed it on their list of the 100 worst invasive species globally and several other conservation groups are calling for radical steps to be taken to prevent irreversible damage being done (Lowe et al., 2000).

In the spirit of diplomacy, Audie would like to know what  he needs to do to be licensed as a pest control expert in the UK.

Pest Controlled

February 19, 2011 at 10:16 am 10 comments

No bells in wolf poop?

The field hunting dog training season has started and Wisconsin DNR is publicizing their online resources on wolf depredation on dogs. Now that more than 300 wolves currently live in Wisconsin and about 3,000 live here in Minnesota it’s become an issue responsible dog owners need to keep in mind.

Nine dogs have been reported as killed by wolves in Wisconsin so far this year. Just five such events occurred during the same time frame last year and only one dog was killed in the first six months of 2008. Events occurred in rural areas scattered across the northern part of the state and a different pack is believed to have been responsible for each incident.

DNR reports that hounds used to hunt coyotes, bear, bobcats, and raccoons run the greatest risk of being attacked because they range far from their owners. Some also believe that the hounds’ baying attracts (or annoys) wolves. Most depredation reportedly occurs in the summer rendezvous period that runs from July through September. The 2008 and 2009 data corroborate this.

Keep your hunting dog safe by avoiding wolf dens and rendezvous sites, staying close to your dogs and belling them, (only one belled dog is known to have been attacked by wolves). You can track depredation activity by subscribing to Wisconsin DNR’s wolf depredation email alerts here.

The DNR’s Guide for Reducing Conflicts Between Wolves and Hunting Dogs is also available on line.  The guide includes helpful information on how to avoid conflicts, identify wolf sign and report incidents.

It’s great that wolf populations are increasing but more wolves means more potential encounters between wolves and civilization. Husband and I spend a lot of time hiking in the woods of the upper Midwest and we’ve had one wolf encounter. We were hiking near the Black River on the south shore of Lake Superior with three off leash dogs when we came across a lone wolf. As soon as they saw the wolf (and they saw it before we did) our Leonbergers quietly and calmly stepped in between the wolf and I. They didn’t bark, run or lunge. They simply stood at alert and blocked the wolf (who was about 75 feet away) until it disappeared.

I took this picture just minutes before we saw the wolf

If wolves live in your area follow these rules to avoid conflicts.

  • Let your pets sleep inside unless they’re protected by a sturdy enclosure .
  • Don’t put out food for deer or other wildlife near your home.
  • Don’t feed your pets outside.
  • Keep garbage, compost and other waste in well secured containers.
  • Keep your dog on a leash on all walks unless he has a solid recall. If your dog has good obedience skills it is still important to keep in him sight.

As I’ve written here before it’s also important to avoid and properly manage gut piles.

July 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm 1 comment

Animal Attraction

I like to experiment with essential oils. I love perfume. Good perfume, not cheap drugstore stuff.  And essential oils not only give me a way to experiment with different scent combinations, I can also use them make my own scented soaps and cleaning products.

One day as I was playing around with mixtures of different scents while surrounded by a pack of curious dogs I thought “I wonder what the dogs think of these?”.

Anyone who’s spent a bit of time with dogs understands that they don’t make the same kinds of value judgments about smells that we do.  Seriously.  In case you have not already noticed the obvious, your dog adores smells like shit and week old garbage and rotting flesh and he probably thinks that smells like fabric softener and Glade air freshener are utterly revolting (just one more thing the dogs and I have in common).

It’s easy to find places where dogs and humans disagree on scent. I was interested in finding places where the dogs and I agreed.  So I collected a dozen or so vials of essential oils and four dogs (the number I had here at the time) and conducted an informal experiment. I put a drop of each oil on a small piece of paper then held the sample out toward each dog in turn and let each one decide whether they wanted to explore it more intimately or not.

The results were interesting.

Being courteous beasts, the dogs politely and carefully sniffed each sample I offered them. They seemed to react neutrally to most of the scents, generally taking a quick, cautious sniff or two then looking at me inquisitively*. All four turned their noses up at eucalyptus and preferred to avoid it. Three expressed similar distaste for tea tree oil and two for violet.  Wintergreen made one dog sneeze and the other three refused to sniff it. I didn’t force the issue.  They showed a somewhat marked interest in sandalwood, patchouli and ylang-ylang, taking a few extra sniffs and pausing between them as if to process the aromas.

The dogs were all mesmerized by three of the scents – vetiver, frankincense and oak moss with vetiver being the clear winner.  All four of them were entranced by it.  They didn’t just take a few polite whiff of the sample – they inhaled slowly and deeply then paused to process the aroma between each sniff. Charlie even tried to follow the bottle into the cabinet.

It was an interesting little experiment but I didn’t intend to follow up on it. That is, until last week. I was browsing aisles of beauty products while waiting for my stylist and while I don’t spend much money on that kind of thing (generally preferring utility to luxury) I sometimes like to check out scent products.

A row of bottles in the Aveda aisle caught my eye. Being somewhat paranoid about most over the counter scented products I sniffed each one cautiously. Most of were a lot sweeter and more citrusy than the scents I tend to prefer, but one hit the jackpot.  Chakra 1 is a blend of vetiver, frankincense (olibanum) and patchouli.  Strong and woody but not overpowering, it wasn’t something I’d ordinarily buy, but it was relatively inexpensive and given the results of my recent experiment I suspected that the dogs might enjoy it. So I brought a sample home.

I’m glad I did. Chakra 1 has been a big hit with the beasties. When I put it on they sniff me like a freshly decorated hydrant. And if I spritz a little on one of the dog beds, the boys will roll on it in apparent ecstasy.

I tend to prefer somewhat masculine grassy and woodsy fragrances rather than the fruity or flowery scents that dominate the market. Because the dogs and I seemed to have somewhat similar tastes, I decided to do another experiment and test their reactions to my perfume collection. While they were distinctly unimpressed by most of the products, Muschio di Quercia was everyone’s paws down favorite and young Charlie displays a clear and consistent interest in Privet Bloom**.

Most people probably think that testing animals’ reaction to perfumes is an odd idea, but it appears that I’m not the only one doing it. Or even the first to do it. Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal has the details:

Zoos have long spritzed perfumes and colognes on rocks, trees and toys in an effort to keep confined animals curious.

In 2003, Pat Thomas, general curator for the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo in New York, decided to get scientific about it. Working with 24 fragrances and two cheetahs, he recorded how long it took the big cats to notice the scent and how much time they spent interacting with it.

The results left barely a whiff of a doubt. Estée Lauder’s Beautiful occupied the cheetahs on average for just two seconds. Revlon’s Charlie managed 15.5 seconds. Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps took it up to 10.4 minutes. But the musky Obsession for Men triumphed: 11.1 minutes. That’s longer than the cats usually take to savor a meal.

The results of Thomas’ investigation spread quickly through wildlife biology circles and now “Obsession for Men” is widely used in zoos and field investigations. It also appears that dogs aren’t unique in their interest in selected scent products. Perfumes are regularly used to attract and entertain cougars and other big cats, and footage from scent-baited camera traps indicates that coati, tapir and peccary were drawn to “Obsession” as well.

Ann Gottlieb, the “nose” who helped create Obsession for Men, thinks there could be a number of factors in the fragrance that wild animals might find irresistible.

“It’s a combination of this lickable vanilla heart married to this fresh green top note—it creates tension,” she says. The cologne also has synthetic “animal” notes like civet, a musky substance secreted by the cat of the same name, giving it particular sex appeal, she adds. “It sparks curiosity with humans and, apparently, animals.”

According to the online perfume reference guide basenotes, “Obsession for Men” includes topnotes of mandarin and bergamot;  heart notes of lavendar, myrrh, sage, clove, nutmeg and coriander and base notes amber, musk, sandalwood, vetiver and patchouli.

Combining Obsession’s formulation data with the results of the informal research on my dogs, I’ll say that if I was interested in animal attraction I would experiment with scents featuring simple sweet heart notes like vanilla, orange and lemon combined with strong animal and woody basenotes. Based on this hypothesis and a quick perusal of reviews at basenotes the perfumes I recommend for biologists and zookeepers are:

These products are all even more expensive than “Obsession for Men” so I doubt they’ll replace it in zoos and wildlife surveys. But if anyone wants to send me samples I’ll be happy to try them on the dogs and report the results {-;

* These “neutral” scents included blue tansy, tangerine, bergamot, clary sage, cedar, rose absolute, hay absolute, peppermint, agrimony, lavendar, orange and fir.

**Privet Bloom contains topnotes lemon, bergamot, verbena; white hyacinth as a middle note and base notes sea grass and cucumber.

June 10, 2010 at 12:33 am 14 comments

Pure Paranoia

According to Wikipedia:

The term paranoia was derived from the Greek term Paranous, which roughly meant “beyond the mind”. It was used to describe a mental illness in which a delusional belief is the sole or most prominent feature. In original attempt at classifying different forms of mental illness, Kraepelin used the term pure paranoia to describe a condition where a delusion was present, but without any apparent deterioration in intellectual abilities and without any of the other features of dementia praecox, the condition later renamed “schizophrenia”. Notably, in his definition, the belief does not have to be persecutory to be classified as paranoid, so any number of delusional beliefs can be classified as paranoia.

I thought that the term paranoia only referred to an intense delusional belief that people or institutions are conspiring against you. I did not know that the word originally referred to a broad spectrum of limited delusional beliefs.

Can social animals suffer from paranoia? Unlike us, they cheerfully nurse their young in the middle of a herd, regularly engage in public sex and sometimes defecate at the dinner table. When one considers these kinds of animal behavior, they certainly don’t appear to suffer from the same hangups about being judged by others that we do.

I watched a doe nursing her fawn from my deck yesterday. They were a hundred yards away so I watched the little family through binoculars. They looked calm and happy, and I doubt they were aware of being watched.

While staring at a human mother nursing her child would have been unspeakably rude, my observation of the deer was a sweet moment, the kind we enjoy a lot in our home in the woods. And while I was careful not to disturb the deer’s peace and tranquility – did I violate their rights?

As quoted recently in Science Daily:

Dr Brett Mills from the University of East Anglia argues that while wildlife programmes can play a vital role in engaging citizens in environmental debates, in order to ‘do good’ they must inevitably deny many species the right to privacy.

That’s right, Dr. Mills believes that animals have an inalienable right to privacy.

Call me speciesist if you like, but I have a hard time taking this seriously when there are human beings in the world who are still fighting for their basic needs and rights.

I’m further annoyed because I suspect that Dr. Mills’ opinions have more to do with his own pecksniffian ideas about oppression and fairness than with a sincere concern for how living, breathing, thinking animals really feel though, ironically, Mills himself points out the fact that animals don’t understand the concept of privacy the same way that we do:

Unlike human activities, a distinction of the public and the private is not made in the animal world. There are many activities which animals engage in which are common to wildlife documentary stories but which are rendered extremely private in the human realm; mating, giving birth, and dying are recurring characteristics in nature documentaries, but the human version of these activities remains largely absent from broadcasting.

Dr Mills said: “It might at first seem odd to claim that animals might have a right to privacy. Privacy, as it is commonly understood, is a culturally human concept. The key idea is to think about animals in terms of the public/private distinction. We can never really know if animals are giving consent, but they often do engage in forms of behaviour which suggest they’d rather not encounter humans, and we might want to think about equating this with a desire for privacy.

“When confronted with such ‘secretive’ behaviour the response of the wildlife documentary is to read it as a challenge to be overcome with the technologies of television. The question constantly posed by wildlife documentaries is how animals should be filmed: they never ask whether animals should be filmed at all.”

Wild animals don’t avoid the proximity of people because they’re worried about what we think of them. That kind of neurosis (or paranoia) is uniquely human.  They avoid us because we’re weird and unpredictable and potentially dangerous. They avoid us because they don’t want to have to watch out for us, not because they’re uncomfortable being watched.

Animals are a wonderful PR tool for people like Mills. If he took on a real human cause he might inadvertently choose an individual or group that disagreed with his ideas. They might even (horror of horrors) take their cause up for themselves thus eliminating the need for a savior cum spokesmodel.  Animals, on the other hand, are perfect political pawns because they can’t talk and they can’t liberate, or even lobby for, themselves. Unlike human victims, animal victims need a human agent to speak for them and decide what’s best for them.

And therein lies the rub. I suspect that Mills’ campaign, like many others in the animal rights movement, is based more on massaging his ego and whoring for publicity than in mindful consideration to the kinds of things that are really important to animals.

It’s pure paranoia.

May 7, 2010 at 7:16 pm 6 comments

Hakuna matata

I thought things were exciting here when Audie went after a woodchuck in our front yard. And while a churlish chuck may put a few holes in my boy’s dog suit, it isn’t likely to carry him off and eat him for dinner.

It could have been worse. In fact, it could have been a lot worse. On Saturday KSAX reported:

Jessica Dahl saw the lions out her front window after she heard her dog barking.

“I looked out and he was lunging at something.  I looked out the front door and then I saw the lions,” Dahl explained.

Lions? In Bemidji, Minnesota? It’s not unusual for wolves to prey on dogs in Minnesota, but lions are quite rare here. Especially African lions.

Two 6-month-old lion cubs were brought back to Paul Bunyan Animal Land in Bemidji Thursday afternoon after they escaped from their pen and were found reportedly wrestling with a dog in a yard in southern Beltrami County Thursday around 10:30 a.m.

Marjan and Aslan escaped from a temporary pen during spring cleaning. The lion cubs, who are described as being quite tame, played with the dog without hurting it. When staff from Paul Bunyan Animal Land responded with sheriff’s deputies, the lions came when they were called and followed the ‘rescuer’s back to their cage.

This isn’t the first time animals have escaped from the facility, and the Beltrami Sheriff’s will be working with Minnesota DNR to investigate.

I’m not sure what I’d do if I discovered a couple of lions (African or otherwise) playing with my dogs. Fortunately there aren’t any wild animal parks nearby and it’s illegal to own or keep wild animals as pets in Goodhue County.

African lions in Bemidji, MN

April 20, 2010 at 8:34 pm 4 comments

One very dead sucker

When the dogs and I went down to let the chickens out this morning, Audie found a small dead bird and brought it to me. Based on the bird’s size and its bill, I initially thought it was a Hairy Woodpecker, but a glance at the belly told me it was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. One very dead sucker.

Like the Hairy Woodpecker, the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is a black and white bird that’s slightly smaller than a robin. The Sapsucker is the only woodpecker with a prominent vertical white stripe down its side. It has a striking red crown and forehead and the bird gets it name from its yellow breast. Both the male and female have red crowns, the female’s throat and chin are yellow-white and the male’s are red. As you can see, this bird is a female.

The white stripe on her side and her red crown are visible here (Audie was really proud of this little prize – and while he held her gently, the boy did not want to put her down, so I humored him and let him hold the bird while I took pictures).

Sapsuckers are common in our woods though we hear them a lot more than we see them. While we’re usually alerted to their presence by the sound of their drilling we’re also amused by their odd catlike territorial calls. And it cracked me up when I read that a group of Sapsuckers is referred to as a slurp.

This pretty little girl was probably killed when she collided with one of our living room windows. She had to hit it hard, because Audie found her a good 20 feet from the window and, based on the profuse bleeding from her mouth, the little bird was probably dead on, or just shortly after, impact. Birds don’t understand that the reflections of world in a window are an illusion and millions of them die from window collisions every year.

Kit Chubb of the Avian Care and Research Foundation published a summary of 397 cases of proven or witnessed window collisions by 80 different species of birds. Birds that died were necropsied, surviving birds were treated. Nearly half of the birds studied had closed head injuries and a third suffered from internal hemorrhaging. Fifteen percent had blood in their mouths and in only five cases did this originate from a brain injury. Over half the birds studied died or were euthanized.

Chubb writes that fatal internal hemorrhages in birds that strike windows often occur through aortic dissection. When the heart decelerates suddenly, the aorta, which is fixed in place, stays put and the two organs are ripped apart (this is same thing that is believed to have killed Princess Di). Death from aortic dissection is almost instantaneous.

No Sapsuckers were included in Chubb’s study, but eighteen Hairy Woodpeckers and twenty Downy Woodpeckers did – and only one of them died. Woodpeckers, Sapsuckers and other piciformes have built in cranial anti-collision systems that protect them from many collisions — but it appears that our little Sapsucker quite literally died of a broken heart…

April 18, 2010 at 9:39 pm 4 comments

Unintended Consequences

The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and animals. Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place.
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

There are widespread reports that Merial’s topical flea and tick treatment Frontline has become ineffective in a disturbingly short period of time. The active ingredient in Frontline is fipronil, an insecticide in the phenyl pyrazole family. Fipronil blocks g-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors and interferes chloride passing through GABA-gated channels in non-mammalian species. At low concentrations, it disrupts nervous system function and at higher doses causes death.

Fipronil has been used in flea and tick preparations around the world since the mid-1990’s. As Heather noted in comments to the previous post, widespread problems with counterfeit Frontline have been documented.  (So much so that I strongly recommend you go to this link to an EPA page that provides information on how to identify counterfeit Frontline.) While I’m sure that the sale of counterfeit product is part of the issue with Frontline, I’m not convinced that it’s the only problem — or even the most troubling one.

Pesticide resistance occurs when a species adapts over a series of generations to have a decreased susceptibility to a specific chemical. Since no pesticide is completely effective in the natural environment, there will always be some organisms that survive exposure. Organisms can receive sublethal doses for a variety of reasons, but because only the most resistant organisms survive to pass their genes on to offspring, resistance can increase exponentially in a population. As Rachel Carson predicted in Silent Spring, problems related to pesticide resistance are increasing all over the world.

My friend Heather quite understandably professed skepticism that exposure to fipronil products applied to our pets would be sufficient to create an environment where widespread resistance could occur. If this was the only route of exposure, I suspect she would be right. But pet products only represent a very small percentage of fipronil use.

Fipronil is active against a wide array of pests other than fleas and ticks, and it is used in a number of different applications. Products containing fipronil were first marketed in 1993 and they are sold under a variety of brand names including Frontline, Regent, Termidor, Combat and Maxforce and they are used:

  • As flea and tick sprays for indoor and outdoor use.
  • In turfgrass management programs at parks and golfcourses.
  • As a termite preventative in some plywood products.
  • To control parasites on livestock in South and Central America.
  • As a replacement for the pesticide Dursban which was de-listed for on lawns and public areas.
  • In baits and other ant control products.
  • As a termite treatment.
  • As a cockroach treatment.
  • As a seed coating
  • As a broad spectrum insecticide treatment on potatoes, corn, cotton, sweet potatoes, bulb onions, cotton and vegetables.

As you can see, there are a lot of places where fleas and ticks can be exposed to fipronil. And in many cases, they’re inadvertently exposed to ineffectively low doses of the compound.

Not only is fipronil used in a wide range of environments, it also has an unfortunate tendency to stick around the environment for a long time. Pesticides like fipronil that break down slowly and remain on soil or vegetation can contribute to selection for resistant organisms for a long time after they are applied. Fipronil degrades slowly on vegetation and relatively slowly in soil. It is listed as being highly persistent on land with a terrestrial field test half life of 75 days.

Fipronil is phototransformed to a variety of breakdown products. One of these breakdown products, fipronil-desulfinyl, is more toxic and more persistent than fipronil.  The persistence of this breakdown product and its high neuroactivity, suggest that it may be a significant contributor to the effectiveness of fipronil. Unfortunately, it’s probably also a significant contributor to the development of fipronil resistance.

It’s possible that less effective (diluted) couterfeit fipronil containing products (especially those that are land applied) may be part of the problem as well. As we see in antibiotic resistance, exposing target organisms to ineffective doses of an pesticide will wipe out some, but not all, of the organisms. The surviving organisms may then become more resistant to the product and spread increased resistance to their offspring.

The low-dose effect may be a problem even when products are used at full potency because pests are exposed to lower doses of the product at the boundaries of the application area. Dilution, diffusion and breakdown effects also create situations where lower doses of persistent products can remain in and adjacent to sprayed areas for weeks or months after application.

I’m not the only one who believes that the indiscriminate use of acaricides (tick-killing agents) all over the world is leading to the selection of acaricide resistant tick strains. And fleas and ticks aren’t the only species that fipronil has had a significant effect on. Regent (a fipronil containing pesticide listed for agricultural use) is effective against a variety of pests, but there are increasing concerns about its environmental and human health effects. It was demonstrated to be responsible for a precipitous drop in bee populations in France. This occurred because fipronil causes bees to become disoriented and unable to return to their hives.

Fipronil provides us with a rather sobering example of the law of unintended consequences — the hubristic belief that humans can control the environment around us. It’s a reminder that management will always eventually fail — and Mother Nature will always bat last.

These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes — nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the “good” and the “bad,” to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil — all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects. Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life? They should not be called “insecticides,” but “biocides.”
— Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

March 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm 8 comments


I TIVO’d the documentary “Mine” last night and hope to find time to watch it tonight.

In a bit of late night insomnia last week I caught parts of “Into the Lion’s Den,” a documentary on TV zoologist and big cat trainer Dave Salmoni’s work habituating a pride of wild lions to his presence. While Salmoni calls what he does “positive reinforcement training” he’s actually using the kind of very subtle approach / retreat – pressure / release (or negative reinforcement) skills that wild animal trainers have used since at least the time of Heini Hediger. (Hediger’s books are classics on how animals use and understand personal space and highly recommended for anyone who’s interested in how to use approach / retreat to work with animals.)

In Salmoni’s experience, every sound and movement a cat makes tells him how it’s going to behave. If he responds appropriately, the cat will respond appropriately, too. He will be successful when the lions consistently allow him to remain on foot in their close proximity, regarding him as neither a threat nor a potential meal. Salmoni knows the risks are enormous, but he is more concerned with the future of wild animals in our world.

I’m not sure how habituating wild lions to the presence of humans is going to save them – since habituated wild animals are the most likely to cause problems. A bit of googling shows that Salmoni is a controversial guy. He uses his looks and connections to make hyped up for TV documentaries instead of doing serious research. “Into the Lion’s Den” struck me as the wild animal trainer’s version of a parlor trick – but if you catch it, watch it to see how incredibly subtle the use of negative reinforcement can be.

Via MPR: [cheers!] Missing Mexican gray wolf found and returned to wildlife center:

The wolf was spotted by a police officer in New Brighton, and officials from the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake were able to tranquilize and net the animal at about 9:30 a.m. Thursday, said Joy Fusco, administrator of the Wildlife Science Center.

Via HumaneWatch:

Feld Entertainment has filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against HSUS.

The central claim of the lawsuit (see page 13 of the PDF) is:

[D]efendants have perpetrated and continue to perpetrate multiple schemes to permanently ban Asian elephants in circuses, to defraud FEI ofmoney and property and/or to unjustly enrich themselves, with the ultimate objective of banning Asian elephants in all forms of entertainment and captivity. To carry out these schemes, defendants conspired to conduct and conducted the Enterprise through a pattern of, among other things, bribery and illegal gratuity payments (in violation of both state and federal law), obstruction of justice, mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. (emphasis addad by HumaneWatch)

It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I expect this case to drag on for a long time…

And – for a bit of light entertainment check out this Life Magazine photo essay on the Dogs of WWII:

February 22, 2010 at 11:38 am 22 comments

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May 2021