The climate impact of wild pigs around the world is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions of 1.1m cars annually, according to new research.
Modelling by an international team of researchers estimates that feral pigs release 4.9m metric tonnes of carbon dioxide each year globally by uprooting soil.
Researcher Dr Christopher O’Bryan of the University of Queensland said feral pigs were one of the most widespread vertebrate invasive species on the planet.
“Pigs are native to Europe and parts of Asia, but they’ve been introduced to every continent except Antarctica,” he said.
“When we think of climate change, we tend to think of the classic fossil fuel problem. This is one of the additional threats to carbon, and to climate change potentially, that hasn’t really been explored in any global sense.”
Feral hogs uproot soil while searching for food, in a process O’Bryan likens to “mini tractors that are ploughing soil”. Doing so exposes microbes in the soil to oxygen. The microbes “reproduce at a rapid rate and then that can produce carbon emissions [in the form of] CO2.”
“Any form of land-use change can have an effect on carbon emissions from the soil,” O’Bryan said. “The same thing happens when you put a tractor through a field or you deforest land.”
The researchers estimate that wild pigs are uprooting an area upwards of 36,000 sq km (14,000 sq miles) in regions where they are not native.
Oceania had the largest area of land disturbed by wild pigs – roughly 22,000 sq km – followed by North America. The pigs in Oceania accounted for more than 60% of the animal’s estimated yearly emissions, emitting nearly 3m metric tonnes of CO2, equivalent to about 643,000 cars.
The findings of the study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, were drawn from three models. One model predicted wild pig density globally across 10,000 simulations, based on existing information about wild pig populations and locations.
A second model converted pig density into an area of disturbed land, and a third estimated the amount of CO2 emitted when soil is disturbed.
Nicholas Patton, a PhD student at the University of Canterbury, said there was some uncertainty in the modelling as a result of the variability of the carbon content in soils and the densities of wild pigs in different areas.
“Areas that are peat bogs or black soils … especially ones that have a lot of moisture, they’re a sink for carbon,” said Patton. “When pigs get in there and root around, they have a lot more potential for that carbon to be released [than from other soils].”
In addition to their climate impacts, the destructive impact of wild hogs has been well documented. O’Bryan said managing the animals was a challenge that would involve prioritising whichever of their impacts was deemed most significant.
“If all we care about is agriculture, then the cost and the benefits of managing pigs will be different than if all we cared about was carbon emissions, than if all we cared about was biodiversity.
“At the end of the day, feral pigs are a human problem. We’ve spread them around the world. This is another human-mediated climate impact.”
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Leading flea-control products have been found to be filled with toxic PFAS ‘forever chemicals’*. This, according to new laboratory test results posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. More specifically, the report found that popular pet flea collars and treatments contain high levels of toxic PFAS chemicals.
Popular flea and tick products were sent to a certified lab, which found that:
Frontline Plus for Dogs, a popular topical flea and tick product, contains 2,390 parts per trillion (ppt) of four different PFAS, including GenX. Frontline is a liquid pesticide applied between the pets’ shoulder blades once a month; it spreads throughout the skin and fur.
Seresto flea and tick collars contain 250 ppt of a long-chain PFAS. Seresto is a plastic band impregnated with insecticides and other ingredients that are released over time and coat an animal’s fur.
Why this is a problem
“One major concern is that people can be exposed to these products though their skin by petting and playing with their pets. And children face even greater risk through their frequent hand-to-mouth behavior.
A recent study found dogs and cats are highly exposed to PFAS and often exposed to concentrations well above the minimum risk level identified for humans.
The troubling findings regarding PFAS in flea-control products comes after documents obtained from the EPA revealed the agency has received more than 75,000 complaints linking the Seresto flea collar to harms ranging from skin irritation to nearly 1,700 pet deaths. Yet the agency has taken no action in response to the reports such as recalling the product or issuing a nationwide warning to the public of its potential dangers.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal legal petition last month urging the EPA to cancel the registration of the Seresto collar, which is also linked to nearly 1,000 incidents of harm to humans.” (source)
*PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down and can accumulate in the human body, animals and the environment. They are associated with a variety of ailments, including suppressed immune function, altered gut microbiome, thyroid disease, testicular and kidney cancers, and liver damage. In addition to groundwater and drinking water, PFAS chemicals can be found in a wide variety of products including food packaging, nonstick cookware, bake ware and other products, cleaning products, firefighting foams, electronics, including laptop computers and smartphones, sporting equipment, waterproof and stain-proof items including carpets and upholstery, and much more. (source)
Carmita Paredes started this petition to Counties and States Congresmen
Every day around the country many dogs are killed in shelters, just because they need space. In fact approximately 3 million dogs and cats die each year. Precious dogs that can still have many years to live and have a lot of love to offer. Euthanasia should be reserved only for animals who are suffering or are too aggressive to safely reside in our communities. But animals that die are so loving, and their trusting faces are just asking for love and companionship. This is barbaric. Let’s do something about this cruel practice. Let’s put a stop to this unnecessary murdering. We can educate the public about spaying and neutering, about adopting instead of buying, about population control. People need to be aware of how many loving dogs are killed in USA, just because the shelters lack space and funding. But stopping the shelters from euthanizing animals is not enough to save them. Others will find a way to get rid of what they perceive to be an unwanted pet. And unscrupulous breeders are off the hook. We must do more…
We need more shelters, so there would be enough spaces for every dog, and we need NO KILL SHELTERS. Shelters should be a temporary transition place for animals. The term shelter means to protect, not to kill. and the animals should be taken care of until they are adopted. This can be achievable. We can help getting the communities involved too, to donate and help, to serve as volunteers, to “sponsor a pet” in the shelter. Even if you can’t adopt a pet, we might be able to help there, we can advocate to get him/her adopted, we can volunteer at the shelter, we can provide funding. The shelters can be encouraged to provide a once a month “sale” to the dogs that have being there longer, for people to get them cheaper or free. We can help with better advertising of animals put up for adoption. Sometimes people don’t have the money to adopt in a particular moment, but they can still offer a loving home to a dog. Instead of killing them, give them for free to someone suitable that will love them and offer a home. The rescue groups do the impossible to bring back to life animals they find abused, neglected, and to the brink of dying, many times thanks to private funding to help with vet expenses. They also advertise and advocate daily for pets in shelters that are at risk of getting euthanized. But in the end many don’t get to go to loving homes. In those high killing shelters, if someone doesn’t rush in a short period of time to adopt these poor dogs or cats that have suffered so much, that have overcome so much, at the end, after all that effort, they will get killed. They are the unwanted, the forgotten, yet beautiful pets that all they need is more time to find a loving home. This is senseless, unfair, and tragic. There is no excuse that they are murdering healthy, previously owned, neglected, abused dogs and cats or highly adoptable. While we are disgusted by events like the Yulin festival in China, we let millions of our own animals die every day, every year. Let’s do something. Let’s be better. Let’s save them.
Let us advocate for only NO KILL SHELTERS unless the animal is suffering or violent. And more importantly, let’s treat the root of the problem: lobby for laws that are effective in reducing unplanned births and shelter intakes by developing low-cost or free sterilization programs for dogs and cats, laws that limit the number of animals bred for profit, laws that promote responsible pet ownership like contracts, laws for pet stores to carry only shelter pets and providing better education for pet owners. And finally, please get out there and help out. Together we can make a change. Their lives matter. Every animal deserves a chance to get their forever home. Some may take longer than others, but there should not be a time limit on life.
Zoos and aquariums are just two types of place where members of nonhuman species face lifelong incarceration for the ‘entertainment’ of our species. Many with vested interests are quick to claim that the ‘entertainment’ aspect is only part of the story; that the main reason for imprisoning other species has something to do with ‘education’ or about ‘conservation’, and there’s no doubt that both these words frequently allow a free pass from criticism or even critical thinking for these widespread and lucrative businesses.
Zoos , ‘wild life parks’, and sea world equivalents crop up frequently on social media and one doesn’t have far to look to discover that the folk myths about ‘education’ and ‘conservation’ are alive and well, and have been since long before the days of TV and film.
We may arguably live in at a time when the use of other animals is increasingly frowned upon as unethical in circuses, but meanwhile every family heading to look at imprisoned creatures for a day’s ‘entertainment’ is doing their bit – to the sound of cash registers and burger stalls – to reinforce the continuing message that humans are superior creatures and that other species exist for our entertainment.
I decided that it’s important to start to compile the best information and links into a single resource to be added to as more comes to hand, providing something to share when the subject is raised by those whose self interest blinds them to the facts. I start with a piece that I recently came across by the great Tom Regan. The other articles are in date order.
Are Zoos Morally Defensible?
1995 In this piece comprising a chapter of a larger work authored by others, Tom Regan (1938-1917) examines and discusses the ethics of zoos from the Animal Rights position, by providing valuable insights into how the sharply contrasting ‘utilitarian’ or ‘holistic’ stances affect the subject. He writes,
June 11 2021 ‘I find one statistic particularly telling about their priorities: A 2018 analysis of the scientific papers produced by association members between 1993 and 2013 showed that just about 7 percent of them annually were classified as being about “biodiversity conservation.” People don’t go to zoos to learn about the biodiversity crisis or how they can help. They go to get out of the house, to get their children some fresh air, to see interesting animals. They go for the same reason people went to zoos in the 19th century: to be entertained. A fine day out with the family might itself be justification enough for the existence of zoos if the zoo animals are all happy to be there. Alas, there’s plenty of heartbreaking evidence that many are not.’ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/11/opinion/zoos-animal-cruelty.html
The neural cruelty of captivity: Keeping large mammals in zoos and aquariums damages their brains
It’s Time to Stop Pretending Zoos Are Good for Animals
March 9, 2020 ‘We imagine the zoo as Noah’s Ark, preserving the last remnants of endangered species. And yet, 83% of species in zoos are not endangered, or even threatened. Why are these animals kept, if the zoo is all about conservation? Of the few zoo animals that are endangered, almost none of them will be released into the wild — they’ve been bred and raised for the entertainment of humans, and would not survive in nature. But even if zoos were successfully preparing their animals for release on a grand scale, it would be an inefficient use of resources: Conservation in the wild is far more effective than captive breeding, in almost all cases.
Zoos are outdated and cruel – it’s time to make them a thing of the past
August 14 2019 ‘If zoos are so abysmal, why do they still exist on such a large scale? The answer is simple. Zooreaucracies and zoo-rocrats have a stamp collector’s mentality and an appetite and preference to please the public with iconic and non-threatened species, leading to their needless captivity and “consumption” for entertainment.
In other words, the public come first and not the animals. Is that conservation? Zoos don’t want you to know these facts because it would expose the fundamental flaws in the arguments they put out for their existence, and as a consequence merely prove that they’re in the conservation of business and not in the business of conservation.’
Are zoo animals happy? There’s a simple empathy test we can apply
April 16. 2017 ‘If we are to continue keeping animals in confinement … Making animals happier must be a top priority, and written into the budgets of zoo managers. Nevertheless, we need to remember that enrichment is just a Band-Aid solution. It serves, like the Valium given to SeaWorld’s whales, to manage the symptoms. But it can’t treat the underlying disease. Only freedom from captivity can really resolve the illness.’ https://www.salon.com/2017/04/16/are-zoo-animals-happy-theres-a-simple-empathy-test-we-can-apply/
Do Zoos and Aquariums Promote Attitude Change in Visitors? A Critical Evaluation of the American Zoo and Aquarium Study
2010 ‘Modern-day zoos and aquariums market themselves as places of education and conservation. A recent study conducted by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) (Falk et al., 2007) is being widely heralded as the first direct evidence that visits to zoos and aquariums produce long-term positive effects on people’s attitudes toward other animals. In this paper, we address whether this conclusion is warranted by analyzing the study’s methodological soundness. We conclude that Falk et al. (2007) contains at least six major threats to methodological validity that undermine the authors’ conclusions. There remains no compelling evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education, or interest in conservation in visitors ‘https://www.wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1007&context=acwp_zoae
New research studying the behavior of 9,000 dogs demonstrated that fearfulness, age, breed, the company of other members of the same species and the owner’s previous experience of dogs were all associated with dogs’ aggressive behavior towards humans. These findings can potentially provide important tools for understanding and preventing aggressive behavior.
Aggressive behavior in dogs can include growling, barking, snapping and biting. These gestures are part of normal canine communication, and they also occur in non-aggressive situations, such as during play. However, aggressive behavior can be excessive, making the dog a health threat to both humans and other animals.
The canine gene research group active at the University of Helsinki surveyed connections between aggressive behavior and several potential risk factors with the help of a dataset encompassing more than 9,000 dogs, a sample from a larger dataset from a behavioral survey dataset of nearly 14,000 dogs. The study investigated aggressiveness towards both dog owners and unfamiliar human beings. Dogs were classified as aggressive if they growled often and/or had attempted to snap at or bite a human at least occasionally in the situations described in the survey.
“Dogs’ fearfulness had a strong link to aggressive behavior, with fearful dogs many times more likely to behave aggressively. Moreover, older dogs were more likely to behave aggressively than younger ones. One of the potential reasons behind this can be pain caused by a disease. Impairment of the senses can contribute to making it more difficult to notice people approaching, and dogs’ responses to sudden situations can be aggressive.”
-Salla Mikkola, doctoral researcher University of Helsinki
Small dogs are more likely to behave aggressively than mid-sized and large dogs, but their aggressive behavior is not necessarily considered as threatening as that of large dogs. Consequently, their behavior is not addressed. In addition, the study found that male dogs were more aggressive than females. However, sterilization had no effect on aggressive behavior.
The first dogs of dog owners were more likely to behave aggressively compared to dogs whose owners had previous experience of dogs. The study also indicated that dogs that spend time in the company of other dogs behave less aggressively than dogs that live without other dogs in the household.
Significant differences in aggressive behavior between breeds
Differences in the aggressiveness of various dog breeds can point to a genetic cause.
“In our dataset, the Long-Haired Collie, Poodle (Toy, Miniature and Medium) and Miniature Schnauzer were the most aggressive breeds. Previous studies have shown fearfulness in Long-Haired Collies, while the other two breeds have been found to express aggressive behavior towards unfamiliar people. As expected, the popular breeds of Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever were at the other extreme. People who are considering getting a dog should familiarize themselves with the background and needs of the breed. As for breeders, they should also pay attention to the character of dam candidates, since both fearfulness and aggressive behavior are inherited.”
-Professor Hannes Lohi, University of Helsinki.
At-a-Glance Summary of Research Findings:
Factors Associated with Dog Aggressiveness towards Humans
-Older dogs encountering sudden moves/situations
-Dogs of first-time dog owners
-Solitary dogs: Dogs that have no other dogs in the household
-Most aggressive breeds: Long-Haired Collie, Poodle (Toy, Miniature and Medium) and Miniature Schnauzer breeds
Journal reference: Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Jenni Puurunen, Emma Hakanen, Sini Sulkama, César Araujo, Hannes Lohi. Aggressive behaviour is affected by demographic, environmental and behavioural factors in purebred dogs. Scientific Reports, 2021; 11 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-88793-5
Conservation efforts paid off for species previously considered Critically Endangered, including Peru’s endemic Junin Grebe.
Each year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) evaluates the status of species on its Red List of Threatened Species, a key listing that ranks most of the worlds’ species by conservation need. This evaluation measures carefully chosen criteria, such as each species’ population size and trend. The 2020 update brought some welcome news: In the Americas, an important group of species that ABC and our partners have worked to protect have lowered threat status. A few others, however, moved to a higher threat category.
First, the good news: Conservation efforts paid off for three species previously considered in the highest threat category, Critically Endangered (CR). Peru’s endemic Junin Grebe and two hummingbirds — Black-breasted Puffleg of Ecuador and Glittering Starfrontlet of Colombia — dropped to the lower threat category of Endangered (EN). ABC partners have protected reserves for the two hummingbirds and worked to reduce nesting area loss around the grebe’s lake habitat.
Junin Grebe by Pete Morris
Nine species ABC partners have protected changed from EN to less dire Vulnerable (VU) and Near Threatened (NT) status, indicating that dedicated conservation and careful monitoring have had a positive impact. Two of these, the Long-whiskered Owlet and Yellow-eared Parrot, have benefited from ABC’s flagship conservation programs with our Peruvian partner Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos, in the case of the owlet, and Fundación ProAves in Colombia, for the parrot.
For some ABC focal species, though, ramped-up efforts are needed to turn the tide. Three species with which ABC and partners have recently begun conservation efforts shifted from EN to CR status, indicating they are more threatened than previously thought. For one of these, the Lilacine Amazon parrot in Ecuador, ABC and partner Fundación de Conservación Jocotoco have recently initiated projects with local communities to protect roost areas and reduce poaching. For the other two, the Santa Marta Sabrewing hummingbird and Great Green Macaw, ABC and partners have created reserves, but more work is needed to ensure adequate habitat is protected.
Some species for which ABC has yet to begin conservation efforts jumped to more-threatened categories. These include the Perijá Starfrontlet hummingbird that occurs at the border between Venezuela and Colombia and the Santa Marta Foliage-gleaner of Colombia, as well as these island birds: the Great White Heron, Bahama Warbler, and St. Lucia Oriole. The heron, still considered by some experts to be an all-white Great Blue Heron subspecies, also occurs in southern Florida in the U.S. These species will be priorities for ABC and our partners’ work in the near future.
Great Green Macaws by Evgeniapp/Shutterstock
Parrots in Peril
The 2020 IUCN Red List update has moved four New World parrot species — the Great Green Macaw, Lilacine Amazon, Orange-fronted Parakeet, and Black-billed Amazon — to higher threat categories. All are threatened by habitat loss, direct persecution, or capture for the pet trade. Over half of New World parrots are classified as Near Threatened, globally threatened, or extinct, but thanks to targeted conservation by ABC and partners, 12 of these species, including the Lear’s Macaw, Blue-throated Macaw, and Yellow-eared Parrot, have stabilized or increased their populations.
David Wiedenfeld is ABC’s Senior Conservation Scientist.
Explore context Environment and Natural Resource Security
A diverse range of mammals once roamed the planet, but this changed quickly and dramatically with the arrival of humans.
Since the rise of humans, wild land mammal biomass has declined by 85%, writes Hannah Ritchie for Our World in Data.
For the first time in human history, we can produce enough food from a smaller land area, making it possible for wild animals to flourish again.
Travel back 100,000 years and the planet was rich with a wide array of wild mammals. Mammoths roamed across North America; lions across Europe; 200-kilogram wombats in Australasia; and the ground sloth lounged around South America.
They’re now gone. Since the rise of humans, several hundred of the world’s largest mammals have gone extinct.
While we often think of ecological damage as a modern problem our impacts date back millennia to the times in which humans lived as hunter-gatherers. Our history with wild animals has been a zero-sum game: either we hunted them to extinction, or we destroyed their habitats with agricultural land. Without these natural habitats to expand into and produce food on, the rise of humans would have been impossible. Humans could only thrive at the expense of wild mammals.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. This century marks a pivotal moment: for the first time in human history there is the opportunity for us to thrive alongside, rather than compete with, the other mammals that we share this planet with.
In this article I want to take a look at how the world’s mammals have changed in the past, and how we can pave a better way forward.
As we’ll see, our long history with the other mammals is really a story about meat. Humans have always, and continue to have, a strong drive to eat meat. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors life was about plotting a hunt against the giant 200-kilogram wombat. This later became a story of how to produce the equivalent of a giant wombat in the field. Now we’re focused on how we can produce this in the lab.
The decline of wild mammals has a long history
To understand how the richness of the mammal kingdom has changed we need a metric that captures a range of different animals and is comparable over time. We could look at their abundance – the number of individuals we have – but this is not ideal. We would be counting every species equally, from a mouse to an elephant and this metric would therefore an ecosystem taken over by the smallest mammals look much richer than one in which bigger mammals roam: if the world’s mouse populations multiplied and multiplied – maybe even to the detriment of other animals – then this abundance metric might suggest that these ecosystems were thriving.
Instead, ecologists often use the metric biomass. This means that each animal is measured in tonnes of carbon, the fundamental building block of life.1 Biomass gives us a measure of the total biological productivity of an ecosystem. It also gives more weight to larger animals at higher levels of the ecological ‘pyramid’: these rely on well-functioning bases below them.
I have reconstructed the long-term estimates of mammal terrestrial biomass from 100,000 BC through to today from various scientific sources.2 This means biomass from marine mammals – mainly whales – is not included. The story of whaling is an important one that I cover separately here. This change in wild land mammals is shown in the chart. When I say ‘wild mammals’ from this point, I’m talking about our metric of biomass.
If we go back to around 100,000 years ago – a time when there were very few early humans and only in Africa – all of the wild land mammals on Earth summed up to around 20 million tonnes of carbon. This is shown as the first column in the chart. The mammoths, and European lions, and ground sloths were all part of this.
By around 10,000 years ago we see a huge decline of wild mammals. This is shown in the second column. It’s hard to give a precise estimate of the size of these losses millennia ago, but they were large: likely in the range of 25% to 50%.3
It wasn’t just that we lost a lot of mammals. It was almost exclusively the world’s largest mammals that vanished. This big decline of mammals is referred to as the Quaternary Megafauna Extinction (QME). The QME led to the extinction of more than 178 of the world’s large mammals (‘megafauna’).
Many researchers have grappled with the question of what caused the QME. Most evidence now points towards humans as the primary driver.4 I look at this evidence in much more detail in a related article. Most of this human impact came through hunting. There might also have been smaller local impacts through fire and other changes to natural landscapes. You can trace the timing of mammal extinctions by following human expansion across the world’s continents. When our ancestors arrived in Europe the European megafauna went extinct; when they arrived in North America the mammoths went extinct; then down to South America, the same.
What’s most shocking is how few humans were responsible for this large-scale destruction of wildlife. There were likely fewer than 5 million peoplein the world. 5 Around half the population of London today.6
A global population half the size of London helped drive tens to hundreds of the world’s largest mammals to extinction. The per capita impact of our hunter-gatherer ancestors was huge.
The romantic idea that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in harmony with nature is deeply flawed. Humans have never been ‘in balance’ with nature. Trace the footsteps of these tiny populations of the past and you will find extinction after extinction after extinction.
Hunting to farming: how human populations now compete with wild mammals
We’re now going to fast-forward to our more recent past. By the year 1900, wild mammals had seen another large decline.
By this point, the pressures on wild mammals had shifted. The human population had increased to 1.7 billion people. But the most important change was the introduction of farming and livestock. We see this in the top panel of the chart. This shows the per capita agricultural land use over these millennia – a reflection of how humans got their food.7 Before the agricultural revolution around 10,000 years ago, our food came from hunting and gathering. Agricultural land use was minimal although as we’ve already seen, per capita impacts were still high through hunting. We then see a clear transition point, where agricultural land use begins to rise.
The rise of agriculture had both upsides and downsides for wild mammals. On the one hand, it alleviated some of the direct pressure. Rather than hunting wild mammals we raised our own for meat, milk, or textiles. In this way, the rise of livestock saved wildlife. Crop farming also played a large role in this. The more food humans could produce for themselves, the less they needed to rely on wild meat.
But the rise of agriculture also had a massive downside: the need for agricultural land meant the loss of wild habitats.
The expansion of agriculture over millennia has completely reshaped the global landscape from one of wild habitats, to one dominated by farms. Over the last 10,000 years, we’ve lost one-third of the world’s forests and many grasslands and other wild habitats have been lost too. This obviously came at a large ecological cost: rather than competing with wild mammals directly, our ancestors took over the land that they needed to survive.
We see this change clearly in the bottom panel of the chart: there was a first stage of wild mammal loss through hunting; then another decline through the loss of habitats to farmland.
This shift in the distribution has continued through to today. We see this in the final column, which gives the breakdown in 2015. Wild mammals saw another large decline in the last century. At the same time the human population increased, and our livestock even more so. This because incomes across the world have increased, meaning more people can afford the meat products that were previously unavailable to them. We dig a bit deeper into this distribution of mammals in a related article.
The past was a zero-sum game; the future doesn’t have to be
Since the rise of humans, wild land mammals have declined by 85%.
As we just saw, this history can be divided into two stages. The pre-agriculture phase where our ancestors were in direct competition with wild mammals. They killed them for their meat. And the post-agriculture phase where the biggest impact was indirect: habitat loss through the expansion of farmland. Our past relationship with wild animals has been a zero-sum game: in one way or another, human success has come at the cost of wild animals.
How do we move forward?
Some people suggest a return to wild hunting as an alternative to modern, intensive farming. A return to our primal roots. This might be sustainable for a few local communities. But we only need to do a simple calculation to see how unfeasible this is at any larger scale. In 2018 the world consumed 210 million tonnes of livestock meat from mammals [we’re only looking at mammals here so I’ve excluded chicken, turkey, goose, and duck meat]. In biomass terms, that’s 31 million tonnes of carbon.8 From our chart above we saw that there are only 3 million tonnes of wild land mammal biomass left in the world. If we relied on this for food, all of the world’s wild mammals would be eaten within a month.9
We cannot go back to this hunter-gatherer way of living. Even a tiny number of people living this lifestyle had a massive negative impact on wildlife. For a population of almost 8 billion it’s simply not an option.
But the alternative of continued growth in livestock consumption is also not sustainable. In the short term, it is saving some wild mammals from hunting. But its environmental costs are high: the expansion of agricultural land is the leading driver of deforestation, it emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, and needs lots of resource inputs.
Thankfully we have options to build a better future. If we can reduce agricultural land – and primarily land use for livestock – we can free up land for wild mammals to return. There are already positive signs that this is possible. In the chart we see the change in per capita agricultural land use from 5,000 years ago to today.10 Land use per person has fallen four-fold. The most dramatic decline has happened in the last 50 years: the amount of agricultural land per person has more than halved since 1960. This was the result of increased crop yields and livestock productivity. Of course, the world population also increased over that time, meaning total agricultural land use continued to grow. But, there might be positive signs: the world may have already passed ‘peak agricultural land’. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports a decline in global agricultural land since 2000: falling from 4.9 to 4.8 billion hectares. A very small decline, but signs that we could be at a turning point.
I’ve tried to capture what the future could look like in this final chart. It shows the rise in global agricultural land use over these millennia and the decline in wild biomass that we’ve already seen. But looking to the future, a decline in agricultural land alongside a rise in wild mammals is possible. How can we achieve this?
What’s the World Economic Forum doing about deforestation?
Halting deforestation is essential to avoiding the worst effects of global climate change.
The destruction of forests creates almost as much greenhouse gas emissions as global road travel, and yet it continues at an alarming rate.
In 2012, we brought together more than 150 partners working in Latin America, West Africa, Central Africa and South-East Asia – to establish the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020: a global public-private partnership to facilitate investment in systemic change.
The Alliance, made up of businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people, communities and international organizations, helps producers, traders and buyers of commodities often blamed for causing deforestation to achieve deforestation-free supply chains. null
Some people are in favor of a switch to traditional plant-based diets: cereals, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Because the land use of plant-based diets is smaller than meat-based diets this is definitely a sustainable option; those who adopt such diets have a low environmental footprint. But many people in the world just really like meat and for those that can afford it, it’s a central part of their diet. For many of those who can’t aspire to be able to do so; we see this when we look at how meat consumption rises with income.
With new technologies it’s possible to enjoy meat or meat-like products without raising or consuming any animals at all. We can have our cake and eat it; or rather, we can have our meat and keep our animals too. Food production is entering a new phase where we can move meat production from the farm to the lab. The prospects for cultured meat are growing. In 2020, Singapore was the first country to bring lab-grown chicken to the market. And it’s not just lab-grown meat that’s on the rise. A range of alternative products using other technologies such as fermentation or plant-based substitutes are moving forward: Beyond Meat, Quorn and Impossible Foods are a few examples.
The biggest barriers – as with all technologies in their infancy – is going to be scale and affordability. If these products are to make a difference at a global scale we need to be able to produce them in large volumes and at low cost. This is especially true if we want to offer an alternative to the standard ‘wild animal to livestock’ transition for lower-income countries. They have to be cheaper than meat.
It’s going to be a challenge. But it’s an incredibly exciting one. For the first time in human history we could decouple human progress from ecological degradation. The game between humans and wild animals no longer needs to be zero-sum. We can reduce poaching and restore old habitats to allow wild mammals to flourish. Doing so does not have to come at the cost of human wellbeing. We can thrive alongside, rather than compete with, the other mammals that we share this planet with. null Share License and Republishing
Pandemic puppies. When the kids go back to school and owners return to work and pup gets to spend his days in a crate. Just 7 months. Vacs not completed and not neutered. Blue now in a foster home. pic.twitter.com/rOtr9Xngl9
Mountain lion’s ‘unusual’ appearance in Texas national park sparks a mystery
Chacour KoopFri, April 30, 2021, 1:06 PM·1 min read
A mountain lion’s “unusual” appearance in a Texas national park has sparked a mystery: Where did it come from?
A mountain lion in and of itself isn’t rare in Guadalupe Mountains National Park. They’ll go just about anywhere mule deer — among the most common animals in the Far West Texas park — can be found.
But this particular mountain lion recently spotted on a trail camera was wearing a collar.
Why is that strange? The park says it hasn’t collared cats since the 1980s.
“This collared mountain lion must have drifted into the park from somewhere else,” the park posted on Facebook. “It’s unusual, but exciting to see this collared individual because it reflects the vast roving and range behaviors of mountain lions.”
A mountain lion, also known as a cougar or puma, requires a huge swath of habitat to survive, according to the National Wildlife Federation. Cubs remain with their mothers up to 26 months but usually separate earlier to find their own territory, the wildlife groups says.- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-6-0/html/r-sf-flx.html
Guadalupe Mountains National Park shared a photo of the mountain lion in hopes of finding out who collared the cat.
“Since this is not our cat, we wanted to share the image to help whoever is doing research, find and monitor their kitty,” the park posted. “We’ve reached out to local researchers to identify … the cat and its collar, with no luck.”
“UWA strongly condemns the illegal killing of wildlife because it does not only impact negatively on our tourism as a country, but also revenue generation, which supports conservation and community work in our protected areas,” he said.
There have been a number of previous incidents where lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park were believed to have been poisoned.
Image via: Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre / Facebook
The Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre (HESC) said it is devastated following the brutal killing of Olivia the rhino. According to the centre, she was killed at the hands of poachers on Monday 1 March 2021.
OLIVIA DIES IN THE SAME MANNER AS HER MOTHER FIVE YEARS AGO
The HESC said the rhino was killed on the reserve that was released into by the centre back in September 2019. The South African reached out to the centre to find out which reserve, however, there was no response at the time of publication.
“She died at the hand of ruthless rhino poachers and was found butchered with her horn hacked off. She died as her mother had died five years ago – killed in cold blood by merciless thugs who illegally trade in rhino horn,” the HESC said in a Facebook post. null
Olivia the rhino arrived at HESC in April 2016 as a little four-month-old rhino after she had witnessed the savage killing of her mother and was left orphaned.
“She was terrified and very traumatised, but eventually made friends and settled down with Khulula, Nhlanhla and Lula, three other orphans in our care. She was released back into the wild after rehabilitation when she was old enough to manage on her own,” it went on to say.
“Our hearts are broken,” it added. null Image via: Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre / Facebook
Image via: Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre / Facebook
On Thursday 4 February 2021, exactly one month ago, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) confirmed that rhino horn worth R53 million was seized at OR Tambo International Airport.
According to the revenue service, the consignment was on its way to Malaysia. null
“The Customs unit of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) made a bust of rhino horn with an estimated value of R53 172 000, in a shipment destined for Malaysia,” SARS said.
“This is the fourth rhino horn bust by SARS Customs at the O.R.Tambo International Airport between July 2020 and February 2021. The overall weight of the rhino horn seized in these four cases is 277.30kg – with an estimated value of R234 114 206,” it added.
In the early 1970s, notorious serial killer Ted Bundy began a brutal killing spree that likely resulted in the death of more than 100 innocent victims. He admitted to the murder of 36 women.
About two decades earlier, Bundy tortured defenseless dogs and cats.
Similar stories are true of Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, “The Boston Strangler” Albert DeSalvo, and many others. But the connection between early animal abuse and later human abuse isn’t confined to serial killers.
Animal cruelty is linked to all forms of human abuse, from domestic violence to sexual assault.
Despite clear evidence suggesting the connection between animal abuse and future criminal behavior, authorities have failed to treat cases of animal cruelty with the same severity as violence against humans. They allow murderers like Bundy to hone their sadism without consequence.
Until January 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) filed animal abuse under the “All Other Offenses” category in their National Incident-Based Reporting System.
But then John Thompson, the current deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, stepped in.
Thompson, who has close to four decades of law enforcement experience, didn’t initially recognize that harming animals is a strong indicator of future violent crimes against people – what some call “The Link.”
“I spent 35 years in law enforcement and couldn’t have cared less about animal abuse,” Thompson admitted to The Atlantic. “I was stupid. No one was educated.”
When he did make the connection, Thompson pressured the FBI’s policy advisory board to create a separate category for filing animal abuse, which the agency did.
That decision may save lives.
It’s worth noting that not every person who abuses animals has committed or will commit another crime. But harming people is statistically more likely when animal cruelty is involved. And animal cruelty must be taken seriously.
Ted Bundy tortured his pets. Jeffrey Dahmer decapitated dogs and nailed cats to trees. John Wayne Gacy set turkeys on fire with gasoline-filled balloons. Albert DeSalvo stuffed helpless dogs and cats into boxes and shot them with arrows. Dennis Rader, or the “BTK Killer,” hanged cats and dogs.
All of these heinous crimes occurred during the killers’ childhoods.
Recent studies also have revealed that many school shooters also abused animals prior to turning their guns on people.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, of the Columbine High School shooting, bragged about mutilating animals to their classmates. Kip Kinkel, before his attack on Thurston High School parents and students, blew up cows and decapitated cats. Luke Woodham , who murdered his mother and two schoolmates at Pearl High School, wrote in his journal about setting his dog Sparkle on fire.
Unfortunately, animals are easy first victims for killers.
“Animal abuse is often the first sign of serious disturbance among adolescent and adult killers,” Gail F. Melson, professor emerita of developmental studies at Purdue University, wrote in Psychology Today.
Without severe consequences for animal cruelty, killers will continue to escape the penalty and psychological intervention needed to prevent future crimes.
Domestic violence survivors have reported in studies that their abusers threatened to kill, torture, or otherwise harm their companion animals — or actually followed through on the threats — to prevent them from leaving their abusive situations.
Abusers also use animal abuse or threats against survivor’s beloved animals to isolate victims and children, to eliminate competition for attention, and to force the family to keep violence a secret, according to an article published via the Animal Legal and Historical Center.
This cruel behavior is commonplace for domestic violence victims, with more than 85% of women entering shelters discussing incidents of pet abuse in their families.
Another study, published in Violence Against Women, found that women in domestic abuse shelters were 10 times more likely to report their partner had hurt or killed their pet, compared to a group of women who had not experienced intimate violence.
The violence toward animals harms more than just the pets; victims of domestic violence also suffer trauma and fear, which makes escaping their abusers.
Animal Cruelty and Child Abuse
Image via Pixabay
In households prone to family violence, animals are often the first victims of abuse, followed by children, according to Cynthia Hodges.
The statistics supporting a direct link between animal and child abuse are staggering:
88% of families surveyed that had incidents of child abuse also had incidents of animal abuse
63% of children entering shelters admitted to incidents of pet abuse in their families
More than 80% of families being treated for child abuse reported animal abuse in their homes
More than 60% of families with child abuse and neglect also had pets that endured abuse and neglect
But it gets worse: When violence becomes “normal,” some children sometimes push the boundaries of their own desensitization by becoming animal abusers themselves.
More than 30% of pet-owning victims of domestic abuse reported that their children had hurt or killed a pet, according to a survey by the Humane Society of the United States.
Why do children who are abused, or witness abuse, sometimes become abusers themselves?
A report published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health posits that severe and prolonged trauma, especially when experienced at a young age, can stunt children’s emotional and social development. Some children therefore become less empathetic toward animals and more likely to copy the abuse they see in their homes.
Randall Lockwood, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)’s senior vice president for forensic sciences and anti-cruelty projects, also described how witnessing animal abuse can have a severe psychological impact on children.
Lockwood described how children suppress their feelings toward pets as a coping mechanism for the pain they experience when watching persistent animal abuse. This negatively impacts healthy empathetic development. In certain cases, children kill their pets themselves to gain control over the situation and end the animals’ suffering, Lockwood said.
Animal cruelty must be taken more seriously if this vicious cycle of abuse is ever going to end.
Animal Cruelty and Sexual Assault
Image via Pixabay
Bestiality is a taboo subject, but the practice exists and is part of the animal cruelty problem.
“The results suggest that animal sex offending may be linked to other criminal behavior,” the study concluded.
While reliable scientific data on the prevalence of bestiality is limited, preliminary studies suggest sexual abuse toward animals is a pervasive and underreported issue with infrequent penalties. Complicating the matter is a lack of state and federal legislation prohibiting the inhumane acts.
Engaging in sex with animals is actually legal in four states — Wyoming, Hawaii, New Mexico, and West Virginia — and the District of Columbia. In more than 20 states, bestiality is only a misdemeanor crime.
There are no federal laws against sexual abuse to animals.
The leniency in existing legislation means that people who commit bestiality often go unpunished. Of 456 bestiality-related arrests made over the last 40 years in the United States, less than 40% resulted in prosecution.
The lack of prosecution also means the animal abusers are free to go on to commit crimes against people: More than 50% of animal sex offenders had prior or subsequent criminal records, including human sexual abuse.
Animal Cruelty and Non-Violent Crimes
Image via NeedPix
Research also shows a positive correlation between animal abuse and nonviolent crimes, like theft and drug use.
Another study, on the relationship of animal abuse to violence and other forms of antisocial behavior, published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, sampled persons ranging in age from 11 to 76 years. Of those sampled, over 40 percent of animal abusers had committed property crimes (compared to about 10 percent of non-abusers), and over 35 percent of animal abusers had committed drug and disorderly conduct offenses (compared to slightly over 10 percent of non-abusers).
Animal Cruelty Is a Human Problem
Image via Pixabay
Animal cruelty is a serious offense and is predictive of past and future criminal activity, from violent mass murders to minor drug offenses. In this area — as in many others, ranging from zoonotic disease to combating climate change — helping animals is helping people.
By taking animal cruelty more seriously, policymakers and law enforcement will save lives. Animal and human victims will be safer. Abusers can receive the psychological intervention necessary to prevent violent crimes in the future. Ultimately, the world will be a more peaceful and compassionate place.
Taiji: A pod of approximately 15 Risso’s dolphins including a mother with a juvenile by her side were driven from their home in the open ocean into the Cove. The dolphins fought hard for over 3 hours but were eventually forced under tarps where all were slaughtered. pic.twitter.com/aM7kYRr5jl
In July, the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, announced having a dog as a pet would be against the law. Stating that pets are a symbol of capitalist ‘decadence,’ dogs in Pyongyang are being confiscated and being sent to either restaurants or zoos for meat to solve the nation’s food shortages.
According to the Daily Mail, dog meat has continued to be a delicacy on the Korean Peninsula, and even though there has been a downturn with younger people, there are still one million dogs raised on farms for human consumption.
“Authorities have identified households with pet dogs and are forcing them to give them or forcefully confiscating them and putting them down,” a source from South Korea’s Chosun IIbo newspaper stated.
Pet owners have little choice even though there have been reports of “cursing Kim Jong-un behind his back.” Anyone refusing to give up their dog could be viewed as an act of defiance by Jong-un, who commonly refers to himself as the Supreme Dignity.
In 1989, pets were encouraged in North Korea and used as a symbol of economic development, sophistication and wealthy families could be seen walking their dogs on state run television programs. In 2018, Kim Jong-un gifted the South Korean president two home grown hunting dogs presenting them as “peace puppies.” Those obviously were the lucky pups.
North Korea now faces a widespread food shortage – 60% of the population of 25.5 million people are included.
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“You were willing to coexist, but people were not,” wrote the North Shore Black Bear Society about the bear
A wild black bear was killed after becoming accustomed to humans in Canada.
Last Wednesday, the North Shore Black Bear Society reported on Facebook that a bear they’ve encountered on several occasions this summer — whom they affectionately named Huckleberry — was tranquilized and put down by local conservation officers for being too comfortable around humans.
The North Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization wrote that the bear had been lured and allowed to eat food left out by local residents, who wanted to capture the animal on camera.
“On July 31st you were eating berries at the edge of the forest. We headed out to make sure you were not being crowded or chased by dogs. By the time we reached you, you were being followed by residents who wanted a video of you eating organics from an unlocked cart,” read the post. “Due to the crowd of people, it wasn’t safe for us to move you on. When you finished eating, you calmly walked by and left our gaze. That was the last time we saw you.”
“Later that day you were tranquilized by the Conservation Officers and taken away to be killed,” they continued. “You were willing to coexist, but people were not.”
NSBBS added that Huckleberry “showed us every time we met that you were a good-natured bear, we are deeply sorry that we couldn’t save you.” The team added, “We’ll always have a place in our hearts for you, sweet boy.”
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NSBBS representatives recalled on Facebook that they first encountered Huckleberry on July 2. During this initial meeting, Huckleberry was quick to get out of the way of humans. Their next interaction would lead to the story behind the bear’s name.
“The next time we met, you were at the roadside eating berries. As we walked you back to the forest, you stood and sniffed a garbage can,” NSBBS shared. “We used a firm tone and told you to leave — you listened. As you walked away, you left a bright pink scat full of huckleberries! We were so proud of you for eating natural foods, despite all the tempting treats residents had left available to you. From that moment, we named you Huckleberry!”
NSBBS remembered that Huckleberry would “roll” his tongue out at them to “smell the air as we walked together back to the forest” — a behavior NSBBS said showed that the bear recognized them.
RELATED VIDEO: Jeff Corwin Warns Sad Moments Are ‘Part of the Story Arc’ on Alaska Animal Rescue
NSBBS said nearby residents admitted to allowing the “easy-going, calm bear” to pick through their garbage so they could photograph him.
“Reports started coming in of you finding easy rewards from garbage and organics carts. People admitted they allowed you to do that for a video and they neglected to move you on … a death sentence,” they wrote. “If only people had used a firm voice with you, you would have listened. Or respected you enough to not have any garbage or food scraps accessible in the first place. We did you a disservice, Huckleberry.”
Sometimes circumstances due to loss of finances, illness,death and even finding a pet, can put pets in great danger… please do your homework first and go through rescues groups or shelter and never put an ad on Craigslist or other social media sites!
Researchers have found that dogs adapt their communicative strategies to their environment and that owner behavior influences communicative effort and success.
Given the remarkable sensitivity of dogs to human vocalizations, gestures and gazes, researchers have suggested that 30.000 years of domestication and co-evolution with humans may have caused dogs to develop similar principles of communication — a theory known as the domestication hypothesis.
On this basis, researchers designed an experiment that would examine the factors influencing the form, effort and success of dog-human interactions in a hidden-object task. Using 30 dog-owner pairs, researchers focused on a communicative behavior called showing, in which dogs gather the attention of a communicative partner and direct it to an external source.
While the owner waited in another room, an experimenter in view of a participating dog hid the dogs` favorite toy in one of four boxes. When the owner entered the room, the dog had to show its owner where the toy had been hidden. If the owner successfully located the toy, the pair were allowed to play as a reward. Participants were tested in two conditions: a close setup which required more precise showing and a distant setup which allowed for showing in a general direction.
The findings indicate that a crucial factor influencing the effort and accuracy of dogs’ showing is the behavior of the dog’s owner. Owners who encouraged their dog to show where the toy was hidden increased their dog’s showing effort but generally decreased their showing accuracy. Bottom line: the current study indicates for the first time that owners can influence their dog’s showing accuracy and success.
Journal Reference: Melanie Henschel, James Winters, Thomas F. Müller, Juliane Bräuer. Effect of shared information and owner behavior on showing in dogs (Canis familiaris). Animal Cognition, 2020; DOI: 10.1007/s10071-020-01409-9
People leave the terminal after arriving at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Monday, March 16, 2020.
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is investigating after dozens of dogs were found dead or sick on a flight from Ukraine at a Toronto airport.
Approximately 500 puppies landed at Pearson International Airport last Saturday, according to the agency. Thirty-eight were found dead on arrival, and many others were dehydrated, weak or vomiting.
“CFIA officials are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding this incident and will determine next steps once the investigation is complete,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
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In a Facebook post Friday, Ukraine International Airlines apologized for the “tragic loss of animal life” on one of its flights.
“UIA is working with local authorities to determine what happened and to make any changes necessary to prevent such a situation from occurring again.”
The airline did not immediately respond to questions about the incident or its policies for transporting animals.
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian branch of Humane Society International, called on authorities to get to the bottom of how so many puppies were transported at such high temperatures, possibly in violation of industry animal safety standards.
“It raises a lot of questions. And I definitely think the Canadian public wants answers to these questions,” said Aldworth.
“Responsible airlines will not transfer transport animals in extreme heat, because they know there is a risk of dehydration, heat exhaustion and even suffocation.
“And I would question what airline has the capacity to put 500 dogs on one plane.”
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Aldworth said the circumstances bear all the hallmarks of a puppy mill.
“My organization has been working for more than a decade to shut down puppy mills in Canada. And we are devastated to see that animals continue to be imported from equally horrific facilities in other parts of the world into this country,” she said.
“People are looking for (pets) on the internet, they’re buying sight unseen, and they’re importing cruelty into this country when we have so much of it to deal with right here at home.”
The CFIA spokesperson said the agency has rigorous standards for the importation of animals to Canada to prevent the spread of disease.
Penalties for failing to meet these requirements can include removal of the animal, fines or legal action, the spokesperson said.
Federal regulations also prohibit carriers from transporting animals in a way that would cause injury or undue suffering, the spokesperson added.
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Roger, a rescued rabbit, peers over his owner Kyle Daly’s shoulder.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, National Geographic
Editor’s note: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, shelters and rescue groups across the U.S. and around the world report a greater need for people to foster or adopt domestic pets, including rabbits. Some shelters even offer remote adoption screening and curbside pickups. If you’re interested in fostering a rabbit, here is a list of rescue groups by state and by country.
It’s the Saturday before Easter weekend at Petland in Fairfax, Virginia. Sixteen baby bunnies sit in three open pens, all for sale. Two teenage girls reach into a pen, scoop one up, and plop down on the floor, squealing over its cuteness: “I need it!”
The rabbits are all very young. No adult rabbits are for sale here.
“What happens to the babies who grow up before they’re sold?” I ask a salesman. “The breeder picks them up,” he says.
“What does he do with them?”
“I don’t know.”
It’s Picture Day for These Adorable Bunnies
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in America, after cats and dogs, according to the Humane Society of the United States—and the third most abandoned. Most Americans have a sense of how long cats and dogs live, the kind of care they need, their behaviors. But rabbits? I asked several of my colleagues how long they think domestic rabbits live. “One to two years?” “Maybe three?” In fact, with proper care, rabbits live 10 to 12 years. People’s understanding of them seems to be out of step with their ubiquity.
This disconnect appears to drive impulse pet rabbit purchases, says Anne Martin, executive director of the House Rabbit Society, the largest rabbit rescue organization in the U.S. Because many people think they’re short-lived, low maintenance, cage-bound animals, rabbits are seen as “starter pets,” akin to goldfish, perfect for kids. This misconception may help drive a glut of baby bunny sales ahead of Easter—and a subsequent rise in rabbit abandonments.
Jennifer McGee, co-manager of the Georgia chapter of House Rabbit Society, a shelter in the southeastern part of the state, says they normally receive one to two calls a week about abandoned rabbits. But in the six weeks after Easter, the shelter gets three to four calls a day. House Rabbit Society chapters in Idaho and Chicago report a more noticeable rise in summer, as “Easter bunnies” hit puberty and reality sets in for owners.
And here’s the reality: Although rabbits can make delightful companions, they’re not easy-care pets. Vets and insurance companies consider them exotic pets, so medical care can be more expensive than for a cat or dog. Rabbits need a lot of exercise and shouldn’t simply be pent up in a cage. This means they need to learn to use a litterbox (yes, rabbits can be potty trained), which takes patience, just as it does for cats. They’re also prey animals, and we’re, well, predators. They generally don’t like to be picked up by humans; they prefer to be in control, their feet on the ground.
“It takes a patient person to become friends with these silent and subtle animals,” says Margo DeMello, president of the House Rabbit Society.
Roger pops his head out of his travel carrier—he smells banana, his favorite treat. Likely around four years old, he was rescued from a park in Washington, D.C, where he’d been left in a cage.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, National Geographic
Rabbits’ complexity means they often face a grim fate when purchased on a whim. Seemingly cute and cuddly, once baby bunnies mature, at between three and six months old, they can become aggressive and even destructive. Proper exercise, litterbox training, and spaying or neutering curbs the problem for most rabbits. But many new owners assume that the undesirable behaviors are the sign of a problem rabbit and get rid of it. Others may do a little research and balk at the time and money it takes to change bunny behavior. McGee says she’s often met with shock and frustration from parents: “What do you mean I have to spend $200 to fix a $30 rabbit?”
ABANDONMENTS: A YEAR-ROUND PROBLEM
It’s unclear how many rabbits are abandoned in the U.S.—and how many are Easter bunnies. There isn’t a central organization collecting data, DeMello says. Most individual shelters track how many dogs and cats are found, adopted, or euthanized, but they typically lump rabbits in with birds, reptiles, and small mammals in the “other” category.
Rescuers in local rabbit shelters from California’s Bay Area to rural Georgia to suburban Connecticut all tell National Geographic that although abandonments spike in the weeks and months after Easter, they’re a big problem year-round.
According to Martin, about two-thirds of rabbits rescued in Northern California are strays left to fend for themselves. In some cities, Las Vegas and Spokane, Washington, for example, public parks and empty lots have become dumping grounds overrun with hundreds of unfixed, unwanted rabbits. People abandon many rabbits outdoors, likely unaware that this is a death sentence. Domestic rabbits lack the survival instincts of their wild cousins, Martin says, and are unable to fight infection, build safe shelters, or adapt to heat and cold.
Kiba, an 11-year-old Netherland Dwarf, poses for the camera. He was surrendered to a shelter in 2012 in bad condition: underweight, with broken toes. He now has his own Instagram account: @kibabunny.
Photograph by Rebecca Hale, National Geographic
Shelters struggle to keep up. The Georgia House Rabbit Society gets more than 500 requests a year from owners looking to get rid of their rabbits—far more than they have the resources to save. Edie Sayeg, a rescuer with the group, believes thousands of rabbits are simply ditched outdoors in Georgia.
Elizabeth Kunzelman, a spokeswoman for Petland, a major national pet retailer that sells rabbits, says the spring months are “a perfect time for a child to begin caring for a new pet and learning responsibility.” But DeMello believes this mindset is problematic. “Children, honestly, want something cuddlier and more obviously attentive and are often frustrated when rabbits don’t respond to them the way they expect.” Other pet stores, including Petco and Petsmart, stopped selling rabbits several years ago because of concerns about abandonment. Kunzelman says Petland has a take-back policy for rabbits and other animals.
But two years after I visited the Petland in Fairfax, Virginia, the Humane Society of the United States released undercover footage documenting alleged mistreatment and deaths of rabbits at the store. Fairfax County police investigated and found 31 dead rabbits in a freezer in the store in April 2019. Lieutenant Ronnie Lewis, who oversaw the investigation, says that his team seized the dead rabbits as well as 17 living rabbits from the store. Police placed the surviving rabbits in custody of a municipal animal shelter. All 17 rabbits are now in foster homes and will be available for adoption shortly.
Petland has since terminated its franchise agreement with the store, saying in a statement that the company is “saddened and outraged at this alleged gross violation of Petland’s animal care standards.” The store is now closed. The cause of the rabbit deaths remains under investigation by police.
It’s not just pet stores that promote rabbit purchases. Farm stores, 4-H clubs, backyard breeders, and Facebook and Craigslist users across the country advertise baby bunnies ahead of the Easter season. Suzanne Holtz, director of Illinois-based Bunnies United Network, says these sellers can be even more problematic than pet stores because the rabbits often have a misplaced “halo of rescue” about them. Her shelter will get calls from people looking to surrender a bunny they “saved” from Craigslist, where selling animals is ostensibly banned.
It’s a challenge to discourage people from buying rabbits as Easter gifts without discouraging responsible would-be owners from having them at all, Martin says, because for those who understand how to care for them, they make fantastic pets.
I know: I have two rescue rabbits of my own. Roger, a Blanc de Hotot (a French breed notable for black-rimmed “eyeliner” eyes) was found abandoned in a small cage in a park. Rescued by D.C.-area group Friends of Rabbits, he’s curious, fearless, and loving. Penelope, an English Angora, was found on the street as a baby. A Washington Humane Society rescue, she’s bonded with Roger—they’re companions who groom and play with each other—and is opinionated and ornery. They’re litter-trained, have free rein of our apartment, and bring me and my husband joy every day.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on April 19, 2019, to include new information about the Fairfax, Virginia, Petland.
To learn more about rabbit care, visit House Rabbit Society at rabbit.org. If you’re interested in adopting a rabbit of your own, you can reach out to your local HRS chapter, or an animal shelter in your area.
“He that takes truth for his guide, and duty for his end, may safely trust to God’s providence to lead him aright.” - Blaise Pascal. "There is but one straight course, and that is to seek truth and pursue it steadily" – George Washington letter to Edmund Randolph — 1795. We live in a “post-truth” world. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. Truth will never go away no matter how hard one might wish. Going beyond the MSM idealogical opinion/bias and their low information tabloid reality show news with a distractional superficial focus on entertainment, sensationalism, emotionalism and activist reporting – this blogs goal is to, in some small way, put a plug in the broken dam of truth and save as many as possible from the consequences—temporal and eternal. "The further a society drifts from truth, the more it will hate those who speak it." – George Orwell “There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Soren Kierkegaard