A great variety of animals once populated our prairies — they can, again!


Click to enlargeMelanie Wynne

North America’s prairies stretch north from Mexico into Canada, and from the Mississippi River west to the Rocky Mountains. Grasslands also exist in areas farther west, between the Rockies and Pacific coastal ranges.

When Thomas Jefferson approved the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1803, this territory was home to Native Americans and abundant wildlife. Vast, unbroken horizons of contiguous grasslands supported millions of prairie dogs, pronghorn, bison and elk, and thousands of bighorn sheep. Birds were also numerous, including greater prairie-chickens, multiple types of grouse and more than 3 billion passenger pigeons…

That changed as European immigrants moved west over the next hundred years. Market hunting was one cause, but settlers also tilled and poisoned, fertilized and fenced the land, drained aquifers and damaged soils…

Some parts of the North American prairies could support this kind of biodiversity again. The Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma, Nebraska’s Sandhills and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front all retain areas that have never been plowed, ranging from 1 million to 4 million acres. Public agencies and nonprofit conservation groups are already working in these areas to promote conservation and support grassland ecosystems

The U.S. has a history of protecting its majestic mountains and deserts. But in our view, it has undervalued its biologically rich grasslands. With more support for conservation on the prairies, wildlife of all sizes – big and small – could again thrive on America’s fruited plains.

RTFA – not only for details of how we got here; but, how we might move forward to restoration and a new life for our grasslands.

If you knit or sew, you can help out animal victims of wildfires in Oz

The bushfires affecting Australia in recent weeks have sparked a global crafting effort, as thousands of volunteers unite to knit, crochet and sew shelters for animals affected by the crisis…

Young marsupials including possums, koalas and wombats require pouches to grow. Without their mothers they rely on hand-stitched products from donors. Other animals such as flying foxes also require pouches to help their recovery…

The Australia-based Animal Rescue Craft Guild put out a call for these products on its Facebook group, which amassed more than 120,000 members in the subsequent weeks…

The Rescue Collective, based in Queensland, has partnered with the Animal Rescue Craft Guild to distribute donated items to independent animal carers across the country…

They already have an abundance of mittens for koalas. Your best bet for doing something timely and useful is to go to the Animal Rescue Craft Guild‘s facebook site [I know, I know] and click on their top-of-the-page link to get timely info.

At last, a documented decrease in sales of antibiotics for animals

❝ This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new data on the amount of antibiotics sold for use in food animals. It showed that the sale of these drugs declined 14 percent overall from 2015-16, the first decrease since these data were initially reported in 2009. The report also marks the first time that animal drug companies have broken down sales estimates by the major types of food animals—pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys—setting a baseline for species-specific sales information in the years to come.

The report is an important step toward filling knowledge gaps about antibiotics sold for use in food animals, and it begins to shed light on the different antibiotic use patterns across these species. For example, 80 percent of cephalosporins purchased were estimated to be used in cattle, and among penicillins, 63 percent of antibiotic sales were estimated to be used in turkeys. Understanding which drugs are prescribed primarily in which species can offer insight into antibiotic use patterns in the different animal species, and going forward this information will help identify areas for targeted interventions and prioritized research funding on issues such as nonantibiotic alternatives.

RTFA. A step forward which need not be accompanied by the usual following two steps backwards. Difficult enough in administrations committed to average amounts of sophistry. In the epoch of our Fake President and his daily schedule of lies – even greater rigor is required to defend this positive gain.

Funding ban on human-animal hybrids ended

pigotaur
Pigotaur

Should the U.S. government use tax dollars to fund scientists fusing human stem cells into early animal embryos in order to create “chimeras” that are part human and part pig? Or part mouse?

The U.S. National Institutes of Health says the answer is yes. The agency announced Thursday that it plans to lift a moratorium that since last year has blocked taxpayers’ money from flowing to this type of hot-button research.

Carrie Wolinetz, the NIH’s associate director for policy, said experiments to inject human stem cells into early-stage animal embryos “are really important and exciting to understand how disease works” and to explore new medical treatments.

At the same time, the agency is proposing stricter controls on certain experiments most likely to lead to monkey-men or other bad science fiction…

And bad science fiction it would be. Unless requisite technology becomes as cheap as, say, drones from a big-box electronics chain, no for-real scientist is going to waste a chunk of their budget on “thrilling” experiments capable of attracting Sharknado movie producers or the religion police.

Human-animal mixtures aren’t new. Wolinetz noted in a statement that biomedical researchers “have created and used animal models containing human cells for decades” to gain insights into biology and disease. Scientists often grow human tumors inside of mice, for example.

But the new research is different, because potent human stem cells are being injected directly into a very early-stage animal embryo, consisting of just a couple of dozen cells. Theoretically, the human cells could then end up contributing to any part of the animal, and in any amount…

What’s the point of such experiments? One is that it might be possible to create an otherwise normal pig whose entire heart—or whole liver—is made from human cells. That would create a new way to farm human organs for transplant.

The issue was clearly a delicate one for the NIH, which was caught between advancing science and a possible political bombshell that could lead to public backlash. The agency said it would form a special committee to oversee funding of these human-animal mixtures—a move that could raise questions over political interference in science.

Pretty much every other nation capable of such research has already marched forward past the artificial political boundaries constructed by religion in the United States. Even if we avoid the short-term political limits appropriate to clown show politicians like George W or Donald Trump, our world-class scientific institutions and universities have to confront both federal and state limits put in place by legislators in mortal fear of know-nothing voters. Every day, every month, every year.

Malaysia investigates public dog petting

I want to touch a dog
No one was struck down by lightning

Islamic authorities in Malaysia are conducting an investigation into a controversial “dog patting” event aimed at removing the stigma regarding the animal in the multi-ethnic Muslim-majority country.

The event, titled “I want to touch a dog” and held in a park on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur on Sunday, encouraged patting dogs, widely considered to be unclean in Islam, and reportedly drew hundreds of Muslims, raising the ire of religious leaders.

Islamic authorities said they would investigate the event, while a Muslim leader, Nooh Gadut, said it was an attempt to insult clerics…

The organiser, Syed Azmi Alhabshi, who is a Muslim, had said his intention was to help people overcome their fear of dogs and promote compassion towards animals.

Many Malaysians posted positive comments about the event on social media…

Muslims who took part in the event last Sunday performed in a special washing ritual at the end of the event.

The Southeast Asian country generally practises a moderate brand of Islam, but conservative views have gained increasing traction in recent years, with minorities complaining of what they see as Islamisation.

Theocracy is bad enough – in and of itself. It allows no respect for freedom of thought. In particular, the freedom to be perfectly satisfied with material reality as the foundation for philosophy, politics, economics and social life. Education eventually restricts superstition to the ignorant.

Malaysia is joining other nations like Turkey, run by hypocrites, saying one thing about liberty for citizens while gradually imposing theocracy. No more desirable in Asia than in the United States. Fundamentalists of one flavor or another always seem to think they have a cellphone connection with whichever deity they think makes them special – and the rest of us folk should just sit back and obey.

The sillier aspects of most are as concerned with food and pets as they are about stopping equal opportunities for human beings. They deserve opposition – especially from believers who want to bring their beliefs more in line with the time we live in – rather than in the distant past.

Taping of farm cruelty will become the crime – instead of the abuse

On one covert video, farm workers illegally burn the ankles of Tennessee walking horses with chemicals. Another captures workers in Wyoming punching and kicking pigs and flinging piglets into the air. And at one of the country’s largest egg suppliers, a video shows hens caged alongside rotting bird corpses, while workers burn and snap off the beaks of young chicks.

Each video — all shot in the last two years by undercover animal rights activists — drew a swift response: Federal prosecutors in Tennessee charged the horse trainer and other workers, who have pleaded guilty, with violating the Horse Protection Act…And the egg supplier, which operates in Iowa and other states, lost one of its biggest customers, McDonald’s, which said the video played a part in its decision.

But a dozen or so state legislatures have had a different reaction: They proposed or enacted bills that would make it illegal to covertly videotape livestock farms, or apply for a job at one without disclosing ties to animal rights groups. They have also drafted measures to require such videos to be given to the authorities almost immediately, which activists say would thwart any meaningful undercover investigation of large factory farms.

Some of the legislation appears inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business advocacy group with hundreds of state representatives from farm states as members. The group creates model bills, drafted by lobbyists and lawmakers, that in the past have included such things as “stand your ground” gun laws and tighter voter identification rules.

One of the group’s model bills, “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry…”

Opponents have scored some recent victories, as a handful of bills have died, including those in New Mexico and New Hampshire. In Wyoming, the legislation stalled after loud opposition from animal rights advocates, including Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right.”

In Indiana, an expansive bill became one of the most controversial of the state legislative session, drawing heated opposition from labor groups and the state press association, which said the measure violated the First Amendment…

An employee who took a video on a livestock farm with his phone and gave it to someone else would “probably” run afoul of the proposed law, Greg Steuerwald, a Republican state representative, said. The bill will apply not just to farms, but to all employers, he added.

Nancy J. Guyott, the president of the Indiana chapter of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said she feared that the legislation would punish whistle-blowers.

Steadily, corporate farms, industrial bigwigs, ranging from meatpackers to gun manufacturers have used their clout in Congress to get laws passed which limits anyone, civilian or otherwise, from recording sleazy practices. They will now be charged as criminals rather than those abusing animals.