Welcome to October’s News In Review Round-Up! This month, we’ll be asking how drones could possibly prevent the poaching epidemic from worsening, as well as celebrating the long-awaited return of Blue Planet. Read those stories and much more in today’s blog!
Planet Earth made its triumphant return to our screens just under a year ago, and ever since season II of the astronomically popular nature series came to an end, viewers have been keen to see more from David Attenborough and company. Fortunately, the beginning of 2017 saw a teaser-trailer for Planet Earth’s sister show, Blue Planet, go live – a wonderful taster of what would come, as soon as the 29th of October had rolled around.
Fast forward to the day of Blue Planet II’s first episode, and the show is an immediate hit, out-performing not only competitor channels and their top billing (ITV, The X Factor), but even besting 2016’s Planet Earth: while Planet Earth’s opening episode attracted 9.29 million viewers, Blue Planet managed to top that result with a peak of 10.6 million viewers.
As the BBC took us on an oceanic adventure (from the deep depths of the sea, to the icebergs of Svalbard, Norway), we were treated to an array of both visual and audible delights. Crisp, vivid cinematography is married perfectly to a score by legendary composer Hans Zimmer; a marvellous, grand soundtrack, tailor-made for such overwhelming footage of our blue world.
As crescendos soar, then dip, then fade, as do the creatures onscreen: a ballet of manta rays swirl across our screens before vanishing from sight; waves cascade around dolphins as they dance ‘for the sheer joy of it’; and vast shoals of herring flee the scene as orcas blast through the water in pursuit, the viewer’s heartbeat racing as the soundtrack emphasises the drama on-screen.
The most powerful part of the show, however, can be found in its final sequence. Here, we play witness to a mother walrus, desperately seeking safety for herself and her young on a shrinking patch of ice. As ravenous polar bears (a mother and her cubs) stand by, waiting for an opportunity to feast on a walrus pup, we’re struck by pangs of guilt, knowing that global warming - a man-made issue – is a key struggle which these animals must face. Exhausted, the mother walrus and her young finally find a place to rest, but we know that it is temporary – as the ice melts around them, as do our hearts, before we face the chilling knowledge that man alone has accelerated the demise of this species, and that their plight is a fault of our own.
Yesterday, we wrote about the anti-poaching method of dehorning. Perhaps the most well-known practice of them all, rhino dehorning has taken place since the last century and, in some cases, has seemed to have some success. That said, could a more modern method be the best solution?
The method has received praise from large media outlets and institutions (Virgin; Google), but there are still concerns regarding the effectiveness of drones, their misuse, and the restrictions surrounding their use in nature (as of 2015, Namibia had banned the use of drones in national parks.) Feasibility of use is also a huge concern, with hilly terrains, gusty winds and, in some cases, extremely limited battery life, being detriments to an otherwise interesting proposal. Additionally, there is limited reference to rangers on the ground supporting this idea; rather, it is big businesses that make the news, seemingly calling the shots without communicating with those closest to the issue.
That said, one company, Air Shepherd, does communicate with those on the ground. They use their technology to inform rangers of poacher locations, this bird’s-eye-view providing a new vantage point from which to tackle criminals. You can learn more about Air Shepherd and their work in the video above.
In the past month, word has spread that Chinese scientists have succeeded in engineering a low-fat pig, which will not only yield leaner meat, but will also enable farmers to spend less when rearing the animals. But while this seems to be a win-win for consumers and for the meat industry, is this a case of life imitating art? And, ethics aside, will this new breed of pig pass regulations put in place by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?
Genetic modification has long-since been a controversial topic; one which is highlighted perfectly in Netflix’s 2017 film Okja. Outside of such conscious cinematic releases, there have been concerns over GM crops and other such foodstuffs for years: Healthline covers just a few of those concerns on their website, while the FDA themselves have demonstrated opposition to genetically modified salmon. As the sole GM’d species available for public consumption, the salmon’s approval period took decades (only two other GM animal products have been permitted: goat’s milk, and chicken’s eggs.)
So, will these genetically modified pigs face the same upstream battle as the salmon? That is something that remains to be seen. Pigs have (somewhat disturbingly) been at the centre of many modification efforts: in South Korea, they have been modified to produce more muscle; the Church of Harvard University have modified pig embryos to make the animals suitable for human organ donation; and commercially, so-called ‘micropigs’ have become a must-have pet, at least as far as social media is concerned. For so many modifications to have been carried out on pigs, China’s ability to continue producing leaner livestock might not be hindered by negative press (the nation also plays by its own rules, when it comes to animal rights regulations.) That said, there is still some resistance from the FDA, and smaller-scale hog farmers in the USA, who fear that an introduction of GM pigs could damage their livelihoods. Even though the pigs could potentially provide an answer to America’s obesity epidemic (these leaner animals have 24% fat than their non-modified counterparts), it seems unlikely that the USA would ever willingly cause a detriment to their own economic growth; additionally, the FDA are unconvinced that the American public (or any other nation, for that matter) would be so open to eating the meat of an animal which shares its genes with mice, nor are they certain of the safety of such produce. Only time will tell if this meat will reach supermarket shelves in the US, the UK, or anywhere else in the world.
Studies have recently shown that our furry friends are capable of manipulating their facial expressions in order to communicate with their owners – a quality seemingly reserved human-dog interactions only.
The widening of eyes, the raising of eyebrows, and sheepish side-glances are but a few of the expressions captured by DogFacs, a coding system capable of measuring facial changes., as part of a study published by Scientific Reports. Using a video camera to record the facial movements of 24 dogs, the study put the pups through a series of experiments: humans would face the animals, and then they wouldn’t; they’d provide treats some of the time, but other times they’d refrain. Each recording would then be examined frame by frame, with any facial changes being noted.
Interestingly, the dogs would typically use facial expressions when their human faced them – namely, eyebrows would rise, and tongues would loll. It was also noted that the dogs tended not to use these expressions on their fellow four-legged friends, suggesting that these supposed ‘emotions’ are a result of domestication, allowing the dogs to communicate with humans non-verbally.
However, one of the study’s authors, Juliane Kaminski, was keen to point out that the study does not necessarily prove that these expressions are intentional, nor did the studies reveal exactly what was meant by each muscle movement. “I think this adds to a growing body of evidence that dogs are sensitive to our attention, which is not necessarily something that a dog owner would be surprised about!”
Not only are our pets masters in wrapping us around their paws, but did you know that, by allowing animals into public spaces, we’re more likely to be more friendly? This observation comes from journalist Paul Fleckney, the author of Great British Pub Dogs and a keen pub-goer himself. Despite not owning a dog of his own, Fleckney is incredibly fond of ‘man’s best friend’, suggesting that the animals add a sense of homeliness to our favourite haunts. “Most pubs aspire to be a home from home, and having a dog does that almost singlehandedly. They seem to bring people together. So many publicans say how dogs seem to make people more friendly, and less likely to misbehave!”
While there aren’t any statistics to back this up, I’m sure many of us can relate to Fleckney’s belief. How many of us can vouch for the feeling of joy when walking past a small pupper in the street, or being welcomed into a building by a big ol’ woofer? It’s this sense of elation which inspired Fleckney (alongside filmmaker Abbi Lucas) to write their new book. It’s also the very same reason why we’re electing to end today’s blog with a selection of adorable puppy pictures, courtesy of Lucas herself. Enjoy!
Pearl the miniature schnauzer,
pictured here ‘enjoying’ a beer
Hero is another dog
who likes to relax with an ice-cold puppy pint!
Buster waits eagerly
for his friends to join him in the pub, but don’t get too rowdy – his owner
says that this adorable doggo has a fear of the drunk and disorderly!
To see more cute pictures like the ones above, head here to pick up a copy of Great British Pub Dogs!
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