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Is owning pets ethical? Here’s the truth about pet happiness.

Is owning pets ethical? Here’s the truth about pet happiness.

Some days, when the doomscrolling becomes too much, I switch up my social media consumption to something I call petscrolling. It’s the act of swiping through an endless feed of Instagram reels featuring resilient three-legged rescue dogs hiking in the woods, feisty yet charming shop cats, and the occasional potbellied pet pig splashing around in a kiddie pool.

The internet is awash in this feel-good content starring some of the 250 million animals — nearly one for every person — who populate American households. It all reinforces the inherent goodness of the ancient human-animal bond, and lets us believe that where there are pets — whom most owners consider to be family members — there is joy, love, play, and hope.

There’s plenty of all that in my household, thanks to my sweet and spunky rescued pit bull mix, Evvie, one of many animals I’ve lived with during my lifetime. In the middle of 2020, she was picked up as a stray puppy in Greenville, North Carolina, before being passed through several foster homes. My partner and I took her home the day we met her, but only after hours of deliberation over whether I felt I had the time and energy to give her the life she deserved. (Evvie was young and full of energy, and I had just started at Vox.)

Nine-month-old Evvie being cute at home and at the beach.

Kenny Torrella/Vox; Amruza Birdie

Evvie instantly added so much to our lives, and for a while, I assumed our relationship was reciprocal and that she gets just as much from our bond as I do. But recently I’ve begun to wonder if she’s a lot more bored and frustrated than I previously thought. That led me to read the stirring 2016 book Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets by author and bioethicist Jessica Pierce.

Pierce wants to show people like me the shadows beneath the sunny narrative of pet ownership, things like physical abuse, animal hoarding, puppy mills, dog fighting, and bestiality.

But beyond such extremes, Pierce’s work aims to direct our gaze to where more subtle, but far more common, forms of everyday neglect and cruelty lie. To Pierce, even well-meaning pet owners may have a lot to answer for: punitive training, prolonged captivity and extreme confinement, mutilations (declawing, ear and tail docking), outdoor tethering, lack of autonomy, verbal abuse, monotonous and unhealthy diets, lack of grooming, and inadequate veterinary care. (In 2016, about one-fifth of dog owners and half of cat owners didn’t bring their animal in for routine or preventive care, which is highly recommended.)

Add to the bill lack of exercise and socialization, boredom, and even abandonment. (Almost one-fifth of pet owners surveyed late last year said they were considering giving up their pets due to cost amid high inflation, which is generally not an option for other “family members.”)

All this is possible because, unlike children, pets aren’t really family members — they’re property without legal rights and few laws to protect them. And because abuse and neglect primarily occur in the privacy of the home, there’s little accountability for it. Even the most responsible pet owners, which I’d count myself among, are bound to fail to meet the needs of their animals due to other responsibilities and the inherent challenges of keeping a dog or cat in a world made for humans.

We may see ourselves as the best of animal lovers, but we very well could be inflicting suffering on our pets every day.

Pet-keeping “is like a sacred cow in a way,” Pierce told me. “Everybody assumes that pets are well off, and in fact, pampered … All they have to do is lay around in a bed and get fed treats every now and then and catch a Frisbee if they feel like it — like, who wouldn’t want that life?

“Underneath that is the reality that doing nothing but laying on a bed and having treats fed to you is profoundly frustrating and boring and is not a meaningful life for an animal.”

Animals in a human world

Since humans domesticated dogs (over 20,000 years ago) and cats (over 10,000 years ago), who some say are merely “semi-domesticated,” their roles have evolved largely from one type of work — hunting and guarding — to another: companionship. And counterintuitively, says Pierce, being a constant companion is a tougher job.

“Dogs are still working dogs; they’re just doing a different kind of work,” she said. “I think it’s actually much more dangerous and difficult work than any other kind of work we’ve ever asked them to do.”

We demand companionship with as little friction as possible, expecting our pets (especially dogs) to be docile and agreeable, and to adapt quickly to the human world, with its countless rules and norms that mean nothing to them. And then when they inevitably fail to do so at first, we deem their natural habits misbehavior in need of correction, or abandonment.

It’s telling that the world’s most popular dog trainer, Cesar Millan, partly relies on dominance and control to bring his subjects to heel. (Millan popularized the “dominance theory” approach to dog training, which has been debunked by scientists and criticized by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. A meta-analysis found that punitive training can increase dogs’ fear, anxiety, and stress.)

To serve the guard-to-companion evolution, a $136 billion pet industry has sprung up in recent decades to breed, transport, and sell tens of millions of animals a year — often in terrible conditions — and provide all the accoutrements of the modern pet, from food to toys to veterinary care to perfume for dogs. And just as Millan and his legion of followers bend some dogs’ behavior to their will, breeders have done the same for dogs’ genetics to make some breeds particularly agile, small, or cute — in other words, more attractive to humans. America’s current most popular breed, the French bulldog — and other flat-faced dogs, like pugs, boxers, and Shih Tzus — suffer from a variety of health issues because of how they were bred, leading journalist and Vox contributor Tove Danovich to call the Frenchie “a breed that’s been broken to accommodate us.”

And while approximately 30 to 40 percent of cats and dogs are acquired from shelters, not all of those adoptions work out — 7 to 20 percent are eventually returned, often due to complaints over the animals’ behavior. (Incompatibility with other pets, allergies, and cost are other top reasons).

Then there’s the estimated 97 million rabbits, birds, hamsters, gerbils, mice, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and other small animals kept as pets — mostly wild, social animals who spend their lives largely confined and isolated in cages and tanks. Their owners may love them, but their cramped and unnatural living arrangements are not so different from the pigs and chickens we raise for food.

A number of animal welfare scholars, like Pierce, are challenging the rosy picture that the pet industry — and pet owners, myself included — have painted around the domestic human-animal bond, and sometimes pose a radical question: should we end pet ownership? I’m increasingly inclined to think the answer could be yes — or that at the very least, there should be far fewer pets, and those owners should be prepared to put in the time and effort to provide them with far better lives.

The secret, boring life of pets

Before the cat dads and dog moms come for me, know this: I am one of you.

I’m an “animal person,” having spent half my life advocating for, and now reporting on, their welfare. I’ll always share a house with a rescued dog or cat. But Evvie’s needs, and my constant inability to meet them, have led me to question the whole endeavor of pet keeping.

As much as my partner and I lavish her with treats, walks, tug-of-war, playtime with other dogs, enrichment games, and less than legal off-leash romps in the woods outside our home in Silver Spring, Maryland, she spends much of her days with nothing to do but look out the window. We both work from home, which means there’s a fair amount of commotion and engagement to keep her stimulated. But despite that, Evvie is inevitably left to herself for much of the day — and she seems quite bored, with her extended periods of sleep followed by barking at me for attention (which she stops as soon as we play or go on a walk). And Evvie is comparatively lucky: in 2011, the average pet owner spent just about 40 minutes a day with their supposed family member.

Scientists have set up cameras to see what dogs do when home alone all day, and it turns out there’s a lot of yawning, barking, howling, whining, and sleeping — signs of anxiety and frustration. Charlotte Burn, a biologist and associate professor at the Royal Veterinary College in London, thinks our pets could also become bored when left alone for hours at a time.

“For most of us, (boredom is) a transient thing, and we can do something about it,” Burn told me. “But when you cannot do anything about it, it’s incredibly distressing. … Sometimes it’s thought of as a kind of luxury problem for animals, but actually, it may not be so luxurious if (an animal) can’t do anything about it, and it might be actually a massive welfare issue.”

Burn says there are two main animal responses to boredom. The first is drowsiness, brought on by an animal not having enough to do to stay awake, which looks to humans like staring into space, yawning, or sighing, even if the animal isn’t tired. The second is restlessness, even engaging in behaviors to help them stay awake. “They’ll try and escape their situation,” she says. “They’ll take risks, they’ll explore things even if they don’t like them, just basically to try and almost wake themselves up and make something happen.”

A Shih Tzu dog looking out a window in London, Ontario, Canada. Some animal welfare researchers worry dogs and other pets could experience a lot of boredom.

Gabriel Mello/Getty Images

When we think about our pets, we naturally think about the brief time we spend with them — not their quiet, dull hours while we’re occupied with work, child care, friends, or errands while they’re cooped up. They might be excited when we come home not necessarily because they’re so delighted to see us, but because there’s finally an end to the silence that fills so much of their day.

“I think dogs are very adaptable, and become accustomed, often, to their lack of choices and autonomy,” said Alexandra Horowitz, a leading expert on dog behavior and head of the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, over email. “But I think that it’s not a good situation for them.”

Just how uneven the relationship is between pets and their human owners was demonstrated during the pandemic when, lonely and stuck at home, one in five households adopted a new pet. As new pet owners returned to work, however, their newly lonely pets struggled with the sudden change, showing high rates of chewing, digging, barking, escaping, pacing, hiding, and indoor urination and defecation.

Our pets might not be so bored if they just had some autonomy, but having a pet means regularly denying it. If Evvie’s hungry, she can’t grab a snack from the fridge. If she wants to play with another dog, I have to schedule it, or take her to the dog park (which for some dogs can be a blast and for others, overwhelming or dangerous, with some dogs dominating others, leading to stress and injuries). If she wants to explore the great outdoors, she has to wait until I have the time to take her for a walk — and even then, she’s tethered to a pesky leash, which I gently pull whenever she does something so harmless as stray too far into a neighbor’s yard to smell something that interests her or race ahead to greet a nearby dog or human.

As good as Evvie has it compared to most pets, she’s still a dog living in a world built for humans, and that means a life of constantly thwarted desires. The ability to meet her basic needs is entirely dependent upon someone else. Pets as we own them live in our worlds, not theirs.

What about cats? Cat behaviorists say they too can get bored. Few issues in the pet community spark as much debate as to whether cats should stay indoors or be given the freedom to come and go as they please in order to meet their needs for exercise, mental stimulation, and hunting, especially when that hunting results in the mass death of wildlife. (A 2013 paper estimates that cats in the US kill 1.3 to 4 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion small mammals annually, while wind turbines are estimated to kill a few hundred thousand birds to north of a million, each year).

The estimate has been contested, but even if it’s grossly off-base, it’s still a whole lot of death that’s a direct result of humanity’s semi-domestication and breeding of a once-wild animal. It’s also another example of a complicated ethical issue in which the welfare of pets is in conflict with the welfare of other animals (like killing animals for meat to feed pets).

So if we’re keeping more pets than ever, but many of the dogs are unhealthy and bored, the cats are either bored or cute little wildlife hunters, and the pet fish and birds are cruelly confined, what do we do about it? Some leading animal welfare experts say we ought to shrink the pet population and shift pet ownership from a casual hobby to a serious responsibility.

A world without pets — or one with happier pets?

Starting in 1979, Bob Barker of The Price is Right signed off each episode with a public service announcement: “This is Bob Barker reminding you to help control the pet population — have your pets spayed or neutered.”

1979 was a different time for cats and dogs in America; by one estimate, 7.6 to 10 million of them were euthanized annually around that time. While the national pet population has grown considerably in the years since, the number of shelter cats and dogs euthanized — while still depressingly high — has fallen to an estimated 920,000 per year. There are a lot fewer strays, too. For example, in the mid-1980s New Jersey had 160,000 cats and dogs roaming the streets, which fell to 80,000 in 2014.

The dramatic reduction came about as a result of increased pet sterilization at veterinary clinics, a rise in shelters and animal welfare organizations, and PSA campaigns like Barker’s and others from animal welfare groups — such as “Adopt, don’t shop” — all contributing to a cultural shift in how we get, and treat, our pets. But while 30 to 40 percent of cats and dogs are acquired from animal shelters, many of them — especially dogs — are still the product of breeding: whether at large-scale puppy mills, in which dogs are raised and sold more like livestock than family members, or from more informal, small-scale home operations.

But what if every prospective dog and cat owner were to actually follow the “adopt, don’t shop” motto and Barker’s plea to spay or neuter their pet? It would be a Children of Men situation for domesticated pets. The pet population would rapidly shrink before virtually disappearing altogether, ushering in a world unimaginable — perhaps not even worth inhabiting — for the most diehard cat and dog lovers.

Would that be so bad? For pet-loving humans, definitely. My relationship with Evvie is deeply enriching (for me, at least). I’m excited to see her each morning, to watch her run full-speed through the forest, roughhouse with other dogs, and wag uncontrollably each time I walk through the front door. Life without dogs would be far duller.

But keeping pets shouldn’t only be about me or you — it’s a relationship, and one in which humans arguably take much more than they give. And by continuing pet keeping as it’s done now — by breeding millions of new puppies, kittens, fish, and other animals each year — we’re making the decision that all the overt abuse and lower-grade cruelty and neglect is more than made up for by the joy wrought by the human-animal bond. I’m no longer so sure it is.

Gary Francione and Anna Charlton, a firebrand animal rights couple who teach law at Rutgers University, don’t think it is and have advocated for the abolition of pet ownership.

“Domesticated animals are completely dependent on humans, who control every aspect of their lives,” they wrote in a provocative essay for Aeon in 2016. “Unlike human children, who will one day become autonomous, non-humans never will. That is the entire point of domestication — we want domesticated animals to depend on us. They remain perpetually in a netherworld of vulnerability, dependent on us for everything that is of relevance to them.”

Because pets are property under the law, they argue, welfare standards will always be too low. We need to care for the ones in existence, but stop breeding new ones.

“I love living with dogs, but even I think that owning dogs can easily be considered morally questionable and may change in the future,” said Horowitz, the dog cognition expert.

I relate to Horowitz’s doubts, and find Francione’s and Charlton’s arguments persuasive, though given the popularity of pets — and the ancient human-animal bond — abolishing pet ownership is a political and cultural nonstarter. What might be more realistic is to radically rethink how we acquire and treat them, and just what we owe them.

When I asked Marc Bekoff, an ethologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who’s co-authored books with Pierce (and Jane Goodall), about whether we should phase out pet ownership, he said it’s perhaps a few thousand years too late to ask that question.

“In the best of all possible worlds, we wouldn’t have evolved to where we are now with dogs, because so many of the problems with dogs come down to selective breeding by humans deciding which traits they find cute or appealing,” he said, pointing to flat-faced dogs like the French bulldog.

He’d like to see puppy and kitten mills phased out amid a major cultural shift wherein people would only get a dog or cat if they have the time, money, patience, and energy to give them a good life. The motto would be: fewer pets with better lives. “You’re dealing with a sentient being who has very specific and enduring needs, and if you can’t fulfill them,” you should think twice, he said.

Dogs are kept in cages at an animal shelter on July 18, 2022, in Houston, Texas. The shelter had reported being over capacity and understaffed as a steady increase of animal returns and rescues overwhelmed the facility.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Pierce, a parent herself, has written about the importance of families with children thinking twice about getting a pet. Kids can be excited about a new pet one month and move on to another interest the next month — or just fail to take good care of the animal in the unique ways the pet needs (because they’re a child!). Families with children can also be more prone to neglecting their pets because child care, understandably, comes first.

While a lot of people call their pets “fur babies,” we’d be wise to think of them more as actual dependents, because they are. For most of human history, childhood wasn’t really a thing — children existed, at least in part, in service of their parents as additional labor. That has, of course, changed drastically over the last few hundred years, and with it, attitudes and habits around how we treat children. As part of that shift, though, the expectations for parenting rose as well, so much so that those expectations have become a major reason why people are having fewer or no children. Perhaps the same should happen for pets in the future. While the average pet probably has a much better life today than they did just 50 years ago, there’s still much room for improvement, but the demands would be such that fewer people would be in a position to become pet owners.

What pet owners should know

If you do decide to get a cat or dog, it’s imperative to adopt so as to prevent one more euthanasia among the millions of animals languishing in shelters, living lives that are likely worse than what they might experience even with a generally neglectful owner. And experts say it’s critical to understand that a good life is subjective — every individual animal is different — but it goes far beyond the basic requirements of sufficient food and water, protection from injury, and a walk here and there.

When surveyed, people are motivated to acquire a pet to fulfill their own emotional or practical needs: companionship, love, and affection, someone to greet them, property protection, or help while hunting. But taking a more animal-centered approach to keeping pets — focusing as well on what the human can give in the relationship — would go a long way to improving their quality of life.

For example, it doesn’t just mean taking the dog on a walk but letting them direct the route and giving them as much time as they’d like to smell, which is how they make sense of the world around them. For Bekoff, it also means ensuring they’re not left alone all day while their human is at work.

“Some people I know just leave their house at seven in the morning, they go to work, they go work out, or they go out for dinner, so the average dog is just going to be alone all day,” he said. “And then they get home and they’re tired, and they don’t walk them and they give them crappy food. Those people should not have a dog.”

While most veterinarians oppose letting cats free to roam outdoors, largely to prevent more cats from becoming roadkill, only six out of 10 are kept entirely indoors. Whichever side of the indoor-outdoor debate you choose, there are ways to give cats more of what they need. If your cat does have outdoor access, try giving them a colorful collar, which catches birds’ attention, gives them time to fly away, and can drastically reduce the avian body count. You can also try taking your cat for a walk on a leash (even if your neighbors might give you a double take).

“If you decide to keep a cat indoors, then you really have to work hard to compensate for what you’ve taken from them,” Pierce said. “(Your house) should look like a house where a cat lives, with perches and highways that they can walk across high up above the floor.” She recommends the book — this is the real title and author name — Total Cat Mojo: The Ultimate Guide to Life with Your Cat by Jackson Galaxy, whose YouTube channel includes videos on how to cat-ify one’s home.

Cats in an elaborate “catio” at a home in Labrador City, Canada. Cat experts recommend cats be given plenty of perches and walkways — even elaborate catios as seen in this photo — for enrichment.

David Russell/EyeEm/Getty Images

Pets could benefit from more diverse diets, and there are also plenty of “enrichment” toys for cats and dogs. More importantly, enrichment games can be played with dogs to put their innate scavenging and sniffing skills to work. Good starting points for more animal-centered pet keeping include applying concepts like positive reinforcement training and cooperative care, and studying material from experts like Pierce, Horowitz, Galaxy, Bekoff, and anthrozoologist and cat expert John Bradshaw.

It’s harder for me to conceive of how one could ethically keep smaller animals, like birds, reptiles, rodents, fish, and amphibians. Unlike cats and dogs, these are naturally wild, undomesticated animals who are social and meant to fly, swim, or move great distances in a single day. As pets, they suffer in isolation and intensive confinement. It might be time we stop breeding them (or taking them from the wild, as some are actually trafficked wildlife). We should give as good a life as possible to the ones who remain, through larger and more enriching enclosures, and eventually phase out of keeping them as pets.

A Fischer’s lovebird, a species of parrot, in a cage. Research has found that captive parrots age faster.

Rizky Panuntun/Getty Images

Bearded dragons are among the most popular reptiles kept as pets.

iStockphoto/Freer Law/Getty Images

For the animals we do have in our homes, we need to bring an attitude of give and take to the relationship, and we’re going to have to give a lot more than we’re currently taking.

“You’re really still asking these dogs or cats or other animals to live in a human-dominated world,” Bekoff said. “Cutting them some slack and giving them more choice and control or agency over their lives is a win-win for everyone.”

When my partner and I adopted Evvie six months into the pandemic, like so many others, I figured that a brisk walk or two a day, occasional playtime with other dogs, and brief games of tug-of-war between work meetings was enough to give her a good life. I’ve come to realize that’s the bare minimum.

I think a world with far fewer pets is a better one, though I know Evvie won’t be my last, so long as there are animals in need of adoption from shelters. But rescuing a dog or cat is just the start. Those who are mildly interested in acquiring a pet need to think long and hard about the steep responsibility that lies ahead, and us self-described animal lovers ought to do much more to live up to our stated values.

Discover the 13 Most Beautiful Birds in West Virginia

Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, unstreaked brown, with blackish wins and two pale wing bars.

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Prepare for a colorful adventure as we explore the stunning world of West Virginia‘s most beautiful birds! Imagine walking through lush forests and peaceful meadows, listening to sweet melodies, and watching elegant dances in the sky. Whether you’re a birdwatcher or just love being outdoors, you’ll be amazed by the lovely feathered friends waiting to be discovered in West Virginia.

American Coot (Fulica Americana)

American coot
Fulica Americana usually inhabits lakes, slow-moving rivers, and large freshwater ponds at lower elevations across West Virginia.

©yhelfman/Shutterstock.com

The American Coot is a migratory avian species endemic to the Nearctic area. It thrives in freshwater bodies all over the northern region of the United States, including West Virginia.

These birds possess distinctive physical characteristics such as red eyes, a white bill with a black tip, and a red patch on their forehead. Their bodies are of a dark grayish-black hue and have white patches below their small tails. Additionally, their legs are either greenish or yellowish.

American coots usually inhabit lakes, slow-moving rivers, and large freshwater ponds at lower elevations across West Virginia. Their diet includes fish, amphibians, and reptiles, and they also steal food from other birds.

Though they appear similar to ducks while swimming, American coots have unique feet that lack webbing. Instead, each toe segment has lobes on the side.

American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, unstreaked brown, with blackish wins and two pale wing bars.
The American goldfinch is known for its impressive flying skills, soaring high with a wave-like motion.

©iStock.com/Ronald Washington

In West Virginia, it’s not uncommon to spot these charming little finches sporting bright colors.

During spring and early summer, male American goldfinches flaunt a vibrant yellow hue with white patches beneath and above the tail, black wings with white markings, and a black forehead. Meanwhile, females tend to appear less colorful with an olive top and a dull yellow bottom. Their appearance changes during the winter as they become brown with two pale wing bars and blackish wings.

Measuring about 4.3 to 5.5 inches in length, the American goldfinch is classified as a small finch.

American goldfinches in West Virginia prefer to reside in floodplains and weedy fields with abundant plants such as asters and thistles. These lovely birds frequently visit bird feeders during the winter and prefer nyjer and sunflower seeds.

The American goldfinch has impressive flying skills, soaring high with a wave-like motion.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

Belted kingfisher
A stocky bird with a notable large head, the belted kingfisher has a wingspan of 19 to 33 inches.

©Horse Crazy/Shutterstock.com

The northern United States, including West Virginia, is home to a remarkable water bird known as the belted kingfisher. This bird is the sole representative of its water kingfisher group commonly found in the region.

A stocky bird with a notable large head, the belted kingfisher has a wingspan of 19 to 33 inches and can grow between 11 and 14 inches in length. The bird boasts a shaggy crest on its head, short legs, and a short thick bill.

Belted kingfishers prefer to live near bodies of water such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and estuaries, where trees provide suitable perching points to spot fish from above. Its primary diet consists almost entirely of aquatic prey, which it catches by diving into the water.

The female belted kingfisher is more colored than the male.

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Downy woodpecker
Being North America’s smallest woodpecker species, the downy woodpecker can create cavities in dead trees or limbs.

©Brent Barnes/Shutterstock.com

Downy woodpecker, characterized by its black-and-white checkered pattern, is a prevalent avian species in West Virginia. Its upper parts exhibit white and black markings on the wings, and its head features distinctive stripes. Additionally, a broad white stripe adorns its back. At the back of their heads, males feature a small patch of red color.

These woodpeckers are approximately 7 inches in size. They thrive in various habitats in West Virginia, including residential backyards, deciduous forests, and regions close to water sources. Their diet is omnivorous and comprises insects, seeds, berries, grains, sap, suet, and acorns from birdfeeders.

Being North America’s smallest woodpecker species, the downy woodpecker can create cavities in dead trees or limbs. These cavities can be around 6 to 8 inches deep and 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter at the entrance.

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

Birds with mohawks: Tufted Titmouse
They are considered among the smartest bird species after corvids (crows and jays) and parrots.

©iStock.com/Tongtong Chen

The tufted titmouse is a small bird with a soft silvery gray color above and white below, with a peach or rusty hue down its flanks. It has a black patch just above its bill, which gives it a snub-nosed appearance. These birds are skilled foragers. They can do acrobatic movements in their search for food in West Virginia.

The tufted titmouse is typically around 5 to 6 inches long and resides in deciduous or mixed evergreen-deciduous woodlands. They prefer areas with a dense canopy and a wide variety of tree species. Their diet consists mainly of insects and seeds.

Titmice are intelligent creatures with high adaptability. They are the smartest bird species after corvids (crows and jays) and parrots.

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Common Grackle
The common grackle is a New World blackbird, measuring 11 to 13 inches and weighing 2.6 to 5 ounces, with a 14 to 18-inch wingspan.

©Kendall Collett/Shutterstock.com

Common grackles thrive in West Virginia, where they rank as the third most commonly sighted blackbird.

These birds have a distinct appearance: long legs, long tails, and flat heads. They possess a longer bill than most other blackbirds, with a slight downward curve. Adult common grackles usually measure between 11 to 13 inches in length.

Common grackles inhabit various environments, including marshes, wet and open woodlands, suburbs, and agricultural fields. Their diet comprises invertebrates and mice, which they catch by following plows. They can also catch small fish, pick leeches off the legs of turtles, and raid nests. They occasionally steal worms from American Robins, killing and consuming adult birds.

Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

A Cooper's Hawk in Action
This hawk flourishes in several habitats as a forest-dwelling specie.

©J. S. Fisher/Shutterstock.com

Throughout the year, Cooper’s hawks, which are amongst the most adept fliers among birds, can be spotted in West Virginia. These medium-sized hawks measure around 14 to 20 inches. The adult Cooper’s hawk displays a grayish-blue back and a white underbelly with reddish-brown stripes. Their head adorns a black cap, and their tail has three black bands.

Cooper’s hawk flourishes in several habitats as a forest-dwelling species, including mixed and deciduous forests, small woodlots, open woodlands, and mountainous areas. They eat a mixed diet of small and medium-sized birds, reptiles, fish, and small mammals like mice.

While hunting, Cooper’s hawks seize their prey with their feet and kill it through repeated squeezing. Reports indicate that they may even submerge birds underwater until they stop moving.

Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)

red-winged blackbird ready to tale flight
The shoulder feathers of the red-winged blackbirds are incredibly unique.

©iStock.com/maiakphotography

These eye-catching birds thrive in the summer in West Virginia and are the second most spotted during winter.

Male red-winged blackbirds are identifiable by their glossy black feathers and yellow-and-red shoulder badges. At the same time, female birds have crisp streaks and a dark brownish color with a lighter shade on their breast and may also display a whitish eyebrow. These birds are approximately 9 inches in length.

Red-winged blackbirds can be found in various habitats, such as freshwater and saltwater marshes, wet roadsides, and along watercourses. Their diet primarily consists of seeds, waste grains, small fruits like blackberries, insects, and spiders.

This bird species is highly polygamous, with a single male potentially having up to 15 different females nesting within its territory.

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

red crossbill perched, looking backwards
The red crossbill has a unique beak, allowing it to open food sources easily.

©iStock.com/bobloblaw

Red crossbills have been observed in West Virginia for more than a century. These intriguing finches are typically found in coniferous woodlands and are identifiable by their brick-red coloration in adult males and yellowish-brown hues in females. These birds range in size from 5 to 7.5 inches, with immatures possessing a brownish color above and pale underparts with brownish streaks.

Red crossbills are notable for their feeding behavior. They primarily forage on nutritious seeds from pine, hemlock, and spruce cones and tend to nest wherever there is an ample food supply, even in the winter season.

Interestingly, the oldest recorded red crossbill was over 16 years old, indicating that these birds can have a relatively long lifespan.

Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)

Evening Grosbeak (Hesperiphona vespertinus)
Because of their size and flocking behavior, evening grosbeaks are more likely to utilize platform feeders rather than tube feeders.

©Guoqiang Xue/Shutterstock.com

The evening grosbeak is a bird species distinguished by prominent white patches in their wings, adult males featuring yellow and black feathers, and a yellow stripe above their eyes and dark heads. Females and younglings have mostly gray feathers with black and white wings and a greenish-yellow shade on their necks and flanks.

These birds measure approximately 6 to 9 inches and are typically found in coniferous forests up north, occasionally venturing into West Virginia during winter in search of food. They primarily feed on sunflower seeds but also consume berries, and buds from trees and shrubs, with a particular preference for maples.

Because of their size and flocking behavior, evening grosbeaks are more likely to utilize platform feeders rather than tube feeders.

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Bufflehead duck
The peak of the bufflehead migration is in November.

©Birdiegal/Shutterstock.com

One can spot the bufflehead bird species during the winter season in West Virginia. These birds are usually seen from October to April, while some of them remain until June.

Bufflehead males are quite easily identifiable due to their striking white patches situated behind their eyes. The patch accentuates the green and purple sheen on their crown, forehead, neck, and throat. These birds have a black upper half and a white bottom half, and they measure around 13 to 14 inches in length.

In contrast, the female buffleheads look entirely different from their male counterparts, except for their round heads. Their heads are dark brown or black with a white patch located below their eyes. These birds have a gray bottom half and a black top half.

Poplar and aspen forests surrounding small ponds and lakes are the favored habitats of the bufflehead. These birds mostly dive when searching for food and consume mollusks, crustaceans, and aquatic insects underwater. Additionally, they do not communicate with loud calls and are generally silent birds.

Pine Siskin (Spinus pinus)

Pine siskins with wings spread compete for food at a bird feeder
Pine siskins have a wingspan of 7.1 to 8.7 inches.

©valleyboi63/Shutterstock.com

The tiny bird species are found in West Virginia. They have slender, pointed beaks and short, notched tails, and their bills are more delicate than most finches. When flying, they exhibit forked tails and sharp wingtips.

These small birds are streaky brown in color, with subtle yellow highlights on their tails and wings. The yellow flashes become visible when they flutter at branch tips, show off during mating rituals or take flight. They measure between 4 to 5.5 inches in length.

Pine siskins prefer to nest in open coniferous or mixed forests but can also be found in cemeteries, suburban woodlands, and parks. They are attracted to nyjer, thistle feeders, and other small seeds like hulled sunflower or millet seeds.

Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

red shouldered hawk vs cooper's hawk
Adult red-shouldered hawks have a very rich, red coloration on their “shoulders” and chest.

©MTKhaled mahmud/Shutterstock.com

These fearless hunters are year-round residents in West Virginia. They have brown heads and backs, reddish chests, rufous patches on their shoulders, and flight feathers with black and white colors. Their tails have black hues with multiple slim white stripes.

Young red-shouldered hawks are primarily brown on top and have cream-colored underparts with brown streaks. The male species measures between 15 and 23 inches long, whereas females are slightly larger, ranging from 19 to 24 inches.

The preferred habitat of red-shouldered hawks is forest adjacent to streams, swamps, marshes, and rivers. They are omnivorous birds, meaning they feed on a wide range of prey, such as amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.

Red-shouldered hawks exhibit site fidelity, meaning they return to the same general nesting area yearly.

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How evolution made humans more like birds than other mammals

How like the kiwi we are

Humans would not be here but for pregnancy and childbirth. It is true for each of us and, more importantly, true for all of us, collectively. These uncomfortable, protracted and wonderful challenges not only shepherd us into the world but also shape our behaviour, social structure and the trajectory of our evolution itself. The surprising part is that, while pregnancy and childbirth are fundamental and defining traits of mammals, they have driven us humans to be very un-mammalian indeed.

The popular notion often has it that natural selection works by seizing on fundamental traits and processes, and optimising them with each new beat of the generations and species. But that’s not always true. Instead of functioning as a refining, perfecting tool, evolution in the real world is all about trade-offs: life has limitations, and big changes in one area often mean sacrifices in others. We, humans, are the smartest, most complex animals on the planet, but we do not have the best or most optimised biology by any stretch, especially not when it comes to reproduction.

Witnessing our fellow mammals give birth, and experiencing the rawness of sight, smell and sound, lays bare the biology before us. On the one hand, is the disgust born of our evolutionary predilection to avoid the blood and fluids of other animals – a necessary impulse in pre-sanitary times? No matter one’s willingness to embrace a positive view of bodily function, the stomach requires training against the mind when any human, for example, a doctor, engages this evolutionary apparatus. The shame and avoidance we feel with all forms of bodily discharge are a sound and healthy part of our subconscious.

There is, however, a deeper discomfort that arises from watching our fellow mammals give birth – one notices a nonchalance compared with our own elaborate, painful and sacramental experience. A cow moos and lows in mild discomfort, as one might when feeling full after a good meal, but it does not compare with the suffering of a birthing human mother. The calf is birthed quickly, practically dropping to the ground after a short push – nothing compared with our day or more of arduous labour. For our survival and the core of our family’s happiness, our species must endure pain and risk. We are alone in this, and it troubles us.

We are alone because, though we are a mammal like a cow, and like our nearest cousins the chimps and other apes, we do not act like a mammal, hardly ever. Our blood is warm, our skin has hair, and our brain is well-integrated across its hemispheres – and there the similarities end. For a mammal, we live too long, we are too smart for our size, and we are too faithful to our partners. In these particulars, we are decidedly not alone – but, rather, alone in our class.

The other post-reptilian, warm-blooded, big-brained class of animals – only distantly related to us – share far more of what makes us human than do our hairy near-cousins. To understand humans – and our reproduction – we have to start with birds.

More specifically, we begin with the Kiwi. This unusual New Zealand bird is one of the handfuls of surviving ratites – the group of large, flightless birds that include the ostrich, emu, cassowary and rhea. There is much to be interested in about kiwis, but the most consequential of their many oddities is their extreme approach to eggs. Kiwis lay the largest egg, relative to the body size, of any bird. They usually produce only one such egg per season, and it typically weighs about a quarter of the weight of the mother. To frame a more easily grasped comparison: kiwis are similar in size to a domestic chicken but lay an egg six times larger. Corresponding to this enormous egg is an equally enormous incubation period. Whereas a chicken will sit on its egg for 21 days to hatch a chick, and a duck typically 28-35 days, depending on the species, the kiwi sits a record-setting average of about 85 days to hatch its single, massive egg.

The kiwi is engaging in an evolutionary compromise with egg-laying itself. To humans, with our long pregnancies and painful childbirth, eggs might seem enviable. Instead of an exhausting pregnancy, a massive egg would mean no swollen feet, no acid reflux and, importantly, a ‘pregnancy’ that could be shared; anyone can keep an egg warm for a few hours if the mother needs a break.

By laying enormous eggs, and incubating them for so long, the kiwi gives its babies the maximum development time

But it is important to remember why mammalian pregnancy was such a successful adaptation in the first place, and the kiwi points out the reasons. When a mammal (other than a human) is pregnant, time is on her side. Take the elephant, with the longest pregnancy of any mammal: about two years. The elephant calf, though huge by human standards, is smaller compared with the mother than our human infants – and even more importantly, is much smaller compared with the mother’s hips. This long pregnancy might sound a bit of a drag, but for the elephant, who has a relatively easy birth to look forward to, and a relatively smaller baby causing her minimal discomfort, it is a huge advantage over an egg. First, she remains entirely mobile, not bound to a nest and to a physically separate offspring that could tempt a predator or that might need to be abandoned if danger strikes. Moreover, she can take her time growing her baby to a much more mature and capable age before it is birthed and must be looked after. All she needs to do to look after her baby while pregnant is to look after herself, eat well, and stay safe. She can keep ‘feeding’ the baby (via the placenta) simply by feeding herself.

The Kiwi has a very different problem. Laying an egg means giving your baby all the nutrients it will need to develop from fertilised embryo to hatched baby, all at once. At the moment the egg is laid, it has all the nutrients it will ever have – a very different proposition from the constant feeding the elephant baby gets in the womb. That means that eggs place a fundamental limit on how long a baby can grow before it hatches, which mammals (other than the egg-laying monotremes) do not face. The Kiwi is living right at the edge of that limit. By laying such enormous eggs, and incubating them for so long, the kiwi is giving its babies the maximum amount of development time it can before the babies hatch out and have to face the world. Achieving that maximum is not without its costs. Laying eggs is fairly draining for any bird, and the kiwi more than most. She must eat as much as three times her normal intake for the full month in which the egg develops and is left significantly weakened by the experience. Moreover, the size of the kiwi egg is about as large as a bird of her size can safely grow and lay – it takes up a great deal of the space in her body by the time it is ready to be laid. And, for all this compromise, the kiwi ekes out a three-month gestation. The elephant, with little compromise at all, sails on happily for another 19 months.

Either way, both egg-tending and pregnancy are easier for the mother kiwi and the elephant than for us. The evolutionary incentive is to gestate as long as possible so that childrearing will be less onerous. The elephant pulls this off entirely, with a baby that is born, wobbles to its legs, and can, within the day, walk behind its mother, nurse when it needs to, and feed itself with supplementary food. The kiwi manages to achieve much the same result; the babies can walk, feed themselves, and follow their mother within a few hours of birth.

But while elephants represent the typical mammal experience, kiwis are very unusual birds. The overwhelming majority of other birds are born extremely underdeveloped: little, blind, pink, nearly featherless infants that can barely move on their own for the first several weeks of life, and are confined to the nest for months, assiduously cared for by their harried parents. This is true even of birds with similarly large eggs and similarly long incubation periods as the kiwi, like albatrosses (where the young hatch with a good coat of soft feathers) and are a bit more capable than, say, a songbird like a wren or a crow.

For most birds, eggs force a difficult compromise on the mother: the size of a bird’s body limits the size of its eggs; the size of the eggs limits how much nutrition they can contain; the nutrition in the egg limits the length of incubation; and the length of incubation limits the maturity of the offspring at hatching. This means that most birds are trapped with a long, arduous period of childrearing after hatching because their young do not have time in the egg to become mature enough to look after themselves.

The birds that have more mature, or ‘nidifugous’, young are few and far between. They include ratites, ducks and other waterfowl, chickens and landfowl like pheasants, along with a few others scattered throughout the evolutionary tree. What all these more mature avian offspring have in common is that they are not the birds generally thought to be most intelligent, and none of them is songbirds: the great big crown group of modern birds that represent more than half of avian species today. None belong to the largest-brained, most intelligent avian groups like parrots, corvids and pigeons, which are universally ‘altricial’ – giving rise to immature, demanding young. This makes sense – an animal that is going to have a highly developed, complex brain needs a longer time to construct that brain, and so needs a longer development time. With the pre-hatching development limited by egg size, a lot of that brain development has to happen after hatching, which means raising young with a still developing brain. Small wonder it is hard work.

Our big brain has to pass through a set of narrow hips. That means we have to be born young – very young

If this is all sounding a bit familiar, it’s because it feels human. A long childhood; demanding newborns; and parents needing to do nearly everything for the offspring for a protracted period of infant helplessness are what we as humans expect in our reproduction. Yet, given the advantages mammals gained in the evolution of pregnancy, why do we humans, too, not bear children much more like the elephant – a long, cruisy pregnancy and an easy, cooperative, capable child at the end of it? Evolution is always a game of compromises, and in pursuing our own key evolutionary advantage – our brain power – we have inadvertently given up the advantages of pregnancy and ended up back with the constraints of eggs.

Our brains are our most important adaptation. Human intelligence has no comparison to any other animal and is the single trait that has allowed us to completely dominate this planet, shaping its ecology to our will. This intelligence works in tandem with another game-changing adaptation, our hands. We (and, indeed, other primates), have fantastically precise and manipulable hands. Our intelligence allows us to think up new tools and new processes to build, make and destroy, but our hands give us the dexterity to pull it off. Our reliance on our hands has driven two evolutionary changes in humans. First, it forms a virtuous cycle with our brains – agile hands need a lot of brain power to control them (as any robotics expert will lamentingly tell you). Over time, the ability to be more precise and dextrous with our hands has driven the enlargement of our brains, in order to provide that computing power. Then, with bigger brains, and bigger ideas, we have used our hands in even more dextrous and complex ways – which in turn drives more brain power. The two enrich each other.

On the other hand-related adaptation is much less of a win-win. Since we rely so greatly on our hands for our evolutionary advantage, we have, over time, stopped using them to help with walking, balance and stability – that is, we evolved to walk upright. This keeps our hands free and ready for action, unlike even our close relatives, the chimps, and other great apes, who maintain our ancestral, hunched-over gait, and use their hands and arms to help walk, climb and balance. Our straight-as-a-ramrod stance has had two less positive outcomes. First: back pain. Second, and more importantly, it changed the angle and size of our hips. Having our legs directly below our hips, rather than to the back and sides, and torso directly above, has required our pelvis to become narrower, and the opening in the middle to shrink as well. This narrowing is how we end up with pregnancies more like eggs.

We have big brains and narrow hips. In order to be born, our big brain needs to pass through a set of narrow hips. And that means we have to be born young – very young. Indeed, we have to be born underdeveloped. To change a pregnancy any longer than roughly 40 weeks is to risk death to the mother, baby or both, as a too-big head transits too-small hips. Even with our current compromise, we suffer from rates of death in childbirth, for mother and infant, not found in other mammals. From our brains to our hands to our hips, we cannot rear children like elephants. Our pregnancies are fundamentally limited in length by our physiology, just like birds’ incubations. In birds, the ultimate limit is egg size through hips, and in humans, it is head size through hips. And so, our babies are helpless, unlike other mammals and very much like birds.

After birth or hatching, comes rearing, and here too we are more birds than mammals, at least behaviourally. As a rule, mammal mothers raise their offspring without the involvement of the father. Or at least, without the deep involvement of the father. There are species, like lions, that breed in a harem structure. A pride of lions consists of up to a dozen related females, their dependent offspring, and a coalition of two or three resident males, all of whom breed together, and cooperatively hunt, rear offspring and protect the group. Young males reaching maturity leave the pride to start their own.

Elephants and many whales live in similar structures of cooperative females, with roving males that live alone, mate with the females, and move on. For other mammals, life is even more solitary, with males and females meeting to mate, then the males leaving the female to rear the offspring by herself, as in the case of most bears.

This reflects the ease of mammalian child-rearing. A mammal mother gives birth to a fairly capable baby that can follow her, walk on its own and supplement its own diet. Even the more helpless mammal young, like carnivore cubs or primate babies, which are far less precocious than, say, a baby herds animal like a cow or wildebeest, are far more capable than human newborns. Raising any other mammal is a manageable task for a single parent – and all the more manageable in cooperative breeding structures like lions have.

This also means that male mammals are evolutionarily incentivised to seek as many mating partners as possible. A male elephant is not needed in the rearing of his offspring, so his genes are most effectively reproduced by having as many partners and as many offspring as possible, and investing very little time or effort into each. He is incentivised to polygyny – mating with multiple females – and this is exactly what a successful bull elephant does.

Not so for humans. Humans are, with exceptions, culturally and socially monogamous. Frequently sexually monogamous as well – though cheating, or ‘extra-pair copulation’, does certainly happen and has its own evolutionary complexities. The existence of cheating has led some to argue that human sexuality is naturally disposed to multiple partners – to polygyny and polyandry – or even to the polygynandry (multiple mating of both sexes) of our close relatives, the chimps and bonobos.

Parents in the smartest avian species stick together to care for their young

They are wrong. Cheating is just that, a manipulation to the individual advantage of the default system, and it can survive only in a population of monogamous animals when it is rare. If it becomes common, the equilibrium is broken, and the system falls apart entirely.

Birds are overwhelmingly monogamous. Like humans, many of them do engage in sporadic extra-pair copulation, though strict monogamy is also common. Most species of birds practise at least serial monogamy, staying with one partner for several seasons at a time, before re-pairing. Mating for life is common across many bird groups, but especially so in parrots, songbirds and other intelligent groups. Where non-monogamy occurs, it tends to be in the same groups of nidifugous birds that have easier childrearing – ducks, chickens, ratites and so on.

Monogamy is so common in birds because, unlike in mammals, the father can significantly increase his reproductive fitness by taking an active part in the incubation of eggs and the rearing of young. The female bird has to make the bigger investment in gametes: the egg itself is a draining thing for her to produce from her body. But once it is laid, there is little difference in its being sat on by a mother or a father. In some birds, like the common pigeon (or ‘rock dove’), this incubation is shared straightforwardly: the mother and father split the day, with one sitting on the eggs in the morning while the other forages, then swapping in the afternoon. They keep up this even split throughout the egg incubation and the several months afterwards of looking after the helpless hatchling. Others, like swans or parrots, make a different bargain. Here, the female will do all the egg-sitting, while the male stands by, on guard to ward off predators, watch the nest when she needs to make short foraging trips and, in some species, bring her food and feed her. Once the young hatch, both parents gather food and feed the babies. Either way, parents in the smartest avian species stick together to care for their young. Helpless babies require biparental care, and biparental care requires monogamous mating to work.

Humans are no different. Of course, in the modern world, a combination of technology, government assistance and social structures makes single-parenting possible. In pre-modern societies, and especially in our evolutionary history, trying to raise a child as a single mother was a sentence of extreme poverty or much worse. (Human babies are so much work that one theory holds that menopause exists to provide grandmothers for assistance in raising the young. In other mammals, females remain fertile up until shortly before their death – a grandmother elephant cannot babysit her daughter’s children: she is likely to have her own.)

As with birds, human monogamy is the evolutionary response to our need for biparental care of children. A baby human needs a father around in order to have enough parental support to get it through an extraordinarily long childhood. Monogamy keeps that father around.

This is why exceptions to monogamy tend to cluster around the wealthy and elite – economic or social power offers other solutions to the problem of childrearing, among them a harem or polygamous marriage, nannies or, indeed, slaves. With these artificial sources of childrearing help, men of wealth and status could break from nature in a way that others could not. The complexity of human society has allowed us to depart from the behaviours we evolved to practise, but our underlying biology, and the forces that shaped it, remain. We are a monogamous species like our doppelgängers, the birds.

All of this comes back to the fundamental idea of trade-offs in evolution. No adaptation is free, and every area of exceptional ability is equal parts benefit and limitation. Dinosaurs had evolved the great advantages of massive size and heavy, robust build: huge advantages, no doubt. But they traded them both away when they became birds, exchanging them for the contradictory but still more revolutionary benefit of flight. Humans have done much the same with our original, game-changing mammalian pregnancy. Easy, well-developed, self-sufficient offspring were a great boon to our ancestors but lost out in the trade-off for big, world-changing brains. We have come full circle, shedding the evolutionary advantages of pregnancy and easy childrearing for a very egglike set of constraints on our gestation. With our pregnancies turned egglike, it is no surprise that our behaviours and our families have turned birdlike as well.

Governor signs bill reducing state regulation of Bear World

BEAR WORLD SIGN

BOISE — Governor Brad Little recently signed a bill that reduces Idaho Department of Fish and Game oversight of Yellowstone Bear World and similar facilities.

Senate Bill 1084, which was proposed by Bear World advocates, reduces monitoring of animal parks by Fish and Game with a Class C exhibitor license. This means regulatory duties will now rest with the US Department of Agriculture, which grants and regulates the exhibitor license.

Proponents of the bill said the legislation simply eliminates unnecessary double regulation by state and federal agencies on wildlife parks and allows Bear World to run its business without having to constantly look “over its shoulder.”

Opponents questioned leaving regulation to the federal government alone and said passing the bill would have unintended consequences for Idaho’s wildlife parks.

IDFG initially opposed the bill but later took a neutral stance once it was amended to allow them to retain the power to regulate and inspect deer species. This will allow them to track chronic wasting disease, a fatal disease for deer, moose and elk.

Jonathan Oppenheimer, director of external relations for the Idaho Conservation League, said they were confused by the IDFG’s decision to take a neutral stance on the bill. Oppenheimer cited an internal IDFG email that was acquired through a public records request. In the email, IDFG regional conservation manager Barry Cummings said that since Bear World has so many bears, during routine USDA visits to the facility, the count of the number of bears in the park could be less than 10.

“This brings us to the importance of accurate animal accounting and inventory in the event of an escape. For example, a hole in the fence. How many bears do you have? Well, we have 20, 30, 40 or 50. It makes a big difference,” Oppenheimer said.

In 2016, a wolf escaped from Bear World and was missing for about an hour and a half before being shot by Courtney Ferguson, the establishment’s owner.

ICL points out that under this bill, neither the IDFG nor the Idaho State Department of Agriculture would be notified when USDA-licensed facilities introduced animals other than deer in Idaho.

Regarding the IDFG’s neutral stance on the legislation, Matt Pieron, Regional Supervisor for the Upper Snake Region, said their concerns were addressed in the amendment and that “duplicative regulation would be useless”.

“We recognize that the USDA is the agency with primary responsibility for the welfare of captive animals, and duplicate regulation would be unnecessary. Our concerns related to chronic wasting disease in captive deer species have also taken into account in the amendment”, explains Pieron.

Pieron also stated that “Bear World’s liability insurance policy was deemed sufficient as an alternative to bond in potential cases of facility abandonment, escaped animals, or disease control.”

In 2022, complaints about Bear World’s treatment of animals were filed with multiple agencies, according to the ICL. These agencies include the USDA, IDFG, and Occupational and Safety Administration. OSHA has opened an investigation in response to this, which appears to be ongoing. The USDA did not investigate. The IDFG has issued a notice of violation regarding “wildlife feeding”.

RELATED | Yellowstone Bear World, fined by OSHA, pushes for bill to override wildlife park oversight

The ICL also calls this bill “a revenge bill against an agency that has found fault”.

James Ruchti, a senator representing District 29, who voted in favour, said he supported the legislation because Yellowstone Bear World “has been around for a long time.”

“It’s a small business, grown out of Idaho, so I’m generally just supportive of the business community,” Ruchti says. “I felt like the bill addressed some of my concerns.”

One of Ruchti’s concerns was about the spread of chronic wasting disease, but he says the amendment to the bill addressed that. He also felt that the USDA was a sufficient regulatory agency for wildlife parks.

Nate Roberts, a representative for District 29, which voted against the bill, said he was skeptical of giving almost all regulatory authority to the federal government, rather than a regulatory agency. State Wildlife Park Regulations.

“It’s funny because in the state of Idaho, it seems like we’re back and forth on what’s practical,” Roberts said, regarding the federal government’s overreach. Roberts also said he was concerned about the safety of Bear World employees.

Despite his reasons for voting against the bill, Roberts did not care that the bill would eventually pass through the legislature. He said that with all the legislation they see in Idaho, you have to “roll in the punches.”

“We have to be kind to our businesses, our local businesses in particular,” Roberts said. “This company obviously deals a lot with tourism because it’s on the way to Yellowstone and in some cases people don’t see bears other than by stopping at Bear World and enjoying those close up views.”

“It’s a unique business model. It’s something that’s grown in Idaho. You just don’t see other bear worlds out there,” Ruchti said. “It seemed like something the business needed to help it thrive, so I thought it was worth supporting.”

EastIdahoNews.com contacted a representative of Yellowstone Bear World for a statement, but did not receive a response.

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Chinese eagerly await panda’s return from US zoo

Chinese eagerly await panda's return from US zoo

Legend,

Ya Ya - pictured in 2020 - was loaned to the Memphis Zoo two decades ago

Millions of Chinese watched an American zoo say goodbye to a giant panda before its much-discussed return after 20 years.

A farewell party for Ya Ya, 22, at the Memphis Zoo was held on Saturday.

She and her male companion Le Le, who died in February, had been closely watched by Chinese people, after questions were raised about their treatment at the zoo.

The zoo has previously denied the allegations and accused the activists of spreading false information.

About 500 people attended the event in the Tennessee city, which included Chinese cultural performances and farewell letters.

Ya Ya was surrounded by bamboo and given a special ice cream cake consisting of grapes, candy cane and cookies, according to images and videos shared online. Many Chinese followed him live online.

“Travel safe Ya Ya. You will be missed by so many,” read a comment on the zoo’s Facebook page. “We will miss you… You brought us so much joy,” added a surfer on his Twitter page.

But other comments aimed at the zoo came across as more aggressive. “Stop faking your affection, you’re making me sick,” said one comment in Chinese.

“Ya Ya (has) been through such a hard time. Come home - we are waiting for you all,” another person wrote.

Ya Ya and Le Le arrived in the Tennessee town in 2003 on loan. China has long used so-called panda diplomacy to foster relations with other countries.

But lately, the Memphis Zoo has been questioned by Chinese netizens over accusations that Ya Ya and Le Le were mistreated while there.

This followed claims - denied by the zoo - that the couple had suffered from physical and mental illnesses.

A video released last year by animal rights groups In Defense of Animals and Panda Voices showed the pandas pacing in circles. The groups said the animals appeared to have lost fur and weight, and called for them “to be sent back to China before it’s too late”.

Zoo officials countered that they were “two of the most spoiled animals on the planet,” according to The Associated Press.

On its website, the zoo states, “Ya Ya lives with a chronic skin and coat condition. This condition does not affect her quality of life but sometimes causes her hair to be thin and patchy. The condition is closely monitored by our animal care team and veterinary staff.”

Legend,

Chinese Americans traveled to Memphis to visit Ya Ya and post about her on social media

Months later, the zoo announced that the pandas would be sent back to China because an agreement with the China Association of Zoological Gardens had ended. He said the decision had nothing to do with pressure from animal advocates, according to Reuters.

But there was renewed anger in China following the death of 25-year-old Le Le in February. Although giant pandas typically live 25 to 30 years in captivity, many have wondered if the animals usually considered China’s “national treasure” are being overlooked by zookeepers in the United States, as the links between the two countries had already deteriorated due to diplomatic and trade disputes. barriers.

Online, people started pushing for Ya Ya to return to China sooner. Many posted slogans and images on various advertising spots across China and called relevant departments to request updates. Some Chinese Americans even voluntarily flew to Memphis to visit and “keep Ya Ya”.

But Chinese experts flew to the United States after Le Le’s death and, together with their American counterparts, reached an initial conclusion that he had died of heart disease. They also checked Ya Ya and determined that she had a good appetite and a stable weight, aside from hair loss due to a skin condition.

Ya Ya is expected to return to China by the end of this month, according to Chinese media.

On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Ya Ya was relatively stable aside from losing fur. “China will bring Ya Ya home safely at the fastest speed,” he added.

But that hasn’t stopped other netizens from raising more questions, including whether China could move beyond “panda diplomacy.”

“When can we be strong enough not to need pandas as ambassadors,” read a comment that was liked more than 100 times on Chinese platform Weibo.

“We can never send another panda to the United States,” reads another.

4 pumas dead, but the crossing slowed down

Canadian geese search for remains in a field in Salida on March 29. Colorado wildlife officials are closely monitoring the spring migration of birds, hoping to avoid large wild bird mortalities and mammalian cross-deaths from the 2022 avian flu outbreak. (Michael Booth , The Colorado Sun)

Four cougars are among Colorado mammals slaughtered by an outbreak of bird flu interbreeding with larger animals, but state wildlife officials say the trend has slowed even as they monitor with distrust the spring migration of birds.

Bird flu has also killed two bobcats, several skunks, two red foxes and a bear in Colorado since Jan. 1, according to records maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. . The current bird flu epidemic has killed thousands of wild birds and required the destruction of millions of egg-laying birds since the start of 2022, with the mass killings in Colorado being repeated in dozens of states.

State animal health experts note, however, that the last dead mountain lion was collected Feb. 14 in Grand County. A skunk in Chaffee County was confirmed to have died of bird flu on April 3. But before that,

the last mammal recorded as an avian flu cross-death was a skunk collected on March 2 in Larimer County.

A bear was discovered in Huerfano County in early January. Experts believe that mammals contract bird flu by feeding on bird carcasses infected with the “highly pathogenic” version of the flu that is currently circulating across the country. Crossover to humans in the current outbreak has been extremely rare so far.

After mass snow goose deaths near the Eastern Plains reservoirs in the fall, no new multiple wild bird deaths have been recorded. Raptor experts feared in late fall that the bird flu deaths of a handful of bald eagles and great horned owls could signal a threat to the species with few numbers to spare.

Authorities in Arizona announced last week the deaths of three endangered California condors from bird flu, and they are testing five more carcasses for the disease, according to The Associated Press. The large birds were part of a flock that spends part of the year in Grand Canyon National Park, and their cases are handled by the National Park Service.

Colorado, however, has not recorded any eagle deaths since the end of 2022.

Colorado residents are urged not to touch or approach any bird or mammal carcasses they see in the open, or approach animals showing signs of illness such as confusion or circling strange. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is taking calls but not testing every carcass it is aware of. They continue to track mass deaths in wild herds.

Wildlife officers are collecting carcasses as field and lab tests help Colorado officials track the outbreak’s progress in counties. Once a species has one confirmed bird flu death in a county during a season, authorities consider that area to be affected by the outbreak and do not always test more animals from that area.

With mass wild bird deaths and huge poultry mortalities in 2022, Colorado bird experts have braced for more damage once spring migration brings more birds back to the state and packs birds together. vulnerable herds. But spring migration is well underway and reports are not increasing, said Mary Wood, supervisor of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Health Program.

“We have birds that migrate from March to May. We are therefore in the middle of our spring migration. It’s hard to know what we’re going to see in the future, but it’s been interesting to see a drop in cases,” Wood said.

“We haven’t seen really big mortality events like we did last fall. So that’s good news. We’ll call it a win,” she said.

There is still a chance of migratory birds mixing with more mammals as the weather thaws. There’s also the possibility of discovering more carcasses as Colorado’s historically deep snowpack melts.

“We don’t see every case happening,” Wood said. “There are certainly a number of other cases that remain unseen. It is therefore difficult to determine the true scale and magnitude of what is happening in the landscape. »

Invasive hemlock pest approaches Androscoggin County

Flamingo fortunes can be found on the baseball field

April 11 - An invasive insect that is weakening and killing hemlocks is steadily moving north into central Maine as climate change makes the environment warmer and more welcoming.

Native to East Asia, woolly hemlock aphids are tiny insects that survive by sucking the sap from hemlocks in North America. Under the right conditions, the pest can kill hemlocks in as little as four years.

Hemlock woolly aphid infestations extend from Georgia to Nova Scotia. In Maine, it has mainly been identified along the coast where temperatures are milder, but it has steadily crawled north and inland due to climate change.

The invasive pest has no natural predators in North America, posing a significant threat to the eastern hemlock found in Maine and the Carolina hemlock.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature has classified both hemlock species as “near threatened” due to declining conifers.

The aphid has been identified in three towns bordering Androscoggin County: Casco, Pownal and Litchfield. Infestations have also already been identified in Raymond.

Hemlock woolly aphids are relatively easy to spot, especially during the winter months when the tiny insects cover themselves in a waxy, wool-like protective material. Small white dots can be found in clusters under the branches and needles of infested hemlocks.

As of March, the hemlock woolly aphid had yet to be found in Androscoggin County. But Colleen Teerling, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, said it was only a matter of time.

“It could well be there, and it’s either at a level that we’re not able to see yet, or we just haven’t looked in the right place,” she said.

Entomologists have yet to find the pest in Oxford County either, but infestations have been identified in Casco, Naples and Sebago.

The type of hemlock woolly aphid that survives in North America cannot fly, which means it is primarily carried by animals and human activities.

One of the best ways to slow the spread of the hemlock woolly adelgid is to limit the movement of foliage material, primarily leaves and needles, between towns. Currently, eight towns in Androscoggin County are quarantined for the pest, and state approval is required to move foliage from those towns to non-quarantined towns. The eight quarantined cities are Auburn, Durham, Lewiston, Lisbon, Mechanic Falls, Minot, Poland and Sabattus.

“It’s here, it’s in Maine,” Teerling said. “We’ll never get rid of it. The best we can hope for is to learn to live with it somehow.”

Hemlocks are important for shading aquatic habitats and providing shelter for deer during snowstorms, Teering said. Due to their dense canopies, hemlocks help keep water temperatures cool, which is important for many native fish species.

Some species of birds also depend on hemlocks, including blue-headed vireo, hermit thrush, black warbler, and black-throated warbler, all of which nest in Maine.

Maine has some protection against the hemlock woolly aphid due to its cold winters, but that protection is decreasing as the winters continue to warm, Teerling said.

“We expect that the cold winter, the cold snap we had over the winter probably resulted in higher mortality than what we’ve had in recent years,” she said. , referring to record high temperatures in February.

Once established, there is not much anyone can do to control the hemlock woolly adelgid. Pesticides can be applied to individual trees to kill infestations, but wider elimination is much more difficult, if not impossible.

Some land trusts in Maine have turned to biological control to reduce the impact of the hemlock woolly adelgid on their forests. A beetle, Sasajiscymnus tsugae, is bred in Pennsylvania and sold commercially to reduce hemlock woolly aphid populations.

Joan Ray, director of land conservation at the Coastal Rivers Conservation Trust in Damariscotta, has helped local landowners release the beetles onto their property for several years. Their goal is to establish a self-reliant local population to control the invading pest.

“The beetles are controversial because we’re introducing a non-native species,” Ray said, “but it’s been tested extensively on the East Coast for decades, and it hasn’t been shown to a problem on other trees. . It just seems to attack the hemlock woolly adelgid.”

It’s too early to know if it works, but other similar programs in the state have had success, Ray said.

Androscoggin County is at a critical time, Teerling said.

“Of all the southern counties, Androscoggin is still in a pretty good place because if (people) start taking steps to reduce the spread and prune those high-risk hemlocks, you can actually slow the spread of the aphid in the count .”

She recommends landowners prune hemlocks that can often brush against people or vehicles, including those that line nature trails.

When visiting the coast or other infected areas, people should take extra care not to rub against hemlocks. The insects, which spread most easily from March to July, are tiny and can crawl on clothing and vehicles.

Those who believe they have found the hemlock woolly aphid can email a photo to More information about the pest is available on the Forest Service website.

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Sargassum upcycler raises $5 million

Sargassum upcycler raises $5 million

The Series A round was led by Mirova, a subsidiary of Natixis Investment Managers dedicated to sustainable investing, with additional participation from Viridios Capital, Popular Impact Fund and Katapult Ocean.

Historically, Sargassum algal mats have been a feature of the North Atlantic Ocean. However, over the past 12 years, warming ocean temperatures and increased fertilizer runoff and pollution have triggered the largest algal bloom on the planet, in the Caribbean. Known as the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt, algae from this annual bloom washes up from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, where it clogs bays and beaches, threatens tourism, harms local ecology and present other problems. As it accumulates on beaches and in landfills, it breaks down, releasing large amounts of methane, which accelerates the rate of global warming.

Traditionally, most commercial algae science has focused on extracting simple crude compounds from better-studied species like kelp. Carbonwave is the first company to blaze a trail to cost-effectively process Sargassum and has developed a new, proprietary method of extracting its unique biopolymers that are even more valuable than single compounds when extracted separately. This extraction method has made Carbonwave the first in the world to produce a wide range of Sargassum-based biomaterials that can replace fossil fuel-based products, such as emulsifiers, textiles and plastics.

Scaling

Carbonwave has two operations – one in Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico, and the other in Carolina, Puerto Rico – and is exploring other businesses in the Caribbean to create new economic opportunities centered on sustainability, climate and positive social and economic impact.

The latest investment round brings the company’s total funding to date to $12 million and will be used to build large-scale cosmetic emulsifier production facilities in Puerto Rico.

The current Puerto Rico facility, used for R&D, has also successfully developed a leather alternative from Sargassum which it will launch soon. The company has previously developed Sarga Agriscience (Sarga Ag), a range of organic agricultural inputs based on liquid Sargassum compounds that increase crop yields, allow crops to better survive drought and reduce the need for nitrogen fertilizers .

Sarga Ag products are tested for large-scale application by some of the largest commercial producers in the world. In June 2022, Carbonwave won the Carbon to Value Challenge with BASF, Seafields and the Alfred Wegner Institute to produce PET plastics. Additionally, Carbonwave has already sold half a ton of its SeaBalance2000, the world’s first seaweed-based cosmetic emulsifier, which was named “Best Functional Ingredient” at In-Cosmetics Korea in 2022.

“In just three years, we have become the first company to build a scalable cascade biorefinery to create a commercially sustainable operation that harnesses sargassum into high-value products,” said Geoff Chapin, co-founder and CEO of Carbonwave, in A press release. . “Support from our investors and partners has allowed us to catalyze our proprietary technology and manufacturing process to turn the Caribbean seaweed crisis into an economic opportunity and climate solution. We are producing viable alternatives that are shifting demand for products cost-effectively develop a wide range of regenerative, low-carbon and plant-based alternatives that global industries seek to advance their sustainability and decarbonization initiatives, while contributing to the biocircular economy.

“Mirova, through the Sustainable Ocean Fund, is delighted to continue its support of Carbonwave with this follow-on investment in the company,” said Simon Dent, Head of Blue Investments at Mirova. “We believe Carbonwave’s transformation of Sargassum into high-value products is a great example of the blue economy in action, while offering a unique solution to help tackle decarbonization. »

“Our investment in Carbonwave reflects our continued commitment to supporting innovative nature-based solutions to mobilize positive action towards net zero,” said Eddie Listorti, CEO of Viridios Group. “Taking Sargassum seaweed, which would otherwise rot on beaches and releasing methane, and turning it into a line of sustainable products that can replace fossil fuel-based products on the market is the kind of innovation the world needs to combat climate change.

UNESCO World Heritage: seven sites win UK support

UNESCO World Heritage: seven sites win UK support

Legend,

York is home to a rich history left by its Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman inhabitants

Seven sites in the UK and its overseas territories are in the running to win UNESCO World Heritage status.

York city centre, Birkenhead Park and an Iron Age settlement in Shetland are among the locations proposed by the government to join the prestigious list.

The globally recognized designation is given to places of cultural, historical or scientific significance.

There are already 33 World Heritage sites in the UK, including Stonehenge.

Globally, sites on the list overseen by the UN agency include Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and historic areas of Cairo.

Five new sites from the UK and overseas territories have been added to the government’s ‘tentative list’, which is published approximately every 10 years and sets out the locations they believe have the best chance of success to be included.

source of images, DCMS/AP Media

Legend,

Birkenhead Park has inspired the development and creation of parks around the world, including Central Park in New York

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has confirmed that the new venues are:

  • York, home to a rich history left by its Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman inhabitants, with civic and religious buildings including its cathedral
  • Birkenhead Park in Merseyside, which opened in 1847 and was a pioneering project to bring greenery to urban environments - it inspired the development and creation of parks across the world, including Central Park in New York
  • The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, a collection of three ancient settlements dating back thousands of years
  • The East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route over western parts of Europe including Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent. It joins the list in recognition of its vital importance to bird populations and wildlife as an area that sees huge transient bird populations pass by each year.
  • The Marine Parks and Protected Areas of Little Cayman, in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands, have also been highlighted for their outstanding importance for marine biodiversity and their incredible natural beauty.

Two other sites submitted their full applications to Unesco earlier this year and remain on the government’s tentative list.

These are The Flow Country, a large area of ​​peatland across Caithness and Sutherland in northern Scotland which plays a crucial role in supporting biodiversity, and the Gracehill Moravian Church Settlement in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. North.

Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “All nominated sites would be worthy recipients of this honor - and we will give them our full support so that they can benefit from the international recognition it can bring. “

Legend,

The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland is a collection of three ancient settlements dating back thousands of years

Laura Davies, Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Unesco, said the five new sites added to the list “brilliantly reflect the diversity and beauty of the natural and cultural heritage of the UK and its overseas territories. sea”.

The DCMS said it will work with local authorities and devolved administrations to work out their offers.

Legend,

The marine parks and protected areas of Little Cayman, in the British Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands, were also highlighted.

Fancy a dip? An Olympic restart for Paris’ toxic Seine

 Fancy a dip?  An Olympic restart for Paris' toxic Seine

PARIS (AP) – Even before having dipped its toes in the troubled waters of Paris ′ Famous but forbidden Seine River, French triathlete Thibaut Rigaudeau is already answering questions from incredulous friends.

“Are you afraid to swim in the Seine? he says they are asking him. “That looks disgusting.”

For decades it has been. Though immortalized in art, literature and song, and cherished by lovers who whisper sweet nothings or part in tears on the privacy of its banks, the river was ecologically dying. It was too toxic for most fish and for swimmers, largely useful only as a waterway for goods and people or as a watery grave for abandoned bicycles and other trash. Bathing in the Seine has been, with some exceptions, prohibited since 1923.

Now, however, its admittedly unappetizing green-brown waters hide a story of rebirth.

A costly and complex cleanup brings the Seine back to life just in time for it to play a starring role in the 2024 Paris Olympics and, after that, for it to truly live up to its reputation as the most romantic river in the world, a river that suits people again. And in a warming world, a renewed ability to cool off in the river should help the French capital stay livable during increasingly frequent heat waves.. It might also inspire other cities to invest in reclaiming their waterways.

“It will create waves, so to speak, around the world because many cities are monitoring Paris,” explains Dan Angelescu, a scientist who monitors the quality of the water in the Seine for the town hall, with regular samples.

“It’s the start of a movement,” he says. “We hope so, at least.”

The Olympic deadline supercharged a cleanup that spanned decades. Without the imperative of having to be ready for 10,500 Olympians in July and August next year, followed by 4,400 Paralympians, city hall officials say it would have taken many more years to fund the effort €1.4 billion ($1.5 billion) multi-pronged . Because in addition to hosting outdoor swimming races, the Seine will be the centerpiece of an unprecedented Olympic opening ceremony in Paris. For the first time, it will take place not in a stadium setting but along the river and its banks.

So he must be ready. Authorities went after homes upriver from Paris and barges on the Seine that dumped their sewage and sewage directly into the river. An Olympic law passed in 2018 gave moored boats two years to hook up to Paris’ sewer system. The purification stations of the Seine and its tributary, the Marne, are also being improved.

And more than half a billion euros (dollars) are being invested in huge storage ponds and other public works that will reduce the need to dump bacteria-laden sewage into the Seine untreated when it rains. . A storage facility is being dug next to Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris. The giant hole will hold the equivalent of 20 Olympic swimming pools of dirty water which will now be treated rather than being spat out through the river’s storm drains.

The town hall says the water quality is already improving and there are many more types of fish than the two or three species that were the only ones hardy enough to survive in the grime a few decades ago. He says samples taken daily last July and August from the stretch of river where the Olympians and Paralympians will compete showed the water quality to be extremely “good”. By the standards of their sports, that means acceptable.

Starting from the ornate Alexandre III bridge over the Seine, the triathletes will run first in 2024, with the men on July 30, followed by the women the next day. Then come the marathon swimmers, on August 8 and 9, and the para-triathletes, on September 1 and 2.

Rigaudeau, who competed in the para-triathlon at the Tokyo Games in 2021, is thrilled with the prospect. He hopes to get a taste of the experience when Paris hosts warm-up swims in the Seine this summer to complete his preparation for 2024. It will be Rigaudeau’s first-ever dive in his native river.

“We will be the ‘testers’,” he says. “I hope we don’t get sick.”

After the games, the river should then reopen to everyone – in the summer of 2025. The town hall indicates that five potential bathing places are being studied in Paris itself, with others a little further.

Officials are hoping that after so many years when swimming in the Seine was unthinkable, Parisians will start to feel it is safe to get back into the water when they see Olympians and Paralympians leading the way.

“It will change our lives,” says Rigaudeau. “But it’s also true that because everyone thinks it’s really, really dirty, I don’t know if people are going to go there on their own, at least initially.”

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Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to it. More AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games And https://twitter.com/AP_Sports