Category: animals

Humans Are An Alien Invasive Species, New Study By Feline Science Institute Finds

Homo sapiens are an invasive species who do irreparable harm to the environment and other animals on an unprecedented scale, a new study by the Feline Science Institute has found.

The results prompted feline scientists to add homo sapiens, commonly known as humans, to a database of destructive and invasive animals maintained by the Academy of Scientific Studies.

Cat scientists have only just glimpsed the breadth of human-initiated impact on other animals, Dr. Oreo P. Yums, lead author of the newest research paper, told reporters.

“We found humans are astonishingly, almost indescribably destructive,” Yums said. “For instance, although they fret about birds, humans kill more than a billion of them a year just with their skyscrapers, which birds are prone to fly into due to their mirrored surfaces. Add in wind turbines, cell towers, power lines, habitat loss and slow die-offs due to chemicals, and by conservative estimates we’re talking about billions of birds killed by humans every year without even tallying active measures like hunting.”

Humans have killed off an estimated 70 percent of the world’s wildlife in the last 50 years alone and show no sign of stopping. Oceans are overfished, animals like pangolins and big cats are ruthlessly hunted to extinction to feed demand within the Chinese traditional medicine market, and human addiction to palm oil means the “two-legged demon monsters don’t even have sympathy for their fellow primates,” mewologist Charles Clawin said.

“In Borneo and Sumatra there are entire schools, filled to capacity, for critically endangered orangutan babies who were orphaned by human contractors clearing ancient jungles to make room for more palm oil plantations,” he said. “Often, the humans use industrial equipment to tear down trees while the orangutans are still in them. Other times, they dispatch the mothers with pistols, not realizing there are babies clinging to them.”

In Africa, where the elephant population has plummeted in the last century, more than 110,000 elephants have been slaughtered in the past 10 years alone for their tusks. The elongated incisors are used to make jewelry and piano keys, and items made from ivory have become a status symbol in China, where growing middle and upper classes seek to show off their wealth with luxuries.

In 2019, Chinese businesswoman Yang Felan, dubbed the “Ivory Queen,” was arrested and charged with smuggling $2.5 million worth of tusks from Tanzania to her home country. Yang, “a key link between poachers in East Africa and buyers in China for more than a decade,” was a respected businesswoman, investor, restaurateur and vice chairwoman of the China-Africa Business Council.

“Poachers continue to slaughter elephants and our big cat brothers and sisters,” said Luna Meowson, who tracks the illegal wildlife market for the University of Nappington. “Having extirpated tigers from virtually their entire range, poachers are turning to South America, where jaguar poaching increased 200 fold between 2015 and 2020. It never stops.”

Big Bruce the Lion Slayer
A human hunter poses victoriously after heroically slaying a lion (panthera leo) from atop his trusty steed, a mobility scooter, after a team of guides drove him around the bush in an air-conditioned SUV, then lured the animal directly into his line of sight. A female of the species, presumably his mate, looks on proudly.

Although the earliest details remain murky, fossil records show Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago. The invasive species, which has a gestation period of about nine months, began rapidly breeding and immediately went to war with fellow members of the genus Homo.

After wiping out two-legged rivals including Homo neanderthalensis, Homo altaiensis, Homo denisova and Homo bodoensis, the victorious Homo sapiens set their eyes on other species. Throughout their history they’ve also proven remarkably adept at murdering themselves and continue to hone their skills.

“Those OG humans, they had to really work at slaughtering other species and extirpating wildlife,” said Chonkmatic the Magnificent, King of North American cats. “They didn’t have attack helicopters, stealth bombers, tanks, carrier battle groups, daisy cutters, artillery, mortars, phosphorous, napalm, biological weapons, or even small arms like rifles. In those days a pimply kid from Oklahoma sitting in an air-conditioned base in Virginia couldn’t wipe out an entire city 5,000 miles away by pressing a button ordering a drone to drop a nuke. They had to put some sweat into violence, you know?”

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Breakthroughs in recent centuries have led to innovative and more convenient ways for Homo sapiens to author mass destruction and render entire sections of the Earth lifeless.

The species, known for its aptitude for tool-making in addition to eating ultra-processed foods and staring at screens, began with simple tools of destruction like the Mark I Spear, early bows and even torches. Over the centuries they innovated, coming up with clever and inventive new ways to inflict pain and end life until the advent of electricity, the industrial era and the brutally destructive war machines of modern times.

Human scientists have tried to obscure their species’ impact on wildlife and the planet by declaring species like felis catus “invasive” and “alien,” but even if cats are “guilty of grabbing a forbidden snack every now and then,” they don’t have the coordination, technology or will to carve up habitats, render entire swaths of the Earth uninhabitable with nuclear fallout, create Everest-size mountains of garbage, or effortlessly drive millions of species to extinction, Clawin said.

“They’re so good at it, they don’t even have to try,” he noted, pointing out human accidents or incidents of negligence like oil spills and chemical run-off into rivers. “We tend to think of humans out there with shotguns and rifles, cackling maniacally as they shoot anything that moves. And, sure, they do that, especially in places like Texas where the sight of any animal always prompts the question ‘Should we shoot it?’ But our research shows they can wipe out entire categories of fauna in their sleep. It’s remarkable.”

Additional reading: Polish institute classifies cats as alien invasive species

Cats Can’t Dance, Cats Can’t Sing…But Birds Can!

We take a break from our regularly-scheduled cats to check in on two remarkable birds: Snowball the incredible dancing cockatoo, and Ruby the infamously foul-mouthed African grey parrot.

pitbbirds2

Both animals have been the subject of viral videos, but haven’t become ubiquitous memes or the sort of superstar that transcends certain corners of the internet.

Snowball is clearly the more wholesome of the two, and it’s immediately apparent why: He dances.

Actually, that’s underselling it. Snowball doesn’t just dance, he feels the beat and moves with it, timing his dance moves — headbangs, foot-wiggles, side-steps and more — to the music, often the snare like people do. Snowball isn’t the first animal to move to music, but he’s the first animal to groove to music, which is an important distinction.

“His owner had realized that he couldn’t care for the sulfur-crested cockatoo any longer. So in August 2007, he dropped Snowball off at the Bird Lovers Only rescue center in Dyer, Indiana—along with a Backstreet Boys CD, and a tip that the bird loved to dance. Sure enough, when the center’s director, Irena Schulz, played “Everybody,” Snowball “immediately broke out into his headbanging, bad-boy dance,” she recalls. She took a grainy video, uploaded it to YouTube, and sent a link to some bird-enthusiast friends. Within a month, Snowball became a celebrity. When a Tonight Show producer called to arrange an interview, Schulz thought it was a prank.”

Other animals are prompted to motion by music, but they don’t time their motions to the beat. Snowball’s talents have attracted curious neuroscientists, who believe Snowball is able to coordinate his body movements with the rhythm because, like humans, he can process language.

It might seem a little odd that such an ability seems to hinge on language until you realize that language itself is rhythmic, ordered sound, and that human communication often pairs speech with coordinated movements. (Think of people who “talk” with their hands, TV presenters who move their heads for emphasis or the simple act of nodding, shaking your head or shrugging to punctuate a point.)

Scientists study Snowball because he’s inherently fascinating, but also because he can help us understand how birds and humans communicate, and how homo sapiens and certain avian species, out of all the animals on Earth, developed this skill.

Ruby the Foul-Mouthed African Grey Parrot

Ruby is a different case entirely. She’s interesting to internet audiences because she’s hilarious, and if she holds academic appeal, it’s because of the way she’s been socialized and the things she’s learned.

Ruby, one of Youtube’s earliest viral stars, lives with her human, Nick Chapman, in Brighton, UK.

First thing’s first: If you’re put off by obscenities or you’re easily offended, you should take a pass on these videos.

For everyone else, well, it’s not just that Ruby swears. That sort of novelty would wear off quick. What makes Ruby unique — and consistently hilarious — is that she’s inventively obscene, working insults into unique combinations. And, as you’ll see, she swears in French as well as heavily-accented UK English. It’s the latter that often makes for her most amusing outbursts.

“I love you,” Ruby tells Chapman in one video.

“Well that’s a nice change, sweetheart!” Chapman says.

“Bollocks.” Ruby takes a half step to her right on the small platform in front of her cage, turning her head toward Chapman. “You fat bastard!”

Chapman laughs. “I knew that wouldn’t last.”

Ruby’s foul language is unmistakably British and as casually vicious as it gets. She hurls invective at the seagulls who are a constant presence in seaside Brighton and expresses her love for Chapman by insulting him.

“Fuck off, you tw-t!” the bird says, prompting laughter from Chapman.

“Oh dear,” Chapman says. “That’s not nice!”

“Eh,” Ruby says. “Tw-t! You’re not funny.”

“I know I’m not funny. I’m immature, I’m irresponsible. But so what?”

In another video, Chapman tries to engage Ruby by telling her he loves her in French.

Ruby sits motionless for a few long seconds, then utters a single syllable with expert comedic timing: “Tw-t!”

Chapman does a deep belly laugh.

“Shut up, c–t!’ Ruby says. “You f—er!’

“Oh dear,” Chapman says between laughs. “You’re shocking, you know that?”

One thing becomes abundantly clear over the course of just a few videos: Chapman loves Ruby and, despite the constant verbal abuse she directs toward him, she loves Chapman too.

For a man who owns a bird who loves foul language, you’d think Chapman would have a dirty mouth, but for the most part he doesn’t. It’s often impossible to predict what a parrot will pick up on.

Eric, another Youtube-famous parrot, learned his favorite swear words when his owner’s friends came over to watch football, or soccer to us Yanks. Eric’s fond of yelling “A fookin’ legend! A fookin’ legend!” 

Ruby is quick to pick up on new words, and Chapman thinks she likes the harsh sounds of some of the language’s most offensive insults. (Perhaps it’s no mistake that many of the most vulgar words in English have a guttural quality, reflecting their meaning.)

Long before Ruby became a Youtube star, Chapman said he realized the potential for awkwardness. One day he was strolling along the waterfront in Brighton when an older woman stopped to chat and asked about Ruby.

“She’s beautiful,” the woman said, admiring the African grey.

“Shut your c–t!” Ruby snapped back.

The shocked woman looked at Chapman, who pretended he hadn’t heard what his bird said.

The issue of whether parrots understand what they’re saying still hasn’t been settled. Like some other animals — cats and dogs among them — they can understand words in their contextual meanings, though it’s very unlikely a swearing parrot knows precisely what it’s doing.

Then again, to insist parrots are just repeating sounds would be to discount examples like the late Alex, an African grey who could count, distinguish between different items by color and shape, and allegedly innovate to some extent.

Then there’s this video of a parrot telling a cat to “shut the f— up” as the cat meows. It makes me wonder, if I had a parrot, what the bird would pick up from my conversations with Buddy. There’d be a lot of “Hi, Bud!” and “What a good boy!”, and the vast majority of it would be kind, patient and loving, but I won’t pretend there aren’t times when I’ve told him I can’t take any more of his hours-long discourses on teleportation, turkey or unifying classical and quantum physics.

That said, I wouldn’t change a thing about Buddy. He’s my Buddy.

Got A Rat Problem? Get A Cat To…Befriend It And Groom It?

Cats and humans began their grand partnership some 10,000 years ago, when kitties handled humans’ pesky rodent problem and people repaid the felines with food, shelter and companionship.

Now the deal’s off, apparently.

Yesterday a Reddit user shared a video titled “When you get a cat hoping it will help you get rid of the big rat in your yard.”

The video shows the user’s new cat, a tortoiseshell/calico, “solving” the rat problem by befriending the rodent, playing with it and even grooming it.

The video has amassed almost 86,000 upvotes in 24 hours.

The odd friendship between feline and rodent is not without precedent. Studies have shown that cats are not effective rodent hunters in urban settings where rats have gone unchallenged for so long that they rival or exceed the size of most members of Felis catus.

In certain neighborhoods of New York City, for example, researchers observed cats essentially ignoring massive rats and in some cases eating trash side by side with them. The largest rats, apparently aware of the truce, are equally unconcerned by the presence of the cats. Other rats were more cautious around kitties.

The scene reminded me of the time my brother wanted me to bring Bud over to handle his rat problem. At the time he was living on 88th St. in Manhattan, less than a block from Gracie Mansion. His apartment had an unusual perk for Manhattan living — it was a spacious ground floor flat that opened up into a private, fenced-in backyard with grass and a few trees.

Mighty Bud
Tremble before him! Buddy the Mighty Slayer of Rodents!

In fact, it was one of the first places I took Buddy after adopting him. He was just a kitten, maybe 14 weeks old, and I brought him with me on a warm summer day when my brother had a few friends over for a barbecue.

Buddy made fast friends with my brother’s Chihuahua-terrier mix, Cosmo, and spent the day playing with his doggie cousin, frolicking in the grass and chasing bugs around the yard. Then he got a treat: Steak from the grill, chopped into tiny Buddy-size pieces.

Having a backyard in Manhattan was awesome, but there was a downside. At night the yard was like a stretch of highway for marauding rats who ran across it in numbers with impunity, probably en route to raiding the garbage bins of a bodega on the corner of 88th. The rats were so emboldened and so numerous, you could hear them scurrying across the yard at night.

My brother proposed bringing Buddy over and letting him loose in the yard after dark, letting his claws and predatorial instincts thin the rodential herd.

I declined, using the excuse that Bud could pick up diseases from going to war with the rats. That was true, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have come to that: At the first sign of those rats, Buddy would have run screaming!

(We don’t acknowledge that around him, of course. Officially, Buddy was not set loose upon the Manhattan rats because it would be grossly unfair to unleash such a meowscular, brave and battle-hardened feline warrior upon them.)

It’s one thing if Buddy won’t kill rats. He’s a wimp. But as the Reddit video illustrates, we are apparently closing the chapter on 10,000 glorious years of human-feline partnership, and officially entering the Era of Zero Reciprocity.

We do everything for our cats, and in return they nap, eat and allow us to serve them. From their point of view, it’s a fine deal.

Meowscular Buddy!
Just look at those meowscular guns and vicious claws!

Did Pope Francis Really Say Caring For Pets Is ‘Selfish’?

Popes have a mixed record when it comes to cats.

Back in the 13th century Pope Gregory IX famously declared cats were at the heart of alleged Satanic rituals in Europe, relying on the account of one Konrad von Marburg, an author of massacres, church inquisitor and all-around idiot known for brutally torturing his victims to elicit “confessions” of heresy.

Von Marburg told the pope that Satanists had a ritual involving a black cat who would walk around backwards while the Satan-worshipers kissed its ass. The pope bought the risible story and believed von Marburg’s accounts of growing numbers of heretics, especially in Germany.

The resulting papal letter, Vox in Rama, did not declare cats were evil and didn’t ask Catholics to kill them, despite widespread claims to the contrary on the internet, but it did contribute to distrust of the animals a century ahead of the Black Plague, when people thought cats were carrying the disease.

The pope who loves cats

Then there’s the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI.

Pope Benedict
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with two kittens in 2017. Credit: The Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI Foundation.

Cat lovers around the world rejoiced when it was revealed Pope Benedict was a cat lover and had two pet felines of his own. Cardinal Roger Mahoney, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, said Benedict was wild about kitties.

“The street talk that the pope loves cats is incorrect,” Mahoney said in 2005. “The pope adores cats.”

Catholics petitioned Benedict to help with animal welfare causes and to lend his support to efforts to help the many stray cats of Rome.

Francis the Saint and Francis the Pope

That brings us to our current pope, Francis. The elevation of Francis was met with approval from animal lovers: His chosen papal name honors St. Francis of Assisi, a Radagast the Brown type figure who lived a life of luxury as a wealthy playboy and party-goer until he had a religious conversion, sold all his possessions and became a monk.

St. Francis believed true faith in God meant having a deep respect for animals. While it’s not clear what’s true and what’s apocryphal, there are stories of Francis preaching to birds, nursing various animals back to health and even convincing a wolf to stop attacking a village in Italy in exchange for the villagers feeding it. St. Francis was by all accounts gentle with animals and appreciative of nature.

St. Francis is revered in the Catholic church and beloved by groups like the Humane Society. He is the patron saint of animals, and on his feast day Catholics bring their pets to be blessed at church.

Pope_Francis
Pope Francis during a visit with former US Vice President Mike Pence. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pope Francis continued his namesake’s work with Laudato Si, a papal encyclical which endeared him to animal lovers all over the world.

The encyclical was notable for the church’s strongest language yet in advocating for protecting and respecting animals. PETA made Pope Francis its person of the year in 2015, and the pope was feted by many other animal welfare groups across the world.

In Laudato Si, Francis explicitly rejected the idea that animals are resources for humans to exploit, asserted the Catholic view that animal life has intrinsic value, and called on human beings to be stewards of animals and the Earth. Abusing and exploiting animals is “beneath human dignity,” he wrote, and the associated desensitization and heartlessness of practices like factory farming are a stain on the human race.

Animals, the pope wrote, not only have souls but will “take their place” in heaven, “resplendently transfigured” in the presence of God. He also pointed out the disastrous effects we’re having on wildlife by destroying habitats, carving up the remaining land, over-fishing the oceans, poaching and hunting.

What Francis said about pets

So why are people suddenly upset with the pope?

He made some off-the-cuff remarks about people choosing pets over children, said it was “selfish” to choose the former, and brought up the plight of the world’s orphans. He pointed out that people collectively spend hundreds of billions on pet food and products while humans in the third world lack basic things like clean water, food and medicine. He also said “denying” motherhood and fatherhood leaves us spiritually poorer, as the experience brings us closer to God.

As usual any time a pope speaks, his statements are taken out of context and rehashed in the media. That’s expected, especially in the age of clickbait, the 140-character tweet and the 15-second news segment. Pope Francis gets himself into trouble by sometimes speaking too candidly when he should know his message will be garbled by gatekeepers and information filters, leading to strong reactions to things he didn’t actually say.

The pope wasn’t condemning keeping pets across the board, and he wasn’t saying all pet owners are selfish. His comments were made in the context of a larger discussion on universally declining birth rates in developed countries, specifically Europe’s “demographic winter,” also called a “demographic time bomb.”

In simple terms, Europe’s population is rapidly aging and birth rates are historically low. Populations are dying off, there are fewer people to care for the elderly, and there aren’t enough babies to replace the dead. The average age in Europe is 43, which is 12 years older than the average in the rest of the world.

COVID has compounded the problem, partly due to social distancing and partly due to economic uncertainty as a ripple effect of the virus. Of course it isn’t all that simple, and the demographic winter’s wider effects are complex and well beyond the scope of this blog.

It also helps to remember the Catholic Church has a strong social justice streak. Not the kind that involves writing snarky tweets and first world problems, but real social justice through charity, schools, scholarships, food banks, shelters, soup kitchens, hospitals and innumerable other efforts.

The pope’s background as a native of Argentina, a former janitor and chemist who became the first Latin American pontiff, also colors his outlook. He doesn’t hesitate to call out the hypocrisy of first-world nations, and although we don’t like to hear it, most of the time we need to. After almost two thousand years of popes existing in or near the world’s seats of power, for the first time we have a pope who grew up from the outside looking in.

That’s not to say I agree with everything Pope Francis had to say on the matter, but I think it’s also important to recognize that he didn’t just take shots at people who care for pets out of the blue, and he didn’t condemn people for caring for animals.

Animals Teach Us Our Self Worth Isn’t Tied To What We Do

NPR has an interesting article about the very human tendency to peg our self worth to our careers and our egos to our accomplishments, something most of us are guilty of to one degree or another.

I know I’m guilty of it, and I’m often unhappy when I’m not meeting some arbitrary level of creative output.

But Devon Price, a social psychologist, told NPR a pet chinchilla named Dumptruck — “the opposite of productive, and frankly, rather destructive” — led to a revelation Price had about intrinsic worth.

“I would never look at him and think of his life in terms of, ‘Has he justified his right to exist?'” Price told NPR. “He’s not paying rent. He’s not performing any service. And it would be absurd to even think about his life in those terms.”

The article prompted me to think about Bud, of course. He’s just Bud. A gray-furred, mercurial, amusing little guy whose favorite activities are eating, sleeping and hanging out with his Big Buddy.

How Buddy pulls his weight

Does he do anything to “justify” his existence? Well, according to him, he does.

“What services do I provide?” Buddy repeated when asked. “Well, first of all, I’m delightful. I’m responsible for like 95% of the delightfulness around here, let’s be honest. Yes, delightfulness is a word. Because I say it is!”

He also claims he provides security — “no burglar in their right mind would break in knowing I’m here” — as well as daily wake-up services, and “annoyingness desensitization.”

orange cat on focus photography
Credit: Alexas Fotos/Pexels

Price’s observations are not far from those of John Gray, the British philosopher who published a new book, Feline Philosophy: Cats and the Meaning of Life, earlier this year.

Cats live in the moment, Gray points out, and don’t stress themselves obsessing over “an imagined future.” Some people, especially those who don’t appreciate the full scope of animal cognition, would say cats are so adept at enjoying the present because they’re simple creatures incapable of thinking in the abstract or planning for the future.

That, of course, isn’t true: Cats develop abstract thinking skills early in their development, they understand object permanence, and anyone who’s seen a mother cat care for her babies — fretting over hiding spots, frequently moving her kittens and checking in on them when she must hunt for food — knows our feline friends are most certainly capable of planning and worry. (Or you can just watch my cat when his dinner’s late.)

Human anxiety is compounded by existential concerns, which cats aren’t burdened by. They’re not worried about their place in the world, and it probably never occurs to them that trying to be happy acknowledges the possibility of failure.

Contentment is a cat’s natural state

Cats, Gray points out, just do what makes them happy, whether it’s playing with a favorite toy or shredding a roll of toilet paper. They’re not worried about whether they could have more fun doing something else, or whether they’re making the best use of their time. Cats are “among the wisest animals because they’re spontaneous and playful and content with whatever life presents them,” as one reviewer of Gray’s book put it.

photo of grey tabby kitten lying down
Credit: Anel Rossouw/Pexels

“I would say that a lot of torment in our lives comes from that pressure for finding meaning,” Gray told The Guardian earlier this year. “Unless you adopt a transcendental faith which imagines a wholly other world where meaning is secure from any accident, most of the things that happen to us are pure chance. We struggle with the idea that there is no hidden meaning to find. We can’t become cats in that sense – we probably will need to always have the disposition to tell ourselves stories about our lives – but I would suggest a library of short stories is better than a novel.”

In response to questions about what cats might say to us if they could truly talk, rather than simply communicate, Gray responds with a question of his own: “If they could talk, would they find us sufficiently interesting to talk with?”

Would they consider us buzz kills? Would they roll their eyes, say nothing and return to gleefully knocking beverages off tables?

“Unless cats are hungry or mating or directly threatened, they default to a condition of rest or contentment or tranquility — basically the opposite of humans,” Gray told Vox. “So if cats could philosophize, my guess is they’d do it for their own amusement, not because of some deep need for peace.”

tabby kittens on floral comforter
Credit: Pixabay/Pexels