When moving as a group, each bison in a herd can "vote" on which direction to take, and the decision will depend on the majority, just like in elections, according to a report published by scientists in the forthcoming issue of Animal Behaviour. Researchers concluded this while observing the herd movements of about 30 European bison in Southern France's Monts d'Azur reserve. This species of bison, also known as wisent, is more slender than its American cousin and prefers forests over plains. It nearly became extinct in the 20th century, and small herds are now being reintroduced across Europe. Because farmers were concerned that the herbivores could damage their land, scientists launched this research to better understand the animal's movements. Thanks to hours of observation backed by statistical analyses, they found that, whatever its age or gender, any bison could suggest the herd's next direction. But the results show that the "votes" of female adults are both most frequent and most successful. This could be explained by the need among female bison to conserve energy for their milk production. "Only when a sufficient number of animals express their preference will the movement be launched," Le Temps quoted researcher Cédric Sueur as saying. According to the study, a suggested direction is also more likely to be approved if the leading bison chooses the direction most of the herd was already facing. In the human world, this could almost be labeled a Hobson's choice. Such behaviors, which have also been observed in hamadryas baboons, Tonkean macaques and African buffalos, help maintain group cohesion and stability. "If the organization was too despotic, some animals would leave the group, and it would lose its benefits, especially regarding protection against predators," Sueur told Le Temps.
BOGOTA — The World Wildlife Fund has sounded the alarm across the planet's sea and oceans. "In just one generation, human activity has seriously harmed the ocean by catching fish faster than they can reproduce, while destroying their feeding zones," the director general of World Wildlife Fund International Marco Lambertini declared, as the WWF publishes its Living Blue Planet report. El Espectador reports on the view from Latin America, with findings of a stark fall in all marine life numbers — with reductions of up to 75% for some species — since the 1970s. "The pressure on our seas is unprecedented" in Latin America, the regional head of WWF, Roberto Troya, told El Espectador. In addition to overfishing, climate change is both warming and acidifying the seas, leading to their destruction as living habitats. Photo: ePi.Longo
Photo: @SusanMartelo via Twitter CARTAGENA — Stray dogs and cats will now be treated a little better in the historic Colombian port of Cartagena, which has begun providing them with food and water dispensers. The UNESCO World Heritage site will thus join a humane trend spreading across dozens of Colombian districts. With lobbying from animal rights activist Liz Villa, the city recently placed a dispenser in the Plaza de Joe Arroyo in its historical quarter — clearly marked "Come Dog" to avoid confusion — and has plans to place another in the Laguito sector, local newspaper El Universal reported. Villa told the daily she began pressing for these when she read on the Internet that other cities had them. The daily reports that there are 78 such dispensers across the country, including in Bogotá, Medellín and Cali. The two in Cartagena have been placed in spots with "constant supervision" with someone tasked with changing the wate, refilling the food, and cleaning every two weeks. "People have been told what the objective is," Villa says. "It's a food dispenser for street dogs and cats, not for general use."
Sea lion and Buenos Aires Zoo trainer — Photo: Laura Gravino/Zoológico de Buenos Aires BUENOS AIRES — Zoo and aquarium shows may make kids smile, but some animal rights activists say it basically amount to slave labor. The debate returns after two sea lions recently died in the Buenos Aires Zoo within three days of each other, and activists suspect at least one death was from the stress of doing too many water shows in the Zoo's aquarium space. Argentine daily Clarin reports that members of the animal rights group Sin Zoo said one sea lion died last month after doing 15 shows in a day, while the other was possibly being overfed by spectators. Their trainers insist they had not noticed any of the seals eating differently. Sin Zoo spokeswoman Malala Fontán told Clarín that on July 26 one of the group's activists stood at the gates of the aquarium and counted the sea lions' shows. "Exactly 15," Fontán said. "People inside then said that one of the little ones collapsed, and all this when they had sent the vet on holiday. They don't care about anything." Fontán dismissed the idea of the spectacles being "educational" programs for children, and said they constitute shows involving animals, which the city banned in 2006. She said the NGO lodged 30 complaints with local authorities, and "none led to an inspection." An aquarium spokesman, Fernando Peralta, said that "it is not uncommon for animals to die for one or other reason," though in this case "we do not know what happened exactly." Test results to determine the causes of death will need a month, he said.
BRAUBACH — Pets bring happiness to the lives of their owners. Now, a German Cemetery Association (Deutsche Friedhofsgesellschaft) allows the bond to continue for eternity, offering clients the opportunity to be buried alongside their dogs and cats. Two German cemeteries, in the towns of Braubach and Essen, inaugurated the policy this week that allows humans and pets to be buried together in the same grave, reports the Berliner Morgenpost daily. A Dog Cemetary in England Photo: Ayustety Called “Unser Hafen,” this new form of burial offers two options: You can either opt for the “friendship” plot where two humans can be buried next to each other alongside a maximum of five pets. The other option is known as a “family grave” in which 12 human or animal urns can rest in the same place. The annual cost ranges from 69 or 92 euros per grave. Judith Könsgen, who heads the cemetery association, says there were several legal obstacles to overcome before obtaining the authorization. Unser Hafen's website, for example, indicates that the deceased people and animals must always be cremated separately. Otherwise, it seems safe to say, the afterlife has never been so cute.
It's 1:05 p.m. and lessons are starting slightly late today at the dog-sitter course. But this is not your usual dog sitting class: It's taking place at Bollate prison, just north of Milan. Every Thursday until November, 18 inmates will spend four hours (two hours of practical lessons and two hours of theory) learning until they "graduate" with a diploma from the National Sports Education Center (CSEN). Animal-assisted therapy has long been advocated in helping piece together shattered lives — or simply aiding social, emotional and cognitive functioning. Dogs, obviously, are among the most widely used pets, though recently the Italian website Italy Journal reported that donkeys were being considered for use. Photo: Alberto Gottardo (All Rights Reserved) The lessons here at Bollate prison include animal care, pet therapy and lectures from veterinarians, trainers and teachers. The students seem to thoroughly enjoy their training, as evidenced in an article from Italian daily La Stampa, after journalist Antonella Mariotti paid a visit to the inmates that will become the prison's first qualified pet therapists. Vito Catorre, 51, remembers that before he was behind bars, "I was good with animals — I even trained geese. When I get out, I want to live in the countryside with lots of animals." Photo: Alberto Gottardo (All Rights Reserved) The dogs that the class work with are called Bible — who has curlers in his hair to keep it in shape — and Rosie, a greyhound rescued from the commercial racing industry in Britain.The prisoners file into the room as class begins; one of them stops to pet Bible. "Did you know it's been 10 years since I've pet a dog?" he says. He bends down, almost kneeling and Bible responds by rolling onto his back to have his belly rubbed. Another student here is Otis Opoku Ackah, 34, who has been at the facility since 2007. "In Ghana I had so many animals: two dogs, a cat, goats. I'm so happy to be around animals again. What will I do when I get out? Maybe I will have learned dog sitting so well that I'll be able to teach it to others!" he jokes. During the class, Claudio, the groom at Bollate comes in — yes, in this prison you can also learn how to take care of horses. "You never know who's helping whom," smiles Nicolò Vergagni, ethologist and biologist. "Once a week," he says, "these animals just take away the pain that's in here." Main photo: Alberto Gottardo (All Rights Reserved)
CHUBUT — Through cunning techniques used in hunting seals and smaller whales, killer whales reveal they are one of the most intelligent of sea mammals, explains Argentine daily Clarin. Every season killer whales return to the Valdés peninsula in Chubut, southern Argentina, for their seal hunting ritual. Here they display their ingenuity using the particular technique of momentarily beaching themselves to catch a seal and drag it out to sea. Observers consider it one of the boldest and most intelligent hunting methods among animals. These rites include teaching their young to do the same, and passing the technique to future generations, which is crucial to their collective survival. The whales carried out four attacks in recent days, two of them successful. These provided food for two whale pods of four that had arrived to Punta Norte. One pod included a female that local scientists have named Llem, as well as her baby born last year, and two others, Pao and Schekei. The "little'un" was seen mixing with its elders and learning to hunt. More attacks are expected in coming days as sea lions have given birth to large numbers of calves. Clarín observed the whales' method of shifting into the shallow part of the water and waiting for a seal to take a dip. Scientists have observed the technique used both in Punta Norte and in Caleta Valdés nearby. Killer whales' superior intelligence is also shown in their "systematic" method of hunting the Southern Right Whale, of which they are one of the main predators. Knowing the Right Whales' only defense is to sink into the depths, killer whales force them to swim into shallow waters, where they attack. Killer whales usually eat every bit of the 40 tons of whale meat when one is killed. The orcas are expected back for more feeding off the coast of Chubut province in September. All photos: Francois Gohier/Vwpics/ZUMA
It wasn't the Easter bunny delivering chocolate eggs this past Sunday night. No, that furry creature scaling the walls was a very real cat, in a very serious attempt to smuggle a precious load of cell phones and SIM cards into Brazil's Romero Nobrega maximum security prison. With adhesive tape and bandages strapping the load to his belly, Miao (as we shall henceforth call the protagonist in this tale) was allegedly sent in to the prison in Paraiba on orders of the Primeiro Comando da Capital, a top Brazilian mob outfit that controls most of the country's cocaine market. Sadly for the narcos, the seven SIM cards, four phones and chargers were too heavy for Miao and he was spotted by some eagle-eyed officers, reports La Stampa. While Miao may have disappointed his mafioso owners in doing this, he was later rewarded by the guards who lured him with milk and kitty treats. This isn't the first time that animals has been used by drug traffickers to smuggle contraband into Brazilian prisons, says Daniel Ribeiro, penitentiary guard at the security facility. "We are investigating because we suspect there is a real criminal organization that trains these poor animals and uses them for criminal purposes," he told reporters this week. The first known smuggler-cat was stopped on New Year's Eve in 2012 as it tried to sneak into Arapiraca prison with phones and SIM cards. Earlier that year, seven pigeons were stopped as they tried to get into Pirajuí prison, in the state of Sao Paulo, with cell phones and drugs in the mini birdie backpacks they were sporting. No flying the coop for them.