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Tag: elephants

It’s (almost) official: Dogs are about twice as smart as cats


A scientific study has shown that cats have an average of 250 million neurons in their brains while dogs have about 500 million, making dogs about twice as intelligent.

Before you cat lovers start objecting, keep in mind that the study was performed by humans, who average about 16 billion neurons per brain.

Scientist’s brains, we can only assume, have even more than that.

The study is the work of a team of researchers from six different universities in the U.S., Brazil, Denmark, and South Africa. It is expected to be published soon in the journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.

The research wasn’t aimed at resolving the great national debate over which species is smarter, but was part of a larger effort to use neurons as one quantifiable measure of intelligence.

Previous research sought to quantify intelligence by measuring brain size and structural complexity. Counting neurons is generally accepted to be a more accurate measurement than those.

To accomplish that, study author Suzana Herculano-Houzel explained to National Geographic, “You take the brain and turn it into a soup.”

That leaves a number of nuclei suspended from neuron cells, allowing the researchers to estimate the number of neurons present. Neurons are a special type of nerve cell found in the brain that transmit messages.

The research team used only a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex, which drives decision-making and problem-solving.

“Neurons are the basic information processing units. The more units you find in the brain, the more cognitively capable the animal is,” said Herculano-Houzel, a neurologist and professor at Vanderbilt University who has been studying cognitive function in humans and animals for the past decade.

The team used three brains — one from a cat, one from a golden retriever and one from a small mixed-breed dog.

In the dogs’ brains, despite varying in size, researchers found about 500 million neurons, more than double the 250 million found in the cat’s brain.

By comparison, orangutans and gorillas have about eight to nine billion neurons, while chimpanzees have about six to seven billion, elephants have about 5.6 billion.

Herculano-Houzel says counting neurons is a more effective measurement of intelligence than the size of an animal, or the size of its brains.

“It’s not a larger body that explains the number of neurons you have,” she said. “You can have animals with similar-sized brains, and they have completely different numbers of neurons.”

Look, up in the sky, it’s … it’s … it’s … skydiving anti-poaching dog!

If the ranks of specialized crime-fighting canines seem to be reaching new heights, well, they are.

Drug-sniffing dogs, bomb-detecting dogs, and even “porn dogs” are all already on duty, but there’s a new incarnation of crime fighting dog hovering on the horizon, and it may be most super-hero-like yet:

Skydiving anti-poaching dogs.

To help crackdown on the epidemic of ivory poaching in Africa, dogs are now being trained to parachute (with their handlers) from helicopters, track and take down poachers.

skydivingdogarrowArrow, the two-year-old Belgian Malinois shown in the photo to the left, hasn’t gone out on an actual mission yet.

But he and a six-year-old German shepherd named Giant, featured in the video above, are being trained for the task at the Anti-Poaching and Canine Training Academy, according to NationalGeographic.com

It’s run by Paramount Group, a defense contractor based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The academy’s canines, which are bred at the facility, are trained and matched with rangers from national parks and game reserves across Africa.

Dogs have been skydiving for a while now (remember the one on the Navy Seal mission that took down Osama bin Laden?). But that’s only half of this job.

Once on the ground, the dogs — much faster and better at tracking than humans — are released to pursue the poachers and bring them down before they vanish into the bush.

Both dogs have already mastered descending from a helicopter by rope, strapped to their handler, but parachuting gets them to the ground more quickly, and decreases the likelihood of the poachers being scared off by the noise of the helicopter.

An estimated 100 elephants a day are gunned down by poachers who saw off their tusks. About a thousand rhinos were killed last year by poachers who harvested their horns.

Africa’s parks are far too vast to be patrolled effectively, allowing the poachers to operate almost with impunity.

Dogs, as is often the case in war and crime-fighting, were seen as effective strategy. Flying dogs? Even better.

The risks (to the dogs) is high. Fleeing poachers could easily train their high powered rifles on the dog pursuing them. Having a drone chase them down, maybe one that could fire tranquilizer darts at the poachers, would seem to make more sense. But then again drones don’t have dog noses.

Eric Ichikowitz, director of the Johannesburg-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation, which helped launch the training program, says the dogs seem to like the chase, getting excited when they hear the roar of a helicopter.

“The dogs are exceptionally comfortable with skydiving,” he says.
“They know they’re going to work.”

(Photo: National Geographic)

Happy birthday, Bob Barker

bobbarker1

Bob Barker — game show host, outspoken proponent of animal rights and a man who has been putting his money where his mouth is — turned 90 yesterday.

And he was back on TV for the occasion.

Barker, who stepped down after nearly 35 years as host of CBS’s The Price Is Right in 2007, returned in an episode (taped last month) that aired yesterday, during the show’s celebration of Pet Adoption Week. He was greeted with a resounding round of applause from the audience.

Barker was known for his tradition of signing off with the words, “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” His successor, comedian Drew Carey, has continued the sign-off.

THE PRICE IS RIGHTBarker’s passion for animals goes way back, and in 1987, it led him to resign from hosting the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe pageants — when organizers insisted on having contestants wear fur coats.

Since then he has campaigned for controlling pet overpopulation, fought for elephants and bears in captivity, supported anti-whaling efforts and funded college animal law programs.

 In 1994, he established the DJ&T Foundation with the goal of helping solve the tragic problem of animal overpopulation. The Foundation funds low cost spay/neuter clinics and subsidizes hundreds of spay/neuter voucher programs across the country in an effort to help control animal overpopulation.

Barker’s involvement with animal welfare is said to have begun in 1979, the same year he became a vegetarian. He has credited his wife, Dorothy Jo, with that, and after her death in 1981 he intensified his efforts for animal rights causes.

He was named national spokesman for “Be Kind to Animals Week” in May 1985. In 1994 he founded the DJ&T Foundation, named after his wife and mother. He has contributed millions for animal spaying and neutering programs and  animal rescue. In 2010, he donated $2.5 million to PETA to open a new Los Angeles office. The Bob Barker Building opened in 2012 on Sunset Boulevard.

HERE'S HOLLYWOOD -- "Bob Barker" -- Episode 54 -- Pictured: (l-r) TV game show host Bob Barker,  (Photo by Paul W. Bailey/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

He has also funded animal law and ethics programs at several law schools, including a $1 million donation to the University of Virginia, $1 million dollar to his alma mater Drury, and endowments to Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, UCLA, Northwestern and Georgetown.

In 2007, Barker was presented with the first ever Animal Legal Defense Fund Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of a life committed to animals and achievements made on their behalf at ALDF’s “Future of Animal Law” conference held at Harvard Law School.

In a recent interview with Parade, Barker revealed that, in addition to being a lover of dogs, bears and elephants, he also has a soft spot for rabbits.

“One day about 10 years ago, my housekeeper was coming to work and it was a cold day. And there was this little baby rabbit, sitting shivering in a yard about a block and a half from my home. She brought it home to me, and he is still thriving.

“He’s about 10 and a half years old, which is very old for a rabbit, but he’s getting good care so that he lasts long. He follows me around like a dog. He loves to be scratched, and I scratch him by the hour. I’ll scratch him until I get cramps in my hands. It’s true. He deserves it because he’s a fine, fine animal.”

The shocking truth about elephant star

Movie star electric shocked from Animal Defenders on Vimeo.

Tai, the 42-year-old Asian elephant who stars in the new movie “Water for Elephants” may not have been harmed in the making of that particular film — but he learned the tricks he does in it by being repeatedly shocked with electricity, an animal welfare organization says.

Animal Defenders International said a six-year-old video of Tai being trained has been posted on the Internet, shows trainers administering electric shocks as they teach him tricks.

“Water for Elephants,” a romantic drama set in a 1930s-era American circus, stars Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson. It is premiering this month.

Tai, supplied by Have Trunk Will Travel of California, plays the role of Rosie, an elephant who is brutally attacked with a bull hook by by the circus owner.

The American Humane Association monitored production of the movie — and it, as well as the producers, stars, and trainers have said Tai was treated with nothing but kindness during the movie’s making.

A representative of the American Humane Association stated during the making of the movie, “all these animals have been treated fairly and humanely throughout the entire course of their training.”

Gary Johnson, a founder of Have Trunk Will Travel claimed: “Tai was never hit in any way at all,” according to ADI.

ADI, however, says video filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel in 2005 clearly shows Tai being shocked as part of his training.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “We were uncomfortable with the message of this film, but the more we saw the repeated assertions that this elephant has been treated with love and affection and never been abused, we realized that we had to get the truth out. The public, the stars and the filmmakers have been duped. This poor elephant was trained to do the very tricks you see in the film by being given electric shocks.”

ADI said it was sending copies of the video to the film’s stars and makers.

“I believe that Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson will be horrified to learn what Tai went through,” Creamer said.

ADI has also contacted American Humane Association, urging them to re-evaluate how they assess the use of animals in films. ADI is also calling for a boycott of the film.

India to free zoo and circus elephants

elephantsAll elephants living in Indian zoos and circuses will be moved to wildlife parks and game sanctuaries where the animals can graze more freely, officials at Indian’s Central Zoo Authority announced earlier this month.

The order followed complaints and pressure from animal rights activists about elephants that are kept in captivity, often chained for long hours and unable to roam.

The elephants are to be moved to “elephant camps” run by the government’s forest department and located near protected areas and national parks. There they would be able to roam and graze freely, but “mahouts,” or traditional elephant trainers, would still keep an eye on them, according to an Associated Press report.

The decision affects around 140 elephants in 26 zoos and 16 circuses in the country. It does not affect the 3,500 elephants that live in captivity in temples, or logging camps where they are used to lift timber.

Research has shown that elephants in the wild live longer and have better health and reproductive records than those in captivity. Zoo elephants often die prematurely and contract diseases or suffer obesity and arthritis more frequently than in their natural habitats.

India has an estimated 28,000 wild elephants living in forest reserves and national parks, mainly in the southern and northeastern parts of the country.

Abandoned dog finds home with elephants

A puppy dumped on the side of a road in Alvin, Texas, is now enjoying life with the elephants at a Houston Zoo.

It was Christmas Eve when Alicia Kemery’s neighbor saw someone in a truck dump the pup, a terrier mix only about two months old. The neighbor called Kemery, a keeper at the Houston Zoo, who provided the dog with shelter at her home. Two weeks later — already having five dogs of her own — Kemery sent a zoo-wide e-mail asking if anyone wanted to adopt the black-and-white pup.

Daryl Hoffman, large mammals curator, replied, saying he’d been thinking about adding a dog to the elephant barn — an increasingly popular practice at zoos. Max was an instant hit as soon as he walked into the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat.

Only a few of the elephants were a bit apprehensive when the dog first joined the keepers. “It was this new small thing around, and they didn’t really know what a dog was,” said Dan Calarco, part-time elephant keeper.

But since then Max has settled into a routine with the elephants, the Houston Chronicle reports. After breakfast, he sniffs around the compound until it’s time for the keepers to clean the elephant yard. That signals playtime for Max who loves to fetch, roll and chase the ball that keepers toss for him while they work.

Lawsuit challenges care of circus elephants

A lawsuit by a coalition of animal rights’ groups against the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

The complaint — filed by American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute and the Fund for Animals — claims the Asian elephants in the circus sleep and travel in cramped, filthy quarters and are routinely prodded with special clubs or “bull hooks.”

The organizations are seeking a federal injunction barring the circus from engaging in a number of practices they call cruel, including chaining the elephants for long stretches, according to the New York Times. The case will be heard in Washington.

The idea that the animals are happy “and allowed to roam free and to socialize” is an illusion, the plaintiffs say. They plan to introduce videotape documenting mistreatment and will call several experts on elephants, as well as some current or former Ringling Brothers trainers.

The circus say the elephants are “healthy and well cared for” and that they are attended to by veterinarians around the clock. The elephants’ quarters are roomy and well ventilated, heated when necessary, and that  the club or “guide” used by a trainer is no more cruel than a leash on a dog or a bridle on a horse.

“In effect,” the defense says, the plaintiffs “are hoping to put an end to circus elephants.”