What do you do with a ratty-looking invasive species that’s eating its way through thousands of acres of coastal wetlands?
In Louisiana, entrepreneurs have made hats and purses out of them, and, for several years, state wildlife officials have offered $5 bounties to hunters and trappers in an attempt to curtail their numbers.
Now, a local company is turning nutria into dog treats:
“Marsh Dog uses an innovative market-based approach to solve the problem — wild Nutria dog biscuits … Owners can treat their dogs to an all-natural, artisanal treat that tastes good and does good while helping to support the fight to conserve the fastest disappearing land in the world—coastal wetlands.”
The Marsh Dog website says the locally made treats are being sold in numerous pet care outlets in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
And, the website makes clear, nutria are not rats. Despite public perceptions, despite a similarly slinky appearance, and despite sharing the same taxonomic order (as do squirrels, beaver, and guinea pigs) nutria are actually more closely related to porcupines or capybaras.
And they taste much better, the website says.
The Marsh Dog idea was born last year when owners Veni Harlan, a graphic designer, and her brother, Hansel Harlan, an attorney, were awarded a $7,022 grant by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, which helps fund attempts to curb the nutria population in Louisiana’s wetlands.
“We both cook for our dogs,” Veni Harlan explained to The Advocate. ”We’ve both been involved with dogs all our life.”
The Harlans make the biscuits – each batch takes about four days — in their new commercial-grade kitchen in the backyard, and they say demand keeps increasing.
“People like that it’s all-natural and has no preservatives, and, of course, that it’s made locally,” said J.T. Hackett, a manager at Petz Plaza, a Baton Rouge pet shop.
Nutria are an invasive species native to South America. They gnaw at the roots of marsh vegetation, causing the plants to die, which contributes to coastal erosion.
The state’s Coastwide Nutria Control Program pays trappers $5 per nutria for each tail they bring out of the marsh. The program is federally funded and managed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Trappers also have the option of selling the animals to companies like Marsh Dog, or Righteous Fur, a New Orleans-based company that makes hats, messenger bags and more out of nutria.
The state’s goal is to shrink the nutria population in south Louisiana by 400,000 animals a year.
Nutria make up about 20 percent of each dog treat. The treats also include brown rice and black strap molasses. An 8-ounce bag of the treats retails for about $8.50.
“We honestly didn’t know how well they would be received,” Veni Harlan said. “And we’ve just been blown away. The people have really responded. They get it. They understand what this is about — that it’s about Louisiana.”
Posted by jwoestendiek July 17th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, biscuits, bounties, coastal, curtailing, dog, dog biscuits, dog food, dog treats, dogs, erosion, hunters, invasive, louisiana, marsh, marsh dog, molasses, new orleans, nutria, nutria dog treats, pet food, pet treats, pets, population, rice, species, trappers, treats, wetlands
The controversial South Korean scientist widely viewed as the father of dog cloning has announced he will team up with a Russian university to clone a woolly mammoth, 4,500 years after the species went extinct.
Hwang Woo Suk, head of the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, signed a research pact this week with Russia’s North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) to clone the creature from remains found in Siberia.
According to a news release on the Sooam website, scientists plan to gather egg cells from elephants, replace their nuclei with mammoth’s somatic cells, provided by the Russian university, and implant any resulting embryos into more elephants.
Sooam says it plans to begin the process this year. If successful, a woolly mammoth clone would be born after a 22-month pregnancy.
Hwang was a veterinarian at Seoul National University when his team cloned the world’s first dog in 2005 — an Afghan hound named Snuppy.
Two years later, he would be fired and criminally charged after irregularities were discovered in his human stem cell research. Hwang claimed to have cloned human embryos and created lines of human stem cells from them.
Hwang would receive a two-year suspended sentence for using eggs from his own researchers, embezzlement and falsifying data.
After his firing, he opened his own lab, Sooam, with funding from supporters, where he has continued to clone dogs for pet owners, and continued non-human research projects.
According to the press release, NEFU will continue expeditions to collect biological samples of mammoth remains in Siberia, with help from Sooam. Those samples will be exported to South Korea.
The press release notes that NEFU has been collaborating with the Japanese for more than 10 years on the mammoth restoration project, but without any official agreement.
Over the last three years, the remains of two mammoths have been discovered in the Sakha Republic in the northeast part of Russia. Those remains found in the permafrost layer are often well-preserved and suitable for use in cloning, the press release says.
(Photo credits: Mammoths by Mauricio Anton / Plos; Hwang and Snuppy photos by John Woestendiek)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 16th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agreement, animals, biotech, biotechnology, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, coyote, dog, dogs, extinct, hwang woo suk, mammoth, north-eastern federal university, pact, pets, project, russia, science, siberia, snuppy, sooam, sooam biotech research foundation, south korea, species, wolves, woolly mammoth, wooly mammoth
Last night, in Los Angeles, the Golden Collar Awards were underway — bestowing the canine version of Oscars on dogs for their performances in movies and television.
Meanwhile, in New York, that prestigous annual beauty pageant known as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show opened.
In between the coasts, across America, it was business as usual: dogs in our movies, dogs in our parks, dogs in our beds, dogs in our yards, dogs on the cover of Time magazine; dogs visiting psychiatrists, getting pampered, dining on gourmet meals and chewing up a little more of the record $35 billion it’s estimated we will spend on them this year.
There’s a cliche we never use on this blog — “going to the dogs.” Headline composers love it, as do writers who are writing too fast. It suggests that — ohmigoodness! — dogs are taking over, whether it’s an event, a location, or the world.
Sometimes, there’s the accompanying implication, or outright fretting, that dogs, or our love for them, is getting out of hand.
So what else is new?
John Timpane, in a commentary piece Sunday for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is one of the latest to weigh in on the subject in an article that looked at the pedestal-like heights, and red carpet treatment, some dogs are achieving. It quoted a few dog experts, of which (though I question my credentials) I was happy to be one. And it avoided the common trap of describing it all — given I’m pretty sure there were pharaohs who coddled their dogs — as something new.
“Before anyone trots out ‘It’s all going to the dogs,’ let’s recall that the human world has been a mondo cane (dog’s world) for about 15,000 years now,” he wrote. “This year is only one more peak in a long and beautiful friendship between homo sapiens sapiens and canis lupus familiaris. Human beings have created more than 5,000 breeds, the longest-running genetic engineering experiment of all time.”
Still, dogs today are, as a species, higher up on the pedestal than ever. How’d they get there? By being so damn smart. By being so very obliging. By doing what we can’t always do ourselves — up to and including figuring us out.
Timpane’s article quotes Christina Williamson, a wolf researcher, behavior consultant and trainer at DogTown Obedience in Morrisville, Vt., who says dogs have learned social skills their wolf forebears never had.
“The biggest one would be their social connection to people,” she says, “their even being interested in communicating with people, figuring out what people are asking them to do. Some of it is to gain access to resources, such as a toy or food. But clearly it’s also for having the relationship itself, the emotional connection. That’s unique.”
Timpane goes on to quote me and, more importantly, mention my book.
John Woestendiek, a former Inquirer writer, is a big dog fan. He runs ohmidog!, a canine-themed website, and is author of Dog, Inc., an exposé of dog cloning. He says our cur connection reflects the human need to give and receive affection. People have “become emotional codependents with their dog,” he says. “We make room for them, and they gladly step in, whether it’s into the house, the sofa, the bed, or whatever void needs filling …
“So we have greyhounds racing, and dog beauty pageants, and dogs in handbags,” Woestendiek says. “We have dogs that can adapt to guiding the blind, or sense an oncoming seizure, or sniff out cancer. And we have gazillions more that do the less specialized daily work of simply keeping their humans calm and on an even keel.”
Have we come to expect too much of them? Probably. Are we making them too human? Definitely. Are we manipulating them more than we have a right to? Maybe. Do they mind? Seemingly, not at all.
“The astonishing thing is,” Timpane notes, “whatever we throw at (them) dogs lap it up.”
Posted by jwoestendiek February 14th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, award shows, beauty pageants, commentary, dependency, dogs, evolution, going to the dogs, golden collar awards, humans, john timpane, john woestendiek, pedestal, pets, philadelphia inquirer, red carpet, species, westminster
If so, it represents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication, according to a recent study in the online journal PloS One.
The Siberian skull, along with equally ancient dog remains found in a cave in Belgium, indicate domestic dogs may have come from more than one ancestor, more than one area, and more than one era — contrary to popular scientific belief.
Researchers say the skull’s shortened snout — not as long and narrow as that of a wolf — is evidence the creature it came from was domesticated.
“Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth,” said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona’s Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study. “What’s interesting is that it doesn’t appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs.”
Hodgins suspects even pre-ice age dogs were pets and helpers, as opposed to food sources.
“The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat. They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt. And it’s really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals.”
(Photos by Nikolai D. Ovodov)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 26th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: altai mountains, animals, belgium, cave, discovery, dogs, domestic, domestication, found, helpers, humans, hunters, ice age, origin, pets, relationships, science, siberia, skull, species, study, wolf
Ace has a new top obsession — a neighbor named Tom, who has taken over the first place spot previously held by a neighbor named Al.
Ace hit it off immediately with Al, an older man who lives about five doors down. When Al started giving Ace treats, his apartment became the first place Ace looked when he went outside. When Al bought a jumbo bag of chicken jerky treats to hand out when Ace went by, the relationship grew even stronger. He loves Al, but he loved those jerky treats the way an addict loves crack.
Since Christmas, though, Ace’s priorities have changed. My next door neighbor got a kitten.
He is a very cute kitten, and very tiny. Ace — and we should point out here that cats are the only species Ace seems more taken with than humans — has met Tom once, sniffing him while his owner held him.
Ever since then, the first thing Ace does when he goes outside — even before peeing — is to run over to the neighbor’s front window to see if the cat is there. He stares up at the window, then he jumps up, putting his paws on the sill. The first time he did that, the cat jumped down and disappeared.
The next time, the cat wasn’t bothered in the least. And now the cat seems to be waiting for him. He’ll gaze at Ace, paw at the window and press his face against it. After a couple of weeks, they both seem to view the visits as a regular part of the day’s schedule, and Ace seems to think checking on the cat is his new job.
If the cat is not in the window, Ace will jump up, peer in, crane his neck, look side to side and get upset. Eventually, the cat will appear, and then they will stare at each other as long as I allow it.
It takes a lot of urging to pull Ace away.
I am 99.999 percent sure Ace does not want to eat the kitten. He has shacked up with cats before, and been enamored with them, though only one we visited seemed to tolerate his interest.
But because the kitten is so young he would only be one swallow, and because the kitten has had some health issues, they’ve yet to hang out together unrestrained and in person.
As for Al, Ace still bolts off when sees him, even though we’ve dropped the chicken jerky treats. They were made in China, and — though I doubt they were responsible for Ace’s recent health issues — both Al and I had read some warnings about them.
I’m 99.99999 percent positive that Ace isn’t looking at Tom as a treat — even if he does sometimes drool a little while staring in his window.
But Ace’s Tom-excitement and his jerky-excitement appear to be two different things. With the jerky, he gets all drooly and subservient. With Tom, his tail and ears perk up. He seems more intent, more studious, less zombie-like, as if it’s more an intellectual hunger than a physical one.
One of these days, they’ll get to spend some time together. Maybe, with all the anticipation behind him, that will make him less obsessed, or then again it could make him more that way. Until then, they’ll continue to relate, three or four times a day, through glass and screen.
Note to neighbor: You might detect some small holes in your screen; I fully (or at least 99.999999 percent) intend to buy you a new one.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 15th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, al, animals, behavior, cat, cats and dogs, chicken, china, dogs, jerky, kitten, neighbors, north carolina, obsessions, pets, relationships, road trip, species, tom, travels with ace, treats, window, winston-salem
A killer whale poops. It floats to the surface (and we don’t mean the whale.) A dog on a boat sniffs it out. Humans gather it up, and take it to the lab for analysis.
It’s not an entirely natural cycle of nature — but when all is said and done, or sniffed out and scrutinized, researchers in the Puget Sound hope it may help explain what’s killing off our killer whales, and maybe hold some clues to how our planet is doing as well.
Scientists aren’t certain why Orcas, placed on the endangered species list in 2005, aren’t recovering. Some suspect it’s a lack of food, or that boat traffic and pollution are to blame. But they think an answer maybe found in whale poop, and have turned to a dog to help find samples for analysis.
“It looks kind of like a combination of algae and snot. It varies in color, but it’s very mucusy,” Sam Wasser, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, explained on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Via the feces, Wasser says, “we can measure the diet of the animal. We can get toxins from the feces, DNA so we can tell the individual’s identity, its species, its sex — and all of this is in feces.
He describes whale poop as “literally a treasure trove of information.”
Wasser, who has turned to “scat detection” dogs for help with other projects, is being helped out on this one by Tucker, an 8-year-old black Lab mix.
They are focused on San Juan Island’s Snug Harbor, and as they cruise out on their research boat, Tucker stands at the bow. If there’s whale poop around — even in the distance — he lets his trainer, Liz Seely, know by acting excited.
“…He’ll start standing up on the bow, wagging his tail, getting really animated,” she said.
His reward for accurately detecting floating whale feces? A game of fetch.
The research team will collect samples from killer whales through the summer. Already, they’ve been able to show that during periods of high traffic, like around he 4th of July, the whales have higher levels of stress hormones in their feces.
They can also tell when the whales are undernourished and study how that might affect fertility rates.
Killer whales are believed to have the highest concentrations of toxic substances of any creature on the planet.
Given how we humans are responsible for that, scooping their poop seems truly the least we can do. And finding some answers within it, with help from a dog, could turn out not just to help the whales, but us as well.
(Photo: Ashley Ahearn / KUOW)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 9th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: all things considered, analysis, animals, boat, center for conservation biology, dog, dogs, endangered, feces, fertility, food, killer whales, liz seely, orcas, pets, poop, project, puget sound, research, sam wasser, scat-detecting, species, stress, testing, toxins, trainer, tucker, university of washington, washington, waste
They haven’t saddled them up and landed them gigs at halftime shows, but a group of baboons in Saudi Arabia are reportedly “keeping dogs as pets.”
And, if this video is any indication, the baboons, like humans, can be alternately cruel and loving when it comes to the dogs with whom they co-exist, in this case in a garbage dump outside of Ta’if, not far from the Red Sea.
While the baboons seem to treat pups, or at least the unfortunate one in the beginning of this video, pretty roughly, rest assured nothing too awful happens, and the video goes on to show the two species living, playing and sleeping together, and even grooming each other.
The clip is from a British nature series called “Animals Like Us.”
It came to my attention via Hal Herzog, author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”
Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, has been studying human interactions with other species for two decades — and says he has never run across a species other than humans that truly can be described as keeping pets. So he was stunned when he came upon the video of the Hamadryas baboons and what seem to be their pet dogs.
At least that’s how the documentary’s narrator explains the relationship. The baboons and dogs eat and sleep together, and travel as a pack. The dogs chase off predators and the baboons treat them as members of the family, he says.
Herzog, as he explains in Animals and Us, his blog for Psychology Today, doesn’t seem to totally buy it. He did some quick research, but thinks a lot more is needed before being certain the dogs and baboons of Ta’if have a pet-and-petkeeper relationship.
“In short, are the Ta’if baboons really keeping dogs as their personal pets or is the YouTube clip just another example of Animal Planet type TV bullshit?
“… Some authorities are doubtful. The anthrozoologist Boria Sax, author of the wonderful new book City of Ravens, wrote … ‘You can’t tell just what is happening from the video alone, and we have only the word of the narrator that the dogs are kept as pets. I am skeptical.’
“Eniko Kubinyi, a canine ethologist at the Family Dog Project in Budapest was more blunt, ‘Dogs as pets of baboons? Science fiction. Baboons and dogs share the same environment, and they are socially plastic, so they enjoy the company of others…’
“I am skeptical, too,” Herzog said. “But I have been obsessed by the video for a week. It raises a host of questions in my mind.”
Might the relationship, for example, be less peaceful if there wasn’t abundant food for all in their shared environment, he wonders.
I wonder whether the baboons use any positive reinforcement to keep the dogs in line, or, as the early part of the video indicates, they opt for the dominant, Millan-esque, pack-leader approach.
Desolate as the landscape looks, the connection between the baboons and dogs in a desert garbage dump seems some fertile ground for research.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 27th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, animals and us, animals like us, baboons, behavior, chimps, dogs, dump, environment, hal herzog, humans, interaction, monkeys, nature, pet-keeping, petkeeping, pets, psychology, psychology today, saudi arabia, shared, some we eat, some we hate, some we love, species, ta'if, video, youtube
And who, you’re wondering, was the brain behind Sunday’s halftime show that featured a dog-riding monkey?
That’s Tim “Wild Thang” Lepard, a Mississippi boy who once tangled with bulls but, after nine related surgeries and we can only guess a few bumps on the head, found a safer line of work — placing Capuchin monkeys atop border collies and orchestrating the entertainment that ensues.
We’re not ready to call this animal cruelty, so we’ll just call it kind of stupid, and another example — like the rodeo, like the circus — of the way-too-prevalent thinking that the purpose of animals is to entertain us.
That’s the football player’s job. Is watching the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots jump on each other not enough? Must we fill the brief halftime lull in play by mounting one species atop another?
Leperd, 49, who lives outside of Tupelo, Miss., is a former bull rider and bullfighter.
According to the Team Ghost Riders website, he has always felt he has “a bit of Elvis in my soul.”
Leperd explains how he evolved from bullfighter to dog and monkey trainer this way:
“After nine major surgeries encountered while fighting bulls, I began to put together the dog and monkey act and concentrated on comedy. I wanted an act that no one would forget in rodeo and felt performing with three dogs and three monkeys would accomplish my goal.”
Here’s a look at the crew in action last year during a rodeo in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.
Posted by jwoestendiek December 19th, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, border collies, broncos, bull riding, bullfighting, capuchin, circus, dog riding monkey, dogs, entertainment, football, halftime, monkeys, nfl, patriots, pets, rodeo, show, species, team ghost riders, tim lepard, video
What happens when you cross a Labrador retriever and a poodle?
You get a Labradoodle.
What happens when you bring together a science writer and a cartoonist?
You get a highly informative and entertaining blog, like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s, Planet of the Apes, which looks at evolution. (And God bless evolution, for, without it, we’d all be reading this through slimy fish eyes.)
Earlier this week, the blog – written by Faye Flam and illustrated by Tony Auth – examined what makes dogs so diverse a species.
Is the diversity a result of evolution, or man’s infernal tinkering?
The answer to why there’s such a range in head shapes, snouts, coats and size — why some dogs are up to 40 times the size of others — may be in DNA.
(DNA, of course, being the answer to just about everything nowadays, with the possible exception of where did I put my car keys.)
Flam turned to Elaine Ostrander, a geneticist who studies dogs at the National Institutes of Health, for some help solving the mystery.
“Ostrander said two possible genetic explanations exist for dog variability. One is that something latent in the DNA of wolves allowed them to be transformed into both Great Danes and dachshunds. Under that view, she said, pushed-in noses and floppy ears and spots were all embedded in the wolf genome.
“The evidence against this, she said, is that we never see wolves born with pug noses or polka dots.
“The other view is that the genes underlying these traits don’t exist in the wolf, but that wolf DNA is very good at spinning out new variants – that it’s particularly ‘plastic.’”
Flam goes on to explain that that “plasticity” may stem from the parts of the DNA that don’t make up the genes, but control how those genes work. Seven percent of the dog’s DNA, for example, is made of strings of code called SINEs that appear to have copied themselves throughout the dog chromosomes.
Between dog generations, SINEs can copy themselves in new spots on the chromosomes. And sometimes, the location of these SINEs can influence traits. Australian shepherds, for example, have blue-gray coats due to the invasion of a SINE into the middle of a gene for coat color.
While SINEs crop up in other animals, including us humans, dogs may be particularly rich in these and related bits of variable and movable DNA, according to Ostander.
In other words, or so it seems to me, when it comes to diversity, it’s just another thing dogs are better at than us.
(Graphic: By Tony Auth / Philadelphia Inquirer)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 3rd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, breeding, breeds, chromosomes, coats, dna, dog, dogs, elaine ostrander, evolution, faye flam, genes, national institutes of health, pets, philadelphia inquirer, planet of the apes, science, shape, sines, size, species, tony auth, wolf
The scientist behind the study, biology professor Ronald Oldfield, hopes his findings benefit the 182.9 million ornamental fishes in the United States. (Animal welfare proponents, he notes, often overlook our underwater friends.)
But, beyond that, the findings of his study could apply to other species as well.
Oldfield, according to a university press release, is the first to scientifically study how the environment of home aquariums affects the aggressive behavior of ornamental fishes. The results are published in the online edition of Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.
Oldfield compared the behavior of Midas cichlids (Amphilophus citrinellus) in a variety of environments: within their native range in a crater lake in Nicaragua, in a large artificial stream in a zoo, and in small tanks of the sizes typically used to by pet owners.
The study focused on juvenile fish, so that aggressive behavior related to mating would not be a factor. Also, resources such as food and shelter were removed prior to observation to eliminate direct competition for those.
Along with environment size, Oldfield tested the complexity of an environment and the effects of number of fish within tanks.
The addition of obstacles and hiding places using rocks, plants, or other similar objects can increase the complexity of the aquarium environment. He found that an increase in tank size and complexity can reduce harmful aggressive behaviors, and make for healthier fish at home.
The aggressive behavior he monitored included flaring fins, bites, chasing or charging at another fish.
In environments sufficiently large and complex, fish spent less time exhibiting aggressive behavior. And a more natural environment elicits more natural behaviors, Oldfield said. “This study might help us to better understand how human behavior changes when people are placed in different social environments,” he said.
Among the species that could benefit from Oldfield’s findings, it seems to me, are America’s 2.3 million prisoners (prisonus inmatus) and others held in what are often stark, impersonal institutions that lack visual stimuli, mental challenges, or for that matter tiny treasure chests, mermaids and sunken ships.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 26th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agression, animals, aquairums, behavior, biology, case western reserve university, connection, environment, fish, learn, research, ronald oldfield, science, species, study, surroundings, violence, welfare