Dancing parrots, painful fish, handsome rooster

Some fun news bits in just a moment - no animal update would be complete without an Animal Place animal update.

Arturo is the dominant rooster at the sanctuary, but he doesn't rule with an iron beak. He's extremely gentle with the hens and even tolerates many of the lower-ranking roosters. Posing for the camera is also a favorite past-time of his, as you can see in this photo.

Parrots can groove
We're not sure if using YouTube videos as data is the most effective research tool, BUT we love that Harvard University researchers used video data instead of actual research on animals! The researchers analyzed video to see if nonhuman animals had the ability to synchronize with music. Turns out that they do, especially mimicking animals, like parrots.

Wildlife trade poorly regulated
The multi-billion dollar wildlife trade is poorly regulated, according to research from Brown University, Wildlife Trust, Pacific Lutheran University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Global Invasive Species Programme. Approximately 200 million animals are imported to the United States every year. These animals are often taken directly from their native habitats, shipped without concern for their welfare, and sold to people ill-prepared to properly care for them.

A duh! moment in science
Fish feel pain. We already knew that (a previous study showed fish injected with bee venom exhibited classic pain behaviors that stopped when injected with morphine) but I guess folks need even more evidence. A Purdue University researcher studying pain response in gold fish showed that fish given morphine during a noxious stimuli (in this case, a heated foil strapped to the fishs' body) exhibited fewer pain-related behaviors than fish injected with the control, saline. The researcher feels that this may show fish have reflexive (like pulling your hand away from a hot burner) and cognitive (not eating, etc) pain response.

Disseminating Information: Swine Flu

We are not epidemiological experts or scientists intimately familiar with flu viruses. We are, however, concerned about the emergence of this hybrid virus as much as anyone.

There is a chance that a suitable environment for this virus was found in a pig farm where animals are housed in extreme confinement. According to Biosurveillance, from February through April, there was a dramatic increase in acute respiratory infections in La Gloria, a small town in Veracruz. Nearly 60% of the small town's population was affected. As Biosurveillance warns, there is no epidemiological evidence to link the farm to the current swine-avian-human virus. That there is a correlation between the pig farm and the sudden spike in respiratory infections means just that. No causation has yet been established. It seems fair to point out that pigs, particularly those raised in intense confinement, can serve as an intermediary host, helping to spawn a virus that contains avian, human and pig genes....allowing for zoonosis, or a disease that can cross species.

Even if this particular farm is not the source point, our reliance on industrial agriculture does nothing but foster the creation of hybrid viruses. We could all do ourselves a world of good by eliminating the factory farming model of agriculture.

For an in-depth timeline of events, we encourage you to visit Biosurveillance, which includes information from Veratect Corporation.

We understand that tens of thousands of people die from the "normal flu" virus each year in the United States. This virus, though, is affecting people after the normal flu season has ended. It is also a virus that current flu vaccines are most likely ineffective against.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) both suggest simple measures to help reduce the likelihood of transmission - cover your mouth/nose when sneezing and wash your hands frequently. The CDC has information at their website.

We firmly believe that the current system of raising animals for their flesh, milk and eggs is not only animal cruelty but a breeding ground for contagious diseases.

And while we agree that "swine flu" is a misnomer, that this virus contains genetic material from birds, pigs and humans, we cannot help but read in wonder at the pork industry's cries of foul play at the term "swine flu". Their biggest fear? That people might reduce their consumption of pork. We hope their fear is realized - they do not care about your health, it is not the bottom line. More than that, we hope that this virus loses steam and causes no more further harm.

Stay safe and healthy, folks.

Charmaine Lagamorphing into a guinea pig

Charmain acting like a guinea pig
Charmaine is one of 25 rabbits who call Animal Place home. Here she shows how to lagamorphisize into a guinea pig. This requires extensive training and skill, so please do not try this at home, or anywhere for that matter.

Charmaine hasn't always had it easy. She was rescued from a person who planned on eating her and her sister (who has since passed on of natural causes). She is a curious bunny, though she does not like being touched or handled. Carrots and apples are her favorite foods....in case you planned on visiting for a tour.

Animal tidbits in the news

Okay, so they weren't in the news (but they should be), but no blog update would be complete without a picture of some critters. Susie and Hazel are two pigs who love their straw beds. Susie is on the left and, at 8, is the older of the two. Hazel is on the right. You cannot tell from this photo, but this straw pile was actually quite tall. Hazel is small for a "production pig" and had to fling herself dramatically into the straw bed for a comfy spot. It was quite the amusing display of porcine acrobatics.

In other news...

Researchers at the University of Exeter have discovered that harassment from male guppies has a negative effect on the behavior and social structure of female guppies. Yet another mark against the notion that fish do not formulate social bonds or have emotions.

Lyle, the potbellied pig, joins a dog training class and learns some new tricks!

20-yr-old cow takes over mothering duties for abandoned lamb. These stories are always so heartening, but the sad truth is that all of the lamb's sisters and brothers have been sold...most likely not as companions. Though it is wonderful that the cow has remained a permanent member of the farm, allowed to live out her days in peace.

Female crickets choose mates based on their memories of male songs. The study showed that female crickets used social learning, a behavior few thought insects could perform.

California Legislation Update

Animal Place is a member of the California Animal Association (CAA), a coalition of animal protection organizations. Every year, CAA introduces legislation to improve the lives of animals in California. We also track bills that affect animals both positively and negatively.

CAA's bill this year is AB1122, which would ban the sale of included animals at flea markets, swap meets, in commercial parking lots or on roadsides. Adoption events are, of course, exempted. Yesterday, AB 1122 had its first hearing in Assembly Business and Professions. We are happy to report that the bill passed out of committee with a 7-3 vote. It will move on to Appropriations and, then, hopefully on to the Assembly Floor. (It will repeat the entire process on the Senate side, as well).

What you can do: Write a letter of support to Assemblymember Ted Lieu for authoring this legislation.
Send your letters to:
The Honorable Ted Lieu
State Capitol
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA

In other legislative news, we are very happy to report that SB 135 (Florez) passed 4-1 out of Sen Food and Agriculture committee. This bill would ban the tail docking of cattle. The bill will be going to Sen Education committee.

What you can do: Write a letter of support to Senator Florez for introducing this bill. Contact all members of the Senate Education Committee, asking for their aye vote. You can read more about tail docking here, which should give you ideas on what to include in a letter.
Send letters to:

The Honorable Dean Florez
State Capitol, Room 313
Sacramento, CA 95814

Education Committee
Same City and Zip, different Room numbers: Sacramento, CA 94248-0001

Senator Gloria Romero
State Capitol, Room 2090
Senator Robert Huff
State Capitol, Room 3048
Senator Elaine Alquist
State Capitol, Room Room 5080
Senator Loni Hancock
State Capitol Room 3092
Senator Carol Liu
State Capitol Room 5061
Senator Abel Maldonado
State Capitol Room 4082
Senator Alex Padilla State Capitol Room 4038
Senator Joe Simitian
State Capitol Room 2080
Senator Mark Wyland

State Capitol Room 4048


There is a chapter in Jeffrey Masson's most recent book "The Face on Your Place: The Truth About Food" on aquaculture (a powerful chapter). Within it is a bit about eels and, to be honest, it left me incredibly curious about these (to me) mysterious creatures. Here's an excerpt:

The female breeds only once in her life, which may not be until she is sixty years old. To do so she makes her way to the ocean, traveling at night, and even crossing land. When she reaches the sea, she swims perhaps 3,600 miles to the place in the Pacific Ocean where she was originally hatched. Once she reaches her destination, she lays up to 20 million eggs.
There are more than 500 species of eel. All are fish but have a more snake-like appearance. The American eel is born in the Sargasso Sea along with millions of her brothers and sisters. When she's born from an egg her mother and father died to produce, she will be transparant, aptly called a "glass" eel. As she matures, she will lose her transparancy and develop into a sleek, brown or olive skinned animal who glides effortlessly through the water. American eels can move from the ocean to freshwater rivers and estuaries. They can live a hundred years. A hundred years! Eels reach sexual maturity between the ages of seven and thirty but may not lay eggs or fertilize them until they are much older, sometimes as old as seventy. One female eel can lay up to 30 million eggs. Amazing.

Eels can breathe through their skin, allowing them to traverse land. In the water, they rely on gills, like other fish to breathe. And if the American eel left her ocean home in favor of freshwater streams, she undergoes an amazing metamorphosis for her return back to the ocean. She will increase her fat reserves dramatically - she will not eat during her migration and her gut will begin to destroy itself. She will turn a silvery white, earning her the name "silver eel". Her eyes will double in size and become more sensitive to the deep blue waters of the ocean. She will become more buoyant through an increase in the number of swim bladder blood vessels.

The American eel's cousin, the European eel, will also travel to the Sargasso Sea to lay and fertilize their eggs. And getting to the Sargasso Sea is no easy task - the European eel will take three years to do so.

Much about eels remain a mystery. The eel's lifestyle is still barely understood, though the tragic reality is that their populations have declined dramatically. The european eel's numbers have dropped by 90%, the Japanese eel by 80%. The American eel, though not considered an endangered species, is also suffering. Much of their habitat has been destroyed by dams and mature eels are being killed by the turbines of hydropower plants. Aquaculture has increased the eels exposure to lice that can damage their swim bladder, an organ of utmost importance for migration back to their spawning site.

We know eels can feel pain, all fish can. They have been known to remember people and interact positively with scuba divers and swimmers. There is so much about them that we don't know, they are part of a world we exploit so easily but are egregiously unfamiliar with.

Thousands upon thousands of eels are killed annually and their deaths are not the stuff of bedtime stories. A common method of slaughtering eels starts with a knife-cut to the throat while the animal is fully conscious. At least one study shows that brain activity still occurs and that suffering may be prolonged with this method of slaughter. Another method of slaughter is "desliming" or dessication, where the eel is submerged in dry salt and then gutted. It's an incredibly painful kill-method and can take several long moments before the eels is finally dead.

What a sad, unfair end for such a fascinating creature. Though they are not familiar like other mammals, they are by no means animals unworthy of our compassion and respect. They are not mindless automatons but feeling, thinking beings who endure incredible physical stresses throughout their life for that one, single moment of creating new life. You can help them and their oceans by eating vegan, which is a sustainable dietary choice that is compassionate and healthy as well.

Environmental Protection Agency, protecting what?

Although it's long overdue, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced that six greenhouse gases *may* pose a health risk and are a serious threat to our planet. This has been something leading scientists and environmental organizations have said for years, of course, but better late than never (if there is a "late", of course).

I should point out that the only reason the EPA looked into this matter is because they were ordered to by the United States Supreme Court in Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency. That's right, it took the highest court in the land to rule that the EPA should consider doing it's job.

The results of the EPA's required investigation are not startling - the anthropogenic (caused by humans) sources of carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride pose a serious health risk to ourselves, nonhuman animals and our planet.

So, what about these gases - how does it relate to farmed animals?

Let's start with methane. Methane is produced naturally from a variety of sources, including wetlands. Natural production of methane comprises 40% of total output...the other 60% is produced by human activity. In the United States, as of 2003, the livestock sector accounted for nearly 30% of methane production (part of that is from enteric fermentation and part of it is from manure lagoons), landfills for about 24% and natural gas production for another 24%. Worldwide, the livestock sector comprises 37% of anthropogenic methane emissions. Methane is 23 times more "warming" than carbon dioxide.

Next up is nitrous oxide, which is generally produced from the oxidation of nitrogen compounds. The number one source of nitrous oxide is from "soil management", more specifically from fertilizer. Most fertilizer contains the manure of animals. According to the EPA, nearly 70% of nitrous oxide production can be traced back to soil management or application of fertilizer. Worldwide, the livestock sector is responsible for 65% of nitrous oxide production. Nitrous oxide, by the way, is 270 times more "warming" than carbon dioxide. The overwhelming majority of nitrous oxide emission can be attributed to the sheer volume of manure produced by the billions upon billions of animals farmed for their flesh, milk and eggs.

The livestock sector is responsible for about 9% of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. The majority of carbon dioxide produced by humans comes from the production of coal and natural gas, along with petroleum. The livestock sector makes up for it's lack of carbon dioxide production by exposing our planet to more powerful greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide.

You can read a bit about the powerful hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluorides here.

It is doubtful that we will hear from our government officials on how a vegan diet can help the planet and our health. Agribusiness has been getting away with polluting our waterways, destroying our land and poisoining our air for years. They have oppressed our rural communities without legal or monetary recourse. The workers they employ are exploited and silenced. And they have reduced sentient, feeling beings to mechanized units of production by the tens of billions. And we have let them. Legislation isn't going to fix this problem. We can, but only by changing our behavior.

How you can help:

Virginia touching noses with babyWe know that industrial agriculture is wreaking havoc - the planet, human health, wildlife and domesticated species of animals are suffering. There is nothing more powerful than choosing to be part of a sustainable future. It's easy too - eat a plant-based diet. Remove meat, dairy and eggs and focus your efforts on purchasing whole-foods from as local as possible (reduces transportation-caused negative effects) and as affordably as possible. Learn more about community supported agriculture here. Cutting out as much meat, dairy and eggs as possible will go a long way to promoting a present that will allow for an actual future.

As to the EPA findings - once they are placed in the Federal Registrar's docket, there will be a 60-day public comment period....you will have an opportunity to voice your opinion on what our government should be doing about this issue. There will also be public hearings in May.

Californians: Support AB 1122

Every year in California, dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, amphibians are sold at flea markets, swap meets and on the side of the road. These animals suffer from health problems and are often housed in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions.

The animals are generally purchased on impulse by people who are not educated on how to properly care for their new companion animal.

Selling animals in flea markets, swap meets and alongside the road needs to stop - animals are suffering and dying because sellers care more about money than the overall health and welfare of the animals.

There is a bill before the California legislature that would end the cruel practice of selling animals at flea markets and swap meets.

How You Can Help:

AB 1122, authored by Assemblymember Ted Lieu, will prohibit the sale of animals along street corners and flea markets. The hearing is on April 21st, next Tuesday and your voice is urgently needed. Please take a moment to call or email your state Assemblymember and urge him or her to SUPPORT AB 1122. The animals are counting on you. A sample letter is below.

If you don't know the name of your state Assemblymember, there are two ways to find it:
  • Go HERE and enter your zip code and press "search". You will be given the name and contact information of your Assemblymember.
  • Call the California Government Information Hotline at 916-322-9900. Give the operator your address - the operator will tell you the name of your Assemblymember. You can also leave your message for him/her through the operator.
Letters can be addressed to:
The Honorable [full name of Assemblymember]
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Sample Letter:

Dear Assemblymember,

I am writing in strong support of AB 1122, which will address the sale of animals at swap meets, flea markets and on street corners.

Dogs, cats and other companion animals are being sold at flea markets and swap meets in terrible conditions. These
companion animals often are kept in overcrowded pens or cages that are unsanitary, without food and/or water, in extreme heat and direct sunlight. They are handled by shoppers and purchased on impulse.

In addition, puppies and other animals are being sold along roadsides. There are instances where the animals are sold, only to die of illness a few days later - illness that could have been prevented if the animals had received proper care from those breeding them for profit.

Please lend your support to AB 1122. Thank you.


[Your name and address]

Sanctuary Notes: Caring for “meat” chickens

Nico, Fran and the “broiler” chicken crew are among the most social critters at the sanctuary. They run towards visitors, inquisitively cock their heads to the side, give you the “chicken eye”, and wait for any sign of melons. These birds always make an impression on visitors (mostly good but sometimes a little intimidating when they jump up and mistake a finger for a grape) because of their larger than life personalities and size.

These chickens came from two rescues. The first group arrived after Hurricane Katrina destroyed a Mississippi broiler facility (Animal Place helped pull 1,100 young birds) and the second when Oakland Animal Control confiscated dying birds being shipped (legally) through the mail at only a day of age. It may shock you, but these birds are killed at only 6-weeks-old, just babies! Nine billion of them are slaughtered every year…they aren’t protected by federal or many state laws, so they can be housed and killed in any way.

And when they are saved, these birds fight against generations of genetic selection for birds who could gain a rapid amount of weight in a short amount of time. They have a lot of health problems. We monitor their health with monthly checks and manage their weight with special feeding schedules. (The ladies call it dieting, and they aren’t too fond of it.) Breakfast and dinner consist of chicken feed mixed with low calorie rice hulls, and lunch is a healthy helping of lettuce, grapes, and melons. Despite our efforts, these chickens have a much higher incidence of foot infections, heart problems, and premature death than the smaller laying chickens. In fact, of the 100 birds who arrived from Hurricane Katrina, nearly half died from heart attacks and heat stroke within the first year.

Hannah, a Katrina rescue, has a foot infection called bumblefoot that is caused by her weight. Hannah likes pecking at the dirt looking for tasty treats and is one of the first to bound over to visitors, but the constant pressure from her favorite pastimes cause her feet to develop sores which become infected. Foot sores can take many months to heal, are terribly painful, and require treatment with oral antibiotics and twice weekly foot soaks, flushing, and wrapping. We wrap a disc from a styrofoam pipe insulator to the bottom of the infected foot to help keep the weight off the painful center of the foot. Another disc is attached to the good foot to keep the girls from being lopsided while wearing only one platform shoe. You should see the confused look on the faces of the hardware store clerks when I explain why I need pipe insulators in summer!

Last month we were closely monitoring Matt, the lone rooster from the Oakland rescue, because he had started wheezing and quit crowing. We were afraid his unnatural size was leading to an early death by heart failure, a very common and abrupt ending sanctuaries see with many young “meat” birds. We gave a dewormer in case lung parasites were making it more difficult for him to breathe, monitored his feeding closely, and started to weigh him weekly. After a week of treatment he wasn’t wheezing anymore, but was still breathing loudly. A few days later we heard him crow again for the first time. We hope that keeping his weight down will help Matt live to the ancient broiler chicken age of 4 years.

Although the broiler ladies and Matt have much shorter lifespans and can develop serious health problems due to their genetics, they don’t let it get them down. At the sanctuary, they live the good chicken life and remind us that grapes, grass, sunshine, are some of the best things in life.

Animal Spotlight: Get your pigs in a row

Not that we would require any of the critters to be in a row for any nefarious purposes, but the potbellied pigs were kind of enough to assemble haphazardly for this shot. We thank them.

Forefront butt is Miss Olivia, the 5-yr-old diva of the group. In the middle is the patriarch, Charlie, a 10-yr-old. And the other little black butt is 5-yr-old Ernie, one of three potbellied brothers who we just call The Boys.

Easter's no picnic for rabbits

There is no doubt that rabbits are adorable and cute. With their twitchy noses and soft fur, they can inspire even the most stoic to smile.

With the right amount of care and attention, they make wonderful companions. A rabbit is an 8-12 year commitment and, more often than not, the rabbit is going to prefer a more hands-off approach. Rabbits are a prey species and few really enjoy the predator-like behavior of being picked up and hugged. It is for this reason (among others) that rabbits should never be adopted solely as a companion animal for the youngest member of the human family. Adopting and caring for a rabbit is the sole responsibility of the adult members of the family who must also establish ground rules for how everyone will interact with the rabbit. An understanding must be made that the rabbit may never like being pet or picked up, and that that is okay. We respect the feelings of humans who don't want to be hugged, there is no reason not to respect the feelings of rabbits who don't want to be picked up.

If you are considering buying a rabbit this time of year, my first response is don't. Think long and hard about the time, cost and effort a companion rabbit will require, not to mention the space and "rabbit-proofing" your home will have to undergo to provide a safe environment for a curious bunny. Cages should never be used as the sole method of confinement, but only as a safe place for the rabbit to sleep or use when unsupervised.

Instead of a rabbit, here are some animal friendly Easter-alternatives:
1) Stuffed animals: Kids love 'em, they're cheaper than a living animal, and they will happily endure the antics of an overzealous child.
2) Chocolate bunnies, preferably vegan, are always a kid-friendly alternative.
3) Sponsor a rabbit at your local rabbit rescue, humane society or shelter.

If you are really interested in a bunny, here are some suggestions:
1) Research by reading through websites and books. Talk to your local shelter, rabbit rescue or humane society about the pros and cons of adopting a rabbit.
2) Adopt, do not buy.
2) Consider fostering a rabbit through your local rabbit rescue or humane society. This will give you an idea of the commitment caring for a rabbit requires.
3) A house rabbit needs space. You will have to rabbit proof your house, much like you would for a toddler or crawling infant. Be prepared to open up a portion of your house and, hopefully, backyard for your rabbit's exercise needs.
4) Remember rabbits are prey animals and may be afraid of your predatory companions, dogs and cats. They may even inspire some unwanted (though natural) behaviors from your dogs or cats. All the animals should have safe areas of the house/yard where they will not interact.
5) Contact veterinarians throughout the area to make sure one is available to care for a rabbit.

Rabbits are smart, social critters who make wonderful companions in homes that respect their individuality and special needs. But please do your homework before welcoming a rabbit into your home.