Bowie the alligator lizard

We interrupt this most incredible hiatus to bring you the funniest thing that I have read all week. And here it is, as posted by Seanan McGuire on Twitter:

Last but not least, a moral for the story:

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Fur

Recently, one of my friends shared a video from PETA of an undercover sting on a Chinese fur farm. PETA is frankly not my favorite welfare organization because they are not above overzealous propaganda but there was one scene in that video that cut the cake for me.

The camera has zoned in on a pile of skinned animals. Since the skin has been removed, you can see the teeth. The throat of the nearest head is pulsing, which indicates respiration; what looks like an anatomical model is breathing. As the head turns slowly and is laid against the side of the body, you can see that its eyes are blinking. One of the eyes still has fur around it, as does one of the forefeet. It continues to blink. Abruptly, the head flops back to where it was at first.

It was eerie.

I don’t know if these animals’ fur is being sold in California but I can tell you that if this is the case, this situation is part of a much larger problem. China is a difficult country to understand in terms of how it operates but what many people that I encounter don’t realize is that this is the dark side of the U.S. and maybe other countries, not China itself.

The U.S. has a nasty habit of giving its dirty jobs to countries when it is more convenient to do so. The reason that the U.S. is not all a horribly contaminated toxic waste bin is that much of our production has been shunted off to different countries. How much of your shit is “Made in China”? Those had to be made by factories. If the factories weren’t in China, they’d be in the U.S.

Do you know why the U.S. is never going to be able power itself on sustainable energy and resource use? Because we ignore the fact that our ecological footprint extends far beyond U.S. borders in both distance and magnitude. China isn’t polluting the air; we are. I don’t even need to investigate or to research or to pull data from anywhere. The proof is in my house, my friend’s house, my neighbor’s house, my cousin’s house: all the clothes and appliances that say, “Made in China.” Even if I wanted to buy all “Made in U.S.A,” I either don’t have access because all the U.S. manufacturers went out of business or I can’t afford it.

The people who skinned that animal don’t know any better. I would be wasting my breath to tell them about nerve receptors and stress response because if they had enough education to understand what I’m talking about, they wouldn’t be working where they are. I’d be wasting my breath to tell them about morality and ethics and animal souls because China is an atheist country. What they do understand is money. That’s the type of country China is. You ask for electronics, they make electronics. You ask for fur, they get you fur. If you don’t put your foot down about how reliable their electronics are or how they get their fur, they’ll do a 1-year warranty job as cheaply as possible.

For starters, we need to do our part in ending fur import.

I want to stress that it is not necessarily the fur trade itself but industrialization of the fur trade, where it became an assembly line business, that is hurting individual animal welfare. American beef, American leather: we’re always going to use animal products and I don’t think it’s entirely a bad thing. There’s a difference between assembly line production and quality craftsmanship. If someone had a herd of cattle, killed one for butchery (beef), and sold the skin to a tanner or similar craftsman, who made shoes or a purse out of it, I would have no problem with buying those shoes or that purse. I don’t approve of fox farms but if they kept their foxes in a barn instead of a wire cage and shot their foxes in the head instead of skinning them alive, I would probably not be too upset about fur. I don’t like fur terribly much as an ornament but I like the feel and the insulation: but not enough to buy inhumanely produced fur.

Don’t buy real fur unless you have the resources to trace it backwards and make sure that the animal was [raised and] killed in a way that is acceptable to you.

Don’t throw paint at people who are wearing fur or leather. For all you know, they could be wearing fake fur or fair trade, ethically raised and manufactured leather, and they could be trying to help fix the industry in their own ways. If it bothers you, just ask politely and discuss politely. The best way to get someone on your side is to convince them that you’re on their side.

Spread the word about fake fur and how wonderfully realistic it is. I know, I have some. It’s amazingly soft, it looks fabulous, and it wasn’t taken off of a living animal. It might not be as warm as real fur but it’s an A+ alternative for people who like fur for the look and feel.

Raccoons are wild animals, too

Raccoons are remarkably clever critters. They are not domesticated yet they thrive among people. They have hands, like we do, and the will to find food, like bears do. They look like masked bandits and they steal from dumpsters. They’re cute and small, around the size of a cat, so begging is also an option.

Do not make it easy for them.

Raccoons learn fast. If you accidentally leave food out once but never again, they won’t bother you much. If you leave food out often, they’ll come like clockwork. It’s not just that, though. Once these guys figure out that camper baggage is full of goodies and that the campers won’t actually hurt them, they get very bold. I’ve seen campers who brought too much food to fit in their animal-proof food locker, trying to shake off prowling raccoons for a good hour or two before giving up and deciding to take their party elsewhere. I’ve heard of raccoons going into an unattended cooler of food, throwing out the top layer with the condiments and going straight to the bottom. I’ve heard of raccoons breaking into cars to poop on the driver’s seat. I kid you not. These guys are a nuisance.

These problem raccoons have been trained over time. People who deal with them always want a solution but the only really effective one is to not train the raccoons to look for food in human belongings by controlling access. It’s like baby-proofing your house except babies grow out of the urge to put everything in their mouths and wild animals don’t.

The psychology that goes into people intentionally feeding wild animals is really interesting, too. Sometimes, it’s just because begging animals are really good at tugging at heartstrings but probably just as often, it’s because people reward themselves for it. “I’m helping wild animals survive. They need me.” “This wild animal let me feed it. It trusts me. It must be that I’m a special person acknowledged by this wild animal.” When people fall into these psychological traps, they help turn raccoons into the little feral monsters that urban raccoons are.

Aside from the problems that furry little urban marauders cause for people, this can also be a biological problem, affecting the quality of their nutrition, the perpetuation of natural habits (failing to fulfill their role as omnivorous mesopredators), and other aspects of their population health (disease incidence, genetic issues, et cetera). I do think that it’s good when wild animals can persist in cities but the study of how that actually works out for them is a very new branch of research.

In conclusion: FOR THE LAST TIME. Pick up your shit or bolt it down, and don’t feed the wild animals.

Saving wolves

I realize this isn’t a California thing but I’m sure it’s still a topic of interest.

They’ve got this petition thing going about a Michigan bill threatening the survival of local wolves. http://www.causes.com/causes/787922-stop-wolf-trapping-in-montana/actions/1684396

You know what? Let’s be fair and look at this step-by-step.

Why would anybody shoot a wolf?

Profit or fear. Or both. If it’s not for wolf pelts, it’s for the threat they pose to livestock. Doing it for profit is stupid. I admit that I love the feel of fur but that’s why we have super awesome synthetic fur that even experts can’t tell apart from real fur without taking it apart. Fear is something that I can understand. I don’t agree that shooting wolves is the solution, but I understand that when people are trying to make a living off of something vulnerable to attack by wild predators, they can feel very antagonistic to wolves.

Step one. Let us not demonize people who have legitimate reasons to dislike wolves. They are not bloodthirsty if they’re not shooting wolves for the sake of killing. They are doing something that I call Looking Out For Their Interests and we all do it. Also, wolves and dogs are different, so forget about that shooting-the-dog analogy. Those who insist on slandering strangers should at least attempt to sound intelligent—not brainwashed—and take it easy on English grammar (eliminating excess phrasing such as “could potentially” might help but not much). Instead of flying off into picket-and-sign world, let us take a moment and remember that there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

Step two. Let us fill out a bit of background for the problem. It is not healthy for wolves to be hunted, obviously, but it is also not healthy for them to switch from wild prey to domestic prey. The whole wolf-in-the-flock thing is not good for the flock owners and it is not good for the wolves. It is a LOSE-LOSE situation and so far, I only see people coming up with one-way solutions. Good to see people putting their higher intelligence to work. [sarcasm here]

Step three. Let us determine the real problems.

Poachers are theoretically much easier to deal with: crack down on real fur and replace it with quality synthetic fur. Ranchers are more difficult. The problem is that wolves, like many wild animals, are opportunistic feeders. Out of all the things from which they can derive nutrients, they will pick the easiest one to catch.

We’re dealing with animal behavior, wildlife management, public lands management, encroachment on territory, economics, et cetera. We hear about people getting their houses foreclosed and being unable to find somewhere else to go: it probably isn’t much easier to relocate people with herds of livestock, which need lots of grazing area to keep happy. The wolves were there first, and then the people settled there before anyone knew enough to realize what a bad idea that would be. Maybe there isn’t really a better place to go, anyway.

Wild animals don’t understand things like borders. Wolves have territories that they enforce but unless the climate in a certain place is completely uninhabitable for wolves, they’re not going to understand that rancher land is No Wolf’s Land. That’s the problem. We have people raising large herds of ideal prey (domesticated and unfit for survival on their own) right next to wolves’ native lands. It’s not possible to not get problems. The government can uproot a people and reassign their territory but animals don’t use contracts and deeds.

Step four. We need a working solution. All we’ve got right now is sticking “problem” wolves in a zoo and hoping the others don’t learn to do the same. The situation is set up so that there is no way that a wolf that knew a thing about livestock being accessible would choose not to go for it. Wolves are smart. At the same time, it’s not good for the wolf population to habitually go for such easy prey. We like our wolves healthy, right?

I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe we should play the natural selection game and breed domestic livestock that are also fit to defend themselves from wolves. Wolves keep elk herds healthy by culling them so maybe we could let them do the same for us. The thing is that people are so absorbed in numbers that it freaks them out when there’s a wild card messing with their head count. Plus, livestock has been bred to be so manageable that if ranchers just sat back and ate their losses, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lost everything in a few years.

As a founder of CAW, I really want to emphasize that animal welfare is not as simple as “We can’t risk any hurt to nonhumans.” I’m not saying that the picture isn’t black and white. Shooting the wolves is not fair for them but telling ranchers to suck it up is not fair for them, either. I believe that there is no gray area between right and wrong but I also believe that a win-win solution isn’t always feasible. Make no mistake: whatever the best solution is, it’s not going to be invented in an hour by a young blogger. This is kind of an odd post in that I’m not telling you to do this or to do that, but to think for yourself and not sign everything if the only reason is that it has fiery language.

–EDIT–

Fladry, or the practice of hanging little flags strung up in a line at wolf eye-level to create a visual barrier has historically been very effective in Eastern Europe, although it’s not established how well it would work on wolves in North America and how long it would last before wolves figure out that it’s easy to get past. It would probably be best combined with periodic patrols (a.k.a. an actual barrier instead of a psychological one) to reinforce it. Just my two cents.