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Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Guest Blogger’ Category

Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Guest Blogger Katie McCabe

Posted by lisagbrown on March 10, 2009

I’m pleased to introduce a new Animal Inventory guest blogger.  Katie McCabe has worked with marine animals for the past seven years, and has experience in marine mammal behavior, training, rescue, and rehabilitation, as well as educational outreach. She also examines the ethics and policies surrounding human relationships with other animals. She has a Master’s in Science from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy.


Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Katie McCabe

Over the past couple of days, there have been several reports from various news outlets about a chimpanzee named Santino in a Swedish zoo who is known to throw rocks at zoo guests.

Santino gathers the stones in the morning before the zoo is opened (presumably in an un-agitated state) and collects them in a pile. Throughout the day he adds to this stockpile by chipping away at some of the concrete in his enclosure to create more objects he can throw. When zoo visitors arrive in the afternoon, Santino becomes “agitated” and begins throwing rocks towards them. Santino only throws these rocks during the summer when visitors are present at the zoo.

All of the accounts I have read about this focus on the idea that this situation presents new, and possibly the first concrete, evidence that animals other than humans demonstrate planning and forethought.

Personally, I have never questioned that chimpanzees are quite intelligent and have the capacity both to strategically plan and to later implement these plans. What I have questioned, however, are the ethics surrounding keeping such an intelligent animal captive in a zoo environment. In addition to being evidence of advanced intelligence, doesn’t this say something about a chimpanzee’s experience in a zoo environment – or, at the very least, about Santino’s experience in the Swedish zoo?

Santino has been engaging in this behavior for ten years. Maybe in the midst of all of this research, someone should hypothesize about what Santino might be communicating through this behavior. I sincerely doubt his primary goal was to demonstrate to humans that he is capable of forethought and planning.

Oh, and anyone concerned about the welfare of the humans in this situation should rest assured because the zoo officials maintain that chimpanzees don’t have very good aim.

For more information, read Discover Magazine’s article, “Chimp Gathers Stones for ‘Premeditated Attacks on Zoo Visitors.”

(Katie McCabe)


Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Guest Blogger, Primates, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Telling Nature’s Story: A Manifesto, By Boria Sax

Posted by lisagbrown on January 12, 2009

nilaslogoNature in Legend and Story (Nilas) is an academic list serve that caters to scholars and storytellers who engage in the narrative of nature, animals and human culture.  As described on the Nilas website, “H-NILAS is a moderated internet discussion forum sponsored by the Nature in Legend and Story Society (NILAS). NILAS is a group of people dedicated to understanding relationships between human beings and the natural world, through the mediation of stories, poems, legends, pictures, and other cultural products.”

The group’s founder, Boria Sax, recently posted an essay that I thought would be of interest to Animal Inventory readers. Sax has graciously allowed me to post the manifesto, which also appears on his blog, Raven’s Wing.

Telling Nature’s Story: A Manifesto

Stories are not confined to human beings. Every animal, plant, stream, or mountain has a story.

Scholars are storytellers, who must now help to tell the story of humankind, of the earth, of the cosmos, of the troubled marriage between Mother Nature and Father Culture. These should be told in a language that can convey both intellectual nuance and emotional intensity, together with high drama, humor, pathos, adventure, and romance.

To tell the story of a tree or a butterfly is to grant it what is sometimes called “personhood.”

The majestic protocols of scholarship add authority and dignity, but they should not become the reason why we write. Documentation should enhance, not overwhelm, the story. Noting special cases should add interest and variety, and qualifications should enhance suppleness. But the accumulated mass of detail must not distract us from the line of narrative.

Language is not confined to human beings, though our language is like no other. There is also the dance of a bee, the changing colors of an octopus, the architecture of a bower bird, and the howling of a wolf. There is the language of the genetic code, with which strands of DNA speak to an embryo, or of plants as they bend and turn to share the sun.

The laws of physics are the grammar of a language in which the stars and galaxies communicate with one another. Are we speaking metaphorically? Sure. But that is how our language works.

Computers also have languages. We may use their languages when we communicate with them, but human beings do not use computer languages to talk with one another. We also do not habitually dance like bees or bark like crows. That is because our language is not simply an accessory. It is a basic part of what we are.

Humankind does not simply have a story; humankind is a story. While that story is still told, humanity will live. When the story ends, humankind will be no more. Our DNA, if it survives, will be one more monument alongside Stonehenge and the paintings in Lascaux.

What is Nature? All things that we are not. It is our beloved partner and adversary. Nature is a spider, gazing at a boy as she turns, with each of eight arachnid eyes, hanging from a filament catches the sun momentarily and then seems to disappear.

Didn’t Aristotle point out that things are opposite only through the qualities they share. The story of nature is our story, just like the reflection in a pond is our image, in reverse. Without Nature we could not live, in fact we could not even die.

By Boria Sax

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Guest Blogger, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Review of “Our Daily Bread,” by Guest Blogger Mike Civille

Posted by lisagbrown on November 12, 2008

ourdailybread1I’m pleased to introduce Animal Inventory’s first guest blogger, Mike Civille. Civille is an independent filmmaker who has taught film studies at Boston College since 1999. He is currently a candidate for PhD in American Studies at Boston University. Read his review of the film Our Daily Bread, below.

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Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s Our Daily Bread is a film that captures the banal and repetitive nature of mass food production. Through a unique combination of static shots and slow moving cameras, the film tiptoes from the production of one food to another, lulling the viewer into desensitized complacency. Geyrhalter forces the viewer to sit through much of the process uninterrupted, a feature that is sometimes boring and sometimes horrifying. The first third of the film is devoid of any shocking imagery, which gives it the mechanical quality of a museum installation piece. Workers pick fruit, feed poultry, and spray insecticides, while one particularly surreal sequence shows live chicks being fired from a machine into bins, like chirping tennis balls. After a while, the workers processing the food begin to resemble the machines they’re assisting, absent of any reaction, arms moving as programmed. Geyrhalter’s meticulously rhythmic depiction of the process turns the audience into a mechanism as well, a voyeuristic witness with little emotional attachment — that is, until the last half hour, when the pigs, cows, chickens, and fish begin their unfortunate path to the market. By now, the viewers are a part of the machinery, and they must witness this unedited nasty routine as accomplices, their mass desire for bacon, burgers, buffalo wings and seafood the cause of all of this gutting and hacking. If you can make it through the monotonous first half, Our Daily Bread recovers as an effective, beautifully framed and carefully constructed wakeup call about nature, machines, and humans’ place in between. (Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films)
(Mike Civille)

Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Birds, Ethics, Film, Food Animals, Guest Blogger, Public Policy | 1 Comment »