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Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Human-Animal Bond’ Category

Monkeys, Marsupials and Emus on Superbowl Sunday: A Salon with Sy Montgomery and Dale Peterson

Posted by lisagbrown on February 7, 2010

While the rest of Boston was glued to Superbowl Sunday TV, a small group of animal-minded individuals gathered in the brick annex of Newtonville Books to chat with authors Sy Montgomery (Walking with the Great Apes) and Dale Peterson (Elephant Reflections). The Pen/New England event wasn’t a typical book reading. In fact, no one even cracked open a book. Instead, the two authors casually entertained the group with stories of how they began writing about animals. And when that was through, the group of us stood sipping wine and eating cheese, chatting up the charmingly humble authors in the tradition of an old fashioned “salon.”

Dale shared a story about how he used to do carpentry for Steve Jobs in the 80’s, and how he found his voice while travelling the world in pursuit of the 10 most endangered primates. Sy extolled her love of Emus, and explained the depression she endured when she left her six-month stint in the outback of Australia. Even though both Dale and Sy have books coming out soon, neither read passages from their books. Instead, they shared a little of themselves: their writing process, their personal relationships with animals, and their experiences with publishers. “When you can’t believe in yourself, and I often can’t, you can believe in the animals you apprentice yourself to,” explained Sy.

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Conservation, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Photography, Primates, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Blitzen Trapper Embrace Their Inner Wolf

Posted by lisagbrown on November 24, 2009

On Blitzen Trapper’s new album Furr, the band draws on the storytelling tradition of shapeshifters: humans and animals who can shift between forms. The band embraces their inner wolf on the title track, “Furr.” Read the fantastic lyrics below:

“Furr”

Yeah, when I was only 17,
I could hear the angels whispering
So I droned into the words and
wondered aimlessly about till
I heard my mother shouting through the fog
It turned out to be the howling of a dog
or a wolf to be exact.
The sound sent shivers down my back
but I was drawn into the pack.
And before long, they allowed me
to join in and sing their song.
So from the cliffs and highest hill, yeah
we would gladly get our fill,
howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn.
And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong.
For my flesh had turned to fur, yeah
And my thoughts, they surely were turned to
instinct and obedience to God.

You can wear your fur
like the river on fire.
But you better be sure
if you’re makin’ God a liar.
I’m a rattlesnake, babe,
I’m like fuel on fire.
So if you’re gonna’ get made,
don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned.

On the day that I turned 23,
I was curled up underneath a dogwood tree.
When suddenly a girl
with skin the color of a pearl,
wandered aimlessly,
but she didn’t seem to see.
She was listenin’ for the angels just like me.
So I stood and looked about.
I brushed the leaves off of my snout.
And then I heard my mother shouting through the trees.
You should have seen that girl go shaky at the knees.
So I took her by the arm
we settled down upon a farm.
And raised our children up as
gently as you please.

And now my fur has turned to skin.
And I’ve been quickly ushered in
to a world that I confess I do not know.
But I still dream of running careless through the snow.
An’ through the howlin’ winds that blow,
across the ancient distant flow,
it fill our bodies up like water till we know.

You can wear your fur
like the river on fire.
But you better be sure
if you’re makin’ God a liar.
I’m a rattlesnake, babe,
I’m like fuel on fire.
So if you’re gonna’ get made,
don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned.

Listen to the song on Blitzen Trapper’s website

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Dogs, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Music, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Antennae, Issue 11: Insecta

Posted by lisagbrown on September 27, 2009

The newest issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture is now available for download. The theme of the issue is insects — namely, our uncomfortable relationship with them and how we can come to see beauty in creepy crawlies. The issue was inspired by Pestival, a week-long festival in London celebrating insects. As Giovanni Aloi, editor-in-chief of Antennae, says:

…this issue of Antennae looks at some of the most challenging and interesting contemporary artists working with insects. The “excuse” for ‘Insecta’ to be released right now is Pestival 2009, “A festival celebrating insects in art, and the art of being an insect” which took place at London’s Southbank Centre this September. Pestival’s aim is to examine insect-human interactivity in bioscience through paradigms of contemporary art, cinema, music and comedy as well as through direct scientific demonstration and educational projects.

Antennae Issue 11

Click on the image above to be redirected to the Antennae homepage.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Music, Photography, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Animals on the Internet

Posted by lisagbrown on August 27, 2009

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Animals are everywhere on the internet, and it seems that every day there are more and more viral stories, videos and photos about animals! In order to accomodate the rapid influx of news and links, I’ve started a Facebook page where I can quickly post these items when I don’t have time to write a blog entry. Here’s a sampling of what you’ve been missing, if you’re not a fan of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

  • Monkey Herds Goats; Farmer Approves: An amazing National Geographic video of a monkey in India that herds goats! She has received no training, and does it on a completely voluntary basis — she was set free by the people who tended to some wounds she had gotten in the wild, but has chosen to stay with them and herd their goats!
  • Green Porno: Isabella Rossellini and Sundance channel team up to create very short films about the reproductive habits of marine animals. GREEN PORNO is scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining.
  • Chimp Outtakes: Adorable outtakes from footage shot by the Jane Goodall Institute of the chimps in Gombi.
  • Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me: The NPR news quiz show hosts an episode that’s all about animals!

And there’s so much more! Articles about: a giraffe and an ostrich that are best friends, how Barry White might help sharks mate, an elephant and a dolphin getting prosthetic limbs. Introductions to cool artists who are inspired by animals, like Jen Mastre’s pencil sea urchin sculptures.  Plus I’ve begun highlighting the animal-related work of Animal Inventory’s fans themselves, an astonishingly talented and prolific group of people: for example, the comics of Nick Abadzis, the artwork of Jessica Joslin, the writing of Leslie Irvine.

There’s much more to come. Don’t miss out on your daily dose of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Conservation, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Primates, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Japan’s Dolphin Massacre: The Cove in Taiji

Posted by lisagbrown on August 7, 2009

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Dolphins have been massacred by the thousands in the town of Taiji, Japan, but until now, not many people knew about it. Thanks to the dedicated team behind the new movie, The Cove, the cruel, ongoing practice of dolphin slaughtering has been exposed. The horrifying truth is that most people in Japan don’t even know this is happening in their own country and — even worse — they don’t know that some of the fish they eat is dolphin meat. They are purposefully being deceived in order to sustain a lucrative and dishonest industry that provides “show” dolphins to aquariums and “swim-with-dolphins” programs worldwide.

As the film opens, director Louis Psihoyos explains, “we tried to do this film legally.” With this one line, Psihoyos sets up the espionage, intrigue and drama of a film that has Hitchcock-worthy, rapid-fire pacing. The Cove stands as a meticulous documentary whose important contribution to animal welfare is only outshone by its contribution to the medium of guerrilla-style documentary film-making. This is storytelling at its most profound, where structure and content intertwine seamlessly to create a narrative that is as exciting as it is informative.

The Cove traces the story of Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the 1960’s television show Flipper, who feels responsible for contributing to the captivity of dolphins. During brief interludes, O’Barry shares his profound attachment to Kathy, one of the dolphins who played Flipper. She brought him to a greater understanding of why these beings ought not to be in captivity. O’Barry’s perspective is integrated with information from scientists, divers and others who share personal and professional knowledge, creating a holistic portrait of dolphins as sentient, self-aware beings whose suffering is unjustifiable.

As is the case with most thrillers, there are good guys and bad guys, corrupt government schemers, and a genuine danger of being caught. All these pieces provide the framework, but the dolphins and their plight remain at the heart of every wrenching scene, giving the drama a pulsating urgency that fictional thrillers lack.

I’ve heard that some people are fearful of seeing the film because they think they won’t be able to handle the upsetting nature of its content. I hope to dissuade people of this fear. It’s true that there are things that happen in this movie that are incredibly sad to see and even worse to think about, but it would be such a disservice to yourself — and the dophins — if you allow this fear to overtake you. This film won’t destroy you. It doesn’t show you anything you can’t handle. But it will provoke attention and outrage, and it will very likely incite you to take action. In the same way that Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth inspired moviegoers to go beyond the passive experience of movies — and participate in the experience long after the film has ended — The Cove will inspire everyday people to champion on behalf of the dolphins.

What is happening in Taiji deserves scrutiny. It warrants our attention. And it needs to end.

To take action, visit www.takepart.com/thecove

To find a screening in your city, visit The Cove‘s website

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Dolphins performing in Taiji.                                                                                      The filmmakers with two covert filming tools.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Film, Fish, Food Animals, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations | 1 Comment »

Charles Siebert’s “Watching Whales”

Posted by lisagbrown on July 13, 2009

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When I interviewed Charles Siebert a few weeks ago, we primarily discussed his recent book The Wauchula Woods Accord. However, this past Sunday the New York Times Magazine published a new article by Siebert, “Watching Whales Watching Us,” reminding me that Siebert’s passion for animals extends far beyond our primate relatives. In fact, his commitment animals extends to creatures that he describes as “about as close as fellow mammals can get to being extraterrestrials.”

I’ve always thought of whales as being rather like colossal elephants of the ocean. As it turns out, this common perception is more accurate than anyone could have predicted. The extraordinary intelligence and deep familial bonds that have recently been identified in elephants are astoundingly similar to the complex traits that are being uncovered in whales. As Siebert explains,

Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us again.

Siebert traveled to Baja to experience an unprecedented interaction between gray whales and humans: one that has been entirely initiated by the whales themselves, birthing mothers who should, by all rights, be violently protective of their new calves.

Has Siebert overstepped the anthropomorphic boundary that he so clearly articulated in our interview? Teaching, learning, grieving, sure. But forgiveness? Gray whales have been brought to the brink of extinction multiple times by human hands, and Siebert suggests that these interactions may be the whales’ expression of forgiveness for the many decades (or centuries) of wrongs we have committed against them. And as surprising as it may seem to some people, he may not be far off base.

Toni Frohoff is the marine mammal behavioralist who Siebert accompanies to Baja. And so he poses the question to her, a person who would probably know the answer better than anyone. She responds:

Those are the kinds of things that for the longest time a scientist wouldn’t dare consider…But thank goodness we’ve gone through a kind of cognitive revolution when it comes to studying the intelligence and emotion of other species. In fact, I say now that it is my obligation as a scientist not to discount the possibility. We do have compelling evidence of the experience of grief in cetaceans; and of joy, anger, frustration and distress and self-awareness and tool use; and of protecting not just their young but also their companions from humans and other predators. So these are reasons why something like forgiveness is a possibility. And even if it’s not that exactly, I believe it’s something. That there’s something very potent occurring here from a behavioral and a biological perspective. I mean, I’d put my career on the line and challenge anybody to say that these whales are not actively soliciting and engaging in a form of communication with humans, both through eye contact and tactile interaction and perhaps acoustically in ways that we have not yet determined. I find the reality of it far more enthralling than all our past whale mythology

To read Charles Siebert’s “Watching Whales Watching Us” in its entirety, click here.

To listen to Charles Siebert and Toni Frohoff discuss their shared experiences with the whales (and their respective new books) on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, click here.

Illustration by Ivan Chermayeff

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Public Policy, Radio, Theory | 1 Comment »

What about Michael Jackson’s Chimp, Bubbles?

Posted by lisagbrown on June 29, 2009

bubblesI guess I imagined that Michael Jackson’s chimp Bubbles still lived at the Neverland Ranch, that he was a member of MJ’s menagerie, or maybe that he had an enclosure in the King of Pop’s house.  To be honest, I never gave the matter much thought until Michael Jackson died last week and I found myself thinking, what about Bubbles?

It could be said that Jackson’s purchase of Bubbles (at age 3) in 1985 marked the beginning of Jackson’s decline into increasingly eccentric behavior. Bubbles made appearances in Jackson’s videos; he was present in the recording studio as Jackson recorded his album Bad; he even accompanied Jackson on a tour of Japan and they reportedly shared a hotel room.

By Jackson’s own account, he gave up Bubbles when his son was born, fearing that the chimp may become aggressive. But the real story is less clear. Some people report that there were many young “Bubbles'” over the years, or at the very least, there were a number of different apes that lived with Jackson. According to reliable sources, the reality is that the original Bubbles actually lived for most of his life with a trainer in California. And what is clear, is that in 2005 Bubbles was moved to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary, where he currently resides.

Last week I posted an interview with Charles Siebert whose book, The Wauchula Woods Accord, chronicles the sad lives of former entertainment chimps living in America. Siebert’s chimp friend Roger lives at the same sanctuary that Bubbles does, along with more than 40 other apes. To describe the story of Bubbles is to rehash the same heartbreaking tale that has been recounted again and again and again. Adorable baby chimps are purchased by the rich and put to work as actors and entertainers. They become adult chimps very quickly who are too strong to be around humans, and are then forced to spend the rest of their 50-55 years behind bars. I can’t help but wonder what will cause these stories to change.

The photo above shows a very young Bubbles with Michael Jackson in the mid 80’s. The photo below is by Joe Zammit-Lucia (whose work I highlighted in a blog entry a few weeks ago), and shows Bubbles as he is today. Joe is offering fine archival prints of the photo for purchase, and proceeds from the sales will go directly to The Center for Great Apes, where Bubbles lives. If you are interested in purchasing a print, click here to go to Joe’s web site. Alternatively, you can make donations directly at the sanctuary’s web site. To take care of all of their apes, it costs the sanctuary $16,000 per year, per chimp ($43 per day, per chimp).  

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“Bubbles” by Joe Zammit-Lucia

To learn more about The Center for Great Apes, please click here.

To specifically learn more about Bubbles, click here.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Photography, Primates, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »

An Interview with Writer Charles Siebert about His New Book, The Wauchula Woods Accord

Posted by lisagbrown on June 22, 2009

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Charles Siebert has made his name as the New York Times Magazine animal writer. In the past several years he has written articles about animal shelters, elephant culture, chimp behavior, and humans’ relationship with the natural world. He has also written several books about animals and nature (for a complete bibliography of Siebert’s work, click here).

Now, Siebert adds to his impressive body of work with the book The Wauchula Woods Accord, in which he explores the lives of retired chimps living in America. Siebert takes us on a coast to coast trip as he visits a number of sanctuaries and zoos that house former chimp actors (and retired medical research subjects, as well). Building upon carefully compiled scientific, historical, biographical and cultural research, Siebert paints a vivid portrait of a species in crisis. In a style that has become Siebert’s signature, he ties this story together through the lens of his own personal experiences, and encourages his readers to see these animals as he sees them: as “primatological doppelganger[s]” of ourselves.

Perhaps most compelling is his relationship with Roger, a chimp who takes an immediate liking to Siebert, and whom Siebert is convinced he met at some point in his life. The quiet and profound friendship that grows between them fuels this book, as much as it fuels Siebert’s desire to see these apes living lives more befitting such intelligent, sensitive beings.

Recently, Siebert very graciously answered my questions about his relationship with Roger, and about his new book.

Animal Inventory: Much of the time you and Roger spend together you simply stare at each other. And yet, it seems that much occurs between you in the course of your endless gazing. At one point you say, “You can learn a lot, I’ve found, from just daring to remain within a chimpanzee’s stare. Far more than you can from a fellow human’s (p 5).” How so? What do you think was happening between you two during those times?

Charles Siebert: The very dynamic, if overtly static, process of daring to stay within another animal’s gaze (especially one as close to us in body and mind as the chimpanzee) is one of escaping the relentless keeper of human consciousness; a process of getting past my restrictive and seemingly exclusive identity as a human and thus throwing open the doors on all the other creatures that I know myself to be, or to once have been, biologically, evolutionarily, and intuitively. That all may sound like some horrible mish-mash of Walt Whitman, Transcendentalism and Buddhism, but there it is. I often feel I’m traveling in place when I look into an animal’s eyes, whereas with another human one has to get past all the self-conscious and pre-possessive entanglements that obtain your own brain. I’m not saying that the inscrutable muteness of an animal and its otherness allows me to endlessly project my thoughts and ideas and will upon them. I’m saying that animals allow me to divest myself of all those things and, to paraphrase Emerson, resign myself to the common biology that breathes through all beings and accompany that.

9780609804681AI: I thought a lot about your book Angus as I was reading Wauchula Woods – mostly because of the contrast in how you communicate animal sentience in each. In Angus, you write the book as a memoir from your dog’s point of view. In Wauchula Woods, you rely on observation, context and history. The circumstances – not to mention the species – in each book are quite different, but did you ever consider writing Roger’s story from his point of view?

CS: In Angus I was more or less operating on the premise that (and now I’m channeling Bogart in Casablanca) it is not an anthropomorphizer that I mind so much, it’s a cut-rate one. All I know is that I kept trying to write that book from my point of view, but the writing seemed horribly bland and flat. And then one day this voice came into my head that sounded to me like the essence of the spirit of Angus: daring, edgy, all attitude and aggression. As the book opens, he’s lying there at the edge of the woods, near death from a coyote attack, and so the sense I try to instill in the reader is that the actual Angus has been somehow transformed by the experience of the attack into a suddenly far more sentient, knowing rendition of his former self, a kind of wry Rilkean dog angel, hovering somewhere between life and death, and seeing both of those anew. With The Wauchula Woods Accord I knew I already had in Roger such an advanced intelligence (and this is based on neurological research into the chimp brain, not anthropomorphic conjecture) that to attempt to write the story from his point of view would have resulted in the very bathos and cartoonishness that I decry in the book with regard to our typical treatment of our nearest biological relative. Thus, it seemed to me the simple and often stark juxtaposition of my expressed thoughts and emotions with Roger’s unspoken ones, would be far more powerful.

AI: You posit that, despite the cages that usually restrict nonhuman apes, humans are “by far the more imprisoned species (p 44).” Can you explain what you mean by this?

pppCS: Well, this goes back to the relentless keeper’s consciousness, and the awkward and often beastly ways in which our own self-awareness causes us to behave, the very need we have, for example, to take a creature like Roger and dress him up as a cellist in an all-chimp orchestra at Ringling Bros., or to simply put him and any number of other creatures behind bars in order to stare at them. I think we do such things, on one level at least, because we’re lonely. We sense that we’re at once a part of, and apart from, other animals and so we want to bring them into our context as coerced companions, ongoing, living glosses on who we are. It’s a primal urge in its own right. Our brain’s added neurons, the ones that allow for our so called higher cognitive functions, are also what give us that sense of isolation from the rest of being. Why, we’ve long wondered, are we the only ones who can turn around and call all other things names? This sense of isolation is, of course, at the heart of all creation mythology, the notion that we humans went astray somewhere, committed some sin and so got ourselves expelled from the rest of nature. But as I say someplace in the book, we were never expelled from anywhere. We walked out: the first upright forays toward new environments and challenges that our earliest primate ancestor made, new environments and challenges that spurred, in turn, the growth of those same added neurons that have since contributed to our sense of isolation. Still, one great source of absolution—and I use that theurgically tinted word in the context of the above creation mythology rap—is now being offered to us by of all things science. More and more studies of other animals—fellow primates like Roger, elephants, whales, dolphins, and certain species of birds—are revealing that they, too, possess in varying measures many of the same highly specialized neurons and attendant behaviors, such as communication skills, social interactions, tool use and cultural transmission of knowledge, that we once thought to be exclusive to us humans. We are not alone after all. We just have no way, at present at least, to speak other creatures’ languages.

AI: In the course of your book you often suggest that our fraught relationship with chimps is partly due to how they remind us of the animality we deny in ourselves. Can you envision a way for humans to accept our own animality? What would that look like? And do you think that chimp welfare is dependent on our ability to accept our animality?

CS: Hmmm, I ponder that one often. One answer, I believe, and it may be somewhat pie-in-the sky, both literally and figuratively, is that if we humans could, in our ongoing need to apprehend the infinite and the spiritual nature of our existence, could learn to redirect our gazes downward rather than skyward, if we could come to better know and embrace the billions of years of biology that it took to go from the one common ancestor of all life to life as it is today in its myriad of forms, we would discover that the infinite, somewhat paradoxically, inheres in the minutae of all life’s making. “God”, in that sense, truly is in the details. I think we as a species are either far too oblivious or dismissive of the wonders of the actual story of life’s emergence. Science doesn’t dispel our wonder. It merely reinvents it. As for how such a new embrace of our own animality and common biology would affect the fate of other species such as chimps, I suppose I could quote the very words of The Wauchula Woods Accord that Roger and I arrive at by the end of our time together: “The degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures, and for that matter, one another will be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are.”

AI: At one point you explain, “Science has obviated anthropomorphism – the crime of projecting our stories upon the animals – by, of all things, repeatedly pointing out to us just how uncomfortably close to our stories so many aspects of theirs actually are (p 134).” By contrast, you seem to embrace a kind of anthropomorphism that uses human perspective as a tool toward a greater understanding of other animals. How have the scientists that reject anthropomorphism responded to your work?

sc0009c0b1CS: I’m not sure I can answer that one except to say that I’m always as careful as I can be in my research, and my interviews with scientists, and in my actual writing, about the so called “spectre of anthropomorphism”. I try to let the science lead my imagination and these days that’s a very effortless dance indeed. Ultimately, however, all we humans have is anthropomorphism. We have to, by the very nature of our own biological alignment, project upon and conjecture about what might be going on within the bodies and minds of biology’s other alignments. What science has forever changed, however, is the substance and tenor of our projections and conjectures. Whereas once we had to proceed from the inherently unanswerable question: what it is like to be in Roger’s day, or a whale’s, or a dolphin’s or an elephant’s, now science has told us enough about the behaviors and the brain structures of these other creatures to allow us to conclude that they all clearly have their own parallel days, ones that are in many ways as complex and woundable as ours, and therefore as commanding of regard and respect.

AI: You cite the work of Eve Abe and Gay Bradshaw, two scholars who suggest that wild elephants are experiencing a collective psychological and cultural breakdown of epic proportions, caused by human interference (habitat destruction, poaching, culling, translocation, etc.). What can we draw from these findings that will inform us about the future of wild chimps?

CS: Wild chimps are experiencing the same encroachment, habitat destruction and attendant breakdown of their society that elephants are. The future of both species, and that of any number of large land-based animals with whom we share the planet, is more or less entirely up to us. We are the ones who’ll have to determine how important it is to us to keep these animals around, how impoverished we’d be without them on the earth. And then we have to make the effort to preserve enough extant wilderness in which those animals can prosper. That, of course, involves very complex, geo-political maneuvering and cross-cultural co-operation and negotiation.

AI: Towards the end of the book, you state that we need “to finally get past ourselves and our story and, through acts of deep, interspecies empathy…to become a part of [other animals’] story (p 175).” On the one hand this seems like a simple request, but on the other hand this requires a radical shift in perspective. Can you explain what you mean by this?

CS: In one sense this involves us human beings collectively coming down off of our high horse, if you’ll excuse the old expression. The more we begin to see and understand ourselves as one more extension of the greater biological forces that created and control all life on earth, rather than as beings apart, entities anointed by some higher authority, the more the “inter-species empathy” I speak of, or what Gay Bradshaw calls the “trans-species psyche”, will be allowed to flourish. This will all still bring us to the same tough decisions and compromises that I alluded to earlier, but what a better premise it is to approach them from such a new collective interspecies empathy, as opposed to the ongoing parochial factionalism rooted in old rival religions and the false notion of human exclusivity.

AI: Finally, do you have any new projects in the works that we can look forward to?

CS: I’m currently completing an upcoming July 12th cover story for The New York Times Magazine about whales and all the amazing new things that we’re learning about them and their culture. I’ve also got a number of new books in the works, one about the hopefully doubtful future of the zoo; a novel about a hardware shop owner who happens to discover the common ancestor of all life on earth; and, finally, a collection of poems.

Image 1: Cover of The Wauchula Woods Accord

Image 2: Cover of Angus

Image 3: Siebert’s new friend, Roger

Image 4: Engraving by Nicolaes Tulp (1641). An image of an ape who is thought to be the first live chimp brought to Europe

Special thanks to Kate Bittman at Scribner

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 6 Comments »

Antennae, Issue 10

Posted by lisagbrown on June 21, 2009

Please visit Antennae‘s website to download (for free!!) the newest issue of the ever-wonderful Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The theme of the issue is heat. As Giovanni Aloi, the journal’s editor-in-chief, explains:

This issue of Antennae is fully dedicated to climate change. “Heat” pieces together a selection of artists’ responses to climate changes as experienced in different geographical, social and cultural realities. In doing so, we have tried to evenly divide our attention through a range of issues related to and departing from global warming.

Also, towards the end of the issue, please check out my interview with Geralyn Pezanoski, the director of MINE, an incredible documentary about the fate of companion animals during hurricane Katrina.

Antennae Issue 10

Posted in Amphibians, Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Photography, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters

Posted by lisagbrown on June 18, 2009

filllingHurricane Katrina was a pivotal event in animal welfare in the United States.  However, it’s only now, some four years later, that we can begin to understand what happened in New Orleans. I’ve previously highlighted the film MINE,  a documentary feature that explores the impact of Katrina on humans and nonhumans. Now, the book Filling the Ark: Animal Welfare in Disasters  takes a broader look at how animals are handled in disasters — not just during Katrina, but during many of the most recent hurricanes, tornadoes, oil spills, and other calamities.

In Filling the Ark, author Leslie Irvine weaves a tale that is both eye-opening and tragic. She reveals some of the most horrific repercussions of Katrina, and places them in the context of America’s “lesser” disasters. In the wake of Katrina, it has been easy to forget that other disasters set the stage for the inadequacies that became apparent during Katrina. But Irvine does a great service to animal welfarists, humanitarians and aid workers by putting all the pieces together in one place, and showing how cultural views, economic challenges, racism, and inadequate infrastructure combine to create disasters within disasters. It is not necessarily the hurricane that is tragic, she suggests, but our response to it that is.

Thus far, most of the attention to animal welfare in disasters has been placed on companion animals — people’s pets. But Irvine shatters that boundary by revealing the unfathomable impact that disasters have had on animals in factory farms, birds and marine wildlife, and animals in research facilities. For example, in hurricane Rita alone, 30,000 cattle died. When the media reports on losses like these, if at all,  it frames the deaths as economic hits to the farmer. The reality is that there is very little structure in place to provide for these animals (or zoo animals) during disasters.

In her final chapter, Irvine suggests ways that we can begin to mend these holes in our disaster plans. As she explains, her goal is not to promote a radical animal rights agenda, but rather to establish sound structures within a culture that — for now — is “deeply entrenched” in its use of animals for food, science, and companionship. She says, “By incorporating welfare considerations into our existing uses of animals, we also reduce vulnerability — overall and during disasters. I believe we can accomplish this goal without imposing undue hardships on people (p 17).” Her purpose is to change practices in a way that is achievable, realistic, and cost effective. The biggest issue now, it seems, is how can we get this book into the hands of people who will listen,and who have the power to implement these changes?

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