Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Representations’ 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.

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 »

Animals in Graphic Novels

Posted by lisagbrown on October 19, 2009

If you’re wondering why Animal Inventory is a little slow these days, let me assure that it’s for good reason. I’m hard at work on lots of exciting projects, and I’d like to share one of them with you: I’m guest-editing the June 2010 issue of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture. The theme of the issue puts my favorite topic in the context of one of my favorite artistic mediums: animals in graphic novels.

buddhacoverCover art from Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha

Here in Boston we just had our first snow, so it may seem odd to busy myself with something that’s debuting in June. Yet, for those of us who are working on the issue, June is right around the corner! If you or someone you know may be interested in contributing to this issue, please take a look at the call for papers below.

Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture (www.antennae.org.uk) is seeking submission for its June 2010 issue devoted to the subject of “animals in graphic novels.”

The issue will primarily focus on papers that examine contemporary graphic novels; examples of these might include Pride of Baghdad (Brian K. Vaughan), First in Space (James Vining), the works of Osamu Tezuka, Animal Man (Grant Morrison), Rabbi’s Cat (Joann Sfar), Fables (Bill Willingham), and Maus (Art Spiegelman), among others. Papers that examine the subjects of comics for children and comic strips that appear in newspapers may also be considered, depending on the originality of the contextualisation through which they may be presented.

We are looking at gathering a wide range of perspectives, themes and ideas within the broad scope of “animals in graphic novels.” These may include, but are not limited to, the following:

– Exploring animality in the graphic novel medium
– Representing the human/animal divide
– Positive and negative aspects of anthropomorphism
– Becoming animal
– Links between sexism, racism and speciesism
– Non-western graphic novels
– The challenges of animal first-person narratives
– Ecocriticism and nature in graphic novels

As per usual Antennae is open to consideration of academic essays as well as fiction and experimental writing. Submission of abstracts and proposals is 1st of December 2009. Final deadline for submissions is 1st of March 2010. For any questions please contact Giovanni Aloi and Lisa Brown (Guest Editor of the Animals in Graphic Novels Issue) at antennaeproject@gmail.com

Posted in Animals, Art, Comics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Representations, Theory | 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 »

An Inventory of Animal Inventory

Posted by lisagbrown on August 1, 2009

This entry marks the 100th posting since the start of Animal Inventory. And, with appropriate synchronicity, this 100th entry also marks — nearly to the day — the two-year anniversary of Animal Inventory’s very first post (August 5, 2007).

When I first started Animal Inventory, my audience was mostly family and friends. I averaged about 20 hits per month. Yet over the past two short years, Animal Inventory’s readership has grown at an amazing rate. Last July 2008 (one year after its inception) Animal Inventory had 700 readers that month. To mark Animal Inventory’s first anniversary I, along with local producer Hannah Pillemer, launched Animal Inventory TV, a Web show that honors the unique relationships between people and animals. The show (currently on hiatus) has had a viewership thus far of nearly 6000 views for the three inaugural episodes.

But nothing could have prepared me for the rapid growth over the last year. Readership has continued to increase steadily with each passing month and for July 2009 ALONE, Animal Inventory had more than 4800 visitors. That’s a 650% increase since July 2008’s 700 visitors! What’s more, many readers take the time to explore the blog, clicking on past postings, the recommended list, and my bio. On the average day, Animal Inventory receives between 150-250 visitors, an average that rises when a new post goes up. In addition to visitors from every corner of the United States, the blog has had visitors from England, Austria, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Vietnam, Canada, Norway, Belgium, France, South Africa, Australia, Switzerland, Hungary and Brazil — and this list represents today, August 1st, alone! Over the course of the last two years, visitors have come from too many countries to name, and have requested translations from Google Translate in many different languages.

I am sharing this information with you simply because I am astonished — and so pleased — with the growth of Animal Inventory. I started this blog with very simple and humble expectations — namely, to organize my thoughts about the subject of animals in popular culture. I hoped that some animal studies scholars and general animal lovers might read it on occasion, but I never could have anticipated the loyalty of my readers, the professional friendships that would arise as a result of the blog, and the positive feedback I would get from varying animal-related communities and individual animal lovers.

Forthcoming…

Animal Inventory continues to be one of my most fulfilling projects. I’ve got a few plans for the future to keep the site and it’s contents fresh and informative. Here are just a few:

  • I’m currently seeking a designer to help create a unique and identifiable logo that matches the theme of the blog. If you or someone you know might be interested, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
  • Relatedly, I’m considering doing a website redesign to make the blog a bit sleeker, more user-friendly, and more up-to-date.
  • I’m thinking about publishing a collection of Animal Inventory’s most popular entries in book format.

And finally, I have just launched Animal Inventory’s Facebook page. This page will enable me to post links to artists, news and content that may be of interest to Animal Inventory readers — even when I don’t have time to write a full blog posting. This will bring all the best of animals in pop culture — right to your Facebook news feed. Plus, you’ll be the first to know when there’s a new posting on the blog. Simply click the link below and click “become a fan” to start receiving Animal Inventory updates:

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And, as always, thank you so very much for reading Animal Inventory.

Posted in Animals, Art, Human-Animal Studies, Representations | 3 Comments »

Low-Calorie Monkeys and Roger Cohen’s Meaning of Life

Posted by lisagbrown on July 18, 2009

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In the July 15, 2009 New York Times, op-ed writer Roger Cohen responds to a recently published study that claims that ingesting one-third fewer calories may slow the aging process. The study draws this conclusion based on the controlled eating habits of a group of monkeys where half the monkeys have been denied one third of their regular caloric intake. 37% of the control group, fed a normal monkey diet, have died of old age, while only 13% of the underfed group have passed away.

In his article “The Meaning of Life,” Cohen introduces a new perspective to this story — one that the mainstream media hasn’t considered in its flurry over finding a potential fountain of youth. As he explains, “the issue arises of how these primates… are feeling, and whether these feelings impact their desire to live.” In this short but succinct statement, Cohen has turned the tables on the experiment and the resulting press coverage. Not only is he questioning the validity of the study’s conclusions, he is also asking his readership to consider the experiences of these monkeys as individuals. In wondering about the monkeys’ desire to live, he pointedly forces the reader to examine not just the food intake of the animals, but also their living situation, social structure and enrichment needs, as well. While other media outlets see hope for humans waistlines reflected in the photo of the monkeys, Cohen brings attention to everything in the photo around the monkeys — the sterile cages and metal mesh flooring, and the stark contrast of the brightly colored toys that seemed decidedly un-fun and untouched. Cohen seems to ask his readers whether this looks like a life worth living.

Yet Cohen goes on to dissect the expressions of the pictured monkeys, claiming that the larger simian, Owen (above, right), has a “wry smile” and the slender monkey, Canto (above, left), looks “miserable in his thinness,” and here is where I have to diverge with his line of thinking. It’s difficult to know from a single photograph the lifelong mood or feelings of an animal — or, well, of anyone for that matter. And as some of Cohen’s readers point out in the online comments section of the article, there are other photos of the monkeys in which the thin monkey looks perfectly content, and the plump monkey looks unhappy. It is a fair assumption that Cohen knew about these other photos when he wrote his article. Which begs the question: If pictures are worth 1000 words, then whose thousand words do these photos reveal? The scientists’ thousand? Cohen’s thousand? Certainly not the monkeys’ thousand.

As I read the rest of Cohen’s article, it became clear to me that Cohen was, in part, using these monkeys as a literary device; a means to get to the heart of what he really wanted to discuss — the meaning of happiness in life. He praises the merits of red wine, the pleasures of eating rich foods, and the enhancing benefits of love, all while using plump Owen’s wry smile as an example of the happiness that living lushly can produce. But there’s an uncomfortable dissonance to his point, because despite Cohen’s intentions, his idea of a life fully lived doesn’t remotely resemble the realities of Owen’s captive life — regardless of whether or not Owen has access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

It is the prerogative of a writer to find alternate meanings in otherwise commonplace events, or to find the common threads in disparate stories in order to bring greater understanding to a theme. This is what Cohen strives to do by pairing the evocative monkey portraits with his musings on living happily. But when I first started reading Cohen’s article, I did not think that the monkeys were a literary means to an end. And for all the obvious reasons, Cohen’s article does not dissect the lives of these monkeys as deeply as I hoped he would.

On July 6, 2009, Cohen wrote an extraordinarily moving article for the New York Times about the tyranny in Iran called, “A Journalist’s ‘Actual Responsibility’.” He uses the disturbing events in Iran to define his purpose as a journalist. He explains, “In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.”

Cohen defines “bearing witness” as a physical presence: to bear witness a journalist must actually see something with his or her own eyes, be present for the smells, sights and sounds of a story. But in my mind, and I think Cohen intended this as well, bearing witness is also the revolutionary act of seeing what others refuse to see, hearing what others refuse to hear, and documenting, for all posterity, what others refuse to document. And in this sense, physical presence is secondary to emotional and intellectual presence.

When I began to read Cohen’s article about a new fountain of youth — delivered on the backs of underfed and under-enriched monkeys — I saw that he was bearing witness to this story in a way that no one in the mainstream press had; everyone else saw their own fears of aging, but he saw a suffering that was going unnoticed. He was bearing witness to stark metal cages and sad thirty-year lifespans. He seemed to be acknowledging a truth that many members of the media ignore — monkeys (and all animals) live lives that are worth witnessing. But Cohen’s reliability as a witness fell just short of the mark when he supplanted his own meaning of life over the faces of monkeys whose lives are defined by what they have or have not eaten.

Perhaps Cohen has cracked open the door of Pandora’s box (aside from the obvious dogs and cats, mainstream media still has a difficult time acknowledging that animal well-being matters), and so, in that context, Cohen’s stance is actually somewhat brave. But those two monkeys — even the very thin one — can’t fit through a door that’s only open a sliver. They need a door that’s thrown wide open, and a witness who is focused on the meaning of their lives, not his own.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Minding Animals, July 12-19, 2009

Posted by lisagbrown on July 14, 2009

minding_animals_logo-1If I could be anywhere in the world right now, I would not choose the sandy beaches of Hawaii or the Caribbean. I would not be wandering the romantic streets of Paris with my sweetheart, nor would I be observing wild capuchin monkeys in South America. No, if I could choose to be anywhere in the world instantaneously — right this very moment — I would choose to be in Newcastle, Australia.

You see, some of the most important animal studies thinkers of our time have gathered at the University of Newcastle, Australia, for the Minding Animals conference, a first-of-its-kind meeting of artists, scientists, scholars and activists. NYU philosopher Dale Jamieson has called it “the Woodstock of the animal rights movement.” Over 400 participants are spending the week lecturing about, discussing and pondering the state of animals in our world. For over a week these brilliant minds of animal studies will be sharing their thoughts on topics as varied as law, ethics, literature, film, veterinary practices, education, conservation, zoos, consciousness, ethology, cruelty, species … and so much more! (For a complete listing of the conference’s panels, visit the Minding Animals website and click “Download Final Programme.”)

I must not be alone in my utter despair for not being there — the Minding Animals conference organizers, Dr. Rod Bennison and Dr. Jill Bough, have kindly organized podcasts and live-streaming of some of the panels, in partnership with ABC Newcastle NSW. To listen in on this historic conference-in-the-making, visit the ABC Minding Animals channel.

Though there is no official twitterfeed for Minding Animals, several of the attendees/speakers are live-tweeting the panels they attend. Follow @andrewbartlett @leerhiannon @JohnAtASI @_caroljadams @VoicelessFund (And while you’re at it, follow Animal Inventory at @lisabrown, too!)

For of-the-moment blog coverage, visit the ASI Diary on the Animals & Society Institute website. John Thompson, Ken Shapiro and others are posting daily blog entries about their experiences at Minding Animals.

Posted in Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a 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 »