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Report Finds Circus Animals Are Denied Lives ‘Worth Living’

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Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0

A new report commissioned by the Welsh government has concluded that traveling circuses fail to meet legal standards for animal welfare [PDF]. The researchers say there is ample scientific evidence to support a ban on the inclusion of wild animals in circuses and other traveling shows.

Lead author Steven Harris—who researches ecology and animal population management at the University of Bristol in the UK—and his colleagues Jo Dorning and Heather Pickett had been studying the ethics and practicalities of animal welfare for years when they were approached to write the report. The government wanted to know what the scientific literature had to say about wild animals in circuses, and whether major stakeholders like conservationists, zookeepers, lawyers, and animal trainers felt the same way. They were especially interested in learning if circuses and other traveling shows were consistently meeting the requirements set down in the UK's Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The researchers reached out to 658 experts and organizations around the world for feedback. The pool included 138 animal trainers and circuses (ATCs); 206 animal welfare–focused lawyers and veterinarians (LVs); 107 employees of related non-government organizations (NGOs); 144 scientists; and 58 staff members from zoos and wild animal sanctuaries. They sent all the participants the same questionnaires, which included questions about living conditions, signs that animals were healthy, and which practices were good or bad for animal welfare.

The results revealed a substantial gulf in opinions and beliefs, with ATCs and NGOs on one side and scientists, lawyers, veterinarians, and sanctuary staff on the other. ATCs in particular were more likely to believe that animal training (which frequently relies on violence and other negative stimuli) was not stressful for wild animals and that frequent transport from show site to show site was actually good for them. Scientists, veterinarians, and other animal experts disagreed.

Analysis of the questionnaire responses and scientific literature on the subject led the researchers to a number of troubling, yet unsurprising conclusions:

  • Wild animals’ “five freedoms” (freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behaviors; and freedom from distress) are consistently “…compromised in travelling circuses and mobile zoos.”
  • “Traditional animal training methods are coercive and based on force and aggression,” and circus trainers “have few or no recognised qualifications or formal training.”
  • There was a lot of disagreement over the definition of the term “wild animal.”
  • ATCs were comfortable keeping animals in enclosures that averaged 26.3 percent of the size recommended by zoos.
  • The report found “…no scientific evidence that wild animals fully adapt to frequent transport.

Overall, the authors wrote, “Life for wild animals in travelling circuses and mobile zoos does not appear to constitute either a ‘good life’ or a ‘life worth living.’”

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This High-Tech Material Can Change Shape Like an Octopus
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Octopuses can do some pretty amazing things with their skin, like “see” light, resist the pull of their own sticky suction cups, and blend in seamlessly with their surroundings. That last part now has the U.S. Army interested, as Co.Design reports. The military branch’s research office has funded the development a new type of morphing material that works like an octopus’s dynamic skin.

The skin of an octopus is covered in small, muscular bumps called papillae that allow them to change textures in a fraction of a second. Using this mechanism, octopuses can mimic coral, rocks, and even other animals. The new government-funded research—conducted by scientists at Cornell University—produced a device that works using a similar principle.

“Technologies that use stretchable materials are increasingly important, yet we are unable to control how they stretch with much more sophistication than inflating balloons,” the scientists write in their study, recently published in the journal Science. “Nature, however, demonstrates remarkable control of stretchable surfaces.”

The membrane of the stretchy, silicone material lays flat most of the time, but when it’s inflated with air, it can morph to form almost any 3D shape. So far, the technology has been used to imitate rocks and plants.

You can see the synthetic skin transform from a two-dimensional pad to 3D models of objects in the video below:

It’s easy to see how this feature could be used in military gear. A soldier’s suit made from material like this could theoretically provide custom camouflage for any environment in an instant. Like a lot of military technology, it could also be useful in civilian life down the road. Co.Design writer Jesus Diaz brings up examples like buttons that appear on a car's dashboard only when you need them, or a mixing bowl that rises from the surface of the kitchen counter while you're cooking.

Even if we can mimic the camouflage capabilities of cephalopods, though, other impressive superpowers, like controlling thousands of powerful suction cups or squeezing through spaces the size of a cherry tomato, are still the sole domain of the octopus. For now.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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