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

Report Finds Circus Animals Are Denied Lives ‘Worth Living’

Jorge267 via Flickr Creative Commons // CC BY-ND 2.0
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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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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