Ringling Brothers Circus to Give Touring Elephants an Early Retirement by Sending Them to Florida

In the wake of growing concerns raised by animal rights activists and an increasing number of bans across the country, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will officially bring an end to its touring elephants act nearly two years earlier than initially expected, the Associated Press reports. “They’ll be joining the rest of the herd,” Alana Feld, executive vice president and show producer for Ringling, says. “We’re looking at a lot of new ways of doing things.”

Ringling will retire the tour’s remaining 11 elephants in May of this year, promptly relocating them to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. 29 other elephants have already been moved to this presumably laid-back locale, with two others currently on “breeding loans” to nearby zoos.

In March of last year, Ringling announced plans to slowly phase out the elephant portion of its live show by 2018. However, according to AP‘s report, the company realized they could move the retirement process along with much greater speed once plans were officially underway. Though a life of leisure after a potentially brutal experience as a stage performer would certainly be something these elephants have more than earned, they will also now be instrumental in cancer research.

“There’s so much to be learned from their DNA,” Feld says, adding that cancer is “much less common” in elephants than in humans. Though nothing has been proven, researchers believe that elephants may one day hold the key to successfully protecting humans from developing various forms of cancer in the future.

Be free, elephants. Florida is nice this time of year.

SeaWorld Announces It Will End Its Killer Whale Shows

For some reason it’s taken an inordinate amount of time for SeaWorld to finally come to terms with the fact that six-ton animals don’t enjoy being confined to small boxes and made to perform tricks for hundreds of screaming people every day. This week SeaWorld announced its plans to finally end the orca program at its San Diego theme park amid pressure on both state and federal levels, in addition to ongoing protests.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports SeaWorld will begin phasing out the program in 2016. In its place the park will launch its new “informative” killer whale program, which will ironically focus on a “conservation message inspiring people to act.” The move comes after a former employee and trainer John Hargrove blew the whistle on the park’s animal cruelty in the CNN documentary Blackfish that has subsequently cost the park millions. There’s no word yet on whether the park will also end its programs at its Orlando and San Antonio locations.

If imagining spending the entirety of your life in a confined space and forced to perform tricks for food doesn’t sound awful enough, the natural lifespan of an orca is 50 to 80 years (sometimes longer). However, a bummer study published by the Marine Mammal Science journal earlier this year found that the median survival estimate for captive orcas is just over 6 years.

But before you go congratulating the whale slave park, SeaWorld CEO and class act, Joel Manby was quoted by the Guardian saying, “People love companies that have a purpose, even for-profit companies. Just look at WholeFoods… I don’t see any reason why SeaWorld can’t be one of those brands.”

Here’s to a whole new “informative” SeaWorld in 2017.

Portraits of Disabled Animals Highlight the Beauty of Their Imperfections

Photographer Alex Cearns can see the beauty in all different types of animals and reveals this in her Perfect Imperfection series. Cearns has focused her lens on creatures who’ve faced various obstacles in their lives due to their physical disabilities. This includes birds with missing eyes, three-legged dogs, and cats who are completely blind. “One of my most passionate aims as an animal photographer is to capture the adorable subtleties that make all creatures precious and unique,” the artist told Bored Panda. “I love every animal I have the privilege of photographing, but those perceived as ‘different’ hold a special place in my heart.”

While these animals are physically impaired, that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. They are examples of strength and demonstrate that perseverance can conquer any challenge. Cearns realizes this and that’s what makes her images as impactful as they are. “Most animals with ‘afflictions’ don’t dwell on them,” the thoughtful photographer explains. “They adapt to their bodies without complaint and they survive with determination. They push on, always, wanting to be included and involved in everything as much as they can, and as much as an able bodied pet does.” The artist’s images aren’t only visually stunning, they also serve as inspiration for anyone who’s in the midst of a difficult situation.

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Dogs Tap Into Human Bonding System to get Close to our Hearts

Ever felt hopelessly bonded to your pooch when it stares at you lovingly? It turns out that man’s best friend may have hijacked a uniquely human bonding mechanism, ensuring that we love and care for it.

Knock-on chemical and behavioral effects occur when humans bond: eye contact leads to release of the “love hormone” oxytocin, which elicits caring behavior, and this in turn causes the release of more oxytocin. This loop has been shown to be important for human bonding, for example between mothers and their children.

Oxytocin bonding occurs in other mammals, too, but humans were thought to be unique in using eye contact as part of this cycle. “Facing others is a threatening behavior in other animals,” says Miho Nagasawa at Azabu University in Japan.

But when she and her colleagues got a bunch of dog owners to gaze into their pets’ eyes, they found that oxytocin levels rose not just in the humans – but in the pooches too.

In contrast, when Nagasawa’s team tested hand-reared wolves, they found no such effect, and wolves spent little time gazing into their owners’ eyes.

They then sprayed either oxytocin or a placebo into 27 dogs’ noses, in a randomized experiment. Female dogs that received the hormone spent more time staring longingly at their owners, and oxytocin levels also rose in those people.

This means that the tendency to gaze into eyes must have evolved during the domestication of dogs, says Nagasawa. She adds that it’s the first demonstrated case of convergent evolution in cognitive traits between a human and another species.

The only hitch was that although both male and female dogs – and their owners – received an oxytocin boost from eye contact, male dogs didn’t spend more time looking at their owners’ eyes when they were sprayed with the hormone.

Nagasawa suggests that this could be because among males oxytocin is known to increase hostility towards members of other groups, so the sprays might have made the male dogs more vigilant about strangers in the room during the experiment.

Pat Shipman at Penn State University in University Park has argued that the co-evolution of dogs and humans – possibly starting as long as 36,000 years ago – gave humans the edge over Neanderthals.

“I had predicted that both domestic dogs and humans would show adaptations to enhanced non-verbal communication, but I had not thought of the oxytocin link,” she says. “As the first species to be domesticated, dogs have a very ancient and very profound link to humans that affected both of us.”

But not everyone is convinced this shows that dogs evolved to hijack our bonding mechanism through staring into our eyes.

Jessica Oliva at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, agrees that oxytocin was key to the evolution of dogs from wolves, allowing them to bond with humans. But she thinks that the eye-gazing behavior could be learned rather than having evolved over time. “It could be a conditioning thing,” she suggests.

Clive Wynne of Arizona State University in Tempe agrees. He says that wolves he works with do make eye contact if they’ve been brought up in close contact with people. “I’m questioning the attempt to interpret these results as an evolutionary process,” says Wynne.

Nagasawa agrees that wolves and other animals can learn to make eye contact, but says it comes easier to dogs. And to her, that suggests the behaviour has evolved.

She says this might just be the tip of the iceberg, too. Next, she wants to study whether dogs feel empathy with humans. “Most dog owners say when they feel sad, their dogs feel sad too. And when the owners feel happy, maybe the dogs feel happy too. So maybe the dogs are very sensitive to the owners’ feelings,” she says.

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Floridians Are Accidentally Killing Tortoises By Mistaking Them For Sea Turtles

Floridians are sometimes unaware of the environment they live in. Most residents are from out-of-state and have little experience dealing with the wide array of flora and fauna that exist right outside their front doors. A recent example has well-meaning residents essentially murdering poor, innocent and especially land-loving gopher tortoises by mistaking them for water-dwelling sea turtles, according to the Associated Press.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Friday that there were at least three instances last month of people “helping” gopher tortoise hatchlings to the ocean. Gopher tortoises cannot swim well and can easily drown.

Gopher tortoises lay eggs in dunes near the ocean, but lack the flippers to swim that sea turtles possess. When aspiring pseudo-marine biologists and George Costanzas throw gopher tortoises in the water, they generally float for a bit before dying a nightmarish death by drowning. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is asking residents to please stop killing local animals with their misguided love.

Pets of the Homeless… Affected Affection

“Once a dog forms a close relationship with a caring owner, their loyalty can be unbreakable, and they will stick with their owner through thick and thin. And unlike us, dogs don’t pass judgment on people who are down on their luck or homeless. This post is a tribute to homeless dogs, who love and stick with their homeless owners no matter what.

Pet dogs offer vital help to the homeless. They provide them with unconditional love in a time when much of society has turned their back on them and they protect their owners from the many dangers of the streets. Surprisingly, many homeless dogs are relatively well-cared for. Homeless owners will often choose to go hungry themselves rather than see their companion go hungry, although they are often unable to provide their pets with professional veterinary help.

For more information on how you can help these loving companions, please visit: http://www.petsofthehomeless.org/

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