The Caring Chicken – Being a Mother Hen

Guest post by Christina M. Colvin

On September 4th, 1,150 chickens from a factory farm in California, took to the air on a chartered plane and landed the following morning in New York. It was all part of a plan, spearheaded by the Animal Place sanctuary and aided by Farm Sanctuary and other groups, to retire a total of 3,000 egg-laying hens to good new homes.

Egg-laying hens are usually consigned to the gas chamber as soon as they become exhausted from laying eggs, which is usually before they are three years old. But in this case the hens got a reprieve.

Despite the continuously emerging evidence that suggests mother hens care about their downy chicks, the factory farming system prevents them from engaging in the very hallmark behaviors for which mother hens are so renowned. Human mothers and chicken mothers have something very important in common – the welfare of their children. But at factory farms, the hens have no opportunity at all to raise their young.

There are lots of very good reasons why mother hens are known as caring parents.

Throughout popular culture, children’s literature, and spiritual texts, one animal pervades as a symbol of maternal care and attentiveness: the mother hen. Despite her recognizability as an emblem of motherly devotion, however, most egg-laying hens in the United States spend their entire lives in the tiny, cramped, filthy quarters of factory farm battery cages, a place impossible for her to live up to her reputation.

Recent scientific studies of mother hens—particularly their responsiveness to the condition of their feathered children—warrant special attention for a consideration of modern agriculture’s treatment of these perceptive and sensitive animals. Indeed, such studies suggest that the care shown by chicken moms for their children is far from the stuff of stories alone, and that the mother hen earned her prestige as a caring parent for good reasons.

Don’t Talk to Strangers

When given the chance, the mother hen is constantly on the lookout for threats to her chicks. All chickens use different calls to designate aerial predators like hawks and owls from ground hunters like foxes and coyotes, showing that they can both assess a threat and tell other chickens how to prepare themselves.

Mother hens in particular evaluate predators according to another criterion—size—in order to determine if a hungry carnivore poses a threat to her chicks specifically. By judging a predator’s size relative to the size of her children, mother hens only sound an alarm when the predator looks big enough to take her chicks away.

Eat Your Spinach

Mother hens even get involved with what their kids eat. One recent study showed mother hens discouraging their children from consuming food they understood to be unsuitable. Conditioned to identify one color of food as preferable and another color of food as unsuitable, this study had mother hens watch from a separate room as their chicks chose to eat the color of feed they (the hens) deemed less preferable.

Perceiving the chicks making an error determining which food was palatable and which was not, the mother hens responded by pecking and scratching the ground more frequently in attempt to attract their chicks away from the bad food and toward the better food.

Come to Mommy!

Mother hens also seem to really empathize with their chicks. One group of researchers exposed hens and chicks to a mildly upsetting (but not harmful) stress: a puff of air. Watching from a connected room but unable to get to their chicks, mother hens responded more intensely when they saw their chicks receive an air puff than when they (the mothers) received one: seeing their chicks in distress, the hens’ hearts beat more quickly, their body temperatures changed, and they attempted to call their chicks to their sides, away from the perceived threat.

Although none of the 3,000 hens rescued by Animal Place had ever been outside, seen the sun or stepped on the grass, the first group of them were soon doing all the kinds of things that are natural to hens – like enjoying their first dust baths. We’re delighted that they’re finding their way to good new homes where they can live out their days as nature intended.

Christina Colvin, who will graduate with a Ph.D. in English from Emory University in May 2014, specializes in 20th and 21st-Century American literature and animal studies, with a particular interest in texts depicting ecological crises and odd encounters between humans and animals. Her most recent writing and professional presentations have focused on William Faulkner’s critique of speciesism, the permutations of taxidermy as a cultural signifier, and the vexed relationship between animal welfare and the rhetoric of sustainability. Christina aims for her academic and public scholarship to spark renewed interest in animals in both literary studies and the world.

Some Special Folks from the Someone Project

The Kimmela Center has just finished the first stage of our work for the Someone Project, a joint project with Farm Sanctuary that will be used to increase awareness about the complex minds and lives of farmed animals and influence farm animal policy for the benefit of the animals themselves.

In this first stage, we’ve been compiling the scientific evidence for cognitive, emotional and social complexity in pigs and chickens. The next stage will involve doing the same for other factory farmed animals such as cows and goats.

A great deal of work has gone into gathering all this evidence, and much of it has been done by the all-volunteer team of scholar-advocates who are invaluable members of the project:

christina-colvin-063013Christina M. Colvin: Tina will graduate with a PhD in English from Emory University in May 2014. She specializes in 20th and 21st century American literature and animal studies, with a particular interest in texts depicting ecological crises and odd encounters between humans and animals.

Her most recent writing and professional presentations have focused on William Faulkner’s critique of speciesism, the permutations of taxidermy as a cultural signifier, as well as the vexed relationship between animal welfare and the rhetoric of sustainability.

Christina aims for her academic and public scholarship to spark renewed interest in animals in both literary studies and the world.

<KENOX S860  / Samsung S860>Heather Harrison: Heather is attending Antioch University of New England for a Masters in Environmental Studies with a concentration in advocacy, and recently completed an internship with the Humane Society of the United States’ Farm Animal Protection Campaign. Through her work with the Someone Project, she hopes to enrich her knowledge of farm animal intelligence in order to effectively increase public awareness.

Heather is currently working as the education intern at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres shelter in California.

Beth-snead-063013Beth Snead: Beth is the assistant acquisitions editor at the University of Georgia Press. She graduated from UGA in 2007 with a BA in English and has been working in the field of scholarly publishing ever since. She is currently exploring the possibility of implementing an animal studies series at the UGA Press.

Beth is a strong advocate for animal rights and is particularly concerned about the plight of laboratory animals and factory farmed animals in the U.S. She is thrilled to be assisting Farm Sanctuary with the “Someone” project.

julia-tsai-063013Julia Tsai: Julia is an undergraduate at Stanford. She entered college intending to major in Biology as a pre-vet, but after living on an organic farm, became increasingly interested in the social and environmental issues surrounding our food system and society’s perception of food.

Now, her focus has turned to our production of animals for food. The Someone Project’s goal to use scientific material to influence the policies surrounding the treatment of farm animals is such a novel approach to advocate for a change in the way we view animals and use them for our benefit.

Julia is still thinking of attending vet school in the future, but her goals have become more nuanced, shifting from learning how to treat animals in a medical setting to how to understand and treat them psychologically and educate others about them.

*          *          *

Scholar-advocacy, the basis of Kimmela’s approach, focuses on applying scholarship, science and expertise to animal advocacy issues, and these talented and accomplished volunteers exemplify this model perfectly.

Many thanks to all of them as we move on to the next stage of the project.

Best Way to Murder a Dolphin

A recent study entitled A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan recently published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science is stirring up a heated controversy over its conclusions. The authors of the paper take a welfare-based approach to dissecting the current methods used by the hunters in Taiji, Japan to kill thousands of dolphins, bringing the ongoing and increasingly pointed debate about welfare versus rights to the fore.

I’ve voiced my concerns about this paper on Facebook and on several websites. But Michael Mountain has written a piece on his own website that captures Kimmela’s position on this issue with clarity and flair. I present it here as a guest blog post.

Best Way to Murder a Dolphin

By Michael Mountain

A new study by four scientists is arguing for more “humane” ways of killing the dolphins at the annual Taiji massacre in Japan. (That’s the massacre that was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie The Cove.) What they are saying could set back the entire movement to bring an end to this horror. Here’s why.

taiji-1-040813Two years ago, the dolphin protection group Atlantic Blue captured video of the latest way of killing the dolphins in the cove: driving a metal rod into to the top of the spinal cord, thus paralyzing the dolphins, then plugging the wound so there won’t be so much blood in the water. (The video is here. But note that it is very distressing; you see the dolphins shaking and trembling as they slowly die.)

Now four scientists have produced a study that itemizes the cruelty involved in this method of killing. Two of them, Courtney Vail and Philippa Brakes, are from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). The third, Andrew Butterworth, is a veterinarian at the University of Bristol. And Diana Reiss conducts research on captive dolphins at the Baltimore Aquarium. (See my 2010 interview with her here.) They write:

This killing method does not conform to the recognized requirement for “immediate insensibility” and would not be tolerated or permitted in any regulated slaughterhouse process in the developed world.

And they conclude:

There thus appears to be no logical reason to accept a killing method that is clearly not carried out in accordance with fundamental and globally adopted principles on the commercial utilization, care, and treatment of animals.

In other words, they basically advocate not for the end of the massacre at Taiji, but for a more “humane” way of conducting it.

They are advocating not for the end of the massacre, but for a more “humane” way of conducting it.

Reiss is interviewed by Andrew Revkin of the acclaimed “Dot Earth” blog, where she says, on the one hand, that “dolphins are a cognitively and socially complex species that exist in their own societies in the seas” and, on the other, that “the methods used to herd dolphins and then kill them is off-the chart in terms of any concern for animal welfare.”

But what goes on at Taiji is not about “methods”; it’s about murder.

For their part, Vail and Brakes are signatories to the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins, which was initiated by the WDCS, and whose first three clauses state that:

  1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
  2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
  3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.

How do they reconcile, what they’re saying in their new paper, which is about “methods” of murder, with the declaration that “every individual cetacean has the right to life?

This takes us back to the classic debate of animal welfare vs. animal rights.

Animal rights advocates are basically abolitionists. We say there’s no such thing as “humane slaughter.” Killing is simply wrong.

We say there’s no such thing as “humane slaughter.” Killing is simply wrong.

Animal welfarists, meanwhile, work for incremental change – like in the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. to press for better conditions at factory farms and more humane ways of killing the animals.

Similarly, in the world of homeless pets, humane societies and shelters that “euthanize” the dogs and cats they take in tell themselves that it’s in the animal’s best interests. The no-kill movement, on the other hand, draws a line in the sand and says that killing companion animals for any reason other than when they are painfully and terminally sick is just plain wrong. (And the no-kill movement has driven the number of dogs and cats being killed at shelters each year down from 17 million a year in the early 1990s to around 3 million today.)

By the end of January this year, the number of dolphins who had been driven into the infamous cove at Taiji, Japan, for the annual massacre had topped 1,209. There were still two months to go and we don’t have the final figures. But they were already way over the 848 last year. (Mark Palmer of Earth Island Institute projects that the number killed in the massacre this year was 899. Those not killed were sent to entertainment and research facilities or were released – mostly to die alone later.)

In response to the new study on dolphin-killing methods, many animal protection advocates are already arguing that we should all work together for whatever change we think we can get. For example, Marc Bekoff, the prolific writer on the emotions and cognitive abilities of nonhuman animals, supports the conclusions of the WDCS folks and researcher Reiss in wanting to focus on the inhumane methods of murder:

I realize that some people want much more action and they want it now. They are frustrated by the slow progress that is being made on the egregious and thoroughly unethical and inhumane murder of these amazing sentient beings. … [But] those who share common goals must work for the animals and not against one another. There really is strength in numbers.

To which, Lori Marino, director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, responds:

I would ask the authors: Exactly what is the appropriate way to kill a dolphin? You are right – the dolphins need all the help they can get. And what they do not need are so-called dolphin advocates implying that the problem with Taiji is that they are not killed according to the same standards used to kill farm animals. … This paper takes us ten steps backwards and, in my opinion, is inexcusable.

I agree. And I compare the massacre of dolphins to the death camps of Nazi Germany. Half of my own family perished at Auschwitz, and the idea that people supposedly trying to help them might have come along with the compromise plan that they should be killed according to some kind of “globally adopted principles” would be abhorrent. It is abhorrent to take anything less than an abolitionist position in relation to the murder and enslavement of any nonhuman animal.

The idea that people supposedly fighting slavery might settle for better conditions for the slaves is abhorrent.

And it is, to me, equally abhorrent to take anything less than an abolitionist position in relation to the murder and enslavement of any nonhuman animal.

Let those who kill and enslave the animals and who want to appease the animal protection movement negotiate with themselves by finding more “humane” ways to kill. Perhaps, if I were one of the dolphins at Taiji or one of humans at Auschwitz, I’d prefer a quicker, easier way to be killed. But either way, I’d be dead. Come to think of it, if I understood that in going along with that I’d just be helping to legitimize yet more murder, I’d rather go out painfully and have it on video. At least I’d know that my death might make a difference.

Bottom line: I just don’t buy the argument that humane killing is better. It doesn’t stop the killing; it just condones it.

Four Reasons Why We Should Oppose ‘De-Extinction’

The National Geographic website asks you to vote for your favorite extinct animal to be brought back to life. Would it be a woolly mammoth, the passenger pigeon, or perhaps a saber-toothed tiger?

De-extinction, the concept of “reviving” members of extinct species, is one of the hottest scientific topics around, and inching closer to realization with our burgeoning scientific capabilities in genomics, molecular biology and cloning. But there are some very sound reasons why the current enthusiasm for “bringing back the dead” should be left to popular television shows and apocalypse movies.

The whole idea, spearheaded by Revive & Restore, a project of the Long Now Organization, has been gaining plenty of interest, including a cover story in the April issue of National Geographic by science writer Carl Zimmer, a recent daylong TEDx conference on species-revival and ethics in Washington D.C., and articles and blogs in The Huffington Post, Wired, Scientific American and many more.

These websites and events have brought the ethics of the science of de-extinction to the fore with the central question: “Does being able to do something mean we should do it?”

Here are four reasons why de-extinction is something we should not do:

1. De-extinction is antithetical to animal welfare

In the rush to preserve species, we often forget that species consist of individuals and that whatever we do to a species we are doing to individual animals who have the capacity to suffer.

dollyWe should not be lulled into a false belief that de-extinction (as well as cloning and genetic manipulation) isn’t vivisection.

Dolly, the famously cloned sheep, was the only successful organism in 237 eggs that had been used to create nearly 30 embryos that perished after being implanted into 13 surrogate mothers. Three lambs were created but only one survived. Dolly suffered from severe arthritis and lung disease due to genetic mutations that occur during cloning and had to be euthanized at the young age of 6 years – half her species’ natural lifespan.

De-extinction will not be possible without violating any reasonable standard of humane treatment.

In order to create one surviving woolly mammoth, several modern female elephants will need to be impregnated in order for one to give birth to offspring that survives more than a few days. How many modern and extinct pachyderms need to be sacrificed in order for this method to become reliable? Modern elephants have a difficult time reproducing in captivity already. Who is willing to make the decision that will probably end the lives of so many elephants, who are already becoming extinct? De-extinction will not be possible without violating any reasonable standard of humane treatment.   For that reason alone it is unethical.

2. De-extinction ignores the current mass extinction problem

As conservation biologist Stuart Pimm and others have pointed out, preventing existing endangered species from going extinct should take precedence over reviving species already lost.

Preventing existing endangered species from going extinct should take precedence over reviving species already lost.

From an ethical point of view, why should the world’s scientific resources be focused on reviving species for which there are so many unknowns rather than on saving any of the millions of species facing extinction in the next few years? What is the validity of promoting the revival of mammoths, for instance, when Asian and African elephants will be lost by 2020?

And although some de-extinctionists insist that the knowledge we gain from de-extinction science may help us to save current species, this is a very dicey premise given the dire situation of the current mass extinction.

3. De-extinction is not conservation

One of the most voiced concerns about reviving lost species is over whether there will be a habitat for them to go to. Although DNA preserves the genetic template of a species, it does not preserve the way these genetic instructions unfold in the physical, social and psychological context to yield the whole animal in all of his or her essence. Beside the fact that it’s essentially impossible to reconstitute a complex ecosystem of the past, the introduction of revived species into present habitats puts current species at risk.

Members of species that exist only in captivity are functionally extinct.

Some pro-revivalists suggest that we should put revived animals in captivity, following the claims of the zoo and aquarium industry that keeping endangered animals in captivity is the equivalent of conserving them. But keeping animals in zoos and aquaria has had little positive impact on the status of most endangered species. Of the multitudes of endangered and at-risk animals kept in zoos, including elephants and great apes, only a handful of species have been successfully reintroduced into the natural habitat. Members of species that exist only in captivity are functionally extinct; their identity is not fully realized in an artificial environment. So, captivity offers little-to-no gain in conservation for either current species or ones brought back to life.

4. De-extinction promotes risky human attitudes

As Stuart Pimm points out: “De-extinction is much worse than a waste. By setting up the expectation that biotechnology can repair the damage we’re doing to the planet’s biodiversity, it’s extremely harmful for [various reasons].”

De-extinction represents a minefield of potential welfare and conservation missteps.

Pimm and others argue that de-extinction sends the message that we need not worry about what happens in the real world as long as we can keep re-constituting members of dead species. This is the same dangerous psychological game played by zoos, who fashion themselves as modern-day Noah’s Arks, providing false hope that species are being protected.

De-extinction represents a minefield of potential welfare and conservation missteps. Tragically, if we wait just another ten years or so then the African or Asian elephants of today will populate the growing list of candidate extinct species. Kimmela is dedicated to helping to protect elephants and other species before this happens.

The Fallacy of Noah’s Ark Propaganda

The homepage of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) advertises: “Visit an AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium and help make a difference for wildlife”, implying that merely visiting one of these commercial establishments is a conservation action on its own. Despite the fact that there is no evidence for it, it is an apparently effective marketing message.

A recent report of the birth of a chimpanzee at the Sunset Zoo in Kansas was accompanied by this from zoo director, Scott Shoemaker:

“Births like this are a testament to our AZA community – a great example of how we ensure these endangered animals are around for generations to come while we work to eliminate the serious threats they are facing in the wild.“

But it isn’t clear exactly how Shoemaker and his colleagues plan to deal with those “serious threats.” The message is obvious: There’s no need to worry about chimpanzees, they’re safe with us, and you and your children will always have an opportunity to see one.

In the past few months the Georgia Aquarium has applied to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales into the U.S. for captive display, using conservation as a justification. William Hurley, senior vice-president of the aquarium claims that marine institutions need a strong captive population for research that can help safeguard the beluga as its Arctic habitat is transformed by a changing climate.

“If you don’t have enough of these animals in our care and don’t have enough to extend that for more decades,” Hurley said, the aquarium will be unable to unlock “the secrets these animals hold.”

However, the beluga population held captive is not endangered and obscure statements about “unlocking secrets” do not make for a conservation plan.

In fact, zoos are often explicitly referred to as Noah’s Arks. A 2006 book by Jeffrey P. Bonner entitled Sailing with Noah: Stories From the World of Zoos is an example.

The zoo and aquarium industry has used the public’s increasing awareness of conservation issues to re-brand itself as a modern-day Noah’s Ark.

The zoo and aquarium industry has used the public’s increasing awareness of conservation issues to re-brand itself as a modern-day Noah’s Ark. Through their captive breeding programs, these facilities claim to be in the business of safe-keeping those species who are bound for extinction. The mass extinctions of many charismatic animals, such as elephants, lions, great apes and others provide a convenient justification for confining individuals of these species in artificial enclosures. Combine this with the false claim that animal displays lead to increased conservation awareness on the part of the visiting public, and it’s clear that the zoo and aquarium business has seized upon a brilliant rhetorical tool for public relations.

How realistic are all of these “conservation” efforts? Animals are complex organisms that thrive in an intricate dynamic environment. Once their natural habitat and ecosystem is gone, it is nearly impossible for captive animals to be reintroduced “to the wild” to lead natural lives. There will be nowhere for them to go. Zoos and aquaria spend minimal resources on reintroducing captive animals to their natural environment. And even if the industry stepped up its commitment to wildlife conservation, it is highly unlikely they would be successful given the rapid disappearance of natural ecosystems.

Beyond these critical issues, it might be argued that the Noah’s Ark messaging of zoos and aquaria actually contributes to extinction trends. Dr. Randy Malamud, author of Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity (1998) suggests that zoos are simply palliating anxieties about a disappearing natural world and providing false hope that species are being protected. This kind of talk supports the dangerous notion that as long as enough individuals are in captivity we need not concern ourselves about their natural habitat – an attitude that clearly does not promote environmental and ecological efforts. Moreover, a recent peer-reviewed paper by Schroepfer et al (2011) provides evidence that seeing chimpanzees in commercials and in entertainment venues distorts the public’s perception of their endangered status in the wild and actually hinders chimpanzee conservation efforts.

These are alarming “tip of the iceberg” signs that the Noah’s Ark messaging of the zoos and aquarium industry may actually be hampering conservation progress. But why should the zoo industry worry? Tickets will be half-price on holidays and children under two will still be admitted free.

Yerkes Grudging in Its Response to Phase-Out of Chimpanzee Research

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is phasing out biomedical research with chimpanzees, requiring retirement to an approved sanctuary and raising standards for housing for those who do remain in research.

Yerkes National Primate Research Center, in Georgia, is one of eight NIH-funded national primate research centers, housing 78 chimpanzees. Short of finding sanctuary for most of these individuals, Yerkes may be required to make expensive modifications to existing housing for chimpanzees.

So, what is their response to this?

Yerkes spokesperson Lisa Newbern said in an email to the Atlanta Journal Constitution: “We are very concerned about what it will cost our center to adhere to the recommendations for the ethologically appropriate physical and social environments.” She complained that the new recommendations “would provide larger space per chimpanzee than many humans have in their own homes.”

The current environment for chimpanzees at Yerkes is far from conducive to their welfare or quality of life.

The grudging attitude in these statements belies any claims that Yerkes is concerned with chimpanzee welfare and shows that the facility’s “bottom line” is financial.

These statements are also very revealing in terms of how Yerkes views the animals it holds captive. Newbern’s concern about the cost of providing appropriate living space and social environments for chimpanzees reveals that the current environment for chimpanzees at Yerkes is inappropriate and far from conducive to their welfare or quality of life.

And in what can only be viewed as a resentful tone, Newbern suggests that chimpanzees should not have a larger living space than “many humans have in their own homes,” but neglects to take into account the obvious point that humans are able to leave their homes and freely go where they wish. This is a fundamental need of all chimpanzees and is denied to those held captive at research facilities such as Yerkes.

If Yerkes wants to create the public impression that they have any real concern about the animals at their facility, perhaps they need to do a better job of concealing their contempt for the animals in their “care”.