Arquivo da tag: Interação humanos-animais

Hundreds of ancient earthworks built in the Amazon (Science Daily)

Date:
February 7, 2017
Source:
University of Exeter
Summary:
The Amazonian rainforest was transformed over 2,000 years ago by ancient people who built hundreds of large, mysterious earthworks.

Geoglyph photos. Credit: Jenny Watling

The Amazonian rainforest was transformed over two thousand years ago by ancient people who built hundreds of large, mysterious earthworks.

Findings by Brazilian and UK experts provide new evidence for how indigenous people lived in the Amazon before European people arrived in the region.

The ditched enclosures, in Acre state in the western Brazilian Amazon, were concealed for centuries by trees. Modern deforestation has allowed the discovery of more than 450 of these large geometrical geoglyphs.

The function of these mysterious sites is still little understood — they are unlikely to be villages, since archaeologists recover very few artefacts during excavation. The layout doesn’t suggest they were built for defensive reasons. It is thought they were used only sporadically, perhaps as ritual gathering places.

The structures are ditched enclosures that occupy roughly 13,000 km2. Their discovery challenges assumptions that the rainforest ecosystem has been untouched by humans.

The research was carried out by Jennifer Watling, post-doctoral researcher at the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, University of São Paulo, when she was studying for a PhD at the University of Exeter.

Dr Watling said: “The fact that these sites lay hidden for centuries beneath mature rainforest really challenges the idea that Amazonian forests are ‘pristine ecosystems`.

“We immediately wanted to know whether the region was already forested when the geoglyphs were built, and to what extent people impacted the landscape to build these earthworks.”

Using state-of-the-art methods, the team members were able to reconstruct 6000 years of vegetation and fire history around two geoglyph sites. They found that humans heavily altered bamboo forests for millennia and small, temporary clearings were made to build the geoglyphs.

Instead of burning large tracts of forest — either for geoglyph construction or agricultural practices — people transformed their environment by concentrating on economically valuable tree species such as palms, creating a kind of ‘prehistoric supermarket’ of useful forest products. The team found tantalizing evidence to suggest that the biodiversity of some of Acre’s remaining forests may have a strong legacy of these ancient ‘agroforestry’ practices.

Dr. Watling said: “Despite the huge number and density of geoglyph sites in the region, we can be certain that Acre’s forests were never cleared as extensively, or for as long, as they have been in recent years.

“Our evidence that Amazonian forests have been managed by indigenous peoples long before European Contact should not be cited as justification for the destructive, unsustainable land-use practiced today. It should instead serve to highlight the ingenuity of past subsistence regimes that did not lead to forest degradation, and the importance of indigenous knowledge for finding more sustainable land-use alternatives.”

The full article will be released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA and involved researchers from the universities of Exeter, Reading and Swansea (UK), São Paulo, Belém and Acre (Brazil). The research was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, National Geographic, and the Natural Environment Research Council Radiocarbon Facility.

To conduct the study, the team extracted soil samples from a series of pits dug within and outside of the geoglyphs. From these soils, they analysed ‘phytoliths’, a type of microscopic plant fossil made of silica, to reconstruct ancient vegetation; charcoal quantities, to assess the amount of ancient forest burning; and carbon stable isotopes, to indicate how ‘open’ the vegetation was in the past.


Journal Reference:

  1. Jennifer Watling, José Iriarte, Francis E. Mayle, Denise Schaan, Luiz C. R. Pessenda, Neil J. Loader, F. Alayne Street-Perrott, Ruth E. Dickau, Antonia Damasceno, Alceu Ranzi. Impact of pre-Columbian “geoglyph” builders on Amazonian forestsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201614359 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1614359114
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Morre na Flórida a orca Tilikum, que inspirou o documentário “Blackfish” (Correio Brasiliense)

A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora

Postado em 06/01/2017 16:38

A orca Tilikum, estrela do SeaWorld e protagonista do aclamado documentário “Blackfish”, que denunciou o sofrimento dos animais em cativeiro em atrações do gênero, morreu nesta sexta-feira após sofrer uma infecção bacteriana, anunciou o parque temático da Flórida em um comunicado.

A orca macho de 36 anos sofria de “graves problemas de saúde” e ainda se não pode determinar exatamente a causa da morte, segundo a empresa. Entre outros problemas, seus veterinários detectaram uma infecção bacteriana nos pulmões.

“Tilikum tinha, e ainda tem, um lugar especial no coração da família SeaWorld, assim como nos corações de milhões de pessoas ao redor do mundo que inspirou”, disse Joel Manby, presidente do parque de Orlando, no centro da Flórida.

A fama internacional de Tilikum começou em 2010, quando, durante uma acrobacia, matou sua treinadora.

“A vida de Tilikum estará sempre ligada à perda de nossa amiga e colega Dawn Bancheau”, escreveu a empresa no texto publicado em seu site. “Enquanto todos nós sofremos grande tristeza por essa perda, continuamos oferecendo a Tilikum o melhor cuidado possível”.

A morte de Dawn é mencionada no filme de 2013, que ganhou o prêmio Bafta de Melhor Documentário, como um efeito do estresse sofrido por orcas em cativeiro por viver em pequenos tanques e com pouca luz.

A empresa sofreu uma avalanche de críticas após o filme e multiplicaram-se as chamadas para o fechamento desses parques aquáticos.

Finalmente, em março de 2016, SeaWorld anunciou que iria parar a criação de orcas e que sua atual geração desses mamíferos em cativeiro seria a última. A decisão foi aplaudida por organizações de defesa dos animais.

“Tilikum estava perto do fim da expectativa média de vida de baleias orcas do sexo masculino, de acordo com um estudo científico independente”, disse o SeaWorld nesta sexta-feira, relatando ainda que as bactérias que atingiram o animal são encontradas “em hábitats naturais e instalações de zoológicos”.

Com a perda de Tilikum, o SeaWorld tem agora 22 orcas em seus três parques em Orlando, San Antonio (Texas) e San Diego (Califórnia).

Por France Presse

A New Origin Story for Dogs (The Atlantic)

 

June 2, 2016

The first domesticated animals may have been tamed twice.

Katie Salvi

ED YONG

Tens of thousands of years ago, before the internet, before the Industrial Revolution, before literature and mathematics, bronze and iron, before the advent of agriculture, early humans formed an unlikely partnership with another animal—the grey wolf. The fates of our two species became braided together. The wolves changed in body and temperament. Their skulls, teeth, and paws shrank. Their ears flopped. They gained a docile disposition, becoming both less frightening and less fearful. They learned to read the complex expressions that ripple across human faces. They turned into dogs.

Today, dogs are such familiar parts of our lives—our reputed best friends and subject of many a meme—that it’s easy to take them, and what they represent, for granted. Dogs were the first domesticated animals, and their barks heralded the Anthropocene. We raised puppies well before we raised kittens or chickens; before we herded cows, goats, pigs, and sheep; before we planted rice, wheat, barley, and corn; before we remade the world.

“Remove domestication from the human species, and there’s probably a couple of million of us on the planet, max,” says archaeologist and geneticist Greger Larson. “Instead, what do we have? Seven billion people, climate change, travel, innovation and everything. Domestication has influenced the entire earth. And dogs were the first.” For most of human history, “we’re not dissimilar to any other wild primate. We’re manipulating our environments, but not on a scale bigger than, say, a herd of African elephants. And then, we go into partnership with this group of wolves. They altered our relationship with the natural world.”

Larson wants to pin down their origins. He wants to know when, where, and how they were domesticated from wolves. But after decades of dogged effort, he and his fellow scientists are still arguing about the answers. They agree that all dogs, from low-slung corgis to towering mastiffs, are the tame descendants of wild ancestral wolves. But everything else is up for grabs.

Some say wolves were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, while others say 30,000. Some claim it happened in Europe, others in the Middle East, or East Asia. Some think early human hunter-gatherers actively tamed and bred wolves. Others say wolves domesticated themselves, by scavenging the carcasses left by human hunters, or loitering around campfires, growing tamer with each generation until they became permanent companions.

Dogs were domesticated so long ago, and have cross-bred so often with wolves and each other, that their genes are like “a completely homogenous bowl of soup,” Larson tells me, in his office at the University of Oxford. “Somebody goes: what ingredients were added, in what proportion and in what order, to make that soup?” He shrugs his shoulders. “The patterns we see could have been created by 17 different narrative scenarios, and we have no way of discriminating between them.”

The only way of doing so is to look into the past. Larson, who is fast-talking, eminently likable, and grounded in both archaeology and genetics, has been gathering fossils and collaborators in an attempt to yank the DNA out of as many dog and wolf fossils as he can. Those sequences will show exactly how the ancient canines relate to each other and to modern pooches. They’re the field’s best hope for getting firm answers to questions that have hounded them for decades.

And already, they have yielded a surprising discovery that could radically reframe the debate around dog domestication, so that the big question is no longer when it happened, or where, but how many times.

*    *   *

On the eastern edge of Ireland lies Newgrange, a 4,800-year-old monument that predates Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza. Beneath its large circular mound and within its underground chambers lie many fragments of animal bones. And among those fragments, Dan Bradley from Trinity College Dublin found the petrous bone of a dog.

Press your finger behind your ear. That’s the petrous. It’s a bulbous knob of very dense bone that’s exceptionally good at preserving DNA. If you try to pull DNA out of a fossil, most of it will come from contaminating microbes and just a few percent will come from the bone’s actual owner. But if you’ve got a petrous bone, that proportion can be as high as 80 percent. And indeed, Bradley found DNA galore within the bone, enough to sequence the full genome of the long-dead dog.

Larson and his colleague Laurent Frantz then compared the Newgrange sequences with those of almost 700 modern dogs, and built a family tree that revealed the relationships between these individuals. To their surprise, that tree had an obvious fork in its trunk—a deep divide between two doggie dynasties. One includes all the dogs from eastern Eurasia, such as Shar Peis and Tibetan mastiffs. The other includes all the western Eurasian breeds, and the Newgrange dog.

The genomes of the dogs from the western branch suggest that they went through a population bottleneck—a dramatic dwindling of numbers. Larson interprets this as evidence of a long migration. He thinks that the two dog lineages began as a single population in the east, before one branch broke off and headed west. This supports the idea that dogs were domesticated somewhere in China.

But there’s a critical twist.

The team calculated that the two dog dynasties split from each other between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago.  But the oldest dog fossils in both western and eastern Eurasia are older than that. Which means that when those eastern dogs migrated west into Europe, there were already dogs there.

To Larson, these details only make sense if dogs were domesticated twice.

Here’s the full story, as he sees it. Many thousands of years ago, somewhere in western Eurasia, humans domesticated grey wolves. The same thing happened independently, far away in the east. So, at this time, there were two distinct and geographically separated groups of dogs. Let’s call them Ancient Western and Ancient Eastern. Around the Bronze Age, some of the Ancient Eastern dogs migrated westward alongside their human partners, separating from their homebound peers and creating the deep split in Larson’s tree. Along their travels, these migrants encountered the indigenous Ancient Western dogs, mated with them (doggy style, presumably), and effectively replaced them.

Today’s eastern dogs are the descendants of the Ancient Eastern ones. But today’s western dogs (and the Newgrange one) trace most of their ancestry to the Ancient Eastern migrants. Less than 10 percent comes from the Ancient Western dogs, which have since gone extinct.

This is a bold story for Larson to endorse, not least because he himself has come down hard on other papers suggesting that cows, sheep, or other species were domesticated twice. “Any claims for more than one need to be substantially backed up by a lot of evidence,” he says. “Pigs were clearly domesticated in Anatolia and in East Asia. Everything else is once.” Well, except maybe dogs.

*   *   *

Katie Salvi

Other canine genetics experts think that Larson’s barking up the wrong tree. “I’m somewhat underwhelmed, since it’s based on a single specimen,” says Bob Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles. He buys that there’s a deep genetic division between modern dogs. But, it’s still possible that dogs were domesticated just once, creating a large, widespread, interbreeding population that only later resolved into two distinct lineages.

In 2013, Wayne’s team compared the mitochondrial genomes (small rings of DNA that sit outside the main set) of 126 modern dogs and wolves, and 18 fossils. They concluded that dogs were domesticated somewhere in Europe or western Siberia, between 18,800 and 32,100 years ago. And genes aside, “the density of fossils from Europe tells us something,” says Wayne. “There are many things that look like dogs, and nothing quite like that in east Asia.”

Peter Savolainen from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm disagrees. By comparing the full genomes of 58 modern wolves and dogs, his team has shown that dogs in southern China are the most genetically diverse in the world. They must have originated there around 33,000 years ago, he says, before a subset of them migrated west 18,000 years later.

That’s essentially the same story that Larson is telling. The key difference is that Savolainen doesn’t buy the existence of an independently domesticated group of western dogs. “That’s stretching the data very much,” he says. Those Ancient Western dogs might have just been wolves, he says. Or perhaps they were an even earlier group of migrants from the east. “I think the picture must seem a bit chaotic,” he says understatedly. “But for me, it’s pretty clear. It must have happened in southern East Asia. You can’t interpret it any other way.”

Except, you totally can. Wayne does (“I’m certainly less dogmatic than Peter,” he says). Adam Boyko from Cornell University does, too: after studying the genes of village dogs—free-ranging mutts that live near human settlements—he argued for a single domestication in Central Asia, somewhere near India or Nepal. And clearly, Larson does as well.

Larson adds that his gene-focused peers are ignoring one crucial line of evidence—bones. If dogs originated just once, there should be a neat gradient of fossils with the oldest ones at the center of domestication and the youngest ones far away from it. That’s not what we have. Instead, archaeologists have found 15,000-year-old dog fossils in western Europe, 12,500-year-old ones in east Asia, and nothing older than 8,000 years in between.

“If we’re wrong, then how on earth do you explain the archaeological data?” says Larson. “Did dogs jump from East Asia to Western Europe in a week, and then go all the way back 4,000 years later?” No. A dual domestication makes more sense. Mietje Genompré, an archaeologist from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, agrees that the bones support Larson’s idea. “For me, it’s very convincing,” she says.

But even Larson is hedging his bets. When I ask him how strong his evidence is, he says, “Like, put a number on it? If was being bold, I’d say it’s a 7 out of 10. We lack the smoking gun.”

Why is this is so hard? Of all the problems that scientists struggle with, why has the origin of dogs been such a bitch to solve?

For starters, the timing is hard to pin down because no one knows exactly how fast dog genomes change. That pace—the mutation rate—underpins a lot of genetic studies. It allows scientists to compare modern dogs and ask: How long ago must these lineages have diverged in order to build up this many differences in their genes? And since individual teams use mutation rate estimates that are wildly different, it’s no wonder they’ve arrive at conflicting answers.

Regardless of the exact date, it’s clear that over thousands of years, dogs have mated with each other, cross-bred with wolves, travelled over the world, and been deliberately bred by humans. The resulting ebb and flow of genes has turned their history into a muddy, turbid mess—the homogeneous soup that Larson envisages.

Wolves provide no clarity. Grey wolves used to live across the entire Northern Hemisphere, so they could have potentially been domesticated anywhere within that vast range (although North America is certainly out). What’s more, genetic studies tell us that no living group of wolves is more closely related to dogs than any other, which means that the wolves that originally gave rise to dogs are now extinct. Sequencing living wolves and dogs will never truly reveal their shrouded past; it’d be, as Larson says, like trying to solve a crime when the culprit isn’t even on the list of suspects.

“The only way to know for sure is to go back in time,” he adds.

*    *   *

Katie Salvi

The study informally known as the Big Dog Project was born of frustration. Back in 2011, Larson was working hard on the origin of domestic pigs, and became annoyed that scientists studying dogs were getting less rigorous papers in more prestigious journals, simply because their subjects were that much more charismatic and media-friendly. So he called up his longstanding collaborator Keith Dobney. “Through gritted teeth, I said: We’re fucking doing dogs. And he said: I’m in.”

Right from the start, the duo realized that studying living dogs would never settle the great domestication debate. The only way to do that was to sequence ancient DNA from fossil dogs and wolves, throughout their range and at different points in history. While other scientists were studying the soup of dog genetics by tasting the finished product, Larson would reach back in time to taste it at every step of its creation, allowing him to definitively reconstruct the entire recipe.

In recent decades, scientists have become increasingly successful at extracting and sequencing strands of DNA from fossils. This ancient DNA has done wonders for our understanding of our own evolution. It showed, for example, how Europe was colonized 40,000 years ago by hunter-gatherers moving up from Africa, then 8,000 years ago by Middle Eastern farmers, and 5,000 years ago by horse-riding herders from the Russian steppes. “Everyone in Europe today is a blend of those three populations,” says Larson, who hopes to parse the dog genome in the same way, by slicing it into its constituent ingredients.

Larson originally envisaged a small project—just him and Dobney analyzing a few fossils. But he got more funding, collaborators, and samples than he expected. “It just kind of metastasized out of all proportion,” he says. He and his colleagues would travel the world, drilling into fossils and carting chips of bone back to Oxford. They went to museums and private collections. (“There was a guy up in York who had a ton of stuff in his garage.”) They grabbed bones from archaeological sites.

The pieces of bone come back to a facility in Oxford called the Palaeo-BARN—the Palaeogenomics and Bioarchaeology Research Network. When I toured the facility with Larson, we wore white overalls, surgical masks, oversoles, and purple gloves, to keep our DNA (and that of our skin microbes) away from the precious fossil samples. Larson called them ‘spacesuits.’ I was thinking ‘thrift-store ninja.’

In one room, the team shoves pieces of bone into a machine that pounds it with a small ball bearing, turning solid shards into fine powder. They then send the powder through a gauntlet of chemicals and filters to pull out the DNA and get rid of everything else. The result is a tiny drop of liquid that contains the genetic essence of a long-dead dog or wolf. Larson’s freezer contains 1,500 such drops, and many more are on the way. “It’s truly fantastic the kind of data that he has gathered,” says Savolainen.

True to his roots in archaeology, Larson isn’t ignoring the bones. His team photographed the skulls of some 7,000 prehistoric dogs and wolves at 220 angles each, and rebuilt them in virtual space. They can use a technique called geometric morphometrics to see how different features on the skulls have evolved over time.

The two lines of evidence—DNA and bones—should either support or refute the double domestication idea. It will also help to clear some confusion over a few peculiar fossils, such as a 36,000 year old skull from Goyet cave in Belgium. Genompré thinks it’s a primitive dog. “It falls outside the variability of wolves: it’s smaller and the snout is different,” she says. Others say it’s too dissimilar to modern dogs. Wayne has suggested that it represents an aborted attempt at domestication—a line of dogs that didn’t contribute to modern populations and is now extinct.

Maybe the Goyet hound was part of Larson’s hypothetical Ancient Western group, domesticated shortly after modern humans arrived in Europe. Maybe it represented yet another separate flirtation with domestication. All of these options are on the table, and Larson thinks he has the data to tell them apart. “We can start putting numbers on the difference between dogs and wolves,” he says. “We can say this is what all the wolves at this time period look like; does the Goyet material fall within that realm, or does it look like dogs from later on?”

Larson hopes to have the first big answers within six to twelve months. “I think it’ll clearly show that some things can’t be right, and will narrow down the number of hypotheses,” says Boyko. “It may narrow it down to one but I’m not holding my breath on that.” Wayne is more optimistic. “Ancient DNA will provide much more definitive data than we had in the past,” he says. “[Larson] convinced everyone of that. He’s a great diplomat.”

Indeed, beyond accumulating DNA and virtual skulls, Larson’s greatest skill is in gathering collaborators. In 2013, he rounded up as many dog researchers as he could and flew them to Aberdeen, so he could get them talking. “I won’t say there was no tension,” he says. “You go into a room with someone who has written something that sort of implies you aren’t doing very good science… there will be tension. But it went away very quickly. And, frankly: alcohol.”

“Everyone was like: You know what? If I’m completely wrong and I have to eat crow on this, I don’t give a shit. I just want to know.”

The Value of a Gorilla vs. a Human (Huff Post Green)

 05/31/2016 05:11 pm ET

Bron Taylor

Author, ‘Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future’

2016-05-31-1464655672-641876-8973697544_4c3ba00731_oLowlandGorillaCreativeCommons.jpg

An individual gorilla is more valuable than an individual human being.

What is your response to that statement?

I have seen no such argument in response to the death of Harambe, the Western Lowland Gorilla who was shot on 28 May at the Cincinnati Zoo. Zookeepers understandably feared for the life of a child who entered his enclosure. The incident has created furor.

Mainstream media depicted the shooting as a tragic necessity because the child was at risk of grievous harm or death. Whether implicitly felt or explicitly stated, the assumption was that the life of this child was more valuable than the life of this gorilla.

This was the view of Jack Hannah, the well-known conservationist and former director of the Columbus Zoo. In a host of interviews he clearly stated that the decision to kill Harambe was an easy call because every human life is more valuable than any animal life.

For her part, the child’s mother, after insisting that she is a responsible parent, asserted on Facebook, “God protected my child until the authorities were able to get to him.” Then she thanked those who saved her son and “most importantly God for being the awsome (sic) God that he is.” She apparently believed that God had intervened, even at the price of the Gorilla’s life.

She did not explain why God did not elect to protect her son by more peaceful means, such as, by preventing him from climbing into the enclosure.

In contrast, a host of critics was outraged by the killing and what they considered the mother’s negligence.

Especially upset were animal rights proponents, who base the value of animals on emotional, or cognitive traits they are believed to share with us, or on their capacity to suffer. For them, the great apes, our closest biological cousins, have rights that deserve respect, foremost, the right to life.

But I could find no one making a reasoned argument that this gorilla’s life was more valuable than that of this human child.

Some environmental philosophers and scientists, however, contend that an individual member of an endangered species is more valuable than an individual human being. Or, as conservation biologist Reed Noss put it to me recently, the value of an individual decreases proportionately with the size of its population.

Such arguments are premised upon an understanding that the viability of a species is associated with the variety of genes in its population: With few exceptions, the greater its genetic diversity the greater will be a species’ resilience in the face of diseases or environmental threats. But the smaller the population is, the higher is the risk of extinction. Consequently, every individual matters.

So, if one starts from an ethical claim that humanity ought not drive other species off the planet, and add scientific understandings about the value of an individual organism to the viability of its species, an endangered animal such as Harambe could be considered more valuable than one that is not valuable in this way.

The argument is as worth pondering . . . and so are our reactions to it.

Our reactions to the value of humans and other animals are typically shaped by culturally deep religious roots.

Put simply, most large human civilizations have religious roots and strong constituencies, which either view humans as a special creation of God, or consider humans to have become the highest and most valuable life forms by leading meritorious past lives.

Whatever ground for felt ethical obligations toward non-human organisms there might be given such premises, when push comes to shove, human lives come first.

In contemporary environmental philosophy, such views are termed anthropocentrism or literally, human-centered ethics.

That is a nice way of putting it.

But it is really the ideology of human supremacy.

Harambe’s demise may not provide a perfect fit for considering the proposition with which I began my provocation. The Zoo had frozen semen taken from him because it is part an international consortium that understands the importance of genetic diversity for efforts to save endangered species. Moreover, Western Lowland Gorillas have more habitat and greater numbers than great apes that are on the very brink of extinction.

But Harambe may have a greater conservation legacy than his genes being posthumously passed on through an endangered species breeding program. Hopefully, this tragic event will increase public awareness of the accelerating extinction crisis and the importance of preserving habitat for wild Gorillas, and protecting endangered species in captive breeding programs.

And perhaps, this case will help those who are skeptical of the religious ideas that undergird human supremacy to leave them behind, once and for all.

It may be that corresponding conservation policies and efforts would follow is such a value transformation spreads.

Indeed, there are signs just such a transformation is under way. It can be seen in the work of Dian Fossey who risked her life and was killed while trying to protect endangered Gorillas, and as rangers are empowered by law to use lethal force against poachers. So, we have examples where the lives of endangered species are considered to be more valuable than at least some human lives.

I hope that zoos will soon, and universally, be on the leading edge of this transformation, rather than reinforcing ancient and self-serving human conceits.

Animal training techniques teach robots new tricks (Science Daily)

Virtual dogs take place of programming

Date:
May 16, 2016
Source:
Washington State University
Summary:
Researchers are using ideas from animal training to help non-expert users teach robots how to do desired tasks.

Virtual environments in which trainers gave directions to robot dog. Credit: Image courtesy of Washington State University

Researchers at Washington State University are using ideas from animal training to help non-expert users teach robots how to do desired tasks.

The researchers recently presented their work at the international Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems conference.

As robots become more pervasive in society, humans will want them to do chores like cleaning house or cooking. But to get a robot started on a task, people who aren’t computer programmers will have to give it instructions.

“We want everyone to be able to program, but that’s probably not going to happen,” said Matthew Taylor, Allred Distinguished Professor in the WSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “So we needed to provide a way for everyone to train robots — without programming.”

User feedback improves robot performance

With Bei Peng, a doctoral student in computer science, and collaborators at Brown University and North Carolina State University, Taylor designed a computer program that lets humans teach a virtual robot that looks like a computerized pooch. Non-computer programmers worked with and trained the robot in WSU’s Intelligent Robot Learning Laboratory.

For the study, the researchers varied the speed at which their virtual dog reacted. As when somebody is teaching a new skill to a real animal, the slower movements let the user know that the virtual dog was unsure of how to behave. The user could then provide clearer guidance to help the robot learn better.

“At the beginning, the virtual dog moves slowly. But as it receives more feedback and becomes more confident in what to do, it speeds up,” Peng said.

The user taught tasks by either reinforcing good behavior or punishing incorrect behavior. The more feedback the virtual dog received from the human, the more adept the robot became at predicting the correct course of action.

Applications for animal training

The researchers’ algorithm allowed the virtual dog to understand the tricky meanings behind a lack of feedback — called implicit feedback.

“When you’re training a dog, you may withhold a treat when it does something wrong,” Taylor explained. “So no feedback means it did something wrong. On the other hand, when professors are grading tests, they may only mark wrong answers, so no feedback means you did something right.”

The researchers have begun working with physical robots as well as virtual ones. They also hope to eventually use the program to help people learn to be more effective animal trainers.

Weasel Apparently Shuts Down World’s Most Powerful Particle Collider (NPR)

April 29, 201611:04 AM ET

GEOFF BRUMFIEL

The Large Hadron Collider uses superconducting magnets to smash sub-atomic particles together at enormous energies.

The Large Hadron Collider uses superconducting magnets to smash sub-atomic particles together at enormous energies. CERN

A small mammal has sabotaged the world’s most powerful scientific instrument.

The Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile superconducting machine designed to smash protons together at close to the speed of light, went offline overnight. Engineers investigating the mishap found the charred remains of a furry creature near a gnawed-through power cable.

A small mammal, possibly a weasel, gnawed-through a power cable at the Large Hadron Collider.A small mammal, possibly a weasel, gnawed-through a power cable at the Large Hadron Collider. Ashley Buttle/Flickr

“We had electrical problems, and we are pretty sure this was caused by a small animal,” says Arnaud Marsollier, head of press for CERN, the organization that runs the $7 billion particle collider in Switzerland. Although they had not conducted a thorough analysis of the remains, Marsollier says they believe the creature was “a weasel, probably.” (Update: An official briefing document from CERN indicates the creature may have been a marten.)

The shutdown comes as the LHC was preparing to collect new data on the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle it discovered in 2012. The Higgs is believed to endow other particles with mass, and it is considered to be a cornerstone of the modern theory of particle physics.

Researchers have seen some hints in recent data that other, yet-undiscovered particles might also be generated inside the LHC. If those other particles exist, they could revolutionize researcher’s understanding of everything from the laws of gravity, to quantum mechanics.

Unfortunately, Marsollier says, scientists will have to wait while workers bring the machine back online. Repairs will take a few days, but getting the machine fully ready to smash might take another week or two. “It may be mid-May,” he says.

These sorts of mishaps are not unheard of, says Marsollier. The LHC is located outside of Geneva. “We are in the countryside, and of course we have wild animals everywhere.” There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to have dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems.

Nor are the problems exclusive to the LHC: In 2006, raccoons conducted a “coordinated” attack on a particle accelerator in Illinois.

It is unclear whether the animals are trying to stop humanity from unlocking the secrets of the universe.

Of course, small mammals cause problems in all sorts of organizations. Yesterday, a group of children took National Public Radio off the air for over a minute before engineers could restore the broadcast.

Macaco com coração de porco? Teste abre espaço para transplante com humanos (UOL)

Do UOL, em São Paulo

12/04/201606h00 

Charles Platiau/ Reuters

Um babuíno sobreviveu por dois anos e meio após ter um coração de porco transplantado em seu abdômen. Em pesquisas anteriores, primatas sobreviviam no máximo 500 dias. O recorde foi divulgado na última terça-feira (5) na revista Nature Communications e abre espaço para transplantes entre suínos e humanos no futuro.

O método utilizou uma combinação de modificação genética e drogas imunossupressoras em cinco babuínos. Os corações dos porcos não substituíam os dos primatas — que continuaram com a função de bombear o sangue, mas estavam ligados ao sistema circulatório por meio de dois grandes vasos sanguíneos no abdômen.

Muitas vezes, o sistema imunológico do receptor rejeita o coração do doador por reconhecê-lo como estranho e, portanto, uma ameaça. Na pesquisa com babuínos, os corações dos porcos foram geneticamente modificados para ter alta tolerância à resposta imune. Os cientistas norte-americanos e alemães também adicionaram uma assinatura genética humana para ajudar a prevenir a coagulação do sangue.

Apenas um dos babuínos atingiu a marca de 945 dias vivo. A média entre os cinco foi de 298 dias. A equipe pensa em estender a pesquisa para a substituição dos órgãos.

Transplantes em humanos

Os cientistas têm feito experiências com transplante de rins, coração e fígados de primatas em seres humanos desde a década de 1960. Nenhum sobreviveu por mais de alguns meses.

Por conta da proximidade genética, os primatas eram os melhores candidatos a doadores. Mas não há uma grande quantidade de macacos criados em cativeiro.

Os corações dos porcos são anatomicamente semelhantes aos corações humanos. Os suínos também crescem rápido e são amplamente domesticados.

What I Learned From Tickling Apes (New York Times)

Laughter? Now wait a minute! A real scientist should avoid any and all anthropomorphism, which is why hard-nosed colleagues often ask us to change our terminology. Why not call the ape’s reaction something neutral, like, say, vocalized panting? That way we avoid confusion between the human and the animal.

The term anthropomorphism, which means “human form,” comes from the Greek philosopher Xenophanes, who protested in the fifth century B.C. against Homer’s poetry because it described the gods as though they looked human. Xenophanes mocked this assumption, reportedly saying that if horses had hands they would “draw their gods like horses.” Nowadays the term has a broader meaning. It is typically used to censure the attribution of humanlike traits and experiences to other species. Animals don’t have “sex,” but engage in breeding behavior. They don’t have “friends,” but favorite affiliation partners.

Given how partial our species is to intellectual distinctions, we apply such linguistic castrations even more vigorously in the cognitive domain. By explaining the smartness of animals either as a product of instinct or simple learning, we have kept human cognition on its pedestal under the guise of being scientific. Everything boiled down to genes and reinforcement. To think otherwise opened you up to ridicule, which is what happened to Wolfgang Köhler, the German psychologist who, a century ago, was the first to demonstrate flashes of insight in chimpanzees.

Köhler would put a banana outside the enclosure of his star performer, Sultan, while giving him sticks that were too short to reach the fruit through the bars. Or he would hang a banana high up and spread boxes around, none of which were tall enough to reach the fruit. At first, Sultan would jump or throw things at the banana or drag a human by the hand toward it, hoping to use him as a footstool. If this failed, he would sit around without doing anything, pondering the situation, until he might hit on a solution. He’d jump up suddenly to put one bamboo stick inside another, making a longer stick. He’d also stack boxes to build a tower tall enough to attain his reward. Köhler described this moment as the “aha! experience,” not unlike Archimedes running through the streets shouting “Eureka!”

According to Köhler, Sultan showed insight by combining what he knew about boxes and sticks to produce a brand-new action sequence to take care of his problem. It all took place in his head, without prior rewards for his eventual solution. That animals may show mental processes closer to thinking than learning was so unsettling, though, that still today Köhler’s name is hissed rather than spoken in some circles. Naturally, one of his critics argued that the attribution of reasoning to animals was an “overswing of the theoretical pendulum” back “toward anthropomorphism.”

We still hear this argument, not so much for tendencies that we consider animalistic (everyone is free to speak of aggression, violence and territoriality in animals) but rather for traits that we like in ourselves. Accusations of anthropomorphism are about as big a spoiler in cognitive science as suggestions of doping are of athletic success. The indiscriminate nature of these accusations has been detrimental to cognitive science, as it has kept us from developing a truly evolutionary view. In our haste to argue that animals are not people, we have forgotten that people are animals, too.

This doesn’t mean that anything goes. Humans are incredibly eager to project feelings and experiences onto animals, often doing so uncritically. We go to beach hotels to swim with dolphins, convinced that the animals must love it as much as we do. We think that our dog feels guilt or that our cat is embarrassed when she misses a jump. Lately, people have fallen for the suggestion that Koko, the signing gorilla in California, is worried about climate change, or that chimpanzees have religion. As soon as I hear such claims, I contract my corrugator muscles (causing a frown) and ask for the evidence. Yes, dolphins have smiley faces, but since this is an immutable part of their visage, it fails to tell us anything about how they feel. Yes, dogs hide under the table when they have done something wrong, yet the most likely explanation is that they fear trouble.

Gratuitous anthropomorphism is distinctly unhelpful. However, when experienced field workers who follow apes around in the tropical forest tell me about the concern chimpanzees show for an injured companion, bringing her food or slowing down their walking pace, or report how adult male orangutans in the treetops vocally announce which way they expect to travel the next morning, I am not averse to speculations about empathy or planning. Given everything we know from controlled experiments in captivity, such as the ones I conduct myself, these speculations are not far-fetched.

To understand the resistance to cognitive explanations, I need to mention a third ancient Greek: Aristotle. The great philosopher put all living creatures on a vertical Scala Naturae, which runs from humans (closest to the gods) down toward other mammals, with birds, fish, insects and mollusks near the bottom. Comparisons up and down this vast ladder have been a popular scientific pastime, but all we have learned from them is how to measure other species by our standards. Keeping Aristotle’s scale intact, with humans on top, has been the unfailing goal.

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But think about it: How likely is it that the immense richness of nature fits on a single dimension? Isn’t it more likely that each animal has its own cognition, adapted to its own senses and natural history? It makes no sense to compare our cognition with one that is distributed over eight independently moving arms, each with its own neural supply, or one that enables a flying organism to catch mobile prey by picking up the echoes of its own shrieks. Clark’s nutcrackers (members of the crow family) recall the location of thousands of seeds that they have hidden half a year before, while I can’t even remember where I parked my car a few hours ago. Anyone who knows animals can come up with a few more cognitive comparisons that are not in our favor. Instead of a ladder, we are facing an enormous plurality of cognitions with many peaks of specialization. Somewhat paradoxically, these peaks have been called “magic wells” because the more scientists learn about them, the deeper the mystery gets.

We now know, for example, that some crows excel at tool use. In an aviary at Oxford University in 2002, a New Caledonian crow named Betty tried to pull a little bucket with a piece of meat out of a transparent vertical pipe. All she had to work with was a straight metal wire, which didn’t do the trick. Undeterred, Betty used her beak to bend the straight wire into a hook to pull up the bucket. Since no one had taught Betty to do so, it was seen as an example of insight. Apart from dispelling the “birdbrain” notion with which birds are saddled, Betty achieved instant fame by offering proof of tool making outside the primate order. Since this capacity has by now been confirmed by other studies, including one on a cockatoo, we can safely do away with the 1949 book “Man the Tool-Maker” by the British anthropologist Kenneth Oakley, which declared tool fabrication humanity’s defining characteristic. Corvids are a technologically advanced branch on the tree of life with skills that often match those of primates like us.

Convergent evolution (when similar traits, like the wings of birds, bats and insects, appear independently in separate evolutionary branches) allows cognitive capacities to pop up at the most unexpected places, such as face recognition in paper wasps or deceptive tactics in cephalopods. When the males of some cuttlefish species are interrupted by a rival during courtship, they may trick the latter into thinking there is nothing to worry about. On the side of his body that faces his rival, the male adopts the coloring of a female, so that the other believes he is looking at two females. But the courting male keeps his original coloring on the female’s side of his body in order to keep her attention. This two-faced tactic, known as dual-gender signaling, suggests tactical skills of an order no one had ever suspected in a species so low on the natural scale. But of course, talk of “high” and “low” is anathema to biologists, who see every single organism as exquisitely adapted to its own environment.

Now let us return to the accusation of anthropomorphism that we hear every time a new discovery comes along. This accusation works only because of the premise of human exceptionalism. Rooted in religion but also permeating large areas of science, this premise is out of line with modern evolutionary biology and neuroscience. Our brains share the same basic structure with other mammals — no different parts, the same old neurotransmitters.

Brains are in fact so similar across the board that we study fear in the rat’s amygdala to treat human phobias. This doesn’t mean that the planning by an orangutan is of the same order as me announcing an exam in class and my students preparing for it, but deep down there is continuity between both processes. This applies even more to emotional traits.

This is why science nowadays often starts from the opposite end, assuming continuity between humans and animals, while shifting the burden of proof to those who insist on differences. Anyone who asks me to believe that a tickled ape, who almost chokes on his hoarse giggles, is in a different state of mind than a tickled human child has his work cut out for him.

In order to drive this point home, I invented the term “anthropodenial,” which refers to the a priori rejection of humanlike traits in other animals or animallike traits in us. Anthropomorphism and anthropodenial are inversely related: The closer another species is to us, the more anthropomorphism assists our understanding of this species and the greater will be the danger of anthropodenial. Conversely, the more distant a species is from us, the greater the risk that anthropomorphism proposes questionable similarities that have come about independently. Saying that ants have “queens,” “soldiers” and “slaves” is mere anthropomorphic shorthand without much of a connection to the way human societies create these roles.

THE key point is that anthropomorphism is not nearly as bad as people think. With species like the apes — aptly known as “anthropoids” (humanlike) — anthropomorphism is in fact a logical choice. After a lifetime of working with chimpanzees, bonobos and other primates, I feel that denial of the similarities is a greater problem than accepting them. Relabeling a chimpanzee kiss “mouth-to-mouth contact” obfuscates the meaning of a behavior that apes show under the same circumstances as humans, such as when they greet one another or reconcile after a fight. It would be like assigning Earth’s gravity a different name than the moon’s, just because we think Earth is special.

Unjustified linguistic barriers fragment the unity with which nature presents us. Apes and humans did not have enough time to independently evolve almost identical behavior under similar circumstances. Think about this the next time you read about ape planning, dog empathy or elephant self-awareness. Instead of denying these phenomena or ridiculing them, we would do better to ask “why not?”

One reason this whole debate is as heated as it is relates to its moral implications. When our ancestors moved from hunting to farming, they lost respect for animals and began to look at themselves as the rulers of nature. In order to justify how they treated other species, they had to play down their intelligence and deny them a soul. It is impossible to reverse this trend without raising questions about human attitudes and practices. We can see this process underway in the halting of biomedical research on chimpanzees and the opposition to the use of killer whales for entertainment.

Increased respect for animal intelligence also has consequences for cognitive science. For too long, we have left the human intellect dangling in empty evolutionary space. How could our species arrive at planning, empathy, consciousness and so on, if we are part of a natural world devoid of any and all steppingstones to such capacities? Wouldn’t this be about as unlikely as us being the only primates with wings?

Evolution is a gradual process of descent with modification, whether we are talking about physical or mental traits. The more we play down animal intelligence, the more we ask science to believe in miracles when it comes to the human mind. Instead of insisting on our superiority in every regard, let’s take pride in the connections.

There is nothing wrong with the recognition that we are apes — smart ones perhaps, but apes nonetheless. As an ape lover, I can’t see this comparison as insulting. We are endowed with the mental powers and imagination to get under the skin of other species. The more we succeed, the more we will realize that we are not the only intelligent life on earth.

Frans de Waal, a primatologist and professor of psychology at Emory University, is the author, most recently, of “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” from which this essay is adapted.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 10, 2016, on page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: What I Learned Tickling Apes. 

Todo inocente é um fdp? (El País)

Como se mover num mundo em que se tornou impossível não enxergar o mal que se pratica

ELIANE BRUM

29 FEV 2016 – 14:44 BRT

O golfinho que pode ter morrido por desidratação tirando selfie com turistas na Argentina.

O golfinho que pode ter morrido por desidratação tirando selfie com turistas na Argentina.

Lembro uma cena do primeiro filme da trilogia Matrix, ícone do final do século 20. Os membros da resistência eram aqueles que, em algum momento, enxergaram que a vida cotidiana era só uma trama, um programa de computador, uma ilusão. A realidade era um deserto em que os rebeldes lutavam contra “as máquinas” num mundo sem beleza ou gosto. Fazia-se ali uma escolha: tomar a pílula azul ou a vermelha. Quem escolhesse a vermelha, deixaria de acreditar no mundo como nos é dado para ver e passaria a ser confrontado com a verdade da condição humana.

Na cena que aqui me interessa recordar, um traidor da resistência negocia os termos de sua rendição enquanto se delicia com um suculento filé. Ele sabe que o filé não existe de fato, que é um programa de computador que o faz ver, sentir o cheiro e o gosto da carne, mas se esbalda. Entregaria sua alma às máquinas em troca de voltar na melhor posição – rico e famoso – ao mundo das ilusões. Delataria os companheiros se a ele fosse devolvida a inocência sobre a realidade do real. Sacrifica a luta, os amigos e a ética em troca de um desejo: voltar a ser cego. Ou voltar a acreditar no filé.

A frase exata, pronunciada enquanto olha para um naco da carne espetada no garfo, é: “Eu sei que esse filé não existe. Sei que, quando o coloco na boca, a Matrix diz ao meu cérebro que ele é suculento e delicioso”. Faz uma pausa: “Depois de nove anos, sabe o que percebi? A ignorância é maravilhosa”.

Naquela época, véspera da virada do milênio, o filme deu ao público uma porta para o debate filosófico sobre o real. Tomar a pílula vermelha logo tornou-se uma metáfora para quem escolhe enxergar a Matrix – ou enxergar para além das aparências. Desde então, nestes últimos anos de corrosão acelerada das ilusões, penso que a escolha se tornou bem mais complicada.

A ilusão, que desempenhou um papel estrutural na constituição subjetiva da nossa espécie, pode já não estar ao nosso alcance

Talvez o mal-estar do nosso tempo seja o de que já não é possível escolher entre a pílula azul e a vermelha – ou entre continuar cego ou começar a enxergar o que está por trás da trama dos dias. O mal-estar se deve ao fato de que talvez já não exista a pílula azul – ou já não seja mais possível a ilusão, esta que desempenhou um papel estrutural na constituição subjetiva da nossa espécie ao longo dos milênios.

Se fosse um de nós o membro da resistência disposto a trair os companheiros, a negociar a rendição com as máquinas diante de um suculento filé num restaurante, aqui, agora, e não mais no final dos anos 90, o dilema poderia sofrer um deslocamento. O drama não seria enxergar o filé como filé, no sentido de poder acreditar que ele existe, assim como acreditar que o restaurante existe e que o cenário a que chamamos de mundo existe tal qual está diante dos nossos olhos.

Não. O dilema atual pode ser também este, mas só na medida em que também é outro. O drama é que acreditamos no filé, sabemos que ele existe e sabemos que é gostoso. Desejamos o filé, nos lambuzamos dele e temos prazer com ele. Ao olhar para ele, porém, não enxergamos apenas “o deserto do real”, mas algo muito mais encarnado e cada vez mais inescapável: enxergamos o boi.

É terrível enxergar o boi. E, como os mais sensíveis já descobriram, é impossível deixar de enxergá-lo. Nossa superpopulação de humanos extrapolou a lógica dos vivos, matar para comer. E impôs a escravização e a tortura cotidiana de outras espécies. Milhões de bois, galinhas e porcos nascem apenas para nos alimentar em campos de concentração aos quais damos nomes mais palatáveis. São sacrificados em holocaustos diários sem que nem mesmo tenham tido uma vida.

Animais confinados, presos, às vezes sem sequer poder se mover por uma existência inteira. Criamos profissões capazes de reconhecer em segundos se um pinto é macho ou fêmea para separar as fêmeas que viverão espremidas, muitas vezes sem conseguir sequer abrir as asas, botando ovos e depois virando bandejas no supermercado e jogar os machos para serem moídos ainda vivos no triturador de lixo. Escravidão e tortura/sacrifício e lixo, estes são os destinos que determinamos aos frangos.

Somos os nazistas das outras espécies – e produzimos holocaustos cotidianos

Somos os nazistas das outras espécies. E, se antes era possível ignorar, desqualificando a questão como algo menor ou coisa de “adoradores de alface”, a internet e a disseminação de informações tornaram impossível não enxergar o olho do boi. Ao olhar para o filé, o olho do boi nos olha de volta. O olho vidrado de quem está aterrorizado porque pressente que caminha no corredor da morte, o boi que se caga de medo enquanto é obrigado a dar o passo para o sacrifício, o boi que tenta escapar, mas não encontra saída. O olho do boi alcança até gente como eu, que pode ser colocada na categoria “adoradores de churrasco”.

A publicidade do século 20 perdeu a ressonância em tempos de internet. Porque a ilusão já não é possível. Nada era mais puro do que o leite branco tirado de uma vaquinha no pasto. Era fácil acreditar na imagem bucólica do alimento saudável. Nosso leite vinha do paraíso, de nosso passado rural perdido, da vida nos bosques de Walden. Assim como a longa série de produtos dele originados, como queijo, iogurte e manteiga.

Mas a vaca da imagem não existe. A real é a vaca que nasce em cativeiro, filha de outra escrava. A vaca que quase não se move, cuja existência consiste numa longa série de estupros por instrumentos que se enfiam pelo seu corpo para fecundá-la com o sêmen de outro escravo. Então ela engravida e engravida e engravida de bezerros que dela serão sequestrados para virar filés, para que suas tetas sigam dando leite delas tirados por outras máquinas. E, como sabemos disso, o leite que chega à nossa mesa já não pode mais ser branco, mas vermelho do horror da vaca cujo corpo virou um objeto, a vaca para quem cada dia é tortura, estupro e escravidão.

Para não beber sangue procuramos nas prateleiras leites à base de vegetais. Vegetais não gritam. Soja, apenas um dos tantos exemplos. Bifes de soja, hambúrgueres de soja, linguiças de soja, leite de soja. Mas como ignorar o desmatamento, a destruição de ecossistemas inteiros e com eles toda a vida que lá havia? Como ignorar que a soja pode ter sido plantada em terra indígena e que, enquanto ela vira mercadoria no supermercado, jovens Guarani Kaiowá se enforcam porque já não sabem como viver? Já não é possível fingir que não enxergamos isso. Assim, nem os veganos mais radicais podem se salvar do pecado original.

Os mais sensíveis sentem a textura de suas roupas e sabem que são costuradas com carne humana

Olhamos para nossas roupas e horrorizados sabemos que em algum lugar da linha globalizada de produção há nelas o sangue de crianças, homens e mulheres em regime de trabalho análogo à escravidão. Como o casal que morreu abraçado na fábrica de Bangladesh, gerando a fotografia que comoveu o mundo mas não eliminou o horror que seguiu em escala industrial. Ou mesmo de um imigrante boliviano enfiado num quarto insalubre trabalhando horas e horas por quase nada bem aqui ao lado. Mas os mais sensíveis sentem a textura de suas roupas e sabem que são costuradas com carne humana. E já não sabem como vesti-las. Nem sabem como dar brinquedos para seus filhos porque sabem que os bonecos, os carrinhos, os castelos e os dinossauros contêm neles o sangue das crianças sem infância, ou o de suas mães e pais.

Já não é possível levar crianças a zoológicos ou aquários porque sabemos que a única educação próxima da verdade que receberiam ali é a do horror a que os animais são submetidos para serem exibidos, por melhor que seja a imitação de seu habitat. Lembro uma reportagem que fui fazer num zoológico, planejada para ser divertida, e só pude contar, entre outros horrores, que o babuíno chamado Beto era mantido à custa de Valium, para evitar que arrancasse pedaços do próprio corpo. Mesmo dopado jogava-se contra as grades, atirava fezes nos visitantes e espancava a companheira. Pinky, a elefanta, vivia só. Seus dois companheiros tinham morrido ao cair no fosso tentando escapar do cativeiro. Sabemos hoje que os golfinhos e as baleias dos shows acrobáticos são escravos brutalizados para servir de entretenimento a humanos. E, desde que sabemos, aqueles que gozam com esses espetáculos de morte podem se descobrir não mais como famílias felizes num momento de lazer, como nas imagens dos folhetos publicitários, mas como hordas de sádicos.

No simples ato de acender a luz já existe a consciência de que estamos destruindo o mundo de alguém e de que nada mais será simples. Neste momento, para ficar apenas num exemplo, dezenas de milhares já perderam suas casas no rio Xingu, na Amazônia, para a operação da Hidrelétrica de Belo Monte. Povos indígenas que vivem na região atingida já não conseguem suportar o aumento exponencial de mosquitos desde que o lago da usina começou a encher, alterando o ecossistema e dizimando culturas, no que já foi denunciado pelo Ministério Público Federal como etnocídio. Os impactos mal começaram e, em menos de três meses, mais de 16 toneladas de peixes morreram. E talvez também esteja chegando ao fim o tempo em que ainda é aceitável contar vidas por toneladas, mesmo que seja a vida de peixes. Ou a morte de peixes. Um dedo no interruptor e uma cadeia de mortes. E agora também já sabemos disso.

Ao pedir um café e um pão com manteiga na padaria, nos implicamos numa cadeia de horrores

O tempo das ilusões acabou. Nenhum ato do nosso cotidiano é inocente. Ao pedir um café e um pão com manteiga na padaria, nos implicamos numa cadeia de horrores causados a animais e a humanos envolvidos na produção. Cada ato banal implica uma escolha ética – e também uma escolha política.

A descrição das atrocidades que cometemos rotineiramente pode aqui seguir por milhares de caracteres. Comemos, vestimos, nos entretemos, transportamos e nos transportamos à custa da escravidão, da tortura e do sacrifício de outras espécies e também dos mais frágeis da nossa própria espécie. Somos o que de pior aconteceu ao planeta e a todos que o habitam. A mudança climática já anuncia que não apenas tememos a catástrofe, mas nos tornamos a catástrofe. Desta vez, não só para todos os outros, mas também para nós mesmos.

Já não é possível a pílula azul – ou já não é possível à adesão às ilusões. Há várias implicações profundas numa época em que o conhecimento não liberta, mas condena. A começar, talvez, pela pergunta: quem é o inocente num mundo em que a inocência já não é possível? Seria o inocente o pior humano de todos? Seria o inocente um psicopata?

O que seremos nós, subjetivamente, agora que estamos condenados a enxergar? As redes sociais têm nos dado algumas pistas. O que a internet fez foi arrancar da humanidade as ilusões sobre si mesma. O cotidiano nas redes sociais nos mostrou a verdade que sempre esteve lá, mas era protegida – ou mediada – pelo mundo das aparências. Sobre isso já escrevi um artigo, chamado A boçalidade do mal, que pode ser lido aqui. As implicações de perder este véu tão arduamente tecido são profundas e recém começam a ser investigadas. O impacto sobre a subjetividade estrutural de nossa espécie é tremendo, exatamente porque é estrutural e desabou num espaço de tempo muito curto, quase num soluço.

Já não é mais possível pensar apenas em humanos quando se aborda o tema dos direitos

O que faremos diante da impossibilidade da pílula azul, a que garantia as ilusões? A ridicularização daqueles que levantam esse tema ainda é um caminho, mas convencem menos que no passado. Também a piada se torna anacrônica. As interrogações vêm mudando, e já não é possível afirmar, sem revelar considerável ignorância, inclusive sobre a ciência produzida, que os animais não têm vida mental nem emocional, são “irracionais”. Ou, lembrando um argumento religioso, “que não têm alma”. Toda a ideologia que um dia justificou a escravidão de humanos, até que foi questionada, derrubada e transformada numa mancha de crime e vergonha na história da humanidade, passou a ser confrontada também com relação aos animais.

Cada vez mais as outras espécies começam a ser vistas como diferentes – e não mais como inferiores. Assim, o que se coloca no campo da ética são questões fascinantes e muito mais espinhosas. Mesmo o termo “direitos humanos” passa a ser questionável, porque pensar apenas em “humanos” já não é mais possível. No momento em que nos tornamos a própria definição de catástrofe, o conceito de “espécie”, em sua expressão cultural, se desloca. Outras formas de compreender e nomear o lugar dos humanos ganham espaço no horizonte filosófico e no exercício da política.

Resta o cinismo, sempre o último reduto. Dizer que, diante de mais de 7 bilhões de seres humanos ocupando o planeta e crescendo, não há outra maneira a não ser comer e vestir exploração, escravidão e tortura é a afirmação mais óbvia. É a afirmação expandida usada para todas as desigualdades de direitos. Desde que não seja eu – ou os meus – os sacrificados, tudo bem.

Vale a pena dedicar um parágrafo aos cínicos, essa categoria que prolifera com o ímpeto de um Aedes aegypti no Brasil e no mundo. O cínico é aquele que olha com calculado enfado para todos os outros, porque ele acredita que entende o mundo como ele de fato é. Ele é o que sabe das coisas, o único esperto. Todos os outros são tolinhos com ideias irreais. O cínico é aquele que deixa o mundo como está. Mas talvez, neste momento, o cínico seja justamente o inocente. Sua inocência consiste em acreditar que a pílula azul ainda está disponível.

Como ser ético num mundo sem ilusões, em que cada ato implica na tortura e no sacrifício de um outro?

Há um preço para enxergar e, mesmo assim, assumir o extermínio cotidiano como dado, como parte intrínseca da condição de ser um humano. Nem toda a crescente gourmetização da comida, nem todas as narrativas ficcionais que contam uma história idílica sobre a origem daquele produto, nada ocultará esse preço. E nada reduzirá seu impacto subjetivo. Não é fácil viver na pele do algoz. Não é simples viver sabendo-se. Aquele que se olha no espelho e se enxerga carregará essa autoimagem consigo. E se tornará algo que já não é mais o mesmo.

Há uma imagem recente que pode dar algumas pistas sobre esse caminho. Numa praia da Argentina, um golfinho foi carregado por turistas. Alguns dizem que ainda estava vivo, outros que já estava morto. Vivo ou morto, os turistas preocuparam-se apenas com tirar selfies para postar nas redes sociais. O site de humor Sensacionalista postou: “Golfinho morre ao ser retirado do mar para turistas fazerem selfie e Deus anuncia recall do ser humano”.

Ainda assim, quem se horrorizou com a falta de horror alheia, à noite seguiu diante do olho do boi. O que fazer diante do olho do boi? Como ser ético num mundo sem ilusões, em que cada ato implica na tortura e no sacrifício de um outro, humano e não humano? Se somos os nazistas das outras espécies, quando não da mesma, aceitar que assim é não seria se tornar um Eichmann, o nazista julgado em Jerusalém que alegou apenas cumprir ordens, o homem tão banalmente ordinário que inspirou a filósofa Hannah Arendt a criar o conceito da “banalidade do mal”? Não seríamos, aos olhos do boi, todos Eichmann, justificando-nos pelo senso comum de que assim é e se faz o que é preciso para sobreviver? Se sim, o que implica viver assumidamente nesta pele?

Talvez estejamos, como espécie que se pensa, diante de um dos maiores dilemas éticos da nossa história. Sem poder optar pela pílula azul, a das ilusões, condenados à pílula vermelha, a que nos obriga a enxergar, como construir uma escolha que volte a incluir a ética? Como não paralisar diante do espelho, reduzidos ou ao horror ou ao cinismo, eliminando a possibilidade de transformação? Como nos mover?

Diante do filé que desejamos e do olho boi que nos interroga, há pelo menos uma hipótese cada vez mais forte: o inocente é um assassino.

Uma década de avanços em biotecnologia (Folha de S.Paulo)

11 de fevereiro de 2016

Lei de Biossegurança completa 10 anos dialogando com as mais recentes descobertas da ciência

Walter Colli – Instituto de Química, Universidade de São Paulo

Ao longo de 2015, uma silenciosa revolução biotecnológica aconteceu no Brasil. Neste ano a Comissão Técnica Nacional de Biossegurança (CTNBio) analisou e aprovou um número recorde de tecnologias aplicáveis à agricultura, medicina e produção de energia. O trabalho criterioso dos membros da CTNBio avaliou como seguros para a saúde humana e animal e para o ambiente 19 novos transgênicos, dentre os quais 13 plantas, três vacinas e três microrganismos ou derivados.

A CTNBio, priorizando o rigor nas análises de biossegurança e atenta às necessidades de produzir alimentos de maneira mais sustentável aprovou, no ano passado, variedades de soja, milho e algodão tolerantes a herbicidas com diferentes métodos de ação. Isso permitirá que as sementes desenvolvam todo seu potencial e que os produtores brasileiros tenham mais uma opção para a rotação de tecnologias no manejo de plantas daninhas. Sem essa ferramenta tecnológica, os agricultores ficariam reféns das limitações impostas pelas plantas invasoras. As tecnologias de resistência a insetos proporcionam benefícios semelhantes.

Na área da saúde, a revolução diz respeito aos métodos de combate a doenças que são endêmicas das regiões tropicais. Mais uma vez, mostrando-se parceira da sociedade, a CTNBio avaliou a biossegurança de duas vacinas recombinantes contra a Dengue em regime de urgência e deu parecer favorável a elas. Soma-se a estes esforços a aprovação do Aedes aegypti transgênico. O mosquito geneticamente modificado aprovado em 2014 tem se mostrado um aliado no combate ao inseto que, além de ser vetor da dengue, também está associado a casos de transmissão dos vírus Zika, Chikungunya e da febre amarela.

Nos últimos 10 anos, até o momento, o advento da nova CTNBio pela Lei 11.105 de 2005 – a Lei de Biossegurança – proporcionou a aprovação comercial de 82 Organismos Geneticamente Modificados (OGM): 52 eventos em plantas; 20 vacinas veterinárias; 7 microrganismos; 1 mosquito Aedes aegypti; e 2 vacinas para uso humano contra a Dengue. Essas liberações comerciais são a maior prova de que o Brasil lança mão da inovação para encontrar soluções para os desafios da contemporaneidade.

Entretanto, é necessário enfatizar que assuntos não relacionados com Ciência também se colocaram, como em anos anteriores, no caminho do desenvolvimento da biotecnologia em 2015. Manifestantes anti-ciência invadiram laboratórios e destruíram sete anos de pesquisas com plantas transgênicas de eucalipto e grupos anti-OGM chegaram a interromper reuniões da CTNBio, pondo abaixo portas com ações truculentas. Diversas inverdades foram publicadas na tentativa de colocar em dúvida a segurança e as contribuições que a transgenia vem dando para a sociedade. A ação desses grupos preocupa, pois, se sua ideologia for vitoriosa, tanto o progresso científico quanto o PIB brasileiros ficarão irreversivelmente prejudicados.

Hoje, a nossa Lei de Biossegurança é tida internacionalmente como um modelo de equilíbrio entre o rigor nas análises técnicas e a previsibilidade institucional necessária para haver o investimento. O reconhecimento global, o diálogo com a sociedade e a legitimidade dos critérios técnicos mostram que esses 10 anos são apenas o início de uma longa história de desenvolvimento e inovação no Brasil.

Empathy more common in animals than thought (Science Daily)

Date: January 21, 2016

Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Summary: A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous ‘love hormone,’ oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism.


Prairie voles consoling. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the Jan. 22, 2016 issue of Science, published by AAAS. The paper, by James Burkett at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, and colleagues was titled, “Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents.” Credit: Zack Johnson

A new study reveals that prairie voles console loved ones who are feeling stressed — and it appears that the infamous “love hormone,” oxytocin, is the underlying mechanism. Until now, consolation behavior has only been documented in a few nonhuman species with high levels of sociality and cognition, such as elephants, dolphins and dogs.

Prairie voles are particularly social rodents, causing them to be the focus of many studies. This led James Burkett and colleagues to explore their potential for empathy-motivated behaviors.

The researchers created an experiment where relatives and known individuals were temporarily isolated from each other, while one was exposed to mild shocks. Upon reunion, the non-stressed prairie voles proceeded to lick the stressed voles sooner and for longer durations, compared to a control scenario where individuals were separated but neither was exposed to a stressor.

Measurements of hormone levels revealed that the family members and friends were distressed when they could not comfort their loved one.

The fact that consoling behavior occurred only between those who were familiar with each other — including non-kin members — but not strangers, demonstrates that the behavior is not simply a reaction to aversive cues, the authors note.

Since the oxytocin receptor is associated with empathy in humans, Burkett et al. blocked this neurotransmitter in prairie voles in a series of similar consolation experiments. Blocking oxytocin did not cause family members and friends to alter their self-grooming behavior, yet they did cease consoling each other.

These findings provide new insights into the mechanisms of empathy and the evolution of complex empathy-motivated behaviors.


Journal Reference:

  1. J. P. Burkett, E. Andari, Z. V. Johnson, D. C. Curry, F. B. M. de Waal, L. J. Young. Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodentsScience, 2016; 351 (6271): 375 DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4785

The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From (New York Times)

An ancient canine skull at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient human-canine bond originated. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

By JAMES GORMAN

OXFORD, England — Before humans milked cows, herded goats or raised hogs, before they invented agriculture, or written language, before they had permanent homes, and most certainly before they had cats, they had dogs.

Or dogs had them, depending on how you view the human-canine arrangement. But scientists are still debating exactly when and where the ancient bond originated. And a large new study being run out of the University of Oxford here, with collaborators around the world, may soon provide some answers.

Scientists have come up with a broad picture of the origins of dogs. First off, researchers agree that they evolved from ancient wolves. Scientists once thought that some visionary hunter-gatherer nabbed a wolf puppy from its den one day and started raising tamer and tamer wolves, taking the first steps on the long road to leashes and flea collars. This is oversimplified, of course, but the essence of the idea is that people actively bred wolves to become dogs just the way they now breed dogs to be tiny or large, or to herd sheep.

The prevailing scientific opinion now, however, is that this origin story does not pass muster. Wolves are hard to tame, even as puppies, and many researchers find it much more plausible that dogs, in effect, invented themselves.

Arden Hulme-Beaman cutting a piece from an ancient skull for DNA testing at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

One reason for the conflicting theories, according to Greger Larson, a biologist in the archaeology department at the University of Oxford, is that dog genetics are a mess. In an interview at his office here in November, he noted that most dog breeds were invented in the 19th century during a period of dog obsession that he called “the giant whirlwind blender of the European crazy Victorian dog-breeding frenzy.”

That blender, as well as random breeding by dogs themselves, and interbreeding with wolves at different times over at least the last 15,000 years, created a “tomato soup” of dog genetics, for which the ingredients are very hard to identify, Dr. Larson said.

The way to find the recipe, Dr. Larson is convinced, is to create a large database of ancient DNA to add to the soup of modern canine genetics. And with a colleague, Keith Dobney at the University of Aberdeen, he has persuaded the Who’s Who of dog researchers to join a broad project, with about $2.5 million in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council in England and the European Research Council, to analyze ancient bones and their DNA.

Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at U.C.L.A. who studies the origin of dogs and is part of the research, said, “There’s hardly a person working in canine genetics that’s not working on that project.”

A wolf on display at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. ANDREW TESTA FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES

That is something of a triumph, given the many competing theories in this field. “Almost every group has a different origination hypothesis,” he said.

But Dr. Larson has sold them all on the simple notion that the more data they have, the more cooperative the effort is, the better the answers are going to be. His personality has been crucial to promoting the team effort, said Dr. Wayne, who described Dr. Larson as “very outgoing, gregarious.” Also, Dr. Wayne added, “He has managed not to alienate anyone.”

Scientists at museums and universities who are part of the project are opening up their collections. So to gather data, Dr. Larson and his team at Oxford have traveled the world, collecting tiny samples of bone and measurements of teeth, jaws and occasionally nearly complete skulls from old and recent dogs, wolves and canids that could fall into either category. The collection phase is almost done, said Dr. Larson, who expects to end up with DNA from about 1,500 samples, and photographs and detailed measurements of several thousand.

Scientific papers will start to emerge this year from the work, some originating in Oxford, and some from other institutions, all the work of many collaborators.

Dr. Larson is gambling that the project will be able to determine whether the domestication process occurred closer to 15,000 or 30,000 years ago, and in what region it took place. That’s not quite the date, GPS location and name of the ancient hunter that some dog lovers might hope for.

But it would be a major achievement in the world of canine science, and a landmark in the analysis of ancient DNA to show evolution, migrations and descent, much as studies of ancient hominid DNA have shown how ancient humans populated the globe and interbred with Neanderthals.

And why care about the domestication of dogs, beyond the obsessive interest so many people have in their pets? The emergence of dogs may have been a watershed.

“Maybe dog domestication on some level kicks off this whole change in the way that humans are involved and responding to and interacting with their environment,” he added. “I don’t think that’s outlandish.”

Shepherding the Research

Dr. Larson is no stranger to widely varying points of view. He is an American, but recently became a British citizen as well. His parents are American and he visited the United States often as a child, but he was born in Bahrain and grew up in Turkey and Japan, places where his parents were teaching in schools on American military bases.

He graduated from Claremont McKenna College in California and received his Ph.D. at Oxford. In between college and graduate studies, he spent a year searching for the bed of an ancient river in Turkmenistan, and another couple of years setting up an environmental consulting office in Azerbaijan. He had an interest in science as an undergraduate, and some background from a college major in environment, economics and politics, but no set career plans. Instead, his career grew out of intense curiosity, a knack for making friends and a willingness to jump at an opportunity, like the time he managed to tag along on an archaeological dig.

He was staying in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, and a local man who had helped him rent an old Soviet truck to explore the desert told him some Westerners were arriving to go on a dig, so he wangled his way onto one of the trucks.

“I think everybody there thought I was with somebody else,” Dr. Larson said.

By the time the group stopped to rest and someone asked him who he was, it was too late to question whether he really belonged. “I was a complete stowaway,” he said.

But he could move dirt and speak Russian, and he had some recently acquired expertise — in college drinking games — that he said was in great demand at night. By luck, he said, the researchers on the dig turned out to be “the great and the good of British neolithic archaeology.” One of them was Chris Gosden, the chairman of European Archaeology at Oxford, who later invited him to do a one-year master’s degree in archaeology at Oxford. That eventually led to a Ph.D. program after he spent some time in graduate school in the United States.

The current project began when he became fed up with the lack of ancient DNA evidence in papers about the origin of dogs. He called Dr. Dobney, of the University of Aberdeen in 2011, and said, “We’re doing dogs.”

After receiving the grant from the council in England, he and Dr. Dobney organized a conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, to gather as many people involved in researching dog origins as they could. His pitch to the group was that despite their different points of view, everyone was interested in the best possible evidence, no matter where it led.

“If we have to eat crow, we eat crow,” he said. “It’s science.”

A 32,000-Year-Old Skull

Mietje Germonpré, a paleontologist at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, is one of the many scientists participating in the dog project. She was one of a number of authors on a 2013 paper in Science that identified a skull about 32,000 years old from a Belgian cave in Goyet as an early dog. Dr. Wayne at U.C.L.A. was the senior author on the paper and Olaf Thalmann from the University of Turku in Finland was the first author.

It is typical of Dr. Larson’s dog project that although he disagreed with the findings of the paper, arguing that the evidence just wasn’t there to call the Goyet skull a dog, all of the authors of the paper are working on the larger project with him.

In November in Brussels, holding the priceless fossil, Dr. Germonpré pointed out the wide skull, crowded teeth and short snout of the ancient skull — all indicators to her that it was not a wolf.

“To me, it’s a dog,” she said. Studies of mitochondrial DNA, passed down from females only, also indicated the skull was not a wolf, according to the 2013 paper.

Dr. Germonpré said she thinks dogs were domesticated some time before this animal died, and she leans toward the idea that humans intentionally bred them from wolves.

She holds up another piece of evidence, a reconstruction of a 30,000-year-old canid skull found near Predmostí, in the Czech Republic, with a bone in its mouth. She reported in 2014 that this was a dog. And she says the bone is part of evidence the animal was buried with care. “We think it was deliberately put there,” she said.

But she recognizes these claims are controversial and is willing, like the rest of the world of canine science, to risk damage to the fossils themselves to get more information on not just the mitochondrial DNA but also the nuclear DNA.

To minimize that risk, she talked with Ardern Hulme-Beaman, a postdoctoral researcher with the Oxford team, about where to cut into it. He was nearing the end of months of traveling to Russia, Turkey, the United States and all over Europe to take samples of canid jaws and skulls.

He and Allowyn Evin, now with the National Center for Scientific Research in Montpelier, France, also took many photographs of each jaw and skull to do geometric morphometrics. Software processes detailed photographs from every angle into 3-D recreations that provide much more information on the shape of a bone than length and width measurements.

Dr. Germonpré and Dr. Hulme-Beaman agreed on a spot in the interior of the skull to cut. In the laboratory, he used a small electric drill with a cutting blade to remove a chunk the size of a bit of chopped walnut. An acrid, burning smell indicated that organic material was intact within the bone — a good sign for the potential retrieval of DNA.

Back in Oxford, researchers will attempt to use the most current techniques to get as much DNA as possible out of the sample. There is no stretch of code that says “wolf” or “dog,” any more than there is a single skull feature that defines a category. What geneticists try to establish is how different the DNA of one animal is from another. Adding ancient DNA gives many more points of reference over a long time span.

Dr. Larson hopes that he and his collaborators will be able to identify a section of DNA in some ancient wolves that was passed on to more doglike descendants and eventually to modern dogs. And he hopes they will be able to identify changes in the skulls or jaws of those wolves that show shifts to more doglike shapes, helping to narrow the origins of domestication.

The usual assumption about domestic animals is that the process of taming and breeding them happened once. But that’s not necessarily so. Dr. Larson and Dr. Dobney showed that pigs were domesticated twice, once in Anatolia and once in China. The same could be true of dogs.

Only the Beginning

Although the gathering of old bones is almost done, Dr. Larson is still negotiating with Chinese researchers for samples from that part of the world, which he says are necessary. But he hopes they will come.

If all goes well, said Dr. Larson, the project will publish a flagship paper from all of the participants describing their general findings. And over the next couple of years, researchers, all using the common data, will continue to publish separate findings.

Other large collaborative efforts are brewing, as well. Dr. Wayne, at U.C.L.A., said that a group in China was forming with the goal of sequencing 10,000 dog genomes. He and Dr. Larson are part of that group.

Last fall, Dr. Larson was becoming more excited with each new bit of data, but not yet ready to tip his hand about what conclusions the data may warrant, or how significant they will be.

But he is growing increasingly confident that they will find what they want, and come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.

“I’m starting to drink my own Kool-Aid,” he said.

Pangolim aparece em Nkobe: pode anunciar chuvas na província de Maputo (TVM)

Domingo, 17 Janeiro 2016 14:27
Escrito por  Redacção

pangolimpt.jpg

Um Pangolim foi encontrado na manhã deste sábado no bairro Nkobe na Cidade da Matola Província de Maputo.

Segundo as autoridades tradicionais, o animal anuncia muita chuva e produtividade nos próximos tempos neste ponto do país.

O mamífero foi encontrado no bairro Nkobe na Província de Maputo, o mesmo foi transportado para a residência da Rainha, onde os régulos realizaram uma cerimónia tradicional com vista interpretação da mensagem que o animal trazia para a população da Cidade da Matola.

Realizada a cerimónia tradicional, a Rainha disse tratar-se de um animal cujo aparecimento tem explicação entre as quais se destaca a queda da chuva e cultivo de comida em abundância.

Dirigentes da Cidade da Matola estiveram no local para testemunhar o acto e estes consideram que o cenário da seca que se vive na Província de Maputo poderá ser ultrapassado.

Segundo as autoridades tradicionais esta é a segunda vez que um Pangolim é encontrado na urbe, o primeiro apareceu em dois mil e catorze.

Plantas têm memória, sentem dor e são inteligentes (Portugal Mundial)

Março de 2015

singingplants

Pode uma planta ser inteligente? Alguns cientistas insistem que são – uma vez que elas podem sentir, aprender, lembrar e até mesmo reagir de formas que seriam familiares aos seres humanos. A nova pesquisa está num campo chamado neurobiologia de plantas – o que é meio que um equívoco, porque mesmo os cientistas desta área não argumentam que as plantas tenham neurónios ou cérebros.

Elas têm estruturas análogas“, explica Michael Pollan, autor de livros como The Omnivore’s Dilemma (O Dilema do Onívoro) e The Botany of Desire (A Botânica do Desejo). “Elas têm maneiras de tomar todos os dados sensoriais que se reúnem em suas vidas quotidianas … integrá-los e, em seguida, se comportar de forma adequada em resposta. E elas fazem isso sem cérebro, o que, de certa forma, é o que é incrível sobre isso, porque assumimos automaticamente que você precisa de um cérebro para processar a informação”.

E nós supomos que precisamos de ouvidos para ouvir. Mas os pesquisadores, diz Pollan, tocaram uma gravação de uma lagarta comendo uma folha para plantas – e as plantas reagiram. Elas começam a segregar substâncias químicas defensivas – embora a planta não esteja realmente ameaçada, diz Pollan. “Ela está de alguma forma ouvindo o que é, para ela, um som aterrorizante de uma lagarta comendo suas folhas.”

Plantas podem sentir

Pollan diz que as plantas têm todos os mesmos sentidos como os seres humanos, e alguns a mais. Além da audição e do paladar, por exemplo, elas podem detectar a gravidade, a presença de água, ou até sentir que  um obstáculo está a bloquear as suas raízes, antes de entrar em contacto com ele. As raízes das plantas mudam de direcção, diz ele, para evitar obstáculos.

E a dor? As plantas sentem? Pollan diz que elas respondem aos anestésicos. “Pode apagar uma planta com um anestésico humano… E não só isso, as plantas produzem seus próprios compostos que são anestésicos para nós.” 

De acordo com os pesquisadores do Instituto de Física Aplicada da Universidade de Bonn, na Alemanha, as plantas libertam gases que são o equivalente a gritos de dor. Usando um microfone movido a laser, os pesquisadores captaram ondas sonoras produzidas por plantas que liberam gases quando cortadas ou feridas. Apesar de não ser audível ao ouvido humano, as vozes secretas das plantas têm revelado que os pepinos gritam quando estão doentes, e as flores se lamentam quando suas folhas são cortadas [fonte: Deutsche Welle].

Plant_042913-617x416

Sistema nervoso de plantas

Como as plantas sentem e reagem ainda é um pouco desconhecido. Elas não têm células nervosas como os seres humanos, mas elas têm um sistema de envio de sinais eléctricos e até mesmo a produção de neurotransmissores, como dopamina, serotonina e outras substâncias químicas que o cérebro humano usa para enviar sinais.

As plantas realmente sentem dor

As evidências desses complexos sistemas de comunicação são sinais de que as plantas sentem dor. Ainda mais, os cientistas supõem que as plantas podem apresentar um comportamento inteligente sem possuir um cérebro ou consciência.

Elas podem se lembrar

michael pollan plantas sencientes conscientes inteligência veganismo vegetarianismo burrice errado dó piedade misericórdia

Pollan descreve um experimento feito pela bióloga de animais Monica Gagliano. Ela apresentou uma pesquisa que sugere que a planta Mimosa pudica pode aprender com a experiência. E, Pollan diz, por apenas sugerir que uma planta poderia aprender, era tão controverso que seu artigo foi rejeitado por 10 revistas científicas antes de ser finalmente publicado.

Mimosa é uma planta, que é algo como uma samambaia, que recolhe suas folhas temporariamente quando é perturbada. Então Gagliano configurou uma engenhoca que iria pingar gotas na planta mimosa, sem ferir-la. Quando a planta era tocada, tal como esperado, as folhas se fechavam. Ela ficava pingando as plantas a cada 5-6 segundos.

Depois de cinco ou seis gotas, as plantas paravam de responder, como se tivessem aprendido a sintonizar o estímulo como irrelevante“, diz Pollan. “Esta é uma parte muito importante da aprendizagem – saber o que você pode ignorar com segurança em seu ambiente.”

Talvez a planta estava apenas se cansando de tantos pingos? Para testar isso, Gagliano pegou as plantas que tinham parado de responder às gotas e sacudiu-as.

Elas continuavam a se fechar“, diz Pollan. “Elas tinham feito a distinção que o gotejamento era um sinal que elas poderiam ignorar. E o que foi mais incrível é que Gagliano as testou novamente a cada semana durante quatro semanas e, durante um mês, elas continuaram a lembrar a lição.”

Isso foi o mais longe que Gagliano testou. É possível que elas se lembrem ainda mais. Por outro lado, Pollan aponta, as abelhas que foram testadas de maneira semelhante se esquecem o que aprenderam em menos de 48 horas.

Plantas: seres sentientes?

As plantas podem fazer coisas incríveis. Elas parecem se lembrar de estresse e eventos, como essa experiência. Elas têm a capacidade de responder de 15 a 20 variáveis ambientais”, diz Pollan. “A questão é, é correto de chamar isso de aprendizagem? É essa a palavra certa? É correto chamar isso de inteligência? É certo, ainda, dizer que elas são conscientes? Alguns destes neurobiólogos de plantas acreditam que as plantas estão conscientes – não auto-conscientes, mas conscientes, no sentido que elas sabem onde elas estão no espaço … e reagem adequadamente a sua posição no espaço”.

Pollan diz que não há definição consensual de inteligência. “Vá para a Wikipedia e procure por inteligência. Eles se desesperam para dar-lhe uma resposta. Eles têm basicamente um gráfico onde dão-lhe nove definições diferentes. E cerca da metade delas dependem de um cérebro … se referem ao raciocínio abstracto ou julgamento.”

“E a outra metade apenas se referem a uma capacidade de resolver problemas. E esse é o tipo de inteligência que estamos falando aqui.  Então a inteligência pode muito bem ser uma propriedade de vida. E a nossa diferença em relação a essas outras criaturas pode ser uma questão da diferença de grau e não de espécie. Podemos apenas ter mais desta habilidade de resolver problemas e podemos fazê-lo de diferentes maneiras.”

Pollan diz que o que realmente assusta as pessoas é “que a linha entre plantas e animais pode ser um pouco mais fina do que nós tradicionalmente acreditamos.”

E ele sugere que as plantas podem ser capaz de ensinar os seres humanos uma ou duas coisas, tais como a forma de processar a informação sem um posto de comando central, como um cérebro.

Confira este vídeo de Michael Pollan.

VÍDEO

Pecuária é responsável por 15% dos gases do efeito estufa (O Globo)

Renato Grandelle, 24/11/2015

Desmatamento na Região de Xapuri no Acre – Gustavo Stephan/ 05-12-2013

RIO— Parte expressiva da liberação de carbono na atmosfera fica bem longe da fumaça liberada por usinas ou carros. Um novo estudo do Chatham House, o Real Instituto de Relações Internacionais do Reino Unido, indica que cerca de 15% dos poluentes que levam ao aquecimento global são provenientes da pecuária — seja pelo metano da digestão e estrume dos animais, ou pela produção de culturas para alimentação. De acordo com o relatório “Mudanças climáticas, mudanças na alimentação”, reduzir a quantidade de carne no prato é fundamental para assegurar que a temperatura global não avance mais do que 2 graus Celsius neste século.

O planeta, porém, ignora a recomendação. Estima-se que, com o aumento da classe média nos países em desenvolvimento — especialmente na China e no Brasil —, o consumo de carne crescerá até 76% nos próximos 35 anos.

Mudar a alimentação pode cortar pela metade os custos das futuras medidas contra o aquecimento global. E o clima não será a única área favorecida pela nova dieta. Coautora do estudo, Laura Wellesley ressalta que conter o consumo exagerado de carne também traz benefícios imediatos à saúde.

— Não estamos sugerindo que todo mundo deve se tornar vegetariano. A carne, consumida com moderação, pode fazer parte de uma dieta saudável para o indivíduo e o meio ambiente — ressalta. — De acordo com a Escola de Medicina de Harvard, a porção diária não deve ultrapassar 70 gramas, que é um hambúrguer de tamanho médio. Se nada for feito para nos limitarmos a este valor, os padrões alimentares atuais serão incompatíveis com o aumento de temperatura de apenas 2 graus Celsius.

DIETA SAUDÁVEL FORA DA COP-21

Atualmente, o consumo dos brasileiros é de duas vezes e meia a quantidade diária recomendada; nos EUA, é de três vezes mais. Um estudo divulgado em outubro pela Organização Mundial de Saúde alertou que a ingestão exagerada de carnes vermelhas e processadas pode levar à ocorrência de doenças não transmissíveis, principalmente o câncer.

— Mudanças de alimentação devem estar no topo da lista das discussões na Conferência do Clima de Paris (COP-21). É uma estratégia rápida e econômica para conter as emissões de gases-estufa — avalia Laura.

Ainda assim, o debate sobre a dieta mundial deve ficar fora da mesa de negociações da COP-21. Para os pesquisadores do Chatham House, os governos temem que campanhas reivindicando limitações ao consumo de carne desagradem a opinião pública e a indústria de alimentos.

Desde o início do ano, cerca de 150 países apresentaram à ONU metas voluntárias para cortar a emissão de gases de efeito estufa. A diminuição do consumo de carne não foi mencionada em nenhum projeto.

— Como são cautelosos em assumir um risco, os governos têm favorecido a inércia e permanecem em silêncio sobre a questão das dietas sustentáveis — lamenta Laura. — As pesquisas revelam que inicialmente muitas pessoas não gostam da ideia de comer menos carne, e por isso são resistentes à ideia de intervenção do poder público. No entanto, depois que são informadas sobre a relação entre dieta e clima, a maioria recomenda que o governo promova intervenções e forneça orientações e incentivos para a mudança na alimentação.

No Brasil, diz o levantamento, a população sente orgulho da pecuária, mas demonstra preocupação com sua potencial expansão desordenada para a Floresta Amazônica. A pecuária é uma das atividades econômicas mais importantes do país — representa 6,8% do PIB —, mas também corresponde a uma das mais ineficientes do mundo, já que é baseada na prática extensiva. Os lucros estão no tamanho da área usada, e não na eficiência produtiva. No Cerrado há, em média, apenas 1 boi por hectare — estima-se que é possível triplicar esta ocupação sem qualquer comprometimento dos rendimentos do setor.

A força econômica da pecuária e o hábito do consumo exagerado de carne — a “tradição do churrasco de fim de semana”, como destaca o Chatham House — são os maiores obstáculos para que o governo federal desenvolva projetos que promovam a alimentação saudável e, ao mesmo tempo, aumente o alerta da população contra as mudanças climáticas. O brasileiro é conhecido como um dos povos mais preocupados no mundo com o aquecimento global, mas nunca foi informado sobre sua ligação com mudanças na dieta.

Borboletas estão encolhendo por causa das mudanças climáticas (O Globo)

Estudo mostra redução no tamanho de duas espécies na Groenlândia

POR O GLOBO

A Boloria chariclea foi uma das espécies analisadas pelos pesquisadores – Divulgação/Toke T. Hoye

RIO — As mudanças climáticas já provocam impactos sobre a Humanidade, mas também sobre algumas espécies animais. Um estudo publicado ontem na revista científica “Biology Letters” mostra que borboletas na Groenlândia se tornaram menores como resposta ao aumento das temperaturas. Para os pesquisadores, a mudança no tamanho corporal prejudica a mobilidade, que pode causar graves consequências à dinâmica populacional e distribuição geográfica das espécies.

Pesquisadores da Universidade de Aarhus, na Dinamarca, analisaram aproximadamente 4,5 mil borboletas de duas espécies diferentes capturadas entre 1996 e 2013. Os resultados apontaram para uma redução no tamanho das asas, na mesma taxa em ambas as espécies, provocada pelo aumento das temperaturas durante o verão. As espécies estudadas foram a Boloria chariclea e a Colias hecla.

— Nossos estudos mostram que machos e fêmeas seguem o mesmo padrão, que é similar em duas espécies diferentes, o que sugere que o clima exerce um papel importante na determinação do tamanho corporal das borboletas na Groenlândia — explicou Toke T. Hoye, pesquisador da Universidade de Aarhus.Esse é um dos primeiros estudos a acompanhar mudanças no tamanho corporal de uma espécie durante um período de mudanças climáticas, e corrobora pesquisas realizadas em laboratório, mas raramente demonstradas em campo.

A Colias hecla está ficando menor por causa dos verões mais quentes no Ártico – Divulgação/Toke T. Hoye

Experimentos apontam que a mudança no tamanho corporal é uma resposta antecipada às mudanças climáticas, que pode acontecer de duas maneiras. Para algumas espécies, uma temporada maior de alimentação pode resultar no aumento do tamanho, enquanto para outras, alterações metabólicas provocam a perda de energia e consequente redução das dimensões.

— Nós, humanos, usamos mais energia quando está frio, porque precisamos manter a temperatura corporal constante — disse Hoye. — Mas para a larva da borboleta e outros animais de sangue frio, que dependem do ambiente para manter a temperatura, o metabolismo aumenta em temperaturas maiores por causa dos processos bioquímicos que se tornam mais rápidos. Dessa maneira, a larva gasta mais energia do que é capaz de consumir. Nossos resultados indicam que essa mudança é tão significativa que a taxa de crescimento das larvas diminui. E quando as larvas são menores, as borboletas também se tornam menores.

As consequências para as borboletas do Ártico podem ser significativas. Com corpos menores, a mobilidade é reduzida. Como as duas espécies vivem apenas no Norte, a redução no tamanho pode ter graves consequências na dinâmica populacional, e prejudicar a dispersão dos insetos.

— Elas vivem tão ao Norte que não podem se mover para regiões mais frias, e elas provavelmente vão desaparecer da parte mais ao Sul da Groenlândia por causa do aumento da temperatura — disse Hoye. — Além disso, sua capacidade de dispersão está se deteriorando, e corpos menores devem resultar em menor taxa de fecundidade. Então, essas espécies do Ártico devem enfrentar desafios severos causados pela rápida mudança climática.

Leia mais sobre esse assunto em  http://oglobo.globo.com/sociedade/sustentabilidade/borboletas-estao-encolhendo-por-causa-das-mudancas-climaticas-17714284#ixzz3o0Y0gr6z
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Animals, Humans, and Forms of Life (Engagement)

Ship-Of-Theseus-Hindi-MovieStill from the “Ship of Theseus” (2012)

By Maya Ratnam, Johns Hopkins University §

In what ways do we humans share lives with nonhuman animals? What are our ethical commitments towards them? What kinds of moral worlds is it possible for humans and nonhumans to cohabit? These questions have preoccupied not just moral philosophers but also anthropologists working in diverse ecological and socio-political milieus. While debates in philosophy engage in such complicated questions as our duties with respect to animals and their rights in respect to us, anthropologists have tended to focus more on actual local worlds in which humans share lives with nonhuman others—animals, plants, microorganisms and spirit beings. While an older anthropology explored our kinship with nonhuman others in the form of debates on totemism, sacrifice and animism, sub-fields such as “ecological” anthropology locate these questions in the nature-culture interface. The more recent, “ontological” turn attempts a radical unsettling of the epistemological certainties of “Western” social science by dwelling in spaces of trans-species engagements and encounters. Dreaming dogs (Kohn 2007), caribou that give themselves to their hunters (Willerslev 2007), jaguar spirit masters (Nadasdy 2007)— these all invite journeying into worlds where human uniqueness cannot be assumed. These are not merely quaint, alternative cosmologies where people “believe” certain things about nonhuman personhood, they are spaces in which humanness is not taken for granted as the property of some and denied to others (those who do not possess language or tool-use or souls); humanness is, instead, a task to be achieved in spaces of shared encounter and habitation. By no means are these spaces, often ecological niches such as forests or mountains or deserts, inhabited on equal terms. But they are frequently worlds in which the stakes of the nonhuman in sustaining or threatening the life of a human community is explicitly acknowledged.

In contrast, modern, post-industrial societies have largely invisibilized animals from everyday social worlds. Contact between animals and humans only takes place in highly regulated situations; as pets, for instance, in zoos, sanctuaries and theme parks or in laboratories and stockyards, where they are bred for human use and overuse. As spaces of real freedom for animals decline and they come more and more under human stewardship, the problem of humans’ ethical responsibilities towards them, and their rights with respect to us is named, if not resolved, by the term “animal rights.” The requirement for a new conceptual vocabulary to address the complex ethical and political implications of human-animal entanglements in diverse conditions has led to the emergence of the hybrid, boundary-crossing field of animal studies spanning disciplines as diverse as cognitive ethology, field ecology behavioral psychology, philosophy, literary studies and biological and social anthropology.

In this context, a recent set of essays, framed as philosophical responses to the writings of novelist J.M. Coetzee, addresses these issues from a rather singular vantage point. My aim in this brief essay is to bring these essays into conversation with certain Indian materials— a film, to be specific, that also deals with similar themes.

Cover art for Coetzee's "Elizabeth Costello" (2003)
Cover art for Coetzee’s “Elizabeth Costello” (2003)

In 1997, novelist J.M. Coetzee introduced his eponymous character Elizabeth Costello on the occasion of the Tanner Lectures at Princeton University; while ostensibly dealing with philosophical themes, his lectures deviated from convention in that they took the form of a fictional Australian author, Elizabeth Costello, delivering two lectures to an American university audience. The two lectures, entitled “The Lives of Animals,” were subsequently published as a volume with a set of commentaries, and also in a novel by Coetzee, titled “Elizabeth Costello.” Rather like the question of the animal itself, Costello’s is a presence that jars, haunts and discomfits. The character is that of an aging novelist who is invited to give a lecture at the liberal arts college where her son also teaches. Instead of delivering the lecture expected of her, Costello, rather like Coetzee himself, delivers a lecture on what her son calls “a hobbyhorse of hers”—the status of animals. The content and tone of the two lectures delivered by Costello are far from the works for which she is famous, and signal her own alienation from her younger self and the world around her. Costello likens herself to Kafka’s Red Peter, who performs for the academy. Almost immediately, she polarizes her listeners by likening the contemporary mass killing of animals in slaughterhouses, stockyards and laboratories to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In order for life to go on in areas surrounding the camps, there must have been, Costello argues, a certain willful misrecognition on the part of those living there. A sort of not-knowing that replaced a full acknowledgement of the horrors that went on around them. In order for people to live with what was being done around them, it was necessary for them not to know. We are now accustomed in our rhetoric, says Costello, “to think of Germans of a particular generation..as standing a little outside of humanity…[t]hey lost their humanity, in our eyes because of a certain willed ignorance on their part” (Coetzee 1999:20). The very normalization of brutality that now, today, makes us feel that a whole generation was tainted by it, is akin to what continues to happen in the case of our non-response to the plight of animals, says Costello. In a sense then, it is possible to go through the pleasant streets of a nice town, by agreeing to not know that possibly, quite nearby, there are abattoirs and factory farms. This not knowing is of a very specific kind and it points to an aspect of knowing that the philosopher Stanley Cavell calls “acknowledgement.” It refers to situations where knowing, as a mode of relating to the world, fails. It only reinscribes our separateness from the world and our lack of fit with the world. It is not-knowing in relation to this special sense of knowing that Costello refers to.

Costello’s words, which do not take the conventional form of prescriptions or arguments for the better treatment of animals, are jarring, and succeed in losing her audience. Her son is embarrassed, and so are her hosts. People take offense at her comparison of the situation of animals with the holocaust.

Costello declines to speak in the voice of reason. Reason, she says, is better available in the words of countless philosophers from Augustine to Aquinas, Porphyry to Plato. The audience doesn’t need her to repeat their words. Reason is also what has systematically been used to distance humans not just from other living beings but from our own organic life. Reason is what argues for an unbridgeable gap between human experience and nonhuman experience, that renders each inaccessible to the other. She prefers, she says, the voice of poetry, which allows for us to just experience in embodied form, both joy and suffering, to just be. Poetry, in the language available to Costello, is a much more likely country from which to experience animal life and our own animality. Costello’s speech does not take the form of propositional argument or of a polemic— pro or anti vegetarianism, in favor of or against laboratory testing, for instance. These arguments stem from a point where the place of the animal in our world is settled. Instead, Costello, or the figure of Costello, pressures us to be unsettled, asks us to allow the animal to mark us. She does this at various points in her speech by drawing attention to her own body: she likens herself to an animal, to Kafka’s ape, to a corpse. Therefore, when she fields sharp questions from her audience— are you saying we should give up meat?— her answers fail to convince, because she is not speaking from a place of rationality, she is speaking from a place of madness. Later, at the polite dinner given in her honor, when a guest professes “great respect,” for vegetarianism as a way of life, Costello says- “I’m wearing leather shoes…I’m carrying a leather purse. I wouldn’t have overmuch respect if I were you” (Coetzee 1999:43).

By way of this comment, Costello draws attention to the specificity of the human animals’ form of life— we can be marked by animal suffering and also not be marked by it, we can distance ourselves not just from other animals, but also from our own animality, and from other humans who are regarded as somehow “not quite human.”

It is impossible to do justice to all the nuances of Coetzee’s brilliant text in the space of this brief essay— but one further remark must be made. Coetzee, through Costello, is also making a particular kind of claim about language, particularly human language—not as something that separates us and elevates us beyond the plane of nonhuman animals, but as something that exposes us, in all our vulnerability, to the world. This point has been brilliantly explored in a set of essays titled “Philosophy and Animal Life” that try to respond, in a philosophical voice, to Coetzee’s genre-bending text (and the set of essays that accompanies “The Lives of Animals”). Of these, the response by Cora Diamond stands out for its stunning appreciation of the Costello pieces as not merely putting forth a case for animal rights in an imaginative and literary way, in which the figure of Costello is a mouthpiece for Coetzee’s views on our ethical responsibilities to animals. Instead, Diamond suggests that there are two ways to read the lectures— one is to read them as grappling with the ethical issue of how to treat animals. Another is to see them as being centrally about a wounded woman, a wounded animal. The statement about the holocaust, which so polarizes Costello’s audience, can be seen as an argument by analogy for our treatment of animals in the contemporary moment, or as the cry of “a wounded woman exhibiting herself as wounded through talk of the Holocaust that she knows will offend and not be understood” (Wolfe et al. 2008:50). It is really a cry of madness. This, argues Diamond, drops away totally in conventional readings of Coetzee’s text. Drawing from the work of philosopher Stanley Cavell (who also has a piece in the volume), she calls such conventional readings as instances of “deflection,” in which “we are moved from the appreciation, or attempt at appreciation, of a difficulty of reality to a philosophical or moral problem apparently in the vicinity” (Wolfe et al. 2008:57). “Our concepts, our ordinary life with our concepts pass by as if it were not there; the difficulty, if we try to see it, shoulders us out of life, is deadly chilling” (Wolfe et al. 2008:58). In other words, arguments about animals’ rights, or vegetarianism, or laboratory testing are really the limited response that human language can come up with to contain a horror that, if embraced in its fullness, would leave us with no home in our language. It is this domain of experience, which resists interpretation, which resists philosophy, that Diamond says is what the figure of Costello is “about.”

When I walk to my classes and to the library on campus everyday, the possible use of animals in medical and scientific research in unseen underground laboratories around me does not unhinge me. In fact, I hardly think about it. This is not the same as not knowing about it. It is a special kind of unknowing where I do not allow the knowledge to mark me. For, if it did, I would not be able to take another step. In a sense then, this dulling of our response to the pain of the other is also what marks the human form of life, enables it to carry on and protect itself. But then, is it human anymore? The response to this “difficulty of reality” cannot take the form— but, animal research is necessary for… – for then the problem has already been displaced to another register. That is what Diamond refers to as the “difficulty of philosophy,” of doing philosophy when philosophy has in a sense, become impossible. It is this potential of the everyday around us to carry horrors that throw us into skeptical doubt that has been a running theme in the work of Stanley Cavell, and which Diamond explores fully in her essay, “The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy.”

At this point, I find that my thoughts and words have, of themselves, led me to the example I was proposing to discuss to amplify this “difficulty of reality” outlined above. My example consists of a film, “Ship of Theseus,” written and directed by an Indian filmmaker, Anand Gandhi, which premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival to much critical acclaim. I discuss the film as an ethnographic vignette, that is, as a voice from a particular culture that speaks to global concerns. The title of the film is a reference to the paradox of whether an object restored with the dismembered parts of its former self is still the same object. The film itself tracks three individuals in present-day Mumbai— a young woman photographer from Egypt, an ailing monk, and a young stockbroker. All three are in need of vital organs, and only come together at the very end of the film at an event organized by the NGO that facilitates organ donation. The film has received much praise for being a somewhat unique venture within the general climate of popular Indian cinema, unabashedly dealing with weighty, cerebral themes. It has also been sneered at for the apparent pretentiousness of its “philosophy”— encapsulated in snippets of ponderous dialogue. I find the film intriguing for the simple reason that it explicitly deals with the question of animal suffering, a theme that has rarely found any place in the popular cinema of any part of the world, and offers a brief glimpse into the marginal spaces that animals occupy in the life of a bustling mega-city. The second segment of the three-part film, which is the one that this essay takes up for discussion, centers on Maitreya, a monk belonging to a sect practicing extreme nonviolence, who is portrayed as being an intelligent, scientifically-oriented, articulate man. Maitreya is actively involved with animal rights causes, but unlike Coetzee’s Costello, believes that reason and not sentiment should form the basis for animal rights campaigns. In the course of long, barefoot walks around the city, he engages a skeptical youngster who challenges him on his “extreme” views. Significantly for the film, Maitreya rejects for a long time, the medication that will prepare his body to undergo a liver transplant on the grounds that it has been tested on animals. Scenes of his progressing ailment are interspersed with montages of him attending a court case where animal rights groups are fighting a pharmaceutical company to give up animal testing. There are painful shots of rabbits in laboratories. Maitreya’s health deteriorates rapidly, and he ends up bedridden in a shelter, with other monks tending to his emaciated body and its discharges, over which he now has no control. At the point of delirium, when he finds the horror of his own mortality staring him in the face (the camera here pans directly into his ashen face), Maitreya collapses. Or rather, the entire structure of concepts with which he confronts the world, collapses. He is unable to embrace death and opts instead to take the medication.

ship
Neeraj Kabi as Maitreya in Anand Gandhi’s “Ship of Theseus” (2012)

Maitreya, as a figure, is an interesting foil to Costello. They are both unseated, or rather, choose to be unseated, by the treatment they see meted out to animals around them. While Costello rejects the voice of reason for its complicity in this violence—Maitreya embraces it as a way to sound sane, to reach out to people around him. He is also coming from a different tradition— though the sect that he belongs to is not named, it is perhaps easy to identify as belonging to the Jain tradition, of which ahimsa is a founding principle. But ahimsa, which does not quite translate into its commonly invoked English counterpart, nonviolence, also encompasses a very different view of the human in relation to the world than the Judaeo-Christian tradition which Costello claims as her inheritance. “We— even in Australia— belong to a civilization deeply rooted in Greek and Judeo-Christian religious thought. We may not, all of us, believe in pollution, we may not believe in sin, but we do believe in the psychic correlates” (Coetzee 1999:21). Maitreya, on the other hand, coming from a culture whose location we might call, following Homi Bhabha, “hybrid,” is able to try on different voices for size. Unlike Costello, who rejects the voice of reason and feels trapped by it, he speaks with the voice of reason in an effort to reach out to those around him. Costello presents her body—exposes—we might say, her body to her audience as a wounded, talking animal. Maitreya’s body is equally “unreasonable,” but it is already a body immersed in a long tradition of practicing kinship with all organic life as an ethics of the self. Maitreya takes on his body, his organic being, as a vehicle for a practice of the self, not as Costello does, as a wound and a rebuke that alienates her from her fellow humans. Costello’s state of being resonates with a comment made by Veena Das in her reading of Wittgenstein— that “claims to one’s culture rest on one’s being able to find a voice within it both as a gift and also as a rebuke.” Oddly enough, given that he is a monk, Maitreya is much less unsettled in his world than Costello is in hers. His response to the suffering of nonhuman others, as embodied as Costello’s, does not result in paralysis; he does what is possible for him to do, or rather, what is available to him from within the tools of his culture. He picks a worm up from the floor where it can be crushed underfoot and places it on a leaf. He refuses to consume medicines tested on animals. He walks to the courthouse daily, barefoot, to follow the trial. He argues his point of view in a reasoned and cogent manner. He gives us a glimpse of what it might mean to live and exist in the face of what Diamond calls “the difficulty of reality.” But, in the final reckoning, when confronted with his death, the end of his physical being, he retreats. This is not a fall from grace, or a state of grace, as Costello feels her existence undoubtedly is, but an acknowledgement of his humanness and its limits. For Costello, this means constantly living a life in which she is “shouldered out” from the acceptable speech of those around her; she can only inhabit a place of madness. Maitreya’s culture is able to absorb him.

I find the film useful for anthropological thinking. The many emerging anthropologies of trans-species encounters are, after all, concerned with the problem of the humanness of the animal other. In many non-western ontologies, personhood as a state of being is not limited to humans. This view most often finds expression in the idea that the manifest form of each species is a mere envelope (a form of “clothing”) that is variable, and houses an internal essence or substance or soul which is unvarying. It is this knowledge of possession of an unvarying soul or essence that makes trans-species communication possible at all. By donning the skin of a bear, I am able to become a bear, to inhabit its “umwelt.” There is no limit, in that sense, to my capacity to become another. That is why, when these metamorphoses betray us, or we misread the signals from another being, our whole form of life is thrown into question. Because the presumption in any case is that communication across ontological domains is possible. This is the situation Eduardo Kohn describes in his remarkable essay, “How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagements” (Kohn 2007). Costello, who finds only disappointment in the languages available to her from her culture to address these sorts of questions, turns to poetry, which offers greater possibilities for sympathetic embodiment. Like all human animals, she struggles to find a home in culture and language.

Works Cited:

Coetzee, J.M. 1999. The Lives of Animals. Ed. and intro. Amy Gutman. Princeton University Press. Princeton, N.J.
Gandhi, Anand. 2012. Ship of Theseus. See trailer here
Kohn Eduardo. 2007. How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagements. American Ethnologist. Vol. 34, No. 1, pp. 3-24.
Nadasdy, Paul. 2007. The Gift in the Animal: The Ontology of Hunting and Human-Animal Sociality. American Ethnologist, Vol. 34, No. 1, (Feb., 2007), pp. 25-43.
Willerslev, R. 2007. Soul hunters: hunting, animism and personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Wolfe, Cary, Stanley Cavell, Cora Diamond, John McDowell and Ian Hacking eds. 2008. Philosophy and Animal Life.Columbia University Press. New York.


Maya Ratnam is presently a PhD candidate at the Department of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University. She is writing her dissertation on the poetics and politics of forest-dwelling in Central India.


This post is part of our thematic series: “Multi-Species Anthropology: Becoming Human with Others

New evidence of cultural diversification between neighboring chimpanzee communities (University of Cambridge)

22-JUL-2015

VIDEO: CHIMPANZEES USE TOOLS TO FEED ON ARMY ANTS. CREDIT: KATHELIJNE KOOPS

For centuries it has been thought that culture is what distinguishes humans from other animals, but over the past decade this idea has been repeatedly called into question. Cultural variation has been identified in a growing number of species in recent years, ranging from primates to cetaceans. Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives, show the most diverse cultures aside from humans, most notably, in their use of a wide variety of tools.

The method traditionally used to establish the presence of culture in wild animals compares behavioural variation across populations and excludes all behavioural patterns that can be explained by genetic or environmental differences across sites. Nevertheless, it is impossible to conclusively rule out the influence of genetics and environmental conditions in geographically distant populations.

To circumnavigate this problem, researchers, led by Dr. Kathelijne Koops, took a new approach. “We compared neighbouring chimpanzee groups living under similar environmental conditions, which allows for the investigation of fine scale cultural differences, whilst keeping genetics constant,” said Koops.

She and colleagues from Kyoto University and Freie Universität Berlin compared the length of tools used for ‘ant-dipping’ between two neighbouring chimpanzee communities, M-group and S-group, in the Kalinzu Forest, Uganda. Dipping for army ants is one of the hallmark examples of culture in chimpanzees and involves the use of a stick to extract the highly aggressive army ants from their underground nests.

Previous research has shown that ant-dipping tool length varied across chimpanzee study sites in relation to the army ant species (Dorylus spp.) that were present. So Koops compared the availability of the different species of army ants and the length of dipping tools used in the two adjacent chimpanzee communities.

The researchers found that M-group tools were significantly longer than S-group tools, despite identical army ant species availability. Considering the lack of ecological differences between the two communities, the tool length difference was concluded to be cultural. “Our findings highlight how cultural knowledge can generate small-scale cultural diversification in neighbouring groups,” said Koops.

“Given the close evolutionary relationship between chimpanzees and humans, insights into what drives cultural diversification in our closest living relatives will in turn shed light on how cultural differences emerge and are maintained between adjacent groups in human societies,” said Koops, who conducted the work at Cambridge University’s Division of Biological Anthropology and at Zurich University’s Anthropological Institute and Museum.

The research is published today in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The Ant, the Shaman and the Scientist: Shamanic lore spurs scientific discovery in the Amazon (Notes from the Ethnoground)

NOVEMBER 22, 2011

When he pointed to the tree trunk and said the scars were from fires set by invisible forest spirits, I had no idea this supernatural observation would lead to a new discovery for natural science.  Mariano, the eldest shaman of the Matsigenka village of Yomybato in Manu National Park, Peru, had first showed me the curious clearings in the forest that form around clumps of Cordia nodosa, a bristly tropical shrub related to borage (Borago officinalis).  Both the Matsigenka people and tropical ecologists recognize the special relationship that exists between Cordia and ants of the genus Myrmelachista: the Matsigenka word for the plant is matiagiroki, which means “ant shrub.”

 SupaiChacra2
Maximo Vicente, Mariano’s grandson, standing by a 
swollen, scarred trunk near a Cordia patch.

For scientists, the clearings in the forest understory around patches of Cordia are caused by a mutualistic relationship with the ants.  Cordia plants provide the ant colony with hollow branch nodes for nesting and bristly corridors along twigs and leaves for protection, while the ants use their strong mandibles and acidic secretions to clear away competing vegetation.  Local Quechua-speaking colonists refer to the clearings as “Devil’s gardens” (supay chacra).  For the Matsigenka, these clearings are the work of spirits known as Sangariite, which means ‘Pure’ or ‘Invisible Ones’.  Matsigenka shamans like Mariano come to these spirit clearings and consume powerful narcotics and hallucinogens such as tobacco paste, ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis), or the Datura-like toé (Brugmansia).[1]

 SupaiChacra
A “Sangariite village clearing” (igarapagite sangatsiri)
in the upland forests of Manu Park.

With the aid of visionary plants, the shaman perceives the true nature of these mundane forest clearings: they are the villages of Sangariite spirits, unimaginably distant and inaccessible under ordinary states of consciousness.  While in trance, the shaman enters the village and develops an ongoing relationship with a spirit twin or ally among the Sangariite, who can provide him or her with esoteric knowledge, news from distant places, healing power, artistic inspiration, auspicious hunting and even novel varieties of food crops or medicinal plants.[2]  As proof of the existence of these invisible villages, Mariano pointed out to me the scars on adjacent tree trunks all around large, dense Cordia patches: “The scars are caused by fires the Sangariite set to clear their gardens every summer,” he explained.

 jaguarshaman
Mariano wearing a cotton tunic with designs taught him by the
Sangariite spirits during an ayahuasca trance.

Douglas Yu, an expert on ant-plant interactions, was researching Cordia populations in the forests around Yomybato.[3]  I told him of Mariano’s observations about the Sangariite villages, and pointed out the distinctive marks on adjacent trees.  In his years of research, Yu had never noticed the trunk scars.  Intrigued, he cut into the scars and found nests teeming with Myrmelachista ants that appeared to be galling the trunks to create additional housing.  As detailed in a 2009 publication in American Naturalist[4], this case is the first recorded example of ants galling plants, reopening a century-old debate in tropical ecology begun by legendary scientists Richard Spruce and Alfred Wallace. The discovery of Myrmelachista‘s galling capability also helped Yu understand how this ant species persists in the face of competition by two more aggressive ant types, Azteca and Allomerus, that can also inhabit Cordia depending on ecological conditions.

 DougYuAnts
Douglas Yu carries out research on ant-plant
interactions in the Peruvian Amazon.

My ongoing collaborations with Yu and other tropical biologists in indigenous communities have highlighted how important it is to pay attention to local people’s rich and often underappreciated knowledge about forest ecosystems: sometimes even those elements of folklore that appear quaint or “unscientific” contain astute insights about natural processes.

 AntGall
Cross section of a tree trunk galled by Myrmelachista ants
(photo: Megan Frederickson).

— This article was first published online on Nov. 7, 2011 with Spanish and Portuguese translations by O Eco Amazônia.

References:

[1] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1998) Psychoactive plants and ethnopsychiatric medicines of the Matsigenka. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 30 (4):321-332; G.H. Shepard Jr. (2005) Psychoactive botanicals in ritual, religion and shamanism. Chapter 18 in: E. Elisabetsky & N. Etkin (Eds.), Ethnopharmacology. Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Theme 6.79. Oxford, UK: UNESCO/Eolss Publishers [http://www.eolss.net].

[2] G.H. Shepard Jr. (1999) Shamanism and diversity:  A Matsigenka perspective. In Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, edited by D. A. Posey. London: United Nations Environmental Programme and Intermediate Technology Publications.

[3] D.W. Yu, H. B. Wilson and N. E. Pierce (2001) An empirical model of species coexistence in a spatially structured environment. Ecology 82 (6):1761-1771.
[4] D.P. Edwards, M.E. Frederickson, G.H. Shepard Jr. and D.W. Yu (2009) ‘A plant needs its ants like a dog needs its fleas’: Myrmelachista schumanni ants gall many tree species to create housing. The American Naturalist 174 (5):734-740. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19799500]

Posted by Glenn H. Shepard at 10:11 AM

Chimpanzés caçadores dão pistas sobre os primeiros humanos (El País)

Primatas que usam lanças podem fornecer indícios sobre origem das sociedades humanas

 12 MAY 2015 – 18:14 BRT

Um velho chimpanzé bebe água em um lago, em Fongoli, no Senegal. / FRANS LANTING

Na quente savana senegalesa se encontra o único grupo de chimpanzés que usa lanças para caçar animais com os quais se alimenta. Um ou outro grupo de chimpanzés foi visto portando ferramentas para a captura de pequenos mamíferos, mas esses, na comunidade de Fongoli, caçam regularmente usando ramos afiados. Esse modo de conseguir alimento é um uso cultural consolidado para esse grupo de chimpanzés.

Além dessa inovação tecnológica, em Fongoli ocorre também uma novidade social que os distingue dos demais chimpanzés estudados na África: há mais tolerância, maior paridade dos sexos na caça e os machos mais corpulentos não passam com tanta frequência por cima dos interesses dos demais, valendo-se de sua força. Para os pesquisadores que vêm observando esse comportamento há uma década esses usos poderiam, além disso, oferecer pistas sobre a evolução dos ancestrais humanos.

“São a única população não humana conhecida que caça vertebrados com ferramentas de forma sistemática, por isso constituem uma fonte importante para a hipótese sobre o comportamento dos primeiros hominídeos, com base na analogia”, explicam os pesquisadores do estudo no qual formularam suas conclusões depois de dez anos observando as caçadas de Fongoli. Esse grupo, liderado pela antropóloga Jill Pruetz, considera que esses animais são um bom exemplo do que pode ser a origem dos primeiros primatas eretos sobre duas patas.

Os machos mais fortes dessa comunidade respeitam as fêmeas na caça

Na sociedade Fongoli as fêmeas realizam exatamente a metade das caçadas com lança. Graças à inovação tecnológica que representa a conversão de galhos em pequenas lanças com as quais se ajudam para caçar galagos – pequenos macacos muito comuns nesse entorno –, as fêmeas conseguem certa independência alimentar. Na comunidade de Gombe, que durante muitos anos foi estudada por Jane Goodall, os machos arcam com cerca de 90% do total das presas; em Fongoli, somente 70%. Além disso, em outros grupos de chimpanzés os machos mais fortes roubam uma de cada quatro presas caçadas pelas fêmeas (sem ferramentas): em Fongoli, apenas 5%.

Uma fêmea de chimpanzé apanha e examina um galho que usará para capturar sua presa. / J. PRUETZ

“Em Fongoli, quando uma fêmea ou um macho de baixo escalão captura uma presa, permitem que ele fique com ela e a coma. Em outros lugares, o macho alfa ou outro macho dominante costuma tomar-lhe a presa. Assim, as fêmeas obtêm pouco benefício da caça, se outro chimpanzé lhe tira sua presa”, afirma Pruetz. Ou seja, o respeito dos machos de Fongoli pelas presas obtidas por suas companheiras serviria de incentivo para que elas se decidam a ir à caça com mais frequência do que as de outras comunidades. Durante esses anos de observação, praticamente todos os chimpanzés do grupo – cerca de 30 indivíduos – caçaram com ferramentas,

O clima seco faz com que os macacos mais acessíveis em Fongoli sejam os pequenos galagos, e não os colobos vermelhos – os preferidos dos chimpanzés em outros lugares da África –, que são maiores e difíceis de capturar por outros que não sejam os machos mais rápidos e corpulentos. Quase todos os episódios de caça com lanças observados (três centenas) se deram nos meses úmidos, nos quais outras fontes de alimento são escassas.

A savana senegalesa, com poucas árvores, é um ecossistema que tem uma importante semelhança com o cenário em que evoluíram os ancestrais humanos. Ao contrário de outras comunidades africanas, os chimpanzés de Fongoli passam a maior parte do tempo no chão, e não entre os galhos. A excepcional forma de caça de Fongoli leva os pesquisadores a sugerir em seu estudo que os primeiros hominídeos provavelmente intensificaram o uso de ferramentas tecnológicas para superar as pressões ambientais, e que eram até mesmo “suficientemente sofisticados a ponto de aperfeiçoar ferramentas de caça”.

“Sabemos que o entorno tem um impacto importante no comportamento dos chimpanzés”, afirma o primatólogo Joseph Call, do Instituto Max Planck. “A distribuição das árvores determina o tipo de caça: onde a vegetação é mais frondosa, a caçada é mais cooperativa em relação a outros entornos nos quais é mais fácil seguir a presa, e eles são mais individualistas”, assinala Call.

No entanto, Call põe em dúvida que essas práticas de Fongoli possam ser consideradas caçadas com lança propriamente ditas, já que para ele lembram mais a captura de formigas e cupins usando palitos, algo mais comum entre os primatas. “A definição de caça que os pesquisadores estabelecem em seu estudo não se distingue muito do que fazem colocando um raminho em um orifício para conseguir insetos para comer”, diz Call. Os chimpanzés de Fongoli cutucam com paus os galagos quando eles se escondem em cavidades das árvores para forçá-los a sair e, uma vez fora, lhes arrancam a cabeça com uma mordida. “É algo que fica entre uma coisa e a outra”, argumenta.

Esses antropólogos acreditam que o achado permite pensar que os primeiros hominídeos eretos também usavam lanças

Pruetz responde a esse tipo de crítica dizendo que se trata de uma estratégia para evitar que o macaco os morda ou escape, uma situação muito diferente daquela de colocar um galho em um orifício para capturar bichos. Se for o mesmo, argumentam Pruetz e seus colegas, a pergunta é “por que os chimpanzés de outros grupos não caçam mais”.

Além do caso particular, nem sequer está encerrado o debate sobre se os chimpanzés devem ser considerados modelos do que foram os ancestrais humanos. “Temos de levar em conta que o bonobo não faz nada disso e é tão próximo de nós como o chimpanzé”, defende Call. “Pegamos o chimpanzé por que nos cai bem para assinalar determinadas influências comuns. É preciso ter muito cuidado e não pesquisar a espécie dependendo do que queiramos encontrar”, propõe.

Confessions of a Shark Anthropologist (Anthropology News)

Anthropology and Environment Society

April 22, 2015

Patrick Nason

Earlier this year I received a phone call from an unknown number. “This is the National Geographic Channel. Is it true that you are a shark anthropologist?” I paused— “Yes, I guess you can say that.” “Great, we are doing a program about sharks and are asking experts why sharks attack at certain times and in certain places more than others. Can you tell me a bit about your work?”

My interest in sharks began in 2005 during an internship at a resort in Papua New Guinea. Ten miles from shore and ninety feet below the surface, a twelve-foot hammerhead shark swam straight at me, stopping only three feet away before turning to rejoin its group. As it moved gracefully into the deep, I caught my breath and returned to the surface.

Four years later, I was working on a dive boat in South Florida when a sport-fishing boat motored past with a large grey hammerhead hung from its rigging. For a brief moment, I thought it was the shark I encountered years before. And why couldn’t it be? Like whales, most species of sharks are highly migratory. They have little respect for exclusive economic zones, marine protected areas, or any other enclosures. What might appear as absolute freedom in these animals has led to the production of an abstract image of sharks as transgressive predators, menaces to society, and worthy targets of sport. Regardless of what the category of the shark has become, the individual animal hanging from that fishing boat was certainly dead—no longer a terrible monster.

Sharks Arranged for Sale at Fish Market, Indonesia (Photo credit: Patrick Nason)
Sharks Arranged for Sale at Fish Market, Indonesia (Photo credit: Patrick Nason)

This incident took place in 2009, just after Rob Stewart’s film Sharkwater revealed the decimation of global shark populations by the finning industry. Considering the importance of sharks to healthy marine ecosystems, surely it was wrong to continue killing them for sport. Thinking I might do some good, I spoke with the captain of the boat about their catch.

“Couldn’t you release them from now on?” I asked.

“They normally die during the fight.”

“Well, what about fishing for something else?”

“Sailfish and marlin are not in season,” he said. “And besides, the clients are paying for the experience, and they want their photo taken with the big sharks.”

“Yes but hammerhead populations are in serious decline.” I said.

“We catch plenty of them, and easily too. More this year than last.”

I was stuck. How could I prove something was threatened when local knowledge suggests otherwise? Even worse, how could anyone prove sharks were in decline when, as free-roaming marine animals, they cannot be easily counted?

That same year, National Geographic aired a documentary entitled Drain the OceanThe promotional abstract read: “In this special, we look at what most call ‘The Final Frontier.’ Using the newest data from scientists all over the world and the latest advancements in computer generated imaging, we are able to explore some of the most dramatic landscapes the Earth has to offer.” This was exactly what my argument lacked—quantitative support through technological innovation. If computers could reveal the geological truths of this invisible realm, perhaps they could also reveal the ecological truths of a planet in decline—dolphins tangled in drift nets, massive whales with harpoons rusting in their backs, and dwindling populations of sharks swishing their tales through the muddy terrain. If this could be done, then maybe I could convince the fisherman that killing sharks for money was wrong.

But draining the ocean is not yet possible, nor should it be. Even if through some technological means we could illuminate the other seventy percent of our planet, the lives and the forms of relationality between humans and marine animals (however contentious they may be) would change at the moment of discovery. In trying to protect sharks, neither scientific nor emotional appeals alone are sufficient to effect social change. There remains a mystery of what oceanic animals do, how they do it, and exactly how many are required to keep doing what they do. If this mystery were completely resolved, the result would be equally harmful to marine life and to those who make their living upon the sea; for this unknown marks the distinction between our terrestrial selves and aquatic others, and is therefore what makes knowledge of the ocean (and thus ourselves) possible.

 An Anthropology of the Ocean

My phone call with National Geographic didn’t last long. The producer ended it by saying, “Your work sounds interesting, but we are looking for more evidence about why these attacks are occurring. Could you recommend a good marine biologist?” I did, and promptly hung up. I thought about our conversation—I don’t even know what a shark anthropologist is, and I’m supposed to be one! 

As human interests are directed into the sea in the form of extractive industry, state securitization, renewable energy, and conservation enclosure, we find ourselves as a species grappling with the politics and hermeneutics of the life aquatic. Responding to this with continued interest in the protection of marine life and forms of relationality, I have begun to sketch an Anthropology of the OceanWorking alongside indigenous fishing communities, ecologists, oceanographers, and drawing on the work of fellow anthropologists like Stefan Helmreich, such an approach examines how oceanic spaces and bodies are imagined, explored, and controlled, and how rights to marine resources are established and translated across social, spatial, and categorical boundaries

Within this framework, an Anthropology of Sharks could do the following: 1) draw upon the history of anthropological theory and method to ask how valuable spaces become ‘final frontiers,’ 2) describe how these produced frontiers are explored, claimed, enclosed—in short, how they are settled, and 3) reveal the forms of dispossession and disenchantment that occur when such settlement attempts to cultivate spaces have already been occupied by other ways of being and knowing. Putting a multispecies twist on subaltern studies and postcolonial anthropology, this approach would not only ask if the shark could “speak,” but if and how it might be heard amid the cacophony of other voices.

Patrick Nason is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University, and a blogger at the Shark Research Institute.

Puppy-Dog Eyes of Science (Savage Minds)

April 24, 2015 – John Hartigan

“Scientists say…” It’s interesting what natural science research starts making the rounds on social media. Mostly on diet or health broadly, and increasingly concerning climate change. On rare occasion—as over the past few days—some reports surface that offer insight into the circulating clutter itself, as in “cute dog” photos. In this instance, they’re opportunities to glimpse changing understandings of big topics, like domestication and evolution.

Links for two articles recently popped up in my Twitter feed: “The Science of Puppy-Dog Eyes” (NYTimes, 4/21/14) and “The Guilty Looking Companion,” Scientific American(4/20/15), both treating the gazing behavior of dogs and its various effects on humans. The first, by Jan Hoffman, reported on a study published in Science (in a themed-column on evolution), titled, “Dogs hijack the human bonding pathway.” The second, by Julie Hecht, “The Guilty Looking Companion,” builds off an article in Behavioral Processes, on a tangled question: “Are owners’ reports of their dogs’ ‘guilty look’ influenced by the dogs’ action and evidence of the misdeed?” Both suggest a far more agential companion species than many people might’ve suspected, but more importantly they each complicate stock domestication narratives suggesting it was something we simply did to them. They also suggest opportunities for extending social analysis beyond the human.

As the title of the Science article suggests, dogs were possibly canny drivers of domestication: “dogs became domesticated in part by adapting to human means of communication: eye contact.” In particular, the speculation is that dogs cleverly “utilized a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child.” Evolutionarily, “the challenge for dogs may simply have been to express a behavioral (and morphological) repertoire that mimicked the cues that elicit caregiving toward our own young. Indeed, these juvenile characteristics of dogs are known to carry a selective advantage with respect to human preferences.” So dogs wile their way into our good graces by coopting the cuteness channel we have for children. To complicate agency a bit further, this seems to all hinge on a bidirectional hormonal mechanism: people and dogs both develop heightened, pleasurable levels of oxytocin from protracted gazing into each other’s eyes. “These findings suggest not only an interspecific effect of oxytocin, but also the exciting possibility of a feedback loop,” since “shifts in oxytocin concentration in a dog might elicit similar changes in a human and vice-versa—just as when a mother bonds with her infant.” Domestication just got a good deal more interesting.

“The guilty looking companion” takes up the theme of sociality and how social bonds are respectively maintained in various species, but also how humans might be duped by our tendency to anthropomorphize dogs as possessing a subjective state approximating shame. The reparative behaviors of appeasement and reconciliation that maintain relationships, practiced by many species, when manifested by dogs, reads easily, to us, as “guilt.” But through a fascinating series of experiments, researchers countered that these canine gestures are just “cohesive displays,” which operate “to reduce conflict, diffuse tension, and reinforce social bonds.” Dogs are not responding to ameliorating a subjective sense of shame at transgressing rules; they are instead “incredibly sensitive to environmental and social cues.” If there’s furniture torn or overturned, the owner is looking for someone to chastise—better grovel or cringe. These behavior are very effective, according to surveys of dog owners, who withhold punishments in the wake of such displays. But Hecht concludes with a caution: “It might just be that we’re anthropomorphizing,” in reference to the viral spew of “dog shamming” photos. “Which, in this case, might not be good for us or our dogs.” Indeed, but what is even more valuable here is the perspective opened up onto thinking about parallel and converging forms of species sociality, beyond the question of who is domesticating who.

On that topic, another recently published science article pursues just these openings, though unfortunately it does not seem to be circulating widely at all. “Testing the myth: Tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves,” in Proceedings B (Royal Society Publishing) reports on findings that indicate “a steeper dominance hierarchy in dogs than in wolves.” While “tolerance” is supposed to be the character trait “selected for,” dogs appear far more aggressive and uncooperative with conspecifics than wolves. The problem with “all domestication theories” to date is that they’ve ignored “apparently contradictory behaviours…observed in dogs and wolf packs.” There’s an enormous amount to this piece, but it may come down to “face,” as Erving Goffman developed the concept. “Visual communication in dogs is somewhat impaired due to their reduced visual (facial as well as bodily) expressions,” which “might lead to an inability to control conflicts in close quarters.” Wolves are far more articulate in reading both gaze and facial features in conspecific communications. Range et al write, “Although dogs and wolves seem to use the same signals overall, it is possible that dogs do not use them as appropriately as wolves”—i.e., they haven’t refined the etiquette of conspecific communications quite as well, though they’re very good at circumventing our conspecific gaze signaling tendencies.

But that “wolves appear tolerant, attentive, and at the same time cooperative towards pack members” is in stark “contrast to the starting point of several recent domestication hypotheses.” Free-ranging dogs—constituting about 76-83% of the global dog population!!—not so much. So the questions swirl as to dogs’ cognitive and emotional processes underlying their intraspecific sociality and how that variously aligns with ours, in the deep past and today.

Alteração comportamental de animais sinaliza, dias antes, a ocorrência de terremotos (Pesquisa Fapesp)

27 de abril de 2015

Estudo realizado no Parque Nacional Yanachaga, no Peru, correlacionou mudanças de comportamento de aves e pequenos mamíferos com a ionização da atmosfera causada pelo atrito subterrâneo das rochas (roedor paca [Cuniculus paca] filmado por uma camera tipo ‘motion-triggered’ / foto TEAM Network; teamnetwork.org)

José Tadeu Arantes | Agência FAPESP – O dado de que alterações no comportamento dos animais sinalizam, com horas ou dias de antecedência, eventos como os terremotos já era conhecido. Especialmente noticiada foi a disparada dos elefantes asiáticos para terras altas por ocasião do terremoto seguido de tsunami de 26 de dezembro de 2004. Muitas vidas humanas foram salvas graças a isso. Mas tais eventos ainda não haviam sido documentados de maneira rigorosa e conclusiva. Nem fora estabelecida uma correlação de causa e efeito entre essa modificação do comportamento animal e fenômenos físicos mensuráveis.

Isso ocorreu agora em pesquisa realizada por Rachel Grant, da Anglia Ruskin University (Reino Unido), Friedemann Freund, da agência espacial Nasa (Estados Unidos), e Jean-Pierre Raulin, do Centro de Radioastronomia e Astrofísica Mackenzie (Brasil). Artigo relatando o estudo, “Changes in Animal Activity Prior to a Major (M=7) Earthquake in the Peruvian Andes”, foi publicado na revista Physics and Chemistry of the Earth.

O físico Jean-Pierre Raulin, professor da Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, participou do estudo no contexto do projeto de pesquisa “Monitoramento da atividade solar e da Anomalia Magnética do Atlântico Sul (AMAS) utilizando uma rede de receptores de ondas de muita baixa frequência (VLF) – SAVNET – South América VLF network”, apoiado pela FAPESP.

“Nosso estudo correlacionou alterações no comportamento de aves e pequenos mamíferos do Parque Nacional Yanachaga, no Peru, com distúrbios na ionosfera terrestre, ambos os fenômenos verificados vários dias antes do terremoto Contamana, de 7,0 graus de magnitude na escala Richter, que ocorreu nos Andes peruanos em 2011”, disse Raulin à Agência FAPESP.

Os animais foram monitorados por um conjunto de câmeras. “Para não interferir em seu comportamento, essas câmeras eram acionadas de forma automática no momento em que o animal passava na sua frente, registrando a passagem por meio de flash de luz infravermelha”, detalhou o pesquisador. Em um dia comum, cada animal era avistado de cinco a 15 vezes. Porém, no intervalo de 23 dias que antecedeu o terremoto, o número de avistamentos por animal caiu para cinco ou menos. E, em cinco dos sete dias imediatamente anteriores ao evento sísmico, nenhum movimento de animal foi registrado.

Nessa mesma época, por meio do monitoramento das propriedades de propagação de ondas de rádio de muito baixa frequência (VLF), os pesquisadores detectaram, duas semanas antes do terremoto, perturbações na ionosfera sobre a área ao redor do epicentro. Um distúrbio especialmente grande da ionosfera foi registrado oito dias antes do terremoto, coincidindo com o segundo decréscimo no avistamento dos animais.

Os pesquisadores propuseram uma explicação capaz de correlacionar os dois fenômenos. Segundo eles, a formação maciça de íons positivos, devido à fricção subterrânea das rochas durante o período anterior ao terremoto, teria provocado tanto as perturbações medidas na ionosfera quanto a alteração comportamental dos animais. A fricção é resultado da subducção ou deslizamento da placa tectônica de Nazca sob a placa tectônica continental.

É sabido que a maior concentração de íons positivos na atmosfera provoca, seja em animais, seja em humanos, um aumento dos níveis de serotonina na corrente sanguínea. Isso leva à chamada “síndrome da serotonina”, caracterizada por maior agitação, hiperatividade e confusão. O fenômeno é semelhante à inquietação, facilmente perceptível em humanos, que ocorre antes das tempestades, quando a concentração de elétrons nas bases das nuvens também provoca um acúmulo de íons positivos na camada da atmosfera próxima ao solo, gerando um intenso campo elétrico no espaço intermediário.

“No caso dos terremotos, cargas positivas formadas no subsolo devido ao estresse das rochas migram rapidamente para a superfície, resultando na ionização maciça de moléculas do ar. Em algumas horas, os íons positivos assim formados alcançam a base da ionosfera, localizada cerca de 70 quilômetros acima do solo. Esse aporte maciço de íons teria provocado as flutuações da densidade eletrônica na baixa ionosfera que detectamos. Por outro lado, durante o trânsito subterrâneo das cargas positivas, devido a uma espécie de ‘efeito de ponta’, a ionização tende a se acumular perto das elevações topográficas locais – exatamente onde estavam localizadas as câmeras. Nossa hipótese foi que, para se livrar dos sintomas indesejáveis da síndrome da serotonina, os animais fugiram para áreas mais baixas, onde a ionização não é tão expressiva”, explicou Raulin.

“Acreditamos que ambas as anomalias surgiram a partir de uma única causa: a atividade sísmica causando estresse na crosta terrestre e levando, entre outras coisas, à enorme ionização na interface solo-ar. Esperamos que nosso trabalho possa estimular ainda mais a investigação na área, que tem o potencial de auxiliar as previsões de curto prazo de riscos sísmicos”, declarou Rachel Grant, principal autora do artigo.

Independentemente da observação do comportamento animal, os resultados obtidos mostram que a previsão de terremotos poderia ser feita também mediante a detecção da ionização do ar, com o monitoramento do campo elétrico atmosférico. “Já temos detectores instalados no Brasil, no Peru e na Argentina. E pretendemos, em breve, instalar sensores de campo elétrico atmosférico nos lugares propícios a atividades sísmicas importantes. Isso daria uma previsibilidade da ordem de duas semanas ou até mais. Por ocasião do terremoto do Haiti, em janeiro de 2010, a rede SAVNET já tinha detectado flutuações na ionosfera com 12 dias de antecedência, com resultados publicados na revista NHESS – Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences”, afirmou Raulin.

Onças recebem colar com transmissor e são monitoradas pelo Instituto Mamirauá (MCTI/Instituto Mamirauá)

Em 2015, três onças-pintadas foram capturadas pelos pesquisadores na Reserva Mamirauá, no Amazonas, e têm sua movimentação acompanhada. Os exemplares são apelidados de Pérola, Baden e Caçulão

Iniciado o ciclo da cheia, com o aumento do nível da água, na Reserva Mamirauá, no Amazonas, os pesquisadores do Instituto Mamirauá vão a campo para a campanha de captura de onças-pintadas, realizada nos meses de dezembro, janeiro e março. Em 2015, três animais foram capturados e são agora monitorados pelos pesquisadores. Os três exemplares, apelidados de Pérola, Baden e Caçulão, são adultos: uma fêmea preta (melânica) e dois machos.

A recaptura de Baden, que já havia sido capturado e monitorado durante o ano de 2014, permite aos pesquisadores acompanharem seu comportamento por um período mais longo, gerando mais informações para o estudo. De acordo com o pesquisador Emiliano Esterci Ramalho, líder do Grupo de Pesquisa em Ecologia e Conservação de Felinos na Amazônia, desde a primeira captura, em 2008, todos os animais observados possuem bom estado de saúde.

O principal objetivo do estudo é entender a ecologia da onça-pintada nas florestas inundáveis da Amazônia, buscando conhecer como as onças se movimentam e como a alteração do ambiente pelo fluxo das águas (enchente, cheia, vazante e seca) influencia seu comportamento. As capturas também permitem aos pesquisadores avaliar o estado de saúde dos espécimes e detectar quais patógenos e parasitas estão presentes na população de onças da região.

O pesquisador citou um fato inusitado observado pelo monitoramento desse ano. “O Caçulão, que é um macho bem ousado, andou e deitou em baixo das casas de uma das comunidades da Reserva Mamirauá, comeu cachorros, galinhas e um pato no período em que estávamos na região. E vimos uma interação bem interessante dele com outro macho. Marcamos o ponto em que o outro estava e, no dia seguinte, o Caçulão esteve no mesmo local”, contou.

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(MCTI, via Instituto Mamirauá)

http://www.mcti.gov.br/noticias/-/asset_publisher/IqV53KMvD5rY/content/oncas-recebem-colar-com-transmissor-e-sao-monitoradas-pelo-instituto-mamiraua