Finding the crap within the beauty – and appreciating it.

Wildlife photography has boomed. So much so, there are entire photography groups on Facebook, dedicated to the cause. People often post their amazing shots on these photography groups- hummingbirds mid flight, their wings perfectly frozen without any blur compete with silhouettes of stags, illuminated by the sun, fighting for a mate. But what do you do if you’ve waited hours for the dream shot, but your photo has succumbed to human error? The animal is out of focus, pulling a weird face, or maybe he’s not even in the shot at all. Don’t worry – ‘Crap Wildlife Photography’ has you covered.

The members of this 324- thousand strong group send in their crap wildlife photography pictures. Other members then mock or praise the photo’s – whilst offering gentle advice. The crapper, the better. 

From left to right: “A wombat riding backwards on a broom” “This squirrel hates me” “My timing is impeccable.”

The page has been featured in Bored Panda, which Tristan (the founder) credits for the pages rapid growth.

“I never expected to get more than maybe a few hundred members, I was adding friends and family at first. I think the group only reached 10,000 members late last year but with the lock-downs/quarantine it’s been pretty full-on. Most of our recent growth has been from an article published on Bored Panda, group numbers have grown by about 275,000 last I checked”

The group admins are clear animal welfare advocates – any mentions of “kill it with fire” or “burn it alive” will lead to an admin deleting your comment.

Tristan explains “we try to steer away from comments encouraging people to harm wildlife, even in jest”

The group allows us all to appreciate the beauty in crap, and the crap within the beauty. So, next time you miss the “winning shot” – don’t be so quick to delete it. It might just be crap enough for Crap Wildlife Photography.

#BlackinTheIvory; a hashtag exposing racism within academia.

A hashtag has emerged which exhibits the racist side of academia, a career which is predominantly white. Academia is an industry far from perfect and is often described as toxic, competitive and discriminatory. Despite this, academia and its employees are portrayed as prestige and hard working – the bias and white privilege within academia is rarely spoken of.

The Twitter hashtag sees academics and students past and previous discussing some of the rife inequalities which are evident within the industry. As well as overt discrimination (less funding, less diversity in STEM etc), there are many subtle (and yet just as insidious) ways in which people within academia and the industry itself are harming Black scientists. This hashtag has bought these to light.

Microaggressions usually occur within the form of remarks and comments which are not quite outrageous enough to be met with retaliation. These can include:

  • Complimenting someones English skills, without prior knowledge of whether English is their first language
  • Being mistaken for other people of the same race, with no other similarities other than skin colour
  • People not making effort to pronounce names correctly
  • Being ignored in discussions and meetings
  • Scientific abilities and “belonging” being doubted

Defense mechanisms to shield from Micro-aggression’s within academia are commonly used by those experiencing them, including complacency and laughter.  When Black people within academia stand up for themselves, they are often met with anger and Racial gaslighting. Racial gaslighting occurs when one party tells the other party how they should feel after receiving a racially charged comment.

In response, Black people have stated that to pacify the racial discrimination’s, they:

  • Disguise accents before speaking
  • Avoid speaking out on racist comments, for fear of retaliation
  • Over-emphasise intelligence
  • Pacify racist remarks by laughing and smiling

Be aware of the language that you use when speaking with Black peers, colleagues and professors. The racism within academia can have long-lasting effects on self esteem and mental health.

These are just a few Tweets and examples of the struggles that black people face within academia, and I urge you to read through them.  As scientists, we have a responsibility to understand the racial discrimination that our peers and supervisors face on a daily basis.

There is no doubt that racism is embedded within the very core of academia and recognising and admitting this is just one small step in the fight for equality.

Meet the fashion community tackling waste, one garment at a time

Review, rewear, revolutionize. Thats Desyr.

Fashion is not what it used to be. What once was a reflection of the societal attitudes and needs of the time has adapted and evolved to act as consumerism’s trusted wing-man. As consumerism rises, fashion rises with it. That two piece you saw last week? So last season. With fast fashion comes a lot of waste; micro-plastics, emissions, and water all form part of the fast fashion chain. 

Contrary to popular belief, the production chain is not the only environmental burden within the fashion industry. Returning undesirable items plays its own role in (un)sustainability. Fashion companies want you to believe that your online returns will be popped right back onto the shelf – for the most part, this isn’t true. Most fashion returns end up in landfill – the materials are cheap, so its more cost effective to create an entirely new product rather than to spend time arduously fixing and cleaning the faulty items. Resources have been wasted to create the product, dispatch it, return it, and destroy it.

Cue Desyr Reviews – the company which is halting fashion waste in its tracks.

Desyr reviews (pronounced desire) are a small business which want to revolutionise the way we shop. The two founders have created a review platform which allows women of all ages, skin tones, body types and personal styles to give honest opinions about the clothes that they wear. Women upload photographs of their outfits, offering viewers the opportunity to see what items look like on body types similar to their own (which, btw Desyr makes easy by offering the opportunity to take part in a body shape quiz).

Desyr offers shoppers the opportunity to discover new brands, new products and a new way of viewing their own body. Users can earn Desyr points, tolling up enough will see them entered into competitions to win clothes, discounts and vouchers. The free website is set to launch at the end of this month, so why don’t you get a head start and sign up to their waiting list?

No more will you wait weeks for a package only to be flooded with disappointment when it arrives. No more will you hoard a cupboard full of unworn clothes, awaiting their fate in landfill. No more will you wrestle with a pair of jeans, whilst yearning for a “bit more bum room”.

Desyr has you and planet Earth covered, reducing disappointment and waste, one garment at a time.

Brynstein Careers – A Look Into the Life Of Scientists

The public oftentimes feel great distrust and fear towards scientists. Media and journalistic outlets oftentimes caricature scientists and the scientific industry as something at best peculiar, and at worst menacing. Although this is not the only reason, it plays a key role into how scientific advice and evidence is perceived by the general public.

GMO’s, vaccinations, climate change and lab grown meats have sparked great public debates, fuelled by the evident communication gap between scientists and laymen. The mistrust towards scientists opens a vessel for pseudoscience and high profile influencer’s to dominate the media with their flippant and misinformed ideas. Scientists have long been perceived as mysterious entities, who are far from ‘normal people’, whilst influencers and social media gurus have extensive PR and marketing knowledge and training – making them appear well informed to the general public.

To combat this, I am launching an ongoing series within my blog with the aim to humanise and highlight a wide range of scientists. I interview scientists (currently via a video platform) about their journey into science, their successes and pitfalls along the way. Not only will this series dismantle the argument that scientists are “miles away” from the “average person”, I also hope that it will encourage those who want to pursue a scientific career, acting as a form of careers guidance.

I have met with my first round of interviewees, and I hope to get the posts drafted and published within the few oncoming weeks. If you’d like to be involved, contact me by email, or social media.

What Can Gemma Collins Teach Us About Environmentalism?

Environmental activist is not a common job description of the UK’s Gemma Collins. However, her new series “Diva on Lockdown” includes some hidden messages about the environment and animal welfare, if you look close enough

Cup of tea please babe, oat milk

The eighth week of lockdown bought me many annoyances– the main perpetrator being boredom. I found myself counting down each hour until I was joined by my partner. After much deliberation over which TV show would not only fill the long hours of the day, but also distract myself from the uncertainty and gloom of the outside world, I stumbled upon Gemma Collins: Diva on Lockdown. I thought it would be an easy watch, something to comfort and distract. However, the first episode saw ‘The G.C’ revealing her aims and ambitions for the season – she loves to be in the country, her new house must reflect this by encompassing fields and an alpaca, and her event catering must  be fully plant based. Is this the beginning of a new, ethically conscious Gemma Collins?

Gemma Collins’ enthusiasm towards plant- based diets is not new news. Previously, in the early days of 2020, Gemma expressed her disdain for the meat and dairy industry and the ill health it brings on her social media. She states in an Instagram story:

This is the year of not eating meat. I don’t feel good [when eating meat]

The Instagram followed her podcast episode in September which highlights her thought-provoking discussion on the topic of conservation and wildlife.

Her views on animal welfare are clearly deep-rooted, as they followed her onto this series: Diva On Lockdown, five months after her Instagram live video. Ironically, the coronavirus sees her moving into her brothers’ who has adopted a fully vegan lifestyle.

Throughout the series, Gemma requests plant- based varieties to common drinks. She playfully barks at her assistant:

Where’s my cappuccino? Oat milk, triple froth

as she “doesn’t agree with cows’ milk”. However, when faced with a good- looking toilet-installer who’s facilities only provide cows milk for staff and clients, she states that “cows’ milk will do”. Furthermore, the throes of COVID-19 had her “craving calcium and cheese”.

Does this make her a bad person, if for every four oat milk lattes she has one cow’s milk coffee? Does updating her Instagram feed with animal rights posts make her a fraud, if she indulges in the odd Ferrero Rocher? Does it render her ethical-purchasing ineffective, if her previous consumption of oats milk is overran by the stress of a global pandemic?

A photo which Gemma shared to her Instagram account, expressing her displeasure with wildlife tourism activities.

I don’t think so. Environmental activism and ethical living are lifestyle changes, which require careful planning, consideration, and a dose of determination. Striving for perfectionism is a pathway to defeat. We must do what we can, when we can.

Gemma also embraces the lush greenery in her brother’s garden and surrounding areas. She stresses the importance of nature:

Let’s get some nature, its so important. It’s time to breathe, it’s so nice to just breathe

With a flick of her ankles, her Versace sliders gracefully hit the floor beside her as she feels the grasses embrace on her bare feet. Earthing (barefoot walking) is a well- researched practice – and can have many health benefits, which researchers believe come from the Earth’s electrons touching our bodies. Although you probably won’t be leaving a pair of high-end footwear next to you, you too should embrace the feel of Earth and enjoy the views of nature (if it is safe to do so).

Although Gemma is an adored public figure within mainstream media and indeed, social media, she later tells her audience to:

Get the phones down, get off social media and get outside

 She is correct that we should take time off from our phones and get outside. Not only for our mental health – but the health of the planet. Engaging with nature in our early and late years can enhance our conservation efforts; and many projects and organisations reflect this (such as the UK’s Government’s Natural England, the community interest company Reconnect With Nature and CPRE The Countryside Charity). A whole scientific discipline has incorporated this mantra into its being – Conservation Psychology, which focuses on the connections between humans and nature.

Gemma Collins is a frequent advocate for the inhabitants of the natural world, and nature itself. Her Instagram account often expresses how we have become “disconnected from nature”.

Of course, isolation isn’t all zen, mindfulness and unity. It’s a tough time for all. Thankfully for the GC, she has her brother’s dog to accompany her through the difficult times. Gemma is no stranger to the power that dogs can have on our mental health.

[Frank the Boxer] knows when I’m sad and gets in bed with me

You see, dogs improve our mental and physical health, and yet, often, we refuse to let them engage in many natural behaviours. Not in the GC household.

With Frank the Boxer by her side, she mounts a tyre rope swing and playfully allows him to chase her. When Gemma and her family participate in the weekly ritual of clapping for carers, Frank barks with excitement from the noise. When Gemma lays in bed, Frank the Boxer joins her. The family allow Frank to be a dog, something all dog owners should consider for their dogs’ wellbeing.

The third episode of the series incorporates Gemma enjoying some quality time with her family in her brother’s garden pub and her brother tending to the duck family in the pond.

Gemma Collin’s view on environmentalism and animal right’s is disarmingly modern and somewhat care-free. She is by no means a Greta Thunberg; her bourgeois lifestyle and rise-to-fame means that a waste- and- consumptionism-free life is likely unattainable. However, perhaps without even realising, Gemma may encourage a new wave of ethical living; every little helps.

The Deadliest Creature on The Planet

This animal is filled to the brim with ego and pride – they believe themselves to be the most intelligent creature on the planet, but they are the only one which purposely and willingly destroys their own home.

They destroy their territories with buildings and cars, smoke and plastics. The serene song of nature has been replaced with metal tracks clanking, diesel engines propelling and aluminum wings soaring.

They are incredibly powerful; but they use their tools and weapons for the slaughter and downfall of their own kind.

This animal slaughters other species with reckless abandon; not only do they kill for food, they kill for fun, pleasure, sport, aesthetic, medicine, research, land, oil, money, pride and much much more.

We are the deadliest creature on the planet.

Book Review: What a fish knows: the inner lives of our underwater cousins

An academic and in depth review of the popular science book about fish intelligence.

“What a fish knows: the inner lives of our underwater cousins” (Balcombe, 2014) is a popular science book with the ambition to change society’s perception of fish and therefore how they are treated. Jonathan Balcombe is a highly regarded and established scientific author, which is evident through his website ( and his extensive publication history. Despite his prominent ethical stance on fish welfare, Jonathan attempts to guide rather than dictate to the reader. However, you can clearly see his passion for fish is intense. The writing style is informal, making it a more engaging and accessible text for the public. Balcombe is an entertaining author; some sections are poignant whilst others humbling, and I found myself engrossed after the first chapter.

The first chapter allows those from a non-ichthyological background to recognise the diversity of the range of organisms often referred to as just “fish.” The reader forms a baseline connection towards fish – enhancing the books impact. The plural of fish are referred to as “fishes”, an idiosyncratic effort to emphasise their individuality, making his passion clearer. The diversity of our ‘underwater cousins’ is made apparent, and throughout the book Jonathan discusses the plethora of ways (sometimes more complex than our own) that fish navigate, communicate, reproduce and feel in an environment much different to ours.

Fish lack the neonatal appearance and baby schema which we, as humans, are programmed to find endearing. Because of this, people need “hard” science to be convinced that fish are capable of abilities that we see as discrete to higher order vertebrates. The industries which utilise fish could be a main factor influencing this reluctance; if people begin to see fish as sentient, it would be massively inconvenient for the corporations and industries that exploit them. Hobbies such as fishing – when fish are hooked through the mouth to either be returned or eaten, would not be as widely accepted as they are now.

Jonathan incorporates relevant and timeless debates present in popular media and the scientific industry. Money is continuously pumped into the organisations and industries which exploit fish, because of this, “do fish feel pain” is aggressively debated by people of each ethical standpoint. Jonathan provides us with a plethora of scientific evidence suggesting that fish can not only process pain (nociception) but that pain is a negative experience. During this chapter, I would have liked to see the difference between nociception and the affective state discussed with more rigour. However, Jonathan made it clear that fish possess the basic neurones needed for nociception, and gave various evidence suggesting that there is some higher cognitive processing of pain. Every animal instinctively wants to reproduce and pass on its genes, it makes evolutionary sense that every animal that can move, can at least process pain so that it can get away from the source which will consequently negatively affect its ability to reproduce. Jonathan does not discuss pain from an evolutionary standpoint and I believe this would have made it easier to convince the audience.

Jonathan also addresses the consciousness debate, a very difficult topic to study. He understands that we, as scientists, are confounded by the language barrier between fish and ourselves. Furthermore, consciousness cannot be seen, heard, smelt, touched or interacted with in any physical way, making it difficult to study. Jonathan includes a sound argument; he informs the reader on the term “umwelt”, an individual’s perception of the world, similar to “qualia”, an individual’s experience at each given moment in time. Nagel (1974) argues that, similarly to how we don’t know what it is like to be a bat, we cannot imagine and therefore probably will never be a hundred percent certain of the world experienced by fish – but does this mean we can use them as we want?

Including common philosophical think-tasks may have been a helpful learning aid. The “Philosophers Zombie” addresses the issue that if a “zombie” with no consciousness can act the same way a human can – then what purpose does consciousness serve? The task itself is not scientific and would allow the readers to really think about what it means to be conscious.

Jonathan challenges the reader, telling them to watch the behaviour of fish and see if they appear aware, or are just acting through instinct. Giving the audience tasks allows them to engage with the text, applying their new knowledge to real world applications – almost a form of gamification.  Johnathan clearly believes fish to be conscious, and I believe that after reading the book, others will too. However, it must be stressed that what he describes are arguments by analogy; each example described is merely a “correlate” of the phenomena it is trying to prove. For example, neurones are correlates of pain and tool use is a correlate of cognitive ability. We must proceed with caution when using arguments by analogy when assuming further similarities.

Jonathan educates us on the intelligence of fish, and he states that “when people ask about intelligence, they mean can they think the same way we do?”. Our reluctance to empathise with creatures that are not human like in appearance or behaviour is highlighted. Johnathan discusses tasks which when “performed by a fish clearly upsets the commonly held assumption that fishes are at the dim end of the spectrum”. With a vast array of scientific evidence and some endearing anecdotes, Jonathan persuades the reader that fish have more intelligence than we give them credit for. I believe that Jonathan is correct in suggesting that fish have some form of higher cognitive abilities.

I would have liked to have seen more intricate study designs when it comes to cognition. Johnathan did not include the self- proclaimed first mirror test study which manta rays (Manta birostris) recognised themselves in the mirror. Although I feel that including an experiment with mirrors to test for animal self- awareness is extremely humancentric, manta rays recognising themselves in a mirror was an ethological breakthrough and I feel it would have been important to include this. Mechanisms for research are becoming more intricate and therefore leading to fascinating results.

Jonathan doesn’t put fish on a pedestal. He often debates himself and offers the reader alternative explanations for certain behaviours. For example, when Oscar the fish apparently became excited to see his owner, Balcombe himself thinks that there is some form of attachment. However, he offers the reader a more simpler explanation “or perhaps Oscar was waiting for a food reward” (pp. 150), a classic example of operant conditioning coined by Skinner (1938).  Furthermore, when he describes fish jumping out of the sea, Balcombe himself states that he thinks they’re having fun, but does not dismiss that some critics believe them to be courting or removing parasites. The reader is assured that Jonathan is “not remotely suggesting that intelligence is uniformly distributed between the diversity of fishes”.  The evolutionary relevance of behaviours is highlighted throughout; if a certain behaviour is going to help an animal survive, the animal will most likely evolve this behaviour. For example, pleasure evolved to reinforce beneficial behaviours, and Jonathan debates whether these animals unconsciously prefer beneficial behaviours because it will increase their fitness, or if they seek these behaviours merely because they feel good. According to Morgan’s Canon, one must explain animal behaviour as simply as possible.  

Due to the books motive, it can appear slightly like an “echo chamber”. Perhaps the individuals which have given their own written accounts are undergoing a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias”. It is unknown by which outlet Jonathan asked individuals to give their own accounts, however it is likely that it was through one of his media outlets such as Twitter, Linkedin or even his website. If he appealed on an account directly affiliated with him, it is unlikely that people who do not believe in fish sentience would reply, as they would be reluctant to follow and therefore engage with him. The anecdotes are likely from people who believe fish are conscious which could cloud their judgement and affect how they interpreted and described the situation. Furthermore, the anecdotes stated do not have a source in which you can seek out the story yourself and make an informed decision on the credibility of the source- but each person is named allowing you to research who they are and any companies which they are affiliated with.

Johnathon is affiliated with ‘The Humane Society of USA’, a company which seeks to end the “enslavement” of animals. However, despite many anti-science groups which have an absolute animal rights view, The Humane Society appears to be a legitimate source which encompasses a more utilitarian view towards animal ethics. Jonathan himself is also a scientist whom holds a PhD in ethology – suggesting that despite his affiliation with The Humane Society, he is well qualified to discuss the topic of animal behaviour. If anything, his affiliation with the Humane Society could reinforce his passion for animal welfare, making him appear somewhat as a “posterboy” for fish welfare.

Jonathan incorporates a variety of anecdotes by named people, quotes from various scientists (with whom he does and does not agree) and examples from scientific papers – with a reference list at the back for readers to look up the studies in further detail. The scientific evidence incorporates a wide range of studies with different taxa as the subject. What could be interpreted as a major flaw in Jonathan’s work is the highly anecdotal body of evidence, such as Jonathan’s story of an underwater diver who befriends a group of basking sharks. She ironically even named one Grandma – a name which challenges the perceptions held about sharks by the public and in popular media. However, the informality of the book and lack of scientific jargon allows the readers to relate to Balcombe, bridging the gap between scientists and the public. According to the British Science Association (2014), 55% of the public stated that they do not feel well informed about science – however I feel this book is accessible to those from a non -ethological background, giving them the building blocks necessary to build a basic understanding on fish cognition and welfare, and to seek out the anecdotal evidence and analyse it themselves. I believe that popular science writing must strike a fine balance between scientific evidence and journalism, one to inform and one to interest. If the text is unappealing, then his message will not reach a wider audience.

Jonathan’s book is listed on various websites with the opportunity for members to review the literature. The reviews are often positive (Goodreads, 2018; Amazon, 2018; Oneworld Publications 2018), but I saw little evidence of scientists reading the book and reviewing it, suggesting that scientists themselves are perhaps hesitant to engage with the book. Jonathan himself has an hindex of 14, with his publications being referenced 951 times in total (Scopus, 2018). However, the book has not been referenced at all within the scientific community, reinforcing that they do not engage often with his book – maybe due to its frequent anthropomorphism of fish and anecdotal body of evidence.

This book is published at an exciting time, when new research about ethology and welfare is gaining prominent attention. Furthermore, we are at a time when humans are consuming fish in an unsustainable manner. I recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in the world we live in. I also suggest that anyone who uses fish recreationally reads this book, as it may just change the way that they view the animals that they are using. However, I do not recommend this book to an individual who has little interest in the field, who are unlikely to do their own research on the topic. Jonathan can appear somewhat biased, so it is for sciences best interest for people to be intrigued enough to do their own research on the topic to achieve a balanced, well informed knowledge on the subject.

Despite being published at an interesting time, the book itself has not advanced science. The target audience are non-scientists and therefore it includes studies which have previously been published, there is no original evidence included. However, Jonathan offers his own research project ideas which could advance the field. He critiques various studies and gives his opinion on the ethics of some, making it a more engaging read. For example, he states that in one study, the fish were likely to have been stressed by the transport from their home to the artificial lab- based environment. The studies are from a wide time range, showing the reader how experimental design and intricacy has developed over time. Each example includes multiple taxon, and I like how Jonathan has not just included examples from fish which are more well known in the popular media, such as clownfish and sharks. These factors could influence budding scientists to create their own experimental designs, and perhaps to even expand their interests to taxon of fish they previously deemed “uninteresting”.

As an animal behaviourist who is interested by ichthyology, I had heard of the core principles already. Therefore, I found it a light, interesting read. However, to the target audience, I believe this book can shape their opinion and perhaps even behaviour towards fish. From what I’m aware, Jonathan’s book appears to be one of the first of its kind; a popular science book directed at the public about fish welfare and cognition. The book includes some compelling and relevant debates prominent in the industry right now, and it has the potential to influence scientists to conduct their own research. Societal change is needed for the behavioural shift that Jonathan so clearly desires, which I believe that this book can achieve. Jonathan endearingly refers to fish as “fishes”; perhaps in time, society will begin to see their individuality and sentience too.

“Do My Paws Look Big in This?” Body Size Awareness in Dogs.

Self- awareness has formed the basis of many philosophical ponderings throughout the years, as to be aware of oneself indicates a certain level of intelligence and sophistication. To test self- awareness in animals, we often use the mirror test. However, this can give dubious results. Researchers have discovered and trialled a new paradigm which can assess self- awareness in dogs: body size awareness tests.

Companion dogs were tested in 3 different variations of a simple exercise. The dogs were encouraged through a door of varying sizes and proportions, and their reactions recorded. The dogs understood when their bodies would or would not fit the opening – and adjusted their behaviour accordingly. The too-small doors were met with hesitance when the dogs were urged to pass through, whilst the larger doors were met with excitement.

This test shows that dogs possess a “template” of their body size, which leads to body size awareness. The authors argue that a dogs’ body “template” develops through their early years and is influenced by their interactions with objects and obstacles throughout their life. The study suggests that dogs understand their body size in relation to their environment and can apply this to everyday life. Interestingly, the researchers hope to see research into the body templates of ‘extreme morph’ dogs – those which are built with disproportionate bodies and features.

Although not as complex as self -awareness, body size awareness is a ‘building block’ towards it.

 I think, therefore I am. I bark, therefore I am. I fit, therefore I am.

Original Paper: That Dog Won’t Fit: Body Size Awareness in Dogs.

Cat Kills Capped by Collars – The Wearable Devices Which Stop Your Cat Harming Wildlife.

Cats: some adore them, some hate them. Regardless, we can’t escape them. However, with the use of wearable devices, wildlife can.

During most outdoor endeavours (whether rural or urban), your path is likely to coincide with non-human animals. Of all the wildlife that Mother Nature has to offer, you will probably stumble across a domestic cat, concealed by the bushes of the sidewalk, silently grooming and sunning her body. You may give her a pat and a chin tickle, and then continue your journey with no more thought. Less fortunate is the local wildlife which stumble across the local felines, of which cats hunt up to the billions.

Whether it be a run or walk, you will probably encounter a cat on your travels.
Photo by lucas Favre on Unsplash

There are 10.9 million cats in the UK. Within this population, many more are allowed access to both inside and outside, compared to those which are restricted to an indoor only lifestyle.  For an animal which is usually portrayed with an air of respectable indifference, cats have caused quite the ruckus within the scientific community and encouraged emotional disputes between cat owners of conflicting beliefs about their living arrangements.

Some organisations are clear advocates for outdoor cats. When a cat is allowed both inside and outside, the cat is given free- will and control over which environment they chose to spend their time. The switch between outside and inside reduces the daily monotony of most captive animals’ lives. When outside, a cat interacts with an environment more complex and stimulating than most households can offer, giving her the opportunity to explore different smells, sights and sensations. The great outdoors is home to bountiful flora and fauna, of which cats can stalk and hunt – another natural behaviour. Although natural, hunting and killing local wildlife is destructive and weakens conservation efforts.

More expensive breeds are often kept inside for safety reasons.
Photo by Lina Angelov on Unsplash

Unlike us, cats lack the ability to understand the concept of endangered species – they chose their prey depending on convenience and accessibility, giving no preference between animals which fail to appear on the CITES list or those which WWF tirelessly campaign about. Small mammals and birds are the most often hunted, but more experienced cats can capture larger prey like rabbits. Domestic cat  lethality surpasses that of wild predators ten-fold; their home range is smaller than most wild carnivores, which concentrates the damage within a smaller radius. On small islands, the repercussions are heightened. Cats are an invasive species, so prey naivety is common in island animals – they fail to flee when they see a feline approaching. When the prey animals lack an escape mechanism like wings, the effects of cats on local wildlife can be devastating.

Some have demonized and vilified cats for this reason – but expressing natural behaviour is paramount to an animal’s wellbeing. The issue must be addressed, but to punish an animal which is expressing behaviours it cannot control is amoral and lays the foundations for more complex ethical debates.

Although living beings, feral cats are not considered “property”. Therefore, policies regarding the inhibition and deterrence of domestic cats are more invasive and harmful. In areas where feral cats are problematic, widespread exterminations occur. For example, The Australian government euthanises millions of feral cats a year, and people can legally shoot feral cats at will. Less drastic is trap neuter and return programmes, which work by slowly diminishing the feral cat population by rendering mating attempts ineffective – therefore reducing the number of predators without categoricallyharming the animals.

Feral cats are dealt with much more inhumanely, especially when their effects on wildlife are heightened.
Photo by Mitchell Orr on Unsplash

Domestic cats are regarded as “property”, so invasive techniques are frowned upon. In the UK, it is illegal to shoot or otherwise cruelly harm a cat which belongs to someone else. Only the caregiver can directly mitigate their cats hunting behaviours if they wish to do so. Recommended deterrence methods are often a mixture of pseudoscience, anecdotal tales or misinformed advice which can harm local cats. There is a dearth of guides which offer scientifically proven and peer reviewed ways to reduce your cats hunting behaviours.

Methods which hinder a cat’s ability to hunt range from controversial (keeping your cat inside) to highly debated invasive methods (shooting local cats/ trap neuter return). Ethical and less invasive methods include using scents to deter cats and noises to warn birds. Some ethical deterrents can be implemented by owners and non-owners. However, methods which require the mounting of devices or decorative material upon the cat can be utilised by cat owners only. As responsible outdoor cat owners, I strongly suggest reading this list and implementing at least one of the methods listed.

Wearable Devices Which Reduce Cat Kills

Noise: A simple and effective method to decrease predation is by utilising a bell collar. The gentle jingle of the bell alerts birds and other prey animals to oncoming cats, giving them a chance to escape. Study after study shows the effectiveness of this method – both UK and New Zealand kills were halved when cat wore a belled collar.

Hunting efficiency: Rather than alerting birds to the presence of oncoming predators, some products by act as a barrier between the cat and the prey, hindering the cats’ coordination and reducing chances of a successful hunt. When mounting a cat with a CatBib™ collar 81%, 33% and 45% of cats ceased catching birds, herpetofauna and mammals, respectively. Incorporating a bell did not enhance the effects. Furthermore, Catbib™ does not alter other behaviours – so is unlikely to harm felines in the long run.

Vision: The most scientifically researched anti-predatory device on the market is the Birdbesafe® collar. The Birdbesafe® collar is the most thoroughly investigated in the scientific literature. It encapsulates the cats’ head in a burst of colour,making the cat visible to birds and letting them flee. In Australia, rainbow coloured collars reduced bird and herpetofauna captures drastically.  In an 8- week long trial which tracked 19 cats, the collar reduced kills by 78%. In North America, collared cats killed 19 x less birds than those which were uncollared. Unfortunately, the Birdbesafe® collar failed to decrease mammal kills.

These methods are cost friendly and easy to obtain. Although you may need to train your cat into acceptance of the wearable device, the benefits outweigh the costs.

 I will be updating my blog soon with a guide for cat neighbours, who want to stop cats entering their own gardens and killing wildlife. Stay tuned.

Doggos’ From a Distance: 5 Ways To Get Some Puppy Love From Afar.

Over the past few weeks, shelters have seen their adoption and foster rates soar. With people finding themselves adjusting to life at home, welcoming a dog into your household may seem like the perfect idea. Animals are great for our mental and physical health, after all.  A dog can act as a non -judgemental confident, and someone to motivate you to get up when there appears to be not much to get up for.

However, some experts have warned against impulsively welcoming a dog into your household during the COVID-19 outbreak. Sure, you have time (lots of it), but what happens when you find yourself thrown back into the world of the 9-5 grind? Will you still smother your dog in a constant stream of love and affection? What happens when your dog meets another dog for the first time? Will he know how to “play dog”, or will he struggle to understand his fellow canines body language?

For many, our circumstances mean we can neither foster, nor permanently own a dog. Although our heart is in the right place, there are factors external to our control which mean our lifestyle would not enable our puppers to flourish. Our houses and gardens may not meet the minimum requirements, there may be other animals in the house, our household may be full of excitable children or our futures may be uncertain.

How can we get our dose of puppy love during this difficult time?

Online is the answer.

Social Media Groups: There are many Facebook groups dedicated to the love of all things pupper. My favourites are Dogspotting and its little, more rebellious sister, DogSpotting Society. Request photos of people’s pets or just scroll through the feed and admire the abundant database of “dogspots”.

Puppy Cams: If you want to virtually admire puppies to raise your spirits, then lots of rescues and breeders offer Puppy Cams. The hashtag #DogsTrustPuppyCam takes you to Dogs Trust Irelands Youtube Channel, where they share videos of their puppies on the ‘Mutternity Ward’. The Canine Companions for Assistance also provide a puppy cam of their helper dogs to-be.

Courses: If you are struggling with feelings of boredom, why don’t you enrol in a free course about dogs?  These courses will not match a degree in terms of integrity, quality and intensity, but they can help you understand more about dog behaviour and welfare and the role they play in the human world. Class Central, Coursera, Futurelearn, Edx and OpenLearn (by The Open University) all offer free courses about dogs (and other animals).

Dogumentaries: Like courses, documentaries offer a relaxed learning experience. Unlike courses, documentaries are often full of drama and excitement – which can aid with future knowledge retention!

Volunteering: Most shelters are shut to both visitors and volunteers, but you can still help their mission from afar. You can spread the word of your local shelter by posting on your social media, help with ongoing campaigns or even help with marketing and administration tasks, all from the comfort of your home device.

Lets hope this list guides you from the throes of boredom, whilst satisfying your love and curiosity for puppers.

Any other ideas? Let me know in the comments.