Humans aren’t the only sentient beings on the planet

And now, scientists confirm that we aren’t the only ones with consciousness, either.

It’s pretty easy to see that animals feel pain. Humans are animals too, after all—but if you cut a cow or a pig, you hear it scream just as much as a person does. I’m not speaking from experience here, but I have eaten plenty of both to feel guilty about it. Animals as sentient creatures are not an unknown concept.

The fact that animals have a consciousness, however, has continued to remain a question of debate among many people. If we knew that animals could think and reason as we can, or that they loved as deeply as we do, we might think twice about killing them for food, experimentation, and other reasons, after all. Personally, I think all you have to do is watch elephants mourn a loss of their own or apes share tools and food to know that this is true.

Now scientists are confirming that animals have a consciousness the same as humans—which makes perfect sense, since we’re from the same genetic material. We were once quite hairier versions of ourselves, closer to our primate cousins than we are today, and our random development could have easily been deterred in favor of another species.

Yet instead of being humble and careful about our presence (perhaps) as the most developed species, we spend it sneering at other species, proclaiming our superiority in the name of the Bible or our taste buds (myself guiltily included). Eventually, if we can actually communicate with other species or otherwise prove intelligence, I wonder if we will maintain our excuses. Perhaps this Korean-speaking elephant could shed some light on the subject…

Animal water source

This simple science activity is fun for the whole family.

Yesterday I hosted our monthly science club at a nature center only to be shooed into the basement during a tornado warning! As we huddled together waiting for the sirens to pass, I must admit that I was pretty proud of my daughter, who only found the whole experience to be as interesting as any other. The staff also showed us their herpetology room, which was so cool of them—and the mama deer and her two babies stopped by the viewing window for a visit, which was delightful.

We got to finish most of our projects, though, which were simple animal water source bowls. To make these, you can use anything you have around the house—a pie pan, an empty ice cream container, a cereal bowl, whatever. As long as it’s sturdy enough to withstand the elements, you are good to go.

You could just place this dish outside for animals to use, but where’s the fun in that? I brought along a bunch of permanent markers for the kids to decorate their bowls with. We had everything from skulls to fake pebbles, sunbursts to flowers decorating the bowls. They were all very creative—and the one boy who didn’t want to create one still got to bring home a water source.

We ran out of time for the second part of the activity, but you can do this with your own group: identify the four things that animals need in their habitat (food, water, shelter, and a place to raise their young) and then go around the nature center (or zoo, or whatever is nearby—even your own backyard) and see if you can find each of these elements for your animal(s). Are they all present? If not, which is missing—and can you help provide it?

We also discussed other ways we can help our area wildlife, such as building brush piles and bird houses, planting flowers and trees, and not cutting down forests that already exist. At the last meeting, I provided instructions on how to build a toad house at home; at the next one, I will be bringing some guidelines on how to make your yard a wildlife habitat altogether.

Sharing the joys of nature with children isn’t just fun; it’s also a good way to help preserve our environment and foster stewardship into future generations. Given that most kids adore animals, it’s also something that they are bound to enjoy themselves.

Baby gorillas baffle poachers

Perhaps gorillas are evolving while humans remain stagnant…

Here is some delightful news that I think most people will appreciate: little four-year-old gorillas are outsmarting local poachers in Rwanda, cleverly taking apart their traps and avoiding them altogether. If this sends any kind of message to the world, shouldn’t it be that if these animals are this clever, they shouldn’t ever be targeted for bushmeat in the first place?

Yes, it’s horrible that poaching exists—but I get the desperation behind it. What outrages me even more is that there are rich people who devalue life so much that they’re willing to spend their millions on a new gorilla hand-ashtray, or a gorilla head trophy. This is only one step, perhaps less, than having the same items designed from human hide—perhaps that is the route we are going when we have people so blasé about such carnage that they’re willing to invite it into their own homes as “conversation pieces.” What, exactly, do they think that this behavior is teaching their children? Do you honestly consider yourself “civilized,” cultured, by displaying the limbs of our relatives in your living room?

The killing of gorillas, of our primate cousins, must stop. I wish these clever young gorillas luck in dismantling further traps—and if they’re out-evolving us, so be it. Hopefully they’ll be more merciful than we’ve been.

The giant squid is super cool

This elusive sea creature may take over one day.

Though my favorite animal is the sloth—and I also love frogs, great apes, and plenty of other interesting beings—it’s the giant squid that fascinates me more than any other animal (well, any other animal that has been proven to exist; plenty of cryptozoology creatures fascinate me as well!). The giant squid is one of the largest beings on earth, yet it’s so smart that it eludes humans on a daily basis. What other 43-foot-long animal could evade us so well?

We’ve almost never seen a live giant squid before; it wasn’t even until 2006 when we first caught a glimpse of a giant squid on film. The only incident that I can think of in which a giant squid was caught is the one in which he or she was captured but fought so valiantly to escape that the squid sustained fatal wounds. In fact, I started to watch a documentary on this very instance—not realizing that it was about said instance, and that the scientists only had so long to study it before it began to “decompose,” during which I realized what it was and turned it off! If these massive beings can keep away from us, only washing up on the land when they die, they’ve got to be clever, haven’t they?

In fact, if you watch another documentary—purely speculative, though based on scientific theories, of course—called The Future is Wild, some scientists predict that once humans are gone—and we will be, one day, given our penchant for destroying everything we touch and not sustaining anything other than our own greed—it is the giant squid who will ascend land and become the dominant species. As laughable as this sounds—Discovery Channel mermaids, anyone?—much of the science does make sense, considering that plenty of animals that we do know have evolved so unexpectedly. When I first learned about whales that walked, I was simply blown away; why didn’t we learn this in school? It would have been amazing to read about and discuss with my peers.

Try looking up photos of the giant squid; they are pretty rare, and mostly of dead squid who washed up on a beach somewhere. There is apparently a giant squid on display, well preserved in a block of ice at a museum in Australia; I now have another place among the many on my Bucket List that I really wish to visit! Can you really think of a cooler animal than the giant squid?

The Marmoset: Definitely a Cool Animal

This past weekend, my mom, my son and I took a trip to a nearby zoo. The zoo we visited isn't very big, but they have some really neat animals you can view up close. I think the animal that captivated my attention the most was the marmoset. This tiny little creature with its tiny little features is adorable. I didn't know much about the marmoset, so when I got home I decided to look up some information.

It turns out that the marmoset is the world's smallest monkey. I can vouch for its tiny size. The one I saw looked a lot like the one in the picture. It had the tiniest hands. It also was very active, jumping from tree branch to tree branch in its cage. They are active during the day and they live in trees, so the habitat the zoo provided was a match for the little primate.

When I walked up next to the cage, it jumped closer to me and looked at me with its bright and curious eyes. It made some small twittering sounds as it fidgeted with the tree branch.

Another group of people walked up to the marmoset's cage and the children asked their parents if they could have a marmoset. One of the parents remarked that having one might be really cool. Uh, I think marmosets are adorbs, too, but... having one as a pet? No thank you.

Because these guys are tree dwellers, they would need that type of habitat at your home. If you decided to let it run free in your home -- bad idea -- it would likely climb up as high as it could and knock things down at will. Also, do you really think a marmoset is potty-trained? Sadly, no. Monkey dung would end up all over your lovely home in no time.

Another thing these little cuties do is mark and defend their territory. I don't know if humans can smell the scent-marking or not, but it doesn't sound like a good thing for your furniture and other personal items.

Even though I wouldn't want to share my home with a marmoset, I think they are really cool animals in an environment suited to them.

The Black Bear is Cooler Than You May Think

Unless you've had a chance to get up close and personal with a black bear, you may think that the dopey look it gives off means this animal isn't very bright. The truth is that the black bear is smart and also curious. Black bears have an awesome sense of smell and color vision.Also, even though the black bear looks a bit clumsy, it is quite the athlete. The black bear can run up to speeds of 35 miles per hour. It also is a good tree climber and swimmer. So, don't think the black bear is a lumbering oaf, because it's not.

I had personal experience with a black bear that was in captivity at a wildlife park where I worked for about a year. There was a black bear on the premises in a cage. He had that "dopey" look in his eyes, but he was anything but dim-witted. He was bit shy at first, but he came to like me.

I actually fed him with a spoon! He was extremely careful when eating and used his tongue a lot. He gave off a gentle air and seemed to enjoy my company. I really liked interacting with the bear.

At times, he would become absolutely energetic and run all over the caged area and climb the sides. Then, he would jump in his bathtub full of water and splash around for kicks.

I never got into his cage with him, but he didn't ever show signs of aggression toward me or anyone else.

The Cheetah: One of the Coolest Animals

The cheetah is like the ultimate sports car -- sleek, well-designed and built  for speed. It's flexible spine allows it to achieve a stride equal to a racehorse -- covering up to 22 feet in one stride. Within seconds, a cheetah can reach 60 to 70 miles per hour. So, that means any prey that wanders into the cheetah's general vicinity better be prepared for a hearty chase -- and a more than likely end to their existence.

Not only can the cheetah sprint, it also has claws that give it incredible traction. The cheetah can also change stride in midair to chase prey. In a chase, the cheetah definitely has the advantage.

Once the cheetah catches its prey, it holds the prey's neck with its mouth to strangle it. It will hold the neck of the prey for up to 20 minutes to get the job done. During this time the cheetah's breathing, temperature and heart rate will return to normal. After all, it just had an incredible workout.

You'd think, after all that exertion, that the cheetah would need tons of water. The cool fact is that the cheetah doesn't even need to drink water. Instead, it gets all it needs from eating its prey.

While a cheetah is an ultimate killing machine, it doesn't sound ferocious. Cheetahs do not growl like other big cats. Instead, they purr, squeal, chirp and stutterbark.

While this isn't particularly cool, from a cheetah's standpoint, the cheetah can't guard or defend its prey from other predators. Once its prey has expired, the cheetah must quickly eat it. It may gain some time if it drags the prey to a secluded area away from the prying eyes of vultures, which alert other predators such as lions and hyenas.

The Funny Little Hedgehog

When hedgehogs hunt for food -- sometimes in hedges -- they often grunt, kind of like a hog. This explains their name.  When it comes to food they might eat anything. They prefer insects, but they also won't often pass up other types of food if it presents itself.

Even though some hedgehogs are no bigger than a tea cup, don't think they can't protect themselves. They can roll up into a ball, exposing their spines to scare away predators. Before they stop, drop and roll into a ball, they may speed up their pace to rates of six feet per second to escape.

They also spend their days rolled up into a ball, sleeping. Then, they prowl around at night, looking for stuff to eat.

Hedgehogs don't see well at all, so they rely heavily on their sense of smell and their hearing to help them feed and avoid danger. They lead a solitary life, except for mating purposes.

One of the coolest things about hedgehogs is even though they don't really socialize in the wild, it's not uncommon for them to form a close bond with humans who take them on as pets. They not only make an interesting and unusual pet, they also can help you control the insects in your garden. They're also pretty cute.

If you take a hedgehog on as a pet, know that you won't have to worry about it being agressive or mean. It also won't put off an offensive odor like other pets do.


Uncool Animals are Cool

"... while a sloth may seem just like a lazy lump, it has some amazing abilities."

As I sit here writing this blog about cool animals, I realized that not everyone will share the same opinion as I do about why certain animals are cool. I am one of those people who has respect for all living creatures. Well, maybe not for fire ants and mosquitoes, but I won’t go there.

There are animals that are obviously very cool such as a cheetah for its speed and an elephant for its size and strength. But, I can find something cool with just about any animal on our awesome planet – even for those that don’t seem cool at all.

For instance, while most people may not think there’s anything cool about a sloth, I beg to differ. A sloth actually has many things about it that are pretty cool.

First of all, while a sloth may seem just like a lazy lump, it has some amazing abilities. It lives most of its life in the treetops – eating, sleeping, mating and giving birth -- and it has a powerful grip that helps it suspend itself while sleeping. Three-toed sloths can also rotate their heads approximately 270 degrees. Sloths are also awesome swimmers. They can do a mean stroke with their lengthy arms.

My point is that even the most boring of animals has some cool – and often surprising – habits or traits. So the next time you look at an animal and don’t find it particularly interesting, just know that there’s probably a special something about it that makes it stand out from the crowd. 

The Awesome Wooly Mammoth

You can imagine my surprise while googling around on the Internet to find a headline that stated that the wooly mammoth might still be alive in Siberia. Apparently, Michael Cohen, a government-employed engineer, taped a creature that some believe is an actually wooly mammoth. The wooly mammoth is thought to have been extinct for over 4,000 years. Hmmm.....

Well, I couldn't resist playing the video footage of the creature. My opinion is that it's a bear carrying a large fish -- like a salmon or something. I didn't think for a second that it was a wooly mammoth. I think those that do are victims of wishful thinking.

Anyway, the wooly mammoth was a pretty cool animal. Not only could it withstand extremely cold temperatures -- think Ice Age climate -- the males had massive, curved tusks. The tusks are thought by some to have been used to shovel snow out of their way as the trekked across the frozen tundra. Even with their huge size and formidable tusks, they weren't carnivores. Instead they feasted on plants, trees, shrubs and herbs.

Their coats were resistant to the frost. According to information on the National Geographic website, their skin secreted a thick oil that coated their hair and insulated them from the extremely cold temperatures. They probably didn't smell the best, either. That thick, shaggy hair, coated with body oil and various other things....ugh! Yet, no matter what they smelled like, they were definitely cool. They were like a walking snowplow, built to brave the cold weather.