Two recent studies deserve close attention, the first because it shows how our "best friends" can help protect livestock and thus protect cheetahs, and the second because it shows, as have many others, that climate change can affect the behavior of various nonhuman animals (animals) including fish.
Dogs protect livestock and help cheetahs survive
Human-nonhuman animal (animal) conflicts of many different types abound globally and usually the animals get the short end of the stick—they're killed—when they're accused, quite often wrongly, of harming or killing companion animals (pets), livestock, and humans. Researchers in the field of anthrozoology are trying hard to learn more about human-animal interactions and how to foster more peaceful coexistence (but see "Redecorating Nature: Have We Really Killed Pests Too Rarely?").
Often there are easy solutions that can help both the humans and nonhumans. For example, cheetahs are known to kill livestock and then farmers who lose livestock and their livelihoods kill them. In a study recently published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, Nicola Rust, Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd, and Douglas MacMillan discovered that "guarding dogs may offer a cost-effective method of non-lethal predator control and could potentially contribute to the long-term mitigation of human–carnivore conflict in South Africa." A guard dog could save a farmer around $3200 a year. Furthermore, "Participating farmer tolerance toward cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), as well as cheetah-sighting frequency, appeared to increase during participation in the livestock-guarding dog program." This program provides a nice model for other areas in which predators are accused of harming and killing livestock and then are killed.
Acidic ocean water makes fish more anxious
Another recent study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B by Trevor James Hamilton, Adam Holcombe, and Martin Tresguerres showed that rockfish get more anxious in acidic ocean water but that the effect is reversible and it is not known if there is any effect on survival. These researchers discovered that, "After one week in OA [ocean acidification] conditions projected for the next century in the California shore (1125 ± 100 µatm, pH 7.75), anxiety was significantly increased relative to controls (483 ± 40 µatm CO2, pH 8.1)."
What's interesting about this study also is the fact that it supports recent research that fish are conscious and emotional beings and that we need to factor this into how they are treated (see for example, Do Fish Feel Pain? by Victoria Braithwaite and also and).
"I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals—and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies."
As I was writing this piece I discovered a report called "Do Fish Feel Pain? Not as Humans Do, Study Suggests" in which some researchers (including one who wonders whether animals even think; for a critique please see "The Great Divide") concluded that there still remains some doubt that fish are aware of their own pain because of their lack of a neocortex. Furthermore, the skeptics argue, "There is often a lack of distinction between conscious pain and unconscious nociception."
I found this summary statement of the above essay to be of interest: "These findings suggest that fish either have absolutely no awareness of pain in human terms or they react completely different to pain. By and large, it is absolutely not advisable to interpret the behaviour of fish from a human perspective." I couldn't agree more. Others and I have argued many times that we should not use humans as the standard for evaluating the emotional lives of other animals.
So, do fish really feel pain? I'm convinced they do based on Victoria Braithwaite's research, but even if there is some doubt, we should err on their side because it would not be surprising to learn that they do suffer what we might call "fish pain" and it is painful for them. In her very interesting and important book Dr. Braithwaite concluded (page 153), "I have argued that there is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals—and more than there is for human neonates and preterm babies."
The concluding sentence of the above report is a very important one: "However, at a legal and moral level, the recently published doubts regarding the awareness of pain in fish do not release anybody from their responsibility of having to justify all uses of fishes in a socially acceptable way and to minimise any form of stress and damage to the fish when interacting with it." And, the above study about the effects of ocean acidification show that fish do indeed suffer from stress and anxiety in highly acidic water.
Please stay tuned for more on the fascinating research that's being conducted in anthrozoology and on the emotional lives of animals. Many "surprises" have been discovered and surely there are more to come.
Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also), and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also).