Survival of the Friendliest

Survival of the Friendliest. Random House, New York; 2020
By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods
Reviewed by Andrew Rowan
Brian Hare, a professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology at Duke University and his wife, Vanessa Woods, an award-winning journalist and a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience also at Duke University, have just produced a new book, Survival of the Friendliest: Understanding our Origins and Rediscovering our Common Humanity. The title is a variation on the widespread belief that evolution is driven by a process encapsulated by the phrase, Survival of the Fittest. Charles Darwin used this phrase and wrote that as a proxy for the term natural selection, “survival of the fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.” But Darwin was also very impressed by the levels of cooperation he observed in nature and wrote that the most cooperative communities “would flourish best and rear the greatest number of offspring.”
Hare and Woods argue that it is not competition and aggression that have led to dominance of the globe by modern humans but rather it is our capacity for kindness and friendship that have led us to outcompete Homo erectus (who was already making and using tools 1.8 million years ago – 1.5 million years before Homo sapiens appeared) and at least four other branches of Homo sapiens. Modern humans established their dominance only in the last 50,000 years. Then, around 25,000 years ago, our ancestors started to leave evidence of unique forms of cognition (e.g. rock paintings and archeological finds of early jewelry) and expanded social networks.
Hare and Woods discuss the changes leading to modern humans as a process of self-domestication leading to greater co-operation, an ability to live successfully in larger groups with a consequent increase in technological invention. They support these conclusions with a range of data involving physical structure (the evolving shape of modern human skulls) and biological and physiological evidence (e.g. the role of the hormone oxytocin in eliciting both nurturing/friendly behavior but also aggression and dehumanization) and hints from the behavior of chimpanzees (aggressive and suspicious of strangers) and bonobos (close cousins of the chimpanzees but much lower levels of aggression and greater friendliness).
A common approach to explaining modern human’s domination of the world involves pointing at the much larger and denser brains, and greater intelligence, found in Homo sapiens. But the authors note that the brain of Home sapiens was already large at least 200,000 years ago but that our branch of Homo sapiens only became dominant (outcompeting Neanderthals and other branches) around 50,000 years ago. They argue that it was the rapid expansion of social networks (supported by the friendliness trait and a consequently greater acceptance of strangers) that led to self-domestication and an explosion of technological innovation.
The book ranges across many disciplines and concludes with chapters involving the development of the “theory of mind,” the important role of oxytocin in promoting both friendliness but also aggression and prejudice, the story of Ota Benga (a pygmy housed in the Bronx zoo in 1906) and the role of simianization in human prejudice, and the development of constitutional democracies and the emergence of the alt-right across the world. They conclude by noting that “our lives should be measured not by how many enemies we have conquered, but by how many friends we have made.”
In the end, the authors of Survival of the Friendliest commented to me that they needed all they had learned about friendliness to survive the process of writing this book. I completely understand what they have gone through. My wife and I decided to launch WellBeing International together and we also needed all our “friendliest” characteristics to get safely through the earliest stages of our new adventure together.”

How do Sea Turtles Find their Way?

How do Sea Turtles Find their Way?
July 19, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
Sea turtles have been shown to have the remarkable ability to find their way across thousands of kilometers of open ocean back to a specific beach where they lay their eggs or to a specific feeding ground. Early in this century, the American scientists Kenneth and Caroline Lohmann put forward the hypothesis that the turtles imprint on the geomagnetic location of a specific site and that imprinting then allows them to find that site repeatedly.
A recent publication in Current Biology reported homing patterns of 33 adult Green sea turtles tagged with a GPS locator. The article reports that, as the turtles navigated from their nesting beaches on the island of Diego Garcia to their foraging grounds thousands of kilometers away, they often travelled well out of the way. The journey from Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean to isolated and hard-to-find small islands was almost all across trackless open ocean.
The turtles departed from the island of Diego Garcia on headings that were approximately target oriented but mostly in the open ocean where they would not have been able to see the sea floor. One turtle travelled a total of 4,619 kilometers when the straight-line route to its eventual target was only (!) 2,379 kilometers. Five of eight turtles travelling to small islands arrived at other islands en route. In all cases, the turtles stayed briefly (less than a day) and so did not refuel before proceeding on to their eventual destination.
The authors claim that their “results provide some of the clearest evidence to date of the difficulties sea turtles have in locating small isolated island targets, often travelling several 100 km off the direct routes to their goal and searching for the target in the final stages of migration.”

Communing with Crows

Communing with Crows
July 19, 2020
by Andrew Rowan
Family of crows
Following the recommendations of our esteemed colleague, Dr. Alan Kazdin, who has written in a previous WellBeing newsletter about the importance of being in natural settings for human mental and physical health, we bring you a tale about a relationship that has developed between one of our Global Ambassadors, Jennifer Sullivan, and a “family” of crows in Lenox, Massachusetts.
Jennifer moved to Lenox, Massachusetts in 2018 where she bought a condo in a development with extensive natural areas. During the current lockdown, she is taking daily walks and, at some point, drew the attention of a family of crows. They must have recognized via some special “crow sense” (crows are very clever birds) that she could be a source of treats. [Jennifer has befriended street dogs across the world and always remembers to produce treats when she is in town.]
Jennifer comments that the crows have learned to “adjust to my schedule.” Initially, the crows started following her on her daily walk. When Jennifer adjusted her schedule to twice a day walks, her extended crow family did likewise.
Jennifer’s first walk of the day is in the morning and the crow family is often waiting for her to emerge from her usual exit door. Her second walk of the day may not be as regular as the first but the crows are either waiting at the door or find her during the walk. She hears lots of cawing, “which is probably a sentry telling dad that I am out.” Now that it is warmer, she walks earlier in the day and they have figured this out as well. In fact, they sometimes see her through the glass corridors on her way outside and hop along outside as she makes her way to the exit door essentially saying, “come on outside.”
Initially, she says she was joined by “the daddy crow and his mate, just a little smaller than him.” At the moment, Jennifer believes the female must be at the nest with the infant crows while the male is bringing what appears to be two smaller crows, possibly teenage or college aged crows. She is pretty sure these are the kids from last year as a Google search indicated that the kids stick around for a year and help the parents with the next brood. As she commented, “strong family units just like many people!”
She has observed the male teaching the smaller crows how to beg for nuts, which involves flying low in front of her and then landing in a nearby tree where they want to be fed. She puts the nuts down near the tree trunk and then steps away while they hop down to get the nuts. This has been going on for a few weeks now. Jennifer describes the male often standing back on the lawn and observing the youngsters begging before offering critiques and advice. But the male will always come and visit her personally at least once during the walk. She recognizes him because he has one rumpled and bent feather. The crows recognize her even when she is wearing sunglasses as well as a hood or hat, so she believes they clearly are recognizing her face [research indicates that crows can distinguish between people – an important trait in a human-dominated ecosystem because some people will provide food whereas others may seek to harm them]. Recently, Jennifer was wearing a mask but, even then, the crows recognized her. The female has now rejoined the group together with several other crows which, Jennifer believes, may be the latest babies to fledge.
“Jennifer’s” crows do not follow anyone else. If she is walking alone, they are the friendliest, but they seem to trust that when she is walking with someone else, that they can trust the additional person as well, but they are a little more cautious. She believes that they are really helping her through this lockdown since even when she does not feel like walking, she walks anyway so as not to disappoint them.
Let us leave the final comment on the relationship between Jennifer and her crow family to corvid expert, Boria Sax (author of the volume Crow, published by Reaktion Books in 2003 and several other subsequent volumes on birds).
“If human beings can be accused of exploiting other animals, the reverse is usually the case as well. Rats thrive on human refuse, but they do not care in the least about human beings. Our relationship with the dog is arguably the most intimate of human bonds, and it is far too complex to be subsumed under the heading of “domination,” but the physical and psychological exchange at least hints at a sort of mutual exploitation. But our relationship with crows and their close relatives is clearly reciprocal. We study them, as they, perched on a branch above, constantly study us. Perhaps alone among animals, crows find us interesting, and they are able to read human body language as well as dogs. Crows scold people they do not like and bestow gifts on those they do. Groups of crows can also enter into “personal” (maybe we should say “corvid.”) relationships with individuals, families, and communities.”

Wildlife Crossings

Wildlife Crossings
News Updates
In June, the House of Representatives included dedicated funding in the INVEST in America Act (HR2) to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions. Renee Callahan, Senior Policy Officer for our Partner, the Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC), noted that wildlife-vehicle collisions cost over $8 billion a year but that wildlife crossing structures have been shown to reduce collisions by as much as 97 percent. A Senate bill (S2302) also includes $250 million for wildlife crossing construction.
At the same time, the Road Ecology Center at the University of California-Davis has released a report on the lower death tolls for large wildlife during traffic reductions caused by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders in California, Idaho and Maine as follows.
State Average # Large Wildlife Killed daily from 2015-2019 Average # Large Wildlife Killed daily in 2020 post-stay home orders % Reduction in 2020
CA 8.4 6.6 21%
ID 8.7 5.4 38%
ME 15.2 8.4 45%

Sustainable Fisheries?

Sustainable Fisheries?
June 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
The total global catch of wild fish increased from 31 million metric tons in 1950 to a high of 130 million metric tons in 1996 before falling back to 109 million metric tons in 2010. However, from 1950 onwards, 366 of 1,519 fisheries collapsed (defined as a 90 percent reduction in stock) with overfishing being a major cause of many of the collapses. Climate variation, often in the guise of El Nino events, was also a very important factor driving large fluctuations in fish stocks. Despite major advances in the scientific understanding of the variation in global fish stocks and the development of sophisticated analytical tools to guide decisions about how to manage a sustainable fishery, the number of fishery collapses has been stable over time, indicating no overall improvement in fishery management.
While the collapse of the North Atlantic cod fishery may be one of the best-known examples of the non-sustainable management of a fishery, different fisheries have collapsed all over the world and most fisheries are considered to be fully exploited. The tuna fishery for the main species of tuna – giant Bluefin, Bigeye, Yellowfin, Skipjack, and Albacore – is certainly fully exploited today. According to a recent paper in Fisheries Research that compiled a comprehensive and harmonized global data set of global tuna catches by area from 1950 onwards, the total weight of tuna landed annually has increased tenfold to over 6 million metric tons a year. The image displays tuna catches for three different time periods: 1950-54, 1980-84 and 2012-16, and shows clearly how tuna fishing now encompasses most of the oceans of the globe (an estimated 55-90 percent of total ocean area). Almost half the tuna now being landed are skipjack tuna, with yellowfin making up a further one-quarter.
Image copied from Fisheries Research, Vol 221,
An earlier publication from 2011 estimated the trends in adult tuna biomass from 1930 up to 2010. The adult biomass of southern Bluefin declined by 95 percent from 1930 to 2010. The adult biomass of the “tropical” tunas (Skipjack, Yellowfin, and Bigeye) declined by approximately 60 percent since 1970. Given that the major species of tuna currently account for $42 billion annually, or over one-quarter of the global seafood trade, the long-term future of tuna is a very important factor in global trade and food security.
The North Atlantic cod fishery collapsed very suddenly around 1990 and has still not shown much sign of recovery despite the moratorium on the cod fishery declared by the Canadian government in 1992. Before the collapse, the fishery’s managers ignored scientific data and set catch quotas that were too high. The fishery increased its take of younger and younger fish (older females produce far more surviving young) and, eventually, the inevitable happened. Looking at the annual tuna landings, the declining age of the tuna being caught, and the declining in overall tuna biomass, one cannot help but think back to Yogi Berra’s famous quote – “It looks like déjà vu all over again.”

Cat Conflicts: Conservationists and Protectionists Remain at Odds but the Conflict Might be Ameliorating

Cat Conflicts: Conservationists and Protectionists Remain at Odds but the Conflict Might be Ameliorating
June 30, 2020
by John Hadidian, Ph.D. and Andrew Rowan, D.Phil.
An early relationship between humans and cats is supported by hard evidence from a burial on Cyprus that dates to 9500 BP. Cats were never native to that Mediterranean island, so the occurrence of a young cat within a human burial, while not evidence of taming, is suggestive of some affinity. Certainly, by 4500 BP cats had begun to be idolized in Egypt, beginning the well-documented history in which cats have been alternately loved and damned, protected and persecuted, or viewed as either beloved pets or hated pests. Such is the history of the human-cat relationship. Now we have “Cat Wars,” the contemporary casting of the domestic cat as an environmental demon responsible for driving vulnerable species on islands extinct and as a wildlife plague elsewhere. The authors of Cat Wars call for cat control by “any means necessary.” This statement is representative of the current conflict over cats which has led to many acrid exchanges between environmental conservationists and cat advocates.
The arguments have spilled over from scientific publications to the popular press in articles with titles such as “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat” and “Apocalypse Meow.” The irony here is that both sides in the conflict (conservationists and protectionists) seek the same endpoint: fewer cats outdoors, whether for the good of wildlife or the good of cats or both.
Currently the major themes being argued seem to revolve on two issues: how many cats are there, and how can their numbers, where needed, be controlled? Here, we share a few thoughts about cat demographics and impacts on wildlife based on our recent review of this contentious issue: “Cat Demographics & Impact on Wildlife in the USA: Facts and Values” (see Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research, 2020, Volume 2, pages 7-37, however, the full article is behind a pay wall).
In the United States, the issue of how many wild animals are killed by owned and unowned cats has been debated for more than 100 years. Within the last two decades, however, the volume has increased significantly and globalized to encompass a voiced concern about the status of vulnerable wildlife on islands and even continents (e.g. Australasia). To be clear, these concerns can be warranted, as feral cats on islands and in Australia and New Zealand have been documented as having negative impacts on vulnerable native species. Outdoor cats, therefore, add considerably to the usual perils wild animals face. Accordingly, we do not argue that outdoor cats not be managed, but we do propose that any management be justified, effective and humane.
This is where the need for good science comes in. As we have argued at greater length in the published article, developing effective management solutions will be infinitely more productive and simpler if the conservation and animal welfare communities could cooperate. We need to determine much more carefully how many cats there are in the different habitats they occupy. Once we have reasonably accurate estimates of cat population demographics in the habitat of concern, then we can move on to create effective management programs. Researchers in Australia have taken the first good steps in making such determinations at a national level, resulting in earlier guestimates of as many as 12 million cats living feral lives in that country being corrected by better approximation that estimates this figure at 1.6 to 5.6 million depending on the season (the higher number is estimated for the rainy season in Australia). In the United States, the claim that there are 80 million (or more) outdoor cats has almost become dogma, leading to commensurate claims of impacts to wildlife and corresponding clarion calls to address this environmental catastrophe (we speculate that the actual figure may be half that number). Clearly, we need to proceed with the same rigor as in Australia to produce better estimates of outdoor cat numbers that will give us a solid platform on which to build responsible policies.
The good news is that such an effort is well underway. The DC Cat Count represents a collaboration of conservationists and protectionists in a three-year project to estimate the true number of cats living as feral, as owned outdoor, as owned indoor, and as shelter populations in the nation’s capital district. The project employs an array of contemporary data-collection and analytical techniques, including surveys of households, photographing free-roaming cats in city alleys and parks, counting cats along transect lines, and tracking cats surrendered to the animal shelter. These surveys will document the lives of all the urban cats in the District of Columbia. From this database, an accurate estimate of the number of cats will permit the development and impact monitoring of proposed intervention strategies. The data will also provide for public education initiatives and permit city agencies to produce a replicable model that other cities can adopt on a cost-effective basis. This is how cooperation between groups and agencies can be advanced for the good of people, cats, and wildlife.

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19-Andrew Rowan June 2020 – Pres. Ltr.

Companion Animals in a Time of COVID-19


As we continue to struggle with the current Covid-19 pandemic, it appears that there has been an uptick across the world in the demand for companion animals. In the early phases of the pandemic, there was some concern that our companion animals might be a possible source of infection but, as the infographic from the International Companion Animal Management Coalition indicates, there is very little risk from our pets. There are also reasons, discussed by Professor Alan Kazdin of Yale University in an earlier WBI blog post, why people might be seeking to bring companion animals into their homes at this stressful time.
In the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of shelter animals being fostered while the number of animals entering shelters fell by almost 50 percent in the early phases of the country’s response to the pandemic. Some shelters in regions hard hit by the pandemic had no animals left for households looking to adopt or foster. At the same time, the demand for puppies being sold by pet stores has also increased and the pet supply industry has been regarded as recession-proof, as the chart below demonstrates. During the recessions of 2001 and 2008-09, spending on pets continued to grow without any noticeable dip. This is not just a North American phenomenon. Demand for pets has been strong in other parts of the world, and humane services have been encouraged. For example, India declared the feeding of street dogs (who lost an important source of food when restaurants and food stalls were shut down) an essential service leading to the development of emergency feeding programs across the country.
Now, thanks to weekly reports from PetPoint (a division of PetHealth, a North American pet health insurance and shelter software company), we can track how the pandemic has affected North American shelters in almost real time. PetPoint has been providing monthly reports of shelter intakes and outcomes among the shelters and rescues using their software (around 20 percent of total intake and outcomes) for ten years. Now, during the Covid-19 outbreak, they have been posting weekly reports. The charts below track the intake and fostering numbers for 2019 and 2020.
As with our understanding of the spread of Covid-19, it is likely that it will take time for us to develop a more detailed picture of the increased entry of companion animals into people’s homes during the pandemic. We can expect to see an uptick in cases of separation anxiety among companion animals when family members head back to school and work. In the meantime, let us applaud PetPoint’s initiative in providing reports of shelter intakes and outcomes on a weekly basis so that we can develop a more granular view of what is happening. North American shelters may have lower intake and increased fostering, but they will also likely have lower staffing levels and possibly reduced funding as donations (and fees) diminish.

The Reaktion Animal Series

The Reaktion Animal Series
By Andrew Rowan
Early this century, independent scholar Jonathan Burt, author of the Reaktion book Animals in Film, persuaded the publisher to produce a series of books on specific animals that would combine a broad mix of human-animal interactions and feature each animal’s role in the arts and literature, in the sciences, in religion, and in myth and folklore.
One reason I have always been intrigued by the series was because two scholars, Marion (Ronnie) Copeland and Boria Sax, with whom I interacted as editor of Anthrozoös, were the authors of two of its first four books, Cockroach and Crow. Burt has also authored one of the volumes, Rat. The series now includes almost 100 volumes. The latest, Human, by Charlotte Sleigh and Amanda Rees, is due to appear in July of this year.
The series has been a huge success, with books on specific birds (Owl, Crow and Falcon) as well as the expected Cat and Dog being among the most popular. Crow, the favorite of Reaktion’s Publicity/Rights Director Maria Kilcoyne, was a particular success in China, where it was printed on black paper with silver type and illustrations.
The mixture of biology, literature and symbolism has proved to be very engaging. This mirrors an experience I had at Tufts where the most popular seminar that the Center for Animals held featured three talks dealing with eagle biology, eagles in art, and the anthropology and symbolism of eagles. Animals are indeed rich organizing entities as we consider the ways in which humans and animals interact and our different reactions to specific animals (e.g. cockroach or dolphin – both subjects in the Reaktion series).
In the specific case of Dolphin, the book is organized into six chapters dealing with zoology and physiology (remarkable), the different types of dolphin (a wide range), the dolphin in history and mythology (very broad reach), dolphin intelligence and behavior (fascinating), threats to dolphins (numerous) and dolphins in popular culture (think Flipper and Keiko). The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs of dolphins and images of dolphins in art and literature. The series’ attention to images is entirely appropriate given Burt’s interest in animals in art and film.
The series – or at least a selection of volumes – is a must-have for anybody interested in human-animal interactions.

Karuna for Corona- Feeding the Homeless Dogs

Karuna for Corona- Feeding the Homeless Dogs
by Andrew Rowan
On March 24, the Indian government ordered a national 21-day lockdown as part of its response to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown has been extended several times and is now projected to last until June 30. This precaution has resulted in significant hardship for the people of India, especially the poor. But it has also adversely affected India’s street dogs, who mostly rely on leftover food from eateries and food put out onto the streets by good Samaritans. (There is a widespread belief that Indian street dogs survive on rubbish, but several recent studies have demonstrated that there are too few calories in street rubbish to support many street animals.) During the lockdown, eateries were closed and members of the public were initially discouraged from feeding street dogs. The dogs began to starve.
Fortunately, the Indian government recognized the problem and declared that feeding street animals was an essential service. Indian animal organizations and advocates have stepped up to the challenge. One such organization is the Blue Cross of India (BCI). Under the direction of board member Tyag Krishnamurthy, BCI started ramping up an emergency feeding operation in late March and, from the middle of April, was providing food to around 3,000 animals a day in Chennai, through a program entitled Karuna for Corona. Karuna means mercy or compassion in Sanskrit.
BCI has been operating with limited staff during the lockdown and has had to rely mostly on volunteers to prepare and deliver the food to the animals. In addition, a number of businesses in Chennai have stepped up to help, including food service staff who have prepared large quantities of food for distribution (see a video documenting this effort). The feeding effort is now nearing 100,000 meals distributed. At its peak, BCI could call on a group of 100-150 citizen feeders who distributed the food to the street animals every day. Some individuals distributed almost 10,000 meals in April and May.
In this regard, the top volunteer was a 25-year-old sales executive for a Chennai company, Vignesh Sukumaran. He has been feeding and rescuing stray animals for several years, ever since he saw an injured street animal. He became aware of the BCI Karuna project via a WhatsApp group and ended up feeding 300-350 animals daily during the lockdown. He has a goal of opening an animal shelter for abandoned, sick and disabled dogs.
On most days, the demand has outstripped the available food, but volunteers were advised to alternate the places where food was placed and to be frugal. The need has diminished since the easing of the lockdown in mid-May, though BCI continues to feed street animals in non-residential areas that have still not been opened up. Check this Facebook post for more photos of the program.
(Note: BCI was also the place to first propose sterilization of street animals [or ABC – Animal Birth Control] to manage dog populations humanely.)

Pets and Coronavirus: An Update

Pets and Coronavirus: An Update
by Andrew Rowan
In the last WellBeing News (Issue 2:4), we ran a short item on pets and the coronavirus. We would like to draw readers’ attention to an excellent new review of all the studies to date that have looked at the potential for pets to catch the coronavirus and pass it to their human guardians. The review, “Infected not infectious,” was produced by the International Companion Animal Management Coalition (ICAM) and provides summaries of the available studies on pets and coronavirus as of May 14, as well as a nifty graphic showing the numbers of humans, dogs and cats that have been reported as having been infected by the coronavirus.
Graph showing the numbers of humans, dogs and cats that have been reported as having been infected by the coronavirus.