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National Museum of Animals & Society Blog

Souls Awakened: The Animals Who Have Shaped Us

Souls AwakenedAll of us who share our homes with them, work with them, or campaign for their welfare have a reason why we devote a portion of our lives to animals. For many of us, we can think back to the exact moment when we looked into an animal’s eyes and thought, “This is a life worth valuing.” Maybe it was our first dog, or the first horse we rode. Maybe it was an animal seen at a zoo that filled our minds and hearts with amazement and wonder. Maybe it was an animal in need, sick or injured, that inspired in us the humanity to help. The National Museum of Animals & Society exists because of these connections, these bridges between the human and nonhuman animal worlds that touch our hearts and enrich our lives.

Souls Awakened: The Animals Who Have Shaped Us is a way for YOU and the animal who changed YOUR life to become a part of the bigger picture. Your image and story will contribute to a larger exhibit on the way animals throughout history have changed how we feel, how we think, how we act, and – ultimately – who we are.

To become a part of Souls Awakened, simply send us a digital photograph, drawing, painting, or other visual rendering of one specific animal who shaped you. Then, write us a short paragraph (3-7 sentences) telling us your story: Who is/was this animal? What did s/he do to affect the way in which you view the world?

Visit our exhibit page for the submission form and all the details!


Monday DIY: Vegan Candy Corn

We’re starting a new series here on Bipeds & Brutes: Monday DIY, where we’ll feature animal-friendly recipes, crafts, and other fun stuff you can do and make at home yourself! Today being Halloween, it’s only appropriate that we start off with a recipe for a homemade, animal product-free version of a popular sugary sweet.

This recipe for Vegan Lemon Candy Corn comes to us from DJ Karma over at VegSpinz. She has graciously given us permission to reprint her excellent home-crafted adaptation of this Halloween favorite which dates back to the 1880s. Although the conventional candy corn you get at the store contains honey, egg whites, and various and sundry food dyes, this version is free of animal products and artificial coloring, and can be made any flavor you want!

Vegan Lemon Candy Corn

Note: To make traditional vanilla-flavored candy corn, just omit the lemon. Experiment with other extracts to make variations of your own.

1/4 cup Earth Balance Margarine*
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp lemon juice
2 1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup soymilk powder
1/4 tsp salt

For coloring:
Yellow: 1/4 tsp tumeric
Orange: 1/4 tsp tumeric + 2 tsp beet juice (from canned beets)

You can make these any size you like, and if you get tired of making candy corn, it makes a good fondant for cupcakes or to make other shapes (a lot like playdoh).
*These turned out a little on the soft side, so next time I might reduce the amount of margarine.  For fondant, it’s perfect.
I’m pretty sure this makes over a pound of candy — pretty time consuming by yourself, so make it a fun project to do with friends or kids!

Sift together the powdered sugar, soymilk powder, and salt in a bowl and set aside.  Heat margarine, sugar, brown rice syrup, extracts, and lemon juice in a saucepan, and stir until boiling and frothy.

Take saucepan off the heat, and add the dry mixture until well incorporated (a few lumps are ok).

Using separate bowls, divide the mixture into half, then divide one of the halves into half (to make three dough balls, one twice as large as the others).  Note: You can make equal parts if you like, but you’ll need to adjust the coloring.  Into the large dough ball, add the beet juice and tumeric to make it orange.  It won’t be bright orange, so if you want more vibrant color, add food coloring if you must.  Also add 1-2 Tbsp of additional powdered sugar.  To one of the smaller dough balls, add tumeric to make it yellow (don’t worry, you won’t taste any of these). When cooled enough to handle, knead each one until smooth and color is even.  If it’s too sticky, you can add a little powdered sugar, but not so much that it won’t stick at all. If it’s too dry, add a few drops of water.

Now you’re ready to roll!  Spread a VERY light layer of powdered sugar onto your flat work surface.  Make ropes of equal thickness of the white and yellow, and a larger rope of the orange (for the middle).  Press the ropes together gently, then lightly roll the top with a rolling pin to flatten a bit and to further press together.  Then cut into triangles as shown above.

Finally, mold corners with fingers if desired.  Place them in a single layer on parchment or wax paper, and let dry.  DO NOT pile them up until they’re dry, or they will stick together! These were deliciously lemony, with a good chewy texture and shiny outer shell.

That’s all there is to it! Thanks again to DJ Karma of VegSpinz for allowing us to share her awesome recipe. We hope you all have a happy, safe, and animal-friendly Halloween! If you’ve got a vegan recipe, craft, or do-at-home project you’d like to see on the Monday DIY, feel free to email caroline@museumofanimals.org.

10 Animal-Themed Horror Movies

Image via MovieGoods.

Image via MovieGoods.

With Halloween fast approaching, are you looking for some scary movies to put some fright into your night? We’re here to help! Animals have played an important part in our ghost stories since time immemorial, and they’ve been a fixture in our horror films since the invention of the genre. Here are ten scary movies – from the spooky, to the silly, to the downright terrifying – that feature animals in some way, shape or form.

Island of Lost Souls (1932)
This first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1896 science fiction novel The Island of Dr. Moreau stars Charles Laughton as a mad scientist bent on controlling the powers of evolution by transforming animals into humans.

King Kong (1933)
This seminal adventure film stars Kong, the quintessential movie monster, an ape of gigantic proportions who unforgettably scales the Empire State Building in the movie’s oft-parodied climax.

The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney, Jr. stars as the prototypical movie werewolf in this Universal horror film, which was recently remade in 2010 starring Anthony Hopkins and Benicio del Toro. That version won the Academy Award for Best Makeup.

Cat People (1942)
This eerie film noir thriller tells the story of a woman who believes she will transform into a black panther if aroused to passion. Produced by the legendary Val Lewton, there’s also a 1944 sequel, Curse of the Cat People.

The Killer Shrews (1959)
If you’re looking for something a bit on the lighter side, this B-grade scifi picture featuring clumsily-costumed dogs in the titular roles should do the trick.

The Birds (1963)
This brilliant Alfred Hitchcock classic starring Tippi Hedren shows just what happens when birds stop being nice.

Night of the Lepus (1972)
A plot to control the pest population in a small town goes hideously awry, causing widespread destruction and the death of dozens of townsfolk – by giant, mutated bunny rabbits.

Jaws (1975)
The film that’s most likely single-handedly responsible for the public’s current misunderstanding and fear of sharks, nevertheless, is a well-made and thrilling Steven Spielberg production.

Frankenweenie (1984)
Something that the whole family can enjoy, this short and sweet Tim Burton-directed homage to Frankenstein tells the story of a young boy who will do anything to get his dog back – including resurrecting him from the dead.

The Fly (1986)
This gruesome remake of a 1958 film of the same name stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist who accidentally merges his DNA with that of a common housefly, with terrifying (and often stomach-turning) results.

This is of course just a small sampling of the movies out there which use animals to bring out our deepest human fears, or just to scare us silly. What are some of your favorites?

Halloween Can Be Scary — For Orangutans?

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

Orangutans in Sumatra. Image via Wikipedia.

For most of us, Halloween is the only time of the year when we actually encourage our children to knock on strangers’ doors and beg for candy. With the month of October driving our consumption of chocolate and sugar to dizzying new heights, it can be easy to forget that even if a certain treat is free of vegan no-nos like dairy, eggs, gelatin, and honey, that doesn’t mean its production was necessarily harm-free to animals. The increasing demand in particular for palm oil, a cholesterol-free vegetable fat derived from the fruit of palm trees, has led to widespread habitat destruction and is a major contributing factor in the mounting threat of extinction for endangered orangutans.

Due to recent climbing health concerns over trans fats in food, over 33 million metric tons of low-cost palm oil are produced yearly in Indonesia and Malaysia. It has become the world’s most widely-produced edible oil. In order to grow the crop, millions of acres of forest have to be cleared and burned to make way for agricultural palm trees. The vast majority of these plantations are in Borneo and Sumatra – which just so happen to be the only two places in the world where wild orangutans still reside. A devastating fire caused by an overzealous peat-clearing attempt in 1997 wiped out 8,000 wild orangutans in Borneo alone. Furthermore, the ever-expanding plantations are pushing this species to the very brink of extinction. If sustainable methods aren’t adopted, scientists estimate that orangutans will go extinct in ten to fifteen years.

It can be nearly impossible to avoid palm oil; it’s present in everything from sweet and salty snacks to frozen meals to cosmetics. It’s even being tested as an alternative fuel for automobiles. But there are many ways you can send a message to palm oil companies to increase the sustainability of their crops. The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness page is chock full of resources, consumer shopping guides, and ideas on how to help end the palm oil crisis and save orangutans from further decimation. You can make a difference for wild orangutans – Cheyenne Mountain will show you how.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

Reese's Pieces. Image via Wikipedia.

“Well, great,” you may be thinking. “Here I was, all excited to stuff my face with candy this October 31st, and you’ve gone and ruined my plans with the sad plight of orangutans in Borneo.” Never fear! Cheyenne Mountain has you covered there, too. Check out their awesome Orangutan-Friendly Halloween Candy Guide (PDF) to learn the good news: due to environmentalist pressures, many companies have joined the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), making the commitment to only use oil which is certified sustainable. Chances are, most of your favorite candies are on the list, including Snickers, Twix, Butterfingers, M&M’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Skittles. Now that should make for a Happy Halloween indeed!

For more information on making ethical candy choices this Halloween, check out the Food Empowerment Project’s Chocolate List, which highlights vegan candy bars sourced from slavery-free areas.

National Veterinary Technician Week

This week, October 9-15th, is National Veterinary Technician Week. Veterinary technicians, also known as animal health technicians or paraveterinary workers, are the nurses of the veterinary world, performing duties ranging from taking an animal’s temperature or pulse, to cleaning and dressing wounds, to analyzing biological samples such as blood or skin scrapings, to operating machinery such as x-rays and electrocardiograms. I feel the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), the creators of Vet Tech Week, explain the need for this event best, so I’ll let them take it from here.

Pets are important members for many families, yet sometimes they don’t receive the care they deserve. As a member of the veterinary healthcare team, veterinary technicians are educated in the latest medical advances and skilled at working alongside veterinarians to give pets the best medical care possible. They work closely with the veterinarians, veterinary assistants, practice managers, patients and owners [sic] to provide the essential link with all involved in the care process.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Inc. (NAVTA) has proclaimed October 9 – 15, 2011 to be National Veterinary Technician Week. “Technicians are an integral part of the veterinary healthcare team, and celebrating National Veterinary Technician Week gives them the credit they deserve. It also provides an opportunity to teach the public about what veterinary technicians do on a daily basis,” says Sandy Sponaugle, NAVTA Communications Director. This annual event recognizes veterinary technicians for their contributions in pet healthcare, as well as veterinarians, assistants, practice managers and others involved in this care. This year, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a company dedicated to helping pets reach their full potential through quality nutrition and healthcare, is sponsoring the week-long celebration.

NAVTA is a nonprofit organization that represents and promotes the veterinary technician profession. NAVTA provides direction, education, support and coordination for its members. Incorporated in 1981, NAVTA is the national organization devoted exclusively to developing and enhancing the profession of veterinary technology. Pets give us unconditional love and veterinary technicians give us peace of mind. For this reason, they should be celebrated during National Veterinary Technician Week. More information about NAVTA and this special week can be found at http://www.navta.net or by calling 888.99NAVTA.

World Animal Day

St. Francis statue. Image via Wikipedia.

St. Francis statue. Image via Wikipedia.

Initiated in 1931 by a convention of ecologists in Florence, Italy, seeking to bring awareness to the plight of endangered species, World Animal Day is now held every October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Known as the patron saint of animals due to a popular collection of folktales, Fioretti di San Francesco (Little Flowers of St. Francis), penned a century and a half after his death, St. Francis is said to have preached the duty of men to protect nature as well as the duty of non-human animals to give glory to God. In recognition of his feast day, many churches hold a Blessing of the Animals, which has also been carried over to synagogues and other places of worship along with nondenominational community centers, animal shelters, and parks.

This is the Blessing of Pets commonly read over animal visitors at Franciscan churches:

Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.

The mission statement of World Animal Day designates October 4th as a day “to celebrate animal life in all its forms; to celebrate humankind’s relationship with the animal kingdom; to acknowledge the diverse roles that animals play in our lives – from being our companions, supporting and helping us, to bringing a sense of wonder into our lives; [and] to acknowledge and be thankful for the way in which animals enrich our lives.” On October 1st, the National Museum of Animals & Society launched Souls Awakened, an online community art and photo exhibition designed to show and tell the individual stories of animals that have changed how we feel, how we think, how we act, and who we are. While you spend time today reflecting on how animals have impacted your life, consider contributing your image and story to our collection and becoming a part of our shared history.

The Truth About Bunnies

Four rabbits. Image via Wikipedia.

Four rabbits. Image via Wikipedia.

This past Sunday, September 25th, was International Rabbit Day, an annual holiday celebrating the joy of bunnies, and also bringing attention and awareness to the many problems both wild and domestic rabbits face. Rabbits are the third most common creature in animal shelters after dogs and cats, yet it’s amazing how little-understood they still are. This is partially due to the fact that, unlike dogs and cats, rabbits are prey animals, the ones who are hunted instead of doing the hunting in the wild, and therefore have a completely different way of looking at the world than do our more common omnivorous companion animals.

Furthermore, there are a number of misconceptions about rabbits that still linger from our past treatment and interaction with them, despite more modern and correct knowledge that has recently come to light. Many people believe rabbits are good pets for children because they require low maintenance, prefer to reside outdoors in hutches, and don’t live very long. On the contrary: rabbits are fragile beings with complex social, medical, and dietary needs; they are incredibly vulnerable to temperature changes and wild predators, making it much safer to keep them indoors; and they have an average lifespan of 10-12 years. Rabbits are a long-term commitment, and no living thing should be taken in merely to provide a “lesson” to a young child who may not be ready for such a responsibility, leaving the animal to suffer.

Rabbit eating greens. Image via Wikipedia.

Rabbit eating greens. Image via Wikipedia.

Many cities still classify rabbits as farm animals, and therefore regulate their care and keeping differently than they do for dogs and cats. Still other places regard rabbits as “exotic” pets, making it hard to find a rabbit-savvy veterinarian. This can make keeping a rabbit difficult, as they do require regular medical care just like other companion animals, sometimes even more so. Their teeth and nails need regular trimming if they don’t have suitable surfaces to chew and dig, and they are very vulnerable to a condition known as gastrointestinal stasis, where their digestive systems spontaneously stop working and emergency care must be provided. People keeping a single rabbit may not see the necessity of having their animal spayed or neutered, but besides the obvious benefits of eliminating the threat of bunny overpopulation – the phrase “breed like rabbits” doesn’t just come out of thin air – there are a lot of other health and behavioral benefits to spaying and neutering as well. Female rabbits are especially vulnerable to reproductive cancers, and will have a drastically reduced lifespan if not spayed. Because rabbits are territorial animals, males can have extreme and often intolerable problems with aggression, destructiveness, and sanitation unless they are neutered.

Rabbit in litter box. Image via Wikipedia.

Rabbit in litter box. Image via Wikipedia.

Rabbits may sound like difficult pets, but they are definitely worth the effort. Like dogs and cats, some rabbits will bond with their human companions and become affectionate, playful, and can even be taught to do tricks. Some rabbits, however, will simply always prefer the company of other rabbits and want little or nothing to do with humans; each bunny’s personality is unique and shaped by their genetics and experiences. The good news, though, is that most rabbits take very well to litter box training. You read that right! If given a box of hay lined with newspaper, most rabbits will instinctively know to urinate in one side of the box and eat from the other. Feces, however, are another story, and even the best rabbits will leave pellets around the house as a territorial marker; fortunately these are dry and odorless, and can be swept or vacuumed up easily.

The House Rabbit Society, founded in 1988, advocates for companion rabbits to be kept indoors as free-range pets, just like dogs and cats. Their website is the most complete resource for companion rabbit information on the Internet. You might also be interested in visiting The Language of Lagomorphs, a remarkable compendium of rabbit quirks and behaviors and what they are meant to communicate – as well as how you can communicate back!

Less is More

Petfinder, the online searchable database of animals in need of homes, has declared the week of September 17-25 to be Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Week. Animals usually considered “less adoptable” include senior pets, cats tested positive for FIV, large or “aggressive breed” dogs such as pit bulls, white rabbits with pink eyes, and all animals with special needs or preexisting medical conditions. With most people interested in only adopting puppies or kittens, even adult animals that would be considered highly desirable in their younger days can languish in the shelter system or foster/rescue homes for months.


Consider Yogee, a spaniel/Border Collie mix with The Dawg Squad in Los Angeles. Found in Westchester with a microchip sourced to Highland Park, when his guardians were contacted they said that Yogee had been missing for so long that they assumed he was dead and had gotten another dog. They didn’t want Yogee back. At 12 years old, this sweet-tempered and cuddly boy still has a lot of love to give and deserves a family that will appreciate him.


Then there’s Buzz, a black domestic short hair not even a year old. Born with a deformed eye, Buzz watched all his brothers and sisters get adopted while he stayed behind, overlooked and unwanted. A playful people-lover, Buzz is waiting to find his forever home at A Cat’s Tale in Hawthorne.

Finally, there’s beautiful Erishkegal, a pink-eyed white rabbit with RabbitMatch in Los Angeles. Likely purchased at a pet store as a baby bunny, Erishkegal’s original guardians had no idea how to care for a rabbit and never bothered to clean her living space. As a result, Erishkegal’s feet, tail and belly are permanently stained orange from being forced to sit in her own urine.


All domestic animals – not just the superficially “cute” or purebred ones – deserve a chance to find love. Check out Petfinder’s gallery of “less adoptables,” submitted by the rescue groups who care for them, for even more unfortunate stories of sweet animals in need of forever homes.

7 Billion and Counting: Too Many Humans Means Fewer Animals

7 Billion and Counting

7 Billion and Counting

Have you noticed a difference in the world lately? Do things feel a bit more… crowded? It’s not your imagination. According to the Population Division of the United Nations, the seven billionth human on earth – that’s #7,000,000,000 – will be born this upcoming October 31st.

But this milestone is scary for more reasons that just its accidental coincidence with Halloween. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based environmental nonprofit which works to secure a future for threatened species, “overpopulation and over-consumption are the root causes of environmental destruction.” More humans means more land development and more resource use; for non-human species, it means less habitat, less food – less of absolutely everything. This catastrophic overload of the planet’s resources has inspired the Center to launch the 7 Billion and Counting campaign, intended to bring awareness to the pressure that human beings are putting on the world’s ecosystems. Within this campaign is the Endangered Species Condoms project, a unique and amusing approach to spreading the word about the effect humans are having on imperiled species, and what we as individuals can do to stem the flow (so to speak) of population overgrowth.

The Museum spoke with Amy Harwood, the Center’s overpopulation campaign coordinator, on what seven billion people means for our earth, and what the Center is trying to do about it.

What is the goal of the 7 Billion and Counting campaign?

The goal is to get people to start to connect species extinction to the issue of [human] population growth. Population growth has been an issue for a long time, obviously. There’s been a lot of people working on that issue, and we feel like this component of that issue has been missing. So our hope with this campaign is to elevate it and bring it into people’s minds.

How dire is the threat of human overpopulation to the earth and to the other species that share it with us?

We are currently witnessing a massive species extinction. Some scientists believe it’s the fastest extinction that’s happened on earth. It is totally caused by humans’ impact. The Center for Biological Diversity has been working on that issue [of endangered species] for a long time. We have been working on some of the impact of over-consumption, things that you hear a lot more about: resource use, fossil fuel energy, impact on wild lands… We’re hoping that this becomes another part of that work and continues to further our work on protection for species.

Is anything being done by governmental agencies across the world to bring awareness to this issue?

I think that the history of population growth with regards to government involvement is tricky, because a lot of people think of things like the one-child policy in China. I think that has left a big black eye on this issue, in terms of oppressive policies. But the way we see it is, this is an opportunity for government to see the benefit of making sure that women have access to family planning resources and are empowered to actually take advantage of them, and are actually getting provided education about those access points. To us, working on those policies is really part of the solution, and if we can bring species protection into the incentives for getting those policies the support that they need to remain, then I think we have something new and fresh that people are going to be responding to really well.

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AZA Announces New Elephant Care Regulations

Elephant with keeper at Baltimore Zoo. Image via Wikipedia.

Elephant with keeper at Baltimore Zoo. Image via Wikipedia.

In a press release dated August 22nd, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), considered the leader in assuring and maintaining the quality of captive animal programs both in the United States and in six other countries around the world, announced its intention to require all accredited institutions to implement new elephant management safety protocols by September 2014 in order to maintain their certification. Amongst the new policies is the mandated transition from “free contact” elephant care to “protected contact,” meaning that zookeepers and all other elephant care professionals will be required to have a barrier between themselves and the animal(s) at all times, except in very specific veterinary or transport situations.

The compulsory phaseout of free contact is lauded in a September 14th blog post by elephant keeper Gina Kinzley of the Oakland Zoo, an AZA-accredited institution in the Northern California Bay Area which has required all zoo employees who work with their African elephants to practice protected contact since 1991, following the tragic death of an elephant keeper. Praising the AZA’s new safety protocols as “the biggest breakthrough ever in captive elephant history,” Kinzley notes that, “Elephants will now have the freedom to choose whether or not they want to participate in training and foot care. Elephants will no longer be abused by the bull hook, be yelled and screamed at, and treated in a negative and punishing manner. Elephants will no longer have to give rides to visitors time and time and time again.”

Although the protection of captive elephants from violent and abusive trainers is a definite perk of the new AZA rules, the legislation is primarily aimed at protecting elephant care professionals from their much larger, much stronger pachyderm charges. According to Kinzley, 31 keepers have been injured or killed in free contact management since 1990. The AZA’s own research into protected vs. free contact has found that “the amount of time (both frequency and duration) an elephant care professional spends with an elephant in the same unrestricted space increases occupational risk.”

In addition to regulating how close keepers can get to the elephants, the 2014 protocols also include mandates for increased staff training, semi-annual program safety assessments, daily behavioral logs for each elephant, and the development of a widely-applicable scale/index to measure elephant aggression.