Tag: Yellowstone National Park

Return to Predators!

The critical value of predators.

Not so long ago there was some discussion about how important it was for the natural way of things to include predators. I mentioned how this had been the topic of a post published some time ago in this place.

It was back in February, 2014 and I have republished it today.

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The critical value of predators in our wild lands.

February 24th, 2014

The consequences of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

I have two people to offer my thanks to for today’s post: Suzann and Ginger. Both of them within hours of each other sent me an email recommending the following video. So, without further ado, here is that video. (Oh, would you believe this. The video was released on February 13th, 2014 and, at the time of me writing this post, has been viewed 1,453,345 times! Wow!)

Published on Feb 13, 2014

Visit http://sustainableman.org/ to explore the world of sustainability.

For more from George Monbiot, visit http://www.monbiot.com/ and for more on “rewilding” visit http://bit.ly/1hKGemK and/or check out George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life: http://amzn.to/1dgdLi9

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.

Narration from TED: “For more wonder, rewild the world” by George Monbiot. Watch the full talk, here: http://bit.ly/N3m62h

B-Roll Credits:
“Greater Yellowstone Coalition – Wolves” (http://bit.ly/1lK4LaT)
“Wolf Mountain” (http://bit.ly/1hgi6JE)
“Primodial – Yellowstone” (https://vimeo.com/77097538)
“Timelapse: Yellowstone National Park” (http://bit.ly/1kF5axc)
“Yellowstone” (http://bit.ly/1bPI6DM)
“Howling Wolves – Heulende Wölfe” (http://bit.ly/1c2Oidv)
“Fooled by Nature: Beaver Dams” (http://bit.ly/NGgQSU)

Music Credits:
“Unfoldment, Revealment, Evolution, Exposition, Integration, Arson” by Chris Zabriskie (http://bit.ly/1c2uckW)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This video may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes only. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 106A-117 of the US Copyright Law.

For any concerns or questions, you may contact us athttp://sustainableman.org/contact/

If you want to read more on a general level, then my post on the 11th January, 2014, An echo in the hills! may be worthwhile. It included this from William Ripple, of Oregon State University:

ooOOoo

Top dogs keep ecosystems in order

Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.

From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.

Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.

Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.

In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

Predators are integral, not expendable

We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

op carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith
Top carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith

Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.

I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.

My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.

William Ripple does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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The ConversationMan! We are a strange species at times!

The critical value of predators in our wild lands.

The consequences of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

I have two people to offer my thanks to for today’s post: Suzann and Ginger.   Both of them within hours of each other sent me an email recommending the following video.  So, without further ado, here is that video.  (Oh, would you believe this.  The video was released on February 13th, 2014 and, at the time of me writing this post, has been viewed 1,453,345 times! Wow!)

Published on Feb 13, 2014

Visit http://sustainableman.org/ to explore the world of sustainability.

For more from George Monbiot, visit http://www.monbiot.com/ and for more on “rewilding” visit http://bit.ly/1hKGemK and/or check out George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life: http://amzn.to/1dgdLi9

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.

Narration from TED: “For more wonder, rewild the world” by George Monbiot. Watch the full talk, here: http://bit.ly/N3m62h

B-Roll Credits:
“Greater Yellowstone Coalition – Wolves” (http://bit.ly/1lK4LaT)
“Wolf Mountain” (http://bit.ly/1hgi6JE)
“Primodial – Yellowstone” (https://vimeo.com/77097538)
“Timelapse: Yellowstone National Park” (http://bit.ly/1kF5axc)
“Yellowstone” (http://bit.ly/1bPI6DM)
“Howling Wolves – Heulende Wölfe” (http://bit.ly/1c2Oidv)
“Fooled by Nature: Beaver Dams” (http://bit.ly/NGgQSU)

Music Credits:
“Unfoldment, Revealment, Evolution, Exposition, Integration, Arson” by Chris Zabriskie (http://bit.ly/1c2uckW)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This video may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes only. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 106A-117 of the US Copyright Law.

For any concerns or questions, you may contact us athttp://sustainableman.org/contact/

If you want to read more on a general level, then my post on the 11th January, 2014, An echo in the hills! may be worthwhile. It included this from William Ripple, of Oregon State University:

ooOOoo

Top dogs keep ecosystems in order

Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.

From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.

Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.

Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.

In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

Predators are integral, not expendable

We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

op carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith
Top carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith

Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.

I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.

My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.

William Ripple does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

ooOOoo

The ConversationMan! We are a strange species at times!

We must rewild!

It sounds counter-intuitive but it may be the only way forward.

Regular visitors to Learning from Dogs will know that from time to time I refer to the essays of George Monbiot. I was recently browsing Mr. Monbiot’s website and learnt that in July 2013 he gave a TED Talk on Rewilding.  It was called: For more wonder, rewild the world.

Here is that talk.  Do watch it first.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8rZzHkpyPkc

Published on Sep 9, 2013

Wolves were once native to the US’ Yellowstone National Park — until hunting wiped them out. But when, in 1995, the wolves began to come back (thanks to an aggressive management program), something interesting happened: the rest of the park began to find a new, more healthful balance. In a bold thought experiment, George Monbiot imagines a wilder world in which humans work to restore the complex, lost natural food chains that once surrounded us.

The talk reminded me that a couple of months ago Patrice Ayme published an essay called REWILDING US.  With Patrice’s permission that essay is republished here in full.

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REWILDING US.

REALITY IS WILD & FEROCIOUS. IGNORING IT IS INHUMAN.

And Presents A Civilizational Risk.

Princeton is freaking out. Flesh devouring aliens are lurking out in the woods, threatening academia’s fragile thoughts. Krugman:

‘From the Princeton Town Topics, which used to be all about (a) parking (b) deer:

A growing population of coyotes in the wooded area bordering the Institute for Advanced Study has motivated the Princeton Animal Control Advisory Committee to recommend that sharpshooters be hired to help handle the problem. “There is a big pack over at the Institute Woods,” officer Johnson said this week. “I’m having a lot of complaints that they follow people around.”‘

You Can’t Always Eat Who You Want

The “Mountain Lion”, is a relative of the Cheetah (erroneously put in the cat family, felis, until last year or so). It has 40 names, in English alone, and is found from the American Arctic to Patagonia, from the sea shore to the high mountains. The weight above is that of the female. Males are heavier (typically up to 100 kilograms). The heaviest puma shot in Arizona was 300 pounds (136 kilos).

The lion/cougar/puma is capable of jumping up twenty feet from a standstill (yes, 6 meters; horizontally, 14 meters). It is capable of killing a grizzly (pumas and ‘golden bears’ were famous for their naturally occurring furious fights to death in California). The feline’s crafty method consisted of jumping on top of the bear, and blinding him with furious pawing. Top speed: 50 mph, 80 km/h. (By the way, there used to be pure cheetahs in North America, recently exterminated by man. I propose to re-install the Asian cheetah in the USA, in a sort of cheetah diplomacy with Iran.)

The philosophical question here is: what is this world all about? Is it about living on our knees, or ruling among animals and wilderness?

Why would Princeton panic about small canids? Because they don’t obey the established order?

Coyotes are totally clever, and not at all dangerous (being so clever). They have very varied voices, when in packs. Going out and shooting them is really primitive, and misses the main point of having nature around. That is: to teach humility, and teach the richness of our planet, visit hearts with emotional diversity, and minds with complexity.

Bears and Mountain Lions are a completely different matter. They are both extremely clever too, but can be very dangerous.

Running and hiking in the Sierra, I got charged by scary bears several times. I view this dangerosity as a plus, but it never loses my mind, and I got scared nearly out my wits more than once.

Once, in a national Park on the coast, I literally ran into two large lions in 30 minutes! Then I got charged by a large elk before he realized I was not a lion. Other high notes were finding a bear cub on the trail in the near vertical mountain side, on the way down, as dusk was coming.

Another high point was the large bear by the trail, who was lying like a bear rug, at 9pm, in an apparent ruse to let me approach until he could jump at his prey, as he did, before realizing that I was not a deer, something that obviously infuriated him. He was torn between making the human into dinner, and the instinct that this would turn badly for him.

In Alaska I was charged by a moose with her progeny… although I did not go as fast as an experienced mountain biker who happened to be there too, the anti-grizzly cannister in my hand emboldened me to succeed in a circuitous move  to proceed towards my distant destination, something facilitated by the calf’s crash into some obstacle, drawing his mother’s concern. Mountain running often requires to proceed, no matter the obstacles in the way, when one is too far to turn around.

Bears know rocks, they have been hurt by them, and so they fear airborn rocks (throw the rock on something noisy, to impress; I had to hit, with a very large rock, a charging bear directly, once; it fled; it was killed by rangers later after he caused a flesh wound to somebody else; some will find all this very violent; well, it is, that’s part of the whole point).

Mountain Lions are better charged and/or, roared or barked at. They fear insane behavior.

In general making lots of noise helps, with bears and lions. I don’t have clever tricks to suggest for bathing safely in the murky icy Pacific. Although I assume that the presence of sea lions bobbing on the surface placidly is indicative of the absence of an obvious white shark prowling… In any case the Pacific is so cold, you will probably die of cardiac arrest before you are devoured.

In Africa, there are about 500,000 elephants. 25,000 to 30,000 are killed, a year, to send the ivory to east Asia (China, Vietnam). So African elephants may disappear. This is beyond tragic, it’s irreplaceable. Elephants understand people’s gestures, without any learning (they apparently learn to use trunk gestures among themselves). One is talking about extremely intelligent animals here. (In contrast, chimpanzees have great difficulties understanding human gestures.)

Intelligence and culture are dominant among apex mammals. That’s what makes them so superior. Washington State had the smart idea to shoot full grown adult male mountain lions. Thus mountain lion society and culture collapsed, uneducated teenagers took over, and incidents with humans exploded (something about the quiet macho society!).

A Japanese specialist of chimpanzee intelligence who happens to have a bear in his lab, found that the bear did not underperform chimpanzees on mental tasks (that’s actually a problem with bears; being so clever, they can be unpredictable, one can never know what they have up their sleeve, like the one who mimicked a bear rug, above, or one who drove a car in Tahoe). A number of social mentally advanced animals (sea mammals, parrots) use advanced languages.

So what are my recommendations? The Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies ought to realize that, if it wants to become really brainy, it ought to give our fellow species a chance. They are part of what make our minds, in full.

Elephants and rhinoceroses used to be all over Europe and North America. They ought to be re-introduced right away, using Indian and African species (rare camels too; later, thanks to genetic engineering, part of those could be replaced by re-engineered ancient species, such as the Mammoth). Lions and leopard-like species ought to be reintroduced too.

It can work: in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is an impressive population of mountain lions.  I had many close calls (in the most recent incident, a few weeks ago, a lion peed an enormous and dreadfully smelling amount on a trail I was making a loop on, obviously to show me he owned the territory, a total wilderness reserve a few miles from Silicon Valley… especially at dusk).

However, the lions are extremely good at avoiding people (although one got killed by police in downtown Berkeley in the wee hours of the morning). They will all be collared in the next ten years, to find out what is going on. With modern technology (collars!) and sophisticated human-animal culture, there is no reason why extremely dangerous, but clever species could not live in reasonable intelligence with humans.

So rewilding is possible. It’s also necessary. Why? So we humans can recover our hearts, and our minds.

Whether we like it or not, we are made for this wild planet. By forgetting how wild it is, by shooting it into submission, we lose track of the fact human life, and civilization itself, are much more fragile than they look.

And thus, by turning our back to the wilds, we lose track of what reality really is. Worse: we never discover all what our minds can be, and how thrilling the universe is. We are actually bad students who refuse to attend the most important school, that taught by reality itself.

Rewilding is necessary, not just to instill a mood conducive to saving the planet, but also to remake us in all we are supposed to be.

Expect Evil, And Don’t Submit.

These are the times when, once again, the plutocratic phenomenon is trying to take over. That’s when the few use the methods of Pluto to terrorize and subjugate the many (to constitute what is variously named an elite, oligarchy, or “nomenklatura“, or aristocracy, that is, a plutocracy).

And how is that possible? Because the many have been made into a blind, stupid, meek herd (I refer to Nietzsche for the condemnation of the herd mentality).

How do we prevent that? Nietzsche advocated the mentality of the “blonde beast“. That meant the lion (and not what the Nazis claimed it was; few were as anti-Nazi as Nietzsche). Why lion? Because lions are domineering. I learned in Africa that one could go a long way with wild lions, as long as one gave them respect, and time to get out of the way. However, disrespecting a lion means death.

Lions don’t accept to live on their knees. When abominable forces from the giant Persian theocratic plutocracy put the tiny Athenian democracy in desperate military situations, Athenians fought like lions. And democracy won.

Yet, 150 years later, when fascist, plutocratic, but apparently not as abominable, Macedonian forces put Athens in a difficult situation, Athenians surrendered. They did not fight like lions. Democracy would not come back to Athens for 23 centuries (and only thanks to the European Union).

We will not defeat plutocracy if we do not rewild ourselves. First: Let there be lions.

***

Patrice Ayme

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Yet something else we need to learn from dogs.

Photograph taken 25th April, 2012.
Photograph taken 25th April, 2012.

The above photograph was taken of young Cleo, just fifteen months old, showing that her innate skills of being in the wild were alive and well, despite thousands of years of dogs being domesticated animals.  Ergo, humans could manage just as well.

The power of sharing.

“Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.”

My post last Monday, The lure of patterns, appears to have resonated far and wide.  In the sense of many echoes reinforcing the perilous nature of our present times and the desperately uncertain decades ahead.  Tomorrow I shall be writing specifically about those echoes.

Today, I wanted to spend a little time reflecting on dogs and communities!  After all this blog is called Learning from Dogs!

In Monday’s post I opined that the future may well see a return to people re-evaluating and re-energising the benefits of local communities.  Now when it comes to communities, there are no better examples than dogs and, so many thousands of years before dogs, grey wolves.  These species have an incredibly strong social structure.  I mean, of course, the pack.  It’s a shame that the expression ‘pack of wolves’ or ‘pack of dogs’ has such misplaced negative connotations.

Before dogs were domesticated, as in when they first evolved from the grey wolf, they shared with wolves a natural pack size of around 50 animals.  There was a very strong social cohesiveness within that pack yet a very ‘light’ status differential between those dogs having pack status and the mass of the pack group.  Ditto with wolves.

In fact there were (still are) just three status roles: Mentor/Monitor/Nanny.  Or has been described previously on this blog: Alpha/Beta/Omega roles.  Even within the domesticated dog, thousands upon thousands of years later, those social instincts are alive and well.  Many followers of Learning from Dogs will know that Pharaoh, him of the Home Page, now an elderly German Shepherd is a Monitor or Beta dog.  I could write about this aspect of dogs for hours!

Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.
Pharaoh being a monitor for young Cleo.

So back to us funny old humans.

I closed last Monday’s post off with three predictions:

  • That the power of internet communications will allow more people, more quickly, to find their soul-mates wherever they are on this planet.
  • That the realisation of how dysfunctional many Governments are, of how truly poorly they serve the majorities of their citizens, will lead to mass rejections of these so-called Governments’ policies.  Such rejections predominantly peaceful, as in taking the horse to water but being unable to make it drink.
  • That there will be a new form of localism.  At two levels.  Literally, people geographically close to each other creating 21st C. versions of local communities.  Virtually, those local communities linking to other like-minded communities right across the world resulting in highly effective and innovative learning, accelerated common-sense, (call it wisdom if you wish), and extraordinarily efficient and sustainable ways of living on this planet.

Patrice commented:

Dear Paul: I like your predictions. They will play some role. But maybe somewhere in the bushes only. I think predictions of the future beyond the next 12 months are obsolete.

Jeremy remarked: (and do click the link and read some of Jeremy’s fantastic poetry)

I am hoping for a new localism. I see signs of this in the local food movement and a growing concern about factory farming, for one thing. I think people are really scrutinizing where their food comes from, where their medicines are made, and I think there also is a dawning awareness of how we are living on the backs of exploited third world workers (and poorly paid service workers here at home). I do see signs of these things permeating the consciousness of many people and leading them to want to become more “local.”

Alex said:

Your predictions are good, and I liked the one of communities from different parts of the world working with each other… that was creatively brilliant.

(Click on their names to see three wonderful blog sites, by the way.)

So my idea of a return to an era of localism, but a 21st C. version reflecting the way so many millions of us are connected electronically, wasn’t immediately rejected.

Patrice recently published a post called Devils In The Details.  I mentioned in a comment to that post that I would be referring to it in this place.  Patrice replied [my italics]:

Very good, Paul! No doubt you will bring more common sense to one more of these interesting collaborations you bring together! Internet debates! A long way from the paleolithique cave!… But still the same idea. Minds together do not just bind together, they find together.

I found that last sentence so powerful that it was used as the sub-heading to today’s post.  Then Alexi Helligar commented:

The word consciousness, breaks down to con+scious+ness, which literally means together knowing or shared knowledge.

Adding in a subsequent comment:

In other words: Without society there is no consciousness. The sages of old knew this. Why has it been forgotten?

So right before my eyes (and yours!) we are seeing the power of ‘finding together‘.

Finally, just on the spur of the moment, I did a web search under an entry of ‘early caveman social structure’.  Guess what!  One of the top search returns was an essay by an Erik D. Kennedy under the title of On the Social Lives of Cavemen.  From which jumped off the screen:

Human beings are no strangers to group living.  Call it a family trait.  Our closest animal relatives spend a good bulk of their time eating bugs off of their friends’ back.  While I’m overjoyed we’re not social in that manner, I’m less pleased that we’re not social more to that degree.  In study after study, having and spending time with close friends is consistently correlated with happiness and well-being.  And yet, the last few decades in America have seen a remarkable decline in many things associated with being in a tight-knit social circle—things like family and household size, club participation, and number of close friends.  Conversely, we’ve seen an increase in things associated with being alone—TV, commutes, and the internet, for example.

This trend is quite unhealthy.  It’s no surprise that humans are social animals—but it may be surprising that we’re such social animals that merely joining a club halves your chance of death in the next year—or that living in a close-knit town of three-generation homes can almost singlehandedly keep you safe from heart disease.

My goodness me, this sharing idea may be core to a healthy society in ways that we need to return to.  Erik’s essay goes on thus:

That particular case—of Roseto, Pennsylvania—is mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers.  In 1950’s Roseto, the incidence of heart disease in men over sixty-five was half the national average (and suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, and serious crime were also basically unheard of[ii]).  Bewildered doctors searched for solutions in genetics, diet, exercise, and geography, but finding nothing, reached the conclusion that it was the close-knit social life of the community that kept its residents so healthy. Dinners with grandma, friendly chats between neighbors, and a precocious level of civic involvement were the driving factors in the health of a town that nothing but old age could kill.

The happiness and health I’m describing are not, however, ingredients to a long-lost elixir of well-being.  This sort of paleo social life occurs in cultures large and small all over the globe.  America just happens to be an enormous exception (and the one that I live in).  The whole reason Roseto was an outlier is because it was a town whose inhabitants more or less collectively moved from rural Italy to the middle of Pennsylvania over a few decades.  This was basically an Italian village in the American countryside, and it stood out because Italy’s social culture was remarkable compared to America’s—and that was in the 1950’s.  America’s social culture has only deteriorated even further since then.  We’ve lost a lot, but my thesis is a positive one; we have as much to gain as ever.

So if wolves and dogs naturally settle into packs of 50 animals, what’s the optimum ‘pack’ size for humans?  Dear Erik even offers that answer:

Along with that urban emigration came a shrink in residents per household and a widespread decline in community and organization engagement.  This isolation has been taxing on our physical and mental health, and the reason has been clear from the beginning: it’s not good for man to be alone.

So we’ll spend more time with other people.  Fine.  But who should we spend our time with?  What kind of groups should we hang out in?  And how big of groups?  The simple answer is: as long as you’re pretty close to the people you’re with, it hardly matters. Piles of research back up what is essentially obvious from everyday experience: that the more time you spend with people you trust, the better off you are.  That’s not to discourage actively meeting new people, but seeing as though close friends push us towards health and happiness better than strangers, there does appear to be a limit on the number of people you can have in your “tribe”.

And that number is about 150, says anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who achieved anthropologist fame by drawing a graph plotting primates’ social group size as a function of their brain sizes.  He inputted the average human brain size into his model, and lo and behold, the number 150 has been making a whirlwind tour of popular non-fiction books ever since.  Beyond being the upper bound for both hunter-gatherer tribes and Paleolithic farming villages,  it appears that everything from startup employee counts to online social networks show this number as a fairly consistent maximum for number of close social ties.

You really must read Erik’s essay in full; it really ‘spoke’ to me and maybe it will do the same for you.

So no other way to close than to say that of all the things we can learn from dogs, the power of sharing, of living a local community life, may just possibly be the difference between failure and survival of us humans.

Dogs and man should never be alone.
Dogs and man should never be alone.

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I'll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!
I’ll say it again! Dogs, and man, should never be alone!

The future is wild.

Fascinating presentation by George Monbiot.

I have long been a fan of George Monbiot as evidenced by a number of posts on Learning from Dogs from the said gentleman.  The last one was The Great Unmentionable, and before that DDT all over again?

George Monbiot is a man of passion about the planet we all live on and securing a sustainable future for us all.

So settle down comfortably for 15 minutes and listen to him.  You will understand both his passion and the vital message he offers us.

Published on Sep 9, 2013

Wolves were once native to the US’ Yellowstone National Park — until hunting wiped them out. But when, in 1995, the wolves began to come back (thanks to an aggressive management program), something interesting happened: the rest of the park began to find a new, more healthful balance. In a bold thought experiment, George Monbiot imagines a wilder world in which humans work to restore the complex, lost natural food chains that once surrounded us.

If you would like more of Mr. Monbiot’s writings, then here’s his website.

Love of nature

We are, above all, so intimately part of the natural world.

In yesterday’s post, I shared an email that I had sent to friend, Dan, that included:

I want to retreat from these areas and focus on what is most valuable to me.

Aspects of my life such as love, friendship with ‘old’ travelers, the natural world, being in the present, community, our animals (especially Pharaoh who is over 10), my writings, my book, our small world here at 4000 Hugo; you get my drift!

Well it didn’t take me long to come across an email that John Hurlburt had sent not so long ago recommending the following film.

Enjoy!

Published on May 5, 2012

Video by Scott Mckinley Productions, Produced for Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for Ad campaign. Licensed music by Kenny G.. This short video won Best of Category at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula Montana! The majority was shot on location in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Before you turn away from this, go across to the website of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Or do an image search on the ‘web’ where you will, for example, find this breathtaking picture:

Bull Elk on top of the World.
Bull Elk on top of the World. Copyright ©2011-2013 Vic Schendel Photography, all rights reserved.

Vic Schendel Photography may be found here and I do recommend having a leisurely browse through the website.

Be in grace.

In memory of my elder sister, Corinne Grace Joiner, nee Handover, who died peacefully in her sleep at 7am yesterday, UK time.

The following video was sent to me a few days ago by John Hurlburt before me hearing the sad news of my sister’s graceful release from extreme dementia.  The video seemed a most fitting tribute to Corinne who was a loving friend to me for well over 60 years.

Published on May 5, 2012

Video by Scott Mckinley Productions, Produced for Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation for Ad campaign. Licensed music by Kenny G.. This short video won Best of Category at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula Montana! The majority was shot on location in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and The National Elk Refuge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.