Newsletter September 2017

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 September 2017

What's New?

The Animal Behavior Institute is proud to announce our new program in Exotic Animal Training. The program is designed for students that want to focus on wild animals and understand their behavior. It includes specialized coursework covering carnivores, birds, primates and marine mammals.


Pigs as Pets: Out of the Barn and Into the Home

It’s 5:00. You head home from work, open your front door, go to sit down on the couch, and breathe a sigh of comfort when you are greeted by…a pot-bellied pig? Wait a minute. Before you dismiss the idea of a pig in your house, consider the fact that pigs are highly intelligent, sweet, and caring animals. In fact, they are often used as therapy animals that visit nursing homes, and are increasingly popular as a household pet. Pot-bellied pigs require similar care to dogs, with the need for an indoor as well as outdoor space, daily exercise, and enrichment. They can be easily housebroken and are very social. If you’re looking for a new pet to bring life into your home, a pot-bellied pig may be right up your ally.

Although you may think that pigs could be dirty and smelly, they are actually quite clean and odor-free inside your home. Unlike dogs, they have very little shedding and do not carry fleas. Not only can they be potty trained, but they can also often learn to do tricks and even walk on a harness. Imagine walking your pet pig around the neighborhood! Although pigs do make sounds, they don’t bark, and don’t destroy things like puppies. Rather, they can be communicative, affectionate, and intelligent pets.

However, there are many misconceptions about pigs. Pet pigs require a substantial time commitment and lots of energy. They are not right for every family. If you are considering a pig, keep in mind that there is no such thing as a mini pig. Pot-bellied pigs grow up to be about the size of a medium to large dog. You should also make sure there is a local vet that treats pigs in your area, and that local zoning laws allow pet pigs. Finally, if you have other pets, consider whether they would get along with a pig. It is not advisable to house large dogs and pet pigs together under one roof. A comprehensive guide to all your questions about pet pigs can be found here.


If you do decide to get a pig, consider whether you want to raise the pig from the time it is a newborn. Like caring for a puppy, caring for a baby pig requires a lot of care and attention. However, it is extremely rewarding when you get to watch your adorable baby pig grow up! If you’d rather adopt a pig as an adult, the advantages are that you will know exactly how big the pig will be, and what its temperament will be like.

Regardless of individual personality, most pigs are extremely smart. They are often considered the fourth smartest species after humans, primates, and dolphins, making them much smarter than a dog or cat. They can easily make their feelings known to their owners. In fact, many people consider a pig to be more like a two to three-year-old child than a pet. This intelligence makes pigs rewarding, but also challenging: pigs can be stubborn and demanding at times. However, pigs are naturally very gentle and get along well with families because they are herd animals and often consider families to be part of their herd.

When you’re ready to adopt a pig, consider the Pig Placement Network. This is a service for adoptable pet pigs looking for permanent families. It helps families decide if a pig is right for them, and places pigs in suitable homes based on their individual needs. If you can, visit your pig before adopting. Regardless, make sure to do your own research and determine how you can best care for the newest addition to your family!

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Animal Altruism

In January 2009, two scientists were observing a group of killer whales, when something happened that they never could have predicted. As the killer whales were hunting a seal, all of a sudden, two humpback whales entered the scene. Humpback whales are killer whales’ natural enemy, and the two species rarely interact. The humpbacks weren’t joining the chase, as they only eat shrimp and fish. It appeared that the humpback whales had arrived to come to the seal’s rescue! In fact, as the seal fell off of an ice floe, it immediately rushed towards the humpbacks. Without hesitation, one of the humpbacks rolled over on its back and swept the seal up on its belly, providing temporary protection from the killer whales below.

By all accounts, it seemed as though the humpback whales had sacrificed their own safety and energy to protect the seal, with no apparent benefit to themselves. This type of selfless behavior is known as altruism. Why would the humpbacks go out of their way to rescue a seal in need? There are two prevalent theories that attempt to explain altruism in animals. One is called kin selection. This theory states that animals have a tendency to help their relatives in order to benefit their own genetic legacy. The other is called reciprocity; it states that animals will help others who have helped them in the past, or who may help them in the future.

However, neither of these theories adequately explains why a humpback whale would help a seal escape danger. Kin selection might cause whales to call out to other whales who were in danger in order to protect their bloodline, but it wouldn’t cause them to protect another species. Furthermore, it is unlikely that a seal would be able to help a whale either in the past or in the future in return for the whales’ good deed. Therefore, reciprocity is an unlikely explanation as well.

In fact, many instances of animal altruism have occurred all over the world without an obvious explanation. There have been instances of dolphins rescuing both humans and dogs, and countless episodes involving apes helping injured animals or even human children that fall into their enclosures. As a result, many believe that these acts of selfless kindness are a result of true altruism, the motivation to improve another’s welfare.

It was once believed that altruism required a level of cognitive complexity that only humans possess. However, many other animals appear to have acted altruistically. In one study, rats worked to free trapped friends, even if it meant giving up chocolate for themselves. These kinds of results produced the theory that altruism does not come only from a sense of morality that is unique to humans, but also from the ability to feel empathy. Animals are able to understand when others are in distress, and they care about others enough to want to free them from that stress.

Known for their intelligence, dolphins are often observed engaging in altruistic behavior. In one instance, a group of dolphins rescued a seal that had floated too close to shore by surrounding it and nudging it back to sea. (Watch the video here.) They saved the seal’s life for no benefit to themselves. We may never know why animals perform what appear to be acts of pure kindness, but we can follow their examples and learn to help others too. 

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Top 7 Ways to Protect Pets in Disasters

Your pet is a part of your family. You love her and care for her just like all of your other family members. And just like you have an emergency plan for your family, you should know how to take care of your pet in an emergency situation. Whether it’s a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, these are the top seven ways to protect pets in extreme weather conditions.

1.     Take pets with you in an evacuation.

Make sure you have an evacuation plan that includes all of your animals, and never leave them behind if you are evacuating an area. Remember that if it’s not safe for you, it’s definitely not safe for your pet to be there alone! When making your plans, make a list of which hotels and motels on your evacuation route allow pets. You may also ask if no-pet policies would be waived in an emergency. When doing evacuation drills, include your pets so that they become used to traveling in their carriers calmly. If you have a safe room, make sure it has food, water, a litter box, puppy pads, or whatever your pet needs. If your pet has a crate, it is better to contain it inside the crate. Also include some of your pet’s favorite toys or blankets to keep them calm in the emergency situation.

2.     Bring your pets indoors at the first sign of a disaster.

Never leave an animal chained outside, especially during heavy rain and flooding. As soon as you hear an emergency alert or think there’s a chance you may have to evacuate, call your pet inside and keep them inside. This will also prevent having to go look for them outside later when time is tight. Many animals have a natural tendency to find higher ground, but it is always safer for them to be with you indoors.

3.     Know where your pets can go in an emergency.

Do you have friends or relatives who would be willing to take in your pet during an emergency? If not, many boarding facilities, animal shelters, or veterinarians can take in pets. It is a good idea to prepare a list with phone numbers where you can easily find someone to take your pet. This is especially helpful if you are evacuating to a hotel and they do not allow pets.

4.     Assemble an emergency supply kit for your pets.

You should keep a portable kit that has everything you need to take care of pets in an emergency so that you don’t have to worry about gathering these items as you are evacuating. The kit should be stored in an accessible place so that you can find it quickly if need be. It should always include leashes or carriers to transport pets safely. The last thing you want is your pet getting away in the middle of a disaster. You should also pack food, water, bowls, litter, and a manual can opener if the food is in cans. Finally, make sure you have a first aid kit and any medications or medical records for your animal.

5.     Ensure that all pets are wearing collars and tags.

In case your pet does run away, make sure that it has a securely fastened, up-to-date identification on its tag. This will make it easier for the pet to be returned to you. You should also carry your pet’s medical records and vaccination information, as many pet shelters require proof of vaccinations before taking an animal in. If you plan to take your pet to a shelter or vet, you should also include any information on feeding schedules, medical conditions, and any behavior problems.


6.     Take care of your pet after the disaster is over.

Many animals can show dramatic behavioral differences after experiencing a disaster. They may become more aggressive or defensive, so it is critical to protect them from hazards and ensure the safety of other people and animals. Some pets may become disoriented or thrown off if certain scent markers around their home are no longer there. If your pet continues to show behavioral problems after a disaster, take her to your veterinarian. 

7.     Be aware of hazards.

After a disaster, many hazards are likely to appear that might not seem obvious to humans, but can be dangerous to animals. Take care to look for debris, spilled chemicals, fertilizers, or other substances at nose and paw level that might be a threat to an animal. Additionally, fences and gates can easily be damaged. As such, it is important to keep your animal under your close supervision, especially at first. With your care, she will be back to normal in no time.

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Goblin Shark: Alien of the Deep

If you thought the monster in the movie Alien didnt exist in real life, prepare to either be relieved or disappointed. Many fish and squid live through a similar nightmare when faced with the Goblin Shark, a shark that can, like the monster in Alien, extend its jaws and teeth forward in order to grab prey. Sporting a feature dreamed up by the makers of a fantasy horror movie, the Goblin Shark lives up to its name. Just when a fish thinks its getting away with its life, the Goblin Shark will thrust its jaw three inches out of its mouth and grab the fish in its razor-sharp teeth.

The Goblin Sharks jaw is attached to a three-inch flap of skin that sits folded inside its mouth and can be extended during a hunt. Its teeth are attached to ligaments in the elastic tissue, which allow it to extend and retract. The ability to do this allows the sharks to snag meals even when they think theyre getting away. This is vital to the sharks because they are slow moving, which can make it hard to chase food. Their narrow snouts and fanglike teeth simply add to the terror that occurs when they attack. In fact, they were named after the terrifying mythical goblins that appear in Japanese folklore.


These Sharks usually live at the bottom of the ocean along continental shelves. They can grow to be 12 feet long and weigh up to 460 pounds. They are spotted mostly off the coast of Japan, though they have been seen in oceans all over the world. Not much is known about their behavior since they are rarely seen. However, it is believed that goblin sharks are largely solitary, most active in the morning and evening.


This video goes into further detail about the biology of Goblin Sharks.

Goblin Sharks skin can range in color from pinkish gray to bubblegum pink. However, the pink color does not derive from pink pigments on the skin. Rather, Goblin Sharks have translucent skin that allows us to see blood inside their blood vessels. If this animal wasnt creepy enough, you can see through its skin to its blood. And you thought pink made things look cute and innocent!

When looking to locate prey, the Goblin Shark uses special sensory organs called ampullae of lorenzini to help detect electric fields in the water. It is also likely that their eyes can detect very small movements in the water that might give prey away. Scientists believe that Goblin Sharks stay motionless until prey approaches, and then ambush with their terrifying jaw attack. They do not pose a threat to humans, despite the fact that they can freak us out. One example of this occurred in April 2003, when over a hundred Goblin Sharks were caught off northwestern Taiwan. The species had never been recorded in that area before, nor has it been found there in such numbers since. The cause of the event remains unknown.

Intriguingly, Goblin Sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning that embryos hatch from their mothers eggs while still in the uterus, and the mother gives birth to live pups. It is thought of as a living fossil since it is the only remaining species of its family, which is about 125 million years old. It has several primitive traits resembling its extinct relatives, who date back to the Cretaceous period. However, there is still much to be learned about the Goblin Shark as it is rarely seen by humans. Like many deep dwelling sea creatures, the Goblin Shark rarely interacts with animals on the surface and is only occasionally caught by fishermen. As a result, the ancient, fantastical creature lives largely in secrecy.

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