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Teaching animal pets to read: too much evolution?

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By Nury Vittachi

New Delhi: Who thought pets could read? No one. But this dog has learned to read. Fernie, a two-year-old labrador from the UK, can read four words and is working on another 20, says his owner, a teacher.

I was impressed, as I well remember the difficulty I once had trying to teach a two-year-old human not to throw herself off a balcony.

All parents know that children get furiously angry if we stop them doing things like climbing into lion enclosures, drinking poison, eating mystery brown objects off the forest floor and the like. The basic toddler philosophy is: “I wonder what (insert lethal activity here) feels like? Let’s find out.”

(I suspect there’s also a subconscious undercurrent of “Time for a quick round of Make Dad Panic.”)

Parenting books say “they grow out of it”. They don’t say that they grow right back into it as teenagers, who have the exact same philosophy, but with more expensive dangers. (“I wonder what would happen if we mixed every chemical in the school lab?”)

The obvious solution is to teach children the way we teach dogs. “Sit.” (Child sits.) “Who’s a good boy?” (Adult pats head and presents tiny morsel of food.) “Study! Pass exams! (Child studies and passes exams.) “Who’s a good boy?” (Adult pats head and presents another tiny morsel of food.) and so on and so forth.

What if your child can’t talk yet? You can still teach it, thanks to scientists in Taiwan who have just invented an Infant Cries Translator app. You download the app and stick your phone near your baby’s mouth. Wah wah waahhhhh is translated on the screen into clear, adult-readable terms such as: “I wish to have an additional beverage, carer.”

This reminded me of my first daughter, who had advanced verbal skills and actually spoke like that from about 18 months old: “Convey me to the potty immediately, carer, or you and your so-called Persian rug will live to regret it.”

Happy memories. But I was brought back on topic by a colleague from the US who says TV shows in her home country feature a dog called Willow who can read. Clearly this is the trend.

I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that teaching animals to read is a good thing. Life is grim enough without coming home to be greeted by my dog saying things like: “What do you think of Schopenhauer’s second volume of essays? Good grief, you haven’t read it, have you?”

The fact is reading gives humans an evolutionary advantage that we should not share with less-evolved creatures such as dogs, cats, amoeba, Donald Trump fans and the like.

But I must admit I was curious. So I handed my newspaper to my dog. She stared at the front page picture (a politician of course) and then tilted her head to one side, apparently having the same gyroscopic thing in her brain that smartphones have. Then she took a step forwards and peed on it. That was probably a rather insightful thing to do. I wish I’d thought of it.

If dogs do learn to read, let’s limit them to books about their kind: White Fang, 101 Dalmatians, and Marley and Me are probably the three most famous. Do NOT give them Cujo. (IANS)

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Thousands Of Live Animals, Meat, Ivory, Seized In Illegal Trade: Interpol

The live animals recovered in the stings included turtles in Malaysia and parrots in Mexico

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In this photo taken in May 2018 in Ecuador and provided by Interpol on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Ecuadorian police officers inspect a bird of prey.
In this photo taken in May 2018 in Ecuador and provided by Interpol on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, Ecuadorian police officers inspect a bird of prey. VOA

Thousands of live animals along with tons of meat, ivory, pangolin scales and timber were seized in a monthlong global crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade that Interpol said exposed the international reach of traffickers.

The live animals recovered in the stings included turtles in Malaysia and parrots in Mexico. Canada intercepted 18 tons of eel meat arriving from Asia. Those arrested included two flight attendants in Los Angeles and a man in Israel whose house was raided after he posted a hunting photograph on social media.

Operation Thunderstorm, involving 92 countries, yielded seizures worth millions of dollars during May, Interpol said Wednesday.

“The results are spectacular,” said Sheldon Jordan, Canada’s director general of wildlife enforcement.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, Jordan said global wildlife crime is worth about $150 billion annually and is fourth in value among illegal global trades behind drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Criminal syndicates that smuggle flora and fauna often take advantage of porous borders and corrupt officials, transporting illicit cargo at an industrial scale.

The Thunderstorm swoop included the confiscation of 8 tons of pangolin scales, half of which was found by Vietnamese authorities on a ship from Africa.

Africa’s four species of pangolins are under increasing pressure from poachers because of the decimation of the four species in Asia, where pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine.

Animals
Animals, Pixabay

A total of 43 tons of contraband meat – including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra – 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, about 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, 14 big cats and two polar bear carcasses were also seized. Several tons of wood and timber were also seized.

China, the world’s largest ivory consumer, banned its domestic trade starting this year in what conservationists hope will relieve pressure on Africa’s besieged elephant populations. While some herds are recovering, a high rate of killing continues in many areas, such as Mozambique’s Niassa reserve.

Some 1,400 suspects were identified worldwide, Interpol said. Two flight attendants were arrested in Los Angeles carrying live spotted turtles to Asia in personal baggage, said Interpol. Both suspects have been charged with smuggling protected species.

Participating nations were from Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North and South America. The Pacific nation of Vanuatu, which is not an Interpol member, took part.

Officers searched cars, trucks, boats and containers, sometimes using sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners.

Also read: Thanks To Human Activities, For Making Animals Night Owls

The operation, Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said, showed that wildlife traffickers use the same routes as other criminals, “often hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and violent crime.” (VOA)