Do Cows Always Face North to Graze?

I'm not sure which is stranger-- the fact that cattle always face North to graze, or that humans somehow failed to notice it until the advent of the internet.
A detailed analysis of Google Earth images found that cattle in North America almost always face the same direction-- North-- when they are grazing. Only a few "watchdogs" in the herd will face the opposite diretion. Researchers found that over 8,510 grazing cattle in 308 pastures all around the world agreed on one thing-- it's cool to face North while you're eating.
After reading about this study, I double-checked every time I saw a herd of grazing cattle. Invariably, when I see cows grazing in my area, they are facing North. How have hunters, herdsmen, farmers and old wives totally neglected to notice this until now?
No one is certain about why cattle face North to graze, but it clearly relates to a cow's internal "compass." The cattle face magnetic North or South depending on the hemisphere in which they are grazing. In South America and South America, where the Earth's magnetic field is weakest, cattle were tilted a bit to the west. However, most grazing cattle maintained their North-facing diretion regardless of the weather, sunlight and season.
Since there are no humans who are fluent in cow, we can't be entirely sure of why they have developed this odd adaptation. It could somehow relate to predator avoidance or to now-extinct migrating instincts. It's quite possible that cows faced North hundreds or thousands of years ago because it served an important purpose in the animals' survival. However, there's no clear benefit to the odd habit, as far as we can see now.
To me, there's something oddly reassuring about the simple realization that cattle face North to graze. It reminds me that, no matter how advanced our technology becomes, there are still minor discoveries that we can make in our own mundane, day-to-day world. And, no matter how many scans, studies and satellites we make, we may never know why (or how) our fellow animals do the things they do. No amount of technology can eliminate the limitless wealth of discovery within the natural world.

Seal Oil Supplements: Why You Should Avoid Them

Seal oil seems to be the Next Big Thing in the world of alternative medicine. Supplement manufacturers are touting the product as a virtual panacea, just as they have with fish oil, krill oil, shark oil, algae oil, and (yes indeed) snake oil in the past. And, like most other supplements, claims regarding seal oil's benefits are exaggerated and over-inflated.
These health-boosting oil supplements are al rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which do offer several very important health benefits. However, there is no reason to choose seal oil over any other nutritional source of omega-3 fatty acids. Here are a few reasons not to buy seal oil supplements.
No Evidence of Superiority
Seal oil does contain omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are also found in fish oil. However, it is unique among marine fats because it contains an unusually high concentration of the omega-3 fat docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). Although its unique composition makes it compelling as a focus of future research, there is currently no evidence suggesting that DPA is nutritionally benefcial. Current evidence suggests that fish oil and krill oil can treat and prevent many common conditions; no such evidence suggests the same effects from seal oil supplements.
Seals are predators, and massive amounts of pollutants accumulate in their fat and flesh through a process known as biomagnification. If a seal eats a mercury-poisoned fish who ate a mercury-poisoned fish who ate some mercury-poisoned plankton, it will consume the total amount of the heavy metal found in its prey and its prey's prey. As a result, seals and other predators have large amounts of heavy metal, PCB and DDT in their flesh and fat. Without massive amounts of processing to eliminate these pollutants, seal oil supplements can be extremely toxic to human beings.
A Barbaric Industry
Seal-hunting is one of the most barbaric forms of hunting practiced in the modern world. These animals are clubbed to death to prevent damage to their pelts, and as many as 50% of the animals survive the blow for several days, and their mutilated bodies are never recovered. Seals are also intelligent and sentient; they feel emotional and physical pain on a much deeper level than simple animals such as fish. Because there is no need for this slaughter to continue, it is unfair and unreasonable to choose seal oil supplements over healthier, more humanely gathered sources of omega-3 fats.

Factors to Consider Before Getting a Pet Raccoon

I felt stunned the first time I met my neighbor's pet raccoon. The animals excitedly ran up to me and chirped several times, asking to be held. When I picked her up in my arms, she proceeded to play with my hair like an infant. My neighbor's raccoon is one of the most tame and friendly animals I've ever met, far exceeding most cats and dogs in its personable nature. However, I personally would never own a pet raccoon. Here are some major factors that potential raccoon-guardians must consider before purchasing a raccoon or "rescuing" one from the wild.
1. It could be against the law. Wild raccoons are among of the most common rabid animals in the United States. Because undiagnosed rabid raccoons can transmit rabies to pets and humans, many jurisdictions have strict regulations prohibiting interactions between humans and raccoons. Call your local Animal Control authorities to determine if raccoons are legal pets in your area. If you break the law and get caught, you could end up facing a very stiff fine and having your pet confiscated and euthanized.
2. Raccoons need veterinary care. Like cats and dogs, raccoons need-- and are entitled to-- good health care. Your raccoon will need to go to a veterinarian experienced in exotic animals. Remember that, if you adopt a raccoon in an area where it is illegal, you won't find any vets who are willing to treat your pet if he gets sick or injured. Minimum veterinary care for a raccoon will involve rabies shots, annual check-ups, parasite treatments, and treatments any time your pet becomes ill.
3. Pet raccoons need a varied diet. While a dog or cat can live healthily on a relatively monochromatic diet of prepared food, raccoons can not thrive in captivity without variety. At the advice of his pet's veterinarian, my neighbor gives his raccoon pre-packaged ferret food and treats, along with canned cat food, watermelon, apples, carrots, chicken, turkey, fish and grapes. While you may find wild raccoons munching on chips and marshmallows at campsites, these should be given sparingly to pets-- or avoided entirely.
4. Raccoons need extensive training. Cats and dogs often "train themselves," learning to be unaccompanied in a house for hours without wreaking havoc on the home. A raccoon can not and will not "train itself." It needs nearly 24-hour supervision until it is at least several months old. No cage is large enough to humanely contain an adult raccoon, so you must know that your animal is well-controlled and adjusted enough to be alone without human supervision.

5. Raccoons don't always get along with other pets.
 My neighbor's raccoon broke into his pet rabbit's cage and killed the animal. A few weeks later, it had a bloody fight with his pet Pomeranian, which led to both animals requiring extensive veterinary care. Before getting a raccoon, you need to carefully consider how it might impact the other animals in your home. If you aren't 100% certain that the raccoon will get along with your other animals, get a guinea pig instead.
Adopting an animal is always a big decision, and it requires particular consideration when it involves an exotic or non-domesticated animal. Always defer to local laws and your veterinarian's judgment before adopting any new pet.

How and Where to Get a Pet Fox

What animal lover doesn't adore foxes? Tame foxes are vivacious, clever, and full of personality. Fox enthusiasts regard these frisky critters as a charming combination of canine companionship and feline aesthetic. As cute, fun and enjoyable as foxes are, they are not easy pets to obtain or to care for. If you're considering getting a pet fox as a pet, here are the steps you'll need to take to purchase one.
1. Find out if it's legal in your area. Check here to see if it's legal to own foxes in your state. Then call your local city hall to find out if your specific locality allows exotic pet ownership. You may be tempted to circumvent local and state laws, adopting a pet fox despite regulations prohibiting their ownership. However, this is an extremely dangerous decision to make, since you won't be able to get veterinary care or any other form of support for your pet. Most responsible breeders also will not sell pet foxes to people living in states that prohibit them.

2. Understand that domesticated foxes are not available.
 Only one breed of domesticated fox is available. The silver fox, a breed of red fox created by Soviet researchers, is the only strain of fox that has been bred to the point of true domestication. It is calm, docile, does not spray, and offers the type of companionship seen almost exclusively in domesticated animals. However, the silver fox is not bred by any organization besides the Institute of Cytology and Genetics , and no one outside of Russia owns an un-neutered or un-spayed adult. Understand that, while you may be able to purchase tame foxes raised in captivity, they are still a "wild" animal-- not bred for life in captivity.
3. Find a vet beforehand. Never, ever adopt or buy an animal unless you know a vet who will treat the animal. Before buying your pet fox, find a veterinarian in the area who treats the specific species of fox that you intend to own. Discuss all vaccination requirements and recommendations with the expert. Understand that you have a responsibility to provide lifelong veterinary care, which may be quite expensive, for your pet fox.
4. Get in touch with a reputable breeder. Buy pet foxes only from established breeders who hand-raise their fox kits and provide proper veterinary care. A directory of fennec fox breeders can be found here. Check with Tiny Tracks Exotic Animals in Indiana for several species of pet fox.Jungle Island Zoo in Ohio sells red foxes, gray foxes and fennec foxes. Although there are a limited number of reputable pet fox breeders in the United States, several responsible organizations do breed tame foxes.
Once you have found a good breeder, he or she can help you to determine the further steps you need to take to adopt your new pet fox and bring it home. The fox may cost anywhere from $400 to $7,000, depending on its species, variety, health, and ease of breeding. If you do decide to adopt a pet fox, do so only with the understanding of the responsibility and investment involved in getting a fox as a pet.

Pet Jellyfish: Four Points to Consider Before Buying

Pet jellyfish are increasingly trendy. Just in the last month, I have seen several friends-- none of whom have experience with fishkeeping or reef aquariums-- post links to websites selling "kits" for keeping pet jellyfish. As a marine life enthusiast myself, I can absolutely understand the appeal of home aquariums designed to accommodate jellyfish. These marine invertebrates are breathtakingly beautiful and alien, and jellyfish aquariums aren't as ecologically or ethically questionable as reef tanks. However, there are many important points to consider before keeping pet jellyfish. Here are some of the most important factors to bear in mind.

1. Do you have enough money for a jellyfish tank? Jellyfish can be outlandishly expensive, even compared to other marine life. Jellyfish must live in circular tanks without any corners, to prevent damage to their tentacles, and their habitats require extensive filtration, a stable temperature, and meticulous chemical upkeep. "Desktop" jellyfish tanks, which are arguably far too small to accommodate any aquatic life, cost a minimum of $300-- and you will likely lose your jellyfish within just weeks in such a tiny tank. Sufficiently sized tanks cost anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000-- far more than most people are willing to spend on a high-maintenance pet with no central nervous system.
2. Do you have the experience necessary to keep pet jellyfish? Pet jellyfish are profoundly difficult to care for. If you're expecting the equivalent of a betta or goldfish, you're in for a serious challenge. Jellyfish tanks require careful chemical adjustment and a fairly advanced understanding of marine biology and water chemistry. Unless you have extensive experience keeping marine fish tanks, you are most likely unqualified to keep pet jellyfish.
3. Do you have enough time to invest into keeping pet jellyfish? If you think a dog or a cat is a lot of work, you've never had pet jellyfish. Jellyfish must be fed several times per day, and their water conditions must be checked on a daily or near-daily basis. Water changes for jellyfish are absolutely mandatory and can represent a significant time investment. While a dog-sitter or boarder may be easy to find, it can be very difficult to find a caregiver for your jellyfish when you go out of town.
4. Is it really worth it to you? At their core, pet jellyfish are not really pets. They have no brains, no personalities, and no capacity for companionship. Keeping a pet jellyfish can feel, fundamentally, much like keeping a very beautiful but extremely high-maintenance house plant. If the beauty of a jellyfish is worthwhile to you, a pet jellyfish can be a wonderful investment of time and money. However, if you want a real pet that can actually provide interaction and affection, you'd be better off with a guinea pig.
If you understand the difficulties involved in keeping pet jellyfish and still feel dedicated to the idea of keeping them, they may be an excellent option for you. However, jellyfish represent such a significant investment of time and money that that should not be purchased without significant forethought. 

Dog Breeds that Look Just Like Wolves

When I was a teenager, I desperately wanted to own pet wolf-- and not just one, but a whole pack of howling, hunting canines who I could call my own. As I matured, though, I realized that owning a pet wolf simply isn't a humane or realistic decision. As the ASPCA notes, it is arguably unethical and potentially dangerous to own any non-domesticated animal (perhaps with the exception of birds). Almost no average owner can handle the high needs of caring for a pet wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid. Luckily for those of us who would really like to own dogs who at least resemble their lupine ancestors, there are many completely domesticated dog breeds that look exactly like wolves. Here are just a few.
The Tamaskan is a very rare breed of dog originating in Finland and very closely resembling a wolf. In fact, the resemblance is so uncanny that Tamaskan dogs are often cast as "wolves" in films-- and viewers never notice the difference! Like their lupine ancestors, they have a tendency to howl and to bond very closely with their "packmates," which can include humans, other dogs, and even small, delicate animals like cats and rabbits. Bred for working (not hunting) these beautiful wolf-like dogs don't have strong hunting instincts but maintain the grace and appearance of their ancient ancestors.

Northern Inuit
A combination of Siberian husky, German shepherd and Alaskan malamute, the Northern Inuit was selectively bred for the last 30 years to resemble wolves, but has no direct wolf ancestry. The breed standard has strict requirements that ensure that all breed-standard Northern Inuit dogs closely resemble wolves (so much that it's virtually impossible to tell many of them apart from their wild counterparts). The name "Northern Inuit" is a misnomer, as this breed originates in Britain, far from the historic territory of the Inuit peoples.

The utonagan breed is actually a splinter of the Northern Inuit breed, originating from the same stock of Siberian husky, German shepherd, and Alaskan malamute dogs. The breed standard for the utonagan is a bit more lenient than the Northern Inuit, so they may not bear the same indistinguishable resemblance to wolves as their cousins the Northern Inuit. Utonagans tend to be lean and agile and enjoy living in large "packs" that include several other dogs or many human family members.

Alaskan Malamute 

These beautiful dogs look very similar to wolves and have remained essentially unchanged for centuries. Originally domesticated by a Northern tribe known as the Mahlemuts, malamutes have long been valued as sled dogs and family members. They tend to be extremely athletic, friendly, and intelligent. Unlike newer wolf-like dog breeds, Alaskan malamutes are formally recognized by all major kennel clubs.
Siberian Husky
A cousin to the malamute, the Siberian husky was bred over many centuries by the indigenous people of Russia, who domesticated them from wild wolves. Siberian huskies maintain the strong hunting instincts of their ancestors and aren't generally a good fit for apartments and homes with cats, but they can be amazing, gentle companions when given adequate space, work, and exercise.
Samoyeds are another masterpiece bred by the indigenous people of Siberia. They were bred centuries ago to herd reindeer and pull sleds, but they were also valued for their kind and affectionate nature. Samoyeds look stunningly like arctic wolves, with thick, white coats and wolf-like body shapes. These smart, hard-working dogs do best if they're given lots of activity and stimulation to keep their big brains and agile bodies occupied.
Shiba Inu
Easily mistaken for a wolf at first glance, the shiba inu dog hails from Japan, where it was bred from wild, mountain-dwelling wolves as a hunting breed. Shiba inus tend to be strong, compact dogs and are more independent than other dogs that resemble wolves. Unlike some other wolf-like dog breeds, a shiba inu doesn't require constant interaction for its mental health. The shiba inu is highly adaptable, making it one of the only wolf-like breeds that can do well in an apartment (provided it is given enough exercise).
For most, if not all, of us, it isn't an option to own a pet wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid. We're very lucky that we've managed to spend thousands of years domesticating the dog, while still maintaining several bloodlines that closely resemble dogs' wild counterparts. If you're interested in adding a wolf-like dog to your family, check with local animal shelters and rescue groups first before looking for breeders. Odds are high that an animal perfect for you is already out there-- and in desperate need of a home. 

How Can I Get a Pet Crow or Raven?

Who among us wouldn't love to own a pet raven or crow? These beautiful animals, long admired for their romantic association with darkness and despair, are icons of modern pagan and gothic culture. But it's not just their macabre beauty that makes them interesting pets: ravens and crows are among the most intelligent animals on Earth, on par with chimps and dolphins. Their intelligent antics make them intriguing companions, and they tend to bond very strongly with their owners. Like parrots, crows and ravens can learn to imitate human speech, often even attempting simple "conversations" with their human friends!
Unfortunately for corvid enthusiasts, pet crows and ravens aren't easy to come by. The Migratory Bird Act, first implemented in 1916, bans anyone (with the exception of licensed wildlife rehabilitators) from owning any migratory bird native to the United States. Protected species include the American crow and its close relative, the common raven. Despite centuries of fossil evidence and human art showing that common ravens are a native species, many people mistakenly believe that they were imported from Europe. In fact, the common raven is found throughout naturally North America, Europe, and Asia, and traveled between continents during past ice ages via the Bering Land Bridge. As a result, common ravens in the U.S. are genetically indistinguishable from their relatives in Europe and Asia-- although some of the birds in California hold a separate genetic legacy of their ice-age ancestors! 
Since they are both native species, it is illegal to keep American crows or common ravens as pets, because wildlife officials fear that it could lead people to "kidnap" baby birds from their nests to sell. Given how common crows and ravens are in the United States, this might seem like an irritating and unnecessary precaution, but, without it, it's very likely that our native bird populations would be threatened by people recklessly seeking to sell novelty pets.
For this reason, the only way that you can legally and ethically acquire a pet raven or crow is by picking a species that is not native to the U.S. and does not migrate to any portion of the U.S. The most common corvid species chosen as pets are the white-necked raven, a very common species found through much of Africa, and the pied crow, a closely related animal also endemic to Africa. Some breeders also sell hybrids between the two species, which share traits of both parent species.
White-necked ravens and pied crows never migrate to the United States, so it is legal to own them under the Migratory Bird Act. Neither species is endangered according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and, due to regulations that prohibit the transport of wild birds across oceans, we know with confidence that all white-necked ravens or pied crows sold in the U.S. are bred and hand-raised in captivity. It's both legal and ethical to own these beautiful black birds as pets.
If you decide that you want to buy a pet raven or crow, you'll need to find a skilled, reputable breeder offering white-necked ravens or pied crows. Because African corvids aren't bred as widely as other exotic birds like macaws or budgies, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for them--at least $2,000, and possibly as much as $6,000. Since it's unlikely that there is a breeder very close to you, anticipate an additional cost to ship the animal (or for you to travel to pick it up from the breeder).
While this may seem like an extravagant cost, it's a reminder of one important fact: the decision to acquire a new pet should never be taken lightly or made on impulse. Crows and ravens are extremely intelligent creatures that require specialized attention and care. It is arguably more difficult and time-consuming to properly care for a pet crow or raven than to care for a high-need dog, and crow owners have described them as being much like babies. Just as you wouldn't adopt a child without carefully considering the significant costs (literal and metaphorical) associated with the adoption, you shouldn't adopt a crow or raven on a whim. However, if you do decide that one of these birds is right for you, it is well worth the money and effort to add such a social, intelligent, and delightful creature to your family.