Good News Heading into 2021

As I was wrapping On Pasture up for the winter break, I ran across some bits of good news that might add to the cheerfulness we all seem to be experiencing heading into 2021. These are things that won’t make big headlines in most places, but you might like them just the same. So, here you go!

The rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has slowed.

Soybean fields surrounding rainforest patches.

The Amazon Rainforest, what we call the “lungs of the planet,” is healthier thanks to a partnership of private companies, non-profit NGOs, and government agencies working together on a first-of-its-kind agreement. The “Amazon Soy Moratorium” (ASM) prohibits purchasing soy from farms that had deforested an area after 2006. As a result, 18,000 square kilometers of forest have been saved in just ten years. Policy makers are looking at this collaborative example to see how it might be used in other places as well.

Kangaroos can talk!

A kangaroo displays a gaze alternation between the unsolvable box and human. (Credit: Alexandra Green and courtesy of press release article.)

Well, maybe not with words, but a study has found that wild kangaroos can communicate with humans. According to a press release from the University of Roehampton, “Ten out of 11 kangaroos tested actively looked at the person who had put the food in a box to get it (this type of experiment is known as “the unsolvable problem task”). Nine of the 11 kangaroos additionally showed gaze alternations between the box and the person present, a heightened form of communication where they look between the box and human.”

The lead researcher on this project, Dr. Alan McElligott previously led a study that goats are just as good as dogs at understanding human cues, including pointing. McElligot believes that we underestimate animals’ ability to communicate.

This is good news because it means we’re not really crazy when we think our animals are telling us things.

And last but not least…

Friendly squirrels live longer.

Here’s a graph from the published study comparing the impact of low and high neighbor familiarity on pup siring and rearing success, and on life expectancy. Read the summary article in Science Daily here.

Red squirrels are solitary and territorial creatures. But, when they know their neighbors, their life expectancy is much greater. In fact, in older squirrels, the benefits of knowing their neighbors were great enough to offset the negative effects of aging.

Erin Siracusa, a postdoctoral researcher on the project says, “At the risk of waxing poetic about squirrels,” she says, “I think there is a sort of interesting lesson here that red squirrels can teach us about the value of social relationships. Red squirrels don’t like their neighbors. They’re in constant competition with them for food and mates and resources. And yet, they have to get along to survive. In the world right now, we’re seeing a lot of strife and division, but perhaps this is a lesson worth bearing in mind: red squirrels need their neighbors, and maybe we do too.”

The moral of these three stories?

Be kind and communicate with each other. It’s good for the planet, good for the animals, and good for you!

Thanks for reading. Be safe out there!


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