Humanity's track record with animals has never been stellar. After centuries of ocean dumping, worldwide deforestation, domestication and overhunting, it's safe to say we've got a greasy, opposable thumb in every one of Mother Nature's pies.
That's not to say that humanity's only effect on the animal kingdom is pure destruction; in fact, sometimes our ecological footprint looks more like a clown shoe.
Probably the only thing you know about parrots and cockatoos is that they can talk. Or, more specifically, that they can mimic human speech. Now, unless they're shockingly gifted, they don't understand a word they're saying. But a 4-year-old doesn't know what the word "poontang" means, either, and that doesn't stop him from repeating it and getting all of the other preschoolers saying it. We're finding out that birds kind of do the same thing.
After all, the pets that are raised among humans and learn (or learn to imitate) dozens of words sometimes either escape or are released into the wild. Now, because birds in the wild have no need for human language, you'd think they'd stop using it once they managed to get loose. But you would be wrong. They keep using what they learned and, more importantly, teach it to other birds.
That's why people around Sydney, Melbourne and other big cities in Australia have found wild cockatoos using English phrases. Now ask yourself: If you had a bird that repeated whatever you said, what's the first thing you'd do? You'd start teaching it some goddamned swear words, that's what. Well, they do that in Australia, too. So, sometimes the birds have been heard cursing at people.
Now imagine how crazy you'd think you were going if one day you were walking through the woods and you suddenly heard a disembodied bird voice tell you to eat a dick.
The weirdest part is, if the domesticated birds stay with a wild flock long enough, the words become part of the flock's calls. Scientists say that the way the birds learn their own chirps and calls is similar to how babies learn to speak, so these new calls (i.e., "Hey, asshole!") are just added to their repertoire. We're literally corrupting the birds' own language.
"Y'all bitches ain't shit AWWWK! Y'all bitches ain't shit!"
Sewage treatment plants around the world are designed to treat water for the obvious threats: biological contaminants, microorganisms and the general remnants of a Taco Bell fourth meal. This process ensures that we aren't pumping out gallons of pure feces and unraveled condoms into our oceans and streams.
But while waste management systems never underestimated the gross oddities humans could expel from their bodies, they didn't anticipate the medicated bliss everyone would be feeling while doing it. What we're trying to say is that millions of people are taking antidepressants, and some of those leftover chemicals pass out of your body when you urinate. When you flush, the water eventually makes its way to a river.
Prozac. Harvested from only the purest mountain streams.
So, as a consequence, we are inadvertently prescribing fish every medication we ingest.
Water treatment plants aren't designed to account for the massive amounts of antidepressants humanity is literally pissing away each day (the number of people in the U.S. alone taking antidepressants is well over 27 million), since we don't have a reasonable method to treat water for pharmaceuticals. That means that ultimately fish are being exposed to considerable amounts of antidepressants, by fish standards. As of yet the results of this haven't been fully researched, but some researchers bothering to test the effects have noted that young fish exposed to the drugs become more "laid back" (seriously).
"Aw, hell. Sharks ain't nothin' but a thing."
Early research shows that the drugged fish are less likely to respond to immediate dangers, and even when they do, their reactions are delayed. That may be no big deal if you're a species at the top of the food chain with depression issues, but it's bad news if you have hundreds of natural predators looking for every opportunity to eviscerate you.
What's more troubling is that the fish are also unlikely to pursue the daily tasks that perpetuate the species, like eating and reproducing. Ultimately we're dealing with fish that have become so drugged up and complacent that they have lost the will to do normal fish stuff.
Though we have to admit that they appear much happier.
No one knows yet what the long-term effects will be, but the prospects are depressing, which naturally will have you reaching for that prescription bottle and then ... well, it's a vicious cycle.
When the Planet of the Apes scenario finally plays out for real (as all ape experts know it eventually will), we can't say we didn't see it coming.
After all, we know how natural selection works: The slow/stupid/weak animals don't live long enough to breed, so over time the species gets faster/smarter/stronger. So what happens if you take a fairly intelligent species (like chimpanzees) and artificially accelerate that process? Not with brain-enhancing drugs, but by simply rigging the system so that only the smartest of the smartest chimps survive?
"I know algebra. Just sayin'."
With that, let's go to Guinea, Africa, where hunters rely on snare traps for bush meat. Essentially, anything that is unfortunate enough to happen through the snares springs the traps and is forced to either wait for humans to wander along or else gnaw its own leg off. That is, until recently, when chimps learned to not only avoid the traps, but intentionally disarm them so nothing else can be caught.
It turns out that after long-time exposure to trapping techniques, chimps have isolated the most dangerous piece of any snare and figured out exactly how to dismantle it. How they figured it out is a mystery, because any chimp who "found" the trigger mechanism should have gotten trapped and killed as a result. One of the leading researchers studying the phenomenon noted, "The observations indicate that chimpanzees can learn some manners without trial and error."
"Look at that dumbass. As soon as he leaves, I'm going to make that thing trap my shit."
That's a cognitive ability no one knew chimpanzees were capable of, which is a valuable new discovery about their brain functions. In addition, they have even been spotted teaching younger chimps exactly how to sabotage the things. Just think about that for a moment: These chimps not only are actively looking after one another and other species, but they're also training special chimp bomb squads.
The ibis bird lives in marshes, which as you can guess are areas characterized by massive amounts of freestanding water. Unfortunately, a lot of that water is polluted with toxic runoff from mines and burning coal, which includes chemicals like mercury. We've known for a long time the dangers for the development of wildlife when they are exposed to large amounts of mercury, but then came a twist no one saw coming.
While scientists were concerning themselves with the effect of mercury on local fish populations, they noticed a startling number of male birds in the same habitat boning each other.
Seeing as the latter was far more interesting, they did an experiment. They subjected a group of ibis birds to the same amount of mercury they would ordinarily get from their diet in the wetlands, and they found that the more mercury a male bird ingested, the more likely he was to pair with another male. This turned out to be because mercury caused testosterone levels to plummet.
"Pfft. The only mercury we're concerned with is of the Freddie variety."
This naturally affects the birds' reproduction rates, and the newly gay males have all but given up on any of the usual courtship rituals, which is exactly one of the luxuries men joke about when they say how easy it would be to just date their guy friends. The difference is, these birds actually have the courage to go through with it. The courage, and also massive amounts of mercury.
"Suddenly I care that it's after Labor Day."
Obesity is a serious problem for humanity, with over 1 billion people globally trundling around under the weight of their own bodies as their insides churn food into Crisco. Yet aside from lazy, overstuffed house pets and livestock, we never really see fat animals. There are no winded, pudgy cheetahs that have to break for a breather and a soda before they get back to sprinting across the savannah.
However, recent studies show there's at least one animal in the wild that is starting to get fatter, and the problem isn't diet, it's us.
"It turns out we humans are the true animals, Mr. Cheesington."
Well, it's air pollution to be exact. Researchers have found that mice and rats turn into tiny pie wagons just by gulping in the average amount of particulate pollution from an urban environment. In controlled tests, two sets of young mice were given the same diet, and the only difference was that one set was exposed to increased levels of air pollution. By the simple virtue of being exposed to the equivalent of "city air," mice experience increased fat buildup and increased blood sugar levels. Both sets of mice were fed healthy diets, so this test doesn't even account for all the Cheez Whiz and unfinished doughnuts mice are inevitably scrounging in urban settings.
"Got any Doritos?"
But so what? Pests are getting fatter and slower -- if anything, that's a good thing, right? Actually, no. The test was designed to determine if pollution could have an effect on human obesity. It's not clear yet that there's a definite link, but it means that every time you decide to drive instead of walk, you're potentially not only making yourself fatter, but also contributing to everyone else's fat ass as well.
"I'm on a diet."
Take a minute right now to stop and listen to everything around you. Chances are you will hear cars, a plane, maybe some music, people talking and at the very least the hum of your computer. The point is, you are almost always surrounded by man-made noise. We're just noisy creatures, and our technology has only amplified the problem. While most of us have gotten used to it, or even come to enjoy it, we're certainly not the only ones who have to listen to it.
For animals, we are the worst goddamn neighbors in the world. Aside from the light pollution and the very literal pollution that we're responsible for, we're also indirectly keeping animals from having sex with each other.
From bats, frogs and owls to dolphins and crabs, we're messing up their lives with all our noise. And for animals with mating calls (like frogs and birds), we are ruining their love lives. The main problem is that they just can't hear each other.
In the case of tree frogs, the male's mating calls can't compete with traffic noise. Environmentalists are so worried about it that they expect to see huge dips in population. With birds, the noise is causing them to leave cities in droves in favor of somewhere they can actually attract a mate.
Or at the very least a place where they can pay for it.
Some birds, however, have decided to stick it out and are forcing themselves to sing even louder. Nightingales in Berlin, for instance, have started singing at decibel levels equal to a motorcycle. Birds have actually made themselves hoarse doing it, which has researchers worried that this will lead to either birds leaving cities altogether or the evolution of a race of birds with supervoices.
Now think back to the entry about the cursing birds and imagine a future where the trees all scream slurs at us at a volume louder than a jackhammer.
It would basically be like playing at any New York sporting event.