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Photo: Natural Habitat
Wolves could be the solution to culling deer, moose, and elk that have a brain-wasting ailment. The fear is that the disease could jump to humans because cooking doesn’t kill it.

As the story goes, a wolf protected and raised the human twins Romulus and Remus, which somehow led to the founding of Rome. The notion that a wolf could suckle a human baby has a universal appeal, if not much biological support. It certainly has spawned a lot of art.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Lupa Capitolina: she-wolf with Romulus and Remus. Bronze, 13th century AD (the twins are a 15th-century addition).

What are the chances wolves could protect us now?

Scientists concerned that a deadly cervid disease similar to ‘mad cow’ could jump to humans are asking if wolves might detect and destroy weakened animals before people can.

Jim Robbins writes at the New York Times, “Are the wolves of Yellowstone National Park the first line of defense against a terrible disease that preys on herds of wildlife?

“That’s the question for a research project underway in the park, and preliminary results suggest that the answer is yes. Researchers are studying what is known as the predator cleansing effect, which occurs when a predator sustains the health of a prey population by killing the sickest animals. If the idea holds, it could mean that wolves have a role to play in limiting the spread of chronic wasting disease, which is infecting deer and similar animals across the country and around the world. Experts fear that it could one day jump to humans. …

“Chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological disease, is so unusual that some experts call it a ‘disease from outer space.’ First discovered among wild deer in 1981, it leads to deterioration of brain tissue in cervids, mostly deer but also elk, moose and caribou. …

“It is caused by an abnormal version of a cell protein called a prion, which functions very differently than bacteria or viruses. … The disease is part of a group called transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, the most famous of which is bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease. Mad cow in humans causes a variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and there was an outbreak among people in the 1990s in Britain from eating tainted meat.

“Cooking does not kill the prions, and experts fear that chronic wasting disease could spread to humans who hunt and consume deer or other animals that are infected with it.

“The disease has infected many deer herds in Wyoming, and it spread to Montana in 2017. Both states are adjacent to Yellowstone, so experts are concerned that the deadly disease could soon make its way into the park’s vast herds of elk and deer.

“Unless, perhaps, the park’s 10 packs of wolves, which altogether contain about 100 individuals, preyed on and consumed diseased animals that were easier to pick off because of their illness (the disease does not appear to infect wolves). …

“ ‘Wolves have really been touted as the best type of animal to remove infected deer, because they are cursorial — they chase their prey and they look for the weak ones,’ said [Ellen Brandell, a doctoral student in wildlife ecology at Penn State University who is leading the project]. By this logic, diseased deer and other animals would be the most likely to be eliminated by wolves. …

“[Ken McDonald, chief of the wildlife division of Montana’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department,] said that maintaining a large enough wolf population outside of Yellowstone to control chronic wasting disease would require so many wolves that it would be socially unacceptable, especially to ranchers and hunters.

“The state’s approach to controlling the disease, he said, is to increase the number of deer that can be killed in places where the disease is growing.

“Ms. Brandell, however, said that wolves may detect the disease long before it becomes apparent to people, through smell or a slight change in the movement of prey, which could be beneficial.

“ ‘Wolves wouldn’t be a magic cure everywhere,’ [Ms. Brandell] said. ‘But in places where it was just starting and you have an active predator guild, they could keep it at bay and it might never get a foothold.’ ”

More here.

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I think this children’s book, reviewed at Brain Pickings, is one I need to buy.

Maria Popova writes, “This Moose Belongs to Me (public library) — a disarming story about a boy who believes he owns his pet moose Marcel, only to discover that so do other people, who call him by different names, while the moose himself doesn’t quite get the concept of being owned and is thus oblivious to the boy’s list of rules for being a good pet. …

“For the backgrounds of his illustrated vignettes, Jeffers reapporpriates classical landscape paintings by a mid-century Slovakian painter named Alexander Dzigurski, rendering the project a sort of posthumous collaboration and a creative mashup.”

Read the intriguingly philosophical Brain Pickings review here.

And here is a children’s book reviewed by Asakiyume that embraces insights about both the environment and other cultures.

She writes, “Discarded plastic bags are more than just an ugly nuisance in the West African nation of the Gambia. There, plastic shopping bags kill livestock that eat them and provide a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

“A woman named Isatou Ceesay found an ingenious solution. She learned how to make plarn [yarn made from plastic bags], and, with her friends, started crocheting small change purses from the discarded plastic bags, which she and her friends sold. The trash problem — and attendant health risks — disappeared, and Isatou and her friends had a new source of income. The project was so successful that Isatou started teaching women in other villages, and in 2012 she won the International Alliance for Women’s World of Difference award.

Miranda Paul, a writer who has lived and taught in the Gambia, wrote about Isatou in One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia (illustrated by the fabulous Elizabeth Zunon).” Lots of reasons for buying that book here, at Asakiyume’s blog.

Art: Oliver Jeffers

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One of these days I hope to see a moose in the wild, but not under the circumstances described in this recent report on National Public Radio.

“It was the brown snout and ears that caught their attention. Then they heard noises coming from under the snow. That was reason enough for three passing snowmobile riders to jump off their machines and start digging.

” ‘It looked like a guy’s arm at first because we were expecting to see a skier,’ Marty Mobley told the Alaska Dispatch News. …

“Mobley said he and two friends, all residents of Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska, used their shovels to free the animal. …

“When the moose was mostly free, one of the men gently poked the moose, which suddenly stood up. Mobley said it looked like the abominable snowman, as it was covered in packed snow.

“It shook off the snow and ran down the mountain ‘at full steam’ and was apparently uninjured.

” ‘I am an animal lover, and I couldn’t leave it there,’ Mobley said. ‘Besides, we deal with a lot of avalanches and a lot of snow. That kind of karma is something we don’t pass up.’ ” More at NPR.

Photo: Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, near Aspen, Colo./AP
Not moose but elk. It’s bad all over. Two out of three elk were saved in time.

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After my older grandson (4-1/2) and older granddaughter (nearly 2) let me play too as they decorated their gingerbread cookies, I went home and pulled out the sugar-cookie recipe from the nursery school cookbook John made in 1975. It’s still the best.

Observation on cookie cutters: Swedes know their moose. I have several moose/reindeer cookie cutters, but the only one that works well is the one from Erik’s mother. It has plump legs and antlers. Why is that important? Because skinny legs and antlers invariably break off.

The grandson, granddaughter, and I have the same abstract aesthetic when it comes to decorating.

The Little Mermaid window ornament is from Erik’s sister, who lives in Denmark.

121414-abstract-Xmas-cookies

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Last weekend my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson stayed in a cabin near Groton, New Hampshire, because John was going to be in a triathlon (swimming, biking, running) the next day. The cabin was in the woods near a lake. In the night, they heard a strange sound, and although she had never seen a moose, my daughter-in-law had a theory that it was a moose. When she got home, she did an Internet search, and sent me a little audio of the sound they heard in their cabin. Here it is.

If you e-mail me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com, I will use your comments in a post.

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