Photograph by Erika Larsen
Photograph by Erika Larsen
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The end of greyhound racing?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

Greyhound racing: Once a glamorous sport filled with celebrity spectators and big money, now it’s practically dead in the U.S. Texas’s last racetrack closed in June, and Florida’s last three are expected to close by the end of the year. Next come Iowa and Arkansas’s tracks by the end of 2022, leaving only West Virginia with (legal) dog racetracks.

Animal advocates have long been pushing for the end of greyhound racing. Reports of drugging, injuries, confinement, and the killing of dogs too old to race led to a number of high-profile scandals that incensed the public. Combined with a decrease in betting revenue and aging spectators, the industry has been in decline since the 1980s. (Pictured above, greyhounds thundering around the oval at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, Florida.)

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When Florida’s voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on betting on dog races earlier this year, many saw it as the U.S. industry’s death knell. “Florida really was the industry,” Carey Theil, with advocacy group Grey2K, told writer Craig Pittman. Dog racing still exists in nations such as Ireland, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand.

Now thousands of greyhounds, raised for racing, need adopting. (Above, greyhounds stretch their legs at Florida’s Farmer Racing. They’re wearing muzzles in part because they have thin skin and little body fat, so even playful nips can cause serious injury.)

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Though they can sprint more than 40 miles per hour, they’re actually big couch potatoes, greyhound owners say. Some people describe them as straight-up lazy! They’re friendly and tolerant, and they tend to like blankets and pajamas when it’s cold out. Some retired race dogs do have special needs when it comes to adjusting to life in a home, but they’re considered great pets. (Above, a track vet and trainer care for greyhound racer BD Wells, who will be headed for adoption after a minor ligament injury.)

If you’re interested in adoption, one place to start is the National Greyhound Association’s list of adoption groups. (Below, former champion race dog Flamenco Dancer, who won $83,000 from 2017 to her retirement earlier this year.)

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Today in a minute

The tule elk: North America’s smallest elk, found only in California, was almost wiped out after the arrival of Europeans. But a National Park Service plan would allow some of the tule elk population at Point Reyes National Seashore to be culled. Why would NPS do that? They say it’s to keep elk numbers to a level the land can support. Activists, however, say it’s to sustain generations of ranching and improve the lot of 5,000 privately owned cattle that also graze on the public land. If NPS presses ahead on the plan, environmental groups threaten a legal challenge.

Watch out, dolphins and otters! The particulate matter from the West Coast wildfires that cripples people may harm whales, dolphins, porpoises, and otters, says veterinarian Cara Field, medical director at the nonprofit Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. Because marine mammals are adapted to life at sea, normally with fewer air pollutants than on land, they “would be expected to be more susceptible to injury from inhaled particulates,” Field tells us.

It takes two: Without wasps, we wouldn’t have figs. That’s an example of mutualism, a term for whenever one animal helps another. Our examination of mutualism includes pollination, which involves 170,000 plant and 200,000 animal species and contributes to 35 percent of global food crop production.

The (underwater) social network: Studies of fish near coral reefs show various species band together to survive and reproduce. Wired reports the species work together to determine if a field of algae is safe from predators so they can eat it—good for the fish and the coral reefs, which can’t survive when too much algae is around.

Which reminds us: Don’t think of evolution’s winners as the fittest—it’s really survival of the friendliest. That’s what academics tell us in our new short video, which shows how friendly wolves developed to become our best friends, and how bonobos thrive. Chimps and humans—well, we’re friendly, and that’s how we made it, but we also have a dark side. Watch the video here. (Bonus points if you can catch the “Let's Go Mets!” reference.)

Your Instagram photo of the day

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Between Nemo and Alien: Meet the smiling, tongue-eating parasite inside a clownfish. The young Cymothoa exigua enters through a fish’s gills and latches onto the tongue, draining it of blood until the tongue of the poor clownfish falls off, forcing the fish to use the parasite as a replacement to survive. This disturbing creature looks like it’s straight out of a horror movie, but it doesn't actually kill the host fish.

Related: Tongue-eating fish parasites never cease to amaze

Overheard at Nat Geo

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Bees on the roof: Normally photographer-beekeeper Mark Thiessen’s hands are too sticky to take a photo of Nat Geo’s rooftop beekeeping operation, but last week he took this image of colleague Tara Keir pulling off some of the 300 to 350 pounds of honey they harvest. We have four hives atop our Washington, D.C., headquarters, attracting 10,000 bees in winter and up to 60,000 during the peak nectar flow of spring and early summer. The hives have been around for nine years, says Theissen, who took over five years ago when colleagues retired. “Everything each bee does is for the good of the colony, very altruistic,” he tells us. Here’s more on Theissen and Keir’s work, via Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram.

Subscriber exclusive: Photos reveal intimate lives of bees

The big takeaway

The first dino feather? This exquisitely preserved 150-million-year-old feather, found in a limestone quarry in Germany in 1861, belongs to the flying dinosaur Archaeopteryx, new evidence suggests. The raven-like creature itself shows the evolutionary track of some dinosaurs to modern-day birds, Nat Geo’s Michael Greshko reports. (Above left, a 3D reconstruction of the Jurassic Archaeopteryx by National Geographic Explorer Ryan Carney.) Carney determined the black feather came from its left wing.

In a few words

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The last glimpse

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Song: When the humans quieted in COVID-19-stricken San Francisco, the songbirds could hear. With traffic diminished, the songs of the white-crowned sparrow (pictured above) improved surprisingly fast, a new study says. “The songs didn’t change as much as we predicted—they changed even more,” ecologist Liz Derryberry tells us. “It highlights just how big of an effect noise pollution has."

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Jen Tse. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading.