Mammals have always been important to people. People eat them, use their hides for shoes and clothes, drink their milk, make pets of them, and use them in scientific research. They are essential to human life, so it's important to protect them. Healthy mammals mean healthy people.
There Otter Be a Law
Animals often offer early warning signals for how humans are impacting the planet. For instance, after studying dying otters on the beaches of California, scientists found that dangerous bacteria from cat feces was flowing downstream and into the otters' watery habitat. How was it getting there? People were allowing their cats to do their business outside instead of in litter boxes. When it rained, the feces were washed into storm drains, into waterways, and eventually out to the beach, which the otters shared with children and families. The otters were much more sensitive to the bacteria, but human exposure to it can cause illness. The simple answer? People needed to keep their cats inside and clean litter boxes by sending dirty litter to the local landfill in an enclosed paper bag. If your students want to take it one step further, they can get “green” kitty litter that is made from wheat, corn, recycled paper, or reclaimed sawdust. These are much more Earth-friendly options.
Unlike other creatures, young mammals learn from experience and parents pass on life knowledge. This is a primary reason for the evolutionary success of the mammal. Learning is also how children can become successful adults, and adults need to learn from past mistakes so they can better protect the Earth.
Both dog and cat waste can be harmful to the environment and to human health. If it is left out, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. Some cities have laws about cleaning up pet waste. Does your city? If not, write to your mayor and ask about creating one. Also, do your part to safely clean up after your family pets.
Mammals on the Menu?
Keeping mammals healthy helps keep much of the food we eat safer. There is a lot of discussion these days about eating meats. Is it healthier to be an omnivore or a vegetarian? Which is best for the Earth? There are no clear-cut answers. It is important to remember that healthy meats as well as healthy vegetables will keep everyone healthier.
Ask your students to talk with their parents about their choices in feeding their household. Are they vegetarian and if so why? Do they eat organic meat? Do they understand what that means? Will it be better for human health as well as Earth health? Here is some information to get them started.
When mammals such as cows are fed grain or hay that have been sprayed with pesticides, the humans who eat these meats are also eating pesticides. When farm animals are given hormones, people end up eating the hormones as well.
Cutting back on meat is a green option, but so is choosing organically grown meat. Have your students use the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Eating Green Calculator to find out how their diets impact their health and the environment. You can find it at www.cspinet.org/EatingGreen/calculator.html. Ask your students to write a report about how eating green can help the Earth.
Dog and cat waste can harm the environment, and so can conventional flea treatments. Flea collars and shampoos have pesticides in them. Find nontoxic alternatives for flea control at www.alt4animals.com/flea.htm.