Did you know that tigers and jaguars are attracted to the scent of Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men?

Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-general-science/tigers-and-jaguars-are-attracted-scent-calvin-kleins-obsession-men

This surprising fact was initially discovered by researchers at the Bronx Zoo who compared twenty-three different perfumes’ abilities to attract tigers’ attention. One of the least successful was Estée Lauder’s Beautiful which kept cats occupied only for 2 seconds. Revlon’s Charlie worked for 15.5 seconds, Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps for 10.4 minutes, but the clear winner was Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men which kept the cats concentrating on it for 11.1 minutes. 

It turned out that the zoo researchers weren’t the only ones interested in attracting big cats to specific locations. Field researchers in Guatemala and Nicaragua have started using the perfume to attract jaguars to their field cameras. The scent entices the cats to rub their chin and cheeks on whatever item has been sprayed. Scientists are then able to grab the hairs left behind for research purposes. 

The reason cats are crazy for this eau de toilette is thought to be civetone, the compound used to achieve its characteristic musky smell. Civetone, the smelly component of civet oil, is the pheromone of the African civet, a cute little animal native to the woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa. Once upon a time, civet oil had to be extracted from the perineal glands of the creatures, but thankfully nowadays it can be synthesized from palm oil. 

Can Allerpet Solve Your Pet Allergies?

Originally published here: Originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/health-technology/can-allerpet-solve-your-pet-allergies

Want to cuddle cats but can’t stand the coughing? Want to romp with Rover but avoid the red eyes? Allerpet markets itself as the product for you! Sadly, though, it doesn’t work.

Allergic reactions occur when your immune system comes into contact with an allergen to which it is hypersensitive. In the case of cats, these allergens can be a few different things. The two biggest culprits are the proteins Fel d 1, secreted by cats’ sebaceous glands (which are found over their entire body) and Fel d 4, found in cats’ urine and saliva. Dogs also produce multiple proteins in their hair, dander, saliva and urine, and those can trigger allergic reactions.

The allergens produced by sebaceous glands are present in dander (animal dandruff) and tend to be the most annoying to allergy-suffering pet owners. Dander is made of microscopic skin flakes and can float in the air for hours, just waiting to be inhaled by an unsuspecting human. It can quickly spread to every surface an animal has contact with and readily collects on soft items like beds and couches. The amount of dander an animal gives off increases with their age, hence why some pet owners are fine for years before they develop allergies to their companions.

One study estimated that 26% of European adults are sensitized to cats and 27% to dogs. Cats’ reputation as allergy-enhancers comes from their ability to spread their allergens much more effectively than their canine counterparts. Cats tend to have access to entire homes and to stay inside 24/7, whereas dogs may be contained to an area of the house and often leave for walks or visits. Dogs are usually bathed more often than cats, which removes some allergens whereas cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, during which the allergens from their saliva are spread throughout their fur, and released into the air along with dander.

So what can you do If you’re allergic to your fluffy best friend? One product, Allerpet, is marketed as a “pet dander remover” to “people with allergies to pets.” It’s a damp wipe that can be applied to pets of all kinds while they sit in your lap, and its maker claims that it can cleanse your pet of dander and other allergens, thereby restoring your ability to play with them sneeze free.

Their website states that “Allerpet products have been recommended by Allergists & Veterinarians for over 25 years!” and that they are “recommended by veterinarians for all pet allergies,” which leads me to question if these veterinarians have read the studies testing the product, since they’re not very positive.

A 1995 study compared weekly washings with distilled water and weekly treatments with Allerpet. Researchers sampled the Fed d 1 protein given off by each cat twice a week for eight weeks and concluded that there was no significant reduction in allergens. Similarly, a 1997 study compared brushing and wiping cats with either Allerpet, water or nothing on a cloth and found no difference between the amounts of allergens removed by these methods. They concluded that, while wiping a cat is easier than washing one, wiping with Allerpet, water, or nothing is five times less effective than washing a cat.

Allerpet contains ingredients similar to conventional shampoos (although it is much more expensive), as well as aloe vera which is actually toxic to cats and dogs and which can irritate guinea pigs intensely. Since the concentrations of the ingredients aren’t known, it’s impossible to know if the aloe in Allerpet could really pose a risk to pets. Since the animal product industry has relatively little oversight in North America, it’s possible that this product is being marketed for animals on which it was never tested.

Even if this product did work for dander, the allergens present in animals’ urine and saliva would still be present, ready to cause your runny nose. Reviews of it on Amazon are littered with stories of its failure to relieve allergy symptoms, as well as a few cases of it making cats vomit and giving dogs hives. Anecdotes are not evidence, but taken with the evidence that Allerpet doesn’t work, they’re enough to make me wary of even trying this product on my pets.

Sadly, truly hypoallergenic breeds are a myth. No cat or dog breed is completely allergen free, but there are various breeds that produce fewer allergens. Since dander attaches itself to hair, an animal that sheds less or is hairless will likely spread fewer allergens throughout your home. In the same vein, an animal that’s physically smaller has fewer sebaceous glands with which to produce allergens, so will likely trigger fewer allergies.

So if snuggles with Fluffy cause you to sneeze, there are a few things you can do. Most importantly, skip the pseudoscientific products. Consider a low-shedding small cat or dog for your next rescue. Install a HEPA air filter or two around your house. Wash your companion regularly (so long as they aren’t a rabbit or chinchilla). Keep them out of the bedroom, vacuum lots, and ask your doctor about allergy shots or prescription medicines.

Or get a pet fish.

Did You Know: A border wall between the U.S. and Mexico would cause mass ecological damage?

Article originally published here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-environment/did-you-know-border-wall-between-us-and-mexico-would-cause-mass-ecological-damage

President Donald Trump wants to “build a wall” between the U.S. and Mexico that, depending on your political allegiances, will either keep out dangerous undocumented immigrants or will serve little purpose outside of wasting taxpayers’ money.

One potential effect not receiving much media attention, however, would be felt by plants and animals local to the areas surrounding the border.

A continuous wall on the border between Texas and its southern neighbour will require 1840 km to be built in Texasalone. Estimates for the habitat loss are approximately 12-20 hectares (30-50 acres) per kilometre of wall.

Texas is at risk of losing up to 36 800 hectares (92 000 acres) of habitats, and that’s before even accounting for the roads that will be built to construct, maintain and monitor the wall, as will facilities like guard houses and tech hubs.

But at least the organisms outside of the building zone for the wall will be ok, right?

Not quite.

A wall at the U.S./Mexican border will cause something called habitat fragmentation. This occurs when something (usually either human constructions or geological events) separates what used to be a continuous ecosystem. Habitat fragmentation, in turn, causes population fragmentation, as animals become unable to travel to access the now separate ecosystem as they used to. This can have really severe effects on flora and fauna populations. If unable to travel to find mates, animal populations become inbred and unhealthy and can die out entirely.

Some plants and animals can adapt to new habitats, or live in slightly different ones, but others have specific needs only met by specific habitats. It’s possible for ecosystems to be completely eliminated by a construction like the wall, or for animals to become separated from the habitat they need to live in. Take for example the Tamaulipan thornscrub ecosystem, found near Southern Texas rivers. Agriculture and city expansions have already eliminated much of this ecosystem, and the remaining sites are directly in the wall’s planned path. With the elimination of this ecosystem will likely come the extinction of the endangered wildflower Physaria thamnophila

The loss of one obscure wildflower may not seem like a big deal, but there are many more organisms potentially at-risk including ocelots, whiskerbushes, pygmy owls, desert bighorn sheep, jaguars, Sonoran pronghorns and javelinas.

Despite this, the construction is able to occur unhindered by environmental protections due to the REAL ID Act of 2005 that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to waive laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

States near the border wall also stand to lose the millions of dollars they currently make from ecotourism areas like the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Further costs associated with the wall could come from the flooding it may cause. Such was the case after 700 miles of fencewere constructed in Arizona.

It’s hard to know for certain the effects a border wall would have on ecosystems, in part due to the difficulty in studying these areas. Researchers have reported being detained and harassed by Homeland Securityand “Minutemen civilian militias”while attempting to conduct fieldwork. However, one 2014 studyexamined an area in Arizona with border barriers and concluded that while they did affect native species, they had no effect on the movement of people across the border.

Don’t just take my word for it though. A reportdetailing the devastating environmental impacts of a border wall was published in the journal BioScience, signed by 2556 scientists from 43 countries. I think it’s fair to say that science has reached a consensus, and they’re not pro wall.