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Ecology and Life
The puppy room easing life's pain in a stroke
Gentle wobblings of a 'foul gull' fulmar
Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin
New to Nature No 94: Canthigaster criobe
Uggie: 'He likes to fly first class'
It's a dog's life in China: sold for £1m or stolen and sold as meat
Malibu residents hire crew to remove rotting whale carcass from beach
Yellowstone's popular alpha female wolf shot dead by hunters outside park
What I miss most in the dead time of winter is the insects
BSE testing on cattle slaughtered for food 'no longer necessary'
Malaysia seizes 1,500 elephant tusks headed for China
The vibrant river was a welcome relief after the bleak, snow-covered fields
TV Review: Miniature Britain; Weight Loss Ward; Rome
Marine conservation group says UK lacks ambition to preserve seas
UK seas to gain 31 marine conservation zones
Live animal exports going via previously unknown routes
When a dozing otter steals the show
Newly discovered slow loris species already threatened
What the male bowerbird can teach us about home furnishings
Could this really be the fearsome, legendary Girt Dog reincarnate?
Overfishing is a solvable environmental challenge for the EU
Life comes cheap for winter wrens
Ash trees consumed by something of the night
Foie gras taken off menu in House of Lords
  Animals: are they good for supper or good companions?
If only he hadn't invoked the bird table defence. Bill Worthington, a retired civil servant from Stockport, will be sentenced next month having pleaded guilty to a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal. The Verminator, as the tabloids called him, was prosecuted by the RSPCA after trapping, shooting and leaving for dead a squirrel that had been helping itself to the food he left out for birds.

Any garden ornothologist must sympathise to a degree, and indeed it is entirely legal to capture and kill grey squirrels, so long as it is done humanely. Questions are now being raised about the usefulness to the cause of animal welfare of prosecuting a 75-year-old bird lover for the sake of one garden pest.

The RSPCA's intentions have not been called into question in the thousand other cases that it brought to conviction over the past year, acting on over 160,000 allegations of abuse largely made by the general public. Holding people responsible for the more obvious kinds of cruelty, like dog fighting, badger baiting or tail docking merits no headlines.

This suggests an inconsistency in the public's stance on animal welfare. Britain considers itself a nation of animal lovers and the RSPCA is one of the country's best-endowed charities. But when it actually does its job to the letter, either by prosecuting milder cases of cruelty, or when that cruelty has a political context, the response is hostile.

So the charity's motives for prosecution were also interrogated last week by its own industry regulator. The Charity Commission warned the RSPCA about "effective and reasonable" use of resources, after it spent £350,000 taking a case against members of the Heythrop Hunt, with whom David Cameron once rode. The RSPCA denies any political bias, an understandable if untenable position, given that it's impossible to side with a fox these days without being political. Comparisons have been drawn between this case and the charity's alleged failure to prosecute cock-fighting within the Traveller community, pointing again to a wider hypocrisy around the kinds of animal cruelty where intervention is deemed appropriate.

In some ways, western culture is more animal-centric than ever before. Pets have accessory ranges to rival the Kardashians, and the internet appears to have been invented to facilitate the perusal of adorable animal antics. I am not too proud to admit that my own cat drinks his water from a bowl designed by Tracey Emin, and that I frequently imagine what he would say to me if he could talk: probably "I'm with Peter Singer when it comes to speciesism" or "I only pretend to like your boyfriend".

But browsing for cute images online does not translate into offline kindness. Animal cruelty and abandonment are at record levels in Britain, in particular as a consequence of owners who can no longer afford to keep pets in a recession. Animal rescue charities are overwhelmed, and at a time when donations are also under pressure.

It is a human convenience to make distinctions between lovable companions and supper, as the recent scandal over horse meat in burgers illuminated. Likewise, we draw comfortable lines between foreign outrages and domestic necessity. We abhor bullfighting in Spain, or whaling in Japan, while continuing to eat eggs from hens that have spent their short lives crammed into cages.

Meanwhile, we are surprised when animals actually act like animals, whether that be scavenging our dustbins and bird tables or, in extremis, attacking a human being. This shock reveals a grandiose assumption that animals are simply less sophisticated versions of ourselves. It is only when humans exhibit their basest nature that they are accused of acting like animals, yet when animals accidentally act like humans they are feted. Montaigne famously pondered: "When I play with my cat, who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?", but did not stop to ask whether a cat has pastimes at all.

But the variance of animal consciousness is moot when humans continue to exhibit such cruelty. Over the weekend, undercover footage revealed shocking abuse at a horse abattoir in Cheshire, which is now under investigation by the RSPCA. It remains to be seen whether the public will now switch from ickiness at the thought of eating a pony to genuine outrage at the way this and many other animal products are harvested. As my cat's favourite philosopher says: "All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering, the animals are our equals."
New to Nature No 96: Oncopodura fadriquei
Animal rights activists plan direct action against beagle imports
How the stink of a waterbuck could prevent sleeping sickness in Kenya
Tatler's dog, Alan, dies in bizarre revolving door accident
Insecticide 'unacceptable' danger to bees, report finds
Freedom Foods 'failing to crack down' on poor salmon farming standards
One in 10 Welsh livestock farmers illegally kill badgers, study suggests
Crab study puts pain on the menu
A large shape a bittern flies across the pond
Wolf killings are based on the most cynical of premises
New to nature No 97: Ferrisia uzinuri
Sad to see the tide turn against the otter
An owl swoops down on wings that seem as broad as they are long
Animals: are they good for supper or good companions?
Is human branding an animal-rights stunt too far?
Cat lovers pounce on campaign to save New Zealand's birds
Common pesticides 'can kill frogs within an hour'
There is something irresistibly cheerful about a flock of twite
Solomon Islands villagers kill 900 dolphins in conservation dispute
Mistle thrush numbers in decline
Guyana pledges to protect jaguars
Dung beetles navigate by the stars
How do you catch an escaped crocodile?
New to Nature No 98: Xerophytacolus claviverpus
Animal astronauts: the unsung heroes of space exploration
Pygmy elephants found dead in Borneo after 'poisoning'
A badger's biscuit-sized footprints in the snow follow the field edge
British moths in calamitous decline, major new study reveals
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The lake is muted under the winter sun, like a faint watercolour painting
Should the RSPCA have pursued the man who ate a live goldfish?
Days of heavy rain have left the ancient woodland sodden
Alice Roberts: Rudolph and our early ancestors a love story
Saving the rhino with surveillance drones
Hunting with dogs ban unlikely to get free vote admit top Tories
The tracks in the snow revealed the secrets of these night visitors
A perfect winter's day for a walk
Meet the woman battling Japan's whaling fleet in Antarctic ocean
China captivated by tiny tuneful insects that sing for their supper
HBO sued by animal rights worker over abuse of horses on Luck
Some surprising facts about hedgehogs
Cats killed in cattery fire
Experience: my horse sank in quicksand
Alys Fowler: fat balls and mealworms
Hawks in danger of extinction in illegal hunting campaign
What the Japanese red bug teaches us about parenting
Fishermen back sanctions against Iceland over mackerel catch
What I learned the day a dying whale spared my life
Overfishing causes Pacific bluefin tuna numbers to drop 96%
Glistening with water droplets, the black-throated diver looked almost eerie
Kitten swallows 15cm-long TV aerial
As the rain blows over, a double rainbow arcs across the sky
A moorhen sent stone-skimmer splashes as it pattered across the river