Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pandas show their true colors

There's a story getting very wide coverage this week, which almost gives me hope that I will no longer be a lone voice against the evils of pandas. For this one, there's no need to make a subtle argument about the disproportionate resources and attention that are being diverted to this species. This is one where they are really showing their true colors. It's hard to choose from the array of clever headlines, including at the Guardian, Pandering to the crowd: panda accused of faking pregnancy in bun fraud case,  but I'm going to go with the efficient summary at CNN:

Report: Panda 'may have faked pregnancy' for more buns, bamboo

A giant panda intended to be the star of the first ever live broadcast of the birth of panda cubs has lost the role -- after it was discovered the bear is not pregnant after all, Chinese state media reported.

Not only was it a phantom pregnancy but zookeepers suspect the panda, Ai Hin, may have been faking it to improve her quality of life, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding told Xinhua on Monday.

Ai Hin, age six, had shown signs of pregnancy, including a change in appetite, moving less and an increase in progestational hormone in July, according to Xinhua.

But after observing her for two months, she began acting normally again, zookeepers said.

Experts say pandas sometimes carry on the behaviors associated with early pregnancy after noticing that they get preferential treatment, the news agency said.

"After showing prenatal signs, the 'mothers-to-be' are moved into single rooms with air conditioning and around-the-clock care," Wu Kongju, an expert at the Chengdu base, is quoted as saying.

"They also receive more buns, fruits and bamboo, so some clever pandas have used this to their advantage to improve their quality of life."

Photo from the birthday of my current least favorite panda at the National Zoo.

Monday, August 25, 2014

New bear advice: Forget it. We're doomed

So many animals are bigger and stronger and have sharper parts than humans. But we take comfort in our advantages: our opposable thumbs and our big brains that allow us to use tools and cleverness to defend ourselves. Cleverness like, say, hanging our food at the end of a long rope to keep bears from getting it when we're camping.

Or so we thought:
PULLMAN, MT — It may no longer be good enough to hang your food in a tree to keep it away from bears when you go camping, according to a first-of-its-kind study at the Washington State University Bear Research Education and Conservation Center.

Some — but not all — grizzlies can use primitive tools to thwart your efforts.
 The study’s participants are eight grizzly bears — five males and three females — who are challenged to get their paws on a glazed doughnut hung out of reach in their play area on the WSU campus.

Researchers place a sawed-off tree stump below the hanging treat to see if the animals will stand on it to reach the object of their desire. Once they do, the stump is turned on its side and moved away from the treat. Researchers observe whether the bears will move it back under the doughnut.

So far, researchers have identified one bear — a 9-year-old female — who has become the star of the show.

Kio, who was born in the center in 2005, has sailed through the tasks, while others are still discovering the basics.
“She manipulates an inanimate object in several steps to help her achieve a goal, which in this case is to obtain food. This fits the definition of tool use,” Nelson said.
From the researchers' description of the value of the findings, they're clearly the usual sort of experts who aren't clear whose side they're on. Sure, they say that understanding how bears think may help us solve "bear-related problems." But they're obviously really more interested in bear-centric issues: “Being able to problem solve allows for a species to ‘think outside the box’ so to speak. This may be important if habitat and food resources change.”

And apparently the average person is no better. Rather than being berated for setting up a study that helps bears learn to defeat fundamental human defenses, here's the complaint they have to address:
"People often don’t like to see us feeding the bears sweets such as doughnuts,” she said. “I really appreciate that and I am glad that people care. We do give sweets as special treats, but not as a major part of their diet.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Truth About Owls

I suppose it's inevitable that a generation that grew up on Harry Potter would consider owls cute and friendly creatures appropriate to decorate tote bags and baby clothes. If you want to know what these ruthless carnivores are really like, read this AP article that impressed even me, and I was sure I'd seen it all:

Owl soars into Idaho window and kills pet canary
An owl flew into a 10th story apartment in Coeur d'Alene, apparently opened a bird cage and killed one of two canaries inside, the residents said.

Sue Sausser said she awakened Sunday to find bird droppings and feathers all over her apartment, the Coeur d'Alene Press reported.

Sausser found the brownish, yellow-eyed owl between the wall and the chest of drawers on which the bird cage sits. It flew out the door and perched on their balcony railing long enough for them to take a few pictures. Don Sausser estimated the owl was 6 to 8 inches tall.

Sue and Don Sausser found one of their canaries dead in the cage. The other seemed jumpy and anxious, they said.

Beth Paragamian, wildlife education specialist with for Idaho Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management, said it's strange that an owl would be flying so high in an area without many tall trees and surprising that it would enter a residence, much less open a bird cage.

"That is very unusual," she said.

Don Sausser said they'll likely still leave their sliding glass door open on warm summer evenings, but plan to use twist ties to secure the door on the bird cage.

Heed the warning photographed by Flickr user Michelle Voli.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Snark Week

Shark Week may be over but it's not too late to head over to the excellent Last Word on Nothing where instead of fake TV about an animal that isn't nearly as dangerous as advertised, you can read about the bad behavior of nutria, chickens, moose, and squirrels. And if you don't, at least take this quote from a wildlife biologist to heart:
“Assume every moose is a serial killer standing in the middle of the trail with a loaded gun.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Midsummer Bad Animal Roundup

Slate tells the truth about those hamsters in the cute viral videos: They don't eat burritos, they eat each other.

Researchers discover that chimps follow stupid fashion trends

Wired talks to a guy who dissected drunken birds 

And we can't pass up yet another cat burglar:
The Palmers have had Sienna for years, and when the feline was younger, she would bring home gifts: birds, rats, mice and moles, for instance. - See more at:
The Palmers have had Sienna for years, and when the feline was younger, she would bring home gifts: birds, rats, mice and moles, for instance. - See more at:
The Palmers have had Sienna for years, and when the feline was younger, she would bring home gifts: birds, rats, mice and moles, for instance.  
But Sienna is aging and has put on a few pounds, so Palmer suspects the gloves are easy "prey" for the calico.
"Seriously, I think because she's too fat now and can't catch anything, she's picked up this glove thing," Palmer says, laughing. "I'm just so happy it's not mice and birds anymore. ... I would hate it when she brought them home."
Less happy is the original owner of the stash of fifty gloves:
"It was a pretty expensive selection of gloves," she said. - See more at:
"It was a pretty expensive selection of gloves," she said. - See more at:
"It was a pretty expensive selection of gloves," she said.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Bad Bird Book

Even if I wasn't brain dead from exhaustion and in need a vacation from the vacation I just took, there's nothing I could write today that would be more interesting than this post from Archie McPhee's Geyser of Awesome about the website The Mincing Mockingbird and their book Guide to Troubled Birds.

I'm going to hit Post now and spend the rest of the day ordering the book and reading the entire archive.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bad Animal News Briefs

Baby Moose Takes A Break in Hotel Lobby
Conference Services Manager Katie Nelson said it stayed in the lobby about 10 to 20 minutes, lying on the floor. She said it's a pet-friendly hotel and thought at first it was a dog that had gotten off its leash.
Beaver Attacks, Pulls Man Off Kayak
BayCreek Paddling Center trainer Nate Reynolds saw part of the attack.

"I heard my name called out from the shop and I ran out the door to see a guy getting pulled into the water," Reynolds said, describing the attack. "It was like watching a horror film."

Reynolds said Cavanaugh was able to get to his feet and approach the dock, but the beaver would not let go of him, so Reynolds hit the beaver with a nearby paddle several times.

"The paddle broke and the beaver let go," he said. "He kind of disappeared for a few seconds but came back up so I hit him again."
 Bear Chase at National Institute of Health

A black bear caused a commotion at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, a close-in DC suburb that is definitely NOT out in the country and is way too close for comfort to Animals Behaving Badly Headquarters.  During the chase the bear taunted NIH employees on Twitter:
Sometimes late at night, I sneak into your lab and recalibrate your instruments. Nobody suspects the bear.
When you're done with the monkeys, do you just throw them away? Because, I could totally go for some monkey. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Animals Eating Things They Shouldn't

Today we have three very different stories of animals eating things they shouldn't be eating. The first is one of my favorite types: the charming zoo animal showing a crowd of naive animal lovers what nature is really like:

Polar bear eats peacock in Vienna zoo
Visitors were shocked to witness Lynn demolish the hapless bird, leaving nothing but a couple of feathers, before retiring for an afternoon nap.

It appears the unfortunate bird had taken a shine to the bear's new enclosure during the two and a half year construction period, and clearly had no idea its new residents weren't vegetarians.
From Pennsylvania, a headline that is perfect on its own:

Black Bear eats muffin, ignores police in Silver Spring

And finally, I highly recommend that you go and read this in its entirety, in which a scientist who is in denial about the dietary habits of walruses has to admit that they eat much cuter animals than just clams and other mollusks - and in fact, that science has been studiously ignoring the evidence for well over a century.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Canine classics

Some things never get old, and two of them are vulpine shoe-stealing and dogs driving cars (badly).

In England:
A fox is stealing dozens of shoes in a Leeds suburb and dumping them outside a woman's house.

The problem has become so bad that Elaine Hewitt has been forced to put a shoe rack outside her home in Horsforth so neighbours can reclaim their missing footwear.

Ms Hewitt said the vulpine crimewave began a few months ago when she found a single shoe in her back garden.

The fox is now leaving a shoe a day, ranging from sandals to work boots.

Ms Hewitt, who has seen the fox carrying shoes, said the animal favoured leather footwear and the shoes are not chewed or damaged.

"First of all we just collected them thinking they were too good to throw in the bin," she said. "We had a few phone calls from that and were able to give back and match up a couple of pairs.

"Then I decided the fox was a further afield than just around our immediate vicinity which is when I decided to put the table out on the street.

"The number of vehicles and passers-by who stopped to ask about it, to look and also to take their shoes back was absolutely astounding."

The fox appears to be the mother of five cubs and Ms Hewitt said she hoped the younger members of the family would not be taught about the shoe stealing habit.
And in Massachusetts:
Costello says it all started after he'd taken this normally frisky puppy for a walk by Bolivar Pond in Canton. He hopped into his car, and started it up, but Rosie had her own ideas.

"The dog jumped in and hit the gear shift and the car jerked and she fell on top of the gas pedal," Costello said. "It was just scary."

Then, he said, his puppy drove the car into the pond.

"The car went for a swim. We all did."

That's right: Rosie launched this car right into Bolivar Pond.

"[The] car was right here you can see the tracks," Costello said.

The 911 call even surprised Canton police.

"I've never heard of a puppy driving a car into a pond," said Officer Robert Quirk of the Canton police.
Despite the dangerous struggle required to save Rosie from the sinking vehicle, as usual, no one seems to blame the dog:
Canton police posted this lighthearted tweet, with a picture of the pup and a caption that read, "Perp says she was just going with the flow of traffic."

And Hermann says it's a day he won't soon forget.

"I work a lot of weekends and none as exciting as this one," he said.

As for Costello, the car - his daughter's - is a total a loss, but he says he has insurance. As for Rosie - she's ok - and unaware of all the commotion she caused Sunday.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dead Duck Day Report

You can now read the full report of this year's Dead Duck Day, and the message I was honored to write, at this link.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Happy Dead Duck Day!

It's a very special Dead Duck Day, because I have been given the honor of writing the message to to read at this year's ceremony. I'll post a link when it is available. In the meantime, watch this TED talk by Kees Moeliker, giant in the science of bad duck behavior and organizer of the event.

Get your own devilduckie here

Monday, June 2, 2014

Animals Where They Shouldn't Be

- In Florida,  a bear that was tuckered out after rummaging through trash cans found a hammock in one resident's backyard and decided to have a rest.
"He got in the hammock like he was a tourist or something," said Vincent James, who owns the home and the hammock. "Then something spooked him and he ran right back there. Then half an hour later I come back and I saw there he is in the hammock again."
As usual, authorities washed their hands of the matter, saying that they wouldn't do anything because the bear wasn't "threatening" anyone. So, sadly, James decided that his only defense was to get rid of his lovely hammock.

-In England, police got an unusual call: a squirrel had jumped into a woman's handbag and refused to leave.
Officers arrived and removed the rodent, but before you rejoice that officials did the right thing for a change, the plot thickens: this was a non-native, invasive gray squirrel:
Under section 9 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act, it is an offence to release a grey squirrel into the wild. According to Red Squirrels Northern England, an organisation which works to protect red squirrels: "This means if you trap one, you are obliged to humanely dispatch it.
"You must not let it go as this act would be illegal."
In response to this, the police spokesman replied, no doubt with a wink:
 "I'm sure the squirrel in this case had managed to escape before a cage could be found."
And before you laugh that the woman called the police in the first place, read on:

-In Texas,  a woman was attacked by her neighbor's pet squirrel:
Elizabeth Orzechowska said she was unloading groceries from her car when she felt something climb up her leg.

"So, I looked down and it was a squirrel," Orzechowska said to Local 2. "It started running up my back, started scratching my back and biting my back."
Orzechowska went to the emergency room where she spent five hours getting stitched up and treated with antibiotics. She said she is in pain, her hands are swollen an she is unable to work. 
This incident belongs under today's heading because no one should have a pet squirrel in their home: it's illegal to keep one in Texas (and probably most if not all other places in the US.)  Knowing this, the woman released the rodent into the wild before it could be seized.

-Finally, from South Carolina, I leave you with this picture of an alligator at an outlet mall:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Animal Home Invasions meet Clueless Experts

-Deer smashes into woman's home, jumps on her bed

We've seen this sort of thing before, but the interviewees in this news video are quite good at conveying the horror. "It sounded like a car crash," said one witness, as someone heroically followed a trail of bloody footprints - "It looked like a murder scene" - to find a 180 pound buck on top of an elderly woman in her bed. 

It's fortunate that citizens handled that situation well on their own, because in our next two stories, authorities are of their usual dubious usefulness.  In London, a fox was found sleeping in a couple's spare room:
Sarah Preddy and her partner Colin Linton were enjoying a Sunday morning cup of tea, when they discovered the ‘arrogant’ animal relaxing on the bed in their spare room after pet dog, Molly, became restless.

They said upon opening the door they saw bushy-tailed squatter had made itself at home on top of the duvet.

It apparently stayed at their house in Rosemary Avenue for another hour before it finally left, with Sarah’s step-sons managing to take photographs of the fox lying on the bed and then making its way out down the stairs.
Just as well they didn't ask for help because the supposed experts were clueless: A spokesman for the RSPCA said  "It is unusual for foxes to enter homes as by nature they will tend to avoid human contact. In the rare instances when they do venture into a home, it is likely they are attracted to food which has been left out." Apparently he hasn't read any of the four stories in this post of foxes in people's homes, three of which also involve them being in beds.

Finally, surprisingly soon after our last case. we've got a woman in Spain that was bitten by a snake in her toilet:

A poisonous snake is apparently living in the plumbing system of a block of flats in northern Spain, leading to one resident being bitten on the bottom as she sat on the lavatory and others using potties.

Iris Castroverde, 30, a hairdresser and mother of two young children, got the shock of her life when she felt a nip on her left buttock as she was seated on the loo.

The resident of a block in the small town of Naron, a suburb of La Caruna in the northwestern Galicia region, described how she heard a splash and then felt the pain in her bottom.

"When I turned around I saw a florescent yellow and green serpent about 20cm (8 inches) long disappear with the flush," explained the horrified woman.
Residents are pouring bottles of bleach and caustic cleaning products down the pipes in hopes of killing the snake. This approach doesn't seem particularly likely to succeed but I can't blame them for taking matters into their own hands, seeing the treatment the woman was given:
A hospital spokesman said: "We found four incisor marks in the buttock near the perineal area, and we followed standard practice for snake bites which includes a tetanus and rabies shot as well as administering an antidote. We had to remove the poison from the wound but some of it had spread into the body and we needed to give her an injection to counter that."
I'm mystified how they knew which antivenin to administer when reports are that the type of snake hasn't been identified and they're sure it's not a local species. You might be thinking that they are snake geniuses who know more than I do... except apparently they are unaware that reptiles do not get or carry rabies.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Aquatic attack squirrel and local news destroy my fantasy of Britain

Today was one of those rare days that I ran across an animal problem even I never thought to worry about. It happened in a swimming pool in Devon, England:
A squirrel sparked panic today after it dashed into a busy leisure centre before leaping in the pool and biting a swimmer on the finger.

When lifeguards tried to coax him out the creature leapt into the water and paddled around the deep end for several minutes.

A swimmer tried to fish the squirrel out of the water but was bitten on the finger before the animal scampered off through a fire exit.
Then to my horror, the "related stories" links presented with this article were a litany of problems that completely destroy my idyllic vision of the British isles. There's the seaside resort town in Cornwall that's battling a "plague of giant rats":
People living in the town say they have been plagued with the giant creatures and are worried the super-sized vermin are becoming increasingly bold.
Figures show the number of reported rats in the town has gone up 50 per cent in the last year.

Experts add that the rat population has been allowed to swell since the council stopped killing them for free.

One resident said: "I'm not happy with the situation. I have a daughter who's seven and she's seen dead rats in the garden. She's quite a girlie girl so she doesn't like them at all.

"They are massive - really big for a rat. Some of the cats that live further up the road would think twice about going after one."
And both of those rodent stories are nothing compared to this one:
Killer Asian hornet could arrive in the Westcountry 'within days'
Swarms of killer hornets that have plagued France could cross the Channel to the Westcountry within days.

Giant Asian hornets are responsible for the deaths of six people in France – and experts have warned that they could now be headed to the South of England.
The predators have jaws powerful enough to chew through regular protective bee suits and their venom, which they can spray, dissolves human flesh. If their venom lands in the eyes, the eye tissue will melt, according to a National Geographic documentary.
I don't know if you should reconsider if you were planning a vacation to England this summer - but if you go, seriously, don't ruin it by reading the local paper.

Squirrels should stick to their own facilities, like the one photographed by Jessica Lucia.