Thursday, December 30, 2010

Small dangers

Some animals are so cute and little, you may think, how much trouble can they be? Here are some stories to remind you not to let down your guard in the new year.

-There goes the neighborhood:

England is stereotypically the sort of place where it's hard to be truly accepted into society if you weren't born there. The same seems to be true for animals. Rabbits were introduced a couple thousand years ago by the Romans, but they're still considered a non-native invasive species.

But maybe there'd be less prejudice against them if they were better citizens. A recent study says that in Britain, these zillionth-generation immigrants cost the economy more than £260m a year including damage to crops, businesses and infrastructure.

The Romans may not have realized what they were doing, but we didn't learn from their mistake. Humans can't seem to resist inviting adorable guests who end up overstaying their welcome. Gray squirrels were fashionable pets for the rich Englishpersons in the 19th century, an import from North America, but like all these trendy pets, people eventually get bored of them. A couple were released in 1876 and now their descendents cause £14m in damage and are driving the native, and cuter, red squirrel to extinction.

The 19th century British also repeated the Romans's error more exactly by introducing the rabbit to Australia, where it's gone on to devastate the native ecosystem. They also do another kind of damage there that is much more surprising:

Aviation wildlife strike statistics released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau show rabbits and hares accounted for 82 of the 257 reported plane collisions with animals between 2002 and 2009 - the highest for any non-winged creature.

The bureau said animal strikes were relatively rare but when they did occur they could result in severe damage.

-Think of the children:

And speaking of squirrels: why do we let these sex maniacs run around on the streets where innocent children can see them? The females of those cute red squirrels, for instance, will mate with a dozen males a day if they can, and they don't care if they're relatives - doing it with their own fathers or brothers is OK with them.

A recent study
tried to figure out the reason for this behavior. Did it evolve because it helped their reproductive success? Nope, scientists concluded: females will mate with as many males as they can for no reason except "because they're there."

-Second-hand smoke:

Even this blog has to admit that rats make excellent pets. They're personable and intelligent, and if you're easily bored, don't worry - they don't live too long.

But as with any pet, training is important: as one woman in England found after a fire in her apartment:

When Nelly Banks saw her rat’s cage burst into flames, she never expected to see her beloved pet again.

But she got quite a shock when the rascal rodent ran around on the floor – after sparking a full scale 999 alert.

Nelly’s pet – called No Name – stole a smouldering cigarette butt from her ashtray and took it to bed with him.

But the cigarette continued to smoulder, set fire to her cage and left her entire flat on Westminster Road, Morecambe, smoke-logged.

The 43-year-old has no idea how the rat made the miracle escape. She said: “He is a little pincher, he is always taking stuff and hiding it and this time he took one of my cigarettes and put it into his cage which is obviously flammable.

“He had beer cans and bits of paper and all sorts in there, so it did not take much to send it up."

So don't forget: if you're going to allow cute little furry animals into your home, teach them not to smoke in bed.

Cover of a classic horror story by Flickr user snigl3t.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Year-End Linkarama

First, make sure you didn't miss my post on the New Year's resolutions that you should be making. Go ahead. I'll wait.

OK. Now, in return for your promise not to enable bad animal behavior in 2011, I give you the gift of several links to people who are funnier about bad animals than I am:

-Hyperbole and a Half about how animals are ruining her life first thing in the morning (as in the illustration above) and while moving to a new home.

-The truth, told by an actual scientist, about why otters are not as cute as you think they are: Those Naughty Sea Otters

If you are thinking of pursuing a career with that sort of creature, be sure to also read So You Want To Be A Marine Biologist? on that excellent site. (Thanks for this to our friends at Southern Fried Science, without whom I would not have known of the amazing Dr. Love.)

-A story by science fiction writer John Scalzi, who knows that when we encounter alien animals, they're going to behave badly too: Alien Animal Encounters

If like me, you read that and wonder where this author has been all your life, read more here.

Hope those stories add something to your holiday season and if you want to return the favor and email me some bad animal tales, you know you can always click that "profile" link over on the right to find a contact link, right?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An animal war on Christmas

In Aurora, Colorada, there's a man who understands the power of the holiday season to bring people together. Religion was no bar to Barry Miller's spectacular display of holiday lights:

"I'm Jewish, and growing up, I was always jealous of my neighbors who decorated their house for Christmas and of course my parents never let us do it, so now that I’m on my own, I take a lot of pride and try to make the house look as nice as I can."

But someone - or something - was trying to stop him. Three or four times each season, part of his display was disabled by cut wires. Was it a neighbor jealous of his professional-looking decorations? Or just a Grinch attacking an enthusiastic expression of the holiday spirit?

Finally, he'd had enough. Miller installed a motion detector camera and was excited when it caught the culprit in broad daylight. But there was a bit of a problem with his plan to call the police or embarrass the vandal online, as he saw when he viewed the video:

"It was a rabbit. It was kind of cute. He runs out, he looks both ways. The rabbit comes up, stands up, goes over to the lights, takes a bite and runs away."

But readers of this blog will be encouraged to hear that Miller is not one of those people who make excuses for bad animals. He's not taking this lying down:
"Now it's gonna be human versus rabbit," he said.

Story from KCVR and, and see video of the rabbit in the act at KABC.

Rabbit contemplating a possible Christmas fate by Flickr user hans s.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Doing it wrong, again

Last time we saw conservationists trying to prepare baby pandas for life in the wild by confusing them about the difference between a panda and a human in a costume.

Today we look at another case of humans trying to solve animal problems in a deranged fashion.

At the same time that we're driving wild animals to extinction, we're loving our own pets to death by overfeeding them. In one poll, vets said that 45% of their canine patients and 57% of the felines were overweight.

(And it's not just pets. Strangely, we're such a bad influence that some animals are getting fatter just by being nearby. A recent scientific study found that not only are average weights for lab animals going up, so are those of the feral animals like rodents roaming our streets.)

Of course, where there's a problem, there'll be an entrepeneur trying to make money solving it. Cats don't read diet books or join weight loss support groups, but in England, your cat won't have to worry if he gets too fat to fit through his cat door:

More Than pet insurance and TV vet Joe Inglis have teamed up to launch ‘Cat Flap of the Future,’ an extra large cat flap with sliding doors operated by a paw recognition system.

At 32cm by 35cm, the fat feline’s futuristic dream is twice the width of a regular cat flap.

And if you’re wondering how your overweight moggy will make it to the cat flap, you don’t need to worry on that front either.

The new invention also includes a cat conveyer belt to carry your feline friend from ground to flap level.

People: think about it. Your pet can't open the can or the cabinet on its own. You feed it with a measuring cup. If it's overweight, how about you try feeding it less?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Doing it wrong

Pandas: Don't get me started on pandas. Now, I actually agree that humans should feel guilty about driving so many species to extinction, and we should do something about it. But we have to pick our battles. Millions of dollars and years of research have been spent trying to get reluctant pandas to breed in captivity. How many more-cooperative species could have been saved with that expense and effort?

But pandas have the power to cloud minds, and people go to absurd lengths for them. In China, they've even gone as far as to show pandas porn to encourage them to mate. And the latest report is that keepers are now dressing up in panda suits to work with cubs that are going to be released into the wild.

They claim that it's important that the cubs not get used to the sight of humans. Which could well be correct, but for this solution to work, we have to assume that pandas cannot tell the difference between another panda and a human in a panda suit:

1. By how it looks

2. By how it smells

3. By how it behaves, for example:

-picking up panda cubs and carrying them around in plastic containers (see above)

-taking its head off:

And if all this is true, seriously, should we really be knocking ourselves out to save an animal that is that dumb?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Cartoon Advice Linkarama

If, despite faithfully reading this blog, you are still inclined to buy your cats a present for the holidays, consider the following important message from Cat Vs Human.

Also, I hope you've read my earlier post and resolved to stop encouraging bad animals in the new year. Even so, it can sometimes be hard to recognize the part we play by thoughtlessly rewarding bad behavior instead of good. Check out the brilliant illustration of this concept by The Oatmeal and perhaps it will stick in your mind. Be strong!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday Season Horror

Few animals can boast of a more positive reputation than reindeer. Sure, pandas have good publicity year-round. But it's hard to compete with an animal that has a gig like this one. It's a brilliant strategy: Get the kid when he's way too young to have any critical thinking skills and can be fooled into believing that quadrupeds without wings can fly. Then make up a story that they're critical to the delivery of those precious holiday presents. So even when he doesn't believe in Santa anymore, he's left with a warm fuzzy feeling about these animals for the rest of his life.

So you might think the only danger associated with these deer is that they have an inside track to letting Santa know that you've been naughty. But a woman in Scotland who had a narrow escape can tell you differently.

As reported by The Telegraph, she was taking a hike in the area where Britain's only reindeer herd lives, a tourist attraction introduced in the 1950s, when a buck knocked her on her back:

"One of my walking poles was thrown into the air. The reindeer kept trying to stick its antlers into me but I managed to brace my feet on them.

"I began bashing it over the head with my other walking pole. Its antlers were pretty big and it had one sticking straight out in front.

"I couldn't believe what was happening, and I was aware that I was running out of strength. I was shouting for help but there was no-one there.

"I couldn't keep it at bay any longer and collapsed in a heap with my rucksack protecting my back. I tried to get up with my back to the reindeer but it got an antler under the strap of my rucksack and pulled me over backwards.

"It was behind me and its antlers were sticking forward either side of me. I grabbed them to try and avoid getting stabbed and it started to bump me along the ground. Eventually, I fell and landed in a heap."

She said she realised that if she lay still it stopped attacking but she was knocked over again as she tried to make her way downhill and only reached safety when she managed to climb over a fence.

By then she had walked more than two miles and descended 1,200ft while throwing parts of her packed lunch to distract the reindeer.

So if you still believe in leaving cookies and milk out for Santa, don't forget to leave something for his draft animals as well - you may get a lot worse than coal in your stocking if you get them mad at you.

(And also watch out for pugs forced to dress as Santa's crew who are mad enough about it to bite you.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Animals vs. Hipsters

Coming up for air after spending the last month or so in a push to meet my book deadline, even I am a bit shocked at what animals have been getting away with when they think my attention is diverted.

I don't blame them for upping their efforts. They only have till next fall before the lid is blown off their activities in a full length expose by a major New York publisher. They should, after all, be quaking in their paws.

In the meantime, unfortunately, clueless humans are continuing to both enable and be surprised by their bad behavior, like the urban beekeepers in Brooklyn who were astonished to find that their bees were producing honey that was bright red instead of amber.

Another strange new bee disease? No: it's simply that if you're going to bring bees into the city, of course they're going to take advantage of urban amenities.

We've already seen that bees love alcohol even more than college students do. Scientists have also found that given the choice, bees prefer nectar that is spiked with caffeine and nicotine. And we know that animals can become junk food junkies.

So readers of this blog won't be surprised at the solution to the Mystery of the Red Honey in Red Hook: apparently the bees have been dining on the syrup at a local maraschino cherry factory.

Of course, naive nature-lovers who don't read this blog were incredulous, as reported by the New York Times:

“I didn’t want to believe it,” said Ms. Mayo, a soft-spoken young woman who has long been active in the slow-food movement. She found it particularly hard to believe that the bees would travel all the way from Governors Island to gorge themselves on junk food. “Why would they go to the cherry factory,” she said, “when there’s a lot for them to forage right there on the farm?”

I guess you have to expect this kind of delusional thinking from someone who not only has the usual ignorance about the real nature of animals, but is also an advocate of "slow food." But seriously, get real. How many hungry humans are digging up dandelion roots in Prospect Park instead of making reservations at one of Brooklyn's many fine dining establishments - or grabbing a Twinkie at the corner bodega? Why do you expect bees to work any harder?

Coney Island bees by Flickr user mercurialn.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Stand up against animal disinformation in the New Year

While not usually a fan of rushing the holiday season, this blog has been convinced by the suggestion of the great and admirable The Rejectionist that December is a good time to give New Year's resolutions a test run.

This is particularly true in the case of animal-related resolutions, which can be sorely tested by the holiday gift-buying season.

Of course, if you read this blog, you already recognize that you have a problem. You're a member of the precious minority that understands that animals aren't as cute as they want you to think.

But that's only the beginning. Now you need to make a commitment to being part of the solution.

It's not enough to simply forward links to this blog to everyone you know, although of course that is a vital first step. You also need to make sure you're not helping the enemy by inadvertently participating in its propaganda campaign.

So, make these three simple promises and stop helping animals pull the wool, fur, feathers and scales over our eyes.

1. I will not click on headlines like the following:

Faithful dog waits for owner near Shanghai fire without eating

Horses never forget human friends

Bonobo is excellent babysitter

or anything involving a panda.

2. I will not buy books like these:

Am I Boring my Dog?

Zooborns: The newest, cutest animals from the world's zoos and aquariums!

And I will especially not buy indoctrination materials for impressionable children like:

The latter book's shameless edition for young people, ZooBorns!: Zoo Babies from Around the World

And Tango Makes Three, a classic attempt to warp young minds that this blog deconstructes here.

3. And finally, when I hear of stories like this one:

Porpoises rescue Dick Van Dyke

I will remind everyone: We never hear from the people who the dolphins push AWAY from shore.

(It should go without saying that you will definitely not buy Obey the Pug merchandise here.)