Monday, August 29, 2011

Marsupial with a fetish

Due to post-hurricane limited-internet-access crisis, I present this story from Digital Spy in its entirety without comment:

A kangaroo named Benji reportedly angered several neighbours in Prague after he was caught 'stealing' their underwear.

The 2-year-old marsupial is said to have escaped his owner before hopping over several gardens. He was only caught after a neighbor spotted him jumping away with his loot of lingerie.

Benji's owner had already reported him missing to police, but a spokesperson revealed that separate calls of stolen clothing were not linked at first.

"We had a call from Benji's owner saying his pet kangaroo had escaped," the spokesman said. "At the same time we started getting reports of a number of thefts from washing lines.

"We didn't think they could possibly be related until he was caught red-handed."

Benji's owner Petr Hlabovic, 35, said: "I'm very relieved to have him back. I've got no idea what he thought he was up to - he certainly didn't pick up the habit from me."

Photo of the culprit reluctantly being taken into custody from Metro.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Masked bandits join forces

In Sweden, they're bracing for an invasion of masked criminals - and it's going to be worse than they were anticipating.

Raccoon dogs have spread from their native lands in East Asia into Europe, and although they're rather adorable, the result isn't pretty.

The raccoon dog (Nyctereuctes procyonoides) is not related to raccoons, but is a canine distantly related to domestic dogs. It's named in English for its resemblance to the familiar North American masked animal.

They're particularly prominent in the folklore of Japan, where they are called tanuki. Just looking at their role in traditional tales, one might be unnerved about the prospect of having them immigrate.

They have a reputation as tricksters, but this sometimes goes farther than practical jokes. They can change shape, and can disguise leaves as money to get sake and food from unsuspecting humans. They are known for making bizarre use of their scrotum, which they can enlarge into a huge sheet to use in various ways, such as as a blanket or a boat. They disturb the peace in the evenings by drumming loudly on their belly and balls. But in one region they're also famous for recurring wars, and there is at least one traditional tale where they kill an old woman.

Fairy tales, sure - but the reality is turning out to be even more destructive. In Finland, they're reportedly wiping out wetlands birds and frogs - and they manage to do so despite the fact that 100,000 are shot per year.

They've established themselves in Denmark as well, and now neighboring Sweden is next. The waters separating the two countries are not enough to deter the tanuki, which are good swimmers. It's feared that they're bringing rabies and tapeworm along with their prodigious appetites.

But, you might say, they could be relieved that at least they're not raccoons, right? We don't need folklore to know that raccoons commit violent assaults on humans and dogs, invade homes, and even take advantage of bad economic times to take over property.

Ah, but not so fast. When Sweden installed cameras along the border to monitor for the presence of raccoon dogs, they found large numbers of raccoons as well.

Raccoons are not native to Europe, so where did this invasive species come from? Many are descended from four raccoons set free in Germany in the 1930s by Herman Göring.

So: shapeshifting canines and Nazi raccoons. Sweden, we wish you luck.

Traditional well-endowed tanuki statue by Flickr user anjuli ayer.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Crazy cow season

-In England, a cow took up the valuable time of human rescuers by getting itself into the ridiculous situation pictured above. The Scottish SPCA, which received the call, assumed it was a hoax, but went out to check anyway, said an officer:
"But I arrived at the field to find the cow looking confused but surprisingly calm despite having his head wedged tightly in between the rungs of the ladder."

-Elsewhere in England, a more serious incident: A driver was lucky to escape injury when a cow jumped a three foot fence and landed on the hood of his car. He skidded 80 yards and ended up on the wrong side of the road before managing to stop, but fortunately suffered only cuts and bruises.

The accident was so unusual that officials made sure to rule out another theory, the driver explained:
"The police were very nice about everything, although I don't think they could quite believe it either. They breath-tested me which came back negative."

The cow died at the scene, but the victim wisely doesn't assume that this is the end of it:
"I am now looking out for low-flying cows when I am driving."

-And finally, an update: Yvonne, the famous cow on the lam in Germany, is still eluding capture, despite the efforts of activists with scooters, sniffer dogs, tranq guns, and a helicopter equipped with a thermal imaging camera. But they're not giving up, said one member:
"We have found cowpats, very fresh ones. And we will follow the trail."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Midsummer serpent roundup

Some snake stories we've missed over the past few months:

-From Australia, a cat behaving badly because of a snake obsession: Loti has cost her owners almost $2000 because of her habit of catching venomous snakes. She almost died after being bitten two years ago, but as of February, she hadn't given up the habit, presenting her owners with another brown snake and another hundred dollar vet bill.

-Also in Australia, a canoe club was in danger of a ceiling collapse because of six scrub pythons up in the roof having an orgy. Two were caught, but four were continuing their activities in a low corner where they can't be reached, including a seven meter long female who eluded capture for the same offense a couple of years ago.

-And in England, another sad example of what can happen when people think that animals appreciate what we do for them.

Luke Yeomans founded a research and conservation center for king cobras in India, and kept a breeding colony of 24 at his home in England. But despite his alleged expertise, as you can see from the photo above, apparently he thought it was a good idea to kiss a cobra on the back of its head. And he was quoted as saying:

“These king cobras know I provide them with food and fresh water so they’re not going to go out of their way to do harm to me when I do no harm to them whatsoever."

Um, right. He was planning to open his cobra sanctuary to the public in July - but a few days before the scheduled debut, he died after one of the snakes bit him.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Losing the monkey wars in India

From the beginning this blog has been on top of the worldwide macaque problem. These monkeys make trouble everyplace in the world where they live close to humans - we've read about them in Singapore and Japan, but most of all in India, where the problem is compounded by the fact that they are considered sacred, limiting efforts to control them.

The problems with encouraging these monkeys should be obvious to everyone. As a recent report describes it:
More than 90 per cent carry tuberculosis, they swarm central government offices, prowl the landings, and bite through essential internet cables. Many attack people carrying food and even residents relaxing on their verandahs. Delhi's former deputy mayor was killed when he was attacked by a macaque on his apartment balcony and fell to his death.

How do people react to this unarguably bad behavior? Many continue to feed these creatures as a way to honor the god Hanuman. And as we were reminded recently, even when they're invading a hospital, the only culturally acceptable way they've come up with to control this population of well-nourished hooligans is to to rely on the help of other monkeys.

This approach is working about as well as readers of this blog should expect. Langur monkeys led around on a leash are supposed to frighten away the marauding macaques, but for one thing - and are we surprised? - these primates sometimes turn on humans themselves.

And now, it appears that the technique is losing effectiveness - the macaques are losing their fear of the langurs. Even more worrying, they've realized that they have an advantage over a team of one langur and one human:

Anuradha Sawney, a member of the Animal Welfare Board of India and owner of a monkey sanctuary just outside New Delhi, said the macaque's increasing boldness was down to its growing numbers in Delhi and its capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.

"If there are a lot of macaques the group will be strong and they will not be afraid to fight," she said.

But that's not the worst of it. Also, says one voice from the trenches of the monkey wars, they're starting to think ahead:

Diljan Ali, a langur handler, complained that the government hires monkey men to confront the macaques but refuses to compensate them when their animals are defeated. "(The macaques) are very smart. They know when they have the advantage. They attack in numbers and when they do it's pre-planned."

We'll keep an eye on this developing story... let's hope the world primate uprising stays in the movies where it belongs.

In that photo from The Telegraph, note the monkey sitting on top of the cage. They're not that easy to fool.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bears don't wait for an invitation

A bit belated, but it's important to draw attention to this story from back in June of a presumptuous bear. A woman in Seminole County, Florida, had seen black bears in her yard before, but none had taken advanatge like this:
He headed toward her pool and pressed his nose against the screen. Then he just walked through the screen "like it was made of butter."

First he put his mouth in her spa, then a paw and finally he just jumped in.

"I think he was hot and thirsty," Rhoades said. "It looked like he knew what he was doing.

"He had been in a pool or spa before, there's no doubt in my mind," she said.

She went outside and banged on a table and he got out of the spa and left through the hole he had made in the screen.

She wasted no time scaring the bear away because she didn't want him to get used to using her spa and she didn't want him to leave "a package" behind.

I would especially draw your attention to this line:
"He had been in a pool or spa before, there's no doubt in my mind."

Once animals get a taste of these luxuries, there's no turning back. Fortify those backyard enclosures, Floridians, or look forward to a world where we are nothing but the pool boys for bears.

To impress this more throughly on your mind, see more of her photos here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Don't count your cows before they are captured

It's been a summer of vastly different fates for animals on the run. Elephants that ran away from the circus went peacefully with police who nabbed them before they could catch a bus out of town. The majority of monkeys have eluded the authorities, with the minority being captured without harm.

But not all have gotten off so easily. An emu that was on the loose for two weeks in Maryland was shot by state troopers:
"We did it because residents had expressed concerns about their safety and the safety of their children... There also had been complaints that the emu was getting on roads, blocking traffic and causing hazards."

The same fate befell an escaped macaque in Tennessee who attacked a woman while she was washing her car:
"I had no idea he was even there. Then I could feel his teeth in the calf of my leg, and I really didn't know at that point what it was, I just knew I had to get it off me."

The monkey also injured a responding officer, at which point another shot and killed it.

For one animal in Germany, it could still go either way. Yvonne the cow escaped from a farm in Bavaria in May. She's been on the lam ever since, and become a sort of celebrity - but like with many reality stars, people are divided strongly for and against.

The police, who've failed to catch Yvonne all these months, have decided to authorize officers to shoot her. Apparently the last straw was when she jumped out in front of a police car, startling the officers and then despite being so close, getting away. (Authorities claim that such behavior proves she's a danger to traffic, but one has to wonder whether embarrassment is also a factor.)

On the other side, an animal sanctuary has actually purchased the cow, and is searching for her with all-terrain vehicles and infrared camera.

These people are such bunny-huggers that they would prefer not to use even tranquilizer darts - and instead, actually think it might work to appeal to sentiment. They've also purchased a former stall-mate of Yvonne's as well as that cow's calf and hope this will lure her in."After all, she has had a calf herself," says a representative with a bad case of maudlin anthropomorphism.

Yvonne might want to be aware of yet another recent escaped animal story as she considers her options: Back in July, a rhea escaped from an estate in Suffolk, England. The RSPCA was called in to expertly and humanely recapture it - after which the bird died while recovering from the tranquiliser.

So, even those well-meaning bunnyhuggers might end up not doing you any favors, Yvonne: maybe it would be best to give yourself up.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Self-Defense against Bad Animals

A few recent stories with some important information on how to - or how not to - defend yourself against animal attack:

-If you don't want to be attacked by lions, note the following:

A recent study conducted in Tanzania, where over a thousand people were attacked by lions between 1988 and 2009 (two/thirds of whom were eaten), found that these attacks are most common in the days after a full moon. In addition, the most dangerous time of day is between 6pm and 10pm, and the most dangerous time of year is between November and May.

Read more details at Not Exactly Rocket Science, or else just stay the heck indoors.

-If you want to defend yourself against bears, don't believe what you read in the paper:

A recent attack by a grizzly on a group of teens in Alaska was reported by reputable news outlets under headlines like "Teen Survives Bear Attack by Kicking." Um, not so much. Read a useful analysis of the media misconceptions at the Alaska Dispatch, and also this piece on how a gun won't help you either. Or just stay indoors.

-If you want to defend yourself against wild pigs, don't bother trying to shoot them:

Rural New York state is fighting a losing battle against wild boars. Suspected of escaping from game farms, they've established wild populations, and have been reported chasing people, attacking livestock and killing at least one dog.

Wild pigs can be devastating to the environment (check out the story we linked to in February from Smithsonian Magazine about the havoc being wrought by feral pigs in Texas). They're also a danger to people, a fact well known in Germany, as we've mentioned before (and which we go report in more detail in the book coming out in the fall. Hey, did you see that pre-order link over there on the right?).

The most frightening part of the news out of New York state, though, is the difficulty of defending ourselves against these super-swine:

We've shot them right square in the head and the bullet will glance off and they'll get up and go. Their skulls are so thick in the front, if you don't happen to hit it at a perfect 90 degrees, with the way their heads have that kind of curved shape, the bullet will glance right off.

Yeah... just stay indoors.

Monday, August 1, 2011

You're never too old to stand up to bad animals

Phyllis Johnson had not only lived peaceably with kangaroos for all of her 94 years, she'd even occasionally done them a favor.

"I used to feed them next door, give them some bread," the Australian woman told the Courier-Mail, "and they've always been so gentle."

But when a male red kangaroo came looking for trouble when she was hanging out the laundry in her backyard, neither her age nor her history of consideration toward his species meant anything to him.

"It was taller than me and it just ploughed through the clothes on the washing line straight for me," she said.

The animal knocked her over and kicked her, but the young hooligan had picked the wrong old lady to mess with. She fought back.

"I happened to have a broom nearby and I just started swinging at it. I bashed it on the head but it kept going for me, not even the dog would help, it was too frightened."

Johnson succeeded in crawling away and escaping into her home, where she waited while the animal continued to rage outside. Her son arrived, and, unable to drive the beast away with a stick, called police.

The roo was unimpressed by their authority and went for the two officers as well. Thinking quickly, one of them tried an unconventional counterattack: he sprayed the creature with his pepper spray.

Using pepper spray on wildlife isn't a standard part of police training, even in Australia where it seems like nearly all the animals can kill you and they probably need all the help they can get. But the unconventional approach was effective - in the sense that the beast's attack was diverted towards the other officer. Fortunately, he was armed with the spray as well.

Wildlife officers finally captured the attacker, who was reportedly being examined by a vet before a decision was made about his fate. We can only hope, after reading of this animal's merciless victimization of the elderly, that psychological exams are included.

Although it has to be said that Johnson hardly sounds helpless and frail. Despite being bruised and bleeding, she had to be persuaded to go to the hospital.

"My son made me," she said. "I'm okay, although the roo took a chunk of flesh out of my leg and there's a chance they'll have to operate."

Photo of sign that has got the problem exactly backwards by Flickr user The Rohit.