Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bovine bad behavior is a path to stardom

Back in October we met a cow named Laura who discovered that bad behavior was more than its own reward. She invaded a shopping mall, chewed up a bunch of merchandise, and rather than being punished, was offered an endorsement deal to appear in ads for the clothing she had demolished.

Another European cow made the news for a more protracted episode of bad behavior this past year - and now she's got herself an even bigger prize. Yvonne made a break for it in Bavaria in May and caused great controversy over several months on the lam. After failing to capture her, the police were authorized to shoot on sight, allegedly because of the danger she posed to motorists. This caused an uproar among Yvonne's fan, and she was then purchased from her original owners by an animal sanctuary that was determined to save her.

These sentimental cow-huggers tracked Yvonne with helicopters and all-terrain vehicles and tried to lure her back to family life, using her own calf and then a bull so handsome that press dubbed him a "George Clooney among cattle." She was having none of it, so they finally had to resort to a more conventional method: tranquilizer darts.

Since being captured in September Yvonne has been living in luxury, but it turns out that's not the end of the story: Now, she's been offered a movie deal.

No word yet on what kind of artistic control she's negotiated or what she's demanding in her dressing room. But this is a lady who smashed through a 8,000 volt electric fence and needed a double dose of tranquilizer to finally bring her down. We're glad we don't have to negotiate with this tempermental star.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Relatives Behaving Badly

It's that time of year again: When you wonder why you bother having an Amazon wishlist if people are just going to buy you a bunch of junk you don't want anyway.

If you have to go and order your own copy of the Animals Behaving Badly book because no one gave it to you for Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever other holiday you pretend to celebrate when your parents are watching, why not also consider these other fine items by friends of the blog?

You can read about some animals behaving mostly not badly, but certainly unconventionally, in Animals Aloft!, a book of photographs and anecdotes about animals in the early history of aviation. It's by our friends at the Janus Museum, a site which is well worth your attention.

Do you feel just a little guilty about reading this blog and revelling in the dark side of animals? Salve your conscience by supporting pit bull rescue by buying the calendar from Pinups for Pitbulls, which is full of photos of good dogs and lovely ladies like the one above. You could also pre-order what will no doubt be a noble and heartwarming book about Soldier Dogs by Maria Goodavage at Dogster.

And don't forget you can probably still get some of the stuff from our holiday shopping guide (part one and part two.)

We return on Thursday to your regularly scheduled bad animal coverage.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Penguin poo panda protest

When one bad animal is pitted against another, you might think I'd want them both to lose. But in this conflict, the choice of side is a black-and-white one.

This blog has often bemoaned the inexplicable human obsession with pandas. At zoos, they do nothing but sit there while people flock to see them. There is even scientific evidence that the panda is basically a crummy animal. One researcher recently commented that, looking at its bamboo-digesting capabilities:
"I see a very badly adapted animal. The main way the panda has adapted to the low-quality diet is not via microbiota, like the vast majority of other animals, but by eating 15 hours per day."

But boring behavior and inferior biology are helpless to counteract the effects of a cute black and white face with those adorable little eye patches. The urge to produce baby pandas is so overwhelming some keepers are even willing to make fools of themselves dressing up in panda suits to raise them.

And this obsession has serious consequences. As we've noted before, not even scientists are immune to the lure of the cute animal, with far more attention going to conservation of conventionally attractive, big furry creatures.

In a recent example of this bias, the National Zoo recently got a donation of 4.5 million dollars to its panda breeding program. One wonders how many entire species of, say, critically endangered frogs, could be saved from extinction with this amount of money. Instead, it'll be used to produce a baby animal that, judging from photos like the one above, we seem to have plenty of - in China where the darn things belong.

So we're heartened by a recent story out of Scotland, where the Edinburgh Zoo recently acquired a pair of pandas, with great fanfare mostly drowning out the few voices of reason proclaiming them a big cuddly waste of money.

But some zoo residents are expressing their opinion in the clearest and most un-ignorable way possible. Rockhopper penguins are gathering along the edge of their exhibit, which looks out over the long line of vistors waiting to see the pandas, and pooping on them:
A 41-year-old, who was standing in the panda queue on Sunday said: "We were queuing to see the pandas when a man in front shouted out in surprise that his jacket had been hit by a big dollop of penguin poo.

It just missed me and my family and it was really oily and stank of fish. It was disgusting."

The zoo is, of course, planning to build a barrier to protect the panda-obsessed, but we are pleased to praise these penguins for their stinking salvos in the anti-panda cause.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Traditions and trends news briefs

It's a time of year when traditions take center stage. Some prefer precise repetition, with every ornament on the tree in the same place; others want to push the envelope, stuffing the turkey with new-fangled ingredients instead of using Mom's old-time recipe.

Bad animal have traditions, too, and like us, some of them are old-school, and some are pushing the envelope:

-Dogs shooting their owners with guns: it's so common that it made it into the subtitle of the book - and they're not stopping now.

In Utah, a dog in a boat with some duck hunters jumped onto a shotgun and shot one of them in the butt. The man was taken to the hospital, where he was treated and released. Those of you who object to hunting will no doubt be pleased by local news reports that "The dog and any ducks within range at the time of the accident were uninjured."

A more serious case occurred in Florida, where a bulldog named Eli in shot his owner in the thigh with a rifle while in a truck on a hunting trip. Reports called the shooting "unintentional" despite the fact the dog had to release the safety before being able to shoot the gun. The 78-year-old victim was shot in a major artery and and as of last Tuesday was still on a ventilator.

-Bears scavenging for garbage and even breaking into homes is nothing new, but they're taking it to a new level. I thought I was impressed by the bear in Vancouver that actually hitched a ride on a garbage truck (video here) until I read about the bear that had been living for weeks in a basement in New Jersey.

The animal had built a bed of leaves and branches and was ready for a comfy winter till a cable TV guy came to make a repair. He heard a growl and turned to find himself facing a 500 pound black bear:
"I just freaked out, threw my tools, ran out of the basement."
It took a hour-long chase for animal control officers to tranquilize and capture the bear. The homeowner plans to start keeping his basement locked, and maybe you want to check all your doors as well.

-Finally, what may be a new trend: we recently saw a seal trying to get into someone's house in Australia.

That one didn't make it, but seals seem to be taking this as an ongoing project, and the second attempt was a success. No doubt realizing our weakness for the cute, this time the seals sent a baby to perform the mission. After making its way from the water across busy roads, up a long driveway, under a gate and through the cat door, it made itself at home on a sofa.

Fortunately, they chose a victim that had more sense than most. The New Zealand woman at first thought she was hallucinating, then, she said:
"Then it looks at me with those huge brown eyes. It was so cute, but I didn't touch it because you don't with wild animals."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Profound quotes roundup

A quick look at a few stories that on the one hand may deserve more in-depth coverage, but on the other hand, can be summed up in one quote:

-It was recently announced that the city of Berlin will be allowing a wild boar hunting season. If you've read the book, you know that wild boars in Europe have been invading cities, often charging into homes and buildings and chasing innocent humans through the streets. Why, you might wonder, don't these animals stay in the forest where they belong? One expert says there's a simple explanation.
In the forest, the food is not that interesting. In the city, there is an entire menu. The boars are like the French. They like good food.

-Earlier this year, a South African farmer was in the news boasting of his relationship with his pet hippo, frolicking for the camera as in the photo above. He summed it up like this:
Humphrey's like a son to me, he's just like a human.

Perhaps he was right, but not in the way he seemed to mean: Last month, he was found dead after his beloved hippo attacked him.

-And finally, if you think you're safe because you live at a great distance from wild boars and hippos: From an excellent story in Esquire - not one of my usual bad animal news sources - by a man whose house was infested with ants, here's what he learned about them:
They’re not in your underwear by accident. They’re nation-building.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Truth is scarier than fiction

Last week we saw an argument that bad behavior leads to the development of intelligence. This is a worrying notion, since superior intelligence means an animal can commit even more sophisticated offenses. Considering all the bad behavior I have documented, the possibility of such a truly vicious circle means that we need to be watching our backs.

Or, perhaps, we should be watching the skies, because quite a lot of recent research shows that birds - especially crows and ravens - are already a whole lot more intelligent than we thought.

You might read these reports and think them just a curiosity. One recent study showed that crows can remember the color of a container with food in it up to a year later. A good memory might not seem like a threat, but if you had a good memory, you'd remember our earlier post: Crows can also remember the faces of people who have annoyed them, and can use this knowledge to teach other crows who to attack.

Another scientist has shows that wild ravens can use gestures to communicate. You may think that gestures are primitive compared to language. But before this, experts thought that only primates could do this naturally, without being taught by humans. So not only are birds more intelligent than we thought, but have a way to communicate silently when they're sneaking up on us.

Perhaps most ominously, it's been shown that crows have what scientists call a "theory of mind," meaning they can see the world from another's point of view.

Why is this a problem? Most bunnyhugging animal lovers would no doubt jump to the conclusion that this means they are empathetic and care about your feelings. But knowing what another creature knows has a very important consequence: Now you know how to deceive them. And this is exactly what the researcher saw:
Out in the wild, jays and other corvids will hide food in the ground. We experimented with them, hiding food in two types of tray — one full of pebbles which was noisy when disturbed, and another full of sand which was quiet.

If other birds couldn’t see them hiding the food because they were behind a screen, but could still hear them, the jays picked the sand and were as quiet as mice when they buried food. But if other birds were watching, or if they were on their own, they realized that it didn’t matter how noisy they were.

If the birds were being watched when they hid their food, they rushed to move it to another hiding place as soon as the other watching birds were out of sight

The same researcher has also shown crows can plan ahead better than young human children. There's also the fairly old news that they can use tools - but more recent research has shown they can use up to three tools in sequence to achieve a goal.

So these birds know whether you're watching them, can communicate stealthily, hold a grudge and pass it on to their friends, and can use technology. Also take note of this interesting fact about their strength of character: researchers in Australia found that crows are able to delay gratification, waiting up to five minutes to swap a piece of food for something better.

And crows have plenty of reasons to resent us. While most birds are beloved for their grace and beauty, crows are seen as pests. A flock of bluebirds in your backyard would be considered a magical experience; a flock of crows is a different story. Even possibly the most animal-hugging city in the country, San Francisco, uses pesticides on ravens and crows.

It's said revenge is a dish best served cold, and it's clear that these birds have both the planning skills and the moral fiber to wait for the right moment. Like I said, watch the skies.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Runs in the family

Again and again on this blog, we see that scientists and other alleged experts are the worst offenders when it comes to enabling bad animal behavior. They're constantly making excuses: A seal that drowned a dog was "curious," a wombat violently attacked a man because it was suffering from mange, a thieving baboon was "corrupted" by tourists. We've even seen the claim - in two different cases!- that dogs who ate their owners' toes were doing them a favor.

But even after all that, I was astounded by a recent headline:

Researchers find poop-throwing by chimps is a sign of intelligence

According to the folks at, a recent paper by three neuroscientists proves that if our distant ancestors hadn't thrown feces, we'd never have evolved language.

The argument is based on a brain imaging study. The researchers found that the more a chimp throws, the more its brain is developed in an area that's crucial to human speech.

The scientists also found that the chimps who were the best throwers were the best at communicating with other chimps. What's more, their skill wasn't due to being the big tough guys:
which the researchers suggest means that throwing didn’t develop as a means of hunting, but as a form of communication within groups, i.e. throwing stuff at someone else became a form of self expression, which is clearly evident to anyone who has ever been targeted by a chimp locked up in a zoo.

The claim that chimps throw stuff because they're smart is bad enough. But the argument that the pinnacle of our own species' distinctiveness is based on the lowest possible sort of prank is downright offensive. We're supposed to believe that language is just a sophisticated way of throwing shit? I've read a lot of nonsense by scientists while researching this blog, but I never -

Hmm, wait a minute. That makes a heckuva lot of sense, doesn't it?

Unsurprising zoo sign by Flickr user thepatrick.

Bad Animal Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our bad-animal-themed shopping guide for the holidays. We begin (we'll get to that photo in a moment) with this t-shirt by John Allison available at TopatoCo:

Yes, we did already see a bear-warning t-shirt in Part 1 of the shopping guide, but it's encouraging to know that bear-knowledgable shoppers actually have a range of fashion choices.

Along the same lines you might also consider the Ways to Die shirt from our friends at Squidfire, which prominently features the result of not heeding the warning on the other two shirts. (Squidfire is the designs of Kevin Sherry, who illustrated the - you didn't think I'd miss a chance to mention this, did you? - Animals Behaving Badly book.)

UPDATE: TopatoCo actually has an entire T-Shirt category "Animals Doing Things That They Aren't Supposed to be Doing."

But what if you don't want to wear something that just illustrates the bad behavior of animals? What if you want to wear something that will let you actively demonstrate it? What if you want to BE a bad animal?

Well, we can do this thing, with the help again of our friends at Archie McPhee: buy their Creepy Horse Mark. The mask is useful for frightening pugs, as in the photo above, and I speak from personal experience when I say that they deserve it.

You can buy the mask and see much more inspiration for deploying it at But if that's not enough for you, you can be the bad animal with the cutest reputation of all: McPhee also sells a full-body panda suit.

PS: And before you buy a gift FOR your own bad animals, I recommend that you read my post on this subject at my publisher's blog.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bad Animal Holiday Shopping Guide, Part 1

Of course the first item on the list you sent to Santa was the Animals Behaving Badly book. But you need to ask everyone else to buy you something too, right? And while of course you're buying the book for your friends, some of them already have it, because you're the kind of person whose friends are clever and have impeccable taste.

So you need more ideas for bad-animal-themed gifts, and this blog isn't going to let you down.

To start you've got the T-shirt with the illustration above, from Natalie Dee at You might also want to consider their Mister Friendly Cat - be careful to read the fine print on that one. (Order by Friday for Christmas delivery.)

The danger of excessive animal love is a recurring theme on this blog, and our friends at Archie McPhee have personified this with the Crazy Cat Lady Action Figure:

You can also play the Crazy Cat Lady Board Game (win by being the most successful hoarder of kitties). And don't forget the Hairball Bubble Gum. Carry that cute little tin around and you'll always have a tasty reminder of the eternal question: why the hell do people let cats into their homes, anyway?

Come back for more suggestions later in the week.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Another noble reputation bruised by science

The PR machine for wolves has been in full swing for many years now. Their former reputation as a ruthless killing machine has been largely replaced by the story that this animal is family-oriented, cooperative, and highly intelligent. "It is an animal that cares for its sick, protects its family," say some of its defenders, and is "capable of not only emotion but also real compassion." They are "extremely devoted to their pack." It's even been argued that that wolves have a sense of right and wrong.

Yeah, yeah. You know where this is going, right?

Two pieces of recent research show that the intelligent, cooperative behavior of wolf packs might not be all it's cracked up to be:

-The hunting behavior of wolves, while it seems complex to an observer, might not require a high degree of intelligence after all. Researchers programmed a computer to reproduce the behavior of a hunting pack, and it turned out that all it took was two simple rules:

(1) move towards the prey until a minimum safe distance to the prey is reached, and (2) when close enough to the prey, move away from the other wolves that are close to the safe distance to the prey.

No planning, foresight, judgement or strategy. No communication and no fancy pack hierarchy. Just two simple, automatic, mindless rules.

-Larger packs of wolves aren't better at hunting than smaller ones. You know why? Because most wolves are lazy freeloaders. No matter how big the pack is, only four wolves do any of the work. The rest just hang back and let those four do all the hard, dangerous stuff, then share in the kill. What's more, the ones who work the hardest are the one who have the most to risk - the ones with babes at home.

These animals "superficially appeared to be cooperating," say the researchers. But apparently the real reason they are so "devoted to their pack" is that they are getting something for nothing.

Of course, it's only fair to say that for a lot of us humans, our work also consists of following mindless rules, and God knows many of us only superficially appear to be cooperating. All I'm saying is, let's just remember that even the most allegedly noble animals are no better.

Big lazy yawn by Flickr user Arran Edmonstone.