Monday, June 11, 2012

Bad animal historical dramas


Major developments in a couple of very long-running stories, one that we didn't even know was a story till now:

-In Austria, a tale to dent in any faith you may have left in marriage: Two tortoises who've been a couple for 115 years are getting a divorce, or at least a trial separation. They had to be moved to separate cages after they started attacking each other:

Zoo boss Helga Happ said: "We get the feeling they can't stand the sight of each other anymore."
Zoo management have called in animal experts to try and give the pair counselling - feeding them romantic good mood food and trying to get them to join in joint games - but so far without effect.
Zoo boss Helga added: "They are both 115 years old - they have been together since they were young and grew up together, eventually becoming a pair.

"But for no reason that anyone can discover they seem to have fallen out, they just can't stand each other."
 -And in London, the discovery of what might be called a prequel to the research we celebrated on Dead Duck Day: On the Scott expeditions to the Antaractic in 1910-1913, scientist George Murray Levick observed Ad√©lie penguins during their breeding season, and what he saw was deemed so shocking that it was basically suppressed till now:
During that time, he witnessed males having sex with other males and also with dead females, including several that had died the previous year. He also saw them sexually coerce females and chicks and occasionally kill them.
He omitted this sexual depravity from his published work on the species, reporting it only in a privately circulated paper that the Natural History Museum has unearthed and, finally, published.

The museum's curator of birds, who found the pamphlet, makes excuses both for Levick's concealment of the truth, and for the penguins:
"For example, a dead penguin, lying with its eyes half-open, is very similar in appearance to a compliant female. The result is the so-called necrophilia that Levick witnessed and which so disgusted him.... Levick was also a gentleman, travelling with a group of men in very difficult circumstances, witnessing behaviour he neither expected nor understood," said Russell. "It is not surprising that he was shocked by his findings."
I'm not sure any of that's an excuse, but it's only fair to say that Levick is not alone: here's part of what the author of the research on which Dead Duck Day is based says about the story:
I know what Levick must have felt. In 1995, it took me six years before I decided to publish my observation of (the first case of) homosexual necrophilia in the mallard duck.


I don't know what those Adelie penguins are doing in that photo by Flickr user StromPetrel, but it's probably better not to ask.

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