Monday, February 27, 2012

Animals finding our weak spots

Usually I wait till I've got three examples before declaring something a trend. But when I read this story about a moose getting into a hospital in Alaska, I knew it couldn't wait.

Although Anchorage is a big city, they seem rather blase about these large ungulates, judging from the way the hospital's spokeperson tried to downplay the incident. While the animal actually getting inside the building was a first, she said, they often get into the parking garage. And while the news reported that the moose "quickly garnered its own private security force akin to a presidential Secret Service detail," the spokeperson insisted that "the moose was never a nuisance."

But what should concern the rest of us most is the moose's method of entry: that first photo up top should be the clue. It got in via the automatic doors, bringing to mind an incident we reported on this past summer. At a hospital in India, monkeys have learned to get in via the automatic doors:
They have terrorised patients, stealing food, playing with medical equipment, and attacking staff.

Not only have these animals discovered that our technology provides a weak spot in the form of these automatic doors, in both cases, they've targeted hospitals, containing the weakest among us.

How long before more animals realize they can open these doors? And perhaps we should consider: If we're too lazy to open our own doors, maybe we deserve what we get?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

No rights without responsibilities

Two years ago I reported on the proposal of one academic that dolphins should be considered "non-human persons" who are entitled to rights and freedoms.

I was hoping this idea would die a quiet death after I argued that I was totally on board with it - as long as it meant that we treated dolphins the same way as humans who behaved equally badly.

But apparently the guy is still going around flogging this idea, most recently at the AAAS conference held in Vancouver.

I'm simply going to sigh deeply and reproduce here the relevant section of the Animals Behaving Badly book:

Some academics have argued that dolphins are so intelligent that we need to treat them as more than animals, based on evidence that they have large brains, pass on cultural activities, recognize themselves in mirrors, have sophisticated communication systems, and so on.

Setting aside the implication that is OK to treat someone badly as long as they’re stupid - because honestly, who hasn’t had the temptation - I am happy to grant the premise that dolphins are brilliant, since it takes nothing away from my argument that they are basically bastards. In fact, I’m quite intrigued by the suggestion of one author that these evil geniuses should be considered “non-human persons.”

“Dolphins should be considered non-human persons,” says ethicist Thomas White, “because they have the kind of consciousness that, in the past, we thought was unique to our species. They’re not just aware of the world around them but they have the ability to look inside and say ‘I.’ They have a sense of choice and will.”

White argues that dolphins, like humans, should be given “moral standing” as individuals, and surely any reasonable person who has read this chapter would support this. Yes, we’ve seen that dolphins are gang rapists, murderers, baby-killers, and pose a serious threat to innocent, ignorant humans - but that’s exactly the point. It’s about time we start treating dolphin persons in the same way that we treat human persons who commit those crimes. Enough putting them on T-shirts, then, and more putting them on trial: let them pay the price like the rest of us have to.

Photo of a dolphin statue in Florence that captures the true evil within by Flickr user mike-wise.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Conspiracy protects famous monkey on the lam

Longtime followers of this blog may recall the Tampa Bay Mystery Monkey, a macaque that's been roaming Florida since 2009. We last checked in with this primate when he was sighted taking a dip in a woman's swimming pool and stealing grapefruit from her tree. His frustrated pursuers reported that they'd hit him with bigger and bigger doses of tranq darts to no effect.

The local newspaper has maintained a web page dedicated to coverage of sightings and attempts to capture the monkey, and of course he has his own Facebook page.

But despite this widespread awareness and repeated capture attempts, he's still on the loose - and attentive readers of this blog will not be surprised at the revelation that he's had human help evading the authorities.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that for the last six months the monkey has been living in the yard of a retired couple, where he's allegedly particularly attached to their elderly mother and aged cat:
He waits on the firewood pile for his morning banana and walks ahead of the elderly woman, as if to protect her, as she walks up a long driveway to get the newspaper.

The monkey is gentle with the sickly, old cat, sometimes picking her up and moving her to a sunnier spot on the patio. He loves Oreo cookies, twisting the tops off and licking the frosting. The family has it on video.

A wildlife official was appalled to hear about the sitation. "This is dangerous and someone's going to get seriously hurt, and it's going to cause us to have to kill this animal on site," he said. "What they're doing is they're teaching him not to be cautious around people. In the end, it always ends badly."

And the monkey does seem to have a secret life to some extent, sometimes disappearing for a day or two and returning with a banana or a cookie from somewhere else.

But while the couple say they know he's a wild animal and would never touch him or let him in the house - "He's got fangs," the husband said - they've worked to gain his trust and are so protective of the monkey that they only spoke to reporters on the condition that their names and location be kept secret.

And other professional monkeyhuggers are on their side:
Dr. Agustin Fuentes, an anthropology and primate expert at the University of Notre Dame who has followed the monkey's story for two years, was thrilled to hear of his new home. He saw the latest photos, noting his coat, skin and face indicated a fairly low-stress, healthy life. This, he said, is the happy ending everyone should want for the monkey.

"He needs a family, he needs a social group, and he found it," Fuentes said. "He's never going to leave. The nice woods make him feel comfortable. There are two options: Let him find whatever joy he can get out of life or kill him. I don't see any reason to kill him."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Zookeepers behaving badly?

Those drive-through safari parks have always seemed like a bad idea to me. I want more than a car window between me and large wild animals. Some zoogoers in China, at least, probably agree with me now:

A bus carrying 27 people to see wild beasts at a zoo in eastern China was attacked by a group of Bengal tigers, leaving the visitors fearing for their lives for about 20 minutes while the tiger zone's gatekeeper was out for dinner.

At least five adult tigers smashed the bus with their paws, breaking its windows, and bit its tires on Saturday afternoon, according to the Paomaling Wild Animal Zoo in Jinan, capital of Shandong Province...

"One tiger's tooth was broken when biting a tire and became furious, with his mouth bleeding. It called seven or eight of his partners to surround and storm the bus," a visitor said. "The brutal tigers were trying to get in. We just screamed and cried!"

The incident ended when employees noticed the attack on security cameras and rushed to open the unattended gate.

As usual, some defended the animals, showing that this is not just a first world habit:

The zoo said the tigers were agitated and got "too excited" by some visitors' behavior.

"The tigers have entered the estrus, highly agitated by some of the visitors who deliberately provoked them," according to the announcement published by the zoo.

Now, surely there was some human responsibility here, but it belongs to the keeper who enabled this attack by going for dinner without telling anyone. Let's not blame the victims. After all, even if the visitors were tapping on the glass, in this case the tigers were basically on the OUTSIDE of the cage. All they had to do was take a deep breath and walk away.

The only kind of tiger I want to see through a bus window by Flickr user mondoagogo.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sheep posing public danger!

Things have been a bit dreary around the Animals Behaving Badly headquarters lately, but I can't help being perked up by a headline like this one:
Sheep posing public danger in Forest of Dean

You might find it implausible that these placid, wooly, not-so-bright creatures could be a danger to health, safety and the public peace, but you would be wrong:
Residents in Bream, Yorkley and Parkend are so fed up of flocks in their streets that a letter on the baaa-d behaviour is being sent to MP Mark Harper.

The problems stem from flocks of up to 50 sheep wandering the streets, fouling on pavements and bleating at night.

"Children walking to school have to walk in the road because the pavements are such a mess," Mr Kent said. "Elderly people who are not so agile are using the pavements and treading the stuff into their homes. The sheep bleat at night which keeps people awake, it's distressing a lot of people."

Surely a civilized society should not have to endure the indignities of pooping on the pavement and bleating at night. But why is this not a simple problem to solve? Why aren't they fenced in like any normal livestock?

One official blames the complexity of local government. "The problem is there's half-a-dozen layers of bureacracy. No-one will take a lead on it and do anything," he says. But any reader of this blog will recognize a familiar problem here: The reluctance of people to stand up to bad animals:

"What we are not challenging, in any way, is the right for sheep to roam free, it's an ancient tradition. But they should be roaming in the Forest, not in the villages."

A right to roam free? People: this is what happens when you give someone rights without responsibilities, no matter their species. These animals need to hold up their end of the bargain. Let these sheep start obeying the pooper-scooper laws and then we'll talk about their rights.

Ominous sheep by Flickr user eek the cat and thanks for the tip to loyal fan Jennah Ferrara.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Out Of Place Animals Week, part 2: On the Go

In our last post we saw animals that wanted to settle down in places they shouldn't. Today, some animals barging in on human transportation:

-Last month, an opossum in New York city decided to try taking the subway. New Yorkers can ignore almost anything weird that goes on on the subway, but apparently this crossed the line. The train was evacuated and a group of police officers decided that despite a bag and heavy gloves, they weren't up to the task of taking the animal into custody. The opossum got a solo, presumably express, ride to the Bronx, where it was extracted by "a group of emergency service officers, an elite squad that handles complex jobs, including capturing rogue coyotes and apartment-invading hawks."

-The train was also the conveyance of choice for a dog in Sweden:
Eira was left at her new day kennel in the southern Stockholm suburb of Hökarängen last Thursday by her owner but struck with home sickness she decided take the matter in her own paws and head out for home.

She evaded her carers and walked the kilometre to the local metro station, ducked the barrier and jumped on a northbound train, according to a report in the Dagens Nyheter daily which has been confirmed both by her owner and the police.

The dog stood patiently among the other morning passengers and waited in the six stops between Hökarängen and her home station of Gullmarsplan - a busy bus, road and metro junction.

The dog got off at the right stop, but was taken into custody by station staff and handed over to the police, presumably for nonpayment of fare.

-In Los Angeles, passerby flagged down the driver of a pickup truck to tell him someone had hitched a ride: a seabird with a seven foot wingspan. I'm guessing that this albatross tried to make the excuse "I just flew in from the South Pacific and boy are my wings tired," but experts weren't fooled. They said that this was no doubt at least the second time the lazy bird had hitched a ride on its journey:

They suspect the bird stowed away on a cargo ship, hitching a trans-Pacific ride to Los Angeles before disembarking and hopping into the pickup.

The seabirds are adept at soaring long distances and can spend years roaming vast areas of the ocean without ever touching land. But they can mistake the flat surface of a passing container ship for a nesting island, landing and sitting there unnoticed until the ship arrives in port.

Yeah, "mistake," sure. Rescuers caught the bird, boated it out to sea, and tossed it overboard, and it took off after a few seconds - using its own damn wings for a change.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Out Of Place Animals Week, part 1

A while ago someone started a Tumblr called Animals In Places They Shouldn't Be, and I was pleased at the possibility of handing off responsibility for covering at least one kind of bad animal behavior. Unfortunately, it's not updated nearly often enough to keep up with how common this offense is. Fortunately the admirable Cats. Where They Do Not Belong is much more on the ball on the out-of-place feline beat, but to make sure that other species are not getting away unblogged, we'll spend this week catching up on some cases from the last few months.

Last week a New Zealand farmer got a call from an employee saying that his cows were "acting a bit funny." He went to take a look and found that what had disturbed them - in their paddock 15 km from the ocean - was a fur seal.

The seal had apparently swum up a shallow drainage channel, and its well-being seemed to be of more concern than that of the cows. "He barked at me a couple of times, but seemed fine apart from that," the farmer said, and the animal was monitored by conservation officials before disappearing from the farm a few days later.

We've seen other out of place seals lately, even closer to home: first on someone's porch and then, brazenly, right on a woman's sofa. But a wild animal on your sofa is nothing compared to what a woman in England experienced: she awoke in her own bed to find a fox sitting on her chest.

"I thought it was a cat at first when I felt it clawing at my face.... I just leapt from the covers and screamed, I’ve never moved so quickly." Despite the screams, it was hard to convince the animal it wasn't welcome: after being chased out of the house it tried to get back in a few minutes later.

And in the "husbands behaving badly" department, the victim also said: "Tony’s first instinct was to grab his camera rather than see if I was OK. He got a good picture of the fox in our upstairs study."

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Teach the children

There's a rule in journalism that three of anything is a trend. It's taken a while, but we can now officially designate the following as a trend in bad animal behavior: Zoo animals eating other zoo animals in front of a crowd of children.

In October 2010 we learned of this incident:
A horrified 8-year-old boy watched as an alligator ate the pet turtle he'd just donated to a Panhandle aquarium.

Brenda Guthrie and her 8-year-old son Colton witnessed Tomalina’s death as the red-eared slider disappeared into the alligator’s jaws at the Gulfarium. When the two looked away from the sight, she said they could hear the crunching of the turtle’s shell.

“He was jumping up and down screaming,” Guthrie said of her son’s reaction. “He was shouting, ‘Oh no alligator, let it go.’”

And this past June:
Kids see a lion eat cuddly zoo animal

The cute binturong - also called a bearcat - was one of a pair to climb a tree before dropping into the big cat den at Chessington World of Adventure.

Jason Harcombe, visiting with his two-year-old son Oscar, said: "The poor animal didn't stand a chance. The lions jumped on it straight away and killed it.

"The lioness brought the body up to the glass and then she and her mate just ripped it apart in front of us."

And now another British lion completes the trio: At the Colchester Zoo, an adorable barn owl was performing in a free-flight display when it collided with a window and, dazed, ended up on a ledge in the lion exhibit.

You can guess what happened next, and the crowd reacted as expected. One observer said that his two year old son "was in tears, along with most of the people who were there. Women and children were screaming but it was all over in seconds."

But that visitor, at least, took the right lesson away from the experience:
"It's in the lion’s nature. I have taught Daniel that lions are not fluffy animals. He was very upset but we will be back in the zoo again."

(That's a photo of the late - and no doubt delicious - barn owl Ash from the Daily Mail.)